John Calipari doesn't need any more selling points to lure elite prep stars to Lexington, but the city is about to give him and the University of Kentucky a big one anyway.
Lexington mayor Jim Gray announced a $310 million renovation and redesign for Kentucky's Rupp Arena on Monday, changes that will arguably make the hallowed stadium the best in the nation. While there have been talks of a renovation leaking out for about the past year, Gray's announcement Monday finally set the wheels into motion, per Beth Musgrave of the Herald-Leader.
Gray indicated funding has not yet been finalized on the deal. The current plan calls for construction to begin in 2015, with the plan of a grand reopening before the 2017-18 college basketball season. Rupp Arena would stay open as the renovations were ongoing. Most of the biggest renovations would be planned around offseasons for Kentucky's sports teams, much in the same way New York City did for Madison Square Garden.
The funding is expected to come from a mix of private donations from boosters, naming rights deals with corporations and a hefty sum of taxpayer money. As noted by Musgrave, Gov. Steve Beshear proposed $65 million worth of state bonds to help mitigate the cost. A decision won't be made until April, but Gray expressed confidence a deal would get done:
I feel good about our conversations with the legislature. They are doing their due diligence and asking the right questions. I feel like this is an incredible project. If you look at it from an economic development point of view, what we have is a brand that today is under leveraged and we are providing a plan and an opportunity to leverage it.
Regardless of whether the state legislature signs off on the bonds or requests changes, these changes are coming at some point and they are vast. Rupp Arena, which opened in 1976, is a 23,000-seat arena that has been home to some of the greatest teams in Wildcats history.
It is also a relative relic. There are no high-priced luxury boxes or high-definition video boards or most of the extra perks that typically come with the state-of-the-art experience. Its most recent renovation was completed in 2004, but it included only improved seating and locker rooms.
The new changes proposed in Lexington are more far-reaching. Luxury boxes will be added, along with possible "premium" seating and other high-priced accommodations to add revenue. The plans from architecture firms NBBJ and EOP also call for massive redesigns to the structure of the building, leaving more open area between Rupp and the adjoining convention center and giving fans multiple lookouts into the scenic Lexington night.
Additionally, high-definition video screens and a new scoreboard will be added. The Rupp District Twitter feed released a video that highlights the biggest differences between Rupp as it currently stands and what it's expected to look like three years from now:
Perhaps the most interesting change—and easily the most convenient—is an added "catwalk" between the Hyatt and Rupp Arena. Ostensibly, it would allow fans to walk from where they are staying into the arena in a straight shot. To offset those costs, new retail areas are expected to move into the "catwalk" area and near the convention center.
Kentucky doesn't have much trouble landing big-named players, so it's hard to see this expansion having any real impact on the team itself. Calipari's recruiting classes have ranked in 247Sports' top two in each of the last four seasons, including 2014. It's possible, by the time national signing day comes, he will have landed three top overall classes during that period.
The on-court product isn't going to change, either. Luxury boxes don't knock down corner threes. But what this renovation will do is continue selling the sense of excellence for Kentucky basketball prevalent since Calipari's arrival. The Wildcats have played and recruited like arguably the best team in the nation over these past few years.
Now their arena will back that up.
All photos within the text were provided to Bleacher Report by NBBJ.
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