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What the Rupp Announcement on Monday Really Means

rupp Arena

I will be quite honest with you. Following the day-to-day (or in this case month-to-month) maneuverings of the Rupp Arena Renovation Project can be difficult for even those of us who have kept up to date on the matter. The state, city and University of Kentucky have been engaged in an elaborate dance that is often difficult to follow and the ultimate resolution has not always been clear. But what is clear is that we are on the precipice of a big few months in the project that will be initiated on Wednesday with the Lexington city press conference on the future of the Rupp Renovation project. With that in mind, it seems as if this is a good time to reset the entire scenario and get a notion of where we are, what is happening this week and where the entire project is headed.


The city of Lexington, the University of Kentucky and many of the leaders of the Kentucky State Government, all want a renovated Rupp Arena project to begin within the next 12-18 months. That much is clear. While there have been pipe dream hopes about an entirely new Rupp Arena that replaces the somewhat bland, dumpy (truth hurts folks) version that we have now, it looks as if that ship has sailed. The city of Lexington, led by Mayor Jim Grey, and the University of Kentucky, both agree that a renovated Rupp Arena is the way to go and most everyone will concede that it must begin before the end of the UK-Rupp Arena lease (2018).

However much of the agreement ends there. The city of Lexington wants the Rupp Arena project to be part of a much greater effort within the city to expand the Lexington Convention Center and renovate (or in my view create) a Lexington Entertainment District. Likely because of the belief that a Rupp Arena renovation will have significantly more support than these other projects, the city is putting the three together in an entire “Renovation Project” that carries Rupp Arena’s name but entails much more. The University of Kentucky is not against these other projects, but doesn’t have a significant dog in that fight either way. So for the University, the focus is on Rupp and also the projects on campus. If too much money is given to Lexington to do the greater Entertainment pieces, it could take money out of the state coffers for potential future projects on campus. This tension between the Rupp/campus focus of UK versus the Lexington Downtown Economic focus for the city has been a continuing issue during the course of these discussions. Both sides are ready for change but the devil, as always, is in the details.


The city of Lexington has called a press conference that will be attended by the Governor where it is expected that they will announced the hiring of an architect for the Rupp Arena Renovation Project and the Governor will bring forth money from the state to help pay for the design process (whether this money is from the Coal Severance Tax…an issue that I have serious misgivings about on this project, remains to be seen). The city is expected to announce that design will get under way and a new happy day is headed for the city of Lexington. One can almost feel the joy and happiness that will surely be present in the heart of downtown Lexington (hopefully in the center of the huge grassy nothingness plot) on Wednesday afternoon.

But it is important to note that one group will not be in attendance Wednesday. By looking at the new release and talking to a couple of sources, it is clear that UK representatives do not plan to be in attendance for this announcement. Now what this means is open to some interpretation. The school has previously mentioned that it wants to see some basic information on the project, specifically where the money is coming from to pay for it and how it will be distributed in the arena. As of yet, the city has shown none of this. Because of that lack of financial information, the University has decided to sit this one out. I am told by a couple of sources that conversations between the city and the University have gone well, but there is a feeling on the UK side that things have been rushed a bit to get to this press conference stage. Thus at an event about the major arena in the city, one that connects the city and the University, one of the two major parties will not be there. Make of that what you will.


Time is, as they say, a ‘wastin. The lease between Rupp Arena and the University of Kentucky ends in 2018. Most everyone agrees that if a major renovation is to be done, the funding must come from the state legislature by the end of 2014. In Kentucky, our legislature meets at the first of the year, every two years. That means if the ducks are going to be in a row, they have to be there by January 2014. Thus both parties are in a bit of a time crunch. For the city of Lexington, support must be found, not only for Rupp Arena (where the most disagreement may come from ticket holders worried they will be priced out) but also for the Convention Center and “Entertainment District” that includes less universally loved projects like the now infamous “parks and streams.” If the city is going to get the funding for all, the 2018 deadline looms and the 2014 legislature must see the request and design efforts quickly, in order for the process to move along.

For the University, the next few months represent the next 30 years of Kentucky basketball’s home arena. The University must make sure that in this bigger picture project, it is taken care of as the arena’s major tenant. The new arena can’t be built on the backs of season ticket holders, while also allowing for luxury boxes, etc to allow the basketball program to maximize its full value. This involves negotiation with the city not only on design of the new Arena, but also distribution of monies. As we have seen with the boondoggle put forth by UL in Louisville at the Yum Center, these negotiations are crucial and have to be done in the next few months. I am told that the two parties are not far apart, but key issues remain, which is likely why we are not seeing UK representatives at the press conference on Wednesday.


We are going to know about the future of Rupp Arena by the end of the year. The city is trying to move this project quickly, likely hoping that if it gets momentum from the press conference this week, it can carry over and get the entirety of its Convention/Entertainment project swept up into 2014 funding. The University is moving a bit slower, hoping to get what is the most important piece of the puzzle to it, Rupp Arena and the “how are you going to pay for this” question answered before a huge move is made. Wednesday is the first step of what will be a very interesting few months. And while I do think an eventual agreement will be made, if UK is not standing side by side with the city (and as of now, all indications…including the city’s own press release suggest they won’t), it showcases that much work is still to be done.

Article written by Matt Jones

27 Comments for What the Rupp Announcement on Monday Really Means

  1. Evan P
    9:37 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink


  2. Not Tony Delk
    9:40 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    Well said Matt. Thanks for all of the info. I hope things work out and it’s done the right way because when things are rushed and the details are not double-checked you run into issues like what is happening with the Yuck Center.

  3. Melvin
    9:43 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    If this project fails like the basketball museum did and the arena in Louisville is doing, who is left holding the bag?

  4. 86thebleachers
    9:44 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    All I’m sayin is someone be a voice for the Upper Deckers!

  5. Melvin
    9:51 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    Assuming this happens, how much will each ticket price increase to make it break even, assuming no luxury boxes because those are not guaranteed to sell?

  6. HillbillyInBC
    9:52 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    4 – Shagari Alleyne approves of this comment.

  7. Slade
    9:54 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    #1 i couldn’t agree more

  8. 1.21GiggaWatts
    9:54 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    God help the architects who take that job.

    Renovating a historic arena for a passionate fan base… while both of your clients (UK, Lex) are fighting amongst themselves… ouch, nobody will be happy.

  9. Rixter
    9:57 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    I’ll never understand how Louisville can come up with funding for a brand new football stadium, a brand new basketball arena, a brand new tiddly-winks fieldhouse, but when UK wants something, they are told ‘yeah, maybe we can come up with $15- $20 for thicker toilet paper in the restrooms’.

  10. LegislativeCat
    9:57 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    The General Assembly meets at the beginning of the year every year; however, they have a longer session every other year to take up the budget.

  11. UKClay
    9:59 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    +1 for #4

  12. Schandler
    10:03 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    I go to a lot of home games at Rupp and have been in the YUM Center, something needs to be done with Rupp. With that said, UK can’t demand everything it wants under the sun if they are not paying for the arena; they will have to compromise or come up with more money to have more say. IF the city and/or state fund a large portion of the renovation they need to retain control over scheduling. This was the biggest mistake of the YUM debacle; if the center’s hands are tied its harder to be financially stable.

  13. Sir Brandon
    10:16 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    What about the free running horses? Art they mentioned in the release?

  14. Captain Wildcat
    10:20 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    Matt, we got a donation to renovate the locker room, cant we at spend some money and at least get a new video scoreboard to hold us over?

  15. Some Guy in Kentucky
    10:38 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    Every government project like this I have ever seen, is never done within a budget that makes it a financial success for all involved. It is the difference in spending someone elses money, and spending your own money.

  16. BigBlueFan
    10:45 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    I do have a question, if this renovation would go through the process of renovating would take time, could the builders finish from March to October and if not would the games be played at Memorial for a year? Would be appreciated if you give your thought Matt and the BBN

  17. Serdi
    10:45 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    Should have never left the best basketball venue in America, 11,500
    Memorial Coliseum

  18. Taxpayer
    11:05 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    Doesn’t really mean much unless the Urban County Council ultimately votes to fund the project. Would be rather embarrassing for all involved if the Council doesn’t approve the funding for the project. And you can beat they’ll be scrutinizing the KFC Yum Center financial state before allowing Rupp to travel down the same path.

  19. UKBlue
    11:51 pm July 8, 2013 Permalink

    With politicians involved, this is about to become a really screwed up mess.

  20. common fan
    12:32 am July 9, 2013 Permalink

    While the BBN is vast… and the eastern half of the state has always bled blue…
    it really is sad to see that coal severance money is even being considered to be used on this metropolitan project…
    Those monies were supposed to used to better the lives of those from the coal producing counties…
    its fraudulent at most and at minimum represents a flawed system that continues to pillage the poorest counties in our commonwealth… although I guess “common”wealth is only for those in CKy…
    Take a stance on this Matt…

  21. Issel's two front teeth
    12:33 am July 9, 2013 Permalink

    If it doesn’t allow more of the BBN to see home games in Rupp, then what is the point!
    This is a college team, not pro! Instead of chicken buckets, I guess there will be a little RJ Corman train going around the top of Rupp/Corman arena? Or the teams will come out of the locker room in Toyotas onto the court of Rupp/Toyota arena!

  22. Aaron
    1:24 am July 9, 2013 Permalink

    They’ll be announcing a tax increment financing district downtown, to be approved by the UK-friendly legislature in short order at their soonest opportunity.

    This is the typical stadium building panacea. That way, it doesn’t have to pay off for years. But you can estimate the revenue however you want, and just project it as “X.” Where X> cost, of course.

  23. Upper Decker
    9:55 am July 9, 2013 Permalink

    So, does the city of lexington really think anybody would travel downtown if it weren’t for The wildcats tenancy of Rupp? I don’t want this whole thing to turn into a Cluck Bucket 2.0 where UK is the only profitable entity in this deal, but come on lexington why do you think there are people downtown in the first place for you to mooch off of? Give the cats what they want and for God sake DO NOT CHANGE THE NAME! No hyphens or slashes. It’s Rupp Arena not the toyota arena formally known as Rupp.

  24. tyrus
    12:20 pm July 9, 2013 Permalink

    No public money should be used to inhance a private business. Meaning the businesses that are near Rupp. No half cent sales tax increase should be passed by the voting public to inhance private, limited liability establishments. Granted it is a state college so paying for an expansion study is fine but that’s where it should stop. The businesses that surround Rupp have made in clear numerous times over the years that the existence of Rupp is the life blood for their existence. I’m positive there are plenty of small business owners through out Lexington that would like public money to inhance the area that surrounds their establishments.

  25. Katbluefan
    4:10 pm July 9, 2013 Permalink

    #9 With some checking you most likely find that the lower half of Indiana is Louisville fans and that is where this support is coming from. I would venture to say that 90% of the people outside of Louisville & Jefferson Co do not like Louisville. I was born and raised in KY but have not lived there in 30 yrs but have kept with KY sports. Rupp Arena has a lot of history and I would like to see it Renovated.

  26. easyrider
    7:03 pm July 9, 2013 Permalink

    july 9th 2013 5.00 pm we need to get back on campus and stay

  27. easyrider
    7:12 pm July 9, 2013 Permalink

    I cant see why the bbn don’t raise he– with them polititons and get a new arena,every other place has one,we cant even get a pro team in k.y. and we r a basketball state.hahahahaha that’s funny we don’t even compare to other places that play basketball.o we did have the cant even get a new arena.when we start loseing recruits because them big money pocket people in this state I love ky.lived here all my life.,Listen to kaywood, and whats rupp do his thing.AND CANT EVEN GET A NEW BRAND NEW ARENA.HAHAHA BASKETBALL STATE