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March 19, 2011

The center of activity: Local businesses cash in on KFC Yum! arena

JEFFERSONVILLE — Along with the close of the regular season for men’s NCAA basketball last week was the end of the inaugural basketball season for the KFC Yum! Center.

A multitude of other events will be hosted at the $238-million downtown Louisville arena during the remainder of the year, but the bulk of the economic impact can begin to be measured. The expectation for businesses in downtown Louisville when the arena opened in October was that for each event there would be a residual boost in business.

According to an economic impact study released in 2009 by CityVisions Associates, it was estimated the new arena would generate more than $2 billion in investment — including the arena itself — that would be made in downtown Louisville.

Businesses on the north bank of the Ohio River were also looking to capitalize on the events at the 22,000-seat facility, especially on Jeffersonville’s Restaurant Row.

The early returns suggest the arena is a positive economically for Indiana, but the extent of which is still not fully defined.

Business benefit

Tom Kapfhammer, general manager and proprietor of Rocky’s Sub Pub, said the restaurant likely saw 15 percent growth, on average, over the same time period last year.

But the affect of the arena was not felt immediately.

“It took a little time to develop,” he said. “As the season wore on, [business] picked up.”

For the first few games at the Yum! Center, businesses in downtown Louisville and across the river in Jeffersonville were in wait-and-see mode.

While an impact was felt, Jeffersonville business owners said they drew in their customers more from their reputation rather than from overcrowding in downtown Louisville.

“Without a doubt, traffic around gameday and concerts is definitely increased,” said Wes Johnson, co-owner of Buckhead Mountain Grill. “We don’t consider business we’ve gotten as overflow.”

Initial expectations for the businesses along Jeffersonville’s restaurant row was that they would bring in customers that wanted to avoid high traffic and high volume across the river.

However, the masses did not overwhelm Louisville as expected. Kapfhammer said parking in downtown Louisville was not much of an issue, as games were generally on nights where there wasn’t a high-traffic demand in downtown otherwise.

As a result, fans headed to the game were not diverted to Jeffersonville in order to patronize a restaurant before a game. but the lack of traffic jams may have added to patrons’ willingness to frequent the businesses along Restaurant Row.

“I think as the season went on, I think people figured out traffic’s not that bad, we can swing by and get a bite to eat and still make it across the Second Street bridge in time for the game,” Kapfhammer said.

He added that another benefit to the restaurants was that the games often coincided with slower nights for the restaurants, boosting their sales.

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