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Rupp Arena Plans Unveiled

Plans for the 310 million dollar Rupp Arena project were unveiled Monday (Feb. 10). 

The "reinvention" of the 38-year-old facility will include construction of a new convention center.  Funding for the massive Lexington development is still being finalized.

The new and improved Rupp Arena is expected to include a glass exterior, chair-back seats throughout, and a new scoreboard.  There are also plans for a catwalk from the University of Kentucky campus to the Rupp district and outdoor video screens. 

Governor Beshear’s budget plan includes 65 million dollars for the project.  During the Monday afternoon event, he offered a firm commitment. 

"I’m confident that with all of these parties at the table, this project will become a reality and I am going to make sure that it does,” said Beshear.

A detailed financing plan is yet to be released but it will involve several partners including the state, city, UK, and the Kentucky High School Athletics Association.  The boys state high school basketball tournament is played each spring in Rupp Arena and brings thousands of fans and dollars to downtown Lexington.  The funding formula is expected to include private funds.

Lexington Center Board Director Brent Rice says work continues on a long term lease with UK.  He says there other tax incentives and a chance for fans to back the project with their wallets. 

We plan to take advantage of tax increment financing which a lot of people have heard about.  We will be very careful, very very careful not to expect too much revenue too soon, we have learned.  There will be an opportunity for UK. There will be an opportunity for fans and citizens to participate financially in Rupp’s reinvention,” said Rice.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray says the job impact could exceed four thousand when you take into account architects, engineers, contractors, construction workers, and the full supply chain.  The mayor says the project builds up the brands of UK, the city, and the state.  The fact that a firm financing plan is not yet in place is not a major concern for the mayor. 

Often I’ve found these projects, something significant like this project.  You know, it’s not unusual to have some supporters and some dissent.  That’s part of the project.  What we have today is a bona fide plan and we know what it’s going to cost,” added Gray.

How to cover the cost fully remains a question mark.  State lawmakers are being asked to consider giving local governments a sales tax option to help finance projects of this type.  Even if such an option is enacted by the legislature, voters in local communities would still have the final say.

Lexington Council member Julian Beard knows a bit about financing, after spending much of his adult life in the banking business.  He believes additional state appropriations could be coming over the next couple of years. 

"There will be maybe some more money from the state.  If we get our extra one percent sales tax, that will essentially take care of everything,” said Beard.

Beard anticipates the new convention center will be completed first.  He says revenue from the new facility could also be a part of the financing formula.  Mayor Gray expects work to begin in 2015 with the possibility of completion in 2017.


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