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Rupp Arena renovation plans include new façade, luxury boxes and chair backs

Courtesy NBBJ Architects Courtesy NBBJ Architects

Chair backs for everyone! That’s one of the rallying cries behind the newly unveiled plans for a $310 million renovation of Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

Sure, plenty of other components highlight the renovation project, including a completely new translucent façade, fresh luxury seats, completely moving the adjacent convention center to the west and new lookout areas on the new upper bowl of the 23,000-seat home of the University of Kentucky basketball team. But chair backs. That’s the ticket.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray showed off the NBBJ Architects-designed renderings during a Monday news conference.

A fan survey conducted by arena owners Lexington Center Corporation, a nonprofit corporate agency of the local government, told designers that chair-back seats, HD video and Wi-Fi connectivity were on the top of the order for any changes to the venue that originally opened in 1976. The new venue will likely open in 2017, with construction starting next year.

Fans will also see fully expanded concourses, a hospitality level with new premium seating -- as many as 28 new luxury boxes are expected -- a new center-hung scoreboard, outdoor video screens, a new upper bowl, a catwalk from the arena to shopping, a new dedicated entry from Triangle Park and a fresh exterior that includes angular designs with transparent skin.

The new, less steep upper bowl will sit atop a ring of premium seating worked between the two decks.

While the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena lease runs out in 2018 and no official announcement of a renewal came on Monday, that appears to be nothing more than a formality at this point, especially with Kentucky athletic department officials on hand for the Monday event and statements from both local officials and the university that this project wouldn’t happen without UK. And it wouldn't happen without seat backs, either.

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Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.
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