University of Kentucky administrator Frank Butler will be project manager for the Rupp Arena, Arts and Entertainment District, leading the effort into phase two, which will develop a detailed design and a financing plan.
In a statement Thursday announcing the appointment, UK President Eli Capilouto said it was important for the university and city to work together to make the entertainment district a reality.
"Our futures are, without question, inextricably linked. Our plans for development and growth must be linked together as well," he said.
Capilouto said he appreciated the work of the Arena, Arts and Entertainment Task Force, which made its final report earlier this year. "The next step is to focus on how the project will be financed," he said.
Gov. Steve Beshear, who called the district one of the state's top economic development projects, and legislators included $2.5 million in the state's upcoming two-year budget for initial work. A 100 percent local match is required.
Mayor Jim Gray has included $1.25 million in his budget proposal, now under consideration by the Urban County Council. In addition, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau has approved $200,000 over two years, and Lexington Center Corp. has approved $250,000 over two years for the district.
The university will donate Butler's time and salary to the entertainment district effort through December. Donating his salary reinforces UK's commitment to the initiative and to Lexington, Capilouto said.
Jay Blanton, university spokesman, said Capilouto's statement was not a reversal of remarks the president made during the 2012 General Assembly, when he said his top priority for state funding would be on-campus needs.
"What President Capilouto continues to say is our priority for state dollars is to have those state dollars directed at campus needs," Blanton said Thursday afternoon.
UK plans new residence halls, bringing the total of beds to 9,000, over approximately the next seven years as part of a $500 million public-private partnership to overhaul student housing. Also, the university is developing plans for more than $1 billion in other construction needs.
Blanton said Capilouto and the mayor talk regularly and have "a very good relationship."
Gray said Lexington and the university each have strengths, and working together "is how we build a great American city."
Rupp Arena, home of the UK men's basketball team, is owned by the city.
Until he began a two-year phased retirement in January, Butler was executive vice president for finance and administration at UK. He then became director of special projects reporting directly to Capilouto. Under terms of his phased retirement, Butler works half-time and draws half his full-time salary of $464,000 a year.
At the end of the year, Butler will cut short his phased retirement, leave UK after 37 years and go off the payroll.
Butler served on the 47-member Arena, Arts and Entertainment District Task Force that came up with recommendations to renovate Rupp Arena; build a new Lexington Center; and add commercial, residential and educational space downtown.
"If we can pull this off — and I think we can — it will change the face of Lexington for a long time to come," Butler said.
As project manager, he will report to the Lexington Center Corp. board, which manages Rupp Arena, the Lexington Center convention facilities and Lexington Opera House.
After release of the task force report, chairman Brent Rice asked Butler if he would be interested in being more involved with the project. Butler and Rice talked several more times, then the two met with Gray. Butler spoke with Capilouto, who gave his approval.
The challenge will be to come up with "creative approaches to financing for the Rupp plan to stand on its own," Butler said.
A timetable for developing a funding plan will be one of his early priorities, he said.