One Of the 24,000 people who crowded into to Rupp Arena for Big Blue Madness last week was the architect in charge of devising a plan for its long-term future. Gary Bates of Space Group says he got to see first-hand the drawing power of the venue, but he says there's not enough going on outside Rupp before and after the game.
"And I was just a bit dismayed by the fact that they all just disappeared. And I had no idea where they went. I was walking around thinking the bars would be full and the atmosphere is going to be but it wasn't. It was a normal night in the city. I was surprised by that. And that's where some of that discussion about pre-event and post-event came up. Why is this city not enjoying its proximity to the arena?"
Bates says making the entire area more pedestrian friendly is a good first step.
"But pedestrianizing also relates to retail, it relates to the amenities that you have in a close proximity. So how do you go from a driving city to a walking city?"
One of the those who came to the briefing was Gwen Thompson, Executive Director of the historic, Mary Todd Lincoln House, which is a stone's throw away from Rupp.
"Improving that area with more arts and entertainment opportunities would be great. I know that we get about 8,000 visitors per year and they are often looking for things to do within walking distance of our home; places to eat, places to shop, and other entertainment opportunities, and we'd love for them to have that."
Lexington Attorney Foster Ockerman Junior says the briefing left him cautiously excited.
"The difficulty I see is that we have so many needs. We need the 3,000 - 4,000 seat performance hall, we need the larger Civic Center. We need something with (the) Rupp Arena building it's just old enough that it needs something."
Ockerman says there will be a price to pay to make the corridor more conducive to walking patrons.
"You know I've worked downtown for twenty-nine years, and I've walked the length of downtown a lot. It is true that we can be more inviting for pedestrians. I'm not convinced we can solve the notion of how to move 24,000 people through any kind of pathway without tearing down a lot more, in the way of buildings."
Bates says one idea being considered is to "Free Rupp" from the Lexington Convention Center; making the venue the focal point of downtown.
The task force plans to hold another public meeting on the various plans sometime next month