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July 10, 2013

City announces plans for Rupp renovation

Rupp Arena's future is coming, the city of Lexington announced on Wednesday.

A major renovation to the arena will move forward after mayor Jim Gray and Kentucky governor Steve Beshear announced the selection of an architect and a construction firm to handle the project.

NBBJ, an architecture firm with extensive experience in building and renovating sports venues, will handle the design of the project. Hunt Construction Group, a firm based in Indianapolis, will handle the construction. Hunt built Rupp Arena in 1976.

"The decisions announced today represent a significant step forward in the reinvention of Rupp Arena and the downtown business district, which will strengthen the area's ability to attract tourism, investment and jobs," Beshear said.

NBBJ hasn't announced a design for Rupp Arena yet, but hopes to do so by early October, said Brent Rice, chairman of the Lexington Center Board. The designs should be ready in time for Big Blue Madness. Bob Hunt, CEO of Hunt Construction, said it was early to provide a firm timeline for work on the project, but hope to have it done within two years without interrupting any games.

Rupp Arena's past will remain an important consideration in moving forward, NBBJ partner Robert Mankin said.

"So much of the excitement within Rupp Arena is based on what happens within the arena," Mankin said. "From our perspective, we want to understand what it is that's important about those experiences to maintain that legacy and make sure we can incorporate all of the state-of-the-art amenities so that when people walk inside, they still recognize it as Rupp Arena."

Details about funding and financing also weren't available, though Rice said financial advisers had been reviewing the project for the last four months. There were no plans to levy a local sales tax, Rice said. The final financial plan will include contributions from the city and state and be "bulletproof," Rice said.

Rupp Arena and the Lexington Convention Center will be separated during the project, while both will undergo renovations. The seating capacity of Rupp Arena won't change significantly, and it will remain the largest arena in college basketball (not including Syracuse's Carrier Dome, which also serves as a football venue). The arena will feature expanded concourses, chair-back seats throughout the arena, suites and a new scoreboard.

It will also feature a new name. The city will accept bids for naming rights on the arena and the convention center separately. While "Rupp Arena" will remain part of the name of the building, companies will be able to submit bids to name the arena.

The renovation to Rupp Arena and the convention center will be a key part in a revitalization effort downtown. Town Branch Commons will run through the Rupp District and into downtown as part of the plan for an arts and entertainment district in the city's downtown core.

UK will remain a part of the process as designs are reviewed and plans are established in the coming months.

"We have pledged to be partners in this process as we believe, along with Mayor Gray, that the futures of UK and Lexington are inextricably linked," said Eric Monday, UK's executive vice president for finance and administration in a news release. "We continue to have productive discussions with all of the partners involved about downtown and the role of the university. At the same time, we must continue to balance that partnership with the goals of the university."

Building a consensus among the city, state, university and other parties with a stake in the renovated arena will be one of the primary challenges for the task force in the coming months. From there, Rupp Arena can move forward.

"We know Rupp Arena needs to be the best," Beshear said. "It needs to be a state-of-the-art facility."


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