University of Kentucky president, Lexington mayor meet to discuss Rupp Arena

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJune 12, 2014 

Designs released Feb. 10 showed renovations that were proposed for Rupp Arena and the Lexington Convention Center.

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University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and Mayor Jim Gray met Thursday to discuss the future of a $351 million renovation of Rupp Arena and attached convention center.

But the university and the city gave few details of the meeting, which came about three weeks after a letter Capilouto wrote withdrawing support for the arena and convention center project.

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for Gray, said Thursday's meeting was "positive" and "we look forward to continuing the conversation."

Jay Blanton, a spokesman for the university, declined to comment.

The two sides would not tell the media prior to Thursday's meeting where it was going to be held or at what time.

The fate of the controversial project is at a critical juncture. Without UK's support, it's unclear if the project can move forward.

On June 23, the Urban County Council has scheduled a meeting to learn more about the project and to answer questions. Gray has asked that the council approve $40 million in bonds for the project. Debt payments, however, won't have to be made until 2016.

Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, who pushed for the June 23 meeting, said Thursday that university officials will be invited. Gorton has cautioned that it is unlikely the council will take a vote then.

"The original intent of the meeting is to gather information and answer questions," Gorton said. "The administration has not requested yet that the council authorize the bonds for the $40 million."

The project includes renovating Rupp Arena and moving and expanding the convention center to the west of the current complex. The finance plan calls for a mix of state, city, university and private money, including $35 million in fan support. The $351 million price tag includes $175 million for construction of the arena and $102 million for convention center construction. Other costs include $18 million to pay off a bond from a 2004 renovation of the convention center.

As part of that plan, the university had committed to pay $10.7 million annually for 30 years as part of its lease with Rupp. It could receive as much as $2 million back from Rupp through advertising and other revenue-sharing mechanisms, for a net of $8.7 million in payments.

Capilouto's letter was in response to a letter sent by Lexington Center Corporation Board President Brent Rice to Capilouto in late April. Rice's letter asked UK to publicly support the renovation so the construction project could move forward.

In his response, Capilouto said that there was little public support for the project and said it was important "to explore all options." A Bluegrass Poll released in May showed that less than 20 percent of voters supported the state spending $80 million on the arena and convention center.

The city had asked for $80 million in state money but the General Assembly never approved it during the legislative session that concluded in April.

"I am disappointed that you and others associated with the project have chosen to privately and publicly criticize the University of Kentucky," Capilouto wrote in his letter to Rice.

The university's current lease at Rupp Arena expires at the end of the 2018 season.

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

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