Could Rupp Arena go from 23,000 screaming basketball fans to 2,000 ballet aficionados?
That’s one of the questions to be answered as Lexington Center faces the possibility of converting Rupp Arena to additional convention space and a performance venue if a new basketball arena is built.
Members of the arts community said on Friday that another performance facility is needed in the city.
“A definite need exists for another stage in our area,” said Luanne Franklin, program director of the Lexington Opera House.
The Opera House is the city’s only performance venue with enough space over the stage to hoist large pieces of scenery out of sight, a pre-requisite for many theatrical, opera and ballet events.
“Everyone wants to be there,” Luis Dominguez, artistic director of The Lexington Ballet, said of the Opera House. “There’s a nice-size stage, and there’s room in the wings for dancers to run off stage. It’s the only space that offers these options. So it’s very coveted.”
Franklin can attest to that.
The Opera House is closed until early October for renovations. “Between Oct. 12 and Christmas, there are four days that are not booked or being held for possible performances,” she said.
Many people think the Singletary Center on the University of Kentucky campus can stage theatrical productions, but that is not the case, said University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey.
“It is only a concert hall,” he said.
Rupp’s future came into sharp focus on Thursday when the University of Kentucky announced it had authorized IMG College and its affiliated company, ISG, to conduct a feasibility study on a new downtown basketball arena, doing extensive renovations to Commonwealth Stadium and construction of a baseball stadium on the university campus.
The board of the Lexington Center Corp., which manages Rupp Arena, endorsed the feasibility study.
Bill Owen, Lexington Center president and CEO, said expanding Lexington Center’s convention center into Rupp and adding a performance hall “is as important to me and the Lexington Center as a new arena.”
The sentiment was echoed by Luther Deaton, chairman of the Lexington Center board. “If a new arena is built, we just can’t walk away and let Rupp Arena sit there.”
The IMG/ISG feasibility study will take six months to complete.
Another feasibility study is also in the works. In late 2007, when city officials announced plans to pursue a new basketball arena, Lexington Center hired a consultant to do a financial analysis of using tax increment financing for a multi-use arena and for expanding convention facilities and carving performance space out of Rupp.
Owen expects a draft in September and a final document in early November.
“When we get this feasibility study back, we’ve got to figure out a way to turn Rupp into something economically viable,” Deaton said.
The possibility of a performance hall came up after informal conversations Lexington Center board members had with people in the community, Deaton said.
While the idea might raise some eyebrows, a performance center consultant said such adaptive uses can work well.
“Audiences seem to like the funkiness you sometimes get when you adapt one space to a different use,” said Steve Woodring, director of production and consulting services at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in Louisville.
Woodring has helped communities throughout Kentucky, including Lexington, do adaptive reuse. He worked with the city of Murray to convert a railroad terminal to theater space and a YMCA gymnasium in Louisville to a home for the Bunbury Theatre Repertory Co.
In Lexington, Woodring consulted on creating a theater for Lexington Children’s Theatre in the former Sleepyhead House furniture store.
Renovation costs depend on the condition of the building, the amount of demolition required and “how elaborate the new use is,” Woodring said. “It rarely costs more than new construction.”
If a performance venue becomes a serious pursuit with Lexington Center, Jim Clark, president and CEO of LexArts, wants to see the arts community involved “from the very beginning” in the planning.
“Because we don’t want things that could be costly to fix later, like the lighting or the acoustics aren’t right, or the loading area for equipment,” he said.
As far as seating capacity, “That’s where another feasibility study would come in,” said McCorvey, a member of the Lexington Center board.
The Opera House will have about 950 seats after the renovation. “With the way the city is growing and the excitement over the arts, I think there should be discussion about what Lexington needs based on our size and our potential growth,” McCorvey said.