Mitch Barnhart: New basketball arena is in city's hands

UK waiting to hear new proposals

ccosby@herald-leader.comDecember 2, 2010 

University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said this week that he'd be open to discussing a new downtown basketball arena for UK but that it was up to the city of Lexington to make the next move.

Barnhart said the downtown arena initiative proposed two years ago by UK with sports marketing company IMG College fell through about a month ago.

That proposal called for a new basketball arena, a new campus baseball field and upgrades to Commonwealth Stadium with a total price tag between $300 million and $400 million, which was to be financed privately.

Barnhart said that once the city elected not to participate in conversations about a basketball arena, UK decided to move forward with its own plans for the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium and the baseball facility.

"Through different pieces of legislation and low bonding capacity, it wasn't a project we could make happen (under the original request for proposal)," he said. "We're looking at other alternatives."

Barnhart said he hopes talks can resume at some point soon.

UK has played in Rupp Arena since 1976, and its lease is set to expire in 2018. Barnhart said a new arena could be constructed in 11/2 to two years once the conversations get going.

"It's in the hands of the city," he said. "The original proposal, they did not want to have any part of that. I trust that is a conversation that they're carrying on, and they'll come back to us at the appropriate time with a plan of what needs to be done to address the same issues."

Lexington Mayor-Elect Jim Gray said that despite the severe economic conditions, the city will continue to evaluate the possibility of a new downtown arena.

"The Lexington Civic Center is a huge asset to the city and a big influence on the downtown area," Gray said. "These are really tough times, but that's when we really need to dial up the imagination. UK basketball is a significant brand, and it's really the city's responsibility to always examine that question (of a new arena)."

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