Not many people know this about me, but state politics, specifically funding, really gets me going. Nothing fires me up like the issuance of agency bonds for the betterment of the Commonwealth. So, you can imagine my jubilation when I got to trade in the sweatpants and home office for a suit and the Kentucky State Capitol this morning. I woke up early — way before my alarm was scheduled to play Chief Keef — because, today, I got to be a political correspondent and move one minuscule step closer to my dream of replacing Wolf Blitzer as anchor of that one show on CNN. Here are a few notes from the afternoon and what it all means for the future of UK athletics and Commonwealth Stadium.
— First, the lesson of the day: It is possible to be too early for something. Showing up at 9:30 for the 10:30 press conference was a bit superfluous of me, as Ryan Lemond would say. I sat by myself in an empty room (see picture) playing Ruzzle until people began to flock in at 10:00. Ruzzle is addicting, by the way.
— President Eli Capilouto, Mitch Barhhart and their band of UK athletics suits were among the first to show. Governor Beshear followed behind a few minutes later. It think it’s important to note that Governor Beshear carried his own umbrella as he entered the building from the rain, while Mitch Barnhart had someone else hold his. Eli Capilouto didn’t need an umbrella because rain ain’t a thang to a boss.
— It was standing room only as the press conference got underway. Those seats you see in the photo were only used to push everyone uncomfortably closer together, which sucked for me because I had planned to sit down with my laptop to tweet/take notes/Facebook chat. I stood with Tony Neely behind the television cameras and discussed the excitement around UK football before things began. Mitch Barnhart stood with his arms crossed on the opposite side of me. I hope someone got a picture. Mom sometimes asks for proof that I actually leave the house occasionally.
— Governor Beshear opened things up by introducing the specs of the proposed plan for the University of Kentucky and similar proposals for other universities across the state. UK’s $275 million project will include renovation and expansion of the Gatton College of Business, where I proudly earned my degree despite little to no attendance; a new 263,000-square-foot Academic and Science building; and, of course, a $110 million renovation of Nutter Training Facility and Commonwealth Stadium.
— The football stadium renovation will begin this year and is expected to be completed by July 2015, just in time for Mark Stoops’ third season at UK. It will feature upgrades to the Nutter Training Facility; spectator driven improvements, like concessions, restrooms and security; a multi-purpose recruiting room for guests of the program; 16-20 private suites; approximately 2,000 new club seats; new home team facilities; new press facilities, which will enhance the KSR live blog experience; a team store; and a new full service kitchen. The renovation will maintain or slightly reduce the capacity while increasing the value of the remaining seats.
— I must’ve heard “shovel-ready” 50 times throughout the press conference and it’s on the front page of the packet we were given. If they really plan to use shovels, I think this is going to take a lot longer than two years.
— The expansion and renovation of the stadium has an estimated value of $175,816,896 to the Commonwealth and is expected to create 1,528 jobs for 24 months. As many as 5,100 jobs will be created through the 11 “shovel-ready” proposed projects.
— Though Beshear and other legislative leaders are supportive, the funding still has to obtain approval from the General Assembly when it’s voted on in the upcoming session. Once it’s approved, agency bonds will be issued by the university to fund the projects at no cost to taxpayers. That means none of this is on your dime. UK will be responsible for paying back all $275 million. President Capilouto said that money will come from private donors, philanthropy and the athletics department.
— This is how I imagine the discussion between Mitch Barnhart and Eli Capilouto went before introducing the proposal. It’s all I could hear while the agency bonds were explained.
“Those are I.O.U.s. Go ahead and add it up, every cent is accounted for. Look, see that? That’s a recruiting room. $275 thousand. Might wanna hang on to that one.”
— Capilouto said UK athletics will fund the “lion’s share” (approx. $65 million) of the new Academic and Science building. When asked about athletics providing financial support for academics, Capilouto said you don’t hear of similar situations at many other places. Governor Beshear called it a “unique feature” of UK’s proposal.
— New suites, club seating, and expanded SEC revenues will have a large role in paying off the price tag for the Commonwealth expansion and new Science building. The Gatton College should be okay with private donations from all the rich people who have graduated from there. (That doesn’t include me.)
— Mitch Barnhart was available after the press conference for a brief Q&A session. He stressed how important football is to the University of Kentucky and how committed the university is to putting the best product out there. Barnhart said they have yet to come up with a detailed design for the stadium but Mark Stoops will have a big role in the process. Barnhart also mentioned the support of Big Blue Nation several times, as did Eli Calipouto. Capilouto called football the key to the financial success of the athletics department.
— If you didn’t read any of this or don’t understand it, here’s the quick rundown of the football stuff:
UK plans to expand and renovate Commonwealth Stadium. Construction will begin this year and be done by 2015 (two football seasons). The $110-million price tag will be paid from agency bonds (a loan), not taxes or tuition (you). It’s on UK to pay it all back over time with money from suites, club seating and SEC revenue. Governor Beshear supports it. It needs the state to sign off before getting a green light, which will happen. They’ll vote in the next session. Eli Capilouto doesn’t like umbrellas. The Dumb & Dumber clip was spot on and you know it. Go Cats.