cardinals' NEW HOME

Clay: Cards' new arena a site to behold

KFC Yum Center's amenities, suites make it site for even uk fans to behold

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 26, 2010 

  • Rupp vs. KFC Yum
    Upcoming events not involving basketball:
    Rupp Arena KFC Yum Center
    Rodney Carrington, Jan. 7 Globetrotters, Jan. 16
    WWE Smackdown, Jan. 8 Kid Rock, Feb. 11
    Globetrotters, Jan. 14 Brad Paisley, Feb. 19
    Rascal Flatts, Jan. 27 Lady GaGa, March 12

    COMPILED BY JOHN CLAY

  • Rupp vs. KFC Yum
      Rupp Arena KFC Yum Center
    Seating capacity 23,500 22,000
    Lower bowl seats 10,000 9,100
    Luxury suites 0 71
    Opened 1976 2010
    Cost to build $53 million $238 million
    Concession stands 10 27
    Alcohol at college events No Yes

    COMPILED BY JOHN CLAY

For starters, it's just so gosh-darn bright.

Be careful, because the brand-spanking new KFC Yum Center can blind you with its shiny new features, its bells and whistles, its gleaming features.

"It's the best basketball facility in the country," Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino declared after his Cardinals defeated national runner-up Butler in the facility's first official game.

The way Louisville sees it, thanks to its new building, the future's so bright you have to wear shades.

"All the newness of it," Tom Jurich, Louisville's athletic director, said the other day. "I think that's what brings a lot of enthusiasm and happiness to the fans."

The Red Planet is gleeful, all right. The football team just won a bowl game. The basketball team is 10-1. And Cardinal fans are flocking into their new $238 million playroom, which plays host to the annual Kentucky-Louisville hoops showdown on Friday.

"It's one of those places," Jurich said, "where the fans see something different every time they come."

Gone is the Cards' former home, Freedom Hall, the 54-year-old glory barn that played host to some of the greatest moments in college basketball history — Lew Alcindor won a national title there with UCLA; Kentucky won its 1958 title there — not to mention great moments in Louisville's basketball history.

In fact, if you drive by the Fairgrounds even now, and listen real close, you can almost hear the chants of "C-A-R-D-S!!!"

But all things must pass. Freedom Hall was old. It had charm, but not pizzazz. It had great sight lines, but bad scheduling problems. It was an old-school gem in a business that feeds off new. And revenue.

In stepped Jim Host, who helped Louisville get the ball rolling, headed up the project, and rose every morning at 4:45 a.m. in Lexington and drove to the River City to get things done. There was an early battle over the site. Downtown won out. Riverfront became the address. (Thus the facility's river-falls architectural design.) Plans were drawn. Funds were provided. Shovel hit dirt. And here we are.

The place seats 22,000, making it the fifth largest basketball facility in the nation. But big doesn't always equal better. It's not the seats that make the KFC Yum Center — though those at 20 inches are wider than the normal arena seat — as much as it is what there is to see (and do) when you get out of your seat.

There are 27 permanent concession stands with 192 points of sale. There are 24 portable concession stands with 42 points of sale. There is the 8,750-square foot Woodford Reserve Club, the 3,900-square foot Evan Williams Bourbon Bar, the 2,300-square foot Kentucky Ale Taproom, plus a Burnett's V Lounge.

Then there are the meeting rooms. The 12,900-square foot Spirit Room can seat up to 640. The Legends Room can seat 350, the President's Room can seat 300, the Hickman-Camp Room can seat 250.

There are also 71 luxury suites that command as much as $92,000 a year to lease.

No wonder early estimates claim the Louisville athletics department will make as much as an additional $2 million a year off the facility.

But, according to Jurich, there is more to it than that.

"I think the overall effect has been more than we expected," Jurich said. "From the sight lines, to the facility itself, to the traffic flow, which has not been a problem. I thought it would be, but I was wrong. Everything has just really come together, and I think that's a credit to Jim Host."

It's also proving to be a boon in recruiting. Example: Rodney Purvis, the highly touted 6-foot-3 prep guard from Raleigh, N.C., who recently committed to the Cards.

After making public his commitment, Purvis said he was blown away by the Yum Center on his visit. It might not have been his No. 1 reason for picking U of L, Purvis told the Courier-Journal, "but it will be a nice place to play."

"You'd have to ask Coach Pitino about that," said Jurich when asked about the recruiting impact. "But I think it's certainly been a plus for everyone."

So, the inevitable speculation has started. Conventional wisdom says that once Kentucky fans see what Louisville fans now have, they will want a new arena, too. Only better.

"Oh, I don't know about that," Jurich said. "Rupp Arena is a terrific venue that has served Kentucky well. But that's up to them. I'm sure if they want one, they'll get one."

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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