Contrary to the unanimous opinion of faculty on the University of Kentucky Senate and the repeated statements of President Eli Capilouto, I believe our fine new president should collaborate actively with Mayor Jim Gray's reinvention of Rupp and the creation of the Arts and Entertainment District.
It is hard to know whether signing a letter supporting the exciting new plans for Rupp (without, please note, requesting any money for Rupp) would harm UK' s prospects for achieving its own funding goals. Opinions of knowledgeable people seem to be divided on that issue.
I understand and applaud Capilouto's desire to contrast his aims symbolically with those of his predecessor, notable for the Wildcat Coal Lodge, and other distortions of UK priorities. But to insist repeatedly and forcefully that UK places all its priorities on its own campus and none on the fate of Lexington is a symbolic statement of its own kind — and one that is badly mistaken.
Lexington has a visionary mayor and the best council I can remember. The task force working on the Rupp Arena plan has functioned smoothly, creating a strong consensus around the plans approved Jan. 31. The plan itself is outstanding, the best example of downtown planning by far that I have seen in over 30 years of sitting on downtown planning committees. These opportunities do not come around every day, and UK needs to be on board.
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I am one of the most unlikely people to support a renovation of Rupp.
When my wife and I moved to Lexington in 1974, I was appalled by the plan to create a 16-acre parking lot for Rupp.
I soon became very involved in the opposition to the creation of that lot, which I regarded as obscene on many accounts, chiefly because of the demolition of many valuable historic homes and, more importantly, the expulsion of many elderly occupants, including many African-Americans, into a housing market with very little affordable rental housing. One of Lexington's most important African-American neighborhoods was wiped out, and a great deal of personal suffering resulted.
With many neighbors in the South Hill neighborhood, and allies from around the city, opponents mounted a strong opposition, with 400 to 500 concerned citizens attending council meetings to voice their objections. Pam Miller was one of our very few allies on the council at the time. Our small neighborhood ultimately sued the Lexington Center to prevent the demolition of that neighborhood.
This whole episode almost cost me my academic career, since it took a great deal of my time away from necessary-for-tenure research, but I'd like to think that it did help to change the political culture of Lexington away from secret deals with no public input in favor of transparency in the planning process, which has been one of the hallmarks of the current work on Rupp and surrounding areas.
I mention this personal story to point out that I'm about the last person to defend an expensive reworking of an arena that I know has caused so much pain and trouble.
I hate to admit it, but I am not even a fan of UK basketball. Further, having taught classes in the infamous Chemistry-Physics Building in a classroom with broken blinds that I could not close to show images in a darkened space, and a heating system whose roar almost drowned out my voice, I appreciate Capilouto's emphasis on long-overdue repairs on central-campus buildings.
But the brilliant new plan for Rupp is much more than a scheme for a renewed b-ball palace. It will create a linear park around the Town Branch, an effective link to the Distillery District, a sharply improved convention space, new arts venues and other amenities.
It offers the possibility of making all of Lexington a more attractive place, allowing UK to attract and keep both the very best faculty and a more talented student body. I know from personal experience that perceptions of our urban environment are crucial to recruiting the most talented faculty members.
So while I wholeheartedly applaud Capilouto's focus on working on the central campus and his demotion of sports among UK's priorities, I believe he should also support Gray's inspired plans for our downtown.
He has a crucial opportunity to show that UK wants to collaborate effectively with the city of Lexington, rather than concentrating exclusively on its own inward concerns.
He should seize that opportunity.