Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center May Close

Here’s how Kentucky’s state government attempted to sell the construction of the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center way back in 2003-04:

Excitement is in the air as Pike County anticipates the limitless opportunities arising with the completion of the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center. Situated in the center of downtown Pikeville, the Center is under construction with an anticipated completion in 2004. During construction, the $29 million project will have an estimated $30 million annual economic impact on the county and will create approximately 130 jobs.

Can you feel the excitement?! Well, it turns out that the center is about to close because of, get this, “lack of funding.” Apparently, having the state build and own the project wasn’t quite the boost that the operators thought it would be. To be fair, none of these people saw it coming. Let’s get some inconvenient truths out of the way that were brushed aside when those same people were pushing hard for the arena’s construction:

  • The East (or Eastern) Kentucky Expo Center has a seating capacity larger than Pikeville’s population.
  • When local officials were selling the idea to the public and state lawmakers, they predicted that the arena would compete with Louisville and Nashville for conventions.
  • Huntington, WV sits 50 miles east of Pikeville which is a more natural venue for any of the concerts that Pikeville claims its arena could attract.
  • The Bluegrass Institute’s Joel Peyton reported in 2005 or 2006 (the article linked is missing the publication date) that Pike County “Deputy Judge-Executive Karen Sue Ratliff told reporters that the county does not own the center and cannot afford to pay the cost of operating it.”

So the question has to be asked: Exactly why did no one expect precisely this kind of failure? From the Herald-Leader story:

Meanwhile, county officials are urging the state to take over more of the operation costs of the state-owned convention center and arena that opened in 2005.

The arena “is in danger of shutting its doors for good because of lack of funding,” Pike Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford wrote in a letter to Gov. Steve Beshear on Nov. 29.

No, Mr. Rutheford. The arena is in danger of shutting its doors because there was never a market large enough to support it.

Here’s a modest solution for Kentucky to save some money. In exchange for giving the arena to Pike County (for free!), the Commonwealth of Kentucky will receive the naming rights to the facility: “Kentucky Public Works Failure #1.”

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