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March 14, 2006

Your Weekly Reeder: Making Louisville a real city again

This winter of discontent in The Ville has no end in sight, and I’m not just talking about University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino’s decision to let his team play in the NIT instead of just putting the fans out of their misery and ending it all.

They shoot horses, don’t they?

Whatever happens in the NIT or, more importantly, the NCAA tournament that begins tomorrow, the Great Arena Site Debate will continue here for a few weeks longer, despite mounting evidence that the old Water Company site makes far more sense, and cents, than the LG&E site.

Last week, the Lexington Herald-Leader ran a front-page story that brought to light another dirty little secret about the LG&E site. To clear the site of transformers and other power equipment, the state will pay LG&E and Eon, its German-based parent company, $62 million to move the stuff a grand total of 30 yards.

That’s right. Instead of being moved to a different part of Jefferson County or to a different county, the LG&E equipment simply will be moved across Main Street and housed in a new brick building.

An LG&E spokesperson told the Herald-Leader that the company had no particular reason to move the equipment, but was willing to do so to accommodate an arena on the LG&E site.

One card-carrying member of the powerful political and business cartel that’s pushing that site, The Courier-Journal, did not run a follow-up story about the Herald-Leader’s article, ostensibly because it was not news. Yet even if the details of where the equipment would be moved and how much it would cost had been mentioned in a meeting last September, as Arena Authority chairman Jim Host claims, it was buried so deep in the rhetoric and paperwork that it escaped the notice of most observers, including news reporters.

At least The C-J is consistent. From the day last summer that former publisher Ed Manassah brought the LG&E site to the public’s attention, the newspaper’s concerted effort to twist and suppress news has been just as alarming as its refusal to do investigative reporting about the selection process.

The Herald-Leader story was stunning.

Think about it: The state will pay LG&E $62 million to move electrical equipment 30 yards. No wonder Anne Braden, the longtime civil-rights advocate who died last week, was so opposed to building an arena of any kind.
Frail but bright as ever, Ms. Braden attended the all-day public hearing that the Task Force held last summer. She thought it was utter foolishness, given the community’s other crying needs, to build an arena.

But if the politicians and business leaders were bound and determined to do it, she wanted to make sure that the poor wouldn’t be taxed, that the arena would be host to events that were accessible and affordable for families of every socio-economic level, and that minority businesses would have equal opportunity to compete for contracts.

One doesn’t have to stretch his or her imagination far to figure out what Ms. Braden would have thought of government giving LG&E $62 million to move equipment 30 yards when there’s no reason for it besides an insane desire to build an arena on that particular site.

And here’s something else for U of L fans to consider as they swallow the bitter NIT pill while Kentucky and Indiana take their underachieving teams — which were almost as disappointing as the Cards, by the way — to the Big Dance: A new arena in downtown Louisville will be a great thing for Coach Tubby Smith’s UK program.

Instead of playing only one regular-season game a season in the state’s largest city, perhaps the Cats would be interested in playing two or three. Also, a Louisville arena might get serious consideration for a spot in the Southeastern Conference rotation. (The Big East tournament will always stay at Madison Square Garden).

Finally, because NCAA rules prohibit teams from playing NCAA tournament games in arenas where they play the majority of their home games, the Cats — but not the Cards — could play regional games in Louisville.

It’s fun to imagine college tournaments — or the State High School Tournament — at the Water Company site, where the arena would be within easy walking distance of five or six established hotels, Fourth Street Live and the Kentucky International Convention Center.

From Broadway to Main, Louisville would feel like a real city again.