Sunday, November 12, 2000

NKU arena proposal revived

Proponents to seek state funds, donors

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — Two legislators are reigniting the effort to fund and build a multi-purpose arena at Northern Kentucky University.

        House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, and state Rep. Jon Draud, R-Crestview Hills, are scheduled to hold a press conference Monday with university officials to announce details of a plan to seek funding from the state as well as from private corporate sources to pay for the proposed $30 million project.

        “Jon and I have discussed the possibility of trying to work out a method to bring about something we feel very strongly will have region wide benefits, a convocation center at NKU,” Mr. Callahan said last week.

        Mr. Draud, who was reelected by a large margin last week to the 63rd House District in Kenton County, said the arena would be built for several uses, including NKU sports.

        “There could be concerts, high school and local basketball tournaments, business and community events and more,” said Mr. Draud, a retired superintendent of Ludlow schools and part-time education instructor at NKU.

        “We're the only part of the state that does not have a large facility to meet the needs of the students and the adult population in Northern Kentucky. It's a natural, and it would be a real boon for our citizens up here.”

        Neither lawmaker would divulge many details, saying those will be announced Monday. But they did point to past feasibility studies on a future arena for NKU.

        Generally, the studies said a 6,000- to 7,000-seat arena could cost $30 million and would have to be multifaceted to be successful.

        Studies have indicated it could be built on the school's baseball fields, which could be relocated to another part of the campus.

        “The absence of an arena or convocation center in a community this size is unusual,” NKU President Dr. James Votruba said earlier this year.

        “It restricts our ability to put on performances and attract speakers and other types of activities important to the quality of life and economic development of the region.”

        An arena here could fill an important niche in the Tristate area, added Joe Kramer, vice president of economic development for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

        “Certainly, Northern Kentucky University's sports teams are on the rise and would seem to support that, as well as other things that might be happening from a sports or events point of view,” he said.

        Mr. Kramer compared a Northern Kentucky arena and similar facilities in Cincinnati (Firstar Center and Xavier University's Cintas Center) to the market segmentation that exists with the Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Sharonville convention centers.

        “They're very different in size and the markets that they serve,” he said.

        Mr. Callahan, the third ranking Democrat in the Kentucky House, is close to Gov. Paul Patton and was instrumental in getting state money for NKU's $38 million sci ence center, which is under construction on the university's Highland Heights campus.

        Mr. Draud said he would work with statehouse Republicans, including Senate President David Williams, a Burkesville Republican who just this year expressed support for building an arena at NKU.

        The last time NKU was close to obtaining state funding was in 1990, when former Gov. Wallace Wilkinson had prepared to put money for an NKU arena in his budget.

        But when the majority of Northern Kentucky's lawmakers did not vote for Mr. Wilkinson's education reform act — the Kentucky Education Reform Act, or KERA - the governor sent the money to Murray State University in Western Kentucky, which built an arena.

        Mr. Callahan was one of the few lawmakers who did vote for KERA and its $1 billion tax increase, the largest in state history. He predicted such partisan concerns won't sink the idea now.

        “We don't want politics to enter into something that is good for the whole community,” he said.

        The lawmakers would not say how or when they will try to secure state funding.

        Another source of funding, private money, may come from selling the naming rights to the arena.

        The arena would be a boost to NKU's sports teams, which have been attracting larger crowds because of their success. The mens and womens basketball teams as well as the volleyball team have advanced in NCAA tournaments over the last few years and a larger arena would allow more fans to see the teams play, Mr. Draud said.

        The teams now play in Regents Hall, which has a capacity of only about 2,000.

        “Right now NKU can't even hold its graduation on campus because (Regents) Hall is too small,” Mr. Callahan said. “They have to go over to the Firstar Center in Cincinnati.”

       Cindy Schroeder of the Enquirer contributed to this report.


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