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New arena symbol of Northern Kentucky University’s growth

Bank of Kentucky Arena, which opens today in Highland Heights, symbolizes more than a new hoop home.
They may not be quite ready to walk in the shadows of say, Louisville or U of Kentucky, but you could hardly blame Northern Kentucky backers for puffing their chests a bit today. Bank of Kentucky Center, the $68 million facility in the Cincinnati suburb, stands for more than just a hoop haven. In addition to being the new home for NKU basketballers, it is a symbol of growth for the school.

To many, it is a sign that NKU is no longer a sleepy school. Rather, it is a player worth noting in an area full of several major colleges.

Carrie Underwood, who parlayed success on "American Idol" into an excellent recording career, opens the new arena Wednesday with a concert.  Jeff Dunham, Alan Jackson, Trace Adkins and Cirque du Soleil are also booked into the 10,000 seat facility prior to NKU’s first basketball games against Louisville November 8. (It is one of two games against Division I schools the D-II level Norse will play this year. They also have a game at Cincinnati.)

"It (the arena) gives students something to do other than going home and going to class," said NKU sophomore Mike Grote. "It makes you feel you are going to a real university rather than a commuter school."

Managed by SMG, the arena took two years to build … but had been talked about for nearly two decades. The arena’s listed basketball capacity of 9,400 is nearly six times the capacity of NKU’s old basketball home.

The state of Kentucky picked up the lion’s share ($54 million) of the pricetag. The school sold the naming rights for $6 million and came up with the rest itself. NKU is also responsible for any last-second issues and is paying SMG to run the place.

But that’s just fine with the folks who run the state’s youngest university. The 40-year old school now has 14,000 students but plans on getting bigger. Thus, the arena stands as a symbol of what could be.

"It increases publicity," said  NKU sophomore A.J. Miller. "You hear the acts on the radio say they are going to the Bank of Kentucky Center and you go, ‘Hey, that’s my college.’

"Now NKU is on the map."