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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- "Let's not look for security, let's look for opportunity."
Invoking the words of famed UK coach Adolph Rupp, details of the renovation of Rupp Arena were announced on Wednesday.
Seattle-based architectural firm NBBJ will lead the effort to redesign Rupp Arena. The Hunt Construction Group will be the construction manager -- it's the same firm that broke ground on the arena back in 1974.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said Lexington is one of Kentucky's strongest economic engines. "The decisions announced today," he said, "represent a significant step forward in the reinvention of Rupp Arena and the downtown business district, which will strengthen the area's ability to attract tourism, investment, and jobs."
Beshear acknowledged the question of where the money for the redesign will come from hasn't been settled, but said he was confident that a new Rupp Arena arts and entertainment district would be a reality.
Brent Rice, Chairman of the Arena, Arts, and Entertainment Task Force, said the financial model for the arena will be coming together in the next 30-45 days, and he described it as "bulletproof." He mentioned naming rights for just the convention center, and possible development on a lot on High Street and the possibility of offering memberships for fans.
Rice said the selection of NBBJ was unanimous. Responding to a question from WDRB's Stephan Johnson about whether the arena's seating capacity would remain the same, Rice said one of the top priorities of the redesign was to make sure it did. Some fans had worried that adding suites would mean fewer seating for "regular" fans.
This project is a defining moment for Lexington," said Robert Mankin of NBBJ. He said such a project can "brand, they define, they energize cities." He said that means a great responsibility must be paid to their design. He said his company is approaching the redesign of Rupp Arena and the Lexington Center as one project. Mankin said they were state-of-the art when they were first built, and now they will be again.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said there is no specific design for Rupp yet. "That's next," he said. "But you can judge NBBJ by the excellent work it has done around the world." Gray said that included the renovation and expansion of Pauly Pavilion at UCLA, the Staple Center in Los Angeles, and Hangzhou Olympic Stadium in China.
Outside, Rupp will stand alone, free from the Lexington Center. Inside, the reinvented area will feature expanded concourses, chair-back seats throughout, suites, and a new scoreboard. Rupp will remain the nation's largest college basketball arena.
In an emotional moment, former UK Men's Basketball Coach Joe B. Hall recalled that once UK played basketball in Alumni Gym, which seated about 2,800 people. He pointed out that each student only got to go to half of the games. When the team moved into Memorial Coliseum, critics said they would never fill it, and that it was a "white elephant." But fans flocked from around the state, and filled the venue.
"When they talked about Rupp Arena," Hall continued, "and doubling the seating capacity, the naysayers got on the same horse -- 'They'll never fill it.'" But every seat in the arena ended up being sold, and many requests had to go unfulfilled. "Don't underestimate the powers of the fans of Big Blue Nation," Hall said to applause.