A new recreation center in northwest Lawrence isn’t exactly a slam dunk.
The generous commitment from Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self and his Assists Foundation to provide $1 million for the project, along with help in raising additional private funds, is a significant incentive to move forward. It would be wonderful for the city to work with the coach and his foundation on this project, but commissioners also need to consider a number of other factors: primarily the cost of building and operating a new center and how that fits in with the city’s other funding commitments.
City parks and recreation officials and Self envision a center with at least five gyms so that the facility could accommodate regional or national youth basketball or volleyball tournaments. Adding space for cardio and weight training equipment and a walking/jogging track, they think the center would cost about $15 million. Even with the help of the Assists Foundation, that’s a significant financial commitment for the city.
The rec center is included on Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission agenda. In agenda materials, city staff members acknowledge that projected income from a county sales tax that has been dedicated to recreation uses wouldn’t cover all of the construction and operating costs of a $15 million center. Several options exist for filling that gap: private fundraising, reducing the size of the project, charging admission to the center or taking funds from elsewhere. (One source of funding recommended by the staff is taking money from the county sales tax dedicated to street maintenance. The city’s 2008 infrastructure sales tax now is being used for that purpose, but any reduction in maintenance funds might be a tough sell to local residents.)
How much could the city expect to raise in a private fund drive for the center? Assessing that potential and developing a fundraising plan could be a key to making the project feasible. Finding acceptable ways to trim the cost of the initial project also is a possibility. Charging admission for people to simply enter the center should be low on the city’s list.
Another idea that arose in a recent city study session was the idea of locating the center near the intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway to spur development in that area. That’s an interesting proposition, but that location wouldn’t be as easily accessible to many people as the location near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive that had been discussed earlier.
Representatives of the Assists Foundation say they are eager to work with the city on this project, but they don’t expect to be involved in operating the center or making decisions about what tournaments or activities it would accommodate once it is built. It will be a city facility and the city will be responsible for paying off the bonds and covering the long-term operating costs.
The question that lingers in many people’s minds is: Would the city be considering this project now if the foundation’s money wasn’t on the table? It’s wonderful that Self and his foundation are supporting this project, but the $1 million and whatever fundraising clout the coach can provide will cover only a fraction of the project’s cost.
The city staff is recommending that the City Commission proceed with an agreement with the Assists Foundation for “possible support” of a new center and develop a fundraising plan that “would include refinement of the conceptual plans for the project.” Those seen like reasonable steps. Many details remain to be fleshed about this idea, but it’s time to find out whether the city and the foundation can come up with a workable plan.