On New Year’s Eve, thousands of people packed into the Appalachian Wireless Arena to see the third in a series of sold-out performances by local native Tyler Childers.
While there were some minor bumps along the way, officials have said the series of concerts not only set a record but were an incredibly enjoyable set of shows that not only allowed the community and facility to showcase itself, but an opportunity for a rising star with local roots to reconnect with the people who were among the first to hear his work.
Kudos to all involved in the shows, which not only brought revenue into the arena, but also into our community through attendees’ other spending — at stores, restaurants, hotels and beyond. Thanks to this, the community got a nice post-Christmas present of an infusion of cash that made the New Year’s holiday just a bit more bright.
These days, it’s not really surprising for the Appalachian Wireless Arena to have a successful show, but the Tyler Childers run was a nice way to close out 2019. The facility is doing well, bringing in an extremely diverse range of acts and events that keep the facility busy and bring in revenue and positive attention for our community.
What many who gathered at the facility on New Year’s Eve may not have realized, however, is that exactly 20 years to the date, the Appalachian Wireless Arena was almost dead before it even got started.
Dec. 31, 1999 was not a day of celebration for many in Pike County. On that date, the Pike County Fiscal Court met for three hours, marking the end of nearly a month of an extremely nasty back-and-forth fight over what was then the proposed Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center and whether the county should contribute to the cause.
Then-Gov. Paul Patton had requested that the court contribute $1.3 million of a $3 million surplus the court had to the land acquisition for the project.
Then-Judge-Executive Karen Gibson fought tooth-and-nail against the proposal, instead saying that the money should be used to extend public water service through areas of the county not then covered. At the time, Patton and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers pledged to work to provide state and federal funding to do the water projects if Pike County would make the $1.3 million contribution.
In the end, a 5-2 vote by the court to contribute the money was cast at the end of that New Year’s Eve meeting, and the rest is history.
So what’s the lesson to be learned here? The answer to that question is nuanced, and depends on several factors, but one of the main takeaways should be that not every “crazy” idea is a bad one.
Was Gibson wrong? No. Was the court wrong? No.
Waterlines should have been, and ultimately were, funded. The Expo Center project should have been, and ultimately was, funded. How we got there was not a painless process and the impacts of that debate still reverberate in our community today.
In order for our community to succeed, risks will have to be taken. Some of those — such as Appalachian Wireless Arena — have paid off. Some — such as commercial air service or Enerblu — have not. And we’ll have to take our lumps as we go, unfortunately.
It’s difficult to see into the future and attempt to figure out what will work, as well as to completely prevent ourselves from getting behind a project which doesn’t pan out.
That’s the way it goes. Appalachian Wireless Arena, however, appears to have been one of those projects which panned out, and, as the thousands who came to town to see Tyler Childers recently would tell you, it’s turned out to be a heck of a lot of fun, as well.