On a day when Lexington leaders officially unveiled a study showing a renovation could be done at less than half the cost of a new arena, Kentucky Coach John Calipari acknowledged that the program's need to be the "gold standard" of college basketball could be maintained in a new-look Rupp Arena.
"Sure," he said Wednesday.
University of Kentucky basketball can be used in either a renovation or new arena to generate enthusiasm for a new-look downtown Lexington, Calipari said. The program would also willingly take a back seat to new UK president Eli Capilouto's goal of upgrading campus buildings.
"That's fine," Calipari said, "as long as at the end of the day, you understand this program needs to be the gold standard, and I believe it is."
That's understood, said Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who envisions UK's arena (renovation or new structure) as a centerpiece in a larger-scale revitalization of downtown.
"I agree completely with the coach," Gray said when asked about a gold standard for UK basketball being important to planners.
Noting his background in construction, Gray added, "You don't always have to spend more to achieve the best result. And that includes the gold standard (for UK basketball)."
A new feasibility study shows that a renovation of Rupp Arena would cost between $110 million and $130 million, while construction of a new arena would cost between $300 million and $325 million.
Calipari declined to say what changes he'd like to see in a reinvention of Rupp Arena. He noted that he was a basketball coach, not an athletic director concerned with maximizing revenue nor a mayor interested in creating a more vibrant downtown.
"I want to make sure whatever my players touch is state of the art and the best in the country," Calipari said.
The UK coach did express hope that a renovated Rupp or new arena does not lead to higher ticket prices.
"Let's make sure we take care of eastern Kentucky, those people upstairs," he said. "Don't come back and try to overcharge them."
Otherwise, Calipari said he had no involvement in arena planning, but might in the final stages.
"When it gets to that point, I'd imagine they'll say, 'Hey, Cal, look at this.' I'll look at (the plan) and give them my opinion. Right now, I don't have an opinion."
Gray saw the city looking for such input from Calipari.
"The coach has a big stake in this," the Lexington mayor said, "and has a lot of experience in seeing the energy of an arena and what it means to a basketball program. I sure have enormous respect for his opinion."
Cal's editor's note
Calipari playfully suggested that a former publisher of The Courier-Journal helped University of Louisville basketball by playing a role in the building of the Yum Center.
"On the other side of the state, I believe the editor of the newspaper was chairman of the board to build that arena," Calipari told reporters. "Was he? I believe he was. Was it editor or publisher?
"I think our newspaper would like to do that and be chairman of ours, too."
Ed Manassah, the publisher of The Courier-Journal from 1993 to 2006, said he played a small role in the selection of a site for the Yum Center. Manassah said he recommended what became the downtown site of the arena to Jim Host, the chairman of the Louisville Arena Authority, and then accompanied Host on a tour of the site.
"I came up with an idea of where it could be placed," said Manassah, now the executive director of the institute of media, culture and ethics at Bellarmine University. "Jim took it from there."
Host said neither Manassah nor The Courier-Journal played any role in raising funds for the Yum Center. Host described Manassah as a civic-minded publisher interested in improving downtown Louisville, not in rooting for U of L's basketball team.