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February 14, 2006

An arena scorecard

All of the players involved with the downtown arena debate vow that their primary goal is to “do what’s best for the city and the state.” But what they don’t talk about are their hidden agendas, which may trump all else. Everyone has one. The challenge is to figure out what’s behind each player’s position. The lineup: Mayor Jerry Abramson — He was inclined to hold out for the old Water Company site, perhaps because that’s where he promised the proprietors of the new Marriott Hotel and Fourth Street Live! it would be, but he now favors the LG&E site because it ties in nicely with the Museum Plaza and his legacy. It also gives him even more of an edge against Republican opponent Kelly Downard. State Rep. Larry Clark (D-Okolona) — As a member of the Louisville Arena Task Force, he constantly questioned the projections and numbers provided by state-hired consultants. He remains in favor of a site at the Fairgrounds because that’s where his constituents want it. It’s incidental that his wife is employed by the Fair Board. Fair Board — An agency of the Commerce Cabinet, which formerly was headed by arena czar Jim Host. Wherever the arena is built, Fair Board president Harold Workman and his staff will manage it for the Arena Authority, which is chaired by Host. Of the two downtown sites, the old Water Company site provides better connectivity with the Kentucky International Convention Center, which the Fair Board operates, than the LG&E site.Gov. Ernie Fletcher — Staggered by the investigation into his administration’s alleged abuses of the merit system, the governor hopes an arena in Louisville will give him a big political boost in next year’s re-election race. He doesn’t particularly care where it’s built, just as long as it’s built somewhere.Frost Brown Todd — Arena czar Jim Host has used co-managing partner Ed Glasscock’s office for unofficial meetings. The powerful law firm’s list of high-profile clients includes LG&E. Frost Brown Todd is deeply involved in the Museum Plaza project, and the firm would probably stand a good chance of being chosen to sell the bonds to finance the arena. Humana — The giant hospital company is headquartered across from the LG&E site and owns some buildings on it. Humana’s relationship with state government already is under scrutiny because of the contract it received to oversee the state employees’ health program. Two losing bidders argued that their offers were more attractive and that the administration is guilty of playing favorites.  Arena Czar Jim Host — Former Commerce Cabinet Secretary, former vice chairman of the Arena Task Force, and current chairman of the Arena Authority. It’s unclear what, if anything, he stands to gain materially from the LG&E site. It could be that it’s mainly an ego thing with him, that he wants to show he’s the best there is at consensus-building and deal-making. It also would be a feather in his cap if he decides to challenge Ernie Fletcher in the 2007 Republican gubernatorial primary.  Humana Co-Founder David Jones — Possibly the only player in the game who has no agenda other than doing what’s best for the community. By agreeing to pay for half of a study that will compare the LG&E site and the old Water Company site, he is taking a different stance than Humana. Political observers still are trying to figure out what that means.  U of L Athletics Director Tom Jurich — He said early that he preferred the silos site near campus, but would be willing to go along with any site except the old Water Company. He denies widespread rumors that he opposed that site because of what happened during the last round of NBA activity, when Abramson supported the old Water Company site and didn’t insist that U of L be involved in the process.  C-J Editorial Writer Jill Johnson Keeney — The editorial board’s head cheerleader for the LG&E site, she has repeatedly trashed members of the Jefferson County legislative delegation who either oppose the site or are undecided about it.Kentucky Sports Authority — An agency of the Commerce Cabinet, formerly run by Host, that is the administrative tie between state government and the Louisville Arena Authority. Executive Director Terry Johnson is a Host rubber stamp.  Louisville Arena Authority — Whatever Host wants, Host will get. It’s simple as that. LG&E — It owns the property and would have to move millions of dollars worth of transformers, power lines and other equipment. The precise terms of its relationship with Host and the Fletcher administration are murky, at best. Former C-J Publisher Ed Manassah — It’s unclear whether he came up with the LG&E site himself or merely agreed to take credit for it, but there’s no question his cheerleading for the site has significantly influenced and compromised the newspaper’s journalistic integrity.  U of L Basketball Coach Rick Pitino — He’d be perfectly happy staying in Freedom Hall. He also was on the money when he said the legislators generally don’t care about Louisville or the university.  Office of Energy Policy — It was created on Host’s watch in Frankfort and placed in the Commerce Cabinet while he was Secretary. It will have extensive dealings with LG&E as he plans the commonwealth’s energy strategy.   U of L President Jim Ramsey — Understanding that the downtown business community and the mayor have no interest in an arena on-campus, he threw in with the LG&E crowd because of its proximity to the Museum Plaza, which will house part of the U of L Master’s of Fine Arts program, and because Jurich has absolutely refused to even consider the old Water Company site.  Papa John’s Pizza Founder John Schnatter — The only member of the Arena Task Force who voted against the LG&E site. He said the numbers ($299 million cost, 158 dates) were faulty, and he was right (the numbers now are $349 million cost and 113 dates). His critics say he only wants to prevent Yum! Brands, owner of rival Pizza Hut, from getting naming rights to an arena with high visibility on the Riverfront. Never mind that Papa John’s has a contract with U of L to be its exclusive pizza vendor.Yum! Brands — Not content with buying the Kentucky Derby, the fast-food conglomerate is rumored to be the leader in the clubhouse for arena-naming rights. But only Host knows for sure, and he’s not ready to talk about it.