Public gets peek, offers feedback on redesigned Rupp Arena, Town Branch

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comSeptember 18, 2013 

A conceptual view of the Cox Street parking lot portion of the proposed Town Branch Commons in Lexington. The rendering was provided by SCAPE/Landscape Architecture, which won a competition to work on the commons. SCAPE next will create a detailed drawing of the commons and include engineering information. Image provided.

The public got its first peek at what a redesigned Rupp Arena and convention center might look like at a public hearing Wednesday night.

Architects for NBBJ, lead architects of the downtown project, said final designs will not be completed for several months but gave the more than 130 people who attended the event at the Kentucky Theatre an overview of key design elements of Rupp Arena and a new Town Branch Park, which would be located behind Rupp Arena.

Those ideas include de-coupling Rupp Arena from the Lexington Center so people can actually see the storied University of Kentucky basketball arena. The footprint for the building would be expanded to include more amenities such as restaurants and retail. The convention center would be moved to the Cox Street side of the complex and would also be expanded to include an additional 100,000 square feet of more user-friendly convention space.

Jonathan Ward, an architect for NBBJ, identified one of the biggest problems with Rupp Arena: You can't find it.

"You can only see it from High Street," Ward said. "It's hidden by the convention center."

By moving parts of the convention center to the Cox Street side, Rupp can be seen and experienced by everyone, Ward said. Using glass on parts of the exterior will also let the public see what's going on inside Rupp Arena.

"You can feel like you're part of the experience," Ward said.

Robert Mankin, an architect for NBBJ, said the bowl — or interior — of Rupp Arena would remain the same. However, the upper seating would get a face lift. The benches would be replaced by seats with backs. There would also be concessions and rest rooms for the upper seats. To boot, if parts of the exterior are made of glass, people in the cheaper seats would get amazing views of downtown Lexington, Mankin said.

Mankin said planners don't want to alter the feeling of Rupp Arena; they want to make it more user friendly.

The Rupp Arena redesign has been tied to Town Branch Commons, a proposed park that would run through downtown Lexington. The Town Branch Commons concept integrates history, geology and development into a thread of new public spaces. Much of Town Branch is currently buried under Vine Street. Under the plan that was announced in February, the creek would surface behind Triangle Park and flow through what is now the Cox Street parking lot on the west side of Rupp Area. The proposal would turn the Cox Street parking lot into a sprawling urban park — unlike any other in Lexington.

Kate Orff of Scape/Landscape Architecture, which won an international competition to design Town Branch Commons, said the group is still looking at programming for the green space. The tentative design for the park looks similar to Central Park in New York City — lots of green space, rolling hills and paths.

The public was invited to leave suggestions and feedback using sticky notes on a rendering of Town Branch Park on Wednesday.

A sticky note left on the Town Branch Park was simple: "Build it Now."

Eric Elliott, who lives downtown, liked what he heard Wednesday.

"I think it's fantastic," Elliott said. Elliott said he hates sitting in the upper levels of Rupp because the bench seats are uncomfortable. Having more of Rupp visible to the public would also make it more inviting and make it more a part of downtown, Elliott said.

Manking said that NBBJ and Scape/Landscape Architecture were going to take the feedback they received Wednesday and return in coming months with more detailed designs.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall.

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