Lexington mayor tells legislators it is possible to renovate Rupp Arena

jbrammer@herald-leader.comDecember 1, 2011 

  • If you go

    What: Consultant Gary Bates will lead a public forum to solicit ideas from the community on the proposed Arena, Arts & Entertainment District, and discuss the future of the Lexington Center and Rupp Arena.

    When: 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

    Where: Lexington Children's Theatre, 418 West Short Street.

FRANKFORT — Lexington Mayor Jim Gray told state lawmakers Wednesday he is pleased that a new feasibility study about the future of Rupp Arena shows "it is still very possible to retain the extraordinary, awesome energy of Rupp Arena while actually getting far more for our city for less money than a new arena would cost us."

However, Gray, after telling a legislative committee advantages of renovating the arena that is home to the University of Kentucky men's basketball team, stopped short of saying whether he prefers a new or renovated arena for downtown Lexington.

Gray said he wants to hear from the privately funded Arena, Arts & Entertainment Task Force, which is scheduled to complete its work Jan. 31 on a proposal for the 46-acre district that includes Rupp Arena.

"I'm willing to listen; I'm going to listen," he said.

A feasibility study obtained Tuesday by the Herald-Leader said renovating Rupp Arena would cost between $110 million and $130 million, compared to $300 million to $325 million for a new arena.

It also said expanding the Lexington Center for additional convention and exhibition space would cost $70 million, compared to $100 million to $130 million for a new convention center.

Gray told members of the legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Local Government that the study evaluated four options for Rupp and the Lexington Center, including alternative locations and a choice between new and renovated facilities.

He said Rupp Arena has "great bones" in describing the structural soundness of the city-owned arena that opened in 1976.

A renovated arena could put more fans closer to the action than newer arenas do, and UK could continue to play in Rupp during the renovation, Gray said.

He also said renovation could create a "modest increase" in the number of seats and premium seating could be incorporated. Also, chair backs could be added on seats in the upper level, he said.

Gray also talked to the legislators about his working relationship with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer to form a new organization to promote an economic partnership between the two cities.

The new organization designed to attract advanced manufacturing jobs in a 22-county area including Lexington and Louisville, Gray said, is "about the whole state," Gray said.

But several lawmakers expressed concern that the legislature not ignore their regions of the state in favor of Lexington and Louisville.

Some lawmakers also questioned why the organization did not include union leaders, school superintendents and experts in drug abuse in the workplace.

Gray said the organization will include "a broad representation" through its working committees.

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