Renovated Rupp Arena would meet UK's needs and cost far less than a new arena, study says

A technical study on the long-term needs for the arena and convention center presented figures for renovating and rebuilding.
A technical study on the long-term needs for the arena and convention center presented figures for renovating and rebuilding.

Renovating Rupp Arena would cost less than half of what the city would spend to build a new arena, and at the same time would include the priorities that the University of Kentucky says it wants in a basketball facility, according to a new feasibility study.

Renovation would cost between $110 million and $130 million, compared to $300 million to $325 million for a new arena, according to the technical study that looked at long-term needs for the downtown arena and adjacent Lexington Center.

Expanding the Lexington Center to add convention and exhibition space would cost $70 million, compared to $100 million to $130 million for a new convention center, according to the study.

"We needed to answer the important question of what is possible, both in terms of new construction and renovation. That's what this study has done," Brent Rice, chairman of the Arena, Arts & Entertainment Task Force wrote in a email he sent to task force members on Tuesday.

"Answering this question was essential for our on-going examination of options, and it was important for the community at large as well," Rice said.

The study, which will be discussed at a public forum Wednesday, does not recommend whether to renovate or replace either the arena or convention center.

Mayor Jim Gray said arena consultant Gary Bates has not yet had time to take the technical information, pull it together and make his recommendation to the task force. That will come in January.

"This is simply a piece of the puzzle, but having construction costs is a big piece of the puzzle," Gray said on Tuesday.

The technical information shows that it is "very possible to retain the awesome energy of Rupp Arena while actually getting far more for our city than a new arena," he said.

UK has been playing basketball games in Rupp since the city-owned arena opened in 1976.

The arena is important for the success of other events like concerts and high school basketball tournaments, said Stan Harvey, a principal in Urban Collage, a Lexington urban planning firm hired to work with the task force and provide staff support.

That's why input was solicited from the Lexington Center Corporation, Lexington Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

The feasibility study was led by four internationally recognized firms that design, engineer, build and manage arenas and convention centers: Global Spectrum, which owns and operates more than 60 arenas around the country; NBBJ Design architects, Skanska construction and Thornton Tomasetti engineers.

The technical professionals explored options for new construction versus reinvention for "every dimension" of Lexington Center, Rupp, the Civic Center Shoppes, the Lexington Convention Center and nearby surface parking lots, Rice said Tuesday, adding: "We feel good about the information we have received because these are world-class firms."

The feasibility team met multiple times with the UK athletics department, said Kevin Atkins, a senior member of the mayor's staff. He described the athletics staff as "very cooperative."

The university's priorities, which renovation would accommodate, are:

■ No loss of seating capacity. Renovation would allow a modest increase in the number of seats, more seats in the lower arena and upper-arena seats with backs, according to the study.

■ Uninterrupted play while renovation is under way.

■ Upgraded, and in some cases new, support spaces such as a media room, interview room, training room and kitchen. Plus, the option to move the women's basketball team to Rupp, which would entail a new locker room.

■ Some premium seating, including space for the UK president to entertain before and after games. Currently, President Eli Capilouto uses the Bluegrass Ballroom in the Lexington Center.

■ New technology including a center-hung scoreboard —perhaps eight-sided — that would display the score, player stats, show instant replays of the game and have close-up shots of coaches and players.

■ Retain the collegiate atmosphere of Rupp, as opposed to an arena that would be more appropriate for a professional team.

"Rupp has everything it needs to have to be viable for another 50 years," Harvey said, adding that what to do about the civic center — renovate or build new — is the more challenging piece.

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