Neither selling corporate naming rights nor using tax revenue to renovate Rupp Arena are particularly attractive options, but the smart money says (no pun intended) one or both will be a necessity to fund the 37-year-old facility's facelift.
Lexington Center Corp. board chairman Brent Rice said during a Wednesday press conference that raising the local sales tax is not being considered as an option to raise the necessary funds, so at least for the moment, using taxpayer dollars would seem to be off the table.
That means Kentucky fans, whose disdain for Louisville's naming of its new facility the KFC Yum! Center (aka "The Bucket") is understandable both in the context of the Cats-Cards rivalry and on the basis of good taste, had better get used to the idea of, at the very least, the addition of a sponsor tacked somewhere before or after "Rupp Arena."
The money has to come from somewhere. And while the $3 million used mostly to refurbish and update UK's locker rooms before last season and the $8 million for the new Wildcat Coal Lodge came largely from private donors, it's difficult to envision the money needed for the Rupp Arena revisions -- estimated by Rice to be "in the neighborhood of $150 million," according to the Courier-Journal -- to come solely from private donors.
The financing plan, it was announced, is to be finalized in the next 30 to 45 days.
• To those who would say Rupp Arena is sufficient for Kentucky basketball's needs, while that may or may not be true, it may not be relevant to this discussion.
It's important to remember here that the facility is owned by the city of Lexington, not the University of Kentucky, so while the Cats are far and away the most notable and regularly visible tenant of Rupp Arena, they are far from Rupp's sole tenant -- the KHSAA Sweet 16, concerts, high school graduations, conventions and more also take place in the Lexington Center.
This has been evident as, in addition to the proposed changes to the arena itself, the renovation is expected to separate Rupp from the convention center, which will then add floor space. The goal there is to attract more and better conventions and the like, and better engage visually with downtown Lexington.
Though the design is not yet finalized, the plan currently on the table won't affect Rupp's 23,500-seat capacity. It will bring in chair-back seats for the entire arena, expanded concourses and a new center-hanging scoreboard, and the renovations will not require UK to find another basketball home during the proceedings.
• As an aside: we found Gov. Steve Beshear's word choice in one particular quote from the press conference to be unsettling.
"We know (Rupp) needs to be the best," he was quoted as saying. "It needs to be a state-of-the-art facility."
Sure, it would be great for Kentucky to have the prettiest facility in the country -- or even in the state; let's be honest, the Yum! Center and possibly even the Bank of Kentucky Center are much nicer looking than Rupp inside and out right now -- but is it "needed" as a status symbol, or because there is legitimate concern not sprucing up Rupp will negatively affect the Wildcats program, and thus the city and state?
As long as Kentucky continues to send players to the NBA every year, and as long as John Calipari continues to be one of the greatest recruiters in the history of college basketball, the Cats could play their games in the old Maysville High School gym and the UK pipeline talent will continue.
That's what the recruiting boon this offseason has proven: kids just want to get to the NBA, and they will sign up with a program that just lost in the first round of the NIT and plays in an off-campus arena that is perceived to not be aging well in order to play for a coach who has proven he can send the likes of Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins to the NBA.
In other words, it doesn't seem modernizing Rupp is extraordinarily important in terms of the state of the program.
As such, we think, in light of the financial state the commonwealth and so many of its citizens are in, the governor should be more careful with his use of the word "need."