Thursday, October 10, 2002

Groundbreaking nearing for Pikeville convention center




By The Associated Press

PIKEVILLE, Ky. - State and local officials could break ground as early as November on a $22.5 million arena and convention center in Pikeville that's intended to bring entertainment and trade shows to the mountains.

For decades the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center has been a dream of Pike County leaders, including Gov. Paul Patton, a former county judge-executive.

Patton
Patton
But it's been criticized by current Judge-executive Karen Gibson and others who believe the money should be spent on extending water lines to rural residents.

Bids for the 7,000-seat arena will be opened Oct. 24 - and if they meet the projected budget, groundbreaking is planned for sometime next month, said Donna Damron, the project's executive director.

Construction, delayed when original bids in January came in $8 million too high, is expected to take 18 months, with an opening in 2004 or 2005.

Mr. Patton, Pike County judge-executive from 1982-1991, called the groundbreaking an “important milestone” in a project discussed since the 1970s. “The citizens of the region will be the ones to benefit from all the hard work because they will have a state-of-the-art convention center in their backyard,” Mr. Patton said Tuesday.

Ms. Damron said the arena will bring concerts, expositions and other events to Eastern Kentucky, which has no such large facility.

Ms. Damron, who was judge-executive from 1994-1998, championed the center during her term. When she lost her re-election bid in 1998, she was hired to oversee the project, a job that earns her $60,000 a year.

Sada Napier, who lives outside Pikeville, said all county residents should have water before an arena is built. “I think the people deserve city water,” she said.

Mrs. Napier and her husband have lived on Sookeys Creek outside Pikeville since 1968. The couple and their neighbors got water lines three years ago.

Before that “we had a drilled well, and it was awful,” she said. “The water was muddy.”

Lisa Haynes, of Pike County, said she supports the arena because it would provide entertainment for adults and children.

“I think we need it,” she said. “Teenagers need something to do.”

A 1997 study - which examined a variety of issues, including who might use the facility - concluded the arena and convention center would generate $10 million annually in tickets sales, hotel stays, restaurant meals and other trickle-down effects for the town.

Ms. Gibson, a Republican, said the money spent on the convention center could best be used to extend water lines into Pike County, where she said 40 percent of the 69,000 residents do not have city water.

When she aired those views in 1999, Mr. Patton rebuked her in a letter and questioned her ability to govern. He wrote that the expo center would help the local economy grow, and said Ms. Gibson has “already demonstrated that you have absolutely no concept of how to grow the economy of Pike County, so I intend to make those decisions so long as I am governor.”"The citizens of the region will be the ones to benefit fr

views in 1999, Mr. Patton rebuked her in a letter and questioned her ability to govern. He wrote that the expo center would help the local economy grow, and said Ms. Gibson has “already demonstrated that you have absolutely no concept of how to grow the economy of Pike County, so I intend to make those decisions so long as I am governor.”"The citizens of the region will be the ones to benefit from all the hard work because they will have a state-of-the-art convention center in their backyard.'



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