- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - If Kentucky taxpayers paid $75 million for the University of Louisville’s basketball arena, they should do the same for the University of Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday before boarding a plane to watch Kentucky play for the NCAA championship in Dallas.

Lexington and the Wildcats deserve no less than Louisville and the Cardinals,” Beshear said.

The KFC Yum! Center, home to the University of Louisville’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, opened in 2010 with the help of $75 million in state-backed bonds. But this year, state lawmakers declined to give the city of Lexington $65 million in state-backed bonds to renovate Rupp Arena, where the Kentucky men’s basketball team plays its regular season home games.

Beshear said he is pushing legislators to include the money before it adjourns for the year on April 15. But it appears the Republican-controlled state Senate does not agree.

Lexington owns Lexington Center, which includes Rupp Arena and a convention center. The city has not released detailed financing plans for the renovation, which would include building a new convention center and updating Rupp Arena’s amenities without increasing the seating capacity.

Susan Straub, spokeswoman for Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, said the city has not released the project’s financing plan because University of Kentucky officials have asked them not to. She said the Senate leadership has seen the information.

But Republican Senate President Robert Stivers says he has not seen a lease agreement between the city and the university, which he said is a key sticking point. Republican Senate leaders do not want to commit $65 million unless the city and the university have a firm agreement for Rupp Arena to host college basketball games.

And Stivers said it is not fair to compare Rupp Arena’s renovations with the KFC Yum! Center, which was a brand new facility. He cited a report last week on the website stadiumjourney.com that ranked Rupp Arena as the No. 1 college basketball arena in the country.

“You would want to think that when you do something it would aid in the success of the program. But Rupp has proven not to be an impediment to their success,” Stivers said. “They still haven’t publicly disclosed what they are doing and whether they have any agreement with the university on this. … We also have not been able to discern what the exposure to the city of Lexington in Fayette County is going to be, if there is any.”

Beshear said Lexington officials have shared details of the plan with House and Senate leaders.

“There shouldn’t be any questions left. If there are both UK and the city are available to answer them,” Beshear said. “I do believe that in the coming days the financing plan will become public and I’m hopeful that by April 15 we will have been able to reach some agreement between the House and Senate and UK and Lexington to keep that project moving forward.”

House Democrats have supported the project. Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said not including the money was his biggest disappointment with the state’s two-year, $20.3 billion budget.

Regardless of what happens in Monday night’s championship game, Rupp Arena will be open on Tuesday for a rally celebrating Kentucky’s season. The Wildcats (29-10) are scheduled to land at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Bluegrass Airport and will be bussed immediately to Rupp for a program at their home court that’s expected to draw a large crowd.

Free reserved-seat tickets for persons 14 and up will be distributed at 8 a.m. Tuesday at Rupp’s ticket office. Doors open at 1:30 p.m.

Kentucky students with ID may request tickets in a special section.

Fans can also cheer the team’s bus route from the airport to Rupp. The event will be broadcast on WKYT.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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