By Josh Cook
The new downtown Louisville arena reached the "home stretch" Monday afternoon.
So declared Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear at a special Arena Topping Off ceremony, which marked the final piece of structural steel being lifted to the top of the as of yet unnamed arena.
"Wow, what do you think? Isn't this something?" Beshear rhetorically asked the crowd of roughly 300 red hard-hat wearing local dignitaries, workers and media who assembled for the ceremony on the arena floor.
An electronic sign in front of the arena, being constructed on Main Street between Second and Third streets, proclaimed it will open in 216 days. But Beshear said the future home of the University of Louisville's men's and women's basketball teams may open its doors even earlier.
"This is a $238 million project that is coming in under budget," the governor said. "Second, this project is on schedule, all signs point to this being open by the November deadline, if not sooner."
Beshear praised the some 2,000 construction jobs the arena has brought to the city, as well some of the eco-friendly aspects of the arena, including part of the roof.
Meanwhile Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson praised the Louisville Arena Authority, led by Jim Host, for its work in spear-heading the construction of the arena, something that many didn't think would ever happen.
"Some people didn't think an arena would ever be built downtown, but we proved them wrong and showed that it is possible in Louisville, Kentucky," Abramson said.
UofL President Dr. James Ramsey used the occasion to honor Freedom Hall, and the men's basketball team's final game there (an upset of then-No. 1 Syracuse), as well as the new home of the Cardinal men and women.
"March 6, 2010, who could forget that day, or who would want to forget that day...that day brought to an end an era," Ramsey said. "Today with this topping off ceremony we're moving forward with a new partnership and a new home."
"We'll have the greatest venue probably ever assembled for a college basketball program and we're looking forward to it," UofL athletic director Tom Jurich said.
In addition to housing the UofL men's and women's basketball team (UofL women's coach Jeff Walz was in attendance at the ceremony) the arena is also slated to host the 2012 NCAA women's Division I volleyball championships as well as two other "major conventions," according to Beshear.
Before the beam was raised it was signed by dignitaries and arena workers and was equipped with a flag and small tree. The tree was a symbol of nature's contribution to the building process.
"We're incredibly excited about the future of this town, this community and this Commonwealth," Beshear said.