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June 18, 2014
Rupp Arena renovation project suspended
Saying that the University of Kentucky "changed its mind" about a proposed lease, Lexington mayor Jim Gray announced on Wednesday that a plan to renovate Rupp Arena has been suspended.
The project also was to include a renovation of the convention center that shares Lexington Center with Rupp Arena.
"While I'm disappointed we can't move forward w/ project right now, the city is poised w/ solid plan that creates jobs, economic development," Gray posted on his Twitter account. "I've learned after 850+ projects in my construction career never to fall in love with a project. When the time is right, the plan is ready."
Gray also tweeted that the city "designed the arena based on what UK said they needed, but UK has changed its mind" about a proposed lease.
UK spokesman John Hayden said via text message that the university has no comment on the suspension of the project.
The city and the university rarely have seemed to be on the same page about a Rupp Arena renovation. Neither head coach John Calipari nor Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart attended an ceremony in February to announce the proposed renovation and unveil artists' renderings of a possible new arena.
The tension between the two became public last month when two letters -- one from Lexington Center Corporation Chairman Brent Rice to UK urging it to support the Rupp Arena renovation, and one from UK president Eli Capilouto in response to Rice questioning the viability of the proposed financing plan -- were acquired by media outlets.
In his letter, Capilouto cited a Bluegrass Poll reported last month in the Lexington Herald Leader and The Courier-Journal, noting that the poll "makes clear that there is very little enthusiasm for the project among Kentucky taxpayers," and noted that the "reluctance among members of the General Assembly to invest $80 million is reflective of this public sentiment."
Kentucky's lease at Rupp Arena -- where it has played its home games since 1976 -- runs through the end of the 2017-18 basketball season.
In his letter to Rice last month, Capilouto wrote that UK's "preference is to continue to play men's basketball games in downtown Lexington, under the right lease conditions," but said that the university would "explore all potential options" for where to play.