Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Sports park pitched to city, county

Former mayor to ask school district, governments to conduct feasibility study

December 14, 2005


A bank president and former mayor said she thinks there is room for a new multi-purpose, indoor/outdoor sports center in Lawrence similar to Topeka's Hummer Sports Park. And she said public and private entities might be willing to come together to fund it.

Bonnie Lowe, president of FirstBank, will discuss her ideas with the Douglas County Commission tonight and then meet with the Lawrence City Commission next week. She will be asking the city and county governments and the Lawrence school board to fund a "needs assessment" or feasibility study for such a center.

"I believe this endeavor would be a true public-private partnership, where by the time the feasibility study is completed, then we can sit down and form a master plan," Lowe said Tuesday. "I believe private citizens and corporate sponsors will come to the table and be part of the discussion."

Lowe, who served as city commissioner and mayor in the 1990s, said she began thinking about a sports center after hearing in October that Sport 2 Sport was going to become a tennis-only center. The center for several years has served as a recreation center for local youth sports. It will end its indoor programs in January.

Sport 2 Sport was used by her children and many others in Lawrence, Lowe said. She said she thinks it is important to have a public-private partnership that would not just replace the Sport 2 Sport concept but expand it into other athletic venues. The feasibility study might identify those other venues.

Reed Schenkel, 6, left, plays pool with Alyson Hertig, 8, Tuesday night at the East Lawrence Center, 1245 E. 15th St. A former mayor will introduce a proposal to county and city commissioners to build a new recreation center in Lawrence.

Reed Schenkel, 6, left, plays pool with Alyson Hertig, 8, Tuesday night at the East Lawrence Center, 1245 E. 15th St. A former mayor will introduce a proposal to county and city commissioners to build a new recreation center in Lawrence.

Such a sports center, she said, might be similar to Hummer Sports Park in Topeka. That park, built for $17.5 million after Topeka voters in 2001 approved a bond issue to finance it, is located on the grounds of the former Topeka State Hospital. It has a stadium and other facilities for six sports - football, track, baseball, softball, soccer and swimming.

Lowe has visited several public officials and community leaders to discuss her ideas and hear their views on what is needed for recreation. She said she also thinks such a facility could bring economic benefits to the city. She said she would like to include in the planning process not only the city and county but also the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and Kansas University.

"I've talked to private individuals whose families use these facilities and the elected officials, and overall, it has been very positive," Lowe said.

Lowe and other individuals have been preparing a position paper on the idea, which she said she expected would be ready for tonight's presentation.

Among the public officials Lowe has talked with is County Commission Chairman Charles Jones. During a commission meeting last week, Jones mentioned the idea to fellow Commissioners Jere McElhaney and Bob Johnson without mentioning Lowe by name. Commissioners said they would be willing to hear Lowe's ideas.

On Tuesday, Jones said he thought Lowe wanted to make sure youngsters have ample recreational opportunities, especially in light of the change at Sport 2 Sport.

"We're open to discussion," he said.

Initial word about a recreation center concerned Rick Sells, owner of the Lawrence Athletic Club. Sells attended the County Commission meeting on Monday saying he was afraid a government-owned recreation center would take away from his business. By Tuesday, his concerns had been eased after a conversation with Lowe, he said.

Lowe said she doesn't think a sports center would get into areas of personal fitness such as individual workout areas, but said that would be a community decision. Personal fitness areas such as aerobics and weightlifting are a key component of Sells' business.

"I think as long as they are going to open up areas for kids, I'm all for that," Sells said.

Lowe said she had talked to three companies that could do a feasibility study, which would cost tens of thousands of dollars. Any discussion of sites and what exactly a sports center would contain would come later.

"We just need to get it started and get this rolling because it could be something that's very important to Lawrence and it's something, frankly, that I feel should have been done many years ago," Lowe said.


Richard Heckler 12 years, 6 months ago

If the city wants to provide more sports activities for children perhaps it could consider working up a partnership with USD 497 using their existing facilities throughout the summer etc. Would the city consider picking up the tab for USD 497 sports activities which would remove the charge to parents? This could remove some humilitation to the lower income families and keep their children busy.

I would prefer the city not become involved in a private business venture of this type. If sport to sport could not make it why go there? Perhaps these investors should take a hard look at the sport to sport facility and make it work.

Nikki May 12 years, 6 months ago

Why is sport to sport closing? That's a question the post above made me think about. I am all for this, but that post made me at least pause. As for LAC, please. All the rec buildings have workout rooms as it is. People are still going to LAC.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 6 months ago

Why don't investors take their dollars here and make it work instead of spending tax dollars on feasibility studies?

City commissioners are interested in helping in a small way to assist a proposed indoor tennis center.

Commissioners unanimously directed staff members to work with Lawrence businessman Mike Elwell on a possible deal that would involve the city donating about 40,000 square feet of land to allow Elwell to expand a building at the current Sport 2 Sport facility, 5200 Clinton Parkway.

Elwell has purchased the building and plans on converting it into an indoor tennis facility. He needs the additional 40,000 square feet of city-owned ground that is to the north of the building to expand the building so it can accommodate six courts that will be built to standards that will allow the Kansas University tennis teams to compete on the courts.

City commissioners said they were open to donating the land if Elwell was willing to allow Lawrence Parks and Recreation to use the courts during the winter months for tennis programs or other uses. But commissioners also said they were not interested in providing any funding to help the center with operational costs.

Elwell has said he is asking for the land to be donated because the financial feasibility of an indoor tennis center already is questionable.

mom_of_three 12 years, 6 months ago

A city like Lawrence needs a sporting facility such as this. Sport2Sport was fine, but it had limits. My daughter played at a basketball tournament in Ft. Scott Arkansas which had a facility that had 10 basketball courts, bleachers for each, a jogging court at top, a small practice indoor soccer field, snack area and a small area for gymnastics. And it didn't seem that large from the outside. We have also seen nicer baseball facilities in much smaller towns, similiar to YSI, but with centralized bathrooms, concession, and shaded areas. Too bad you can't turn the old E & E building into a huge indoor facility.

Centrist 12 years, 6 months ago

Yes! We need something vibrant round 'ere ... I'm sick of seeing crappy sculptures (what did they cost us??).

BTW, there ARE other sports besides football, track, baseball, softball, soccer and swimming. I know of a cricket team looking for facilities .... yes, cricket. Check it out sometime!! There are several teams right here in our area.

Centrist 12 years, 6 months ago

Come to think of it .... why not revitalize the Farmland property into a sporting zone??

Jamesaust 12 years, 6 months ago

Whoa! Visions of the city-owned golf course are flashing past my eyes. Or was that the rec center in Centennial Park with the cost overruns that caused the plans to go down in flames a few years back?

Reality check time -- in a free society, if there is a demand for a service then someone will provide it. What possible reason is there for the city to provide this NON-governmental service other than an inefficient number of people wish government to use its power to steal money from other people's pockets to provide a service that apparently almost no one wants? Are there some inefficiencies in the football market? Is there some impediment to building swimming pools?

Has it occurred to anyone that if a private supplier - like Sport 2 Sport - doesn't find that there's money to be made that there may not be sufficient demand? Why pay for a "study" when there's already a real-life answer? Why stop with track or soccer? Surely there's a demand for rockclimbing? Kayaking? Badminton? Perhaps Lawrence could partner with KU to build an artificial ski-slope on Mt. Oread? There's no end in other people's money that could be spent here.

What's next? The city selling shoes? groceries? insurance?

If Bonnie Lowe thinks this is such a great idea, why doesn't she quit her job and go into the sports/recreation business? Better yet, why doesn't FirstBank offer up financing for a private operator? [Answer: the idea can't generate sufficient revenues (a/k/a, people's interest) to operate without the employment of the barrel of the taxcollector's gun.] People vote on what matters to them every day with every dollar they spend (or don't spend). There's is no need for some Soviet Economic Bureau to re-value people's choices for them.

Centrist 12 years, 6 months ago

I'd like to know WHY Sport-2-Sport is having trouble. Isn't Lawrence a recreation-sport-walk-your-dog-type of city? Was it pricing? Management? Lack of community awareness of this facility? Advertising? I say this town NEEDS a decent sport center, for a lot of reasons. All we have now are walking trails & shops, it seems, at least in an obvious way. Believe me, if I had the capital, I'd build it RIGHT NOW, but I'd incorporate as many different sports as I could ... not everyone loves Jayhawk freakin basketball y'know ... there's SO much more out there. If it takes a little government help to get off the ground, then so be it. Let's make this city even better to live in (after we fix the damn roads).

Godot 12 years, 6 months ago

I agree with jamesaust and Merrill on this one. Providing sports facilities that could be just as well handled by private business should be WAY down on the list of government funded projects, especially in light of all the other unfunded needs our city faces.

If this goes any further (which I hope it doesn't) my two cents worth says lets convert Eagle Bend into a sports complex that more people in the community can use. That place is bleeding money, and it is already off the tax rolls, so why not make better use of it?

Godot 12 years, 6 months ago

I seem to recall that Sport 2 Sport is being converted to a tennis club or something like that.

Eric Neuteboom 12 years, 6 months ago

As a three-year volunteer baseball coach and first year volunteer basketball coach, I can tell you first-hand that the lack of city facilities is startling, apalling and embarassing. Another post said it best, smaller cities and other municipalities have considerably better facilities than what Lawrence does (did you ever think Topeka would do anything better than Lawrence?). I can tell you that simply finding a place to practice during the summer baseball season is a huge chore, and that the gyms my first grade basetball team plays in are second class. Doesn't actually matter. What needs to be thought about is the impact sports have on the kids who decide to participate. It's a sad reality that drugs (or apathy) are a tempting tease or alternative to structured environments that provide discipline and a strong sense of self-worth. For a town that prides itself on its liberalism and forward-thinking, how can Lawrence continut to turn a blind-eye to this glaring omission? I could go on and on, but if we want the city to prosper and the residends to stay, we need to give them reasons to do so. Quality of life is something that is oft overlooked in the pursuit of the "grand scheme," but let's hope that we can get this right.

ECM 12 years, 6 months ago

As I understand it how "well" Sport 2 Sport was doing had nothing to do with why it was sold.

The offer made for it's purchase was too good to pass up to the ownership.

People who don't think there is a need probably don't have a child or children playing sports.

italianprincess 12 years, 6 months ago

We already have 3 sights where baseball is played so the city certainly doesn't need another sports type center.

What this city needs as I have stated in the " On The Street " section is a " Family Fun Center ".

Transform the Tanger Mall into a family fun center with a mini golf in the lot next to it. Attach a few of the empty not being used buildings over there and build a center inside. It could hold a roller rink, aracade room with all sorts of games, and a snack bar area. If room we could also have a mini golf inside for days that the one outside couldn't be used. The Tanger Mall is right off of the I-70 and would be in a perfect location for easy access. Its all empty and collecting dust and could be used.

The city worries so much about why kids hnag out on Mass St all summer====Give them something to do then. A family fun center would be great for families to go on rainy days, snowy days, have birthday parties there etc.

I think I should go and attend next weeks meeting and bring that up. We don't need another sports complex. We have tennis courts at the park near LA and 19th. We already have 3 ball parks ( unless the Sport 2 Sport one is going to close ) then that leaves 2 which is good enough. Batting cages are already located out near one of the baseball complexes.

I can agree that we do need a football stadium that the high schools can use so that they aren't forking out money each year to use the ones at KU and Haskell. Money saved from using other fields could be spent on other things needed at the two high schools.

A family fun center is what we need in the city. I don't want to drive out to Topeka for Chuck E Cheese or to Olathe to go to Jeepers. We really truely need some type of family center here for our families to enjoy. The city wants young families to move here and raise their kids, so give them a reason. I realize this is a college oriented city, but there should be something for our children to go also.

Godot 12 years, 6 months ago

IP, good idea. They have those kinds of things in Branson - they are a big hit - and they are privately owned and operated.

red6102003 12 years, 6 months ago

Instead of putting money to use to fix the sewage problem, Roads,Convention center,sporting complex.Why don't we just have the city put a six flags or some kind huge corporate owned amusement park here in lawrence. And we will all dress up like clowns to show the true meaning of how to waste the taxpayers money.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 6 months ago

As i have stated partnering with the school district could fill some gaps in activities and there are existing resources.

If the public/private venture goes under what then?

nlf78 12 years, 6 months ago

Why can't we get a YMCA/YWCA? I think it would benefit the city MORE than a sports park. The Y has indoor facilities, affordable daycare and real FAMILY services. They also have classes from karate to knitting. They have gym/health facilities, I think it would be a better choice for the community. Especially with the afterschool programs that EVERYONE could afford. I'd rather give my money to an organization that helps the community rather than just a sports park.

Kookamooka 12 years, 6 months ago

This is a total NO BRAINER but what Lawrence really could use is a facility out by Clinton Lake, maybe even on the lake, where there could be iceskating, sledding, fishing, boating, boat rentals, a hotel with cool lodge-ish family style relaxed restaurant/steak house. A great place for reunions, conventions and conferences, and weddings. Beautiful views of the lake. A game room, indoor pool (all part of the city parks and rec mind you) weight room, space to host classes. We just aren't getting creative enough with the prospects. Oh yes, and a bus route that delivers people right to the door. And it needs to be kept INCLUSIVE and ACCESSIBLE to all. Sort of like the YMCA of the Rockies in Colorado. Really family friendly. Then we could see our city become a tourist destination. We aren't maximizing our assets.

red6102003 12 years, 6 months ago

Yeah let's get disney world to come put a park here right on clinton lake that's the ticket. if someone wants to open one up let them pay for it not us. We have bigger issues in lawrence that need to be adressed that we should be putting our money into.

Jeremy Lichtenauer 12 years, 6 months ago

The city had better be sure to throw in a complimentary liquor license for Elwell so he can have a glass of wine at the tennis matches.


He can turn it into a bar like he did Abe and Jakes. And silly me, I thought he was going to turn the property into artists galleries! How much is the rent, for how long? Liar, Liar, pants on fire.

I have never seen the Commision lay down on a topic so fast as this. Please, I would like an acre of City land for free, I promise to let the badminton team play on it once a year, until I can find some fine print to change the rules.

Wonder what the City's response would be if Compton wanted the same deal. Weeeeeeeeee!!!

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