Free Rupp? Get ready for a big Ruppdate.
In just two years, the complex that is now Rupp Arena and Lexington Convention Center will be two separate structures, with a "freed" Rupp Arena proposed as an architectural icon which will sit at the center of the 46-acre Rupp Arena Arts & Entertainment District.
It will be designed by the architect behind the Staples Center, Paul Brown Stadium, the UCLA Pauley Pavilion update and an Olympic stadium in China and built by the same sports-oriented building firm that built the original structure in the 1970s.
That was the message from Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, and Lexington Center board Chair Brent Rice today at a press conference/pep rally today at the home of the Kentucky Wildcats Men's Basketball team -- 8-time national champions.
Also, both Rupp Arena and Lexington Convention Center may sell naming rights to their structures, with a request for proposals for the LCC naming rights released the day before. The renovations will be managed in stages to avoid disruptions to UK's basketball schedule. Groundbreaking is scheduled for Fall 2014.
No matter what, according to a Lexington Fayette Urban County Government news release: "Rupp will remain the nation's largest college basketball arena."
Four architectural firms were announced as finalists in June. Lexington mayor Jim Gray said, “These are firms with the imagination to reinvent Rupp Arena and ignite the surrounding blocks with a new level of excitement and activity." NBBJ, working with Lexington's EOP, has been selected. Hunt Construction Group will manage the construction. The Lexington Center Corporation announced that the RFP for naming rights, for LCC, will have a deadline of August 2, 2013.
At today's press conference, Mayor Gray said, "we are creating the environment that attracts companies with good jobs," noting that the Town Branch will flow through the Rupp Arena Arts & Entertainment district. The logo for the district was unveiled at the press conference as well.
Governor Beshear added, "company executives care about more than low taxes. Lexington must build its brand by leveraging its key assets." The governor pledged his support in working the legislature to find a way for the project to happen.
The plans are on the fast-track. They'll even be moved up from the Oct. 31 date to Oct. 15 for presentation, so the fans of the Big Blue Nation can get a look at the new Rupp Arena at the Big Blue Madness megapractice that kicks off the season. Plans call for "expanded concourse spaces; a completely revitalized bowl with chair-back seats throughout; a new hospitality level with premium suite seating; a new center-hung scoreboard" and other amenities, according to NBBJ.
Former UK basketball Coach Joe B. Hall addressed the crowd, starting with his reminiscences of playing in the 2,800-seat Alumni Gym with the Fab 5. When the larger Memorial Coliseum was proposed, there were naysayers. They called it the "biggest white elephant" and said it would not be filled with fans. But all the tickets were sold on a season ticket basis, he said. They "misunderstood the Big Blue Nation," Coach Hall said. Then, when Rupp was proposed, he said, the naysayers came out again. But, Coach Hall said, because of the border-to border spread of Wildcat basketball through the state's habit of "listening to radio," the 23,500-seat arena season tickets were all sold. Waiting lists for the tickets are legendary.
"Don't underestimate the power of the fans of the Big Blue Nation," Coach Hall said, to applause.
Robert Mankin, Partner in Charge of sports design for NBBJ in Los Angeles, addressed the gathering and expressed his firm's enthusiasm for the project and the desire to ensure that the Rupp structure and the LCC structure "relate and have a dialogue urbanistically" to the Town Branch Commons that will surround the project. Mayor Gray said that the Town Branch Commons will highlight the city's limestone stream, which will " flow through the Rupp District to connect the urban core to the rural landscape."
When Rupp Arena was originally built, it was a "design-build" project of Hunt Construction Group, which has been chosen to do the construction of the new project. NBBJ will partner will local architects EOP. NBBJ's projects include distinctive buildings in many cities in China. Bob Hunt, CEO of the construction firm, which has now done work for 136 pro and college teams, said the Rupp Arena project had been a calling card for his company since it was built. The vote to award the work to the two companies was unanimous.
No funding scheme for the project has yet been established, though Rice said that more than 14 possible revenue types have been identified and that within 40 days, the Lexington Center will release a financial plan. Beshear said that the state, the city, the university and industry will work together on the project and the financing.
Rice emphasized that "Local sales tax (to fund the project) is not on the table," and pointed to the survey currently being conducted on the financing possibilities, including a "True Blue Club" option under which members might pay $300 or so for a chance to win lotteries. Many respondents to the survey have been positive on the True Blue Club possibility. He also mentioned the successful online funding campaign of an NFL team. It wouldn't be surprising to see a crowdfunding component to the project.
Rice said the entire process will be "transparent" adding, "when it's finished, it will be bulletproof."
The corporation has adopted an ethics policy regarding conflict of interest and naming rights that is "very close to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government's policy," as the board is a quasi-governmental entity of LFUCG.
University of Kentucky, Live Nation, HKS World Sports and Legends Marketing are among the groups that have met with the group planning the project locally.
An audience member expressed concern that some plans might displace the business currently in the Lexington Center mall -- he wanted to know "What will happen to those 180 jobs?" Rice said that with plans under development and 46 acres to work with, the group was working with local merchants. Don Pratt of Lexington stood at the fringes of the gathering with a sign that read, "Mayor Gray's $350 million hallucination and phony 'arts district' is destructive waste and theft of taxpayer's money."
Basketball fan response was mixed, and Twitter immediately erupted with branding rights suggestions.
Names posited on Rupp Arena via twitter included: Mingua Beef Jerky Arena, Hugh Jass Arena, etc.