Since Mayor Jim Gray announced the creation of the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District Task Force in March, its 45 members have been hard at work creating a plan for the 46 acres the city owns in and around Rupp and Lexington Center.
We all recognize that financial times are tough. But that makes this a great time to put together a great plan, a plan that leverages the uniqueness of our city, its downtown, its history, its neighborhoods and its arts and cultural community.
A great plan is essential because the district is an opportunity to create a downtown economic engine unlike anything Lexington has ever seen, and a facility for University of Kentucky athletics — whether new or reinvented — unequaled in the country.
The task force and its subcommittees have held over 25 meetings, raised almost $350,000 in private donations to fund the initiative and brought the best of the best talent together to assist our community in making key decisions about this transformational opportunity.
These kinds of opportunities don't come along every day. In the past century, I would include only a handful of events: the establishment of Keeneland in 1936; IBM's move here in 1956; the opening of the Albert B. Chandler Hospital in 1962 and this year's opening of a new hospital; the opening of Rupp Arena in 1976; Toyota's move here in 1986; and the 2010 World Equestrian Games.
Let me bring you up-to-date on some of the task force's key decisions:
■ Space Group, a Norway architectural firm with an international reputation for excellence, has been chosen as master planner of the district. Gary Bates, the firm's co-founder and a former Brown-Forman Chair in Urban Design at the UK College of Design, is leading that work.
■ Task force members traveled to Columbus and Indianapolis to learn about their state-of-the-art arenas, as well as the importance of ensuring the arena relates to the surrounding downtown blocks. Today's arenas are about creating an "event experience," a focus on what happens before, during and after an arena event. We must consider what happens within the arena, itself, and what happens in the surrounding area with restaurants, cultural facilities and businesses.
■ And we have consulted the best in the business at designing and managing sports arenas. Big Blue fans can head off to Midnight Madness on Friday knowing the city's primary tenant at Rupp Arena, and the greatest brand in college basketball, has been highly engaged in the task force since day one. UK's contract to play in Rupp runs through 2018. One way or another, change is coming. Planning for change is better than waiting for change.
As the task force gets closer to its year-end deadline, when we will present a final report to the Urban County Council and Lexington Center to help them make key decisions about the district, we need to hear from you.
The first of two public hearings has been set for 6 p.m Oct. 18, at Buster's on Manchester Street.
Gray recently shared with the task force a tape recording of a speech given by Rupp Arena's namesake. On the tape, UK Coach Adolph Rupp is telling his audience about a pre-season speech he had given to one of his championship teams.
"I told them that we want to play an aggressive style of basketball," Rupp said. "I said I want to go back to the pioneer spirit of our forefathers. I said the pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock didn't look for security. I said what security did Daniel Boone ask for when he penetrated the wilderness, and what security did our pioneer mothers and fathers have, when they carved their homes out of the Western Plains. All they wanted was opportunity, and I said that's all I can offer you folks!
"And I said now boys, let's not look for security, let's look for opportunity, and I said if we keep that philosophy in mind the rest of our lives in whatever we do, you'll all become great someday. I want perfect harmony, I want perfect execution of play and I want perfect attention to details. And I said if I can get that, I said we'll have a great team."
Focus on that word: opportunity.