Lexington Senate Candidates Weigh In On Rupp Project

Dec 5, 2013

Credit Stu Johnson / Weku News

Next Tuesday’s special election in Lexington pits Democrat Reginald Thomas, Republican Michael Johnson, and Independent Richard Moloney in a race for the state senate.  The winner will replace former State Senator Kathy Stein, who’s now a family court judge.  The community’s next representative will have a part to play in the revitalization of downtown Lexington, including a major overhaul of Rupp Arena.

It’s a big, popular topic for discussion; the re-construction of Rupp Arena and building a new convention center.  Price estimates predict the cost could reach 300 million dollars.  Financing will probably include money borrowed by both state and city governments.  However, Democratic candidate Reginald Thomas says the private sector should also fund the Rupp project.

“It’s gonna be done primarily with private dollars.  There will be some public money, but I think it’s important again in bringing conventions, bringing the dollars that come with that for shopping, for restaurants.  So, it has a lot of revenue deriving benefits for the city,” said Thomas.

Some critics argue such money is better spent on Lexington’s other needs, such as other capital improvements and affordable housing.  Independent candidate Richard Moloney says other money is targeted for such work.  He wants to make sure Lexington is in line to compete for economic development monies.

“I know that Louisville over the last few years got capital project improvements and so did northern Kentucky, and I want to be sure that we have the right, that Lexington have that share to get that same pot of money.  I will support finding ways to get the money to get Rupp Arena moving,” said Moloney.

Republican candidate Michael Johnson understands the importance of Rupp Arena to downtown revitalization.  But he doesn’t want to place the burden on hard-working taxpayers…many of whom can’t afford to attend events in Rupp.

“This city has to start doing things for across the board, not just one organization or one business like Rupp Arena.  Rupp Arena plays a major part in the city life, but this is the key, there are some other things that need our attention too,” said Johnson.

In addition to a major overhaul of the arena, city leaders and boosters also want a new convention center.  As proposed, Democrat Reginald Thomas says it’s too far removed from Rupp Arena.

“I think it ought to be located closer to the arena, so that people who come can have more access to the arena and entertainment and shopping facilities,” explained Thomas.

Both before and after a stint in state government, Richard Moloney served on Lexington’s Council.  Several years ago, he claims the city missed out on some state construction money.  He doesn’t want Lexington to miss a similar opportunity.

“There was some capital project money up there that we could have put the baseball field in downtown Lexington.  At that time, everybody was outraged because, we got flood problems, we need to spend that money on flood problems.  But that money was set aside for capital improvement projects for economic development.  We end up losing it and going up to northern Kentucky for an aquarium,” added Moloney.

Increasingly, Kentucky’s larger universities have turned to the private sector when improvements are needed.  For example, private firms have built student housing at the University of Kentucky and at Eastern Kentucky University.  U-K will also use private funds to finance renovated athletic facilities.  But, Michael Johnson says some, smaller schools can only turn to the state for such funding.

“You know it’s great that UK can find the private money to do some of the things that they’re doing on campus, but all universities can’t find that private money.  They are struggling and there’s great teachers at these universities,” said Johnson.

Central Kentucky voters will decide the outcome of this three-way senate race on Tuesday.  As for financing downtown improvements, Lexington’s residents will learn more in January when the governor delivers his proposed budget to the general assembly.