Archive for Thursday, August 16, 2012

Town Talk: Rumblings of a major youth fieldhouse proposal for The Legends in Wyandotte County; new numbers about Lawrence recreation center operating costs

August 16, 2012


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News and notes from around town:

• If the Lawrence leaders who are looking to build a new $24 million youth fieldhouse/sports complex are hearing footsteps these days, they very well may be coming from Wyandotte County.

There’s new information out there that suggests an effort is under way to build a major youth fieldhouse and outdoor soccer complex as part of The Legends shopping district in Western Wyandotte County.

The information I have is still a bit sketchy, but a big thanks to an alert Town Talk reader who clued me into it. The reader said she recently attended a major youth basketball tournament in Wichita, and listened to a presentation from a group called Journey Sports, which is proposing to build the Next Level Sports Pavilion and Fitness Center in The Legends development.

Indeed, if you start searching, there is some information online about the effort. It appears the leader of Journey Sports is involved with the Kansas City-based Next Level youth basketball team, which I understand competes in youth tournaments across the region.

But it appears the real serious money in this effort comes from the Sporting KC professional soccer club and the Cerner Corp. Sporting KC, of course, has its stadium in The Legends at Village West development, and Cerner is building its headquarters in the development. It appears as part of those deals, Cerner/Sporting KC reached an agreement with Wyandotte County to build a large outdoor youth tournament soccer complex in Wyandotte County.

I believe the Next Level folks have approached the Cerner/Sporting KC officials about rethinking those plans. Next Level officials are instead proposing to build a large indoor youth fieldhouse with a smaller outdoor soccer component.

I never found any detailed plans online for the Next Level Sports Pavilion. But the reader who heard the presentation said it was presented as similar in size or slightly larger than the Lawrence proposal. She said it was planned to have about 16 basketball/volleyball courts, plus it was promoted as having a special tarp that could be pulled over the floor to make it a functioning convention center. (We haven’t heard that component yet in Lawrence.)

The stuff I read online is that the Cerner/Sporting KC folks expressed an interest in the project. But that’s coming from the Journey folks, so take all of this with a grain of salt. I can’t say with any certainty where this project stands in Wyandotte County. It may turn out to be much ado about nothing. But I now have some contact information and will start asking a few more questions.

But the idea of such a development happening in Wyandotte County wouldn’t shock me. When I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago about potential competition for Lawrence, a Johnson County Parks and Recreation leader said she was aware that other communities have ideas on the drawing board.

“I hear rumblings of other projects in the Kansas City area,” Jill Geller, superintendent of recreation for Johnson County Parks and Recreation, told me earlier this month. “If everything that is dreamed of being built gets built, we absolutely could be oversaturated.”

I don’t think Lawrence officials have much, if any, idea about the Wyandotte County rumblings. I know one city commissioner who has been deeply involved in the negotiations for building a new youth fieldhouse was not aware until just recently of the Wyandotte County talk.

I’m not sure any of this will change the minds of a majority of city commissioners, who thus far have been pretty enthusiastic about the idea of a youth fieldhouse/sports complex at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

One comment I heard from a city official is that the Wyandotte County talk may just further prove that there really is a demand for a large youth sports center that could attract regional and national youth tournaments. Plus, it was noted, that the planning for a Lawrence project appears to be ahead of any other project in the region.

That almost certainly is true. It is possible the City Commission could approve the zoning and other key planning issues needed for this project to move forward by the end of this month.

But where Lawrence is not ahead of the game is in the hotel space and amenities that would be adjacent to this center. The Legends development — which, in case you live underneath a rock, is next to the Kansas Speedway — is one of the more robust retail developments in the entire Midwest.

Of course, Lawrence has something going for it as well: Kansas University and an unrivaled place in basketball history. It sure appears the future success of this project will hinge on how well leaders can leverage KU’s attributes and the community’s basketball heritage.

To this point, KU has not talked very publicly about just how involved it is going to be in making this project a success. We’ll see if that starts to change as the competition starts to heat up.

• As I was nosing around the Internet about this Wyandotte County talk, I couldn’t help but notice the folks behind the Next Level Sports Pavilion and Fitness Center were pointing to the same place Lawrence officials once did when citing a model for this project: Frisco, Texas.

That’s the home of Fieldhouse USA, a large indoor youth tournament center in the suburbs of Dallas. I tried to take a look at Fieldhouse USA’s operations for the article I wrote earlier this month.

But I have to say, the folks in Frisco were difficult to work with. For several days I tried to get leaders at Fieldhouse USA to call me back. That was never successful. Leaders at the city of Frisco, which actually owns the building, gave me some basic information, but referred me to the private company that operates the fieldhouse for most of the detailed stuff I was looking for.

Fortunately, I did find an article by a Dallas business journal that noted the private operating group had fallen about $1 million behind in its lease payments to Frisco and had to restructure its lease.

That’s really neither here nor there for the Lawrence project because the city will be the one making lease payments to a private group — a development led by businessman Thomas Fritzel — who will own the building for the first 20 years.

But I still thought it was interesting because I think the reason the Fieldhouse USA project got behind in its payments is because it had greater operating expenses than it originally projected. (I don’t know for certain because they never called me back.)

Lawrence city officials currently are trying to figure out what their annual operating expenses may be for a new 181,000 square-foot fieldhouse/recreation center.

The latest estimate is about $964,000 a year to operate the center (That obviously doesn’t include the $1.2 million per year lease payment the city will make nor any of the infrastructure costs needed to get make the site ready to support a recreation center.)

That calculates out to $5.32 per square foot to operate the center. I had noted to city officials earlier that the projected operating costs seemed quite a bit less than what some other centers had shared with me, most notably the New Century Fieldhouse operated by Johnson County Parks and Recreation.

That center in Gardner has an operating budget of about $1 million a year but is less than half the size of the proposed Lawrence facility and is open far fewer hours a week than the Lawrence facility would be.

City officials are now noting that the difference may be in how the two organizations account for cost. It appears the Johnson County budget includes all costs related to programming — such as basketball leagues and classes — that are hosted in the center.

Lawrence puts those costs in another part of the city’s recreation budget and doesn’t necessarily count them as operating costs of a building. So, to see the true amount of money that would be added to the city’s budget as a result of this new center, it appears you need to add those numbers onto the $964,000 worth of operating costs. The city, of course, hopes most of those programming costs for leagues and such are recouped through fees charged to participate in leagues and classes. I’m not sure those increased programming numbers are available yet.

Anyway, the city did put together a neat chart that shows how the operating costs of the proposed Lawrence fieldhouse would stack up to other facilities in Lawrence and the area. You will need to keep the above caveat in mind, but make what you will of it.

— Proposed fieldhouse/recreation center: $963,496 or $5.32 per square foot.

— Holcom Park Recreation Center: $164,242 or $8.56 per square foot.

— East Lawrence Recreation Center: $154,258 or $8.34 per square foot.

— Community Building: $177,747 or $5.08 per square foot.

— Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center: $965,000 or $18.21 per square foot.

— New Century Fieldhouse: $1,168,789 or $13.28 per square foot.

— Ambler Recreation Center at KU: $1,624,000 or $11.34 per square foot.

Currently, the city is estimating operating expenses at the proposed fieldhouse/recreation center may exceed revenues by about $300,000 per year.


GUMnNUTS 5 years, 8 months ago


When is White House Black Market opening in the 700 block of mass?

irvan moore 5 years, 8 months ago

why in the world would anyone (city commission) think that a rec mecca in the legends and next to a race track, casino, shopping, hotels and restaurants would be able to compete with a rec center in the middle of a field west of lawrence

pizzapete 5 years, 8 months ago

Beatnik, I agree. There is no way that the proposed Lawrence recreation center will ever be able to compete with the KC sports complex. The advantages that Kansas City has over Lawrence are many. The Kansas City complex, for example, has a major airport and highway system, hotels, entertainment district, race track, existing retail, and a huge population to draw from already in place. Let's face the facts, when a soccer tournament is trying to decide where to host their next tournament somewhere in our area the choice is not going to be Lawrence.

fu7il3 5 years, 8 months ago

If they are building one in Legends, they might as well kill the project here. There is no way Lawrence can compete. It will turn into a financial drain that hosts city league volleyball on Wednesday nights.

John Hamm 5 years, 8 months ago

"Of course, Lawrence has something going for it as well: Kansas University and an unrivaled place in basketball history." Ain't gonna be enough to beat out The Legends. Build it here - they'll still go there. Look at what's there and in nearby KC (Ks & Mo). Hotels, Motels, Entertainment (including casinos - which Larryville decided was beneath our dignity) and anything else children and adults may be looking to do.

gatekeeper 5 years, 8 months ago

Lawrence has always been a bedroom community and always will be. We're too close to KC. We're a college town.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 8 months ago

If the city wants this Rec center to work, it should be somewhere near downtown, like the proposed riverfront development. That would bring outside visitors to downtown and help all the businesses downtown. Then when it shows a loss, at least the city is regaining some of those losses with taxes from downtown spending and a stronger downtown retail market. Obviously you couldn't fit the track and soccer complex, but let KU worry about that, not the city.

We will not be able to compete with the Legends by building in field outside of town.

TruthSayer 5 years, 8 months ago

Gotland, you are a twerp. It took an outsider, like Tony Krinsch, to revitalize an old East Lawrence building (the Poehler Lofts) and turn it into a state of the art, energy efficient, affordable, piece of property. Unfortunately, Lawrence developers are a bunch of anal retentive snobs that don't know how to visualize beyond their rob-the citizens-with-questionable-development-schemes way of thinking.This SCAM is the Fritzels wanting to sell a bunch of their cow pasture to the city and make us lease it from them for a million a year. Why don't the Fritzels build it themselves and operate it themselves if they think it is such a good idea? After all, the Wyandotte plan is by private investors, not the city. If this goes through I am going to call the State Attorney General's office and ask them to dig real hard into the financial records of all city commissioners and those in the city planning office to find out who is getting the kick backs from this debacle!!!!

deec 5 years, 8 months ago

The KCK facility will have plenty of public money thrown at it before it gets built. That whole area was built on the backs of local and state taxpayers. Tax abatements, free land, TIFs, subsidized water rates, and super-special secret extra sales taxes paid for it all, not to mention using eminent domain to condemn private homes so the land could be given to the developers.

Cathy Tarr 5 years, 8 months ago

and KCK got rich off of it. It put KCK on the map again and the taxes alone apy for itself many times over

Matt Schwartz 5 years, 8 months ago

Is it the Fritzels land or Schwada's land...what sort of truth are you spittin'?

Patricia Davis 5 years, 8 months ago

I so agree with you oneeye. This is about opening pandora's box to the west pure and simple. This rest is just a game played on us. It's called OPM (other people's money).

pizzapete 5 years, 8 months ago

Chad, thanks for giving us a better idea of the true costs associated with this project. It seems to me that the city is giving us the lowest of the projected costs and leaving out some of the costs entirely. While the city is projecting the costs to be around $5 a square foot, I imagine the true cost would probably be closer to the $10 a square foot cited here by other similar sized facilities. We all know that the ultimate cost to operate and maintain a business are often far greater than what we initially expect.

This cost analysis by the city reminds me of the recent $34 oil change that I got for my car. Sure, the oil change was $34, but the ultimate cost ended up being around $100. I had to ask the attendant why I was being charged so much more than the advertised price. He reminded me that the oil I used was more expensive, my car used more oil than the advertised price, and there was a light that needed replacing. So, while I had budgeted for $50 in maintenance for my car, the cost ended up being twice as much as I expected. When the bill for this project ends up being twice as much as was projected, who is going to pay the difference? If the operational and maintenance costs to the city are twice as much as expected, is this still a viable project?

pizzapete 5 years, 8 months ago

True, but the point is, we all may be paying a far greater cost than the advertised price the city is giving us.

gatekeeper 5 years, 8 months ago

You need to go to Jake's in N. Lawrence. He'll never do you wrong and will always be up front about any charges.

blindrabbit 5 years, 8 months ago

The giddy headed group pushing the Lawrence Rec. Center need to leave the sweet vanilla smell alone for awhile and let some reality sink in. This entire project needs to be fully researched out as to a whole range of issues and stop following tthe pied piper. In reality, the Legends site makes a lot more sense to me for many reasons.

Steve Jacob 5 years, 8 months ago

While I bet we have a two year head start, with two equal field houses, the Legends is such a better draw then Lawrence.

blindrabbit 5 years, 8 months ago

TruthSayer: The Lawrence City Commissioners would never be involved with accepting kickbacks or showing favoritism for any project that came before them, how you blespheme! Wait a minute my lightbulb just flickered on, do I remember a couple of commissioners having something to do with ownership shares and voting on Dicephera approvals, etc. Maybe you were right after all.

blindrabbit 5 years, 8 months ago

srj: Two year headstart you say, if The Legends decides to build, it will be up by the end of the year. Agree, that location makes a lot more sense than a cow pasture outside of Lawrence. Just sayin!

werekoala 5 years, 8 months ago

At this point, the damn thing is a white elephant, but the fix is in. screw it, since they have got the gun to our head, why don't we just scrap the rec center charade and just run city services & utilities out to the new subdivision for free?

We would save millions in the long run to just give 'ol boy what he wanted.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

Tune in next Tuesday as the first 3 regular agenda items = Tax increasing Rec Center:

And there might be a protest petition presented?

6:35 PM Channel 25

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

Let the taxpaying voters decide if this is how they want sales tax dollars spent that were approved in 1994 and are NOT necessarily dedicated to such projects.

This money could be spent funding the new library project thus eliminating that new tax

This money could be spent eliminating USD 497 portable buildings and to help fund the badly need rehab of our taxpayer owned elementary school buildings that have been neglected by previous board members.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

Do the pros outweigh the cons of the new proposed sports complex? The answer appears to be no. (Taxpayers are on the hook for the more than $20 million USD 497 sports project as we speak).

It is time in my estimation to revisit this 1994 sales tax and ask voters how elected officials should be spending this money. For any group of politicians to believe that voters blindly trust politicians with their tax dollars is not real and hasn't been for at least 50 years.

Bring the voting taxpayers back into the process after all we are the largest group of stakeholders in Lawrence,Kansas.

This project will need a very large advertising budget.

However there is nothing stopping them from putting this matter on the upcoming ballot in April which I believe is the ethical approach.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

— Proposed fieldhouse/recreation center: $963,496 or $5.32 per square foot.

Where is the $1.2 million rent? Are we cooking the books? It seems that brings it to $10.64 per square ft.

Moving those numbers around can make just about any project seem like a bowl of cherries.

average 5 years, 8 months ago

Why would any 'national' any event want to be over an hour from a commercial airport? Even a 'regional'... most of the youth in the region are in, get this, Greater Kansas City.

Plus, a Village West proposal would have several youth soccer fields in its plan. The Lawrence white elephant? The two outdoor fields are KU's for track and field. And our 'generous donor' developer only wants to give the difficult-to-market back 35 acres of his 150 acre plot... not enough room for additional outdoor sporting. Because sewers, a stoplight, and all the other costs of incorporation make the rest of the parcel developable. But, I'm sure one of the ol' boys will sell us more out-of-the-way farmland for the right price if PLAY decides they need a soccer complex to 'compete').

Evan Ridenour 5 years, 8 months ago

The new head of Sporting KC's community outreach was telling me the details of the organizations new soccer complex just last week. It isn't something that might happen... it is already happening NOW. It is asinine to think that a Lawrence complex could compete with one placed at the Legends. More direct access to MCI, more restaurants, more hotel rooms, better access to KC area attractions, and most importantly... the facilities will be MUCH larger and MUCH better!

He didn't mention anything about basketball courts or turning it into a larger integrated complex for multiple sports but it wouldn't surprise me if that occurred. The infrastructure is already in place out there, it would make a lot of sense to expand the complex beyond soccer.

I am all for another Lawrence recreation center but before we spend tens of millions of tax dollars on a complex that exceeds our communities needs (this also applies to the Library expansion) we need to look at REALITY and properly account for the true cost of the complex to the taxpayers. From all accounts the true cost of this thing is several times greater than has been communicated to the public by officials and the planned revenue stream from holding events was suspect to start with and at this point is borderline irrational.

blindrabbit 5 years, 8 months ago

This expose' and attached reader blogs will no-doubt cause some squirming by The Rec. Center Deciders (a favorite term of Dubya #43). Hopefully, there is still time to rationally investigate the potential and the realities of this project and it's need and impact of the City's budget and financing. My guess is, that Rec. Center Deciders have already drank too much kool-aid, made too many committments and have become adicted, a hard habit to break!

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 8 months ago

I have been for the Rec Center since the beginning but I agree the city should put the brakes on and do some fact finding on what the Legends/Sporting KC group have planned. We need to make sure what we are doing is different because we cannot compete with them.

Brad Watson 5 years, 8 months ago

Walt Shublum David Verser...Pierre Russell ..Brad Watson...Lucius Allen...Moe Werner...the greats of WYCO..Harold Ogden....Coach Ogden was a true great...Frank Bingham...another great

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