Archive for Friday, December 7, 2012

Amyx asks City Commission to weigh recreation center against other city priorities, projects

December 7, 2012


Here’s a hypothetical that is drawing some discussion among those who follow Lawrence City Hall: Commissioners build a $25 million recreation center in northwest Lawrence, and successfully do so without raising anyone’s taxes.

But then, a few years later, city leaders go to the public and say the city is in desperate need of a new police headquarters facility, and taxes will have to be raised for the project, which has been estimated to cost between $20 million and $30 million.

If that day ever comes, Lawrence City Commissioner Mike Amyx isn’t sure how Lawrence residents will react. Amyx last week said he hopes his fellow city commissioners will take another look at whether a proposed $25 million recreation center should be the city’s top project at the moment.

“Before we sign the final papers on this project, let’s make sure we have our priorities exactly where we want them to be,” Amyx said. “We have a lot of projects coming up, and I don’t think we can afford to do a number of these at the same time and still say that the city is affordable.”

Amyx, however, is likely in the minority on the commission. City Commissioner Hugh Carter said he thinks it is inappropriate to pit the need for a recreation center against the need for a police headquarters facility.

Carter said leaders in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department have documented the need for additional gym and recreation center space for more than a decade. And now, the city has a funding source for the project as the city is paying off debt related to the city’s Indoor Aquatic Center and the Community Health Building.

Carter said when voters approved that countywide sales tax in 1994, there was an expectation a recreation center would be one of the projects it funds. Now with Kansas University officials offering to make the recreation center part of a bigger university sports park in northwest Lawrence, the timing will never be better.

“I think if we went to a public vote on this, it would be well supported again,” Carter said. “But I don’t feel the need to do that because we already have.”

The ballot language placed an emphasis on recreation projects, but it also was intentionally written in a way to allow the money to be used for any governmental purpose.

Amyx said that he recognizes the spirit of the ballot language, but he also noted it was 18 years ago that the vote was taken.

“It is possible priorities may have changed somewhat,” Amyx said.

Police needs

The idea that the city may come knocking on the public’s door about a new police headquarters building is not totally hypothetical.

City staff members brought forward a proposal during last summer’s budget study session, including a city-hired consultant who recommended a new 40,000- to 50,000-square-foot headquarters building that likely would cost up to $29 million to build.

Police officials say the two buildings they currently operate out of are outdated and too small, and splitting the force creates numerous inefficiencies.

Commissioners didn’t reject the need for a new police facility, but they also didn’t take any steps forward on the project. Carter has been the commission’s strongest proponent for a new facility, and he said the community ought to be thinking about how it can do both a recreation center and a police facility.

“I don’t think we should view this as choosing one over the other,” Carter said.

Carter said he thinks a new sales tax would be the fairest way to pay for a police facility, since a sales tax would capture money from visitors and KU students who require services from the department. Amyx said he thinks a property tax would be the more likely way a police facility would be paid for.

City Commissioner Mike Dever has been one of the strongest proponents for a new recreation center — currently proposed to be 181,000 square feet with eight gyms and several other amenities.

He, too, said talk of a new police facility is likely. But he also said the timing of a new facility is very much uncertain. Whether a center is needed in two years or 10 years will make a lot of difference in regard to the financial impact it will have on the city’s budget.

“A police facility is a likelihood in the future,” Dever said. “The question is: What is it going to be like and when will the need reach the point that we can’t make do with what we have?”

Unique times

It is not often that the city gets to talk about building a $25 million project without having to raise taxes. But all the numbers indeed suggest that the city currently can undertake a remarkably large number of projects without raising taxes.

In addition to the recreation center project, the city has budgeted for $10 million worth of infrastructure improvements for a new industrial park at the former Farmland Industries site. The city projects it can cover those infrastructure costs without increasing taxes. The city also is projecting to spend $300,000 a year for the foreseeable future to subsidize the operation of the proposed recreation center. That subsidy also isn’t projected to require additional taxes.

All told, the city has upwards of $40 million it can invest in the community without asking for new taxes.

“This is one of the few times I’ve seen where we have paid off several items and have some real flexibility to look at re-investing it in projects,” Amyx said. “But I think that means we really need to look at what our top priority is.”

The city has a rare bit of financial flexibility, in part, because the city has largely held the line on city spending during the recession and is benefiting from historically low interest rates that make debt to governments cheap. The city is in a strong position to act quickly to add new debt because its bond and interest fund has accumulated a healthy fund balance. At the end of 2011, the city’s bond and interest fund had an unused balance of about $8.5 million.

“I don’t think the community is aware of the financial position we’re in,” Carter said. “The whole national conversation is about how people are overspending. We’re saying now is the right time to build something, and that takes guts.

"But we’re OK here. We really are. It is not doom and gloom.”

Building an attraction

Dever has been one of the voices of austerity over his last six years on the commission, but he said there are dangers if a community spends too little.

“I think it is possible that we have spent so much time trying to maintain the level of service without tax increases that we may not have focused enough on some of the amenities that make people want to live here and stay here,” Dever said. “We have been really lucky for a long time, but it is going to take a little more effort in the future to convince people to make Lawrence home.”

Dever thinks a recreation center could help on two fronts. It could be an attractive amenity for residents. But it also is being designed to serve as a center for regional and national youth sporting tournaments, which is one of the reasons commissioners have resisted decreasing the size of the facility.

The city is betting the center will attract a significant number of tournaments, which in turn will create new visitor spending in the city. But this is also the part of the project where city leaders have to trust their ability to read the demands of the marketplace.

Dever said he’s confident the city will fare well in attracting tournaments. He’s spent the last seven years traveling with his family to youth volleyball tournaments, and he said interest in a Lawrence facility would be strong in that sport. Dever also counts KU basketball coach Bill Self as a friend, and Dever said Self has said a new facility would position Lawrence well to be a major community for youth basketball tournaments.

“I’m convinced there is a need and a demand out there, and there is room to add tournaments in Lawrence without a lot of risk,” Dever said.

Carter is convinced, too, and believes the recreation center is a piece of a bigger puzzle that will help the city tackle future issues like a police facility.

“I’ve always said this project only makes sense if we stay laser-focused on economic development and growing jobs,” Carter said. “If we grow more jobs, that helps make a lot of these issues in the future easier to deal with.”


David Holroyd 5 years, 1 month ago

Personally, I do not believe Amyx. If he were serious he would mount a massive groundswell approach to fight the proposal. He will not do it. Sorry, but Mile is just blabbing knowing full well he can vote NO and look like the good guy.

bmoody51 5 years, 1 month ago

I do not believe it is any Commissioner's responsibility to "mount a massive groundswell approach" to anything. I believe the Commissioner is elected to represent the majority of the public, and quite frankly, from what I hear, that is exactly what Commissioner Amyx is doing. If you do not believe Commissioner Amyx, one-eye_wilbur, put your mug on the line and run for the Commission. You, apparently, know how to build all of our perceived needs without raising taxes. I would be interested in your plan.

Old_Oread_Phart 5 years, 1 month ago

If oneye_wilbur was serious about anything he would run for office.... oops he did, and he received less than one percent of the vote. Mickey Mouse gets more votes. All he can do now is bitc* on these LJW boards.

SouthernMan 5 years, 1 month ago

He's a friggin barber. He spends virtually every waking moment in his barber shop listening to the lowest common denominator whining and moaning about City Hall, being victimized by the almighty developers in this town. Any learned individual can see what he's doing here. He's playing to his audience. For votes. Seriously, where has he been the last six months? Has he not had the opportunity to raise concerns prior to filing for re-election? C'mon. This is so obvious. #JustSayin

fearsadness14 5 years, 1 month ago

i'm sorry you're from the south. Lowest common denominator? Really? Have you ever stepped foot into his shop, which has been open for over 50 years? There are all walks of life. I myself have been a loyal patron since moving to lawrence about 20 years ago. I have three degrees, own a business, and used to be a professor at a college up north. Am I the lowest common denominator?

Carol Bowen 5 years, 1 month ago

Go, Mike! At least one commissioner is listening.

Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 1 month ago

Yes, Mike, here is another vote for you.

I will be doing a series of blogs on Lawrence, Innovation, a broad-based Community College, and jobs later this month or in January. You are doing exactly the right thing - asking NOW, not later - because there are so many other things we could be doing with that money. There is no rush.

Many of the rest of the commissioners seem stuck in the past, including greed for money, and that won't work the way things are today. In a previous column, I quoted Commissioner Schumm's response to me, which I still have - "I don't read blogs in the Journal-World". Does he read the Journal-World at all? What does he really know about the people of Lawrence. Does he actually go out and speak to them? I don't think so. I think he listens mostly to the developers. Does he write a column, himself (not with a co-writer) for the Journal-World? Why not?

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

It would be naive to believe our commissioners brought to us by the chamber are unaware of what the population thinks. They simply play clever marketing that positions their projects as popular to all (a lie told often becomes truth?) and playing ignorant that there is opposition. We have and had some real gems for commissioners and they play their roles well for their buddies. "Opposition? What opposition, I don't see no stinkin opposition".

James Hardie 5 years, 1 month ago

Well here are my two cents on the subject of spending for the betterment of Lawrence residents, current and future....

Make room for private sector investment to grow and meet our community need for recreation. How to do this might be a simple as letting the YMCA operate a facility here as is such in Wichita, Topeka, etc.

Bob Forer 5 years, 1 month ago

Thanks Mike. Please stick by your guns. I like sports and recreation, but now is not the time. Citizen protection, however, should be a priority.

Keith 5 years, 1 month ago

“I think if we went to a public vote on this, it would be well supported again,” Carter said. “But I don’t feel the need to do that because we already have.”

What better way to test your theory than to actually put it to a vote.

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

Probably learn that in the "leadership lawrence" training.

patkindle 5 years, 1 month ago


Abdu Omar 5 years, 1 month ago

Wait a minute! If we host tourneys for kids from Eastern Kansas and surrounding areas to that, where are they going to stay? There are no hotels in that area and therefore they have to stay closer to Iowa street for a good rate. This project is not setting well with a lot of people and I, for one, think it is a bad idea. Let's ask the voters what they think, it is OUR money!

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

Ah, you must understand why this project is being created. Mercato project died with the economy and the free market chamber is working with the city to make sure our developers don't have to face the liabilities of their speculative investments. The saying could not be more true then it is here in Lawrence- socialize the costs, privative the profits.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 1 month ago

Here's an idea that would directly improve every neighborhood in the city, make our town an even more attractive place to retire to--even make it the most attractive city in the state--and address the city's need for helping everyone stay healthy in the same way a rec center would: use the same funds to construct a comprehensive, safe bicycle path system that will make it safe for bicyclists of every age to go wherever they want. It would not preclude the current crop of spandex cyclists from continuing to race around on the streets, but it would open up bicycling to more kids, to retirees and others who have chosen not to take their lives in their hands and bicycle on streets shared by texting drivers, drunks and speedsters. It would make a greener lifestyle possible wherever you live as well, so would appeal to that crowd, too.

I'd bet that every neighborhood could be made completely accessible to bicycle-friendly paths for the same amount of money as the new rec center, and the health benefits would be far greater. How 'bout a feasibility study, city?

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

Gosh but Lawrence is so busy and happening, can we really encourage people to slow down the cars? I mean only hick towns like Minneapolis, Mn do things like that and we know how backwards they are to hipster Lawrence.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 1 month ago

Minneapolis is a great place. There are bike trails that go all over the metro area along the old railroad beds, and many of the suburbs have expanded their sidewalks to wider asphalt paths that are bike and pedestrian-friendly. While this would be a challenge around downtown, it would certainly be doable in west and northwest Lawrence. Even North Lawrence has the levy trails.

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

They have also completely changed the way cars and bikes use the street. It is certainly doable in cities that really are progressive like those hick towns Minneapolis and Madison. Only problem in Lawrence is it gets cold here unlike, oh wait, nevermind.

Mike Myers 5 years, 1 month ago

That is the best idea I have ever heard. Please go to the commission with it. Perhaps they'll listen. At least to will be planting a seed!

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

This massive project is almost certainly not what folks were voting in favor of almost 20 years ago.

If you look at the existing rec centers, they're much smaller and neighborhood oriented.

Unfortunately, somehow they got people to vote for a never ending, and rather vague tax increase - I certainly hope that never happens again.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

And the contention that this sales tax was intended to fund a large complex such as this ignores that there have been several other major projects funded with this tax in the 18 years it's been in effect.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

Well, according to the vague wording, they can use it for a number of things.

I really don't know what voters at the time were thinking, approving such an increase. If I voted for a tax increase, I'd want it to be limited, not never ending, and specific in terms of how it's used.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

If I remember correctly, there was discussion of a large complex to be located at Centennial Park, but it faced a lot of opposition in the neighborhood because of the traffic it would generate in an area with a road system that couldn't handle it, and it would have dramatically reduced the amount of green space in the only sizable open park in that part of the city.

I agree. A sales tax of this sort with no sunset clause is a bad idea. The low-hanging fruit it creates is just too attractive to well-connected special interests looking to cash in on public monies.

Liberty275 5 years, 1 month ago

How about no new police headquarters and if you ask again we take half the building you have now and turn it into storage units? Do with what you have or maybe we should find someone else do it.

Also, no rec center. You already spent all we can afford on a library.

JustNoticed 5 years, 1 month ago

Yes, baby, I love it when you talk dirty.

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

Why do we need a new police facilities when we don't have enough police personal to do anything about the insane driving in this town? If motorist were disciplined in the skill of driving more people could walk and bike and we could get along without the megasportsplex. My God, what we allowed the school district to do is bad enough as they discover, oh we should have been fixing school buildings.

irvan moore 5 years, 1 month ago

this rec center is not for the community, it's going to be a marketing device and average kids and adults won't be able to use it, carter and dever have an agenda here and it's not going to benefit the children or taxpayers of lawrence. notice the great rush to push this through before elections in april? why not wait for the next commission to be seated and that will tell us a lot about how the community feels about this, a couple of months is not going to make a big difference on a project of this scope

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

Put it to a vote in the February (or April if there is no primary) city elections. That would also make it a major issue in the city commission campaign, which is precisely what it should be.

IBike100 5 years, 1 month ago

If this is a true Democracy-then put this rec center on the ballot!

Tony Kisner 5 years, 1 month ago

I foresee lots of aau basketball players from out of town while Lawrence tax payers sit on the sidelines. How many gyms are there in town when you count the schools? They are tax payer assets too.

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

Exactly, I'm sure the city would work with KUAC on zoning changes but why does the city need to be involved in building a rec center that will be in the middle of all the KU activities? KU should go it alone, they have plenty of funds, shoot I bet ol Bill Self could pitch in some of his money instead of just the money people donate to his "cause".

Why does a $1billion dollar endowment corporation need the people to pay for cleaning what will be their parking lot?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

I'm not convinced this rec. center is such a good thing. Then again, I'm not convinced it's bad either. I'm very much on the fence. But I am opposed to putting it to a vote because typically, these types of votes bring out very small turnouts. The last local election brought out something like 16% of the vote. With that type of turnout, I don't think anyone can legitimately state that they have a mandate from the people to do anything. At that point, I'd be just as happy having the city commissioners deciding, with we the voters then voicing our opinions with their election. That said, I could easily change my mind if I thought a special election would bring out a significantly higher percentage of the vote. Then I would support a special election. But I do have a question, one that maybe someone in this forum has an answer to. When the election was held 18 years ago, the one that passed this never ending tax that will be the source of the money for this program, what percentage of the people voted then and by how large a margin of victory did it pass? (I was not living in Lawrence at that time) Having an answer to that question will help me determine whether or not that election had the mandate that I suspect would be lacking with a special election. I thank you in advance.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

The commissioners you think should make this decision were elected by a similar turnout. I don't see how having them make the decision has any more legitimacy than having a referendum-- especially one that will coincide with a city commission election, which would likely increase voter turnout.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Well you're right, the commissioners were voted in with similarly small turnouts. So one is just as legitimate as the other. I agree. So why then spend the extra money to hold a special election that doesn't provide a more legitimate mandate. Now if you're suggesting that the election for the rec. center be done when an already scheduled election is to take place, that makes much more sense. In that case, there would be little extra cost, though if the turnout is again very small, no mandate either. All that said, do you know the answer to the question I asked about the election 18 years ago?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 1 month ago

The reason to have a referendum on this one issue is that it allows voters to give their opinion on that one issue. Elections for commissioners are rarely about one specific issue, and this issue didn't even exist in the last election, nor was the tax that they intend to use an issue.

I don't remember the answer to your question. I do remember that I voted against it because it was too broad in what the funds could be used for and had no sunset clause.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Curious that you would say that the election of commissioners are rarely about one specific issue. A few weeks ago, you argued that Obama's election was a referendum on a specific issue.

Generally, speaking, I would have thought the opposite would be true. Presidential elections might turn on broad policies, such as, the economy, foreign relations, support for abortion, or any number of other major issues. City commission elections might turn on something like a hotel at 9th. & N.H., a rec. center or the "T".

As I've said many times, I have no problem with having a vote if I felt the vote was meaningful. In my opinion, a 16% turnout does not rise to that level. Tell me that 40% will come to the polls and I'd be all for it.

patkindle 5 years, 1 month ago

if they put it to a vote , will will pass faster than a train passing a tramp............... we need another place the fat parents can take their fat kids, i hope they build a big mcdonalds nearby so they can stuff both thier faces

absolutelyridiculous 5 years, 1 month ago

Wow. A voice of reason. Thanks Mike.

Dever should abstain from any votes/discussion BECAUSE of his friendship with Self. That would be the only respectable thing to do.

Remember Marci Fransisco is also pitching a fit about lost revenue of $2 Million if sales tax on groceries is elminated. Time to put our money where our bleeding liberal hearts lie. We don't need to build this rec center on the backs of the poor.

Catalano 5 years, 1 month ago

No. Marci is not pitching a fit about lost revenue.... The CITY was pitching a fit. Marci supports the idea of removing sales tax from food and groceries. She just suggested some language for the city to add to make their request sound a little less mean-spirited to the poor.

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

If the city had followed Marci Fransisco's ideas the city wouldn't be in a mess where it has to chase every lame brain idea positioned by the developers.

xorobabel 5 years, 1 month ago

Thank you, Mike. I don't always agree with your stances, but you're definitely right on this. The location of this project is just odd.

keepingfingerscrossed 5 years, 1 month ago

We don't need a new recreation center. We need to vote on it. I don't think that the voting is fair. I know a lot of people did not want the city bus thing and it made it through the vote. I think what every the city wants the city push it through. even if the vote was not approved the city said it was. We would never know for sure.

jennifermyers 5 years, 1 month ago

Is Amyx the only commissioner that possesses common sense? A city needs to take care of its core services before any recreational needs are discussed. This includes water, trash, sewer, and Public Safety! If the proposed recreation center is going to be such a money maker for the city, why doesn't a private entity, i.e. Fritzel, make this a private investment on his part? This whole process smells like rotten eggs from the construction cost to the single source developer (Fritzel). We already have a $20+ million dollar library to pay for and we know we will have a new $30 million dollar police headquarters to pay for in the very near future, now is not the time to throw another $20 million at a new recreation center.

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

Don't forget the $80-100 million dollar sewer plant that has been put on hold.

Mark Currie 5 years, 1 month ago

I agree, lets put the rec center to a vote. In the day of tablets and E books, I still wonder why we are building a new/better library. I wouldn't mind a little more police protection too. I just moved back to Lawrence after living in the country for many years. Just in time to pay for all these expensive projects..... Are we a bottomless pit of taxpayers? Who knows, maybe I don't have a clue.....

chootspa 5 years, 1 month ago

In the day of tablets and e-books, you can still read printed books. I heard they even have - get this - an entire section of books just for children. Also, you can check out e-books from the library.

Old_Oread_Phart 5 years, 1 month ago

Wilbur: do you have the ability to convince anybody else to your opinion? Heck no. That is why you post on this blog....sometimes from the very city library terminals you complain so much about about. Why not clean up your own Oread neighborhood you complain so much about of which you are an elected official? Maybe starting on Louisiana Street|?

average 5 years, 1 month ago

It can't go for a vote because they don't know how it will go. It has to happen NOW NOW NOW because this is the last kill they can get in before the Brownback cuts take their heavy toll.

But, the no-bid contract with our local good-ol-boys who have never built anything like this rec center. That takes the cake. The city would have to take bids. KU would have to take bids. But, if those entities can say "gee if a private concern would build something like X, Y, and Z at exactly these coordinates, we'll promise to buy it as an 'existing building'... oh and we'll guarantee his loans", why do even bother HAVING bidding rules?

Clara Westphal 5 years, 1 month ago

Channel 6 interviewed the head of utilities and she said the water holding tanks need to be replaced soon. That is a necessary item costing several million. A rec center is a want, not a need.

Thank you Mr. Amyx. It is good one of our commissioners can see the 'smoke and mirrors' of this plan for a rec center.

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

This version of the rec center will end up like the outlet mall faze in the 90's and look where that left us.

Rick Hird 5 years, 1 month ago

Nobody knows what the "deal" is with Thomas Fritzell's Bliss Sports, LC. Not the Commissioners. Not the public. Until those questions are answered, how can they possibly consider approving this project?

Joe Hyde 5 years, 1 month ago

I doubt whether the countywide tax ballot approved by voters in 1994 contains any language that legally holds Douglas County taxpayers hostage to facility construction plans that preclude open solicitation for bids -- the conventional method municipal governments use when selecting contractors?

If the cost of this proposed facility gets forced upon us without a public referendum, if it gets built based on a secret no-bid contract controlled by KU Endowment Assn., it gives KUEA the green light to begin buying up all manner of land and property surrounding Lawrence, after which KUEA will dictate terms to the taxpayers of Lawrence and Douglas County.

werekoala 5 years, 1 month ago

No purchase takes place in a vacuum. No matter how great of a deal I might be getting on some Porsche (Sign and drive today! No payments or interest for 6 months!); if my kids need braces and my house needs a new furnace, it's still not a responsible purchase.

Off-hand I can think of several other important projects that the City will need to purchase in the next decade or so: new Police Station; new fire station @ 6th St & the Bypass; upgrades to water treatment facilities, street/road repairs; water line/sewer repairs; running infrastructure to new developments; etc etc etc. Quality-of-life improvements are important, but not more important than basic government services.

If I were a city commissioner, I would really be pushing for developing an estimate of big-ticket expenses over the next two decades before committing to this purchase. That's OUR money they are playing with; I'd like to see them doing so responsibly.

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

Funny it took the feds to figure out the athletic department was corrupt, where was the JW? And now we have 1. The school district played along with allowing the TIF for the eyesore building on the hill and then a mysterious donation to the sports complex is made which pushes the crazy keeping up with the Jones between the high schools.

  1. The Varsity house is chopped to pieces under the watch of the city in violation of the spirit of the agreement to allow one more Fritzel eyesore into the Oread neighborhood which is fixed by Fritzel offering a tax deductible write off which he wanted control over its use on the night he the city votes on the sportsmegaplex!

  2. A donation from a family member to endowment that only allows Fritzel to build the sports center that takes money from the city and controls the Self donors funds as well and the commissioners loyally push it through as though there is a pressing need to get the track out of Memorial stadium because there isn't enough seating and refuses to even consider putting it on the ballot?

Think this sums up the real investigative reporting at the JW

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

Besides all the tax payer funds going to this is the donor for the project writing off his donation on his taxes? Isn't this getting rather silly tax that we are allowing the 2% to give their money as a tax write off to support the non-educational sports industry that has enough money to create millionaire coaches and ADs.

Phil Minkin 5 years, 1 month ago

This rec center may or may not be a good idea, but it's a good idea to have a skeptical commissioner to voice concerns so the project doesn't take on a life of its own and go too far along to be stopped. Remember the rush by the commission (including Amyx) to build the Mall that would have ruined downtown.

werekoala 5 years, 1 month ago

Apologizing in advance for the wall of text, this project is a very, very bad idea, for the following reasons:

1) We don't get to pick the contractor, or even put it out for bid, to ensure we are getting a good deal. The only reason we think this project is worth $30 million is because the guy who is trying to sell it to us says it is. But he's willing to settle for only $25 million. What a deal, right? Has no one on the city commission ever haggled in a third-world marketplace? If someone says “take it or leave it” – walk away –they’re going to screw you over. The City Commissioners are so busy tripping over themselves to agree to it, I don’t even see anyone TRYING to negotiate prices and terms.

2) After buying a pig in a poke, we are stuck with whatever Fritzell deigns to give us. If you've ever built ANYTHING, you know that nothing gets built completely accurately the first time - that's what the walk-through and punch lists are for. But the shady way this project is being rammed through means that since we aren't the initial purchasers, we don't have that ability. We've already committed to buying whatever they end up building. So we had better set aside money to cover fixing whatever shortcuts he and his subcontractors end up taking.

3) All of the incentives on this project are backwards - you couldn't design something more likely to deliver a shoddy, unreliable product. Fritzell doesn't get paid until he hands it over. So every extra day spent on the project costs him money and eats into his profit. Especially when he has a GUARANTEED buyer, and that buyer (us) has to pay for any problems that come from cutting corners. I guess we're just going to trust the better angels of his nature to keep him honest. I mean, it's not like he has a history with the City (cough Varsity House cough) of cutting corners on projects. Plan on it being built with 1-day-cured concrete, 1x4s, and Chinese drywall that seeps formaldehye.

4) Relatively little discussion has focused on the ongoing costs of the project. As soon as the City takes possession, Fitzell and KU can walk away whistling. Meanwhile, we’re the on the hook for all of the lifetime maintenance costs, and the staffing costs. This is expected to exceed the rest of the Parks & Rec budget combined - over a million dollars each year! I'm afraid this is going to end up exactly like Eagle Bend: a giant white elephant that loses money every year; but we can’t close because we would lose even MORE money if we did.

werekoala 5 years, 1 month ago

5) Finally, if we're going to spend tens of millions of dollars on this project, it would be nice if we, the people, could actually USE the damn thing. But if you look at how they're describing it in the paper, etc, a lot of the facility will be KU's property. We hope or assume that KU will (in its benevolence) allow us to use it when they are not. Yeah, right. KU doesn't like us commoners getting our grubby little hands on their stuff. And while the CC might pitch a small fit, what are we gonna do? We’ve got no power over them, per the terms of this arrangement.

6) It would be ILLEGAL for Lawrence to get the facility, except for some financial legerdemain. I'm sure City Commissioners feel like they're running with the big dogs, but every poker game needs a sucker--we're it. One of the best signs of a swindle is when they sell you the same solution for every problem. It used to be all that we needed this big of a facility to attract some mythical out-of-town youth tournaments. But when Chad Lawhorn (great job, btw!) pressed the City on the math, they backed away from that angle. Funny how we, the citizens suddenly needed the exact same facility just for our use, isn't it?

7) If we do need a rec center in NW Lawrence, we've been going about it completely bassackward. I don't know if the right palms have been greased or if our City Commissioners are just caught up in short-sighted groupthink. But we're like the guy who walks onto a car lot to buy a Corolla and drives away in a Mercedes – don’t get talked into buying more than you can afford. Define your needs, then your budget, and ONLY THEN start looking for solutions. Instead, we've gotten our hearts set on one particular solution and tried to shoehorn it into different justifications. That's how you wind up broke - just ask my sister-in-law.

8) The biggest proof that this is just a bad idea is that no one wants to have it come up for public consideration. Lawrence voters are not averse to approving things: the T, the library, street repairs, fire trucks, etc. But somehow we don't need a vote on something that is TEN TIMES MORE EXPENSIVE? Some sales tax vote from two decades ago means that voters approved this facility? You should feel bad for saying something so disingenuous in public. There’s an election in April - if this project is such a good idea, put it on the ballot. If voters approve it, I will shut up. But if you’re scared to let it come to a vote -- what does that say about you, and the project?

irvan moore 5 years, 1 month ago

the commission should wait for the election before ramming this rec center down our throats, everything has been rushed through because a change in commissioners would be the end of it. this deal stinks.

Maxandwillie 5 years, 1 month ago

"If you build it they. . . [will shut up]"

Terry Sexton 5 years, 1 month ago

I would rather have the new rec center than the new library, but that ship has already sailed.

John Hamm 5 years, 1 month ago

"“I think if we went to a public vote on this, it would be well supported again,” Carter said. “But I don’t feel the need to do that because we already have.” " Hey Carter! You got another think comin'!

Biker 5 years, 1 month ago

I am not sure the point of all this spirited dialogue. This deal is already done. The support is already there amongst the commissioners and the remaining details will be worked out in private. The only question left is how best to control the narrative, which is exactly what is being done right now... How to give themselves the proper amount of credit for their visionary leadership and tireless work on the communities behalf, while neutralizing the negative fallout from any opposition . So far I would give the commissioners a "C" grade on the actual rec center and a "B-" on using the narrative to their political advantage. Both passing grades. Just curious, what grade would you give them? I am not saying that I am in support if the rec center. I am just recognizing the decision has been made.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

"Carter said leaders in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department have documented the need for additional gym and recreation center space for more than a decade. And now, the city has a funding source for the project as the city is paying off debt related to the city’s Indoor Aquatic Center and the Community Health Building.

Carter said when voters approved that countywide sales tax in 1994, there was an expectation a recreation center would be one of the projects it funds. Now with Kansas University officials offering to make the recreation center part of a bigger university sports park in northwest Lawrence, the timing will never be better."

Carter is wrong twice!

Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

"Dever has been one of the voices of austerity over his last six years on the commission, but he said there are dangers if a community spends too little.

“I think it is possible that we have spent so much time trying to maintain the level of service without tax increases that we may not have focused enough on some of the amenities that make people want to live here and stay here,” Dever said. “We have been really lucky for a long time, but it is going to take a little more effort in the future to convince people to make Lawrence home.” (((((( scare tactic , scare tactic where is the proof)))))

Dever thinks a recreation center could help on two fronts. It could be an attractive amenity for residents. But it also is being designed to serve as a center for regional and national youth sporting tournaments, which is one of the reasons commissioners have resisted decreasing the size of the facility."

Spending just to be spending is reckless spending. People will NOT want to buy real estate in Lawrence,Kansas because they are attracted to reckless spending

Kansas has the 9th largest sales tax sales tax in the nation and communities have projected their budgets based on this tax money. Now to cut some in Topeka will place the load on local communities to keep up with new tax dollar obligations.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

Considering Kansas is 9th in the nation on sales tax Lawrence,Kansas must be near the top ten in the nation regarding sales tax. Additionally Lawrence has been approving back door sales taxes on projects such as Baur Farms so developers have more profits on their investments cuz this sales tax money DOES NOT come back to taxpayers.

Giving away $12 million gifts cuz developers say they cannot make money on a project is more reckless spending. The answer to that situation is " hey developer don't build it"

Over building = over extending the existing tax dollar pie = reckless spending = high tax dollar Lawrence,Kansas.

What about high dollar gasoline? Commuters must consider that. Lawrence has a tremendous number of commuters. How is high dollar gasoline and high dollar taxes affordable?

For the past 15 years Lawrence has been building residential and retail based on what might happen = speculation. Lawrence is a real population of about 68,000 = no that big. Lawrence has been building and spending as if there is a tax base of about 2 million taxpayers.

Cart before the horse = good paying jobs have taken a back seat to over building residential and retail. This must be supply side wreckanomics.

The Field House and more over building of west Lawrence cannot create the miracle nor cover the cost of fiscal irresponsibility.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

Taxpayers have subsidized tax increasing growth at such a basic level for so long, that many taxpayers believe without it Lawrence will die. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of business unfriendly tax increasing development.

So goes our expendable cash.

Sue McDaniel 5 years, 1 month ago

I have always wondered why we cannot have a YMCA in this town. The ones I see in other cities are incredible and serve the community well. Of course, then the wealthy could not cash in on a physical fitness need.............

jhawk1998 5 years, 1 month ago

Get a corporate sponsor for the Rec Center and save the city's dollars for necessary infrastructure needs. Better yet, cut taxes.

Eddandy 5 years, 1 month ago

Improve the current recreation centers they have. Or enter an agreement to use the schools on the west side for recreation.

blondejuan 5 years, 1 month ago

There are three mis understandings. A vote in 1994 counts! Haha! That was different economic times. Second, you say pennies a day to support the rec center. Are you forgetting that for $25M you are only getting a building. No parking lot. But the city is agreeing to maintain the parking lot, maintenance, resurfacing, snow removal. Plus, the city is giving ku all the water meters for free. Plus, giving ku all the water to maintain all the landscaping. That's just a few items on the list of give aways. Lastly, these major events people believe will come. We will be competing with the marketing efforts of the new sports complex being built at The Legends by The partnership of Livestrong and Cerner. They will spend lots of money to make their project successful. It's wont be pennies a day.

Sharon Nottingham 5 years, 1 month ago

This makes me want to move out of Lawrence.

hedshrinker 5 years, 1 month ago

We need to see what the impact of the new tax structure emanating fr Topeka is going to be, as well as what is going on ultimately fr the Feds about income taxes before we start investing in this huge boondoggle. We can't pay for what we have now in terms of infrastructure maintenance and social service support.

irvan moore 5 years, 1 month ago

you know the out of towners will stay in topeka or kansas city and spend their dollars there, not in lawrence, gotta wonder why this is such a priority for this commission

Carol Bowen 5 years, 1 month ago

The YMCA did visit Lawrence, last year. They must not have been welcome. The visit was only in the paper once. No private interest could compete with our Parks and Rec operation.

KiferGhost 5 years, 1 month ago

hipgal 1 day, 7 hours ago This makes me want to move out of Lawrence.

Same here. Apparently the population of Lawrence doesn't care enough when it is getting screwed.

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