Madison Square Garden renovation wows Rupp task force members

Renovation plan for Madison square garden intrigues Lexington leaders

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 16, 2011 

NEW YORK — The option of reinventing Rupp Arena rather than constructing a new arena in downtown Lexington gained a convert Tuesday.

Builder Ray Ball, a member of a task force charged with recommending a future home for University of Kentucky basketball, came away from a Tuesday morning tour of Madison Square Garden convinced that renovation is a good option for Lexington and UK to pursue.

"I personally believe that is the direction that makes the most sense," Ball said.

Alex Diaz, general manager of Madison Square Garden, took Ball and five other members of Lexington Mayor Jim Gray's Arts & Entertainment Task Force on a 90-minute tour that explained a $1 billion renovation that is being done at Madison Square Garden in three phases.

What intrigued Lexington leaders — and convinced Ball — was how the renovation is being done over three off-seasons. The New York Knicks and Rangers do not have to find a temporary home away from the arena during the renovation.

Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, who was part of the tour group, noted that the Madison Square Garden renovation met several criteria that UK thinks are important. It:

■ Will not decrease MSG's seating capacity.

■ Will ensure New York City a quality arena for decades. "It's not a fix-it, Band-Aid deal," Barnhart said.

■ Does not require the Knicks and Rangers to relocate.

UK has requested that any renovation of Rupp Arena not necessitate home games being played elsewhere.

"It's a well-thought-out plan," said Barnhart, who said the MSG renovation was "an important step to look at."

Calling the Madison Square Garden renovation "pretty remarkable," Barnhart said he "could not fathom" Lexington and UK leaders not studying it as a possible model.

Ball came away convinced.

"A year ago, I thought we needed a new arena," he said. "I don't feel that way now."

Lexington attorney Brent Rice, chairman of the task force, also made the tour. He called it a "real experience" to see the transformation of Madison Square Garden. He noted that the Garden was continuing to host more than 300 events each year. This week, MSG is staging events each night.

"One thing we learned is, anything is possible," Rice said in an email message.

Added Ball: "I really wasn't aware you could renovate and still have events there."

The task force also learned that the MSG project epitomizes the preferred term for renovation: a reinvention, Ball said, including skyboxes, corporate suites, "bunker" suites and new concourses. The bunker suites are under the grandstands nearest the court, Ball said. Those spaces include a walkway to seats in the stands.

"A lot of things that can be done to our facility I didn't previously think were feasible," Ball said.

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