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No decision on Rupp Arena fate, planner suggests 'building new history'

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on September 7, 2011 at 4:57 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 7 at 5:31 PM

Poll:
Do you think Rupp Arena should be renovated or rebuilt?

(WHAS11) -- It is still early in the game.  No decisions have been made whether Rupp Arena will be replaced or renovated, Lexington's arena task force leaders said Wednesday.

The 47-member Arena, Arts and Entertainment District Task Force introduced its choice for a project master planner at a Wednesday morning meeting.  The task force aims to leverage the popularity of University of Kentucky basketball to spur economic development in a 46-acre area around Rupp Arena.

Gary Bates, a one time University of Kentucky faculty member, is a co-founder of Space Group, a Norwegian architecture and urban planning firm.

His message to U-K fans? The atmosphere of Rupp Arena has to be preserved, but that does not necessarily mean that Rupp Arena itself will be preserved.

"Sometimes history is about building new history," Bates told WHAS11 News, "That's just something we all have to understand.  You know, some of the things we're doing today is building the future history.  And, the work we are doing now is not for next year or for two years, but for the next fifty years."

Click for PDF presentation from Rupp District planners

One year after the sparkling KFC Yum! Center became the downtown home of University of Louisville basketball, Lexington is anxious to get the ball rolling in its downtown.

"There's a number of spaces that both would enhance the player experience, the fan experience, the contributor experience," Bates said, "And those things we want to get into Rupp."

35 years ago, Rupp Arena replaced the House that Adolph Rupp built - Memorial Coliseum - which was the campus home to Wildcat basketball for 26 years.
 
Though the current home can cram in more than 24,000 fans, it lacks the amenities and luxury suites of modern arenas like  Louisville's KFC Yum Center, one of several facilities Lexington is studying.

Regardless of Rupp Arena's eventual fate, the task force believes it needs a major upgrade.

"This is no short term fix," said Stan Harvey, a task force leader, "This is no band-aid.  This is no temporary 'tide us over' for 15 to 20 years.  This has to be viewed as fundamentally a significant investment that will set up this program and this city for success in the future."

To U-K fans across the commonwealth and the nation, the question of Rupp Arena's future is about where the Wildcats will play basketball.  Yet, to Lexington leaders,  it's about how U-K basketball can transform its downtown.

"The before game experience, the event itself, and the after game," explained Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, "And, when we translate it broadly, it's the full entertainment dimension of an urban space in today's contemporary world, quality of life and how that translates into economic potential and opportunity."

Gray said now is the time for Lexington to dream big and drew upon the namesake of the arena for inspiration.

Gray played the task force an audio recording of legendary coach Adolph Rupp's advice to his Wildcat team.

"Boys, let's not look for security, let's look for opportunity," Rupp said on the recording.

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