Things that make you go Yum

Come October 10, Louisville’s economic woes will be answered… right?

For $238 million, the city could have bought herself a nice swath of quality affordable housing; small business grants to local entrepreneurs; or Kawasaki jet skis for every man, woman and child in the metropolitan statistical area. Hell, for over a quarter of a billion dollars, you could have a Kentuckiana stimulus package that could work just as good as the federal one that everybody believed false things about.

But no, we’re different. And so $238 million later, this fair city has nearly constructed a playground for an overpaid adulterer and the hapless kids who take his orders, all in the name of “economic development,” low-wage job creation and the almighty spectacle of watching sweaty men compete to lob balls into a hole. Let’s hear it for Possibility City!

After inviting the local media to take a tour of the arena — which resembles an aircraft hanger for basketball players and the 20″-wide asses of the fans who adore them — the Arena Authority was no doubt pleased that the story the hundred or so scribblers and photographers wound up telling ad nauseum was one of progress, glitz, hot b-ball action and/or the downtown that will be once the Yum Center opens.

What they forgot to tell you? For starters, Kentucky taxpayers will be the ones footing the bill for this unnecessary largesse. Via the wizardry of tax increment financing, the KFC Yum! Center will be bought and paid for with the ever-shrinking pool of our collective pre-tax gross income over the next bajillion (or so) years. As a result, Rick Pitino can feel more important while students at the University of Louisville are stuck with ever-higher tuition and fees.

Secondly, they didn’t tell you this because our community is one of many that operates under the illogic of allowing athletics programs (collegiate and/or professional) dictate our urban policy and supplant anything that resembles a legitimate strategy for lasting job creation.

But don’t take my word for it. Try The Nation’s Sports Editor, Dave Zirin:

The counterargument is that college athletic departments fund themselves and actually put money back into a school’s general fund. This is simply not true. The October Knight Commission report of college presidents stated that the 25 top football schools had revenues on average of $3.9 million in 2008. The other 94 ran deficits averaging $9.9 million. When athletic departments run deficits, it’s not like the football coach takes a pay cut. In other words, if the team is doing well, the entire school benefits. If the football team suffers, the entire school suffers. This, to put it mildly, is financial lunacy. A school would statistically be better off if it took its endowment to Vegas and just bet it all on black.

In truth, they are the result of a comprehensive attack on public education that has seen the system starved. One way this has been implemented is through stadium construction, the grand substitute for anything resembling an urban policy in this country. Over the last generation, we’ve seen $30 billion in public funds spent on stadiums. They were presented as photogenic solutions to deindustrialization, declining tax bases, and suburban flight. The results are now in and they don’t look good for the home teams. University of Maryland sports economists Dennis Coates and University of Alberta Brad R. Humphreys studied stadium funding over 30 years and failed to find one solitary example of a sports franchise lifting or even stabilizing a local economy. They concluded the opposite: “a reduction in real per capita income over the entire metropolitan area….Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy.” These projects achieve so little because the jobs created are low wage, service sector, seasonal employment. Instead of being solutions of urban decay, the stadiums have been tools of organized theft: sporting shock doctrines for our ailing cities.

But no matter: Let’s look at what you’ll be paying for, Louisville!

  • 22,090 seats for basketball! Less so for other events, like hockey or bear wrestling!
  • 71 suites, plus four party suites and 62 “Premium” boxes!
  • Six bars/lounges, including the 8,500 sq. ft. Woodford Reserve Club!
  • A glass mural that Authority Chairman Jim Host dubbed “the most spectacular thing you will ever see!”
  • A Norton-sponsored immediate care facility, which requires insurance you probably don’t have!
  • A 760-car underground garage!
  • An unmistakable and crippling sense of fiscal ennui!
  • A once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch The Fuckin’ Eagles, man!


  1. Sohl
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I take issue with your jet skis assertion, sir. Why, $238 Million can only afford a mere 32,602 jet skis! This is not to mention the extra costs associated with the good people at Kawasaki manufacturing enough of them within a reasonable timeframe. Also, where can I find a schedule of bear wrestling events, and a copy of “Tax Increment Financing for Dummies?”

  2. stu noland
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Back when the arena location was being selected I supported the water company site because of the cheaper price tag, parking logistics, and 360 degree oppotunity for spillover development. Today I think 4th and Broadway where Brown Bros. Cadillac is located would have been the logical site. However, despite the ridiculous price and traffic nightmares I am glad that they built the arena at 2nd and Main. This decision might just Save Louisville from making the biggest urban planning mistake of the 21st century: the current design of the downtown ORBP. Bringing 10s of thousands of people from all over the region to our waterfront can only help the cause of stopping Louisville’s impending disaster known as the downtown ORBP. The curved window looking straight onto the freeway is an added bonus as well.

  3. Danny
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    If this were to be a playground for the boys from lexington I don’t think anyone would be batting a lash at the new arena. Louisville has been sorely lacking in the ‘large event’ area for at least the last decade or so and needs a venue that can draw these events. It will eventually be an asset to the community as we put asses in the seats for more than just basketball. I can’t remember the last time a concert came around that I wanted to see and now maybe we can get more of those acts to stop here on their way to Cinci, Lexington, or Indy.

  4. Puhn Tang
    Posted July 31, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Don’t forget the Karen Sypher vending area for VIPs….it only takes 15 seconds to get served.

  5. Earl
    Posted August 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Why is Fat Head standing there like he had something to do with it?

    Like most actual progress around here, it happens in spite of, not because of, his presence.

    And to think this city will eventually have to bear the indignity of having something prominent named after him after he’s finally left office and cleared the path for actual progress to follow big announcements.

    If Heiner wins, you should probably expect some sort of photo opportunities similar to Saddam’s tumbling statue when Jerry’s portraits are taken down at the airport and all the other thousands of places he’s had them placed.

  6. Curt Morrison
    Posted August 2, 2010 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    Just give us our friggin’ sidewalk back.

  7. Cynthia
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps some of that money could have been utilized by the school itself to improve the graduation rate, or add programs in fields which would benefit the economic development of the city and state. It always floors me that there isn’t a school of architecture at U of L.

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  1. [...] thing we’re building a $238 million taxpayer-funded shrine to the gods of false progress, [...]

  2. By An astounding establishment – FatLip on November 8, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    [...] unified theory of bullshit that keeps the Great Consuming Electorate from thinking too hard about the hidden costs of building a $238 million pleasure dome that merely creates low-paying, seasonal s… while Louisvillians a mile west of 9th Street lucky enough to be employed cannot afford market rate [...]