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Lawmakers reviewing Rupp financing proposal


FRANKFORT - Supporters of a plan to renovate Rupp Arena made a final pitch Monday to win over Kentucky lawmakers who are reluctant to let state government help finance the project.

A revised financing plan was presented to lawmakers on the next-to-last day of this year's regular legislative session.

The newest effort to gain state support to update the home of the University of Kentucky men's basketball team comes a week after the Wildcats played for another national championship. Kentucky came up just short, losing to Connecticut.

Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday the new financing proposal calls for $80 million in state-backed bonding but does not feature another long-sought element - a proposal allowing Lexington officials to raise the city's hotel tax to help pay for the project. The hotel tax measure passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

Lawmakers already refused to include $65 million in Rupp Arena-related state bonding in the $20.3 billion, two-year state budget that passed the legislature.

Since then, the Democratic governor has been among those still trying to recruit lawmakers to support financing the renovation, which would include building a new convention center and updating Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington.

"The Rupp Arena project is a sound project," Beshear told reporters. "And assuming all the pieces come together, we'll have a great new Rupp Arena and convention center that will be a big economic boon to central Kentucky."

Democrats in charge of the House have supported state bonding for the project.

Leaders in the Republican-led Senate have signaled they did not want to commit state money unless the city and the university have a long-term agreement for Rupp Arena to host the college's basketball games. The Kentucky men's team has played at Rupp since the 1970s.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Monday night that lawmakers received a briefing from the university and Lexington officials to discuss the proposed construction plan and how to pay for it.

"They gave us a lot of information we hadn't had, and they've redone their model," Stivers said.

Stivers was non-committal and said lawmakers would discuss the issue in party caucus meetings on Tuesday to gauge potential support. Tuesday is the final day of this year's regular legislative session.

"There is no guarantee that there will be any support," he said. "There's no guarantee there won't be support."

If the proposal wins sufficient backing, it could be attached to pending legislation that could come up for votes in the Senate and House before the legislative session ends.

Beshear tried to allay concerns by comparing the Rupp project to one that resulted in a new home for the University of Louisville's basketball teams. The KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville opened in 2010 with the help of $75 million in state-backed bonds.

When lawmakers approved state bonding for the Yum Center, there was an agreement in principle between the school and the arena over the hosting of the Cardinals' basketball games, Beshear said. The actual lease agreement was signed later, he said.

Beshear said he was trying to assure lawmakers that "all of these moving parts are coming together" for the Rupp Arena project. He said the state-supported bonds won't be issued until all details are in place, including the long-term agreement for Kentucky to play in the renovated Rupp.

"It will be signed at some point down the road," the governor said. "If it's never signed, the state won't ever issue the bonds, I can assure you of that."

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