LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - While people from across Kentucky might like to watch University of Kentucky basketball, a new Bluegrass Poll finds the majority of Kentucky adults don't want the state to help foot the bill for a renovated Rupp Arena.
The poll - conducted for WKYT-TV, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and WHAS-TV - found 75 percent say Lexington should find some other way to finance the project than ask for state money. Eighteen percent of those polled said the state should help with the costs while seven percent were unsure.
A request for the state to provide $80-million in state funds to help renovate the arena and attached convention center failed to get approval in this year's legislature.
The measure passed the House, but stalled in the Senate where leaders said they didn't get the financial plans early enough for the estimated $351-million renovation.
"We explored many financing options. In the end the most conservative approach was proposed – the one that called for the least possible public investment,” said Frank Butler, project manager for the city, in a statement Sunday night. "And compared to similar projects, the state contribution for Rupp is much lower in dollars, and as a percentage of the total project.”
In his statement, Butler questioned the wording of the Bluegrass Poll question and pointed out that in Louisville the Yum Center and the Kentucky International Convention Center received $131 million in state support for projects that cost $533 million to construct.
"Lexington asked for $80 million for Rupp-Convention Center project, which has a total price tag of $351 million. So Lexington is asking for fewer state dollars and we are doing it at a lower cost,” said Butler. "Lexington deserves fair treatment – especially when we’re proposing a less costly, innovative renovation instead of tearing down Rupp and building a new arena."
The debate over renovating the arena has become a key issue in the upcoming Lexington mayor's race.
"It's a rare opportunity to directly create a significant number of jobs and opportunities for the thousands of Kentuckians who need them," said Mayor Jim Gray in his quest for financing calling the city's investment in Rupp the single best opportunity to create jobs and a return on investment.
Gray's opponents have questioned the cost, financing, and focus on downtown development.
"I don't oppose the arena project, but I do oppose the funding models and mechanisms used to fund them," said mayoral candidate and former Lexington Police Chief Anthany Beatty during a political forum last week. "I would support private investors."
Challenger Danny Mayer, an assistant professor of English at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, said that publicly financed arenas are a bad investment for taxpayers.
"I think that big projects cost big money, and that requires people with big money to get access to those projects, and that cuts out most of our community," Mayer at a May 13 mayoral forum according to The Herald-Leader.
For the poll, SurveyUSA interviewed 2,000 Kentucky adults May 14 to 16. Of the adults, 1,782 were registered to vote. Of the registered, 747 were registered Republicans, and of them, 605 were determined by SurveyUSA to be likely to vote in the May 20 Republican Primary, 1,475 were determined to be likely to vote in the November 4 general election. This survey was conducted using blended sample, mixed mode. Respondents reachable on a home telephone were interviewed on their home telephone in the recorded voice of a professional announcer. Respondents not reachable on a home telephone were shown a questionnaire on their smartphone, tablet or other electronic device.