Lexington Mayor Jim Gray unveils designs for renovated Rupp Arena

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comFebruary 10, 2014 

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  • Highlights from Monday's news conference

    Rupp Arena's new features would include:

    • Row of premium seats between the first and second tiers, including some luxury boxes.

    • Chair-backed seating throughout arena; the number of seats would remain about the same or increase slightly.

    • 100,000-square-feet convention center to be moved to the west of Rupp Arena.

    • Retail and meeting space in front of renovated Rupp Arena.

    • Interior bowl would remain largely the same and would include center scoreboard with high-definition screens.

  • Arena history

    • 1974: Financed by $37 million in bonds, construction begins on Lexington Center complex, including a basketball arena.

    • Oct. 17, 1976: First concert at Rupp Arena: Lawrence Welk.

    • November 1976: University of Kentucky basketball makes its debut at Rupp, beating Wisconsin, 72-64.

    • March 1985: The NCAA Final Four basketball games were held at Rupp.

    • June 1996: Rick Pitino, then UK's basketball coach, suggests that UK build a new arena on campus.

    • October 1999: City plans a $45 million overhaul of Rupp and the convention center, asks the state to kick in $30 million of the cost.

    • August 2001: UK agrees to a long-term lease for UK basketball to remain in Rupp Arena through 2017-18.

    • August 2002: All of Rupp Arena's multicolor seats are replaced — with blue ones — at a cost of $1.6 million.

    • 2004: Renovation of Lexington Center, including improvements to Rupp, is completed.

    • October 2007: Lexington officials announce they are in early stages of planning a state-of-the-art arena and an expanded convention center to replace Rupp, to be paid for using a special downtown taxing district. That plan does not move forward.

    • August 2008: The University of Kentucky announces it is developing a plan for a new downtown basketball arena, to be financed privately. In 2010, officials say this plan has fallen through.

    • January 2011: Lexington Mayor Jim Gray calls for a study to determine the feasibility of redesigning and renovating Rupp Arena and the Lexington Center. He later appoints the Arena, Arts and Entertainment Task Force, which recommended renovating the complex.

    • July 2013: NBBJ Architects and Hunt Construction are picked to helm the design and construction of the project.

    • February 2014: Designs for the new Rupp Arena and convention center are revealed.

  • We asked: What do you think about the designs for a $310 million revamping of Rupp Arena?

    You said:

    • "As usual sports trumps educational needs of our youth and other things that should be of higher priority." Debi Harris

    • "Those two words couldn't describe better what is going on here, "transparent facade." Nick Marsh

    • "Sure! Sounds like a great way to spend $310 million. We will just work more & pay the taxes on something that we can't afford tickets to. Wish I had government benefits, then I could sell my food stamps & buy tickets on tax-payer money." Pam Wright Cole

    • "Just make sure it looks better than the giant printer in Louisville." Scott Morgan

Mayor Jim Gray unveiled designs Monday for a $310 million renovation and redesign of Rupp Arena that includes a transparent facade, and moving and expanding the convention center to the west of Lexington's most well-known landmark.

Gray said renovation of the almost 40-year-old arena was key to energizing the city.

"At its heart, this is an economic development project," he said during a news conference at the convention center announcing the designs. "It's about long-term economic impact ... jobs created through elevating, amplifying, and lifting up and building our brands."

Mayor says financing for renovated Rupp Arena to be announced this summer

Gray said details of how the new Rupp Arena and convention space would be financed won't be announced until summer or fall. The financial plan was initially scheduled to be released last November but has been repeatedly pushed back until the city could get accurate estimates on how much the renovation would cost, Gray said. Gov. Steve Beshear proposed using $65 million in state-issued bonds to help pay for the $310 million project. But the legislature has not yet signed off on the proposal, and it won't until it finishes its budget in mid-April.

The mayor has said the financing mix would include naming rights for the arena, fan contributions and tax increment financing, which uses tax revenues generated from a project to pay off part of the infrastructure costs. He said the city also will contribute but he declined to say how much. Beshear, city and business officials attended Monday's news conference, but University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and UK basketball Coach John Calipari did not. UK is Rupp Arena's main tenant.

Afterward, DeWayne Peevy, deputy director of athletics at UK, told reporters that the university was in negotiations for a new lease and had been part of the design process since the beginning.

"We feel like this is more of a partnership," Peevy said.

If financing and other parts of the plan fall into place, construction could begin next year, and the new Rupp and convention center could open in fall 2017. The arena would remain open during the renovation, but parts of the convention center might be closed.

The plans contained few surprises; much of the details have been released during the past year.

The designs by NBBJ Architects and local architects EOP include moving the convention center to the west of Rupp Arena, allowing for expanding and "freeing" the storied home of the UK men's basketball program. Rupp Arena is obscured by the convention center and the shops inside.

The exterior of Rupp Arena would include glass or transparent outer walls that would allow more interaction between the street and what's going on inside, architects said. The second story would have areas where people could see inside, particularly at the corners of the building. Rupp would be expanded by about 25 feet on each side.

Robert Mankin, architect for NBBJ, said they kept the "bones of Rupp Arena" but would expand it outward to include more concourse space. "There is a greater transparency in all of the buildings that will bring the Rupp experience out into the city, but also make those folks who are looking at it from the outside feel like they are part of the event," Mankin said.

The interior bowl of Rupp Arena would remain largely the same. The upper bowl would have chair-backed seats, better lighting, and its own concourse for food and bathrooms. The slope of the upper deck would be less steep, making it easier to navigate.

The upper bowl would have to be removed and rebuilt, officials said. But officials said they thought that work could be done during the off-season.

Between the upper and lower decks would be a ring of premium seats, including club seating and open seats that would have perks such as personal servers. The mix of premium seating is in flux but could include as many as 28 luxury boxes. Stan Harvey, a consultant for the project, said the space currently was used for storage and service.

The plans include new lounge space for premium seats and a possible second lounge for other uses.

The number of luxury seats would depend largely on what UK wanted and could sell to its ticket holders.

The total number of seats would remain about the same or could increase by 100. UK lists the seating capacity of Rupp Arena at 23,000.

The number of seats in the upper deck would be likely to decrease because of the addition of chair-backed seats, but there would be additional seats in the lower bowl. The number of handicapped-accessible seats also is likely to double, Harvey said. UK basketball has a waiting list for seats that are accessible to the handicapped.

Also included in the designs are new lookout areas on the top floor in the four corners of the arena. It's not clear whether those areas would remain open to the public or will be premium seating. Currently, Rupp Arena has a two-floor concourse. Plans unveiled Monday include three concourses, including a concourse for premium seating.

A new retail complex would be included in the front of the building on Main Street. That complex would include meeting spaces on the second floor for the convention center.

The plans include opportunities for additional retail in a new corridor between the Hyatt hotel and Rupp Arena called the "Catwalk." Also new to the design is bringing Town Branch, a waterway buried under the street, to the front of the newly designed Rupp Arena. There would be splash pads and other elements to work Town Branch into the overall design of the reinvented Rupp.

Gray said the $310 million price tag did not include work on Town Branch Commons, a proposed greenway through downtown that includes an expansive green area to the west of the convention center. Gray said financing for that project would come later.

The convention center on the west side of the complex would include 100,000 square feet of contiguous convention space, an improvement over the current 66,000 square feet that are not in one area. The size of meeting rooms would increase from 16,000 square feet to 30,000.

The 100,000 square feet of convention space could be a boon to UK. The National Collegiate Athletic Association requires 100,000 square feet of convention space to house staff, media and organizers for tournaments, Harvey said. The university could lure more tournaments to Lexington with the additional space, Harvey said.

The current convention center is confusing and the space isn't contiguous.

Included in the designs are 200 parking spaces underneath the new convention center. Original plans called for private development on the High Street parking lot across from Rupp Arena, but the plans released Monday do not include any buildings on the High Street lot. Brent Rice, chairman of the Lexington Center Corp. board of directors, said the 20-acre site could be developed in the future.

Since opening in 1976, Lexington Center — which includes Rupp, the Shops at Lexington Center and convention space — has been expanded twice, in 1995 and 2004.

The bulk of the $50 million renovation and expansion in 2004 involved convention center improvements including additional ballrooms, meeting spaces, a new lobby and new storefronts. Arena renovations included concession stand and women's restroom upgrades, new seats and video boards.

The locker rooms for the UK men's basketball team were upgraded a few years ago and will need only minor improvements, Harvey said.

Other amenities in the plans unveiled Monday include a new center scoreboard with high-definition video screens. There are also plans for high-definition video screens outside the Hyatt.

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

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