After a long hiatus, over the past year I have found myself reintroduced to corporate America thanks to my gigs with Insight Cable (KSTV) and Clear Channel Radio (KSR Radio). In the three prior years, I had essentially worked solely for myself in the legal/blog world and that lifestyle had basically made me immune to any type of bureaucracy that was not self-created. When business takes place at a KSR corporate meeting, it generally involves Drew trying desperately to stay awake or getting Hubby to stop showing the group pictures of him shirtless on the beach. We only meet when required and even then, 75% of the time is spent laughing and telling Billy Gillispie stories. But the corporate world as a whole doesn’t follow that lead. Corporations and government primarily exist to create a series of meetings and “review sessions”, some of which are fortunately accompanied by donuts/pizza. These meetings may accomplish little, but they make everyone involved feel better and often include Powerpoint. Nothing can be decided without many people talking and rationality/efficiency will always be sacrificed for the glory of red tape. I am fortunate to have found bosses who allow me to escape most corporate drudgery in television and radio, but when it shows up, I feel the need to immediately pull my (bad) hair out.
This feeling of needless adherence to bureaucracy is also driving the current delay in movement in the building of a new Rupp Arena. Make no mistake about it, the only rational decision for UK and Lexington is to build a new Rupp Arena. Rupp Arena is a graying, dreary facility that we as Kentucky fans only really love because of the memories that have taken place within it. There is not a historical architectural or ambiance component to Rupp (a la Phog Allen Fieldhouse or Cameron Indoor) and it has virtually none of the bells and whistles of the new generation of basketball facilities. The University desperately wants to move in a new direction and while they are forced publicly to support the desire for more study, their position privately is clear. Unfortunately the city of Lexington’s reaction to this situation has been to create one of the worst forms of government/private partnership excess…the dreaded “Task Force” for further study.
In case you have been under a rock, in late March, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray created a city Task Force to look into options for a new downtown arena. The options were basically (a) build a new arena, (b) renovate Rupp Arena, (c) lose the next election. The task force was to spend NINE MONTHS studying which plan best suited the city, while also looking into what has worked in other areas. As part of the task force’s work (which recently added its 47TH MEMBER…a number that is ridiculous on the surface, but even more so when one considers that none are on the Task Force to represent the UK fan perspective), a number of other sites have been visited and meetings have been had, where I am sure someone brought Chik-Fil-A and Starbucks. The first draft of whatever findings the group has made are to be announced on September 7th, with the final recommendation coming in 2012. Estimated total cost? $350,000, with no release that I have seen detailing how that money is actually being spent (hopefully at least part is going to commemorative t-shirts for all 47 members).
And what will this group determine? Well unless they let everyone’s favorite curmudgeon Jerry Tipton have the final say, the Task Force will almost certainly decide that Lexington must have a new arena. Financially it is the only option that makes sense. Lexington is now in the unenviable position of having a second-rate facility as the centerpiece of its efforts to attract concerts, conventions and events to the area, while competing against one of the nicest new arenas in America just an hour down the road. The basketball program that is one of the key driving economic forces in the city is left without luxury suites, leaving serious amounts of revenue on the table for the city and harming the University’s ability to fund its other athletic programs. Were the Task Force to come to a different conclusion, it would risk running averse to the most popular citizen in the Commonwealth (John Calipari) and committing huge amounts of money to the renovation of a building that will only grow more out of date by the year. All 47 people know this and absent whatever amount of its members represent the “only build something if it will house cultural progressive events that will be attended by literally dozens” lobby, nearly every one will recommend a new building be built.
So what are we waiting for? With the need obvious and delay only allowing those in the relevance-dwindling newspaper industry to have more time to disagree with its conclusion, why can’t we abandon this silly process and simply began planning for the new jewel of college basketball? The answer is simple. The entire Task Force exists for the decision makers to have “cover your ass” immunity. When the decision to build is ultimately reached, a large price tag will be announced, bearded hippies in Birkenstocks will protest with poorly made signs and back room deals for bidding preference will be agreed upon, there will have to be some excuse to which those in charge can point, absolving them of all responsibility. By creating a 47-person mega group of “corporate leaders”, the local government and business heads can say, “hey we are just following the recommendation…don’t blame us if you don’t like its conclusion!” We will learn exactly nothing from this Task Force that we couldn’t have already found out from a thorough Google search and a list of phone numbers of a set of city planners/economists. But the Task Force allows a rational and efficient decision to become one mangled by corporate group think, with the added benefit of delay and lack of responsibility.
A new Lexington arena will instantly become the centerpiece of the city and one of the most important pieces of real estate in the Commonwealth. Such a facility needs to be state of the art and modern, not simply a patch work of change on a 1970s building that isn’t even all that aesthetically pleasing today. It will require leaders willing to showcase vision and a desire to move the city forward, not simply have a built-in excuse if things go wrong. A new Rupp Arena should be the crowning jewel of college basketball and the best such facility in any mid-size city like Lexington in America. That can happen, but only if those leaders in charge quickly get away from the “47 member Task Force mentality” and showcase the leadership necessary to effectuate actual change for the betterment of the University and the city.