Mayor appoints task force to study Rupp Arena's future

Mayor names 42 people to new task force

ctruman@herald-leader.comMarch 29, 2011 

  • The Arena, Arts and Entertainment District Task Force

    Mayor Jim Gray appointed 42 people to study whether to renovate or replace Rupp Arena. They are:

    Chairman: Brent Rice, attorney with McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie and Kirkland, real estate developer and business partner of University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino;

    Vice co-chairmen: Former Lexington Mayor Pam Miller and Jim O'Brian, chairman and chief executive, Ashland Inc.

    Gray also appointed members of four panels:

    Technical Advisory

    Bill Owen (Chairman): president and chief executive of Lexington Center Corp.

    Mitch Barnhart: UK athletics director

    Frank Butler: UK executive vice-president for finance and administration

    Ron Carmicle: chairman of the Kentucky State Fair Board, which manages the new KFC Yum Center in Louisville, where the University of Louisville plays basketball

    Vince Gabbert: former spokesman for Gov. Steve Beshear, COO of Keeneland

    Joe B. Hall: former UK basketball coach

    Royce Pulliam: chief executive of Global Fitness Holdings, the company that owns Urban Active, and co-chairman of Hoops for Haiti with UK Basketball Coach John Calipari

    Alan Stein: president, Lexington Legends Baseball

    Julian Tackett: Kentucky High School Athletic Association commissioner

    Craig Turner: chief executive and chairman of the board of Medpro Safety Products

    Woodford Webb: president of The Webb Companies, former chairman of the board of Commerce Lexington and former president of the Downtown Lexington Corporation

    Planning and Design

    Pam Miller: (chairwoman) former Lexington mayor

    Ray Ball: president, Ball Homes

    Britt Brockman: chairman, UK Board of Trustees

    Craig Greenberg: Louisville developer, attorney, Frost, Brown Todd

    Stephen Huffman: lobbyist, partner in HCM Governmental Relations

    Debbie Long: owner, Dudley's Restaurant

    Jamal Mashburn: former UK basketball player, ESPN analyst and a local businessman.

    Michael Speaks: dean, UK College of Design

    Need, Use and Benefit

    Wil James (chairman): president of Toyota's Georgetown plant

    Jim Clark: president, LexArts

    Joe Costa: president, chief executive of The Red Mile racetrack

    Cecil Dunn: chairman, Lexington Center Board and executive director of the Hope Center

    Bill Farish: chairman, Breeders' Cup, owner of Lane's End Farm

    David Lord: president, Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau

    Everett McCorvey: director, UK Opera Program

    Barry McNees: developer of the Distillery District

    P.G. Peeples: chief executive, Urban League of Lexington

    Holly Wiedemann: president, AU Associates

    Finance

    Luther Deaton (chairman): president, chief executive of Central Bank

    Bill Bishop: Arcadia Consulting Services on coal and energy issues

    Sam Bowie: former UK basketball player, local businessman

    Greg Goodman: owner, Mount Brilliant Farm

    Pete Mahurin: senior vice president of Hilliard Lyons in Bowling Green

    Davis Marksbury: co-founder of Exstream Software

    Ann McBrayer: president, Kentucky Eagle Inc., a beer distributing company

    John McCarty: president, Lexington Capital Advisors

    Chris Sullivan: founder of Outback Steakhouse

    Jude Thompson: president, chief executive of Papa John's

    Paul Varga: chief executive, Brown-Foreman

Less than 24 hours after the University of Kentucky nailed down a spot in the NCAA Final Four, Mayor Jim Gray appointed a 42-member group Monday to study the future of Rupp Arena and Lexington Center.

The group, to be called the Arena, Arts and Entertainment Task Force, will be chaired by Brent Rice, a Lexington attorney and developer.

It will be financed with $350,000 in private donations, which have not yet been raised. Gray said the money will be used to hire "the best of the best" consultants.

"We know that this arena needs to be the best, state of the art," Gray said of the study of the future of Rupp, where UK's men's basketball team has played for 35 years.

Gray said the committee's first charge would be to determine the feasibility of redesigning and renovating Rupp.

In January, UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. encouraged Gray to consider every idea, "including the concept of a new arena."

Gray said at the time that it would be much cheaper to renovate Rupp than to build a new arena. But some question whether Rupp could accommodate enough luxury boxes to fulfill the demands for such amenities.

There is no estimate of how much a new arena would cost. Louisville's KFC Yum Center, where the University of Louisville plays, cost $238 million.

The new committee is peppered with businessmen, developers, boosters and former UK players and administrators, and some who might benefit from increased business in and around downtown.

Even though Lexington is experiencing a budget crunch, the city is responsible for "making investments in tough times," Gray said, and "the best time to examine the future is when you're at the bottom."

"Lexington Center should get off its island and become part of downtown," he said.

UK is in similarly grim financial straits. Faculty and staff have not had a raise in three years, and the state's own budget problems mean that state support is unlikely to increase.

Gray and Todd both said they envision the area between UK and an upgraded Lexington Center complex as a draw for UK students and visitors who come to UK's games.

The possible renovation of Rupp Arena presents certain difficulties, including relocating basketball games during the renovation and finding enough seats to accommodate UK's fan base.

Whether the appointment of the task force signals a preference for a new arena and renovation of the current Lexington Center/Rupp Arena complex for other purposes was unclear and is likely to remain so until the committee starts meeting with consultants and making recommendations.

What is clear is that the city and the university are striking while the UK men's basketball team is on a hot streak, having unexpectedly played its way into the NCAA Final Four.

"This is a broader concept than just basketball for sure," Todd said of the task force's job. An upgraded venue "does make a difference to our student recruiting and to our faculty," he said.

The arts component of the study will reflect what some have said is a need for a new performing-arts space to replace UK's Singletary Center, which lacks the space to house touring companies of New York productions. Such productions now go either to Centre's College's Norton Center for the Arts or to Eastern Kentucky University's Center for the Performing Arts.

Gray said the committee's work would begin immediately while the funds for consultants are being raised. Rice said the committee should finish its work by January 2012.

Having UK in the Final Four is "a great omen for this task force," Rice said. He said the only improvement for the timing of the task force announcement would be to have national and international media back next week, "so they can see what this city really thinks of its basketball."

Todd, who will retire in June, said the committee "has got to be realistic, but we've also got to dream."

He also joked that he told the UK basketball players that "I'm a much better president when they win ball games."

Former UK basketball coach Joe B. Hall, named to the task force, said the timing was particularly fortunate because the Wildcats beat North Carolina on Sunday: "It would be a downer if we'd gotten beat, but we certainly got a boost."

Discussion of an arena is nothing new. In 2007, Lexington officials recommended planning for a new arena, expanding the Lexington Center's convention space and creating a performing-arts auditorium using a tax increment financing, or TIF, district designated for the state's economically depressed areas. The plan never got off the ground.

The new task force is expected to hold a public forum this fall, draft its development plan in late 2011 and hold a public forum on its final report in early 2012.

Gray said Lexington has an advantage over Louisville because it owns 46 acres that include the Lexington Center complex and areas around it, whereas Louisville's KFC Yum Center sits on a seven-acre site.

"This is a major competitive advantage and a unique asset in a downtown and city of our size," Gray said.

Linda B. Blackford contributed to this article.

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