The President’s Lounge area at the newly renovated Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. Here’s where UK President Eli Capilouto will be hosting all the deep-pocketed donors and bigwigs prior to tipoff.
It’s about time.
In their effort to keep up with the Joneses, the powers that be in charge of the Central Bank Center expansion have finally put their money where their mouth is. A $241 million construction upgrade—which began in the Summer of 2018—is well underway and is targeted for completion in Spring of 2022.
They tell us that when finished, the newly-refurbished convention center will house over 200,000 square feet of exhibition, ballroom, and meeting space (nearly a 40 – 50% increase from before).
As far as our beloved basketball home is concerned, we’ve already seen the brand spanking new chairbacks added to the upper levels of Rupp Arena as part of the radical redesign. What they’ve yet to reveal to the public eye, however, are the state-of-the-art luxury lounges, the expanded concourses, and the environmentally friendly and energy-efficient features of an iconic (but dated) building looking to blast off into the 21st century stratosphere.
I got a chance to take a sneak peek behind the scenes today to see what all the fuss is about. Sure, I was impressed by all the planned highfalutin amenities, but I’ve got some mixed feelings about all the changes about to be unveiled.
You see, I’m a bit of a traditionalist at heart. I remember Rupp Arena back when it first opened in 1976. I recall Rick Robey hitting the first basket while Adolph Rupp looked on from his mid-court recliner. Through the years, my mind goes back to all the many memorable games and championship runs. Minniefield to Bowie’s halfcourt alley-oop dunk; Tayshaun and those five three-pointers versus North Carolina; John Wall in his debut against Miami (OH). I don’t want any of those memories to fade.
A part of me wants to remember Rupp Arena just as it was: Big Bertha, rafter banners, regular fans packed in like sardines in the upper decks—in their seats an hour before tipoff just soaking in the rarified atmosphere. I want to remember record-setting crowds of 24,000+—not the reduced-capacity 18,000 or so that now pass through the turnstiles.
Will the newly updated Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center conjure up the same type of sweet memories? I’ll let you be the judge. Here are my top-5 significant changes I see coming into play.
1. If you’ve got deep pockets, your pre-game experience will be out of this world. Imagine being invited to the President’s reception. You’re rubbing elbows with the bigwigs, choking down shrimp cocktails, and helping yourself to endless shots of Pappy Van Winkle. As you make your way into your seats in time for tipoff, you’re so tipsy that you don’t care who the Cats are playing. I made sure I walked around every square foot of these opulent luxury lounges. Unless I win the lottery, it’s probably the last time I’ll set foot in one of these VIP havens.
2. The outside of Rupp Arena will no longer be the brown corrugated box we’ve all come to know and hate. Instead, they’re replacing it with a modern, sleek veneer like something out of the Jetsons. The triangular-shaped glass projection design above the entrance to the grand lobby promises to be the most dominant architectural structure anywhere in Kentucky. At least that’s what Bill Owen, Lexington Center President and CEO, tells us. If you’ve driven past High Street any time recently, you know the entire construction area still looks like a war zone. I guess I’ll believe it when I finally see it with my own eyes.
3. If you’re hosting an event and want to further entertain and impress, there’ll be multiple options to choose from within the center. Picture this: having your reception on an elevated outdoor concourse overlooking the garden grounds of the Mary Todd Lincoln home. It’s happening (and I thought my back deck was looking nice). This’ll be something out of a fairytale, so make sure to book your plans early.
4. You want concerts? You got them, beginning with Eric Church on September 17 of this year. I learned today that many top musical acts (i.e. Bon Jovi) wouldn’t play Rupp previously simply because of the upper-level bleacher seating arrangements. As I mentioned earlier, that’s no longer a factor. Also, now with the numerous additional loading docks and the two giant drive-in doors, concert efficiency has improved a thousand percent. Even a Taylor Swift over-the-top production—with its multiple mobile dressing rooms and semi-trailers loaded with Taylor Swift type stuff—will now be able to maneuver seamlessly throughout the streamlined convention center grounds.
5. So what about the “average Joe” fan just wanting to take in a UK basketball game? If you haven’t made it into Rupp the last couple of years, you probably won’t recognize what you’re seeing. There’s a new video scoreboard, a circular ribbon board, and of course the new chairback seats up above. The arena is still as spacious and as symmetrical as ever, but it’s got a completely different feel than the Rupp of the past. The upgraded culinary facilities are certainly top notch, but I’m not sure if that will ever trickle down to any of the game-day concessions. I hope so because Rupp Arena still has some of the worst concession food of any of the college sports venues I’ve visited.
There you have it. You’re up to date now. Better convention hospitality, better concerts, better food (maybe), and better basketball (hopefully). It’s the new Rupp Arena at Lexington Center. I can’t wait to see the final product. Get your wallets out, folks. Whether you like it or not, you’ll be footing the rest of the bill.