University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart applauded the effort applied to Lexington's proposed entertainment district and renovation of Rupp Arena. But echoing UK's administration, he said campus needs must be a higher priority.
"I want to get to a spot where the university's needs are met in total," Barnhart said before UK played Tennessee Tuesday night.
Barnhart spoke after the mayor's task force unveiled a proposal earlier in the day to renovate Rupp as part of a plan to develop and invigorate Lexington's downtown.
Two questions loom over the proposal, Barnhart said:
■ How to pay for a project the task force pegged at more than $250 million.
■ Making sure it does not "hinder" UK's plans to upgrade campus classroom buildings and dormitories.
The decision to renovate Rupp rather than build a new arena came quickly and easily.
"The facts led to that. Ten months of evaluating the facts," said attorney Brent Rice, who chaired the task force.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray echoed that, saying, "The first issue was cost."
Rupp's sound structure and location in the heart of downtown also played a part in the decision.
"Why not take what you've got and really build on that?" Gray said. "It's a great location, basically, and it has good bones."
Speaking at his postgame news conference after Kentucky's victory over Tennessee on Tuesday night, UK men's basketball coach John Calipari said, "Whatever is good for our city is good for our university. Whatever is good for our university is good for our city.
"That being said, we need to rebuild our campus ... over a four- to five-year period ASAP.
"If they rebuild Rupp Arena, I'm fine," he added.
Gary Bates, the architect who led the planning for the district and Rupp renovation, noted how "big conclusions" were reached near the start of a 10-month look into the project. He said UK and Lexington leaders united behind a renovation when he interviewed for the job.
"I think you guys are missing the point in discussions of a new arena," Bates said he told the task force. "It is possible to have your cake and eat it, too."
That meant a renovated Rupp could have the feel and look of a new arena.
"When I said that, I mean, it was the first time the city and school looked at each other and said, 'Maybe we can get on the same table,'" Bates said.
Bates credited Barnhart with providing "inspiration" for a CatWalk, a path linking the UK campus with the planned entertainment district.
Barnhart explained the idea by saying he was "trying to find things that create atmosphere and energy."