We wish to provide the citizens of Lawrence with more details about the Rock Chalk Park and Recreation Center project. On behalf of the city, we have attended nearly all meetings regarding this project as it has progressed over the past year.
The City of Lawrence has an outstanding opportunity to partner with the University of Kansas to accomplish the goals of Kansas Athletics and our community’s need for increased indoor gym space and other recreational amenities. Together we wish to position Lawrence as an attractive location for regional sports tournaments and other special events. KU must address sports venue upgrades that will allow them to maintain their position as a leading institution in the Big 12. Lawrence residents directly benefit from the addition of indoor recreation space, the need for which has been well documented, and the opportunity to host tournaments in our city. We also capture sales tax revenue from retail sales to out-of-town visitors and recapturing revenues currently lost to other communities.
Our synergy with the KU is critical on many fronts. The future growth and prosperity of Lawrence is directly tied to the success of KU, as our largest employer and as an academic and athletic institution. The city’s relationship with KU is solid, as evidenced by our partnerships in transit, bioscience and technology incubation and job creation, student/community relationships and downtown athletic events. The entire Rock Chalk Park property is a 155-acre parcel generally located north of Sixth Street and east of K-10 off of George Williams Way. Under the current proposal, KU Endowment will build the city’s recreation center building, lighted tennis courts, walking/jogging trails, infrastructure, and parking lots for a maximum price of $25 million, or the actual price, if less. KU Endowment will bid the city’s project, thereby establishing a market value for the price of these facilities, the total estimated value of which is $33.5 million. At the conclusion of the construction and upon verification of the completed project to city specifications through city inspection, the city will receive title to its facilities and land and will control facility operations.
There are people who question the structure of the partnership. It is our view that the philanthropic nature of the gifts of land and amenities to the city are gratefully acknowledged and we are working to leverage these gifts to the fullest extent possible. As with any extraordinary endeavor, new and unique approaches must be considered to achieve all goals. The Bliss Foundation, led by Lawrence residents Thomas and Dru Fritzel, has stepped forward to help KU meet its needs and time frame. Without the participation of all of the parties, this unique project would not be possible. For example, if the city doesn’t place its recreation center at Rock Chalk Park, the city is still likely to be asked to assist KU with infrastructure costs to the site.
We acknowledge that the future of the local, regional and national economy is in question, but believe that our past fiscal restraint has allowed us to consider taking action on an extraordinary community asset. For the last six years, the City Commission has held staffing levels steady, focusing additional revenues on infrastructure and needed police officers, while maintaining high marks from credit rating agencies and healthy reserves. Because of the foresight of the community in voting in favor of a sales tax primarily set aside for recreational amenities, we are in a unique position to leverage the future growth of our existing tax dollars on an exceptional project. Construction and financing costs are at their lowest rate in decades. Today, we are well poised to take on a large project that will help our community for years into the future.
By maximizing shared infrastructure, Rock Chalk Park project is a classic example of a partnership where the sum of the investments far outweighs the individual parts. We wish to thank KU Athletics, KU Endowment, the Assists Foundation, the Bliss Foundation, city staff and the City Commission. All have done their best to represent their respective institutions in an extraordinary manner in order to accomplish Rock Chalk Park.
As elected officials, our primary responsibility is to represent our constituents. As the space in this forum is limited, we invite citizens to go to the city’s website at www.lawrenceks.org for more information and welcome questions and comments as we move forward in consideration of this unique project.