Barnhart: UK's new multi-media rights deal unrelated to discussions about basketball arena

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJune 23, 2014 

With a proposed redesign of Rupp Arena on indefinite hold, the University of Kentucky's announcement of a lucrative multimedia rights deal that includes money for a baseball stadium raised fresh questions Monday about the possibility of an on-campus basketball arena.

Don't confuse the two discussions, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said after a news conference in which UK announced a 15-year, $210 million deal with JMI Sports.

UK still prefers to play at the downtown venue.

"I don't want to tie these two things together," Barnhart said. "Everybody's gonna mistakenly look at this deal today and say, 'Oh, is this taking you down a different path with basketball and the arena?' And this is not what today's about. Today is about the foundation for the program for years to come."

Still, Barnhart said he was pleased that the university and city were taking a step back from the proposed Rupp project to "reassess where we are and figure out what the next best thing to do is. ...

"So we'll restart the race and try again at some point in time".

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Gray, said the city had no comment on the new JMI deal.

In addition to sports marketing, JMI specializes in sports facilities, including feasibility studies, financing, design and construction management. The company was involved in building the San Diego Padres' Petco Park, the University of Oregon's Matthew Knight Arena, JetBlue Park (the spring training facility for the Boston Red Sox) and is helping develop Goodyear City Center in Goodyear, Ariz.

The company's multimedia rights deal with UK, which includes a $29 million signing bonus that UK will receive in the contract's first two years, is expected to help move along several projects on UK's wish list, including a new baseball stadium off Alumni Drive.

"We'll have a really neat complex as you come in; you'll have the softball, soccer, baseball; coming over the hill is our football training center and a new stadium," Barnhart said. "We think it'll be an unbelievable entree to the university and we're really excited about that."

When pressed for a time line, Barnhart said he hoped the baseball team would be playing in a new stadium on Alumni Drive near the soccer and softball complexes within the three to five years.

At best, it's a two-year process, he said.

"A facility like that, it's going to take you about eight to 10 months to design it ... then it's going to take another year to build it," he said. "It's going to take a good bit of time."

Other projects on the athletics director's mind include renovations to UK's indoor tennis center and updates at Memorial Coliseum.

Barnhart confirmed that UK was in the "design" phase for a new football practice facility, which is expected to be built near Commonwealth Stadium. He hopes the project will begin before the end of the year.

"I'd like to go fast; everybody defines fast differently," he said. "We're getting close to some final design pieces. ... I'm hopeful that maybe at the end of this calendar year we can be close to going out and doing some work."

UK Athletics spokesman DeWayne Peevy told the Herald-Leader two weeks ago that final designs probably would be available by the end of the month. He confirmed Monday that no design plans were available.

Other facilities face lifts discussed in UK's request for contracts that led to the JMI deal include a desire for "creative solutions" to fund supplemental digital signage and a public wireless Internet system at Commonwealth Stadium, a new video board at Memorial Coliseum, and renovations for video control rooms at both venues.

Staff writer Beth Musgrave contributed to this report.Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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