For the price of an air conditioner, Lawrence can accomplish about everything it proposes to do with the Schwada-Fritzel “sports village.”
At the initial sports village promotional meeting, Bob Sanner of the Lawrence Sports Corporation said that his main basketball tournament problem was the summer season because KU’s Robinson Center wasn’t air-conditioned.
With that inexpensive fix, Lawrence can offer the tournament world eight basketball courts (two at Robinson, six at Ambler) within the shadow of fabled Allen Fieldhouse. Need more courts? Use the recreation centers’ six courts and another dozen or so at Haskell and the public schools.
If you can’t sell tournaments with an offering like that, then you’re in the wrong business.
Whether you buy an air conditioner or build a sports village, NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199 may be a problem. KU can’t host tournaments where prospective boy-basketball-recruits participate “on its campus or at an off-campus facility regularly used by the institution for practice and/or competition by any of the institution’s sport programs.”
It’s a transparent “fig leaf” to argue that KU isn’t “hosting” tournaments ostensibly sponsored by others, whether on campus or at the sports village, given the fact that:
• The June 19 letter from a city-hired consulting firm says, “It is our understanding that the City of Lawrence is contemplating a public-private partnership to develop a youth sports complex with potential partners including the City, the University of Kansas, the Assists Foundation (Bill and Cindy Self) and others.”
• The city manager says, “We think the fact Lawrence and college basketball are thought of together by so many people across the country will be a marketing advantage.” (Journal-World, Aug. 3)
• Roger Morningstar, former KU star and tournament expert, says, for the sports village to succeed “you have to have a tremendous amount of cooperation among the organizations that may use it. I think that is what makes Lawrence’s proposal unique. The city and the university could really work together to make this something more than a place with just a few gyms.” (Journal-World, Aug. 3)
Since the Schwada-Fritzel scheme isn’t necessary, the real quandary is what to do with all of that extra sales tax/infrastructure money. Here are some ideas (in no particular order of preference):
l Repeal all or most of the 1994 voter-approved sales tax and reduce local sales taxes. (Lawrence presently has the highest sales tax rate of any of the “old” Big 12 cities and one of the highest in Kansas. Purchases in the sports village and adjoining commercial space would have a sales tax rate of nearly 11 percent.)
• Use the sales tax money to eliminate the need for a city property tax mill levy increase.
• Use it to hire additional police officers. The 2010 Benchmark City Survey, which included Lawrence and 27 other cities, ranked Lawrence second highest in rates of crime. (Is it more important to be No. 1 in crime or in basketball courts?)
• Use it to build an actual recreation center with two full-size courts and a walking track on the 37 acres the city already owns next to Free State High School. (It is more centrally located. It doesn’t require $6 million-plus in infrastructure improvements. It is far more consistent with the promised use of the 1994 sales tax, i.e. for parks and recreation projects and not economic development. It allows the Schwada property way out west to develop as non-subsidized market forces dictate.)
• Build a recreation center for northwest Lawrence, but also add a second full-size court to the Holcom and East Lawrence centers. (This provides equitable and conveniently located space throughout Lawrence. KU can locate its track south of the fieldhouse as previously proposed. Keeps it close to the Horejsi Center, which allows it to make use of adequate, existing parking for the KU Relays. Maybe even throw in flush toilets for the baseball stadium.)
Instead of just suiting up for whichever team currently fields the most energetic cheerleaders, the city ought to think things through — especially now when scarce tax dollars are needed for a $40 million law enforcement center, $50 million sewage plant, and a school bond issue.
In addition, the Brownback tax cuts are projected to significantly increase local sales and property taxes.
As near as I can tell, there really has been no objective effort to compare the sports village to far less-expensive options, or to rank it in importance against other important projects. Instead, the city has paid for a report confirming what it has apparently already decided to do.