Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Nothing but net"

Editorial from today's Oregonian:

The Legislature should serve a swift assist to the UO's bid to build a new basketball arena Tuesday, February 12, 2008 There's a bright shining moment right after a home team's basketball player lets fly a three-pointer when all in the arena inhale . . . and wait.

Did the nitwit just make a terrible miscalculation? One based on unrealistic expectations? One clearly at odds with the odds?

Then the ball swishes -- nothing but net -- and all in the arena exhale . . . and cheer.

That up-in-the-air moment is where we are this week with the University of Oregon's proposal to build a spiffy new arena to replace sad sack Mac Court. The role now for the Oregon Legislature is clear. It must endorse the effort, then sit back and watch the ball make its way through the hoop.

The university wants to borrow $200 million to build its new arena. Yes, that's an awful lot of money. It's going to buy an awfully nice arena, maybe the best in the country. One perfect for point guards. Cool for convocations. Suitable for The Shins.

Pending approval by the Legislature, the money -- think of it as a 30-year mortgage -- would come from revenue bonds backed by the state. That's Wall Street talk for we-the-people serving as co-signers on the loan.

The university plans to pay off the debt with money from ticket sales, other arena revenues and general donations from the kind of boosters who bleed lemon and green.

Yes, the college's revenue projections appear rather rosy. Some consultants have indeed been known to provide the kind of numbers that clients paid them to conjure. But let's remember who will be first in line to make the payments should arena revenues fall short.

The collection agency's first stop will be Autzen Stadium. That's where the Ducks play football -- and make an awful lot of money. Those profits sustain an athletic fund that supports all sorts of university sports. Yes, that could include an underperforming basketball arena.

Doomsday scenario? That athletic fund goes belly up.

Enter Phil Knight.

The Sultan of Swoosh is smitten with the University of Oregon. As the latest in a long string of signs of his affection, he has pledged $100 million to an athletic endowment fund that would backstop any debt on the new arena. It is, in other words, highly unlikely the taxpayers of Oregon ever would be on the hook.

We can't make this much clearer. Whether you love hoops, hate hoops or are totally indifferent to giants in long shorts, you're still getting a great deal: a splendid new arena at a major state university that someone else is paying for.

To all those making this possible, the Legislature should promptly send two words: "Thank you."