Job one: rebuild city connections

The good news last week was that renovating Rupp Arena would cost about half as much as a new arena. The bad news was that the price tag is $110 to $130 million.

Rupp is a Kentucky treasure, a place visited and revered by people from all over. Lexington and Kentucky's other urban areas are the economic drivers that provide the bulk of the state's revenue.

But, with governments struggling to balance their budgets during the worst financial times in a generation, that's still a big, big number. An even bigger number is the $1 billion in capital construction needs identified on the University of Kentucky campus.

The task force appointed by Mayor Jim Gray to study the future of Rupp and the surrounding area is investigating alternative financing possibilities for the work. We sincerely wish them well but will be hard pressed to argue that renovating Rupp should move ahead of UK's educational mission or basic government services in the competition for public dollars.

Thankfully, the work of the task force goes far beyond this big ticket item.

In their simplest form the proposals are about making connections:

■ Connecting what happens inside Rupp Arena to the outside.

■ Connecting the University of Kentucky to Rupp.

■ Connecting other areas of downtown to Rupp and to each other.

■ Connecting downtown to the rest of the community.

For all the wonderful, mind-opening ideas that urban planner Gary Bates and his team have brought into view in their study of Rupp and downtown's future, this idea of connection is the one that Lexington must run with.

It's also the idea that, while far from easy, makes the most of Lexington's abundant intellectual capital, but demands the least in money.

Consider the proposal for a "Cat Walk," a processional route along Euclid, Limestone and Maxwell that cuts through the High Street parking lot directly to Rupp. What would it take? Some distinctive signage, traffic control on game days, thought, planning and promotion. What would we get? A stream of fans winding their way on foot from campus to the arena, adding to pre-game excitement, reducing traffic and parking, making a statement about support for the team.

Likewise, the gaps that make walking downtown so unappealing and arduous — vacant lots, surface parking, fortress-like high rises with no street-level presence, lack of retail — can be solved with imagination and manageable investment backed up by thoughtful planning and targeted governmental support.

Bates has offered an exciting vision of a Rupp with transparent walls that connects people on the outside with the excitement inside.

We hope it happens, but one big project won't rebuild our broken connections. It's Lexington's task to begin that important work now.