Politics & Government

Beshear asks lawmakers to approve $65 million for Rupp Arena project

A preliminary rendering of Rupp Arena.  Planned upgrades to improve fan experience include an eight-sided scoreboard over the center of the court.
A preliminary rendering of Rupp Arena. Planned upgrades to improve fan experience include an eight-sided scoreboard over the center of the court.

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear wants the state to provide $65 million in bonds to help renovate Rupp Arena and relocate the Lexington Convention Center, the centerpiece of Mayor Jim Gray's plan for a downtown Lexington Arts and Entertainment District.

In all, the Democratic governor is proposing to issue nearly $1 billion in General Fund bonds to pay for construction projects in the state, including $24 million to build an advanced manufacturing training center in Georgetown.

Beshear, in a media briefing Tuesday about his proposed two-year state budget, said the total price tag to renovate Rupp Arena, home of the University of Kentucky men's basketball team, and relocate the convention center, will be about $310 million. That marked the first time a total cost estimate on the project has been stated publicly.

Beshear said the remaining funds for the downtown Lexington project will be provided by the "community" from local and private funds.

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Gray, said the city hopes to have a detailed financial plan for the project soon.

"Now that we know the governor's plan, we will continue working with our partners to complete our financial plan for Rupp over the next few weeks," Straub said.

Gray, in an email, was jubilant with Beshear's proposal.

"This project, at its heart, is about economic development," Gray said. "Gov. Beshear recognizes that and understands how important the reinvention of Rupp Arena is to UK, our city and our state."

Brent Rice, chairman of the Lexington Center Board of Directors, also applauded Beshear.

"We're looking forward to making Rupp better than new, state of the art and more competitive for the next 40 years," Rice said.

So far, the city and state, along with the Lexington Center Corp., which manages Rupp, have spent $5.5 million on the planning stages of the project.

Last year, the state set aside $2.5 million from coal-severance taxes for the project, which angered many Eastern Kentucky officials. That money — a tax on coal as it is removed from the ground — should have been used for economic development projects in impoverished Eastern Kentucky, they argued.

In July, Hunt Construction and architects NBBJ and EOP were hired for initial design work, but final designs and a plan to finance the renovation of Rupp Arena have not yet been released. City officials initially said a financing plan would be released in November but that date has been repeatedly pushed back.

Initial redesign plans include "freeing" Rupp Arena from the convention center complex so it can be seen from all four sides. The convention center would be moved to the west of Rupp Arena, closer to Jefferson Street. The interior, two-tier bowl of Rupp Arena would remain largely the same, but with upgrades to improve the fan experience.

Those tweaks include replacing bench seating in the upper deck with chair-backed seating, more premium seats, an eight-sided scoreboard over the center of the basketball court and more concessions in the upper desk.

The advanced manufacturing training center in Georgetown would be associated with the Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Beshear said.

He noted that the college has been partnering with the Kentucky Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education to produce workers for Toyota and other manufacturers.

In Louisville, Beshear is asking state legislators to provide $56 million in bonds for a $180 million renovation of the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville.

Several other projects proposed by Beshear include $100 million for school facility construction; $60 million for expansion of high-speed Internet service, particularly in Eastern Kentucky; $5 million to upgrade guest accommodations at state parks; $30 million for economic development programs; and $2 million to build a fourth state veterans' nursing home.

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