Lexington spent almost $38,000 on food and staff for a hospitality room at this year’s high school boys Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament at Rupp Arena.
The $37,950 for the five-day tournament was slightly more than in prior years when the city has sponsored a hospitality suite at the Kentucky High School Athletic Association championship, city officials said.
Glenn Brown, deputy chief administrative officer for Lexington, told the Lexington Urban County Council during an April meeting that the Lexington Center Corp. has a contractual relationship with the adjoining Hyatt Regency Hotel to provide food. That means the food has to be supplied by the Hyatt or Lexington Center concessions, driving up costs, Brown said. Lexington Center Corp. manages Rupp Arena.
Brown told the council at the April 19 work session that city officials are working with the KHSAA and Lexington Center Corp. to come up with a different arrangement so the cost will be lower next year. In the past, the city has been able to buy food from one of the sponsors of the tournament, which is allowed under the contract with the Lexington Center Corp.
Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, said the city has been sponsoring a hospitality suite for decades.
“The hospitality room is the city’s way to welcome KHSAA commissioners, tournament staff, tournament sponsors, local media, to town and to the state tournament,” Straub said. “Hosting the Sweet Sixteen is very important to the economy of Lexington.”
Mayor Jim Gray’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes $35,000 for the hospitality suite for next year’s tournament.
The Urban County Council is expected to take a final vote on the $37,950 payment to the Hyatt at Thursday’s council meeting. Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield questioned why the cost was so high during the April 19 work session.
“The attendance has gone down, yet we are spending more,” said Scutchfield of the cost to host the hospitality suite.
The 2016 boys' Sweet Sixteen had a total attendance of 88,170. That was down more than 6,000 people from the 2015 tournament. Both years represent the lowest marks since the tournament moved permanently to Rupp Arena in 1995.
But Scutchfield said she isn’t opposed to the hospitality suite, noting it’s important the Sweet Sixteen remain in Lexington.
“Obviously, we enjoy having the Sweet Sixteen in Lexington,” Scutchfield said. “I think that the economic impact is huge.”
The city doesn’t want to lose those dollars to Louisville and the Yum Center, she said.
The KHSAA has said it plans to keep the tournament in Lexington.
KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett has said contract for Rupp Arena does not expire until 2018. The board has already authorized Tackett to begin negotiations for a second 10-year contract, Tackett told the Herald-Leader on April 17.