UK studying proposals for new basketball arena

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMay 12, 2009 

The University of Kentucky will decide in the next 60 to 90 days whether to go forward with plans for a new downtown basketball arena, a new campus baseball field and upgrades for Commonwealth Stadium, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said Monday.

"We're in the first stage of it," Barnhart said. "There's a long way to go."

First, they must come up with a viable financing model for the project, said Tony Neely, media relations director for UK Athletics.

UK officials received three proposals for the project Friday and are in the process of reviewing them, Barnhart said. He declined to name the three groups at this point because UK is in a bidding process.

But Tom Stultz, senior vice president and managing director of IMG College, the world's largest sports marketing firm, confirmed that his firm had submitted a proposal.

Last year, IMG College and its affiliated company, International Stadia Group, presented a financing and construction plan to UK and the board of the Lexington Center, which oversees Rupp Arena.

But in February, UK halted a feasibility study on that proposal while the university fulfilled state and university guidelines by making a request for proposals.

Barnhart said Monday that he hoped the project could go forward.

Bill Owen, president and chief executive officer of Lexington Center, said he is working with UK to review the proposals.

The three projects, which officials have previously said would cost between $300 million and $400 million, would be financed privately. The Urban County Government and Lexington Center would own the new arena, and UK would own the baseball field and Commonwealth Stadium, Barnhart told the UK Athletics Board of Directors on Monday.

Owen said Monday that a new arena — on what's now a parking lot across High Street from Rupp — could be operating by the 2014 or 2015 basketball season.

"It would take a year in design and two years in construction," he said.

Why a new arena?

"We're looking at an aging Rupp Arena as becoming functionally obsolete for its primary tenant, the University of Kentucky Athletic Association," Owen said.

"They've already been in Rupp Arena eight years longer than they were in Memorial Coliseum, Owen said.

In the new arena, there most likely wouldn't be bleachers in the upper arena, and there would be more women's restrooms, larger concourses, a bigger concession menu and club seating, he said.

Premium amenities might include luxury suites, more video capabilities and a different configuration of scoreboards.

The facility would continue to be a multi-function arena, Owen said, with family shows, concerts and commencements in addition to basketball.

Rupp Arena would be used for more convention space and a performance hall with 2,500 seats or more, he said.

A multi-level parking structure could also be part of the project, Owen said.

Several things could stop the projects, Owen said, with money at the top of the list.

But he said there are many positives:

"We already own the land, and we don't have to tear down any buildings."

UK officials declined to comment further on Monday because of the bidding process.

But the Herald-Leader previously reported that a possible site for a new baseball stadium is on Alumni Drive across from the arboretum.

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

Stultz, of IMG Media, said it would not be appropriate to comment on the proposal that his firm submitted last week for the projects.

"We'll see how UK evaluates it and hope for the best," he said.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service