The saga of a new basketball arena for Kentucky took another turn last week when Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said the long-discussed "IMG plan" had been shelved. Now the city of Lexington would have to decide how to move forward on a new downtown arena, he said.
This is a case of back to the future.
Bill Owen, the president and CEO of Lexington Center Corp, said that the city had been about 80 percent along the way toward finishing its study of how to finance the construction of a new arena. Then in the summer of 2007, the city halted its study when UK pushed an idea proposed by IMG College, the athletic department's sports marketing partner.
Now the city will resume its study, which would use anticipated increases in tax revenue to pay for construction, Owen said. Increases in state income tax from the jobs created to build the arena would help pay for construction. So would the added tax revenue created by added bar and entertainment businesses in the area of the arena.
This sounded similar to the plan U of L and the city of Louisville used for its new KFC Yum Center. Those revenues reportedly fell short of projections. But Owen noted that tax revenues from nearby businesses should be judged over a 30-year period, not a few months after construction is completed.
Owen also noted two areas where a new arena in Lexington would have built-in cost savings that the KFC Yum Center did not. In Louisville, millions of dollars were needed to move an electrical sub station. That's not the case in Lexington. And Louisville had to purchase the land for the arena. Lexington already owns the land.
The IMG plan called for a new arena to essentially pay for itself through revenue it generated. Delay and further delay raised doubts about the feasibility of such a plan.
Earlier this fall, Owen said that the "sputtering economy" hurt the IMG plan, which he said was not dead and buried. It had been set aside.
Besides the weakened economy, Owen said the city balked at IMG wanting to decide how much to charge for naming rights of a new arena and the cost of luxury suites.
"That needed to be controlled by LCC and the University of Kentucky," Owen said.
Neither LCC nor UK feels any urgency to make a decision. UK's current lease to play in Rupp Arena expires after the 2017-18 season. That Rupp Arena remains a quality facility also lessens the need to get something done fast.
UK and LCC have side issues to consider. UK saw a new arena as part of a facility upgrade that included renovations of Commonwealth Stadium and a new baseball field.
LCC sees a new arena as part of a plan to expand its downtown convention center and convert Rupp Arena into a much smaller auditorium for concerts and plays.
As for a timetable, Owen said it would take one year to design a new downtown arena "and probably two years to build it."
Kansas likes arena
While Kentucky wants a new arena, Kansas basks in the tradition of Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas is on the cutting edge in terms of priority seating, basing seat location purely on how much a person donates. Otherwise, Kansas basketball is as old-fashioned as bleachers close to the court.
"There is never a discussion of a new arena," Associate A.D. Jim Marchiony said. "It would be one thing to put in a point system (for priority seating). It would be another thing to say we are not going to play in Phog Allen Fieldhouse anymore."
Kansas has given Allen Fieldhouse (capacity 16,300) two face-lifts in the last six years. Locker rooms and concessions were renovated. A donor atrium was built.
But the basketball environment remains the same. "Still the bleachers, the windows and banners," Marchiony said.
In light of LeBron James' return to Cleveland Thursday night, ESPN's Jimmy Dykes rated the five toughest college basketball arenas for the visiting team to win. He rated the five toughest as: 1. Duke, 2. Kansas, 3. Michigan State, 4. Vanderbilt, 5. New Mexico.
"If the question was about best fan support and most rabid fans, I'd have Kentucky in the top three, I know," Dykes said.
But that wasn't the question. Dykes, who formerly worked on Eddie Sutton's UK staff, deducted points because of Rupp Arena's sheer size. More specifically, Dykes saw the upper arena as too far removed from the action.
"I don't know the percentage of fans on the top level, but they don't affect the game," Dykes said. "They're too far away."
In round numbers, the lower arena seats 10,000, leaving 14,000 in the upper arena.
Of his five toughest arenas, Dykes said:
■ Duke: "Small and mentally draining because of the impact of the students."
■ Kansas: "Rock walls, so there's no place for the sound to go, and the crowd's right on you."
■ Michigan State: " 'The Izzone' student section is as good as anywhere. The building has a small feel to it."
■ Vanderbilt: "Only place where the benches are on the end line. You can't coach your team at the opposite end."
■ New Mexico: "They wanted one arena outside the power conferences. Low ceiling. It's underground. Mile high altitude."
Marist College head men's basketball coach Chuck Martin told the Poughkeepsie Journal on Thursday that the Red Foxes will open the 2011-12 season at UK.
After noting how Kentucky is customarily ranked in the top 25, the story pointed to Martin's ties to UK Coach John Calipari.
"Before coming to Marist, Martin was an assistant for Kentucky head coach Jim Calipari at Memphis, helping the program reach the NCAA championship game," the story read.
Duke 'a notch above'
In assessing the field at the EA Sports Maui Invitational, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo noted the widespread quality.
"There are about three teams here I think are as good as any team we'll face," he said, before adding, "except for Duke. They are a notch above.
"Washington, Kentucky, Connecticut and Wichita State could be in that group."
UK fans 'bring excitement'
Brianna Wells, the tournament director for the Maui Invitational, wanted to say thank you to the many UK fans who attended the event.
"We love it," she said. "They just bring an excitement. They bring school spirit to an island that does not have collegiate athletics. The island of Maui gets to experience what Lexington has every day."
Besides enthusiasm, UK fans made another favorable impression.
"They might be dressed in blue and white from head to toe," Wells said, "but they're nice people."
It might seem that no fandom equals the so-called Big Blue Nation. But Wells did not see UK fans as unique.
"There are probably 10 schools that have fans as excited as (UK) fans," she said.
Wells put the usual suspects — Kansas, Duke, Indiana, North Carolina and UCLA — in that category. In terms of attendance at the Maui Invitational, she also included Wichita State, Gonzaga and Ball State in the upper rung of fan groups.
Rockets on Patterson
In addition to completing degree work and enjoying a third year of college, Patrick Patterson returned to UK for his junior season to work on his perimeter game. The thinking was adding that component to his game would make him more valued as an NBA prospect.
But the Houston Rockets, who picked Patterson in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft, sent him to the Development League to improve his low-post power game.
"We don't devalue his shooting ability," said Gersson Rosas, a vice president for the Rockets and the general manager of Patterson's Rio Grande Valley Vipers team. "At this level, it's more of a luxury."
Rosas said the Rockets sent Patterson to the team based in McAllen, Texas, to "clean up" some holdover habits from college.
In college, he explained, "You can get away with talent and ability." Technique is a must in the NBA, where talent abounds.
"We strongly believe in player development," Rosas said, "and the best development comes from playing."
For instance, Aaron Brooks learned his basketball craft from playing in the "D" League, Rosas said.
Patterson went to the Vipers to work on his rebounding and defense.
"In our system, we value 'bigs' who can play inside at some point," said Rosas, who saw Patterson becoming "a better version of Carl Landry."
Patterson has been starting at center — and occasionally moving to power forward — for the Vipers. Through three games, he had been productive, averaging 14.7 points, a team-high eight rebounds, 1.3 steals, one block and 31 minutes. He had made 51.7 percent of his shots and 81.3 percent of his free throws.
Jonah Goldberg, the Vipers' media relations man, noted that Patterson had steadily improved. At Austin last Sunday, he posted a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also hit his first three-pointer.
Orton to 'D' League
The Orlando Magic sent former UK big man Daniel Orton to the Rio Rancho (N.M.) Thunderbirds of the Development League.
Ben Gordon-Goldstein, the Thunderbirds' media relations man, said the Magic told Rio Rancho officials to expect to have Orton for only seven games. He made his debut Friday night.
The Magic also sent a strength and conditioning coach to work with Orton while he's with the Thunderbirds, Gordon-Goldstein said.
Top NBA pipelines
According to an Arizona news release, here are the top programs in terms of producing players currently on NBA rosters. Not sure whether the list was compiled before or after Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton were sent to the NBA's Development League: 1. UCLA, 14; 2. Duke, Kentucky, 13; 4. North Carolina, Kansas, 12; 6. Arizona, Texas, 10.
Fans can celebrate the history of UK basketball and support the school's Art Museum.
That twin bill can be accomplished by buying a limited edition poster printed by the Art Museum. Former Coach Joe B. Hall will sign posters at the UK Bookstore next Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m.
UK Coach John Calipari has signed a limited number of posters, which will be available for $40. Unsigned posters are $20. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky.
The poster is a reproduction of a painting created by Clifford Amyx and titled 1958. It captures the spirit and action of UK games during the 1950s era. Amyx, a native of Jackson County, studied at UK, where he received his master's degree in 1943.
From 1936 to 1941, Amyx was the assistant supervisor of the Federal Art Project in San Francisco. He returned to UK as a professor of painting and drawing in 1946 and helped develop the art department before retiring in 1974.
His daughter, Tanya, recalled her parents' having season tickets and going to UK athletic events.
"It wasn't the big glamor thing it is now," she said. "It was just hometown stuff."
Hometown prices, too. In going through her father's things, Tanya came across checks written for two season tickets for the 1958 football season. Cost: $16. A check dated Oct. 7, 1958 for two basketball season tickets was written out for the amount of $21.60.
Her father's inspiration for the painting was nothing more than simply rooting for UK, Tanya said.
To UK freshman guard Brandon Knight. He turned 19 on Thursday.