Replacement For Rupp?

Financial feasibility studies are in the works for a new basketball arena to replace the 32-year-old Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

Along with new digs for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team are plans for major renovations to Commonwealth Stadium and a new on-campus baseball stadium.

The three projects are estimated to collectively ring up between $300 million and $400 million, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The Lexington Center Corp. manages Rupp Arena and would also manage the proposed venue.

Carl Hall, the director of arena management at Rupp, told Pollstar the contract with the university goes through the 2017-18 season.

Hall said the new arena will have a capacity of approximately 25,000 with between 35 and 70 suites. The existing 23,500-capacity arena does not have any.

He explained that the new venue would be built across the street from Rupp Arena.

“It would replace the existing Rupp Arena as you know it now.” Hall said. “The physical structure of the existing arena would remain intact, meaning the exterior walls, foundation, heating and air system. We would go in and demolish all of the interior structure including the seating area, the concrete planks, the dressing room areas et al.

“Because the arena is directly attached to our convention center we would expand the convention center first level, which is all open floor exhibit space into the existing shell of the arena. On the second half of the arena on the lower side we would build a 2,500-seat performing arts theatre.

“Above the half that’s the convention center we would expand and create a second floor geared toward meeting space and high-end ballrooms.”

Hall said in addition to the University of Kentucky basketball games, the new arena would feature the same types and number of concerts, family events and motor sports dates that Rupp Arena has on the books.

“The new arena would have more modern conveniences and more upscale capabilities from suites, club seating, more LED light boards and things of that sort to meet the current demands of the patrons that attend the building,” Hall said.

IMG College, the world’s largest sports marketing company, along with its affiliated company, International Stadia Group, is working on a feasibility study that sets the opening date for the proposed arena as early as 2012. The second study by the City of Lexington was in discussion before IMG’s and sets the opening date at approximately 2014 or 2015.

Hall said the City of Lexington’s study calls for a more traditional financing process whereas IMG’s would utilize private funding.

“No money would be taken from academics. There would be no taxpayer money. It would be all private,” Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “It’s a unique format that’s never been done before in the United States.”

Steve Moore, president of North and South America for ISG, told the paper financing would be based on marketing and branding opportunities and naming rights.

Hall told Pollstar at the end of August that the city’s feasibility study will be released in about two months, and IMG is expected to release its report in about six.

“To be able to say with absolute certainty whether we’re doing X,Y or Z, that’s not possible at this moment,” Hall said. “In the very near future, when the two studies are out, you never know what will happen then. They might merge the ideas.”