It was right after World War II -- 1947 to be exact -- that American University first discussed building a modern athletic facility on its Northwest Washington campus.
After almost four decades, two wars and a couple of ceremonial groundbreakings university officials say they will begin building the field house and convocation center before the end of the year.
Last week, the District Board of Zoning Adjustment sent written approval for the proposed $14 million Adnan M. Khashoggi Center that will hold 4,500 spectators for basketball games and 6,000 for concerts and graduation ceremonies. It will also include a swimming pool, the student bookstore and a bank.
"There is no turning back now," said American Vice President Donald Myers, who said no date had been set to begin construction of the center, which will be located generally behind the student activities center on the current site of a pair of tennis courts. A five-story parking garage will be built adjacent to the sports complex, according to university officials.
The university has long needed the center for its basketball team, which now plays at the gymnasium at Fort Myer, 10 miles away in Arlington, Va.
The plans initially ran into opposition from the surrounding suburban-like communities which feared an increase in university-related parking on their streets and crowds in their quiet neighborhoods.
After a series of meetings the two sides reached a written agreement that answered community concerns.
"When we first heard of the university's plan, our principal concern was that a new entrance to the campus would be cut into the residential neighborhood on Woodway Lane or University Avenue," said Ernest C. Barrett III, president of the Spring Valley-Wesley Heights Citizens Association and an early outspoken critic of the center because he felt the university was trying to push it on the community. "Then it turned out the university didn't ask for an entrance at all."
When the university's plans were granted oral approval at a January BZA meeting, the written agreement between the university and several citizens associations was made part of the official record.
The agreement calls for limiting off-campus ticket sales for Monday through Thursday events to 1,570. The university also agreed to eliminate parking fees at its lots, starting one hour before an event, to entice spectators to park in the lots instead of on nearby residential streets.
"We asked them to agree, and then they did agree although they felt it would mean a significant loss of parking revenue," said Barrett.
The agreement also calls for establishing a joint committee of citizens and university officials to resolve future disputes. If the committee fails to settle an issue, it will be submitted to binding arbitration.
As part of its preparations for the sports center the university also wants to expand its 600-space parking lot at Nebraska and Massachusetts avenues NW. The university has asked the BZA for permission to add 200 spaces. BZA will vote on the request Wednesday.
The expansion plans also call for cutting down a strip of trees that now acts as a buffer between the parking lot and the Westover Place townhouse development. But the univesity dropped plans to build a new entrance for the parking lot from Massachusetts Avenue.
"Because of our complaints -- if you ask them, they will say because of traffic studies, but whatever the reason -- they agreed not to open the gate," said Bill Moroney, president of the Westover Place Citizen's Association. "We have had problems because of that lot. The wooded area has been used for dumping of trash, and some residents have called police because of trespassing and suspected doings with drugs.
The new sports center means a new modern home for the university's basketball team, The Eagles. Use of the Fort Myer gymnasium has always limited the Eagles' basketball potential because high-caliber recruits are quickly turned off by a home arena where spectators -- the few that attend -- must often keep their coats on throughout the game to stay warm.
"If you are a good basketball player, and you are looking for a place to go to college, you would naturally want to go somewhere that has a first-class facility," said Myers. "Now we will have one."
American's major problem with the building has been getting the money. But last year, Khashoggi, a billionaire Saudi financier, pledged $5 million and made it an economic reality.
Barrett said the new center will actually help the neighborhood. "For the first time, the rock and roll concerts will be inside," he said.
Moroney added, "I think they have proposed a plan that is the best for all parties involved. There will always be some things that are not perfect, but it is the same thing as someone who hates airplane noise and moves next to an airport. The university was here before we were, and some of these things come with the territory."