Door not shut on Rupp renovations but more details are needed to move forward, Senate leaders say

06/12/2014 09:09 AM

State Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said the numbers for a $350 million Rupp Arena renovation just didn’t add up. But the University of Kentucky alumnus does believe the project could move forward if Lexington leaders get a solid financing plan together.

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray were scheduled to meet about whether — or how — to proceed with a renovation plan Thursday. And Republican state lawmakers who expressed the most concern with the financing plan during the session, said they’re wiling to reconsider to support state bonds for the projects under the right circumstances.

“The door’s always open here with us. We’re Kentucky basketball fans,” he said in the first minute of the interview segment. “We were trying to get our mind around what had already been done. We just never got at the overall full picture of what they want to do building out. We got caught up in the money.”

Smith said one of the most recent funding ideas, the “Team Rupp” concept aimed at big donors, wouldn’t raise the tens of millions of dollars it was aiming for.

Smith and Senate President Robert Stivers said during the budget negotiations that they didn’t feel comfortable with the financing plan Lexington leaders presented. Both lawmakers praised Capilouto for his move to make public a letter saying the will didn’t exist to move forward with the project as previously outlined. Capiluto wrote a strongly worded, three-page letter to the head of the renovation project in May.

“We’re not just saying no, that’s the end of it. We just said no this time, you didn’t have your ducks in a row and so if they come forward with something else the doors are always going to be open down here,” Smith said (at 3:25).

The emphasis on the budget and the fact that the universities would all have to take a 1.5 percent state cut to their operating budgets was also a factor, Stivers said.

And while he did not say whether or not the decision was validated by the letter written by Capilouto after the session, Stivers said it was just not the right time for the legislature to tackle this project.

“If there had been some other things tweaked or done in the budget, it may have worked out,” Stivers said (at 3:00). “But I think you’re seeing a lot of public sentiment and it was a major difference in the convention center in Louisville handled it and the way it was handled with Rupp and the expansion.”

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