FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Supporters of a plan to help finance Rupp Arena's renovation are facing their own version of March Madness in trying to win over Kentucky lawmakers.
Their proposal advanced to the next round Friday. The state House voted 52-40 to endorse the idea of letting Lexington officials increase their local hotel tax to generate money to help update the home of the University of Kentucky men's basketball team.
The $310 million project also includes building a new convention center near Rupp in downtown Lexington.
Next up is the Senate, which could present a more daunting obstacle for the bill's supporters.
The measure drew a tepid response from Senate President Robert Stivers following the House action.
"We're getting it late in the session," the Manchester Republican said. "The reality is we only know of the essence of the bill, we do not know of the details of the bill. We understand there is quite a bit of division of Lexington over the issue."
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray pushed for the Senate to pass the measure, saying the renovation would create jobs that will help the whole state.
"Anyone who needs evidence that this plan will work should look north to Columbus Ohio," Gray said in a statement. "They created 10,000 jobs in and around Nationwide Arena through a very similar model as the Rupp District. This is one of Kentucky's best economic development projects and we are eager to get started."
Friday marked the 51st day of this year's 60-day General Assembly session. The final days will be dominated by work on the next state budget.
The measure that cleared the House would allow Lexington officials to raise the city's transient room tax from 6 percent to 8.5 percent.
Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, called it an "essential component" of financing the massive construction project.
"The increase will add less than $3 per night, per hotel-motel stay," he said.
The higher tax rate is expected to generate an extra $3.5 million each year, he said. Crenshaw said the arena and convention center project would generate construction jobs and more than 3,000 permanent jobs once the project is completed.
The renovation plan calls for separating Rupp Arena from its adjoining convention center.
Meanwhile, the project's supporters are trying to enlist legislative backing for another part of the financing project.
A proposed $65 million bond for Rupp Arena and the convention center was included in the House's version of the $20.3 billion, two-year state budget bill that passed last week. The Senate plans to reveal its version of the state budget early next week.
The legislation is House Bill 544.