That was the main theme of Wednesday night's Fan Forum sponsored by the Auburn University Gameday Committee. Because of AU fans voicing concerns over tailgating and parking issues on football weekends in Auburn, the university decided to put together a Gameday Committee Fan Forum to help fans have a voice in things going on around the campus. Part of that process are town hall type meetings designed to let fans have a face-to-face discussion with decisionmakers from Auburn.
Wednesday night was the second of those meetings as the Auburn University Hotel and Dixon Conference Center welcomed more than 100 Auburn football supporters to talk about issues in and around Jordan-Hare Stadium on gamedays.
Following a small turnout Tuesday night in Birmingham, committee chairman John Hachtel said that he's hopeful that well attended meetings like Wednesday's will produce a better working environment between the fans and university for the upcoming season and the future.
"The university didn't do a very good job of communicating with fans in the past," Hachtel said. "We kind of did this thing where it was ‘these are the rules and regulations and if you don't like them don't bother coming.' I think we need to at least talk to people and find out what's on their minds and see if we can't accommodate some of those things.
"I'm going to tell folks right up front that we're not going to be able to everything you would like us to do, but what we can do is hear what it is you would like to do and maybe find some ways to work around some of your concerns.
"The other thing is that for too long it looked like the university on one side of this issue and the fans on the other," he added. "We would like to create more of an atmosphere to where we're working together for the same goal. I think these kinds of forums will do that or at least start that process."
bollards are one of the central complaints of Auburn fans everywhere when talking about gameday experiences the last two years
In the meeting fans brought several points to the attention of Hachtel and the committee. Things such as trash on gamedays around the campus, the parking situation in and around campus, not enough restroom space and the Tiger Transit buses were discussed at length with suggestions from fans such as more trash containers around campus on gamedays.
Another point of discussion in the forum was on the bollard issue around the campus. Placed in and around grassy areas two years ago, they have now become a nuisance for many and Hachtel said he's one of those that doesn't find them particularly friendly in most places.
One of those spaces is on Wire Road, where he said he really doesn't know why they're there or why they should stay. Those sentiments were echoed by Auburn University Board of Trustee member Paul Spina, who was in town for the meeting and the basketball game.
Hachtel said that the bollards around campus that weren't absolutely necessary would be moved as well as several other things to help the gameday experience run smoother.
"I promised that when I took over the committee that one thing we would do is look at every physical barrier that has been put on the campus over the last three years," Hachtel said. "A lot of them are there for a good reason, whether it's protecting irrigation systems or landscaping or keeping cars away from buildings--that makes sense. But, there are a lot of them out there that I say when I look at them, ‘What were they thinking when they put those things in?' We're going to look and see what the original intent was and if that intent is something that we don't think is necessary we're going to start to pull them out."
Something that won't change is automobile traffic in and around the campus. Sticking with the plan to make Auburn's campus automobile free in certain core areas, both Hachtel and Spina said that in the coming years there would be only foot traffic in most areas east of Donahue Drive, west of College Street, North of Samford Avenue and south of Magnolia. That is something they are determined to stick with, but Hachtel said that they are a long way from finalizing plans for the 2005 football season. That's why these meetings are important for the fans to voice an opinion, Hachtel said.
"We're not here to tell you what we've decided to do because we really haven't decided to do anything," Hachtel noted. "Nothing is written in stone. We're looking for input and we're going to take it back to the committee to get a sense of what's out there, what can we do about it, how much will it cost, is it something that is good for the greater part of the fan base?"
Based on the meetings to this point and the suggestions coming in via mail, phone calls and emails from fans since last season's games, Hachtel said that the committee already had a good start on things to work on before the 2005 season.
Hachtel said there are three issues that the committee has already begun to look at based on early input. One of those is the Tiger Transit bus system on gamedays.
"We don't like the drop-off point on Biggio because the buses have to turn right on Donahue and during Tiger Walk that becomes very dangerous," Hachtel said. "We're going to look and see if we can get the buses turned around somehow without going to Donahue.
"We're going to look at doing some improvements to the hay fields (South Donahue past Ham Wilson) so the RVs have a little bit better time in there. The other thing we're looking at is we're going to try to keep the sidewalks clear. We heard from an older fan base that said going back and forth because of the cars on the sidewalks can get problematic for folks in their 50s, 60s and 70s. We're going to look at that. We haven't made any decisions yet, but these are some of the things that we have on our table."
Something else on the table is the possibility of a parking deck to be added to the campus near the South end of Jordan-Hare Stadium on the site where a parking lot currently sits adjacent to the left field fence of Plainsman Park. The deck is scheduled to have 700 spaces and the plans are for it to be built in the next few years before a new student center is built on campus.
Spina said that the deck and all the suggestions and ultimate changes are for the good of the university and its people, something that he said can be attained when people "simplify things and communicate more."
"I'm not saying what we're going to do, but I haven't heard anything in two nights that's not reasonable," Spina said. "I haven't heard anything in two nights that we can't make happen. You're going to go farther out and you're going to be affected by things. It's not a rule, but 9-11 did affect us. The Department of Homeland Security has given us guidelines and a couple of things we have to do are mandated.
"The campus was done wrong. We all love it, we all walked it. I never had a car for the first three years I was down here. I'm glad it was close, but it was too close. The buildings were built too close. We've got thousands of acres and we're going to open the campus up.
"We're going to have green space. We're going to have a pond over by the amphitheater. The place is going to more beautiful than it's ever been. In those areas where they made mistakes in the past we've got to eliminate traffic. We've got 18-wheelers going through campus and we've got to stop it.
"We've got so much beautiful land, so many acres on the south of campus," he added. "Where the Forestry Building is and the new Poultry Science Building is still being built we've got hundreds of acres out there. We're going to build a South Quadrant. As you park your vehicle down Donahue a little bit you're going to be part of the campus. The campus is going to be on the other side of you. We're going to have walking trails and ways to get there.
"We've got to improve our transportation. The students use it more because it has been made convenient. Our fans will use it more if it's made convenient for them.
"I can't tell you what we're going to do (this year), but I can tell you less bollards, more transportation, more dump facilities of some kind, restroom enhancements," Spina said. "We're going to pedestrianize the core of the campus because it's going to be the Auburn campus for our grandchildren that it was for us. If we don't do it, it won't be."
There are two more meetings scheduled in the coming days in Columbus, Ga., and Montgomery. The fan forum in Columbus will be held Thursday (Feb. 17th) at 5:30 p.m. (CST) in the Empire Mills Room of the Wyndham Columbus Hotel at 800 Front Ave. In Montgomery the forum is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. It will be held in the Tallapoosa Room of the Hilton Garden Inn Montgomery East at 1600 Interstate Park Drive.
Another meeting is tentatively scheduled for sometime in the month of March in Atlanta as well. Hachtel said that he hopes this becomes an annual event to improve the relationship between the fans and university in the future.
"I would like to start working with the alumni association and maybe hook something like this on with the alumni club meetings around the Southeast region," Hachtel said. "If we do it that way we don't have to have special fan forums. It can maybe become part of the alumni clubs."