Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday slowed down the process of designing a potential west Lawrence recreation center after a mysterious private development group sent word that it may be interested in building its own facility that could meet the city’s needs.
Commissioners at their weekly meeting were scheduled to approve a $55,000 contract with the Lawrence architectural firm of Gould Evans to create conceptual designs and cost estimates so that commissioners could decide whether to commit to the project.
But City Commissioner Mike Dever asked fellow commissioners to not execute the contract in order for a private development group to have more time to present its thoughts to city officials.
“I think private enterprise believes there might be a chance for it to meet some needs here,” Dever said after the meeting. “I think all this talk of how a facility could bring regional tournaments and events to the city has opened up the eyes of some private investors.”
Dever declined to identify the lead member of the group — although he confirmed it involved a local investor — because he said the individual asked him to not yet do so. Dever said he also didn’t want to raise the public’s expectations because he’s uncertain how feasible a private facility could be.
“These calls really have come at the 11th hour,” Dever said. “I just got called about it (Monday).”
Commissioners agreed on a 4-1 vote to delay taking action on the Gould Evans contract and a $16,500 contract with a private fundraising firm for two weeks. Commissioner Mike Amyx voted against the motion because he said he’s not convinced now is the right time to be considering building a recreation center.
Members of the city’s parks and recreation advisory board and the city’s director of parks and recreation all said they weren’t aware of any details about the private offer. But parks and recreation advocates said the city would need to be careful to ensure that a private center would meet the need of providing low-cost recreation to Lawrence residents.
Dever said he believes the development has an idea of building a center and then leasing parts of it back to the city while also using other parts of it to host tournaments and other events. Dever said he believes any private center would need to be located on the west side of Lawrence, if the developers wanted cooperation from the city.
“Anything we would agree to would have to meet the needs identified by parks and recreation,” Dever said, adding that he thinks a private center would need to have not only gym space but also workout and wellness space.
At least one private development group has expressed an interest in working with the city on the project. A group led by members of the Duane and Steve Schwada families have expressed an interest in donating land at Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway for the center.
Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self’s Assists Foundation also has expressed interest in donating $1 million or more to build a center that could attract regional tournaments and events to the city. It wasn’t known Tuesday whether Self’s foundation has had discussions with the private group.
City Manager David Corliss and other city officials are expected to meet with the private group in the next week.