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NKU’s New Arena

By wmadministrator

Basketball games, concerts and conferences will draw thousands of people to a $68.9 million campus arena set to open this fall, Northern Kentucky University officials believe. The Bank of Kentucky Center – billed by its management as Greater Cincinnati’s newest entertainment venue – is the latest illustration of Northern Kentucky’s continued economic and population growth.

“The opening of the Bank of Kentucky Center will be a historic day not only for Northern Kentucky University but also for our region,” NKU President Jim Votruba said. “For the first time, we will have a venue that can host regional, state and national sport, entertainment and conference events.”

Though located on the university’s Highland Heights campus and mainly funded by the Kentucky legislature, the Bank of Kentucky Center was designed to reach out beyond the campus into the surrounding communities through its programming. The university hopes not only to reach Cincinnati area patrons but the entire region.

The university hired an outside facilities management company, SMG, to oversee the arena and book events. SMG is a Philadelphia-based company with offices also in Europe, Latin America and Asia. SMG also handles marketing and development.

“It’s definitely the first of its kind here. It’s a great opportunity to see some events on this side of the river,” General Manager Les Crooks, of SMG, said.

More than 100 dates annually
A SMG spokesman said management wasn’t yet prepared to announce what events have been booked, but SMG is planning for 100-125 events in the first year and by mid-January had about 70 booked.

“And it’s going up daily,” Crooks said.

Tom Caradonio, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the new arena – which will seat up to 10,000 – will allow the region to bring in larger acts than it can now accommodate.

“You can seat about 6,500 at Turfway (racetrack), but this is the only strictly larger arena facility in Northern Kentucky,” he said.

It will also allow the region to get shows while they’re hot, he said. “Usually those kinds of shows that have 5,600 seats, you’re either getting them on their way up or on their way down,” he said.

“The Convention Bureau will be going after markets we didn’t have the facility to accommodate before, which would be the type of sporting events of a regional nature, high school wrestling, high school volleyball championships. Now Northern Kentucky can go after that,” Caradonio added.

When completed, the arena’s construction will have been finished in about two years. It will replace NKU’s Regents Hall as the home of the university’s men’s and women’s sports teams. All home games will be played there.

Regents Hall, which seats less than 2,000, is similar in size to a high school gym. It’s so small that the university has not been able to hold basketball tournaments or its own commencements there.

But on May 10, instead heading across the river to Cincinnati on graduation day as usual, the university will hold commencement at the nearly completed arena. It will close again briefly before a planned grand opening on Sept. 1.

“That’s the actual first event (the commencement), then we’ll shut back down to finish the construction process,” Crooks said.

Votruba said the Bank of Kentucky Center will boost the university’s visibility. NKU was founded in 1968 as in Campbell County as Northern Kentucky State College, and it’s the newest of the state’s eight regional universities.

“This will create new jobs and critical new tax revenues as people come from all over the Midwest to be a part of events at the Bank of Kentucky Center. The center will also serve as a recruiting tool for NKU – bringing many people to our campus who have never been before and who might not otherwise realize the convenience NKU offers,” Votruba added.

Self sustaining
The Kentucky General Assembly funded $54 million of the arena in 2005. The Bank of Kentucky, a Northern Kentucky-based bank, paid $6 million for the naming rights to the arena. The university will receive some money to maintain the facility, but plans are for the arena to be financially self-sufficient in three to five years, NKU Vice President for Administration and Finance Ken Ramey said.
The arena was built after a feasibility study in 1998 showed there was a need for it. Members of the Northern Kentucky business community see it as both a symbol – and a driver – of the region’s economic growth.

“Just as Northern Kentucky received funding a few years ago for a convention center to handle its growing needs as a popular destination for meetings and convention space, the region and university’s Bank of Kentucky Arena is symbolic of our college’s coming of age and robust growth,” said Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Steve Stevens.

The university is planning to support the arena with a 100-room hotel and restaurant complex. The NKU Foundation has purchased 12 acres that it will develop near the arena.

No date has been set for that complementary project’s groundbreaking, but the foundation will work with a development partner in the project, NKU Foundation Executive Director Karen Zerhusen Kruer said.

The Bank of Kentucky Center is located near interstates 275 and 471, less than five miles from Cincinnati’s outdoor Riverbend Music Center. At more than 245,000 square feet, the Bank of Kentucky Center seats 9,400 for basketball games but has retractable seating that allows for 10,000-person seating at concerts. There also are 12 luxury suites – about half leased by corporations – that contain bathrooms and kitchenettes. Two party decks, which accommodate 50, can be rented on an event-by-event basis. SMG continues to seek corporate sponsorships through sign placement in the arena.

The arena is close to downtown Cincinnati, the Newport Aquarium and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

“Like the convention center, this facility provides tremendous opportunities to draw events and activities now held in other parts of the state. Sporting events and athletic tournaments often like to rotate sites and if they are multiday events, the preference of planners is to be at a location that has a lot to offer – hotel accommodations, dining and entertainment as well as tourist attractions,” Stevens said.

In addition to concession stands, plans also call for what SMG calls a “branded food court,” which will feature national/regional vendors. (Details on those vendors have not yet been announced.)

The building also has four conference rooms and wireless Internet access. A skywalk will connect the arena to a new 1,000-space parking lot and garage. There will also be access from campus parking spaces.

The building has been designed so that another 1,200 to 1,400 seats can be added in the future.

“We also wanted to ensure that the event center be able to grow down the road,” Ramey said.