Barnhart applauds city's efforts on Rupp but says campus needs must come first

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 1, 2012 

  • Goals for Rupp Arena

    ■ Suites

    ■ Club/loge seats

    ■ All chair-back seats

    ■ Maintain seating capacity

    ■ Home games continued without displacement

    ■ New support space for media, team locker rooms and player families

    ■ New technology

    ■ New sound system

    ■ Entertainment space for the city, UK president, athletics director

  • Recommendations

    ■ "Free Rupp Arena." Renovate it, maintain its historic character, make it a stand-alone structure.

    ■ New, bigger convention area.

    ■ Small performing arts center, arts education space, outdoor gathering/performance area, visual arts space.

    ■ Town Branch Commons, a thread of public space from the Distillery District to the East End, generally following Town Branch Creek.

    ■ Retail shops near Rupp Arena, facing Main Street and along Town Branch Commons Park, and a CatWalk between Avenue of Champions and the arena.

    ■ Parking garage and transportation hub for buses and rail.

    Potential funding sources

    ■ Revenue from premium seating, sale of stock, naming rights, advertising, concert/event promotions, concessions and parking.

    ■ Local and state governments and federal grants.

    ■ Private fund-raising.

    ■ Tax credits, including establishment of a tax increment financing, or TIF, district to support infrastructure and civic facilities.

    Proposed timetable

    April: Hire project director and project planner at Lexington Center.

    June: Solicit and select program manager and professional consultants.

    October: Complete economic and financial feasibility studies.

    November: Solicit and select design and construction teams.

    June 2013: Complete concept design.

    December 2013: Complete schematic design, cost estimates.

    Early 2014: Begin site work/demolition work.

    August 2014: Issue bonds, begin major construction.

    Spring 2014-Fall 2016: Construct Lexington Center.

    Spring 2015-Summer 2017: Renovate Rupp Arena and build Town Branch Park.

University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart applauded the effort applied to Lexington's proposed entertainment district and renovation of Rupp Arena. But echoing UK's administration, he said campus needs must be a higher priority.

"I want to get to a spot where the university's needs are met in total," Barnhart said before UK played Tennessee Tuesday night.

Barnhart spoke after the mayor's task force unveiled a proposal earlier in the day to renovate Rupp as part of a plan to develop and invigorate Lexington's downtown.

Two questions loom over the proposal, Barnhart said:

■ How to pay for a project the task force pegged at more than $250 million.

■ Making sure it does not "hinder" UK's plans to upgrade campus classroom buildings and dormitories.

The decision to renovate Rupp rather than build a new arena came quickly and easily.

"The facts led to that. Ten months of evaluating the facts," said attorney Brent Rice, who chaired the task force.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray echoed that, saying, "The first issue was cost."

Rupp's sound structure and location in the heart of downtown also played a part in the decision.

"Why not take what you've got and really build on that?" Gray said. "It's a great location, basically, and it has good bones."

Speaking at his postgame news conference after Kentucky's victory over Tennessee on Tuesday night, UK men's basketball coach John Calipari said, "Whatever is good for our city is good for our university. Whatever is good for our university is good for our city.

"That being said, we need to rebuild our campus ... over a four- to five-year period ASAP.

"If they rebuild Rupp Arena, I'm fine," he added.

Gary Bates, the architect who led the planning for the district and Rupp renovation, noted how "big conclusions" were reached near the start of a 10-month look into the project. He said UK and Lexington leaders united behind a renovation when he interviewed for the job.

"I think you guys are missing the point in discussions of a new arena," Bates said he told the task force. "It is possible to have your cake and eat it, too."

That meant a renovated Rupp could have the feel and look of a new arena.

"When I said that, I mean, it was the first time the city and school looked at each other and said, 'Maybe we can get on the same table,'" Bates said.

Bates credited Barnhart with providing "inspiration" for a CatWalk, a path linking the UK campus with the planned entertainment district.

Barnhart explained the idea by saying he was "trying to find things that create atmosphere and energy."

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