A truly viable plan or political posturing? That is the question today as the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government sent out a press release mentioning the potential for the creation of a new downtown basketball arena in Lexington. Mayor Jim Newberry came out today and said that he has appointed an Authority to look into the possibility of putting a new arena downtown with the potential to hold up to 25-30,000 people and the addition of the all-important luxury boxes to the premises. The new arena would be the centerpiece of some greater downtown development, including the potential for the creation of a Riverwalk type area in downtown Lexington.
There are obviously a number of potential issues that go into such a decision and most, if not all, will have very little to do with basketball. From my perspective, the question as to whether an arena should be built is strictly financial and has to do with the greater development of Lexington as a whole. IF I were to be convinced that building a downtown arena would have the effect of bettering the city as a whole, as I think is the case in Louisville, then I believe such an arena should be built. That is the practical reality of modern-day athletics and it takes on an even more important concern when one is talking about an arena owned by a city that may serve as the centerpiece of the city’s revitalization plan. While I love Rupp Arena, its cavernous size makes potential worries about losing “atmosphere” not of a huge concern to me as the replacement will be similar in size and if done correctly, can cure some of the sight line issues that modern arena construction has helped eliminate.
The bottom line is this….Kentucky basketball is great no matter where the arena is located. Having gone to Duke, I appreciate the warmth of a small basketball gym and the homecourt advantage it gives. But bigtime athletic programs, especially those that are the centerpieces of major public institutions simply cannot compete in the modern world in such environments. Bigtime college athletics is a business and the best business decision must be made…..not only for the university, but the city as well. I hope that the new arena would give more consideration to student seating and to long-time season ticket holders who are not simply the big-time donors. Plus, allowing 6,000 new individuals to purchase tickets to UK games would not be the worst thing in the world. If done correctly, the loss in “atmosphere” will not be nearly as debilitating as the benefits provided by the new income streams and potential for the city of Lexington. While such a plan is a LONG WAY from reality and truly can only be evaluated after knowing all of the details, the idea of a new Rupp Arena should not be one that fans immediately discard.