LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - City leaders took the first step Monday toward planning a downtown arena that would replace the existing Rupp Arena as the home of Kentucky's basketball team.
Lexington's Downtown Development Authority voted unanimously to hire a consultant to look into the finances of tearing down Rupp and building a larger arena, perhaps on an adjacent parking lot.
The proposal would be a joint venture between the development authority and the board of Lexington Center, which leases Rupp Arena to the university for basketball games. It would be funded by a tax financing system that has been available to Louisville for years but was recently approved by the General Assembly for projects in Lexington and other cities.
The Kentucky Wildcats, college basketball's all-time winningest team, have played home games at Rupp since 1976, and their current lease goes through the 2018 season. There was some discussion among city leaders Monday that a new building could be constructed even before the end of the lease, perhaps as quickly as five years from now.
"As good as it was when it was built, Rupp Arena will be 42 years old when its lease runs out," Mayor Jim Newberry said. "We need to make sure the Cats stay where they belong which, in my judgment, is downtown."
If approved, and Newberry stressed the project is still in its preliminary stages, far more than a basketball arena could be funded as part of the tax increment financing initiative. It could also include convention center expansion, a large parking structure and a performing arts center, likely on the current footprint of Rupp.
Under tax increment financing, or "TIFs," cities are able to develop defined areas not exceeding three square miles and fund the projects with future tax revenues. The areas must generally be deteriorated or sparsely populated, and Newberry said the current Rupp parking lot qualifies.
"You've got a vacant piece of property there," Newberry said. "Essentially the value of the property right now is the asphalt.
If you put a new facility there, it would be ideally suited."
William Owen, president of Lexington Center, said the 24,000-seat arena could be expanded to perhaps 30,000 seats. It also would likely include luxury boxes and other amenities and would be slightly closer to campus.
"We need to be consistent in our objectives by providing one of the best sports arenas for collegiate basketball," Owen said. "If we don't have a planned replacement for Rupp at the expiration of the existing contract, we're failing in that mission."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)