Panel to hear proposal for UK stadium renovation on national signing day

lblackford@herald-leader.comFebruary 5, 2013 

Sports Turf crews prepared the field at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington in September 2011, just ahead of the first home game of the season. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

University of Kentucky football fans might have more than new recruits to celebrate on national signing day Wednesday, as state lawmakers take a first step toward allowing a $110 million face lift for Commonwealth Stadium.

The House Appropriation and Revenue Committee is expected to approve three big construction projects at the University of Kentucky, including the Commonwealth renovation, during a special meeting Wednesday morning, officials said Tuesday.

House Bill 7, sponsored by Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, will include 11 projects at six universities. The proposal would give UK legislative approval to float $275 million in agency bonds for a new science building, and for major renovations to its business school and football stadium.

Rand said Tuesday that he'd heard no objections to the projects, which will be financed with agency bonds. That means the universities will pay the debt service themselves rather than depending on state General Fund money.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he thinks the bill "will fly through the House, maybe this week."

He credited University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto with "doing a heck of a job on it."

After rebuffing university building proposals in recent years, lawmakers said they appreciate that the universities showed up this year with a smaller list of projects that included exact plans for how the debt service would be paid.

In UK's case, that includes private fundraising and a plan in which UK Athletics will shoulder some of the burden. Specifically, athletics will pay for the $110 million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium and will pay $65 million of the debt on the new $100 million science building, an unprecedented contribution from athletics to academics.

The $65 million renovation of the Gatton School will be a mix of bonds and fundraising.

Design plans have already started, and all three projects are expected to be finished between 2015 and 2016.

Republican leaders in the Senate have not yet met on the bill, but Senate President Robert Stivers said last month he expects they will largely agree to support it.

Despite the widespread support, UK has tried to rally supporters by sending email to all of its alumni urging them to contact their legislators.

"With the support of the governor and legislators across the state, we have found a path to move forward with the critical revitalization of our campus, working with athletics, generous donors and through greater internal efficiency," Capilouto said Tuesday. "The filing of legislation represents one more important step in this process. We look forward to continuing to talk with policy leaders and the Big Blue Nation that has rallied around this initiative."

Jack Brammer and Beth Musgrave contributed to this story. Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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