By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - For years Northern Kentucky University could not convince Frankfort to spend millions of dollars for a campus special events center and arena.
But now that Gov. Ernie Fletcher has inserted $42 million in his budget for NKU to finally get that arena, school officials aren't stopping there.
NKU President James Votruba said school officials and Northern Kentucky lawmakers will work to secure another $5 million as the budget Fletcher unveiled Tuesday works its way through the legislative process.
Votruba has also committed to raising another $5 million in private and corporate money, possibly through the sale of naming rights on the new arena.
The extra money would allow for a bigger project - from about 7,500 seats at $42 million up to 10,000 seats at $52 million.
"We're anticipating what the university needs five to 10 years from now," Votruba said Wednesday. "There is no sense building what we need today. That would be shortsighted."
Fletcher included an additional $5 million in state funding that NKU and the state's other regional universities receive from Frankfort. NKU receives less money that any other state-supported university in the state.
In his budget address, Fletcher said the money would go "toward ending the funding disparity at our regional universities."
"This is huge," Votruba said.
"It's the first time I heard a governor say we were underfunded and that he was going to do something about it."
Votruba cautions that, at this stage, Fletcher's budget is only a proposal and must still be approved by the General Assembly.
"But I think it shows that the governor lived up to his campaign promise that he was going to invest in this region," Votruba said.
In addition to the money for NKU, Fletcher's budget includes $14 million for Gateway Community and Technical College to expand its Edgewood campus and add a school of nursing.
"When was the last time $56 million worth of capital projects for Northern Kentucky were in the state budget?" said Gary Toebben, president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, a key organization that lobbied for the funding. "It's unprecedented."
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