Water Company vs. Electric Company. The entire arena debate has been framed without any real depth of explanation. Ever since I've lived in Kentucky, I've heard what a vital asset the Ohio River is. This polluted, swiftly moving, easily flooded river that cuts us from Indiana is somehow the economic driver that will make us a "World Class City." So Jim Host, Tom Jurich, James Ramsey, Mayor for Life, Ernie Fletcher, and probably Jesus himself all stood up today in Frankfort to talk about how we had to have an arena on the waterfront or else.
WHY??????? That's the $114 million dollar question that nobody can answer. The site itself is a dog, a guaranteed traffic nightmare, immediately off of two major feeds into the city with the Third Street ramp and Second Street bridge. It requires the destruction of a relatively new office building and dismantling of major electrical systems. It's dangerously close to areas that are flood prone. And its location (like that of most buildings on Main Street), guarantees that the only people who will really get a good look at it will be on the opposite side of the river. And it is near absolutely NOTHING that would provide pre or post event entertainment (such as the thriving 4th Street Live.)
I think we're proving how absolutely hick this town is with this entire debate. Rather than admit to ourselves that this arena will be limited in the amount of business and tourism it attracts, we have this Field of Dreams belief that if we build it everything will come. Here are the problems with that thinking:
1) The main tenant of the Arena, the University of Louisville, has limited appeal beyond this region. As hard as it may be for people who live in this state to believe, the majority of people in this country are not following U of L & UK religiously. The few thousand additional seats the arena will provide will surely sell out, but it's not clear that this justifies the cost of the arena.
2) This arena is not a guarantee of any event coming here. The major event concerts that most of us would love to see here will need to have an incentive beyond a big arena to come here. Indianapolis, Cincinatti, Cleveland, Chicago, and Nashville are just as likely or more likely to attract the big concerts (U2, Rolling Stones, etc.) and these acts have learned their lesson to space out their concerts. Let's not forget the Rolling Stones concert that played here during the Steel Wheels tour that played to a half empty house. A final four or regional tournament is certainly a boon, but isn't going to happen every year.
3) Nobody outside of the city will care about the Riverfront site. People in town for events want things to do. 2nd and Main is NOT event central. If tourists want to see the museums or other attractions on main (which are a good distance away from the LG&E site), they can drive, walk or get a cab from the Water Company site. ESPN, ABC, CBS and other networks don't care if the arena is on the waterfront or in the middle of the city. They're still going to do the establishing shot of the skyline AND show the arena.
4) An arena is a building with seats, no matter how nice it looks on the outside. Without an event, nobody is going there. Unlike the new Museum Plaza, I have serious doubts that anyone is going to go to the Louisville Arena on an off night just to see where the Cards play. If you're going to put something on the riverfront, why not make the building something people will want to visit year round?
It's frustrating to watch David Jones and Papa John's names run through the mud and their motives questioned for having a study commissioned. Who is questioning the motives of this committee? Does anyone REALLY think PJ is worried about Yum getting naming rights or the visibility a riverfront location would supposedly provide? He could buy every billboard in the city for Papa John's for cheaper than the naming rights and have higher visibility than an arena sandwiched between a bridge and the fast moving traffic on 64.
Build the arena. Build it on the water company site.