Subscribe to the email edition of Town Talk and we'll deliver you the latest city news and notes every weekday at noon.
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.