Convention center officials asked the Lexington Council on Thursday for up to $20 million in additional funding for a proposed $230 million expansion and renovation of the downtown convention center.
The city approved $10 million in 2016 for the proposed expansion that includes 100,841 square feet of exhibition space, 25,080 square feet of ballroom space and 14 meeting rooms. The total square footage for the new complex is 756,593 feet.
Craig Turner, president of the Lexington Center Corporation board, told the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council during a Thursday meeting they have shaved $40 to $50 million from the original cost over the past several months. They won’t have final cost estimates until construction bids come back. That will likely be this spring. The Lexington Center Corp. oversees the convention center and attached Rupp Arena.
They may not need the full $20 million. It may be much less than that, he said.
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“We really won’t know until we get those bids back,” Turner said.
Turner said they will ask the council for a resolution that would pledge “up to” $20 million for the renovation sometime in the spring and before the council approves its budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Some on council said they needed more information before they could commit additional taxpayer dollars to the project.
“I want to see all of the breakdown of all the funding sources,” said Councilman Richard Moloney. Moloney said the city is also looking at other pressures on its budget — including a possible hefty increase in its pension payment to the state for city employee pensions.
Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe said annual debt payments to borrow or bond $20 million would be slightly more than $1 million a year.
Others said they felt that the proposed expansion and overhaul of the convention center will transform downtown, increase the number of conventions held in Lexington and drive up hotel and motel taxes.
Previously, the group has said money generated from a 2.5 percent hotel tax increase would pay off $240 million in bonds, including more than $60 million in state money that was part of a state budget approved by the General Assembly in 2016. Other funding sources include a 15-year lease with UK that is expected to generate more than $100 million over the tenure of the lease.
Naming rights for the complex would also generate money to pay off the renovation. As part of the lease with UK, UK will now be able to market those naming rights. Rupp Arena is not part of the naming rights deal. It will remain Rupp Arena.
VisitLex, the county’s tourism bureau, has also pledged $750,000 a year to help pay off the debt. That tourism board has not yet voted on the $750,000 annual pledge.
It’s not clear when the council will debate the additional $20 million. It will likely be sometime in the spring.
Councilwoman Susan Lamb asked Turner and Lexington Center to keep the council informed of the final cost as soon as they get definite numbers.
“I would ask and encourage you to come and talk to us frequently as soon as you have information,” Lamb said.