Thursday, December 15, 2005

Build it and they will come.... Hopefully

One of my daily rituals with my daughter is to watch an episode of the Simpsons in reruns. One recent rerun involved the building of a Springfield Arts center with architecture by Frank Gehry. The center is built and quickly closes after everyone realizes they hate classical music, and the city of Springfield is thrown into debt. Why did this remind me of the plan to build a downtown arena in Louisville?

Once again, I have to think that somebody's palms are being greased. The proposed location and the fairgrounds location both, to be polite, suck in terms of economic development. If you're going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, you need to pick a site that is near other economic development and entertainment (like say.... the Water Company site), and put it there. As for Fletcher's assertion that the LG&E plant is an eyesore, I'd say it's a thing of beauty next to many of the dilapidated buildings that line Main Street.

Fletcher says Senate backs plan for arena
Jefferson House caucus still needs to be won over

By Joseph Gerth
The Courier-Journal

Gov. Ernie Fletcher said yesterday that he has been assured that he has the votes in the state Senate to spend $75 million on a new downtown arena in Louisville -- and he believes the House will follow suit.

Fletcher, in town for Humana's announcement that it has leased three floors of Waterfront Plaza to house new employees, said the arena is among his top priorities.

"I'm going to do everything I can," Fletcher said. "I spoke to (Senate President) David Williams, who said in the Senate the support is there.

"You have support from the governor's office -- it's going to be firm and strong. We've got support from the Senate, so I give it pretty good odds for passing."

A Williams spokeswoman didn't return a call yesterday.

The biggest hurdle appears to be in the House, where Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Okolona, has questioned Fletcher's financing plan and has said he favors locating an arena at the fairgrounds.

Rep. Tom Burch, D-Buechel, said that he doesn't know whether he'll support the proposed location but that he, like Clark, favors a fairgrounds site. He said Fletcher needs to get to work winning over the Jefferson County legislative delegation if he wants to build the arena.

"If the Jefferson County delegation is not united for it, it will not go," Burch said. "The votes are not there unless we're for it."

Last week, the Louisville Metro Council sent a letter signed by 25 members asking legislators to support the downtown site.

Local legislators have been slow to respond.

"I think we probably have some work to bring the local Louisville-Jefferson County caucus together," Fletcher said. Later, he said he "couldn't imagine" Jefferson County legislators not supporting the arena.

Rep. Scott Brinkman, R-Louisville, said that he supports the downtown arena and that several other Republican members of the Jefferson County delegation have told him they support it.

Brinkman said the key to getting broad support from House Democrats may be persuading Clark to support the plan.

"I know Larry has said publicly he has some concerns," Brinkman said. "Larry's a member of leadership, Larry's very powerful … and I know members of the majority caucus have deferred to him on matters unique to Jefferson County."

Rep. Denver Butler, D-Louisville, said he would oppose the arena if the vote were today -- largely because he doesn't trust Fletcher's numbers. "It's kind of like a shirt that doesn't fit," he said.

He agreed that Clark could influence whether House members support the arena. "Larry has a strong input on it," Butler said, noting that Clark served on a committee that Fletcher appointed to make recommendations on the arena.

Clark didn't return a call yesterday.

Fletcher said he hopes a revised financing plan due soon will show the arena will generate more than enough tax revenue to pay for the state's share.

Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson has pledged $100 million that would come from increased tax revenue spurred by the arena, as well as additional parking fees.

Yesterday Abramson and Fletcher walked around the proposed arena site on Main Street between Second and Third streets. Fletcher said it was the first time he has taken a close look at the location.

"It's really a pretty good arrangement," Fletcher said as Abramson explained how the complex would be designed.

When Fletcher looked at the Louisville Gas and Electric Co. power station that will have to be moved, he said that the station "needs to be out of downtown anyway."

The station needs upgrades and is an eyesore that harms economic development, the governor said.

Joseph Gerth can be reached at (502) 582-4702.

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