UK basketball notebook: Mayor says Barclays Center doing for Brooklyn what renovated Rupp could do for Lexington

Herald-Leader Staff WriterNovember 30, 2013 

The Kentucky-Providence game in Brooklyn on Sunday night provides a glimpse into Lexington Mayor Jim Gray's imagination. The Barclays Center is concrete evidence, literally and figuratively, of an idea come to fruition.

Eye-catching arena ... anchoring a city's revitalized core. Substitute a "re-invented" Rupp Arena for the Barclays Center. That's what Gray envisions for Lexington.

"In many ways, Barclays has confirmed our strategy," the mayor said last week. "It's all about lifting. Through this arena, we lift the city's visibility, the state's visibility and our economic potential for the next century or more."

Brett Yormark, the CEO of the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets, used similarly flowery language to describe what the arena has done for Brooklyn and his team.

"It's created a renaissance," he said.

In terms of job creation, there are 200 new full-time and 1,800 part-time positions linked to the Barclays Center and nearby restaurants, bars and other businesses, Yormark said. Since UK played Maryland in the Barclays Center to begin last season, construction has begun on residential buildings.

Yormark spoke of the Barclays Center in the same context as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Times Square.

"On the short list of things to see when you come to New York," he said.

Yormark also suggested an inspirational role for the Barclays Center.

"Kids grow up now dreaming of playing on our court," he said, "or singing on our stage or, for that matter, boxing in our ring.

"The Barclays Center has created so much value for our borough."

According to Billboard, the Barclays Center passed Madison Square Garden as the highest-grossing venue in the U.S. for concerts and family shows during the period from November 2012 to June 2013. SportsMoney, a subsidiary of Forbes, said the Nets improved from No. 30 to No. 4 among NBA teams in merchandise sales during the 2012-13 season.

New York Times columnist Harvey Araton credited the Barclays Center for convincing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to accept a trade to the Nets this season.

Gray speaks of a re-invented Rupp Arena as a way to enhance UK basketball while enriching Lexington's coffers and its soul. The big question hanging over this idea is how to pay for it.

Lexington officials originally said that a financial plan would be unveiled in November. Obviously, that did not happen. Architects needed more time to design a new Rupp Arena and its place in an entertainment district covering more than 40 acres.

"It's better to do it the right way than right away," Gray said. "At the end of the day, it's getting this done right for the next 50, 75, 100 years."

The mayor noted the many interests involved: Lexington, UK the basketball program, UK the school, Kentucky. Calling upon his background in construction, he noted a bit of wisdom from the world of carpentry: measure twice and cut once. "Plan and prepare in a careful, thorough manner before taking action," Gray said.

The original goals for a design remain the same: Rupp Arena as landmark and a facility that improves the fan experience with improved concourses and concessions. Reader alert: The photo of a dramatically lit new Rupp Arena at night released at an early stage of planning was mere "placeholder," not a rendering of the re-invention, Gray said.

Lexington attorney Brent Rice, who heads the finance committee of Lexington's Arts and Entertainment District Task Force, said the city hoped to seek approval for a financial plan from the Kentucky Legislature in January. Within the next two weeks, Gray hopes to set a new target date for announcing a design and financial plan.

Not everyone is on board. Mark Ravenscraft, the president of the Lexington Hospitality Association, wrote an op-ed column in the Herald-Leader that questioned the proposed idea of an expanded Lexington Convention Center separated from a new Rupp Arena. Without 400 new hotel rooms, additional convention space would go unused, he wrote.

Gray suggested that a new Rupp could lead to increased convention business. "We're going to elevate the brand and elevate the economic activity all around it," he said. "Who knows? It may lead to more hotel rooms."

Back in revitalized Brooklyn, the idea of a Barclays Center also faced opposition. The building was eight years in the making. Objections arose about public financing that favored developers over community needs.

"We have beaten the odds and the obstructionists over and over again," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in March in his State of the City address, which was given at the Barclays Center.

Gray does not plan to attend the UK-Providence game. He toured the Barclays Center and its new Atlantic Yards district while in New York last year. Financials aside, the arena appeals to his artistic sensibilities. It sits in what was a "hunchbacked, brooding site" at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, Art & Design magazine reported. About 12,000 "grainy, weathered-steel" panels make up the outer skin. The magazine called it an "anti-Manhattan monument" that stood "muscular and progressive like its borough."

Gray wants a new Rupp Arena to make a visual statement as well. This would be in contrast to the existing beige box that sits mute and largely unnoticed.

"The good news is we're working to develop the plan with the university," the mayor said. "We really appreciate the university's willingness to work together with the city and the state."

It's been about 21/2 years since Gray began promoting the idea of a re-invented Rupp Arena as part of an entertainment district. As various committees studied the hows and wheres and whys, he repeatedly told impatient listeners that a 10-step process was only at step two.

"Steps three, four, five and six, they start moving very swiftly," Gray said last week. "That's where we are right now.

"All the moving parts are coming together in a wonderfully complex way for a wonderfully complex challenge."

Elevator

To enter the Barclays Center, the UK team bus will drive upon a platform. That platform will descend from street level to court level, a trip that lasts 90 seconds. Then the platform will rotate to reveal a loading/unloading bay which leads to the customary locker rooms and entry into the arena.

"How we load in all our concerts, our VIPs and the basketball teams," said Brett Yormark, the CEO of the Barclays Center. He called the elevator "a sign of the new world of technology and machinery and how we can do things a little differently."

The elevator is a signature feature of the Barclays Center. It seems mere dramatic flair, like showing off after scoring a touchdown. In the language of the area, an example of "Brooklyn swag."

But as Yormark said, "I wouldn't call it that." In his mind, the elevator is an example of problem solving. In a congested inner city, there was no room for a customary ramp to lead buses, trucks and equipment into and out of the arena.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray applauded this "very creative solution." He noted that Lexington has plenty of room (46 acres) for its arena/entertainment district plans. Not that problems can't arise. For instance, what can Lexington do with its convention center?

"The tougher the restraints, the better the results often," said Gray, who called the Barclays Center elevator an example of "dealing with restraint" with "out-of-box thinking."

Cal buddy

Brett Yormark, the CEO of the Nets and the Barclays Center, considers UK Coach John Calipari a close friend. They met in the 1990s when both worked for the then New Jersey Nets.

"I was an aspiring sales guy when Coach Cal coached the Nets," Yormark said. "He knew I was a hard-charging guy, no different than himself."

The two went separate ways, Yormark to NASCAR and Calipari to Memphis before re-uniting last year.

"When he was at Memphis, he said, 'Brett, wherever I am, I'm going to open up your building for college basketball,'" Yormark said.

That's why UK played Maryland in the Barclays Center in last season's opener, and why UK plays Providence there Sunday night.

"He's as loyal as they come," Yormark said.

Get well update

Van Florence, the longtime aide-de-camp for UK basketball coaches, continues to recover from major stomach surgery. He returned to Lexington last week.

Florence, 67, went to the Cleveland Clinic for the surgery.

Too much sports?

Syndicated columnist Norman Chad wondered last week if there are too many sports channels.

"Of course, we start with the usual suspects from the ESPN family of networks," he wrote. "Frankly, it appears to me the boys in Bristol have had a lot of out-of-wedlock cable progeny — ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Classic. Then there are the ESPN wannabes — Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, CBS Sports Network and NBCSN, which is short for NBC Sports Network or A Network in Search of Programming, Advertisers and Viewers ASAP.

"Then there's NFL Network, NBA TV, MLB Network and NHL Network ... Golf Channel, Tennis Channel and, yes, Outdoor Channel."

Chad also noted horse racing's TVG Network, the WWE Network, Universal Sports, the Big Ten Network, the Pac-12 Network and Longhorn Network, plus ESPNU and Fox College Sports. Of course, the SEC Network launches next year.

"Our indefatigable family dog, Sapphire, watches a lot of this stuff by my side," Chad wrote. "But sometimes she looks at me as if to say, 'Another game? C'mon, man. Let's go outside, smell the roses and pee!'

"She's got a point."

Happy birthday

To two giant figures during transitional periods in UK basketball history: Joe B. Hall, who ushered the program into a post-Adolph Rupp era, turned 85 on Saturday; and Jamal Mashburn, who gave Rick Pitino a foundational piece to rebuild around. Mashburn turned 41 on Friday. ... To former sports information director Brooks Downing. He turned 50 Saturday. ... To Julius Randle. He turned 19 on Friday. ... To Brandon Knight. He turns 22 on Monday. ... To Larry Johnson. He turns 59 on Thursday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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