City leaders are now pointing to 6 million new reasons why they’re excited about a proposed northwest Lawrence recreation complex.
A city-hired consulting firm is estimating a new city-owned youth fieldhouse combined with a Kansas University track/field and soccer complex directly will inject about $6.3 million worth of spending into the Lawrence economy each year.
“As we continue to explore additional details about this project, I think we continue to be very encouraged,” said City Manager David Corliss. “The consultants can point to some pretty positive economic activity associated with the facility.”
The facility also is growing larger. The new documents detail the proposed facility has grown from about 172,000 square feet about a week ago to about 181,000 square feet currently.
Corliss said the new space is being devoted to additional indoor turf fields that can accommodate indoor soccer leagues.
“We think there will be quite a bit of demand for that,” Corliss said.
The new report was done by Convention Sports and Leisure International and attempts to estimate the economic impact if the city and KU proceed with plans to build a new sports complex at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The report makes several projections, including:
l More than $6.3 million would be spent each year by visitors of the sports complex, ranging from new hotel bookings to restaurant purchases and gasoline sales. Using a common “economic multiplier,” the consults project the spending from the recreation center will generate another $3 million of indirect spending in the community, bringing the total annual economic impact of the facility to about $9.2 million.
l The report projects the facility will host about 34 tournaments a year, and about 25 ticketed events, such as KU soccer and track and field events.
l Projections call for about 355,000 people a year to use both the fieldhouse and KU’s outdoor facilities. The report estimates about 20 percent of those visitors will need overnight lodging, creating about 9,500 new room nights annually for the city’s hotel industry.
l The report notes the project will not directly pay for itself. The report estimates that direct spending generated by the recreation center will add about $8 million in new hotel guest taxes and sales taxes to the city’s coffers over a 30 year period. As currently proposed, the city will pay $24 million for the facility over a 20 year period.
But Corliss said the city-commissioned study does not attempt to estimate new tax revenue that would be generated by additional retail development that is expected to occur on the property near the recreation complex.
City officials have released a new memo that estimates about 180,000 square feet of retail development could be housed on the approximately 130 acres that are adjacent to the complex.
The city memo envisions a mix of restaurants, convenience stores and at least two larger retailers of about 65,000 square feet apiece.
The new report also begins to shed some light on how much it may cost to operate the new facility. The hired consultants estimate the total complex — both the city and KU portions — would cost about $2.2 million a year to operate . The report projects the facility would generate roughly enough money through fees, concession sales, event advertising and other revenue to cover its costs.
Corliss, however, has developed his own estimate for operating the city-owned fieldhouse and is projecting fewer expenses but also less revenue.
Corliss and his staff estimate the fieldhouse will have about $960,000 in operating expenses. Those estimates include funding for nine full-time employees at the center and about 15 part-time employees. Corliss is estimating the fieldhouse will generate about $615,000 a year in revenue. Corliss is proposing to cover the approximately $350,000 a year shortfall through money that is generated by an already approved sales tax that funds several recreation projects.
City officials, though, said the operational expenses of the project may need more study. Johnson County Parks and Recreation, for instance, spends about $1 million a year to run its New Century Fieldhouse, which is less than half the size of the proposed Lawrence fieldhouse.
“We can’t be 100 percent certain on our operating expenses, but that is one area that can produce some variables, so we want to really look into that,” said City Commissioner Hugh Carter.
The proposed project, though, has good support on the City Commission. Mayor Bob Schumm and City Commissioner Mike Dever have both been deeply involved in negotiations with developers Duane and Steve Schwada, who are proposing to donate the 50 acres of ground the facility would sit upon, and with Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel, who is working with KU on the outdoor components.
On Friday, Carter said he also is very supportive of the project. He said the new economic estimates are another reason to support the project, but not the main reason the community should get behind the idea.
“The main reason we need to be doing this is to meet the recreation needs of our community,” Carter said. “That’s the main reason we are building this. The tournaments and visitors we can attract will be gravy for the community.”
City commissioners will receive a variety of briefings on the recreation center project at their Aug. 7 meeting, but they are not scheduled to take any formal votes related to zoning or financial commitments towards the project.