LG&E site top choice, Water Co. site back on table

The Louisville Arena Task Force voted 16-1 Tuesday afternoon to recommend to Governor Ernie Fletcher that a new, multipurpose arena be built at the LG&E site in downtown Louisville.

The recommended site, located at Second and Main, will cost roughly $299 million according to arena consultant PriceWaterhouseCooper. Current plans call for a 22,000 seat, 650,000 square feet arena with the University of Louisville receiving primary tenant status, while the Kentucky State Fair Board will manage the proposed arena.

Speaking for the Task Force's Finance Committee, Alice Houston said her committee recommended the LG&E site to the full committee, "Because we believe the riverfront site is economically viable."

However, at least one member of the Task Force, Papa John's Founder John Schnatter, isn't sold on the economic soundness of the LG&E site. "You're $299 million dollar number is probably a fictitious figure," he told the PriceWaterhouseCooper representative.

Schnatter pointed out that the $299 million estimate was based on 2006 dollars, then noted that ground couldn't be broken on the chosen site until at least 2008 because of the need to remove an LG&E substation and the time involved in cleaning up the site for construction, which would almost certainly inflate current projected costs.

Schnatter, the only Task Force member to vote against recommending the downtown site, said he couldn't support the proposal "for several reasons."

"First of all, I didn't feel like there was any regard to the average citizen and I don't think they got any weight at all. I felt like the wealthy elite were going to push this downtown at all costs and I just don't think the average citizen got a fair shake," Schnatter told WHAS' Terry Meiners.

"The numbers are terrible too," he added. "This is a $400 million arena sure as it's a nickel and it's probably going to lose $5-10 million a year."

Task Force Vice Chairman Jim Host admitted that a new arena would likely be a losing proposition financially. "Arenas aren't built to make a profit, they're built to spur economic development," he admitted.

Task Force member Kelly Downard, a Republican Metro Council member, told members of the committee that they should approve the downtown site even before the arenas final costs could be verified.

"The problem is Vice Chairman (Jim) Host, who was really driving the ship, really had no regard for the process," Schnatter told Meiners. "He told me at lunch two or three months ago at Harper's that this is where we're going to put the arena, this is who's going to own it and this is who's going to run it. And I'll be darned if that's not what happened. We basically had a manipulated process that's internal working just weren't honorable."

State Representative Larry Clark, though voting to recommend the proposal to Governor Fletcher, voiced strong concerns about the LG&E location. He told downtown advocates on the committee that the proposal won't easily be pushed through the General Assembly until the costs become firmer than they currently are. "If you think I'm tough, just wait until you get some rural legislator looking at this," he said.

But the biggest news of the day was the adoption of a proposal brought forth by Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson. Abramson's proposal, adopted by just one vote (9-8), put the Louisville Water Co. site back on the table. Under Abramson's proposal, the Water Co. block would become the primary downtown site for consideration if the LG&E site is determined to costly. At a previous meeting, the Task Force voted to make the fairgrounds location the alternate site in the event the LG&E site wouldn't work out.

Senator Mitch McConnel, State Sen. Dan Seum, Rep. Clark, Vice Chairman Host, Ron Carmichael, U of L Athletic Director Tom Jurich, Jim Patterson and Schnatter each voted against Abramson's amendment. After Abramson's amendment was approved, Jurich became noticeably disappointed.

"I think everyone feels relatively certain that the (arena) will be on the LG&E site," Jurich told Inside The Ville after the meeting. "But if it comes down to the point where we have to pick between the Water Co. site and the fairgrounds, we're certainly going to side with the fairgrounds."

Asked about Jurich's comments, Lt. Gov. Pence said he hoped it didn't come down to that choice. "We're taking it one battle at a time and we don't have to take that one right now," he said. "We'll answer that when we have to. Hopefully, it won't come to that."

Schnatter said the process was a sham.

"(Jim) Host was working it from the inside, and the Courier-Journal was working from the outside and the fix was in from the get go," he said.

LG&E spokesman Chris Herman told the Task Force that relocation and reconfiguration of the downtown substation would cost approximately $63.1 million. He also said that a 4-7 cent rate hike on consumers per month "was variable and based on my calculations."

"The numbers are atrocious and I don't think there's any way the legislature is going to sign up for this," predicted Schnatter.

The Task Force will present their recommendation to Governor Fletcher this Friday.

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