The Lexington Center Board voted unanimously Thursday to hire Messer Construction to do a $241 million renovation of Rupp Arena and the Lexington Center convention facility to be completed by November 2021.
No major changes were made to previously unveiled designs created by NBBJ, an international architecture firm, and EOP Architects of Lexington. The renovation includes a new exterior for Rupp Arena with a signature wedge-shaped front and new upper-level seats.
Work will begin next month. During construction, Rupp will continue to host University of Kentucky men’s basketball games as well as concerts and events, officials said. The convention center will be replaced in two phases so about half its space can continue to be used during construction.
“The next 42 months are going to be a real challenge for our staff,” Lexington Center Director Bill Owen said.
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The expanded convention facility, which will wrap Rupp Arena but be a separate building, will total 756,593 square feet. Exhibit space will increase from the current 66,000 square feet to 100,841 square feet, while ballroom space will rise from the current 17,600 square feet to 25,080 square feet.
The plan includes 504 covered parking spaces — about 250 fewer spaces than are now on the Cox Street parking lot. After the convention center is completed on part of that lot, the rest will become Town Branch Park, to be built with $30 million in private donations.
“In my first major speech as mayor I said we needed to upgrade our convention center and make it world class like the city deserves,” Mayor Jim Gray said in a statement. “It’s just beautiful that this giant step forward is happening today.”
The Lexington Center board approved a lump-sum $241 million construction contract with Messer that requires the company to cover any cost overruns. The amount includes a $10 million contingency fund.
The state has pledged $60 million for the project, and the Urban County Council in March increased its commitment from $10 million to $30 million. Officials said no additional government funds will be needed.
The board approved $35 million in interim financing from Merrill Lynch to cover costs until construction bonds are sold. The bonds will be repaid through convention center and arena revenues and Lexington hotel-motel tax revenues. UK has committed to staying in Rupp for at least another 15 years.
The project includes demolition of the Jefferson Street bridge. The Lexington Center board said it had purchased land at the corner of West High and Jefferson streets for $595,000 from architect/developer Tom Cheek. He had planned to build luxury townhouses there until the convention center design made that impractical.
The construction contract includes a commitment by Messer to devote 13 percent of the business to minority-owned subcontractors, slightly more than the Lexington Center Corp.’s 10 percent target. “I’m pleased,” said board member P.G. Peeples, president of the Urban League of Lexington.
Messer was chosen over two other companies that bid on the project, Whiting-Turner and D.W. Wilburn. Messer has offices in Lexington and nine other cities in the region. Founded in 1932, its local office opened in the 1980s.
Craig Turner, the Lexington Center’s board chairman, said he was pleased that with about $18 million in cost-cutting over the past few weeks the project can be built with the budget, schedule and design the board had envisioned.
“This project is going to affect the viability and the energy of downtown Lexington as well as Central Kentucky and bring a lot of business and conventions to town,” Turner said. “I think exciting times are getting ready to start.”