Saturday, June 16, 2001

N.Ky. leaders pitch $43M arena for NKU

Supporters say university long overdue for facility

By Amanda York
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HIGHLAND HEIGHTS — A new arena at Northern Kentucky University could play host to basketball, volleyball, concerts and the state's coveted Class A high-school basketball tournament.

        That was the pitch state lawmakers heard Friday.

        Northern Kentucky leaders told members of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee that the proposed $42.9 million, 6,500-seat arena was their No. 1 community project — part of a three-project plan designed to drive Northern Kentucky's already thriving economy.

        “We are the only, only metropolitan area in the state without a facility like that,” said Stan Steidel, executive secretary of the Northern Kentucky Athletic Conference.

   Size: Approximately 160,300 square feet.
   Location: A site on the east edge of campus, currently the Bill Aker Baseball Complex at Friendship Field, has been selected. The baseball field will be moved across Johns Hill Road.
   Seating: 6,500 for basketball; 7,500 for convocations and concerts, including 300-350 club seats.
   Private suites: A private concourse will be provided for 10 suites on the north side of the events center. Each suite will consist of 12 seats, and will be equipped with a bar, cable television and telephone line.
   Expandable: The building could be expanded to 10,000 seats.
   Costs: Projected costs are estimated at $42.9 million, including hard construction, fees, equipment and contingencies.
   Opening: The building is expected to be completed in time for a 2005 opening.
   Event floor: The floor will accommodate an NCAA basketball court, four volleyball courts and three cross-court basketball courts. These cross-court basketball courts will be sized in accordance with Kentucky High School Athletic Association regulations. The event floor will be sealed concrete, and will accommodate other events such as lectures, circus events and gymnastics.
   Parking: Parking requirements for the events center are projected at 2,200 cars for basketball games, and 2,550 cars for concert events. The arena site is close to large amounts of existing parking, including the recently constructed University Drive parking garage.
        The Northern Kentucky legislative caucus will push for funding for the arena, a West Covington development plan and a museum at Big Bone Lick State Park during the 2002 legislative session.

        The project that seems to have the most support is the Regional Special Events Center at Northern Kentucky University. Some community members say the campus, which is the youngest college campus in Kentucky, is long overdue for an arena. The campus caters to about 10,000 students, but that number is expected to grow to 13,000 in the next few years.

        “This project can be a huge catalyst for our future,” said John Finnan, president of People's Bank of Northern Kentucky. He is a member of the Northern Kentucky Consensus Committee — area political, business and community leaders who push for state funding for local projects.

        Along with holding university-affiliated events, Mr. Finnan said, the facility could be used for athletic camps and professional sports.

        In the past, NKU graduates have had their commencement ceremonies at venues in Cincinnati because there wasn't an arena in Northern Kentucky that could accommodate them.

        “It is a little embarrassing when you have to go across the river into Ohio to let Northern Kentucky University have its graduation,” said Gary Bricking, a member of the Consensus Committee.

        Jane Meier, NKU's athletics director, has worked at the university for 23 years and said the arena could give the university the opportunity to play host to a regional tournament.

        “In my mind it is just time,” she said.

        Mr. Steidel compared the gymnasium used by NKU to gyms used by area high schools.

        Bob Yeagar, branch manager for planning for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said the added traffic an arena would generate shouldn't cause a problem as long as the events are held during off-peak hours.

        Covington Mayor Butch Callery and Assistant City Manager Tom Steidel said the West Covington project would bring a “tremendous return” of activity to the area's riverfront, citing the way the area remained somewhat stagnant during the 1950s and '80s.

        “With help, we have moved forward,” Mr. Callery said.

        Plans for Covington's development project include a riverfront office tower with 30,000 square feet of entertainment space at the plaza level, two additional office towers — one on Third Street and one on Fourth Street — and a 1,800-car parking garage. The project is estimated to cost nearly $300 million. The city can borrow $15 million of the $40 million needed to finance the project, which leaves a sum of $25 million that has to be raised at the state level.

        A facilities update and a museum at Big Bone Lick State Park will also be supported for the next session. The state park, which is a showcase of prehistoric animals, has asked for $5 million.

        If the park were updated, officials say it could be a driving force for tourism. Last year, the department of parks estimated the park attracted about 100,000 visitors.


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