By Sean Bailey / Staff Writer
It started as a dream ten years ago the way so many dreams start.
The dream for the The Arena at the David L. Williams Southeast Kentucky Agriculture and Exposition Complex was born back in 1999 with discussion between four friends and, at some point, a doodle on a napkin.
“I’ve heard actually that the original design was drawn on the back of a napkin,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. “A lot of good things started on the back of napkin and this is one of them. And today to walk in here and to see a facility of this type in Corbin, Kentucky — what this is going to do for this region from economic standpoint is tremendous.”
Beshear was just one of many state and local dignitaries on hand for Tuesday’s grand opening of Corbin’s expo center — a project that has been ten years in the making and has cost the city approximately $23 million.
Before Beshear took the stage, Corbin’s City Manager Bill Ed Cannon gave a brief history of the 7,000 person capacity arena.
Cannon told the dignitaries and public about the meeting between him, then-mayor Scotty Williamson, Bob Mitchell District Administrator for U.S. Representative Hal Rogers, and Kentucky State Senator David L. Williams on a sunny afternoon in 1999 that started it all.
During that meeting, Cannon said the men talked about the advances in technology, the trends in economic development and realized that the region lacked a lot of opportunities.
The expo center was part of their solution.
“These three gentlemen had a vision,” Cannon said. “A lot of us have kids and grandkids, but today we have given birth to a ten year old baby. It’s been ten years in the making, we’ve got a phenomenal facility and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity our leadership has allowed us to have with this facility.”
Throughout the evening the Mayor of Corbin introduced and thanked a number of dignitaries who had a hand in getting the project finished — including officials from SMG, the worldwide management firm the city hired to run the arena, Steve Branscum, CEO of Branscum Construction which handled the construction of the 132,000 square foot facility, and Sylvia Lovely president of the Kentucky League of cities.
The building’s namesake Senator Williams also spoke to the crowd about how excited and proud he was to see the 10 year project come to fruition.
“I want all the citizens that are here today to know that this building would not be here today if it were not for the best example of what I have seen in 25 years I’ve been in public life, of folks working together,” Williams said.
He pointed out that throughout the project Corbin’s city government, which included three mayors and multiple city commissioners, never wanted the expo center to be called the “Corbin expo center”, but rather to include it’s neighbors in Knox, Whitley and surrounding counties in the project.
“When we cut this ribbon today we will open a new generation of entertainment for southeastern Kentucky,” Williams said. “An era of entertainment that will be unsurpassed, let’s enjoy it together. Let those who come to this building thank the good Lord for the opportunity to live in America and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Representatives from U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell’s office were at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting, as were U.S. Rep Rogers representatives. Kentucky State senate minority leader Ed Worley, state senators Robert Stivers, Tom Jensen and state representative Charlie Siler, also were present to show their support Tuesday night.
After the speeches, former mayor Scotty Williamson said he was happily surprised by how the arena matched the original vision of the project formed 10 years ago.
“I think this venue is really going to lend itself to just endless possibilities over the years,” Williamson said. “I’m just really shocked how close it came to the dream.”
Besides state and local officials, average Corbinites got the chance to tour the expo center, try food from the center’s vendors and enter contests to win tickets to upcoming events.
James Farmer was one resident excited by the possibilities of the expo center will bring to corbin — and the sheer size of the place.
“It’s better than Rupp arena, and it’s close to home,” Farmer said. “And just seeing it at the bottom of the hill all the time you really can get the size.”
The Saskos were also impressed by the expo center’s size.
“It’s big,” Chris Sasko said. “My wife said, because we used to live in Ohio, it’s something like you would see in Cleveland.”
“Yeah, we also went back to Clevland to see the circus,” Terry Sasko, Chris’ wife continued. “And look it’s going to be right here in our backyard. It’s going to be nice.”
But Chris says on the whole he, as he puts it, is “guardedly impressed.” Guarded, because Chris sees the next step in the expo center’s story is the sale of alcohol at the arena, something he’s not looking forward to.
“It’s just a shame you can have something like this, and then also have alcohol,” Chris Sasko said.
Whatever the future of the expo center is, Tuesday night, the buzz word around the newly finished arena was “wow”.
“When I walked in here tonight there was one word that came to my mind, and that word was ‘Wow’,” Gov. Beshear said.
“Wow, folks you could pick up this facility and put it down in Lexington, Louisville, Cincinnati, where ever you want to put it, and it would fit in because I haven’t a seen a finer facility of this type ... You’ve got such a great deal to be proud of.”
Approximately 1,000 people, along with city and state dignitaries, on hand for Tuesday’s celebration
By Sean Bailey / Staff Writer
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