Mayor Gray, University of Kentucky officials to meet Thursday to discuss Rupp Arena project

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJune 9, 2014 

Mayor Jim Gray and University of Kentucky officials will meet Thursday to discuss the future of a proposed $351 million expansion of Rupp Arena and attached convention center.

"There is no specific agenda," Gray said Monday. "It's expected in a project with the significance of Rupp that you will have meetings and will continue to have meetings. This is a partnership and has been a partnership for more than 40 years."

But that partnership is strained right now.

Last month, UK President Eli Capilouto sent a letter to Rupp project officials saying the university did not support the project, and he slammed city leaders for trying to blame UK for the project's failure to secure funding in the legislative session that ended in April.

The tensions between the city and the university over the project have been brewing for some time, but after Capilouto's letter became public, those tensions boiled over into public view.

Capilouto's letter was in response to a letter that Lexington Center Corp. chairman Brent Rice wrote to Capilouto, asking that the university publicly back the project. The Lexington Center Corp. oversees Rupp Arena. Rice's letter insinuated that the university's tepid endorsement of the project was to blame for the project's lack of traction with the General Assembly.

The release of the university's letter on May 22 came less than a week after the release of a Bluegrass Poll showing that less than 20 percent of voters around the state supported giving $80 million in state money for the project. The proposed project includes expanding the storied home of the UK men's basketball program and moving an attached convention center to the west of the current complex.

The project would be paid for using a mix of state, federal, local and private funding.

But Gray and Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday that they still think there is a way for the project to move forward. Beshear said Rupp and the renovation of the convention center is crucial to boost economic development in Lexington. Beshear has been one of the project's biggest supporters and has pushed to get the two sides to meet.

"I met with President Capilouto last week," Beshear said. "I think the university wants to move forward, and I think the city wants to move forward. What we will move forward on is still under consideration."

The meeting will be Thursday, but Gray gave no details about the meeting location and time.

Jay Blanton, a spokesman for UK, also declined to comment about Thursday's meeting.

Gray said he isn't sure whether there will be a resolution after Thursday's meeting, but he said that the university and the city aren't necessarily at an impasse regarding the future of Rupp Arena.

The university's lease with the Lexington Center Corp. expires at the end of the 2017 season. Even if Rupp Arena isn't renovated soon, the two sides have to come to an agreement on a new lease.

"There is always middle ground," Gray said.

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

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