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Mitch Barnhart on Rupp Arena: “We didn’t want to go anyplace else. We wanted to be there.”

Mitch Barnhart (Vicky Graff Photo)

Mitch Barnhart (Vicky Graff Photo)

Here is what Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart had to say today about Kentucky agreeing to a lease extension that will keep the men’s basketball team playing in Rupp Arena for an additional 15 years:

Opening statement
“We’re really excited to be able to extend our lease with Rupp Arena. The history of Rupp Arena is 40 years this year and it’s a wonderful place. It has incredible memories for our fans, our coaches and for our players. A lot of people have walked those hallways and walked onto that court. It’s a very, very special place to many, many people. These journeys on these things always wind around and get to a spot where hopefully everybody feels good about it. I think we do, and I think the city does. We’re excited to know this is something we can put behind us through 2033. Our home is something we can continue to work at and grow in a really special way and recruit to a wonderful facility. Some changes are coming. Some things that are going to occur within the facility that the city’s going to help us with. We’re looking forward to that. I really want to thank Brent Rice and our executive vice president of the university Eric Monday. He was really diligent in helping us work through the details of all this stuff. These things are complicated, and when you’re talking about things that extend this many years, it’s really, really hard to forecast out that far, and I’m thankful for their efforts. It’s a good day for Kentucky, it’s a good day for our fans and a good day for the University of Kentucky basketball program.”

On the changes at Rupp Arena…
“I think there will be some physical changes. You can read in the letter of intent, there will be some changes prior. The base of the agreement starts in 2018-19, that fall season of ‘18. There will be some changes, some structural changes, in terms of the seating. Up top, we’re going to try and put chair backs up top. You’ll read the sections, I’ll mess up the numbers. So you can read those. So there will be some chair backs up top, which I think is really important for our fans. I think that seating experience up there is really important. There are going to be some clubs that we add. In the outer, underneath part of the bowl. We’re not sure exactly how that’s going to play out just yet or where that’s all going to occur or what it’s going to look like but there’s some commitments that LCC folks have made to help us with that. That is real important to us as it relates to how it grows our program in terms of revenue and things. Those are things that fans are looking for. We’re trying to create things, again, that go back to the fan experience and allowing our fans to continue to enjoy the facility and the game that we play. We’re looking forward to that. Two of the big ones, obviously we’ve got the video boards and the ribbon boards and the sound system that are in there currently. So we continue to try and put pieces of the puzzle in place that continue to make it a really special place to play.”

On changes to the outer space…
“Obviously, the city has plans for the convention center and that stuff and that is a part of their project. Obviously, this sort of completes that whole project down there in terms of the plans. What that does in how that affects that I’m really not sure.”

On recent changes making UK confident in staying…
“I think it’s very helpful. Let’s face it. If you’ve been in the arena and you’ve seen it, it’s made a big difference in terms of the atmosphere. It’s really helpful. Their commitment to get this done was strong. We didn’t want to go anyplace else. We wanted to be there. I don’t think there’s anybody in the world today that sits there and says, ‘hey, we want to take on a $300 million arena when we’ve got a wonderful tradition-rich facility that we’ve been playing in for 40 years down there.’ That’s not where we wanted to be. The city needs us to be downtown. We wanted to be downtown. We’ve got a great place to play and there’s too much history and tradition to walk away from that.”

On how big of a deal it is to close this chapter in negotiations…
“Yeah, I think it’s great to close the chapter. I think, again, when you go through things like this they’re never a straight path. Everyone wants it to be real clean. Everyone wants to say, ‘These are the things that are going to occur: this, this, this and this, and it’s going to be a really clean path.’ That never happens. Not in the history of negotiations does that ever happen. I mean, you’re talking about things that are 17 years away to finality from where you are right now. You’ve still got two years left on an existing agreement. There’s pieces of that existing agreement that are hard to work your way through. How do you get the end of that spot, and then how do you start up a new one and then get you out there? And most of us that are signing these documents probably won’t be here in 15 years. There’s a pretty good chance I won’t be. So, you want to make sure that as you establish things for people going forward that you establish something that everyone feels good about.”

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