Lexington Mayor Jim Gray unveiled a conceptual drawing Tuesday that showed the inside of a renovated Rupp Arena with an eight-sided scoreboard over the center of the basketball floor and a reconfigured lower level with more seats.
Gray told a sold-out Lexington Forum audience of 500 at his annual State of the Merged Government speech in Lexington Center that the lower arena seating capacity would increase by 800 to 1,000 seats. The upper level would be rebuilt with all chair-back seats. Premium seating would be added.
Other features would be enlarged concourses, additional restrooms and a lobby entrance off Triangle Park.
The design, proposed by Gary Bates, the arena, arts and entertainment district's master planner, peels away the industrial outer skin of Rupp Arena and replaces it with glass "to encourage the energy inside to flow into the outdoor plaza where ... video screens will engage outside fans," Gray said.
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The proposed district offers an array of possibilities, Gray said, such as new arts facilities, convention space, commercial and residential space, and new downtown educational and business venues. The city already owns the 46 acres around Lexington Center, "a unique asset for any community," he added.
Gray announced that the Fayette County Board of Education voted Monday night to begin exploring the possibility of a downtown arts school, presumably somewhere within the proposed district.
Gray thanked Gov. Steve Beshear for putting $3.5 million in his recent budget for arena design, saying Beshear made the project a priority, which "highlights its importance to the entire state."
The final report to the public by the 47-member Arena, Arts and Entertainment District Task Force, with recommendations for the future of Rupp Arena and Lexington Center, will be made Tuesday.
In a briefing for reporters before his address, Gray said the task force has performed "right on schedule." It was appointed March.
Gray said financing would be a key to making the project happen.
"This is a big project. Don't think you can snap your fingers and it will happen overnight. We are at step three of a 10-step process," Gray said.
Entertainment districts like the one proposed for downtown Lexington "are proven winners when it comes to job creation, private investment and economic development," Gray said. "Columbus reports $20 million in increased revenue through the district and their improving downtown."
University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto, in the audience for Gray's speech, said afterward that looking out for the core of UK's campus and its needs were his top priority. "But I continue to communicate with the mayor and Brent Rice," chairman of the arena district task force, he said.
Continuing to create jobs and run government efficiently will remain the important challenges in the year ahead, Gray said.
"This year has really passed quickly when you are tackling tough stuff," Gray said at the briefing. "Right out of the gate, we faced tough challenges at the health department and fire department."
One of the tough problems was resolved Monday when the city reached a contract agreement with the corrections employees union.