Lexington officials unveil Rupp renovation plan - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Lexington officials unveil Rupp renovation plan

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Artist rendering of the new exterior planned for Rupp Arena (Source: Rupp Arena, Arts & Entertainment District) Artist rendering of the new exterior planned for Rupp Arena (Source: Rupp Arena, Arts & Entertainment District)
Kaye Cambron Kaye Cambron
Don Pratt Don Pratt
Gov. Steve Beshear Gov. Steve Beshear
Aerial view of the finished project (Source: Rupp Arena, Arts & Entertainment District) Aerial view of the finished project (Source: Rupp Arena, Arts & Entertainment District)

LEXINGTON, KY (WAVE) – Rupp Arena will have a new look and possibly a new name within four years, Lexington officials said Monday.

The upgrades, estimated to cost $310 million and be completed by 2017, will include renovations to the arena and a new convention center moved away from Rupp.

When crews are finished, the arena will have a glass-and-steel appearance and modern amenities that Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said will improve accessibility and comfort for Kentucky basketball fans.

Lexington officials have been working on plans for Rupp and a new convention center for three years. The financing isn't complete, but includes $65 million in bonding from the state's general fund.

Many University of Kentucky fans supported changes to the 38-year-old arena.

"It's long overdue and needs a bit of a facelift," said UK fan Kaye Cambron.            

The makeover of Rupp will include outdoor video screens and a catwalk leading from the university to the arena district. Under the plan, officials would add chair-backs to upper deck seats. The reconfiguration could include club suites so Rupp would retain its current 23,500-seat capacity, said DeWayne Peevy, a university spokesman.

UK fans may be able to buy memberships to support construction, the way another iconic team, the Green Bay Packers, did to finance recent stadium improvements.

Lexington officials will also seek to sell the arena's naming rights, promising that "Rupp" will remain in the name. Yum! Brands is paying $13.5 million for similar rights in Louisville.

A facelift was more feasible for Rupp instead of building from the ground up like the KFC Yum! Center, officials said. They said the plan would include money from tax-incremental financing, or TIF, but would be "very careful" about revenue projections than Louisville's arena.

The Louisville Arena Authority built the Yum! Center with $349 million in construction bonds, but lower-than-expected TIF revenue has led ratings agencies to downgrade the arena's debt to "junk" status.

Not everyone in Lexington was supporting the project. Don Pratt stood outside Monday's press conference, and said it was a waste of money.

"They want to "Yummify" the outside of this facility," said Pratt. "They want to glassify it. Does that really improve the sports program here? No!" said Pratt.

The $65 million in state-supported bonds still must be approved by Kentucky lawmakers, Gov. Steve Beshear said.

"The Yum! Center is great example of what an investment like this can do for a city or region," Beshear said. "Once the Yum! Center was built in downtown Louisville, downtown Louisville has come alive."

The project is expected to be completed by fall 2017.

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