[asusig] Article re Alpha Drive in today's Tribune Mon, 09 Sep 2002



Frat row or skid row? ASU homes threatenedBY BARRETT MARSON


Sept. 9 -

Arizona State University's fraternity row, the backdrop of a recent adult movie, would one day be demolished to make way for a research facility, according to a draft of the university's master plan obtained by the Tribune.

Meanwhile, the university is trying to devalue the frat houses and land so it can get the property cheaper, fraternity advisers contend.

"It's us against them," said Dave Riddle, adviser for ASU's Sigma Chi chapter.

Dilapidated structures line frat row on Alpha Drive. One university-owned house has boarded windows. Now, a recent pornography scandal threatens to sink Alpha Drive even further.

For its part in the adult video, Sigma Phi Epsilon was handed a three-year suspension and its members were forced out of its house days before school started, leaving just half of the 10 fraternity houses on Alpha Drive occupied. Sigma Nu already was under suspension when the tape came to light.

Two other fraternities that participated in the making of the adult movie, Theta Chi and Kappa Sigma, are not on Alpha Drive. Theta Chi received a one-year suspension. Kappa Sigma received two years' probation.

"I think they are being rather secretive about their future plans. It's to benefit the university financially and not benefit student life," said Kim Holloway, a parent of a Sigma Phi Epsilon member. "His whole world was turned upside down by people who didn't care about the students, just financial motivations."

One university spokesman discounted the accusations.

"If we wanted to get rid of them, there would be simpler ways to do it," spokesman Keith Jennings said. "The frats have been saying the university has been out to get them for years, and that is not true."

The school refused to release a draft copy of its master plan. However, according to a copy obtained by the Tribune, the fraternity houses would go under the wrecking ball.

"The site of the existing fraternities at Alpha Drive has been planned as a new research campus with a gross of 924,000 square feet," the master plan states.

Riddle said the university's plans to turn the area into a research center is preventing the frats from spending money to improve the frat houses, which were built in the early 1960s. Riddle, as well as several other fraternities, are attempting to exercise an option under the original contracts with the university to buy the land underneath the homes.

"ASU is saying the row looks terrible. We jokingly refer to the street as Beirut," Riddle said. "But like Beirut or any other blighted area, you are not going to have investment dollars coming in when there is instability. You give us stability, and we will put in the dollars."

The university, as a governmental agency, can use eminent domain to take property while paying fair market value.

However, a vacant dilapidated structure would fetch less than a house that is in shape. Also, if a house is vacant, the university would not have to pay students' relocation expenses.

In an e-mail from Mernoy Harrison, ASU executive vice president for administration and finance, the fraternities are offered money to forgo the purchase option and work with the school to find new locations for the frats. However, fraternities that proceed with the option risk losing out if Alpha Drive is taken over for a research facility.

"Those fraternities that decide to exercise their option to purchase have no guarantee that there will be a place for them in university-developed fraternity housing," Harrison wrote in an Aug. 26 note.

Harrison could not be reached for comment.

It is unclear what will happen with fraternities along Alpha Drive. Several are trying to secure a long-term future by buying the land and renovating the houses. Riddle is confident, thanks to a budget crunch hitting both the state and the university, that they will remain for several years.

The millions needed to buy out the homes, move the students and redevelop the property hasn't been allocated yet.

"I want to see the university go down to the Legislature and ask for that money," Riddle said. "They would be laughed out of the building."