In February, Lexington mayor Jim Gray announced that Rupp Arena, the off-campus home of the University of Kentucky basketball program, would be undergoing much-needed renovations estimated to cost some $310 million. The hope at the time was to begin the project in 2015 with renovations being completed in 2017, provided financing and other aspects of the deal were properly taken care of.
Apparently that hasn’t happened, and as a result Mayor Gray announced Wednesday that the project has been suspended. Gray and University of Kentucky president Eli Capilouto were unable to reach common ground on some issues regarding the project, including what all would be done, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
“He didn’t feel like the public had the appetite for the project right now,” Gray told The Courier-Journal, “and he could do with less of a project. He said the bleacher seats in the upper arena are fine. He didn’t think adding suites was a priority. He was talking about a proposal where the university would commit 10-15 percent of the original commitment, which would mean the scope of the project would change completely.”
Wednesday’s news is the latest step backward for the project, with the request for funding from the state denied by the Kentucky General Assembly and Capilouto also criticizing the multiple changes in financing back in May. Kentucky’s lease at Rupp Arena runs through the 2017-18 season, so there’s still time to straighten things out. But this is clearly something both parties need to address.
Kentucky has called Rupp Arena home since the 1976-77 season, and they’ve lead the nation in attendance (fans per game) in 17 of the last 19 seasons. Syracuse took over the top spot in 2013-14, averaging 26,253 fans per game to Kentucky’s 22,964.
Lexington mayor Jim Gray announced on Monday afternoon that the University of Kentucky and “partners” will be spending $310 million to give Rupp Arena a modernizing facelift.
Rupp is one of college basketball’s most storied venues, but as we are in the midst of the college athletics “Arms Race”, it’s no surprise that the school decided that they would need an upgrade on their arena.
“In essence, the goal is to make Rupp a prototype for modern sports venues,” according to the NBBJ release. “The lower levels will be re-clad in a highly-transparent glass skin reaching as high as 40 feet above the ground. A newly expanded main concourse will wrap around the bowl and have views to the city, while the fan experience in the bowl will be revealed with direct views from the concourse.”
Rupp is actually located next the Lexington Convention Center, which will also be undergoing renovations. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, it could begin as soon as 2015 and end as early as 2017.
The man in charge of doing the renovations is the same architect that updated UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, but unlike that remodel, Kentucky will reportedly not miss any home games as a result of construction.
There will be a number of cool features added to the exterior, including transparent outer walls, a catwalk from campus to the arena and HD screens outside the arena itself. The interior will feature a couple of changes as well, including a change in how steep the upperdeck is and the inclusion of some luxury seating.
Here are some images sent out by NBBJ of the proposed changes:
Will Rupp renovation split Kentucky’s Big Blue Nation?
You’ve seen it a hundred times on TV: Ashley Judd sitting smack in the middle of a sea of blue, mixing with the rest of Big Blue Nation as they watch their favorite team play in Rupp Arena. She’s not the only one. Every luminary who’s ever come to bask in the glow of John Calipari’s maximum cool factor has been right out there with the hoi polloi as well.
Rupp has no artificial divisions when it comes to fan seating. You’re either with BBN, or you’re not.
That could all change with the proposed renovation of the Lexington arena. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, the University of Kentucky sent out surveys last week, asking if fans would be interested in buying luxury boxes and exclusive club memberships as part of the fundraising effort that will precede any renovation. The notion of moneyed Wildcats fans eating gourmet food in the skyboxes has at least one fan feeling left out.
[Jeanette] Hislope, a friendly, out-going woman who works in customer service, worries about what might be lost in a renovated — and stratified — Rupp Arena.
“I always bleed blue,” she said before adding, “I think this will make me opt out of the Big Blue Nation if they mess with Rupp Arena.”
Opt out of BBN? Is that even possible?
“Very few things are deal-breakers,” Hislope said. “That’s one. I would never say a word against the Big Blue Nation. But I’d be done. That will ruin what I consider the heart and soul of Rupp Arena.”
A few fans might have given up when they realized their love wasn’t worth as much as cold, hard cash, but fan fervor runs bone-deep at a place like Kentucky. In case a quick look around the realignment-ravaged landscape of college sports hasn’t made this absolutely clear: money talks.