Gray wants Rupp Arena to remain 'competitive'

Mayor-elect Jim Gray talked about revitalization of Lexington's urban core in an interview with the Herald-Leader Friday, saying he wants to see more creative projects like the Farmers Market and Fifth Third Pavilion, supports design guidelines and two-way streets and hopes to talk with developers of the CentrePointe block about its future.

He also commented on a possible new downtown basketball arena.

University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said this week that the arena initiative proposed two years ago by the sports marketing company IMG College had fallen through.

If Rupp Arena, built in 1976 as home to the UK men's basketball team, is to be replaced, Barnhart said, it is up to the city to make the next move.

Whether to keep Rupp Arena or build a new facility is a classic business decision, Gray said. "You have to stay competitive in the marketplace," he said.

"We need to do all we can to remain competitive and that means examining the current facility. If we can remain competitive with the existing facility, that's OK," Gray said. "If we can't, we need to examine other possibilities including a new arena."

About CentrePointe, Gray has been a vocal critic of the stalled mixed-use hotel and condominium project, at one point calling it "uninspired."

He was asked if he thought it was too late for the mayor to have conversations with The Webb Companies and Lexington businessman Joe Rosenberg, who owns most of the property on the block, to alter the design or change what eventually goes on that block.

Gray would only say: "I look forward to discussions with the owners and developers about the future of the center of our city."

Pointing to successful downtown projects, Gray said Farmers Market and the Fifth Third Pavilion illustrate how the city can transform a small space into a dynamic area with restaurants, entertainment and retail venues to attract people downtown to work and relax.

"This is the kind of active, urban space where business people want to locate their businesses," he said. The city will work to encourage more "imaginative, creative" development downtown, Gray said.

Several months ago, Vice Mayor Gray appointed a task force to come up with guidelines for downtown that will set design standards for the exterior of buildings. Gray serves on that task force, chaired by council member Tom Blues, and he said he expects to continue to be involved.

Design guidelines are important to the architectural integrity of downtown, and Gray said he will work to see they get implemented.

Cities that have been successful at making their downtowns inspiring, inviting destinations have many two-way streets, he said, adding, "Lexington can learn from those examples."

The remarks came on a day when Gray spoke to a sold-out audience at Commerce Lexington's annual Public Policy luncheon.

Gray told business leaders the city needs to leverage "what's special and unique about Lexington, starting with a world-class landscape, a vibrant urban core and downtown, educational assets and friendly people.

"Knowing our strengths and playing to these strengths will enhance our brand, build attachment and grow our reputation as a great place to live, to work, to raise a family and to build and grow a business," he said.

One of his goals, Gray said, is to bring three new corporate headquarters to Lexington. Creating jobs will be his top priority, Gray said.

Gray said, "We will stumble, of course. I hope we have enough sense to admit it when we do."

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