The millions of dollars worth of stadiums and facilities at a proposed Kansas University sports complex in northwest Lawrence won’t be owned by KU.
The leader of the Kansas University Endowment Association confirmed Wednesday that a private company headed by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel will own the facilities and lease them to Kansas University Athletics for a term that is not yet being disclosed.
“It is certainly long enough, though, that it is satisfactory for all parties to make this work,” said Dale Seuferling, president of the Kansas University Endowment Association.
The proposed arrangement, however, is drawing concerns from at least one major landowner in the area who questions whether Fritzel’s ownership will cause the approximately 90-acre complex to become a major events venue drawing everything from music concerts to festivals.
“Our concerns are noise, traffic, lighting — consumption of alcohol is always an issue with these type of cases,” said Richard Hird, a Lawrence attorney who is representing Jack Graham, who owns land directly east of the proposed site near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Seuferling confirmed the arrangement does open the door to Fritzel’s company hosting and generating revenue from nonathletic events at the facility, although that currently isn’t envisioned to be a major activity at the complex
Seuferling said a key reason the deal has been structured in this manner is due to financing issues. Seuferling confirmed that neither KU Endowment nor Kansas Athletics will finance the construction of the facilities, which will include a 10,000-seat track and field stadium, soccer field, softball stadium and other amenities.
Instead, Fritzel’s Bliss Sports L.C. will finance the construction of the facilities and lease them to KU Athletics through a long-term agreement. Seuferling declined to provide details of the terms of the agreement because he said the lease hadn’t yet been signed.
Although KU Endowment won’t be paying for any of the actual facilities at the site, it will own the real estate that the facilities will sit upon. KU Endowment and Bliss Sports will have a long-term ground lease. The terms of that lease also aren’t yet being released.
But Seuferling confirmed the lease agreements will create the possibility of Fritzel’s company hosting and generating revenue from nonathletic events at the complex. Seuferling, though, said that is not expected to be a major function of the complex, which he said is being driven by the need for improved athletic facilities to serve Kansas University.
Seuferling said it is tough to speculate on what type of nonathletic events might be appropriate at the site.
“I would hope the greater community will be so pleased with the improvements once they are in place that it will generate some ideas for other public events that might be held out there,” Seuferling said.
A city staff report listed several examples of nonathletic events that could be allowed at a complex that will have the city’s general institution zoning category. They included music concerts, festivals, fairs, BBQ cook-offs, farmers’ markets, racing and vehicle exhibitions and other similar events.
The lease agreements, Seuferling said, don’t create a list of uses that would be considered appropriate or inappropriate for the complex. Instead, the agreements would require that KU Endowment, Bliss Sports and Kansas Athletics all agree on a proposed event. It also is proposed that any nonathletic event at the complex would be required to file for a special event permit from Lawrence City Hall. Athletic events — everything from KU contests to large events like the Special Olympics, the Kansas high school track and field championships or other sporting competitions the city hopes to attract — won’t be required to get a special permit.
Hird is urging the city to place restrictions on what type of nonathletic events can be held at the complex now rather than dealing with each on a case-by-case basis through a special events permit. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, however, declined to recommend placing such restrictions on the property.
“The Planning Commission voted to kick the can down the road,” said Hird, who is a member of the Planning Commission but has recused himself from this issue.
City commissioners haven’t yet taken up the issue.
Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm said he hasn’t yet seen any of the agreements between Bliss Sports and the KU entities. He said he will want to see details of the deal before the city makes a major investment in the complex.
The city is proceeding with plans to build a $25 million recreation center as part of the Rock Chalk Park plan. The mega recreation center, however, will be owned outright by the city. Approximately 20 acres of land also will be owned by the city and won’t be subject to a lease with Fritzel. As proposed, though, Fritzel would be the general contractor for the recreation center, which technically would be built by KU Endowment and then sold to the city.
“We’re partners in this overall plan, though, and I want to know what we’re getting into,” Schumm said. “I don’t want it to be so open ended that it ties our hands on being able to operate the facility.”
Fritzel declined to comment for this article.