Lexington mayor Jim Gray spoke earlier this week about his desire to invest in the downtown area and create a thriving district for arts, entertainment and sports. That statement, along with the announcement that he would put together a task force to look into the arena issue, seemed to cement the notion that the city of Lexington would prefer to renovate Rupp Arena, rather than building a new facility. It’s an idea that the people at UK do not believe to be the best strategy going forward.
I spoke with someone with some knowledge of the situation this morning and they indicated that the powerful triumvirate of Todd, Barnhart and Calipari are opposed to the renovation of Rupp Arena and instead prefer a new facility. They would support a new facility downtown, but would likely push for a new arena to be built on campus if the city wants to propose renovations to Rupp Arena. They believe that there are a number of issues that come with simply making renovations, which make it not only less desirable, but also make it unfunctional on a lot of levels.
Here are four key reasons why they will likely oppose any plans to simply renovate Rupp Arena:
1. Renovation would reduce capacity - The understanding is that the primary renovation to Rupp Arena would be to add luxury suites, much like the ones included in the Yum! Center project. By adding these suites, the capacity of Rupp Arena would be reduced to, at most, 18,000 people. One issue in doing this becomes the question of who would have to give up their tickets in order to make space available for the new suites. Breaking that news could give new meaning to “don’t shoot the messenger”.
2. Where would UK play in the meantime? - The person I spoke with also sadi the UK folks also believe that if the renovations take place, they will be forced to find a secondary destination for UK home games. Those courts would likely be Memorial Coliseum, Freedom Hall or a venue in Cincinnati. All of these destinations not only present a similar issue in giving up tickets, but also present various logistical issues for the team and for fans.
3. Renovation creates loss of revenue- With the apparently inevitable notion that UK would have to forfeit tickets when seating becomes less available at the new Rupp or the temporary home location, the school also faces a significant loss in revenue. As you’re probably very aware, the state institutions are not in any position to loss that revenue and doing so would force them to make budgetary changes going forward. To the school, that’s a major red flag for this potential project.
4. The Louisville Factor – The person I spoke with said that beyond all of the problems on paper, there still remains the issue of the Yum! Center in Louisville and the ardent belief in at UK that they should not play “second fiddle” to Louisville in facilities. From a fan perspective, that’s probably paramount. To the powers at UK, it’s not only what they desire, but they feel that it’s deserved. It’s hard to argue any differently.
Gray’s task force most likely won’t return any of their findings for quite some time, but if the city proposes renovations to Rupp Arena as expected, it could be the start of a battle between Lexington and its most prominent resident. The person I spoke with thinks that UK will push hard for a new facility. The path of least resistance involves the city and the school joining on a new venture downtown. But, if Jim Gray and his task force propose renovations as expected, there will likely be a battle and the school will push for a new arena on campus. Given the host of issues that seem to come with the renovation plan and the message it sends by taking a back seat to Louisville, the stance seems to be justified.