Rupp Arena to be separated from convention center


Associated Press

Posted on July 10, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Updated Thursday, Jul 11 at 4:02 AM

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Rupp Arena's latest proposed makeover will make it a stand-alone facility that state and local officials hope will reinvent downtown.

It's not clear yet how the massive renovation will be funded.

Most important to Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Mayor Jim Gray and officials from Lexington Center during a Wednesday news conference was unveiling a renovation plan that will separate the 37-year-old home of Kentucky men's basketball from the adjoining convention center, which will be expanded to at least 100,000 square feet and add a ballroom.

"We know it needs to be the best," the governor said of Rupp. "It needs to be a state-of-the-art facility."

Seattle-based architectural firm NBBJ will handle the design. Hunt Construction Group of Indianapolis, which originally built Rupp, will handle the renovation. The project is expected to take two years to complete with groundbreaking scheduled for fall 2014.

Beshear said in order for city business to compete, it must leverage its assets and invest them. In his view, Rupp Arena is part of the plan of revamping downtown and drawing businesses.

The plan will retain Rupp's 23,500-seat capacity but adds chair-back seats throughout, expanded concourses and a new center-hanging scoreboard.

The most notable detail is Rupp's separation from the convention center to avoid scheduling conflicts and provide a bigger venue city officials believe is important to drawing more events. Currently at 66,000 square feet, Lexington Center Corp. board chairman Brent Rice said the facility needs at least double that space to lure more conventions and shows.

Expansion will mean gutting an area of shops and restaurants and the possible loss of jobs. Rice cautioned against projecting job losses and Beshear said that will be considered when he submits his plan for the state's role in the renovation plan when legislature convenes in January.

Asked why the announcement lacked funding specifics, Beshear said there were a number of complex issues to resolve. But he said plans were progressing because those with stakes in the project — including the University of Kentucky — are discussing solutions.

"I'm confident that at the end of the day, we'll get all of those ironed out and find a way to finance this," Beshear said. "There's a lot of moving parts that are going to come together and we're going to keep working it on until we pull them all together."

Asked if that would include raising the sales tax, Rice answered that it's not on the table and said whatever plan is chosen would be "bulletproof."

"This is a huge undertaking," Rice said. "We want to make sure it's funded correctly."

Rupp's latest renovation plan comes just months after more than $3 million was spent refurbishing the arena's locker room and adding meeting rooms. The locker room changes included using the floor from the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans, where Kentucky won its eighth national championship.

Most of that project's funding came from private donors, with Wildcats coach John Calipari spearheading the effort.

While it remains to be seen what a new Rupp Arena will look like, its designer is experienced with modern designs for sports venues.

NBBJ, which will work locally with architects from EOP, remade and expanded UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. The company's resume' includes Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field and Brooklyn's Barclays Center, which opened last fall to favorable reviews.

Hunt Construction meanwhile lists the University of Louisville's Papa John's Cardinal Stadium among its list of facilities. The company's website displays pictures from a $63.4 million project that added 10,500 upper deck seats to the 15-year-old stadium (boosting capacity to 55,000 in 2010) along with 33 suites and 1,730 sheltered loge seats.

Former Wildcats coach Joe B. Hall said he just wants a facility that retains the program's history and tradition.

"There'll be nothing lost in the nostalgia moving from one arena to the other," said Hall, who succeeded Adolph Rupp and coached the Wildcats to three Final Fours including the 1978 NCAA title in Rupp's second year.

"The creators of the renovated Rupp Arena have good knowledge of the fan support and what the Big Blue Nation is all about. They did it before. ... The new one will take over that role as the best facility in the nation."