Study on new UK arenas temporarily delayed

bfortune@herald-leader.comFebruary 20, 2009 

A financial feasibility study on a downtown basketball arena and two other University of Kentucky sports stadiums has been temporarily stopped while the university fulfills state requirements and university policy for competitive bidding on the projects.

A plan to build a replacement for Rupp Arena, a new campus baseball stadium and upgrade Commonwealth Stadium was announced last year. IMG College and its affiliated company, International Stadia Group, presented a financing and construction plan in August to UK and the board of the Lexington Center, which oversees Rupp Arena.

However, Rob Mullens, deputy director of athletics, told the Lexington Center board Thursday that as the IMG/ISG feasibility study progressed, concerns about following state rules arose.

The university decided to issue a request for proposals for the baseball stadium and Commonwealth Stadium to make sure state requirements and the university's own policies on competitive bidding were followed, Mullens said.

The university's request is specifically for the baseball and football stadiums because those are the only two projects on campus and the only ones the university controls directly, Mullens said.

But UK wants a new basketball arena to replace the aging Rupp Arena, and bidders are strongly encouraged to work with Lexington Center to come up with plans for a new downtown arena.

The new request is titled Private Financing for Athletic Facilities. "We wanted it very clear to anyone interested" that developing a method of financing the new baseball stadium and additions to Commonwealth was the key element being requested, Mullens said.

The university issued the request on Jan. 30. The deadline to receive proposals is March 27.

Mullens said there has been interest in the project. "We want to create a level playing field" for all companies.

The Lexington Center board voted Thursday to cooperate with the university and respondents to UK's request.

The IMG/ISG feasibility study has been put on hold until any new proposals can be reviewed.

The current lease agreement between Lexington Center and UK expires at the end of the 2017-2018 basketball season. At that time, the arena would be 42 years old.

Owen has previously said a new arena — on what's now a parking lot across High Street from Rupp — could be up and running by the 2014 or 2015 basketball season.

A possible site for a new baseball stadium is along Alumni Drive across from the arboretum.

Improvements discussed for Commonwealth Stadium include high-definition video boards and scoreboards, more suites and premium seating, plus easy access to in-house restaurants and other facilities.

The trio of projects, with a price tag between $300 million and $400 million, would be financed privately, UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said in August.

The IMG/ISG plan to finance the projects relies on advertising and marketing revenue from the three facilities.

IMG College is the world's largest sports-marketing company. It bought out Lexington's Host Communications in 2007.

In August, IMG/ISG said it would come back with a feasibility study in about six months, roughly late February.

The Lexington Center, which operates Rupp Arena, had hired C. H. Johnson Consulting about a year ago to do a feasibility study on a new arena, expanding Lexington Center convention facilities and converting the existing Rupp into a performance hall.

The Johnson report, due to be presented to the Lexington Center Board in the next few months, remains in draft form, said Bill Owen, president and chief executive of Lexington Center.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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