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June 5, 2007

Billy Reed Says: On the arena, naysayers and devil’s advocates

In its most recent defense of the Louisville Arena project at the LG&E site on the riverfront, the cheerleaders on The Courier-Journal editorial board concluded another don’t-worry-be-happy tome with this: “… there’s no evidence that the many interested parties represented on the Arena Authority are doing anything but working diligently and honestly to do this thing right.”It will be important to remember those words as we go through this fall’s gubernatorial election. The “many interested parties represented on the Arena Authority,” from straw boss Jim Host on down, were mostly handpicked by Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Yes, the very same Fletcher whose honesty and integrity has repeatedly and angrily been questioned by The Courier-Journal editorial board.Yet apparently, The C-J’s deep thinkers want us to believe the Fletcherites are giving us the “unvarnished truth” about the arena, but about little else. Hmmmm. Does that seem a bit curious to you? It will be fascinating to see how the editorial board reacts when Fletcher, trying to win support in Jefferson County, takes full credit for the arena project, as he surely will.The same editorial, published on May 27, began by saying, “There are a number of local naysayers who would love to see the riverfront arena project, as currently planned, come to a bad end. The Arena Authority’s decision … to eliminate the proposed on-site hotel gave them another chance to neigh. But the project’s leadership appears to be guilty of nothing more than being flexible and level-headed in the attempt to create a signature, multi-purpose facility with effective connections to fast-developing downtown.”A question: Did the Arena Authority decide to drop the hotel purely for aesthetic reasons, as it has implied, or was it because no major national hotel chain made it an offer? If a hotel chain did make an offer and the Arena Authority rejected it, that should be reported. The public has a right to know. But, like everything else connected with this project, the big decisions are made in secret and delivered to the public as faits accompli.When The C-J editorial board questions Fletcher or any other public project — such as it has on the issue of the downtown bridge design — it sees itself not as a naysayer but as a “devil’s advocate” acting on the public’s behalf. Yet when somebody else performs the same role in regard to the sacred arena cow, the editorial board throws a hissy fit and attacks the “critics” or “skeptics” as being anti-Louisville, anti-progress, anti-economic development.In other words, The C-J is practicing, in this case, the same mentality that it deplores in regard to the war in Iraq. Rightly, The C-J rejects the Bush administration’s contention that anybody who questions its conduct of the war is “unpatriotic” or “anti-American.” That’s simply not true. Likewise, it’s not true that those of us who have questioned the arena plans are “anti-Louisville” or “obstructionist.” We simply want to be sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely.Curiously, however, The C-J editorial board and its powerful allies — Fletcher, Mayor Jerry Abramson, University of Louisville President James Ramsey and athletics director Tom Jurich, and the downtown business community — want us to shut up and go away. A day after The C-J editorial, in a news story about a new plan to limit the city’s liability in case the Arena Authority can’t meet projections, Metro Councilman Kelly Downard, a Fletcher supporter, said, “There will be detractors just because they want to be detractors.”In other words, the so-called “detractors” have no valid points worth discussing. We are to be dismissed as easily as one would swat away a pesky gnat. In the same article, Abramson says, “Once this (the new plan to limit the city’s liability) is passed, I foresee no more bumps in the road or other areas of contention.”Unless, that is, Democrat Steve Beshear, who will take on Fletcher in the fall, begins asking some of the same questions that we “detractors” have been asking. If he does, of course, he would alienate the downtown business community. But he might be shocked at how many voters he would pick up in the South End, the West End, a segment of the East End, and among U of L season ticket-holders.I know, because I’ve heard them repeatedly, everywhere I go. They still want to talk about why Fletcher’s Arena Authority decided to pay LG&E $63 million to move power equipment instead of picking the old Water Company site, which was targeted for an arena long before Fletcher got into office.They still want to talk about why U of L gave up on its plans for an arena on or near the Belknap Campus in favor of a downtown site, and why the old Water Company site was the only one downtown that U of L absolutely would not accept.They still want to talk about how many events will be held in the arena that are affordable for middle- and lower-class families. We’re talking about our fellow citizens, many of them U of L fans, who won’t have access to the luxury suites or the posh, club-level seats. They’ll be hard-pressed to afford even the cheapest seats, not to mention the higher parking fees and higher restaurants costs, due to the extra taxes imposed by the Tax Increment Financing District. Where are their Metro Council members when they really need them? Oh, wait. They’re taking their marching orders from the Fletcherites.If Beshear defeats Fletcher in November, it’s a good bet that Kentucky eventually will have expanded gaming and even land-based casinos in certain major cities. The LG&E site would be a perfect location for Caesars or some other huge gaming operation to build a casino. Think of the new tax revenue! The new jobs! And it all will be funded by the private sector.These are the sort of things that people want to talk to me about. And I listen, which is more than can be said of The C-J editorial board, the downtown business community or the Fletcher appointees (he got to pick 10, Abramson five) on the Arena Authority. This commentary originally appeared at www.billyreedessays.com. Contact the writer at breedII@aol.com