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New baseball stadium in works?

Now that Kentucky has locked up baseball coach Gary Henderson with a five-year contract extension the school is taking aim at building a new stadium that would further invigorate the program.

Although the school is not yet ready to announce finalized plans for a new facility that would replace the Wildcats' current home, UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart acknowledged the department is working toward that goal. Barnhart has been earmarking money for the construction of a new facility, likely to be located off Alumni Drive near the existing soccer and softball complexes.

“Do we want a new stadium? Yes, we do,” Barnhart said.

While there is still ongoing discussion about whether the Cats could potentially upgrade and expand Cliff Hagan Stadium, sources told The Cats' Pause the clear preference is to start from scratch and build a new, state-of-the-art stadium and baseball complex. Cliff Hagan Stadium was originally built in 1969 and has undergone three renovations, the most recent coming in 2007.

“I'm very optimistic we are going to improve our facilities,” Henderson said. “I've had several talks with Mitch and he's absolutely behind it. I understand the climate we're dealing with financially right now but I also understand Mitch's commitment and I feel very good we're going to move in a positive direction.”

Bonding issues at the state government level have also hindered the UK athletics department's ability to press forward with large scale renovations to Commonwealth Stadium, which was also a part of a plan several years ago where IMG and UK had hoped to partner in an effort to upgrade the Cats' football home and replace Cliff Hagan Stadium all at once. That plan never came to fruition, which led Kentucky to seek more traditional ways to expand baseball's reach on campus and in the community.

“I've had some really good conversations with president (Eli Capilouto) about it, whether we upgrade or build something new, what the land use for that facility is for the university,” Barnhart said. “I want what's best for Gary and our program. How we fund that is really important. We've been setting money aside for it because of the bonding issues.”

Kentucky has long battled the issue of access and parking at its current stadium, which sits nestled between the football practice facility, outdoor track, several student housing complexes and a student housing parking lot. The Cats have a small practice infield behind the left field wall and a large garage down the right field line that features several indoor batting cages and pitching mounds. The locker room is located in a modest building beyond the outfield wall, but the coaches' offices are off-site at nearby Commonwealth Stadium.

A new stadium would solve all of those issues. The Alumni Dr. location would create more visibility, as well as allow the program to have all of its facilities, offices and locker rooms in a single place. It would also help the Cats keep pace with its Southeastern Conference counterparts.

“Your facility is a very important piece to recruiting,” Henderson said. “Every coach in our league, a BCS league, in all sports understands how important the facility piece is in the recruitment of players and their families. You have to make the adjustments to remain competitive in the recruiting battles because it's so important.”

The issues with Cliff Hagan Stadium became public once again when the NCAA Selection Committee opted not to award UK a regional host site in this year's NCAA Tournament, a decision that shocked Henderson and Barnhart, as well as officials from the SEC. While Barnhart said he was not told specifically that UK's facilities may have been an issue he did not want to provide more ammunition in the future.

“It certainly helps to be able to say we don't want to give (the NCAA) a reason to say we're not deserving of hosting a regional,” Barnhart said. “We were very deserving. You say, 'Well, it doesn't make a difference.' I don't know about that. We want to get the stadium fixed. (Baseball) deserves that.”

While there is no definitive timetable to announcing potential plans, sources have indicated there is optimism a facility project could move forward by the summer of 2013.

  • If the feasibility study returns as anything other than "we can't find the money for this either" I may very well lose my mind over this.

  • I LOVE the feel of The Cliff, but understand it is now cramped in there with the new track bleachers et al.

    Twitter: @Br_Boston

  • I haven't come close to dropping my football tickets, but if this project happens before Commonwealth Stadium renovations are approved, I may join the Fellowship of the Miserable. I'm all for supporting all of our sports. I understand how success in even the minor sports still helps to sell our brand. However, it is time to take a stand and publically state that "We cannot in good faith spend any dollars toward improvements of any facilities until we work out the bonding issues with a Commonwealth Stadium renovation." Football is our cash cow and until we get that fixed, we cannot justify spending any money elsewhere.

  • It's not really the same thing though. The stuff with Commonwealth is like a $100 million project. There is no way it can be accomplished without bonding or a major, major donation. The baseball stadium is going to come from money that's been stored little bits at a time and with a smaller donation from a baseball-friendly source.

  • I've said it before and I'll say it again. Pam Miller should be run out of town for not figuring out a way to do a joint stadium with UK when the legends built in the middle of the hood on north broadway. She wouldn't do the deal to build downtown below Rupp or in the Hyatt Parking lots that never get used. Imagine a nice downtown baseball facilty for UK baseball and the legends. They'd be packed every night...

  • The article reads as if UK is planning on (if feasible) building an all new state of the art baseball stadium in a different location. At the very least, any substantial expansion and renovation of Cliff Hagan as it exists is not going to be cheap. It will be a substantial financial outlay.

    They are not going to build a baseball stadium (their chosen route) with a million dollars. They won't even expand and renovate Cliff Hagan for a million dollars. If the funding for a new stadium (or expansion of Cliff Hagan) is in the tens of millions of dollars, and they have gotten that money by storing it little bits at a time, where are the much larger bits at a time that have been set aside for Commonwealth and football facility improvements? Do we have more baseball-friendly sources than football-friendly sources?

    Baseball deserves every thing it gets, as this was a great season. The team deserves state-of-the art facilities. This is not a post to say that they do not. But if a major expansion or renovation of Cliff Hagan, or construction of a new baseball facility happens when we've been told there is no funding to do the same for football, well that's implausible to me, to put it lightly.

  • Matt - I understand that football needs $100 mill, but a new baseball stadium will be $25-$30 million. I think Mitch will try to get it packaged together somehow. Even $25-$30 million would go a long way on the stadium and training facilities. I think Mitch is smarter than to announce a $25 million project for anything other than football at this point. Just my thoughts.

  • Very interesting. I'm glad to hear that UK is trying to build a new stadium. Just tough to make the Cliff into much better of a venue given how it is shoe-horned into its current location.

    Very curious to learn where exactly on Alumni they intend to build the new stadium if that works out. Just pulled up an aerial via Google maps, and tough to determine the best place for a new park. But they could do something pretty cool if they do elect to build a new park on Alumni.

  • CatsPause

    Jeff Drummond

    I would have liked to have seen it as a centerpiece of downtown, too, but I don't think I'd call its current location "the hood." Lexington really doesn't have much of one, and the stadium is quite a few blocks removed from that.

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    E-mail: JDRUM@247SPORTS.COM Follow me on Twitter:!/JDrumUK

  • The Legends should be playing in a renovated Coolavin Stadium right now.

  • CatsPause

    Jeff Drummond


    Gunshots. Second base stolen. Ump swilled. biggrin

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    E-mail: JDRUM@247SPORTS.COM Follow me on Twitter:!/JDrumUK

  • Matt,
    I understand the point you are trying to make, but JDHLaw11 hit it on the head. A new baseball stadium or even a significant renovation to the Cliff will take more than $10 million and likely closer to the $25-$30 million mentioned above. Couple that with the recent track and soccer expenditures and you are half way to a renovation of Commonwealth. I think baseball deserves a new venue, but NOTHING should be done for sports that don't pay for themselves until after the bonding issue is resolved. That needs to be public awareness project #1 for the Athletic Department. If you think people are unhappy right now, wait and see what happens if something like this is announced with no progress on the football front. I support Mitch. I support all the non-revenue sports at UK. I realize being good in all sports raises the level of the UK brand and may also generate some future millionaire tennis players or golfers that give back to the program. However, football pays the bills and UK is facing a horrible perception problem right now. This would pour salt into an already gaping wound.

  • It's like this:

    We're driving a Blue Ferrari with a flat tire.

    We have a mechanic who changes the oil. Then, because we can still drive 110mph with no worries the mechanic changes the rest of the fluids and checks the belts.

    Finally, the mechanic sees VWs and FIATs passing us on the autostrada diagnoses a flat tire,...Unfortunately, he has empty pockets and a useless, expensive car that can't be maintained or race with the Lamborghinis.

    If we don't keep up with the Jonses, we're Smiths.

  • I highly doubt UK is going to spend, for example, the 36-40 million dollars that LSU or South Carolina spent on their recent baseball stadium.

    Once again, the Football dollars derived from the SEC Contract are used the same way at UK as they are throughout the rest of the conference: to fund non-revenue sports. Donations drive facilities, particularly football, in the SEC. That's not opinion. That's not conjecture. That is fact and UK for years has lagged behind the rest of the conference in fundraising for Athletics. There's 3 or 4 guys who have AD jobs right now around the country because they were a part of the team who brought UK Athletics kicking and screaming into the modern world of Collegiate Athletics without the benefit of the tens of millions of dollars other SEC programs fundraise each year. Goodness, people were pitching fits about K-Fund and that was just for seat assignments!

    This isn't Louisville. Lexington flat out does not have the corporate partners with close political, cultural and business ties with the University and community to fund projects like Commonwealth. This is true at many other SEC school which means large, wealthy individual donors are all the more important. And to be perfectly honest many of those who were in a position to give didn't like the "regime change" of the Lee/Mitch administration and those that did (like Mr. Gatton for instance) are part of a group that, rightly or wrongly, believes that Athletics should be in service to the Academic Mission of the University.

  • This certainly does not need to turn into a revenue v. non-revenue sport funding argument.

    That's not the point. We've been told very recently by Mitch Barnhart that the revenue stream is there, so it isn't a case of revenue stream problems (which would be the case if non-revenue sports were impeding financing).

    The point is that millions of dollars in capital expenditures are coming from somewhere, for track facilities, softball fields, numerous basketball projects, soccer fields and now a new baseball stadium. These are all very recent projects. Those dollars exist and can be used, apparently.

    Even if UK spends 20 million dollars (conservatively) building a new baseball stadium, where in the world did that 20 million dollars come from? Is that much just laying around? If that many dollars are laying around the athletic department to be used (without bonding, obviously) why were the scoreboards and ribbon boards the subject of such rigorous debate when funding them was discussed?

    We know they aren't being bonded. The problem isn't that they are using the money, it's that they are using the money (potentially upwards of 50 million dollars) while telling us that getting money for Commonwealth is impossible.

  • Financing a 100+ million dollar project on a state owned structure is a lot more complicated as you know. They don't have the cash on hand to undertake that without significant bonding capacity. The financing structure for smaller projects is different. As an example: TCU raised from 95 donors a 143 MILLION dollars for its stadium project in 2010.

    So let's say Matt's source and your estimate is correct: A donors who want to give to a potential new baseball stadium in the range of 4-5 million. That's 15-16 million left to finance on a brand new construction, on land already owned by the University. That amount, while bigger, can be had much easier outside of bonding capacity especially if you have another 5-6 million on hand to start the project.

    Football, in a perfect world, would be paid like these basketball projects are: by donations. The renovations of the Rupp lockeroom/player area is being funded between private donors and the city. Coal Lodge? Private donations.

    This post was edited by MoC 21 months ago

  • I have an idea. All the football seats that remain unsold can be ripped out and moved to Hagan stadium each year. That saves the University money for new seats and our sold out percentage for football goes up. Everyone wins!

  • To be clear. Donations drive the servicing of debt/bonds not the actual cost of the big stadium expansions like we have seen at Alabama, tennesse, etc... Large gifts do not drive stadium upgrades. The ticket sales and seat donations are what drive stadium expansions. Our issue is that we can't go into debt to build the suites or club level seating because the legislature wont approve it.

    Where donations come in are with practice facilities and that's what we've seen at uk. Major gifts built the new practice fields. A major (1 million) did the new locker rooms at Cws. A couple of major gifts did the nutter center upgrades.

    Major gifts don't build stadium expansions. Bonds that are serviced by seat sales and donations are what build stadiums and their expansions.

    This post was edited by hoptownukfan 21 months ago

  • I think you're only half right. Large gifts due drive facility upgrades and capital projects. Missouri just received a 30 million dollar pledge towards stadium expansion. I've already mentioned TCU. 85 million in stadium renovations the last 15 years in Gainesville did not all come from mandatory seating donations.

    Of course revenue streams from mandatory seating donations and ticket sales service debt in some cases but you still need massive amounts of fundraising to pay for these immense capital projects.

  • There is a lot I could say on the subject (heh, imagine that), but I'll just observe that in my opinion the often-repeated by many theory that only $100 million and not a penny more is what needs to be spent on UK football doesnt pass the smell test. So this couldnt be done a chunk at a time? $10 million here? $5 million there? It all has to be 1 project that cannot be phased in? That doesnt seem reasonable, especially since the prospects of $100 million plopping into UK's lap (since they arent doing any capitol project fundraising drives) is very remote.

  • You could probably do club seating for $20,000,000 I the press box. But the problem is, to build the new press box you have to spend $80,000,000 to do the "sky box" similar to what you see in other sec stadiums. That's the problem we have. You could to part of it for less but you can't just build part of it. It's a big puzzle.

  • Well the problem is there is no money to be had for those football projects because the money isn't there.

    If someone dropped a 30 million dollar pledge tomorrow for Football Capital Projects they wouldn't need the bonding because they could pursue other financing models. Why do you think Barnhart keeps harping on this bonding capacity stuff? Because while real revenue streams could be diverted to service the debt for these projects they don't have the capital on hand to start it themselves.

    Then you say "Well, why don't they have the money! What is wrong with these people." That's a more complicated question and goes back before Barnhart even arrived. And it's not just for Football but all the other sports as well.

  • Let's have Calipari go out fundraising on the behalf of UK football. Hell, it works for basketball, can't hurt for football. (this is said with sarcasm, just a bit.)

    Keep Calm & Stoops On..

  • Teressa Isaac is the one at fault for that happening, even Alan Stein has said he wished they had built in the LFUCG property at the Lexington Center. It really is one of the dumbest development decisions we've made in a city full of dumb development decisions.

    Their rationalization for putting it where they did was to spur economic development in that part of town. What they failed to realize is that nobody (outside of bingo halls and payday advance stores) wanted to move to that part of town no matter what was put there. Now we've got a very nice baseball stadium sitting on an island in the middle of one of the crappiest parts of town while were wracking our brains trying to figure out how to use the 46 acres that are sitting mostly vacant (surface parking) currently.

  • I remember the artists rendering for a downtown Lexington baseball field back in the mid 90's, it would have looked fantastic and the siteview inside the stadium were gorgeous

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