Committee appointed to lead Rupp Arena renovation project

lblackford@herald-leader.comJuly 19, 2012 

The Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District project will be led by a subcommittee of the Lexington Center board of directors, which will try to parlay an initial $3.2 million into an urban-renewal project that could cost $300 million.

"That is a very big responsibility for all of us," board chairman Cecil Dunn said during a meeting Thursday.

Dunn will serve on the subcommittee, which will be chaired by Brent Rice, a Lexington lawyer and developer who also chaired the initial Rupp District Task Force convened by Mayor Jim Gray. Other board members who will make up the subcommittee are:

■ Royce Pulliam, founder of Urban Active.

■ Craig Turner, CEO of MedPro Safety Products.

■ Holly Wiedemann, developer.

Lexington Center CEO Bill Owen, who is not on the board, also will serve on the subcommittee.

The project will be managed by Frank Butler, a vice-president at the University of Kentucky who offered to use his phased retirement to work on the project.

The $3.2 million includes a $2.5 million appropriation from the General Assembly, a $1.25 appropriation from the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, a $250,000 donation from the Lexington Center and $200,000 from the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau.

That initial funding is supposed to be used for initial design and planning for a project that would renovate Rupp Arena, expand the Lexington Center's convention space and turn surrounding parking lots into an area of stores and parkland that connects with the Distillery District along Manchester Street.

Butler said he saw Rupp Arena as the start of a downtown renewal 30 years ago, and he shared the board's passion for the project. As he begins working on the project, Butler said, he would focus on finding a financial adviser and begin working on bid requests for design and construction teams.

"I want to come out of the gate with a business plan we can all embrace," he told the board Thursday.

According to his preliminary timetable, construction could begin on Rupp by spring 2014 and spread to Town Branch Park, as it is being called, by 2015. "There's nothing here that's cast in stone," he said.

According to board members, the Rupp renovation project has gotten a big boost from the privately funded construction of new locker rooms. The $2.6 million project was started by UK basketball coach John Calipari. The basketball team is Rupp's primary tenant. Calipari has said he will reveal the donors' names when the project is complete this fall.

"To use the term renovation is a gross understatement," Owen said. "This has been a process of demolishing about 18,000 square feet that has existed for 37 years."

The construction includes a circular locker room that is identical to the men's basketball team's locker room at the Joe Craft Center. The project will turn eight former locker rooms into four larger ones, for performers who come to Rupp, Owen said.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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