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Archive for Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Town Talk: Talk of a West Lawrence recreation center involving KU Athletics heats up; a car wash project and a discussion about whether the city is business friendly

February 22, 2012

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News and notes from around Lawrence:

• Plans for a new West Lawrence recreation center are getting about as complicated as me trying to figure out how to use an elliptical machine.

Mayor Aron Cromwell confirmed last night the city is putting on hold plans to sign a contract with Lawrence-based Gould Evans architects to create concept plans and cost estimates for a west side center.

That’s because city officials want to allow more time for a private proposal that we reported on last week to develop. Details about that plan continue to be sketchy, but it is becoming obvious the private folks are thinking on a grander scale than the city.

Cromwell confirmed to me the Kansas University Athletics Department has been approached about participating in some type of tournament and recreation center. The possibility of including track and field amenities at the site has been raised. No commitments from any party, however, have been given, is my understanding.

It also sounds like the private folks are shooting for a much larger fieldhouse than what the city has envisioned. The city previously has discussed a fieldhouse that would include about five youth-size basketball/volleyball courts that could host regional tournaments. It sounds like the number of courts in a private proposal would grow significantly.

All this will mean the project will cost more than the $15 million city officials previously have set as a target. My understanding is part of the private effort will involve reaching out to prominent Kansas University donors to support what will be billed as a unique partnership among the city, the university and the private sector.

As for the local forces who are driving this project, city officials are still remaining mum about who brought this idea forward. But I do think it is worth noting that a development group led by Lawrence businessmen Steve and Duane Schwada previously have made an offer to donate land to the city at the northwest corner of Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway to host a larger recreation center. I also think it is worth noting members of the Fritzel family previously have partnered with the Schwadas on development in the area near Sixth and the SLT.

City officials have told me they’ve been asked by the party who brought the idea forward to not reveal his identity, at the moment, because the idea is still in its rudimentary stage. But Cromwell said Tuesday night he does expect to give the public more information about who is involved and the basic concepts in the next couple of weeks.

“The idea of bringing the university, the city and private individuals together is intriguing,” Cromwell said. “But it is complicated to bring that together, and it takes time.”

It appears KU Coach Bill Self and his foundation certainly are still interested in the project. If you remember, Self’s foundation had expressed an interest in donating at least $1 million to the city project. I’ve been led to believe a major issue with the Self camp is whatever project moves forward be significant enough that it can serve as a showcase type of facility for youth athletics. This new proposal may accomplish more of those types of goals.

It will be interesting to watch all of this come together. A big question will be what level will the private folks expect the city to participate at? The city has expressed some interest in investing $15 million in a new center — although commissioners have never formally committed to that. Will a private plan move forward with the assumption the city is still willing to put $15 million toward a project?

Grab a seat on an elliptical and watch. (Wait, that’s the problem. Ellipticals don’t have seats.)

• The idea of being more business-friendly was front and center at Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting. As we reported, commissioners were enthusiastic about a plan by the Briggs Auto Group that will require the city to make exceptions to several city rules at the Lawrence Auto Plaza. (Although, owner Russ Briggs did note to commissioners that he’s not asking for any tax breaks as part of the project. “We don’t expect our tax bill to go down,” Briggs said.)

But it was another project that ended up highlighting the frequent conflict of whether the city is friendly enough to business. As we previously reported, there are plans to convert two bays of the existing Raco Car Wash at 720 E. 23rd St. into a quick lube service center.

The project, though, hit a snag when city engineers insisted city code required a separate water and sewer line be installed to service the quick lube center. The developers had wanted to use the existing water and sewer line that serves the car wash. After all, they said it is all part of the same structure and owned by the same people.

But city officials said the ownership could change in the future — such as the car wash could be owned by one group and the quick lube owned by another. That could create controversy over who must pay the water and sewer bill. The developers said: So what? The city has the authority to shut off the water and sewer service if the bill isn’t paid. In other words, any future private parties would have all the incentive in the world to figure out how the water bill should be paid.

The real issue with all this is cost. It is estimated a new water and sewer line will cost about $20,000 to install. That would increase the cost of the entire project by about 10 percent. Plus, the developers noted that of that $20,000, nearly $9,000 are “system development” fees charged by the city.

Anyway, commissioners didn’t need much debate to settle this issue. Commissioners unanimously sided with the developers and said they did not need to install the new water and sewer lines.

Then it got interesting. City Commissioner Hugh Carter spoke up and said he was frustrated this ever made it to the City Commission level.

“We’re not asking the developer to spend this money because we’re benefiting the community or protecting the community in any way,” Carter said. “They’re improving the conditions there. They are investing in infill, and we’re making an interpretation that is just being difficult on a small-business owner.

“I understand the perception this creates in the business community. I would like to see us start looking at these issues and making common sense decisions instead of putting people through this bureaucracy.”

Longtime City Commissioner Mike Amyx did step in and put a word in for staff, noting these type of interpretation issues have been fairly common for city commissioners to make over the years.

“We do write a lot of code around here and ask staff to carry out that code even-handedly,” Amyx said. “These appeals will continue to come in as long as we are doing a number of these infill developments.”

But that didn’t seem to make Carter feel any better about the situation.

“What I’m talking about is when an appeal is not necessary,” Carter said. “There are interpretations made every day. There are business-friendly interpretations and there are business-unfriendly interpretations. It seemed like this was a pretty easy interpretation for me.”

Comments

Richard Heckler 2 years, 6 months ago

This whole grand scheme should be funded by private enterprise entirely. It is all about selling more real estate that cannot get sold aka bailout. 6th and K-10 is not centrally located. If this is such a great money maker of course it should private money through and through.

There is a ton of speculation about tournaments etc etc etc that are being held in the Topeka and KCMO metro areas. Will these municipalities give up their stakes in this market? Get real.

West Lawrence does not deserve any different rec center than other neighborhoods. It is as simple as that. As a taxpayer I want to vote on this issue.

I say to private enterprise build it on the Farmland site without my tax dollars. Then have First Management build their hotel across the street. This entire concept is too risky for my tax dollars. Go to the bank.

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flyin_squirrel 2 years, 6 months ago

You obviously have no clue how many youth tournaments there are, and how often teams participate in these tournaments. It is multi-million dollar business that Lawrence is completely missing out on. Even Newton Kansas has tournaments that fill surrounding towns, hotels, and restaurants for enitre weekends.

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deec 2 years, 6 months ago

Great! Then if it has such potential, let the private for-profit company make their profits on their own dime, not the taxpayers'!

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flyin_squirrel 2 years, 6 months ago

Ah, isn't that what is happening here? Private is going to put money into it as well as the city, which means public gets more facility for less money?

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deec 2 years, 6 months ago

You the taxpayers are subsidizing a private developer's project. If it is a moneymaker, they can build it themselves and reap the rewards. I agree that the parking garage..er library is a boondoggle. The bus system is needed for people to get around, but has been poorly handled. Small buses or even large vans would have made a lot more sense. You all got to vote on both of those projects.

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deec 2 years, 6 months ago

In a few years the big 3 developers will come to the city and acquire the ground level parking lots for a song, and will probably get tax abatements and/or subsidies for infrastructure improvements. They'll justify giving away the lots because of the garages. So the taxpayers will subsidize these projects twice, once by paying for the garage, and again through the subsidies once the projects are proposed

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JJ Morgan 2 years, 6 months ago

I agree 100% about the New Century Fieldhouse..I've been a referee for a number of basketball tourneys there..beautiful facility, a lot going on.

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just_an_opinion 2 years, 6 months ago

Just a few weeks ago, a KC area organization attempted to hold a youth basketball tourney in Lawrence. They utilized KU and USD497 facilities.

Due to the number of teams entered in the tourney they had to move some age groups to facilities in Olathe for the weekend.

There were several teams that were traveling 3-4 hours (from Omaha, NE and Columbia, MO) to the Lawrence tourney. When they found out they were playing in Olathe, they changed their hotel reservations to hotels in Overland Park.

Due to the limited facilities, Lawrence is losing out on this opportunity. Assuming four teams changed their hotel reservations, with 7-10 rooms per team for two nights, Lawrence lost out on 56-80 (4x2x7 or 4x2x10) hotel room nights. When you add in the Friday and Saturday evening meals and Saturday and Sunday noon meals that the restaurants lost as well as the gas and other miscellaneous expenses, Lawrence businesses and taxpayers lost a lot of money.

A combination of private and government money is probably the best solution to provide a facility that can bring in people from out of town for tournaments on the weekend while still providing a facility that is accessible at minimal or no charge to Lawrence residents during the week.

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brink75 2 years, 6 months ago

I would much rather have this than "my tax dollars" being used for a library. I agree on voting on the issue. And maybe you could stop sectioning off the city. West of Iowa is still Lawrence, we are a community we should start acting like it.

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gl0ck0wn3r 2 years, 6 months ago

Merrill, if it was in your neighborhood you'd be all for it regardless of the tax implications. Reckless, selfish thinker you are.

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svenway_park 2 years, 6 months ago

Dear Commissioners Carter and Amyx: Converting part (two bays) of an existing business (car wash) into another car-related use is not "infill development." It may be development, or re-development, and it may be more intense, or of a higher value, but it is not "infill."

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pace 2 years, 6 months ago

I dislike the sports culture, consider it a corrupting influence. It has become a nasty business. All I can say is, will the KU athletic department be in charge of selling tickets for the complex or for deciding who gets to book time?

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rockchalker52 2 years, 6 months ago

Awesome news on the rec center. Build it big, build it large, make it outstanding. My tax dollars are glad to participate. That Schwada location is top notch access for visitors to our town. What a great example of private/public can do cooperation.

+1 to what cheeseburger said.

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somedude20 2 years, 6 months ago

Does it really matter what you think? I will spot you the answer, no! The city officials will do what they want.

Bet they said that funding the T would help the people "stuck" on social welfare get jobs since many of them do not have cars or bikes. The old, "I would work but I have no way to get there or gas is too expensive,,," stick they blather about, um...it did not work.

Believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see. These guys (city council)are like little Democratic Dick Cheneys' or Katherine Harris' running around doing what they want while pretending to give a split about us. If I were rich, when these dudes lose the next election, I would hire Donald Trump to come to Lawrence and tell em they are FIRED!

I kid, I kid....drink McNuggetinis

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Bud Stagg 2 years, 6 months ago

The only way we get out of this budget mess is to grow our tax revenues. We have cut budgets to the bone and are still behind. You can either raise taxes or get more taxpayers. Attracting visitors, businesses and more residents is how we should do it. Developement pays bills much faster than budget cuts. When you cut services, people and dollars leave the area. When you grow services, people are attracted. This sports venue is a wonderful idea to bring other tax dollars to our city.

Whether you like the sports culture or not, it is a viable market. My children have participated in sports and dance for many years and I have seen millions of dollars spent in other cities during these events. A good analysis should consider the benefits to the city. There are a lot of hotels, resturants, movie theaters, etc that would benefit from these visitors, not to mention tax revenues. Lawrence is a great place. Maybe one of the visiting sports parents would like to relocate their business here and provide new jobs, buy houses, etc. Let's make Lawrence great, not cut it back until it dies.

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Kookamooka 2 years, 6 months ago

Great. Let Larry Brown and his associates build the GINORMOUS field house for Lawrence (without TAX incentives) and let the city build the indoor ICE PALACE! I hate it that my kids don't get to skate. No hockey. Let's get a skating rink around this town.

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cozborn 2 years, 6 months ago

So Carter is basically saying that he really doesn't want to perform his duties as a city commissioner? The city code is set; and the staff cannot ignore city code and ordinances all willy nilly at a whatever whim, for whomever they will, because they want to appease a lazy commissioner.

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motercyclejim 2 years, 6 months ago

The city is NOT busness freindly!! they make the busness's pay tax and that makes them not want to stay open. This is why we need RON PAUL!!!!!!!

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David Reynolds 2 years, 6 months ago

The business friendly/unfriendly starts & stops with the City Manager. That position controls what the staff does. That position should settle issues. Instead staff is so embedded with non-business friendly members it is absurd.

The staff & the citizens who influence them have written code that is not only unfriendly to business but also its citizens. You can throw the county commission in also.

Some commissions in the past have been worse, eg the Walmart law suit.

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karmaxs3 2 years, 6 months ago

Do you want to share a sewer line with your neighbor? It's the same thing. How dare ignorant commissioners claim requiring developers to comply with their own code as development unfriendly. How dare the city of Lawrence expect developers to pay 10% more on a project simply to do it the correct way. That's so unfriendly. How dare a lazy commissioner deride the staff for doing their f'in job. Disgusting.

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