Jul 052012

With LFUCG approving $2.5 million of local funds for the Rupp Entertainment Zone, the state now will contribute a matching amount to the project. Combined, the $5 million will purchase real estate; pay salaries for a project manager (Frank Butler, $260,000/year) and administration; implement some project studies and site surveys; and do a little design work–but no actual construction on the arena.Total costs for Rupp Zone redevelopment range between $600 million and $1 billion. Here’s what we’d do with the first $2.5 million down payment from the state.

Unfortunately, we are limited. The state has confined the scope of its development funds to the Rupp Arena structure only—and not to any of the other non-Rupp Arena 40 acres included in the Rupp Zone. Here’s how we would deal with that limitation.

The first million dollars will build upon our proposal for spending the city’s $2.5 million portion of the proposed Rupp Entertainment Zone investment: the creation of agricultural Fayette Proud products grown on park land, marketed to the region, and sold at weekly county markets that are open to neighborhood, county and regional private farmers. Of this amount, $100,000 will pay three years rent on the Fayette County Proud ag offices, which to utilize state money, will be located somewhere in Rupp. $700,000 will route into LexTran to design and staff daily free bus routes that leave from Rupp and travel to the Fayette Proud markets located throughout the county. Essentially, this would be an expansion of a type of service LexTran successfully offered during the WEG. Ideally, the money will help also help LexTran experiment with new routes for the 21st century needs. Ideally, on their way to the different weekly markets, routes could run from Rupp through established small-scale commercial corridors and any neighborhood and county parks. Any remaining money from the million dollar state investment will pay for daily “events” (artists, musicians, local theater troupes, middle-school dance clubs, etc.) at the Rupp shuttle drop-off site. Located at the other end of the Fayette Proud markets, such events might provide a wonderful “cap” experience after a full day bussing the county.

With the rest of the state money, $1.5 million, we will heed the advice of Gary Bates, Rupp Zone Master Planner, and slow cook it. We will invest into several local first portfolios, including the city’s Fayette Proud markets.

We have two chief reasons for slow-cooking the Rupp Zone.  First, the task force convened to study Rupp redevelopment issued a poor report that, incredibly, makes no reference to the very serious risks cities and their populace take on when they partner in arena construction. Chilling the fuck out and surveying honestly both benefits and costs seems in order here.

This is especially important considering the fraught nature of contemporary sports capitalism and arena entertainment. As funding models change, as “the game” gets further from the grasp of ordinary fans, it is not a slam dunk that a brand new arena, with little new seating capacity, can pay off the high costs of coaching, recruiting, infrastructure, scheduling, etc. necessary to retain both the UK basketball gold standard and the LFUCG bond rating. We don’t want a gigantic, costly, 20th century dinosaur anchoring down our 21st century downtown.

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