The news yesterday was that the University of Kentucky and Lexington mayor Jim Gray got together and announced that the $350 million renovation project for Rupp Arena was officially on the back burner. According to John Clay:
Despite reports of a "positive" meeting last week between the two sides, the sit-down didn't produce the necessary agreement needed to push the project forward. UK has pulled its pledge to give the project $10.7 million over 30 years. Gray couldn't talk the school into reconsidering.
In other words, Eli Capilouto isn't budging. The UK president is dedicated to his worthy goal of improving the university's campus and infrastructure. Renovating an off-campus basketball arena will have to wait. Priorities rule.
Clay goes on to note that there simply isn't sufficient public support for such a huge project, and I suspect part of that can be blamed on Louisville's recent negative headlines about the problems they are having servicing the debt on the KFC Yum! Center. The public just doesn't have the appetite for sinking huge tax dollars into an upgraded arena, and I can't blame them. As Clay notes, there is no shortage of infrastructure projects in need of funding around the state, and the public would much prefer that gets addressed first.
It is also important that Dr. Eli Capilouto, president of the University of Kentucky, is focused on several significant campus upgrades that have long been needed. He isn't going to back off those priorities, and honestly, I think his thinking is in the right place. I do understand Gray's desire to see such a large project funded, as he really wants Lexington to reap some of the benefits a revitalization of the downtown area would produce, much as they have here in the River City. No matter what your opinion of U of L, I think Louisville itself has done a really find job of bringing it's downtown back to life with the advent of 4th Street Live, the Yum! Center, and a couple of other hotel projects that have made downtown Louisville a much nicer place to go.
Rupp Arena does need updating, and the scope of that update, as well as the timing, are what has scuttled this project for the nonce. I respect the positions of all the participants in the debate, but I do think this whole thing needs some more time in the oven, and some of the more pressing matters need to be addressed first. But we can't lose sight of it altogether, because Rupp is fast becoming dated, and even though that isn't likely to make much difference while John Calipari is coach, it will eventually be more of a negative than a positive.