LEXINGTON —Give Kentucky coach John Calipari for understanding just how sensitive either redesigning Rupp Arena or building a new downtown arena will be.
It seems that spending maybe $150 million to renovate versus $300 million or so to build a new arena — can you say KFC Yum! Center in Louisville — is the more practical way to go in today’s economy.
Besides, what’s wrong with Rupp Arena now? Doesn’t team after team come into Rupp Arena talking about the amazing experience of playing there and how much they enjoyed it?
I can’t remember hearing any Kentucky players ever complain about having Rupp Arena as a home venue, either.
“Doesn’t hurt us in the least right now (from a recruiting standpoint). But I can’t say that three, four years from now. Right now it’s Rupp Arena. Everybody wants to be here. Everybody wants to come to the games,” Calipari said Wednesday.
He also understands who many of the fans are who pack Rupp Arena game after game to watch the Wildcats and that raising ticket prices to pay for renovating or rebuilding could be a problem for many or what reducing total seats in the arena might do to those fans.
“Let’s make sure we’re taking care of Eastern Kentucky, those people upstairs (in Rupp Arena). Don’t take away (their seats). Don’t now come back and try to overcharge them. This is important to them,” the UK coach said. “Maybe it’s also Western Kentucky, that they travel here and they go up in those bleachers upstairs. ‘Well, let’s take away their seats.’ No. Don’t take away their seats. So there’s a lot of issues out there that these people have to deal with.
“I just coach the basketball. I got a game Thursday. That’s all I’m worried about. I haven’t seen plans. I haven’t seen anything, whether it’s redo it or do it again or build a new (arena), I haven’t seen anything and I’m not involved in any way. When they get to that point, I imagine they’ll say, ‘Cal, here, look at this.’ And I’ll look at it and I’ll give my opinion. Right now I don’t have an opinion.”
Not sure I quite buy that because Calipari has often talked about a new or renovated arena, including luxury boxes located below the playing court so they don’t take away seats.
Both Calipari and UK¿athletics director Mitch Barnhart, who is part of the 47-person committee studying what to do with Rupp Arena, have been outspoken in their desire to have UK¿basketball as the “gold standard” for everyone else. Calipari says recent renovations at New York’s Madison Square Garden — where UK¿played last month and beat Kansas — shows renovation can work. And that would leave money for other things.
“If it would take this basketball program to rebuild that campus, then use this program. Use it. I mean, we need new dorms, we need new classrooms. We need to be about those students, and that’s what that entails,” Calipari said.
“I’ll come back to telling you (that) the only way that gets done is if our state legislature understands the flagship campus needs to be invested in, and we need to do it for five years. The legislature has to be involved. It cannot be private; it cannot be. You’ve got to be able to bond the money on your own campus, and it’s got to have the legislature behind it to say, ‘This is the flagship. It is our state’s name, and we are going to make things right on the campus.’
“Now, on the other side of it, if this basketball program can also help our downtown area be built up, that’s fine. I mean, as long as at the end of the day, you understand this program needs to be the gold standard, and I believe it is. I believe how we do things — whether it be supporting these kids academically, how we house them, how we travel, our facilities — it is the gold standard.”
Calipari emphasized he’s not the “bean counter” who has to figure out how much revenue can be generated by the arena or how much is needed. “I’m the basketball coach. I want to make sure whatever my players touch is state of the art and it’s the best in the country. That’s what I care about,” Calipari said. “Now, that it also would generate revenue and they could use for other (things), that’s all good and stuff. But I’m not the mayor; couldn’t do his job. I’m not the athletic director. I’m not the bean counter; I cannot count. I can count my own.”
Yes, he can and so should those debating this issue because it just seems to me that spending an extra $150 million or so on a new arena rather than renovating Rupp Arena is not something that should be done for many, many reasons.