Is a $350 million arena best for UofL, taxpayers?

Later this month, the Louisville Arena Task Force will recommend to Governor Ernie Fletcher whether a new basketball arena for the University of Louisville should be built downtown or along the "Cardinal Corridor." As we near decision time, several important factors seem to make the fairgrounds locale more favorable than the alternative at the LG&E site downtown.

I think we can all agree that the University of Louisville both needs and deserves a new basketball arena.

Freedom Hall has undoubtedly served the Cardinals well for nearly 50 years, but the time has come to build a new arena to house the Cards.

For many years, dating back to at least the early 1980's, the Cardinals have routinely sold-out the 18,865 seat Freedom Hall. Now, with their move to the Big East, U of L needs a much bigger arena - perhaps as large as 24,000 seats - to accomodate more fans who unquestionably will be lined up to see the Cardinals take on UCONN, Syracuse, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and the others.

U of L needs a new arena for other reasons, too. The university can sell more luxury boxes than the 24 currently available at Freedom Hall. A new arena could easily double that amount, thus doubling U of L's revunue in the process.

But is a proposed $350-400 million arena at Second and Main the right fit for both taxpayers and U of L?

I have my doubts.

First, it's a well-documented fact that arena's don't pay for themselves. Taxpayers do.

That's why it's laughable to hear Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson promise that the city will contribute 1/3 of a downtown arena's cost without raising taxes.

Take Nashville's experience with the Gaylord Entertainment Center for example.

Many Cardinal fans became acquinted with the 17,500 seat arena this past March when U of L played their first two games of the NCAA tournament there. It's located downtown, right in the heart of Nashville's entertainment district.

Sound familiar?

But I bet you didn't know this. The arena, built eight years ago for $144 million, has been operating at a $5-$6 million annual deficit.

Guess who's footing the bill in Nashville? It's not the NHL's Nashville Predators, though the taxpayers likely wish they were.

Does anybody really believe an arena's fate, at least where the taxpayers are concerned, would be any different in Louisville, especially one that promises to cost more than $200 million more than the Gaylord Center?

I don't. That's why a brand new $175 million arena linked to Churchill Downs, Jim Patterson Field and Papa John's Cardinal Stadium along the "Cardinal Corridor" makes the most economic and practical sense for this community.

A proposed arena to be located either at the state fairgrounds or along Crittendon Drive would face significantly less hurdles than one at the LG&E site downtown.

For one, a fairgrounds locale would almost certainly guarantee the proposal's safe passage through the Kentucky General Assembly next January. Not only would the fairgrounds site be significantly cheaper than the downtown locale, it also has the support of the buildings primary tenant - U of L.

Going further, there's also plenty of land - and parking - available at the fairgrounds. There won't be any "associated" costs with getting the state-owned property ready for construction like the LG&E site faces.

And I'm still trying to figure out the allure of the LG&E site. For starters, the property is landlocked on the east, west and north sides. If you think access to Freedom Hall is tricky, can you imagine trying to get out of the LG&E property with just one direction to go - south? Unless you have boat, that will be the only way out. Oh, River Road is prone to flooding, too.

Then consider the cost of erradicating the property of a nine-story office building and a major LG&E substation just to get the property ready for arena construction. To say it would be an enormous task would be an understatement.

I'm also still trying to figure out just where this so-called "economic development" will occur at the LG&E site. Unless someone figures out a way to build eateries and the like adjacent to I-64 and I-65, I fail to see how this "economic" bonanza will be realized.

Fourth Street Live! you say? You won't find me walking several blocks in the dead of winter from an LG&E arena to drink overpriced domestic beers.

But the fairgrounds doesn't face any of those problems. The state already owns the property. U of L supports a fairgrounds site. There is no nine-story office building or LG&E substation to remove. There are several hotels in the area and it's close to the airport. And there is significant space for "economic development" to occur.

Armed with this knowledge, is there anyway the Louisville Arena Task Force can choose any other option than to build U of L's new basketball arena along the "Cardinal Corridor?"

I, for one, don't see how.

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