The Lighthouse Center across from the city's convention center would be torn down to make way for the arena, according to documents provided to City Council last week. It is not a shelter, but a place where the Oceanfront's homeless can do laundry, take showers, use the phone, and talk to housing and job counselors.
"This place does more work than any mission I've seen," said Caleb Whearty who said he's been homeless at the Oceanfront several months.
For several years, the city has explored various plans for the area where the Lighthouse Center is now, including proposals for convention-center hotels. But none have progressed as far as the arena plans. City Council last week directed staff members to move forward with the planning after hearing that the city's share for site preparations would be around $50 million. The figure includes demolition of the Lighthouse Center. Private developers are financing the arena itself.
"I'll be the first to sign a petition that says no," Whearty said. "It's that important."
Andrew Friedman, the city's director of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation, says the Lighthouse Center has been in limbo for years as the city has explored development of the 19th Street area. He said the city is moving forward with plans to open a $23 million homeless shelter, with beds, near Witchduck Road and Interstate 264. That facility would include much of what the Lighthouse offers now.
The city shelter would be 12 miles west of the Lighthouse Center, and Whearty says that doesn't make sense. He says the Oceanfront has a large homeless population, and the services need to stay where they are.
"I know why they want to move it there," he said. "They don't want the homeless (at the Oceanfront)."
Friedman said the city will help people get to the services.
"If it is necessary to help people get to the center, especially when it first starts, we'll do whatever is appropriate," he said. "Maybe a shuttle to get people there so they can take advantage of the services."
The arena plan is not a done deal. Council is moving forward with the planning, but there are still more details and public meetings needed, and a formal vote, before any site preparation begins. Friedman said the city has set aside the money for the shelter on Witchduck Road, but construction has not started.