Planners discuss Rupp redesign at public meeting

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJanuary 8, 2014 

People care about the redesign of Rupp Arena.

A lot.

More than 8,000 people have taken an online survey about what University of Kentucky fans want in a refurbished Rupp since the fan survey launched on Jan. 2.

On Wednesday night, more than 60 people attended a public meeting to hear more about the preliminary designs for a newly redesigned Rupp Arena and convention center. They were also there to give their feedback in individual conversations with planners.

Mayor Jim Gray told the group at the Hyatt Regency ballroom that the redesign was about more than only improving the fan experience.

"It's about pride," Gray said. "It's about staying competitive."

Gray said many of the 8,088 survey respondents wanted better, more-comfortable seating in the upper decks, a better sound system and WiFi that actually works.

Robert Mankin of NBBJ, the architects who have been hired to spearhead the redesign with local architects EOP, gave people an overview of some of the changes Wednesday.

Rupp Arena will be "freed" from the current design so it can be seen. Currently, the arena can only be seen from High Street or the back of the complex. The convention center will be detached and moved to the Jefferson Street side of Rupp Arena. Triangle Park will act more as a "front door" into the arena, Mankin said.

The large, two-tiered bowl of Rupp Arena will remain largely the same, Mankin said.

The upper deck will get chair-back seats, improved lighting and its own concessions and restrooms. Currently, people have to walk down a long, steep set of stairs to get to a bathroom, Mankin said.

Bathrooms will be improved, and there will be more of them, Mankin said. Showing a picture of the current blue cinder-block restrooms in Rupp, Mankin noted, "It's not hard to do better."

The overall number of seats will remain the same, but there will be hospitality or luxury boxes. However, planners are still working out exactly what those luxury seats will look like, said Jay Isaac, a consultant hired to help with the Rupp redesign.

Many stadiums are moving away from boxes and luxury suites, Isaac and Mankin said.

"They want to sit with everyone else and still be part of the bowl experience," Isaac said. "There are so many types of premium seating."

A new center scoreboard and a strip of lights around the center of the stadium will also enhance the fan experience, Mankin said. There will be a new audio system and better WiFi, he added.

The construction will take place in phases. Isaac said that UK will continue to play in Rupp during the construction.

That was good news to Robbie Ernst of Lexington.

He said Rupp Arena has been his second home since he was 4 years old.

"We've sat in the same seats since 1976," Ernst said of his upper deck seats, which were originally purchased by his father. Ernst took the online survey and attended Wednesday night's public meeting before the UK-Mississippi State game.

He said he wouldn't mourn the loss of bench seats in the upper deck.

"It's not just that they're uncomfortable," Ernst said. "You've got the person behind you with their knees in your back the whole game."

Going to the bathroom is a chore. More bathrooms on the upper level is a big plus, Ernst said.

"I think the most interesting thing to me is modernizing the facilities, but at the same time preserving the sense of history," Ernst said.

Schematic designs and a financial plan outlining ways to pay for the new Rupp Arena were originally slated to be released in November. That deadline was pushed back as the architects work on better cost estimates. City leaders have not said when the financial plan will be released.

Previously mentioned cost projections have put the convention center rebuild at $110 million, with the Rupp renovation costing $140 million to $150 million. Those figures could change, however.

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

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