Monday, February 15, 2010
How The Arena Should Have Been Built and What Teams To Attract To It
Thanks to Former Evansville councilman Steve Bagbey, the new Evansville arena is going to be built and it's going to be built downtown. This is a tremendous step in the right direction for bringing downtown back to life. Time and time again it has been proven that sports facilities revitalize struggling downtowns whether it be Toledo, Dayton, Detroit, Orlando, or Indianapolis (formely known as naptown before the RCA Dome came to town). Mayor Weinzapfel has already said there are various developers who will build downtown next to the arena. This is great news, and I'm extremely confident this project will be a success. However, there are a few things I would have done differently.
First of all, the current plan is to build the arena on two blocks: one that is bounded by locust, main st, mlk, and 6th, and the other which is half of a block on the old Executive Inn atrium lot bounded by locust, walnut, mlk, and 6th streets. The arena is going to have a seating capacity of 10,000-12,000 seats for basketball and hockey. Construction is expected to be complete late 2011.
This was the report the city conducted for the arena: http://www.evansvillegov.org/download/Events%20Center.pdf
In regards to the seating capacity, I think it's going to be too small. This arena had to have been at least 14,000 seats to even draw the NCAA's attention and it is way below that. The reason given is that Evansville needs an arena that fits its size. I believe that is the reason Evansville failed to grow in the first place. It failed to plan for the future, and it failed to realize that in order to grow you have to build things bigger and better than other cities. The Qwest Center in Omaha was recently expanded to hold 17,560 and has been able to draw enormous events that still won't consider Evansville. In my opinion, Evansville should have built an arena that would hold between 18,000 to 20,000 seats. It would have attracted NCAA tournament games, bigger concerts, and would have been a landmark for the region. One can only hope that Evansville will consider expanding this arena within the first 5-10 years after its construction.
As far as the location goes, I think the current plan has a lot of good attributes to it but I would have done it a little different too. I believe the city made a good decision in locating the arena next to Main Street, the Executive Inn, and the Centre but I think it made a bad decision partially demolishing the Executive Inn. Even though the Executive Inn was struggling, I'm not convinced it needed to be partially demolished. I already miss that huge tower that lit up the downtown skyline each night. With a 18k-20k seat arena with it, the atrium part of the Executive Inn would have been packed, and even if there wasn't sufficient demand for a hotel that part of it could have been converted into gameday condos. The original plan was to build the arena in the D-Patrick parking lot but that would have failed to touch main street which is a huge disadvantage for the revitalization efforts of Main Street.
So what would my final location have been? Since my arena would have been bigger, I would have purchased four lots: The two current ones, the D-Patrick lot with its office building, and the block on Main Street just south of the current one the arena is going to be on. I would have designed the arena so that it faced MLK and the Centre where one whole side of the arena would go along Main Street. The side of the arena on Main Street would have had the current historical buildings built into the side of it and it would have featured several arena style restaurants and shops like the ones built into the Verizon Center in Washington D.C (picture below). On the other side, I would have built the Executive Inn atrium into the arena so that condo and hotel guests could simple walk right into their luxury boxes and club seats on gameday. I would still have demolished the pool area on the Executive Inn lot where I would set up a gathering plaza similar to the one Louisville is building with their new arena. The remaining D-Patrick lot would be left open for future ballpark village development.
With all of that being said, the current arena layout is already under construction so we must now focus on what to do with the arena. I have 3 proposals
1. Recruit an NBDL team: The NBA has started a minor league where it teams can send their players down for assignment. Although there is already a team in Indiana (Fort Wayne) there is still plenty of region teams that need an affiliate. Chicago, Memphis, and Indiana could use an Evansville NBDL team to send its players down for assignment and be able to call them back up quickly. Evansville would be able to fill 28 event dates with an NBDL team.
2. Bring back the Evansville Bluecats: Although the Bluecats of the Indoor Football League have ceased operations currently, things have changed. Obviously the new arena will help bring in a whole lot more people than Roberts Stadium did, but the indoor football leagues have also reorganized under a business modal that I believe stands a better chance of being successful going forward. Rivalries could be renewed with Fort Wayne, Lexington (If they come back and Evansville moves up in leagues), and maybe Owensboro one day. This would bring in at least 7 more event dates.
3. Make bids for NCAA tournaments and recruit USI to move in: Although the arena is small, it will still be in an excellent position to host the Div II basketball championship as well as several other championships. Eventually, USI will outgrow the PAC and will be looking towards building a new arena. Instead of building a new arena on campus, the Screaming Eagles could move in downtown with the Aces. This would bring in another additional 18 event dates and would allow USI to move up to division I basketball which would make for a great rivalry with UE.
If Evansville can commit to putting these 3 things in the new arena, improve the ACES basketball program, move the Evansville Icemen into the arena, and begin recruiting top notch concerts, the future looks bright for the new arena and downtown Evansville!