Downtown plan about more than Rupp

The University of Kentucky has a new president and a storied basketball program with a golden opportunity to show it's a true team player.

The last several years there's been lots of murmuring about the fate of Rupp Arena, the longtime home court to UK men's basketball.

With Rupp's lease running out in 2018, UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart has touted the benefits of a new arena with luxury boxes. An earlier university effort at arena financing did not pan out.

Mayor Jim Gray has convened a task force to consider what to do about Rupp and how to plan for a lively arts and entertainment district to enhance the surrounding area.

The group has gotten off to a strong start by hiring a world-class master planner with experience on several continents.

Gary Bates, the planner, told the task force last week that "all options are on the table" for Rupp, including replacing it and renovating it. Bates praised the fervor he found at games inside Rupp and said that atmosphere must be preserved "at all costs."

Bates' job, in part, is to help Lexington think beyond one project at a time to develop a more comprehensive vision for what Rupp and our downtown will be well into the future.

The storied UK basketball program has it concerns. A renovation of Rupp might mean the team has to play elsewhere for a season, losing home court advantage and some revenue.

Then there's arena envy. Louisville has a new arena, why shouldn't UK? Will players, dazzled by new facilities elsewhere, think UK has lost its luster if all we have is a multi-multi-million-dollar renovation? (Although this is a little hard to envision given recent recruiting success and the big dollars players have demanded in the pros after only a few games in Rupp.)

Hard as it might be, though, the task force, Lexington and even UK Athletics, need to think beyond one season and a few recruiting classes to consider Rupp's future in the context of this entire community.

It's the kind of thinking that should appeal to a university community. Education is all about planning for the future. We pay for kids to go to school rather than earn wages in the short term because we believe that 30 or 40 years from now we'll all be better as a result.

Lexington needs Rupp, and Rupp needs Lexington. It will be that way for decades to come.

Basketball is a team sport, and so is city planning. UK has proven it has mastered basketball; now it has a wonderful opportunity to show it can play on a bigger court, too.