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The History of Rupp Arena

Rupp Arena traces its beginning to April, 1971 when the Lexington-Fayette County Recreational, Tourist, and Convention Commission was formed. One of the first projects of the Tourism Commission was to determine whether a civic center—talked about in Lexington for more than 50 years—was an economically feasible undertaking. The idea was to build a complex with a mix of public and private funds—the first major public complex in the nation to combine such financing.

Plans for such an impressive center for Lexington had cropped up as early as the 1920s. But it would be more than five decades later before such a complex was not just simply the talk of the town. The Lexington Center Corporation Board was officially formed in 1972 and soon the iconic complex would become a reality. Groundbreaking ceremonies for Lexington Center/Rupp Arena were held June 21, 1974.

Central Kentucky, for the first time in its history, now had a complete sports, entertainment and convention facility. In addition, Lexington was now in the market for larger conventions and “big name” entertainment. Chamber President Bob Brewer would proudly proclaim it “the largest multi-purpose facility in America.”

The massive undertaking would finish ahead of schedule with one local resident noting that its opening was “a new high in civic pride.” A Lexington Leader newspaper editorial of October 6, 1976 referred to Lexington Center/Rupp Arena as a “Downtown Dream Come True.” 

The Grand Opening was held October 7-10, 1976 and included a “hard-hat, cold plate lunch.” The invited crowd of 3,500 V.I.P.’s was treated to unprecedented fanfare. As part of the Grand Opening events, the general public could take a guided tour of the extraordinary new facility for 99-cents—and thousands of interested individuals did. Visitors marveled upon touring Rupp Arena, the “largest sporting arena in the country,” complete with seating for more than 23,000 and equipped with a specially-designed 12,000-lb. sound system that still hangs from the ceiling of Rupp Arena today, lovingly nicknamed “Big Bertha.” 

The heart of any thriving community is its downtown—and the historic Rupp Arena and Lexington Center are truly the heart of downtown Lexington and one of the most widely-recognized entertainment venues in North America.