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Plan for New CSUN Football Stadium Pulled

May 09, 1998|MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Faced with fierce opposition from nearby homeowners, Cal State Northridge President Blenda J. Wilson has removed a proposed football stadium from a master plan for campus development to be considered for approval Tuesday by the California State University chancellor's office.

The existing venue--6,000-seat North Campus Stadium--is scheduled to be torn down within several years to make way for academic buildings and a biotechnical office park to be built by Sylmar entrepreneur Alfred Mann. With removal of the stadium from the proposal, CSUN is left with no long-range plan for a campus football facility.

CSUN spokesman John Chandler said Friday the school remains committed to a football program but had decided to postpone a decision on where to locate the stadium.

"The fact that it's been withdrawn doesn't mean we're saying we're never going to build a new stadium," Chandler said. Wilson could not be reached for comment.

Local homeowners had threatened to sue the university in a bid to block construction of a 15,000-seat stadium, which had been proposed for a site at Lindley Avenue and Halsted Street.

Some homeowners met with Wilson Wednesday night to express their concerns. One group this week sent a certified letter to Mann making clear its intention to sue if the stadium proposal went forward. The university also received a copy of the letter, Chandler said.

Construction of the biotechnical park is scheduled to begin in late June if approved by the chancellor's office. The venture could generate as much as $800,000 a year for the school, CSUN administrators have said. Mann had warned school administrators in January that delays in breaking ground would cause him to look elsewhere for a site.

Mann's personal assistant at MediCal Inc. said Mann has been in Florida this week and had not seen the letter.

Some community leaders said Wilson's decision to delete the stadium left them reeling. Chatsworth Chamber of Commerce President Les Himes said that until Thursday afternoon he was being urged by CSUN officials to write letters of support to the chancellor's office for a plan that included the stadium. Friday morning he received what he said was a "frantic call" from a university official reversing the original request.

"They were asking for our support one day," Himes said. "The next day they were demanding that we don't send the letters."

Himes said the Chatsworth chamber and those of Northridge and Granada Hills are "shocked" by deletion of the stadium plan. The three nonprofit groups hold a joint Fourth of July celebration every year at North Campus Stadium--an event that attracts between 9,000 and 12,000 people and generates as much as 15% of each organization's annual income.

Bill Powers, a past president of the Chatsworth Chamber of Commerce, said the plan now does not guarantee that a replacement stadium will be built.

"If the university is going to back down today, they'll back down tomorrow," said Powers, who said the desire of a small group of homeowners is taking precedence over the greater good of the community.

But Paul Bubb, CSUN's athletic director, said Friday he is confident the existing stadium will be replaced. The team averaged 4,187 fans in five home games last season at North Campus Stadium, built in 1944 as part of a racetrack and known for decades as Devonshire Downs.

The university must field a football team to remain in the Big Sky Conference. When CSUN joined in 1996, officials promised to upgrade the football facility, which remains the smallest in the conference.

"I know that we are playing in North Campus Stadium next year," Bubb said. "I know that the university is committed to having a football program."

Pat LoPresti, a homeowners' group representative, said she was informed by a university official Thursday night that the stadium would be taken off the table.

LoPresti said she and others in the area remain concerned over a future stadium, which they contend would overwhelm the residential neighborhood.

"It's not over," LoPresti said. "This is just one battle in the war."

Numerous plans for a CSUN football stadium have been put forward in recent years, ranging from an ambitious new venue to expansion of the current facility. In 1996, a proposed 10,000- to 12,000-seat facility that would have cost an estimated $12 million was rejected.

The future of the North Campus has also been the subject of debate. A university proposal to develop the land with retail stores was withdrawn last year amid public outcry.

Times staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this story.

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