Allston Residents Anxious Over New Arena

Two weeks ago, and on the heels of the men’s basketball team’s most successful season in 66 years, Harvard unveiled plans for Allston that included, among other initiatives, the construction of a state-of-the-art basketball arena. While some community members approve of the University’s overall vision, others fear that the new venue might alter the neighborhood’s dynamics.

Residents worried that the arena, slated for completion sometime between 2017 and 2022, and the noise that comes hand-in-hand collegiate sporting events might disrupt the predominantly residential neighborhood surrounding the proposed site.

“[Games] tend to be intense activity for a very short period of time and often there is social behavior associated with them that creates conflict with the community,” said Task Force member Bruce E. Houghton.

Harvard’s proposal strikes a sore nerve, Houghton said, since Allston residents have had issues with rowdiness at other university’s recently-built complexes, such as the Boston University’s Agannis stadium.

Houghton also said that given large number of properties Harvard owns in Allston, the University could find a different location for the new arena.

Ray V. Mellone, chair of the Task Force and an Allston resident, said he does not foresee the stadium causing major problems, but did stress the importance of planning for issues like traffic and parking. Such forethought, he said, is essential to ensuring that athletic events do not interrupt or burden residents.

Task Force member Harry E. Mattison agreed with Mellone, and said he was skeptical that the University would ensure that the structure is well integrated.

Harvard associate vice president for public affair and communications Kevin Casey wrote in an email statement that Harvard will ensure that the University’s development benefits both the University and Allston residents.

“We will continue to work closely with the Allston community as the plan develops, and as we move forward with each project,” he wrote.

This new plan reworks previous plans put on ice during the financial crisis. In 2007, the University revealed a 30 to 50-year plan which envisioned a $1 billion dollar science complex in Allston—a project which would simultaneously transform the area into a bustling academic and commercial center. However, the University sparked outrage among residents in 2009 when it halted construction due to monetary constraints.

In 2011, Harvard revived its discussion for Allston development, including residents in the planning process through a series of Harvard-Allston Task Force meetings.

While meetings sometimes saw fiery debate, tensions seemed to have cooled by the most recent meeting, with the new basketball complex serving as one of the few points of anxiety for residents.

For Mellone, the successful integration of the new venue will demonstrate if Harvard will make good on its vows of commitment to the community’s best interest.

“Overall, we’re just concerned with how the institutional plan will be managed in terms of the principles we have already agreed to,” he said.

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

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