Pro-Westdome Faction Seeks to Neutralize 'Negative Publicity'

Times Staff Writer

A group of Santa Ana residents, saying they're tired of all the "negative publicity" about a proposed sports arena, is planning a campaign to drum up support for the project.

"My experience in talking to people is that if (the community) is not unanimously in favor of it, it's pretty close. So I don't see why something so overwhelmingly popular could have such a lousy image," said Mitch Davis, a member of both the fledgling group and a City Council-appointed committee that recently selected three potential sites for the $40-million Westdome.

"We are hearing an awful lot of people say it would be good for Santa Ana in terms of national exposure and economic activity. But the City Council isn't hearing that," said fellow Westdome booster Roger Kenney. "It's something that people should get excited about. Just look at how people in Boston reacted during the NBA championships."

Kenney and Davis served on the site selection committee formed by the council after it rejected the first proposed site at Civic Center Drive and Flower Street due to residents' objections. In fact, Kenney was one of the protesting residents, but he stressed that the problems an arena could pose in a residential area--traffic, noise and litter, for example--are no longer an issue because the four Westdome developers now propose to locate the 20,500-seat arena in an undetermined industrial area.

Kenney, a financial adviser with Harvest Financial Group, and Davis, director of management for Western Growers Assn., were joined by six other people at the first pro-arena meeting 10 days ago. They plan another meeting next week at which they hope as many as 30 people will sit in on a strategy session.

Alan Durkovic, one of the Westdome partners, said he is relieved to see the formation of a support group and hopes that it will balance the ledger in terms of publicity. Every time someone comes out against Westdome, they "get the headlines," he said.

But Ron Heicke, a member of the Save Our Stadium group that fought the downtown plan, said he doubts claims that the concept is so "overwhelmingly popular." In fact, he said he believes the boosters got together at the behest of the developers--something that Durkovic and Kenney deny.

To indicate support or opposition for an arena before a plan is concocted would be "foolhardy," he said. "You just can't go out and say, 'We support a Westdome in Santa Ana.' All the criteria have to be in place first."

Heicke said he isn't against the concept but is skeptical that the developers could build the arena without adverse impacts. "I could support the Westdome as long as it's done in an industrial area and the traffic and parking don't overflow into neighborhoods," he said.

Kenney said they may kick off their efforts by gathering signatures. He noted that the council has received petitions from two groups in opposition to locating Westdome in their areas (residents living near MacArthur Boulevard and Main Street persuaded the City Council to remove that site from consideration last week).

The boosters would also hold discussion sessions throughout the city to gauge community opinions on Westdome, to which the developers hope to attract Orange County's first National Basketball Assn. team. Davis said they could speak to service or business organizations, churches and neighborhood groups. One tangible result of the petitions and the talks could be a cadre of supporters who could be counted on to show up at City Council meetings whenever a Westdome-related action comes up.

Kenney also suggested that a nonprofit foundation be formed that would use a slice of the arena's revenue to finance "boards and nails" projects in the city, including buildings and activities for senior citizens and youths. "That would certainly help get the grass-roots approval I believe the arena needs," he said.

Councilman Dan Young said that most of the input to city officials so far has been negative, but he noted that people who like the idea of a venue for such activities as sports, concerts, conventions and other special events aren't so inclined to voice their opinions.

"We've always heard that there's a large reservoir of support out there," he said, recalling that the developers submitted 1,000 signatures after a weekend door-to-door campaign in December. "I'm glad to see a group forming because I'm interested in seeing what the depth of support is in the community."

Kenney said he feels that it might be a good idea to change the name of the project. "That's a personal feeling of mine. There's been so much negative publicity that maybe they'd want to drop the Westdome name. . . . Something like the Santa Ana Sports Arena," he suggested.

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