The $310 million renovation and expansion of Rupp Arena and attached convention center was a key theme at a Lexington Urban County Council at-large candidate forum on Saturday.
The League of Women Voters sponsored the forum Saturday at the Lexington Public Library downtown.
Thirteen candidates are vying for at-large positions in the race that ultimately decides who will become vice mayor. The top six vote-getters in the May 20 primary election will move on to the general election in November. The candidate with the most votes in November will be named vice mayor. The second- and third-place finishers will be at-large council members.
The field includes some familiar faces. Two current council members are running: Steve Kay and Kevin Stinnett. Former council members Bill Cegelka and Richard Moloney are also running. Jon Larson, the current Fayette County judge-executive, is also in the race.
Because the field of at-large candidates is so large, Saturday's forum was conducted in two groups, so each candidate could have an opportunity to speak.
Several candidates said the city had other needs besides a new arena for the University of Kentucky men's basketball team.
"This is a complete waste of money and time," said Don Pratt, a community organizer who has run unsuccessfully for local office several times.
"There's probably only about 20 percent of people that can afford those tickets for every game," said Keener "Pete" Dyer, who said he is running to help the homeless and unfortunate. "I am for investing money in people."
Jerry Moody, who has worked for Kroger and God's Pantry and said Saturday he was homeless at one time, said he doesn't think that the city should be spending more than $300 million on Rupp Arena "while we have people freezing to death on our streets."
Others said they wanted to know more about how the project will be paid for.
Mayor Jim Gray has pushed the project and is trying to get $65 million in state bond money for it. But a full financial plan has not yet been released. Gray has said that the University of Kentucky, Rupp's most well-known tenant, does not want a tentative lease agreement between the city and university made public. Gov. Steve Beshear said last week that the plan on how to pay for the project should be released soon.
"Building and renovating Rupp Arena alone does not bring one additional tax dollar to our community," said Stinnett, who has represented the 6th Council District for a decade and now seeks an at-large seat. The convention center renovation could bring in more revenue through additional conventions, he said. Stinnett said that the council has to balance all of the city's needs with the plan to pay for Rupp, and he said that's tough to do without seeing the financial plan. The convention center will cost $120 million. The Rupp renovation and expansion will cost $190 million.
Kay, the only at-large incumbent in the race, said he wants to know more about the financing plan.
"We still don't have enough information," Kay said. "We need to see the numbers."
Still, Kay said that the project has potential and could transform the western edge of downtown.
Chris Logan, a minister who has run unsuccessfully for the Urban County Council and for the state House, said he is a proud UK graduate and said he would love to see a renovated Rupp Arena. But he wants to see the financing plan first.
Connie Kell, who is semi-retired and has worked for the Urban County Government's revenue department, said a financing plan is key.
"I have a problem with the mayor not having a plan, a solid plan to present to the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Kell said.
Richard Moloney, a former council member and chief administrative officer for the city, said he, too, wants to see more financial details. But Moloney added that Louisville and Northern Kentucky have received a lot of state bond money for convention centers in the past decade.
Lexington has not.
Other topics discussed Saturday include addressing Lexington's homeless population, creating a plan for more affordable housing, stimulating job growth and developing better relationships between the city, UK, Transylvania University and Bluegrass Community and Technical College.