Oklahoma basketball: OU president Harroz stirs pot over proposed new arena

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For several years there has been discussion and debate about a new Oklahoma basketball arena to replace the near 50-year-old Lloyd Noble Center.

Talk of a new basketball arena, including formal proposals and renderings began as few years back as 2017, and informally probably even before that. Yet, to date, nothing has garnered the necessary votes from community leaders or public support to move forward in bringing a new arena to fruition.

A current proposal, introduced last year, calls for the development of a $1 billion entertainment district to be located in North Norman in the area known as University North Park. The proposed development calls for a new home for Oklahoma basketball and women's gymnastics as well as well as housing, retail, entertainment and corporate spaces. It would be located four miles from the football stadium.

The holdup in the approval process -- a Norman councilman told The Oklahoman that council members have been waiting months for a final proposal -- has become increasingly frustrating for all interested parties. OU president Joseph Harroz Jr. addressed that frustration in an interview on Tuesday with OU Daily, the student newspaper.

Count Harroz among those most frustrated over the entire process. He told OU Daily that alternative actions are being considered if the City of Norman cannot come to agreement on the current proposal before it.

"I'm very hopeful and do everything I can to keep it (new basketball arena) here in Norman," Harroz told OU Daily, "but if it isn't approved by the city council, for whatever reason, then we're going to be looking at other (cities), Oklahoma City, Moore and figure out where there is a group that wants to do this."

The OU president's comments brought an immediate sharp reaction on social media and from Norman elected officials.

"I don't find it particularly helpful in moving forward," said Norman Council member Stephen Tyler Holman. "That typically is not the way (to get things done." He likened Harroz's remarks to a tactic used by many professional sports team owners: "If you don't do this, we're going to leave town."

If it was solely up to the university, the Sooners would probably have a new basketball home by now. Head coach Porter Moser has been advocating for a new arena ever since he arrived in Norman as the 14th head coach in OU men's basketball history.

"I think everyone knows the commitment needs to be toward having a new venue," Moser said a little over a year ago. "You look at some of the teams' venues and atmospheres in this league (Big 12) and it becomes very hard to play in."

The City Council says it is still waiting to see a final proposal. When that does happen, there will be plenty of architectural, financial, logistical and operational questions still to be asked and discussed. They may not be moving on this to everyone's speed and satisfaction, but OU itself is moving to a new conference, beginning July 1 where the football and basketball venues are much bigger than in the Big 12.

In terms of seating capacity, the Lloyd Noble Center will rank 12th out of the 16 SEC basketball arenas when Oklahoma and Texas become the newest members of that conference this summer. Only the arenas of Mississippi State, Georgia Mississippi and Auburn have fewer seats than the LNC. Only four of the existing SEC basketball venues are older than the LNC, which opened in 1975.