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U-K plans $110M upgrade of Commonwealth Stadium; state to issue bonds for six universities

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 10:24 PM

Updated Sunday, Oct 20 at 11:40 PM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) -- $110 million in improvements to the University of Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium highlight $275 million in planned Lexington campus investments revealed on Thursday.

A plan advanced by Governor Steve Beshear requires approval by the General Assembly to issue $363.3 million in state bonds to finance 11 projects at six state universities.  

At a capitol news conference, Beshear stressed that the state would merely issue the bonds.  The universities would pay for them.

"As in they don't want a dime from the General Fund, which is music to all of our ears," Beshear said.

The planned improvements at Commonwealth Stadium would add:

  • Spectator driven improvements (i.e. improved concessions, restrooms, video boards, and security)
  • Multi-purpose recruiting room in East end zone (Field House end)
  • Add 16 to 20 suites Private suites
  • Add 2,000 new club seats (although a UK web site indicates up to 2,500 club seats are possible)
  • New press facilities
  • New team store
  • New full service kitchen
  • Improve the UK brand at Commonwealth Stadium
  • Maintain, or slightly reduce, seating capacity while increasing the value of the remaining seats.
  • Upgrades to the Nutter Training Center for the daily benefit of the Student Athletes

"It clearly sends the message we're going to be committed to football," Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart told reporters after the announcement.  "We have a very good football coach and a very energetic staff that's going to work on bringing players to our program."

U-K plans to begin construction this year to be complete by July 2015.  

U-K plans to self-finance the bonds with added revenue from suite and ticket sales, the extra money it is counting on from the expansion of the Southeastern Conference and the SEC's lucrative television contract, and support from donors and fans.

"The Big Blue Nation has been unbelievable," Barnhart told WHAS11, "and even in a very difficult year, we had 34,000 full price season ticket holders and since Coach (Mark) Stoops has come on board we've already sold several thousand season tickets, new season tickets and we haven't even started on that yet."

"We've made some tough choices this year at the University of Kentucky and how we budget," explained Dr. Eli Capilouto, UK President.  "We have shared this with our faculty in many open forums.  And so we have identified revenues to cover this type of construction."

Capilouto said the university is committed to raising tuition by no more than three percent.

Other campus improvements include a $65 million renovation of the Gatton College of Business and Economics and the construction of a $100 million Academic Science Building.  $65 million of the the $100 million in agency bonds for the new building would be funded by UK Athletic Department revenues.

"They'll go to class in that building and say we had a piece of that," Barnhart said.  "We worked hard to get that building up."

Other projects proposed in the bonding plan are:

  • $9.6 million to renovate U of L's Student Activities Center
  • $9.2 million for Morehead State residence hall renovation
  • $15.4 million for Murray State residence hall renovation
  • $57 million at Northern Kentucky University ($45 million for the renovation and expansion of the Albright Health Center, $12 million for acquisition and renovation of a residence hall)
  • $22 million at Western Kentucky to construct an Honors College and International Center


"We would have loved to do more and we certainly have many more projects that we could have moved forward with," said  Shirley Willihnganz, University of Louisville Provost, "but we just don't have the budget to do it.  And so as you talk to the university presidents you will hear they are making really tough decisions to do this."

The capitol news conference was attended by dozens of lawmakers, including House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers who both indicated the plan appears to have healthy bipartisan support.

"And it's absolutely refreshing to begin a legislative session having already arrived at a consensus. A bipartisan consensus," Beshear said.

Click here to view a message about the funding from University President Eli Capilouto.

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