The only definite thing about the Rupp Arena project right now is that it’s a disaster. As we continue to wind down from Eli Capilouto’s scathing letter to Brent Rice, let’s take a minute to look back at the history of the debate over Rupp, which goes all the way back to Rick Pitino’s days at Camelot. To the timeline!
1996: Rick Pitino lobbies for a new on-campus arena, at which time the city of Lexington proposes a $45 million overhaul of Rupp and the convention center and requests $30 million in state assistance.
2001-2004: The Lexington Center Corporation (LCC) renovates Rupp Arena and the convention center at the cost of $52 million, including installing all blue seating in the lower arena. UK signs a lease with the LCC through 2017-2018.
2007: The LCC hires a consultant to evaluate tax increment financing laws (TIF) to see if TIF revenues could be used to help build a new downtown arena across High Street from Rupp Arena.
August 2008: The LCC approves a feasibility study to determine if private financing (not taxpayer money) could fund a new downtown basketball arena, renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, and a new UK baseball stadium. Under the initial plan, IMG and International Stadia Group (ISG) would raise the funds to build the new arena and finance construction through luxury box leases, advertising, and naming right. UK and the LCC would retain operational control of the new arena.
November 2009: The first rendering of a new downtown arena surfaces on ISG’s website, along with a release stating that the entire project (new downtown basketball arena, CWS renovation, and new baseball stadium) would total over $500 million, with construction starting in January 2010.
January 2010: Construction does not start.
December 2010: UK shelves the project and defers to the city on whether or not to renovate or replace Rupp.
January 2011: Lexington Mayor Jim Gray calls for another study to explore the feasibility of renovating Rupp and the convention center. The study is financed with $350,000 in private donations.
January 28, 2011: John Calipari gives his first comments on whether or not to renovate or replace Rupp. In a press conference previewing a game against Georgia, Cal said that he expects UK to be the “gold standard” in every aspect of college basketball, including the arena. At this time, the battle lines are drawn, with UK wanting a new arena, potentially on campus if the city refused to offer support; and the Mayor wanting to either renovate Rupp, or build a new arena downtown as a compromise.
November 30, 2011: The results of the feasibility study are in and Brent Rice, the chairman of the Arena, Arts, and Entertainment Task Force (aka “The Rupp Arena Task Force”), announces that it would be considerably cheaper to renovate Rupp than replace it. Renovations would cost between $110 million to $130 million, compared to $300 million to $325 million for a new arena. Renovating the convention center would cost $70 million, compared to $100 million to $130 million for a new convention center.
November 30, 2011: Calipari says Kentucky can still be the gold standard with a renovated Rupp, but that everything must be top-notch. “I’m the basketball coach,” Cal said. “I want to make sure whatever my players touch is state-of-the-art and it’s the best in the country. That’s what I care about.” This is the first time Cal publicly supports renovation.
December 12, 2011: Eli Capilouto releases a joint statement with Mitch Barnhart and John Calipari saying that he does not support state funding for renovating or replacing Rupp, and that the project should be funded privately.
December 17, 2011: The Arena, Arts, and Entertainment task force votes unanimously to renovate Rupp, and first renderings are released, complete with wild horses. The design proposes replacing the arena’s metal siding with glass, and replacing the current convention center with a five-building campus linked by covered walkways. This is the first we heard of the buried Town Branch Creek, which would be restored and run through a green space around the arena, convention center, and surrounding retail shops.
January 25, 2012: Mayor Gray releases more renderings showing the inside of a renovated Rupp, complete with a new center-hung 8-sided scoreboard, storm troopers, a garden gnome, a three goggles shirt, and more:
January 2012: Governor Steve Beshear adds $3.5 million to his annual January budget request for a more detailed design.
February 9, 2012: The Rupp District team releases this video about the importance of improving downtown Lexington through the Rupp Arena project.
April 2012: Construction begins on UK’s new locker room in Rupp Arena, a separate $2.9 million project funded by private donors.
June 2012: UK and the city of Lexington announce that Frank Butler, UK VP of Finance and Administration, will take a six-month leave of absence to head up the Rupp project. At the time, this was seen as a good sign of the school’s support.
November 2012: The LCC hires Conventions, Sports, and Leisure International to create a financial plan and market study for the Rupp project. Brent Rice also announces that Frank Butler will continue to be the project director and go on the LCC payroll in January.
April 2013: The Urban City Council approves $2.5 million in state money to fund the planning and design phase of the Rupp project.
June 2013: The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the Kentucky State Legislature is using money from the coal severance tax to fund the design phase of the Rupp Project, upsetting many in the Eastern part of the state who think the coal tax should be invested back into the mountains. Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo argues that while Rupp may not be in the coalfields, UK basketball is important to the state as a whole.
July 10, 2013: Mayor Gray, Governor Beshear, and representatives of the LCC hold a press conference to announce the hiring of architecutral firm NBBJ and Hunt Construction, and give a progress report. Mainly it is a lot of “Free Rupp” talk, but Gray mentions bigger concourses, all chair-back seats, a new hospitality level with suites, and a new scoreboard as features of the new Rupp. He also doesn’t take naming right off the table, but insists that “Rupp Arena” will always be part of the building’s name. Rice promises that a “bulletproof” financial plan would be done in 30 days. Groundbreaking is scheduled for Fall 2014 (ha!).
Tellingly, UK does not send a major representative to the press conference, choosing instead to have Eric Monday, the Executive VP for Finance and Administration be the representative. At the time, Rice says UK and the LCC are “at the table” discussing the project. Hmm.
July 15, 2013: Mayor Gray comes on KSR to talk about the Rupp project and address fans’ concerns. Matt asks him whether or not any “real fans” were on the Task Force (If Joe B. Hall counts, yes), whether or not naming rights would be sold (as a last resort), and whether or not it was really necessary to group Rupp Arena with the parks and streams plan (yes). Mayor Gray says that he expects the financing plan to be complete within 60-90 days, and that UK is still in “good faith” negotiations with the LCC, and felt it was premature to send a major representative to the press conference.
It was kind of a tense interview.
September 18, 2013: The LCC holds a town meeting to update everyone on the Rupp project. The only major update is that the upper level of Rupp will get a total makeover.
January 21, 2014: Governor Beshear asks the state to provide $65 million in bonds for the Rupp Arena project, the total cost of which is estimated at $310 million. He adds that the rest of the money will come from local and private funds.
February 10, 2014: The newest renderings of a renovated Rupp are released! They are very pretty, and there’s also a video featuring a woman dressed only in a Tony Delk uniform. Deputy Director of Athletics DeWayne Peevy represents UK at the press conference, and tells reporters that the renovation “won’t happen without us,” and there are plans for a big press conference with Mitch Barnhart and Eli Capilouto when the lease with the new Rupp is signed.
March 24, 2014: The Kentucky Senate drops $65 million in bond debt for Rupp as part of a cutback in projects.
March 26, 2014: Matt calls Senate President Robert Stivers to ask why the $65 million in state funding was dropped, and Stivers deflected the blame on Mayor Gray and the House of Representatives, saying that the mayor didn’t give the Sentate enough details of the funding package, and the House didn’t give the Senate enough time to review it.
March 30, 2014: The $65 million in state funding is officially left out of the new state budget.
April 14, 2014: Governor Beshear announces a new plan that will increase state funding to $80 million for the Rupp Project, but not require an increase in Fayette County’s hotel and motel tax, a sticking point for Senator Stivers and the project’s opponents.
April 15, 2014: The Kentucky Senate does not approve the $80 million in state funding.
April 25, 2014: LCC chairman Brent Rice sends UK president Eli Capilouto a letter blaming the university for the uncertainty surrounding the Rupp Project and demanding public support. He gives Eli Capilouto until May 23 to respond.
May 20, 2014: Eli Capilouto responds with a scathing letter of his own, ripping Rice for his shoddy financing plan, which Eli said made it nearly impossible for the university to publicly support the project. He said the financial model was too optimistic, specifically the $300 “Team Wildcat” memberships Rice proposed to help raise $25-$35 million. As a final blow, Eli said that while the university’s “preference” was to continue playing men’s basketball downtown, it will only happen “under the right lease conditions,” and with the Rupp lease set to expire in 2017-2018, the university will “explore all potential options.”
May 22, 2014: Eli’s letter is made public (first on KSR), and Mayor Gray is forced to do major damage control, calling for everyone to “step back, take a deep breath” and try to work things out. Meanwhile, Dakari Johnson calls Aaron Harrison to tell him his nuts are no longer the biggest on campus.
May 23, 2014: Mayor Gray and Governor Steve Beshear will appear on KSR together to discuss the situation. Make sure to put the popcorn bag next to the coffee maker before you go to bed tonight.