Herald-Leader Editorial

Editorial: Gray right to shelve plan for Rupp redo

June 19, 2014 

Mayor Jim Gray did the right thing yesterday, putting the plan to reinvent Rupp Arena and rebuild the Lexington Convention Center on the shelf.

"We need to move on," he said in a prepared statement, bringing to a close weeks of uncertainty and public sniping between the University of Kentucky and plan proponents.

Gov. Steve Beshear enthusiastically supported the project, including $80 million for it in his budget this year.

In the end, though, neither UK, whose Wildcat men's basketball team is the major tenant at Rupp, nor the public bought into the ambitious, imaginative and potentially transformative plan for this critical area in downtown, close to UK's campus.

UK's lease at Rupp, where it has played since 1976, ends with the 2017-18 season. UK President Eli Capilouto has dismissed the idea of building an arena on campus.

After agreeing in principle in October to a new, 30-year, $10.7 million annual lease as part of the financing for Rupp renovations that would include luxury seating, backs on seats in the upper arena and other amenities, UK recently withdrew its support, suggesting a more modest renovation.

Although the $351 million downtown project was often cast as a Rupp renovation, it also anticipated redeveloping the surrounding area into an arts and entertainment district.

Gray pledged to move forward with some portions of the plan: the Town Branch Park just west of Rupp and development of the nearby, 20-acre High Street parking lot, which the city owns.

Gray's decision also removes the uncertainty that had jeopardized bookings at the convention center, and the revenue they bring, had construction been underway in 2015 and 2016.

A huge amount of time and effort, as well as a remarkable combination of public and private monies, local, national and international talent, combined to develop this plan.

Gray noted that effort won't be lost. "When the time is right, the plan is ready."

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