Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sports Talk: New and Improved...At What Cost?

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Aug. 21, 2013. 
Sports are great in all forms and fashion but a live sporting event definitely has one up on a game on TV or the radio, especially when it comes to college or professional events.
I don’t go to a lot of these events. I did get to go to a Reds game this past summer and last fall I attended a UofL football game. I haven’t been to a basketball game in awhile. I suppose a Bellarmine homecoming game a couple of years ago and a UK game several years back were the most recent.

I won’t lie and say the aesthetics of the venue of a live sporting event don’t add to the experience. Of course a beautiful arena brings the event to a whole new level. However, what’s a new and improved venue worth and things like the 2010 Yum! Center and the redesign of Rupp Arena as exciting as we think?

I recently read an article some of the funding for the redesign of Rupp Arena.  It’s definitely an exciting project. I worked only a few blocks away from the site during the building process of the Yum! Center. A countdown to finish display sat outside the construction site and I saw the daily progress. People of the city—even non-Cardinal fans—were excited for the city’s addition, knowing it would host more than just basketball games.

However, sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in that excitement and not think about where the money for such an undertaking comes from.

Along with the revelation of the group taking on the redesign of Rupp Arena, it was also announced that $2.5 million of the money being put toward this project would come from the coal severance tax.This is money coal companies must pay coal-producing counties because of the non-renewable resources being taken out of the county (coal). That’s right: money that particular eastern counties are earning because of the coal they produce, is being put toward the redesign of an arena in Central Kentucky.

Though Rupp is not in the coal fields, many believe it plays an important role in the state because of the tradition of the University of Kentucky basketball program, and there is strong alumni support in our region as well,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo was quoted by the Lexington Herald.

recognize that $2.5 million is a drop in the bucket for the $300 million project, and I do not doubt that the events that will come to Rupp Arena after its redesign will be excited for many across the state—even outside of sports--but let’s think about those Eastern Kentucky counties that hold the valuable coal resource—that once it is gone, it is gone forever.

It is no secret that these need revenue for a boost in their economy and even better education options to help those formerly in the coal industry who are now without a job.  No matter the “alumni support” in those counties, that $2.5 million could benefit a lot of people directly if actually spent in those counties. The families and individuals who could most take advantage of money being put toward the economy or education in those counties, I’m guessing, will not feel or receive any positive outcomes of a redesigned arena in Lexington.

Is it right or fair that money our state has, only because of certain areas of our state, is being spent on a recreational project, when the areas generating the revenue could truly use this revenue to better the economic and educational opportunities of its residents directly?
And what are the guarantees this project will help anyone in the state? Let’s look at the Yum! Center project. Opened in 2010, it has year after year struggled to make profit and hit its mark on payments on the project and has turned back to government money to do so. It was a $349 million taxpayer money project.  The project only continues to lose money instead of turn a profit.

The Rupp Arena project is less expensive, but what will be different about the outcome and possibilities for this arena that will allow it to be profitable?

The article I read about the coal severance tax money being spent on this project included the thoughts of one of the Wildcat’s biggest fans: Matt Jones, host of the call-in show, “Kentucky Sports Radio”. Despite his love and devotion the Big Blue Nation, he is disappointed in the state’s decision to use Eastern Kentucky’s coal revenue toward the Lexington arena. He is not against the project itself, but using the coal severance tax on a project that does not directly benefit the people and counties that brought in the money does not make sense.

I cannot claim to know how far $2.5 million would even go in helping those coal-producing counties that brought in the money, but that’s not the point. The point is, despite our love for our sports teams and entertainment, is it right? Does it make you wonder what part of your taxes will go toward this project even if you are likely to never attend a single event at the arena? Or for you hard core UK fans, what of your money went toward UofL’s Yum! Center (and continue to)?

We love our teams and love our sports, but keep in mind that oftentimes more of your money is being spent on these teams than we acknowledge and sometimes there are more important ways our money can be bettering the people, economy and education of our state.

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