Archive for Monday, February 27, 2012

Town Talk: Large youth Texas fieldhouse may serve as model for Lawrence project; North Lawrence river project up for key votes tonight; downtown homeless shelter sets Sept. 16 as move-out date

February 27, 2012


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News and notes from around town:

• Perhaps the future is in Frisco, as in Frisco, Texas. Here’s a video that has been making its way around to folks who may be interested in a new West Lawrence recreation and tournament center.

The video talks about Fieldhouse USA — a 146,000-square-foot athletic center in Frisco, Texas, that houses 12 gyms, an indoor soccer/youth football field, a 5,000-square-foot food court, a fitness center and several amenities.

If you remember, city commissioners recently brought to a halt preliminary design work on a proposed five- to six-gym West Lawrence recreation center after they were approached by some business parties that expressed an interest in a public/private partnership. I’m not saying this Frisco fieldhouse is exactly what Lawrence developers are looking to build, but it sure appears they’re using it to plant a seed in the minds of Lawrence leaders.

So, I decided to find a little bit more about the facility. According to some city of Frisco documents, the fieldhouse opened in 2009. It was a partnership between a private development group and the city. The city of Frisco paid $12.5 million for construction, and the facility was built on 10 acres of donated land. The fieldhouse is owned by the city, but it is operated by a private development group. The group leases the building from the city at a rate equal to the city’s debt payment on the facility.

The facility is high-tech all the way, and designed to appeal to young athletes and their parents. The building has 54 high-definition TVs spread throughout. In fact, the scoreboard for each court is a 64-inch flat screen, which allows for stats and player photos to be posted during the game. Frisco officials estimate the facility attracts about 2.5 million visitors each year.

Frisco is a city of about 115,000 people outside of Dallas. It is in one of the fastest-growing regions of the country. While Lawrence doesn’t have that type of growth, what it does have is Kansas University and its nationwide basketball reputation. My understanding is KU athletics has interest in exploring a partnership, which could include outdoor track facilities. KU Coach Bill Self’s foundation already had told the city it was interested in donating $1 million to a city recreation center/fieldhouse venture. But I’ve heard Coach Self had a desire for a facility that could be more of a showcase for youth sports than what the city had envisioned.

For their part, city commissioners haven’t committed to anything. But they previously have expressed some interest in spending up to $15 million for a westside recreation center.

City officials haven’t yet identified the private party that brought the idea forward. But based on information being circulated to interested parties, it sure appears that it is a group that includes members of the Schwada and Fritzel families. That would make sense. A group led by Steve and Duane Schwada already offered to donate property on the southwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway for a recreation center. And the developers have quite a bit of retail zoned land on the northwest corner of the intersection. That development currently is vacant, but you could easily envision it filled with hotels, stores and restaurants if there were a major attraction right across the road.

My sense is that there is a lot of excitement among some private developers and the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau about this project. Now, we’ll see how much excitement the idea has at KU Athletics, with KU donors and with city commissioners. And if KU Coach Bill Self decides to really lobby for the project, watch out. The project could pick up a lot of momentum in a hurry. It is never wise to bet against the coach. Just ask the Tigers.

• So there is definitely planning going on in northwest Lawrence, but as we’ve previously reported, there also is planning going on in North Lawrence. And perhaps it involves a trolley.

Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners will consider a couple of items tonight related to a plan to redevelop the area next to the Kansas River and Johnny’s Tavern.

Plans have called for a boardwalk to be built along the Kansas River levee, which would be lined with shops, restaurants, a hotel and maybe even a movie theater. But the development group — which includes local businessmen Rick Renfro, Jon Davis and a regional retail developer — have said the area needs to receive special Downtown Lawrence commercial zoning. That would allow for downtown-like buildings to be constructed on the site, and would give the project more flexibility on parking.

To make that happen, the boundaries of Downtown Lawrence will have to officially be extended over to the North Lawrence site. Planning commissioners will consider a comprehensive plan amendment to do that, and also will consider rezoning the property.

The project — which is being designed by Lawrence architect Paul Werner — has received some good news lately. The city’s planning staff is recommending approval of the downtown zoning designation. And perhaps even more significant is that Downtown Lawrence Inc. has thrown its qualified support behind the project.

Downtown Lawrence Inc. sent a letter saying it supports the idea of downtown zoning for the area, but wants the area to have a heavier residential emphasis than retail.

“We would not support this project if the development evolves into a mostly retail project,” DLI’s board writes.

It also would like for no single retail user to be larger than 25,000 square feet, which is different from what Werner has proposed. One concept proposed by Werner calls for a 50,000-square-foot movie theater. But Downtown Lawrence’s letter said they could see some exceptions on the 25,000-square-foot limit. They mentioned a grocery store in particular, but they also expressed some enthusiasm for a movie theater.

So, there are some details to be worked out, but it looks like the project has the makings of some solid support. Kirk McClure, an urban planning professor at KU, has objected to city leaders that the development will add too much retail space in a town that struggles to support what it has. But I don’t see that argument gaining much traction with this current City Commission, especially since the developers have said they don’t intend to build any of this unless they first land some major tenants. In other words, they’re not going to build the space and then start looking for tenants.

As for a trolley, I'm not sure you should hold your breath. But Downtown Lawrence Inc.'s letter mentioned that it will take some work to make the North Lawrence site and downtown feel like they are connected. The letter mentioned that some pedestrian improvements would be needed on the bridge — perhaps a better guardrail would be a start. People are also going to have to get used to the fact the bridge bounces quite a bit with the traffic. But the letter also mentions that some type of trolley system might be useful in shuttling shoppers back and forth between the area. I've heard the idea come up before, so who knows?

As usual, planning commissioners won’t have the final say on these issues. They’ll vote on a recommendation tonight, but ultimately city commissioners are responsible for the final approvals.

Planning commissioners meet at 6:30 p.m. today at City Hall.

• Also at tonight’s planning commission meeting, the Lawrence Community Shelter is seeking a one-year extension for its permit to operate a homeless shelter at 10th and Kentucky streets. This isn’t unexpected. It became obvious months ago that the shelter would not be ready to move into its new space near the Douglas County Jail before its current permit expires.

But unlike the previous permit renewals, the shelter does have firm date for when it will move out of downtown. Shelter director Loring Henderson told me he has circled Sept. 16 as move out day for the shelter. Shelter leaders are taking bids on the remodel work that will be done at the shelter’s new site, which currently is a warehouse building. Henderson said shelter leaders and project architect Dan Sabatini currently are accepting bids to convert the facility into a 125-bed shelter. He expects the board to accept bids by late March.

“It is an exciting time,” Henderson said. “We’re going to be having an entirely different type of conversation this time next year.”


flyin_squirrel 5 years, 9 months ago

Recreation Facility would be awesome, build it now! 2.5 million visitors a year is more than the KU football and basketball games combined attract in one year.

Unless you are involved in youth athletics, you have no clue how much money is spent every weekend in tournaments at facilities like this.

And I still think the North Lawrence Riverfront project is something that will help Downtown, by brings a larger mass of people living next to downtown. Build it now as well!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 9 months ago

" The fieldhouse is owned by the city, but it is operated by a private development group. The group leases the building from the city at a rate equal to the city’s debt payment on the facility."

And if the private group can't make the payments and goes belly-up, the city then has to pick up the full tab for a venture that has shown that it can't pay for itself. Is that about right?

And does the private group also pay all maintenance costs? Or is that on the city?

lgreen17 5 years, 9 months ago

In other words, they’re not going to build the space and then start looking for tenants. - that's really funny when you think about the "outlet mall." A HUGE empty space on the river that right now has a handful of tenants and a hotel. I want progress but not empty space like we have now on the river.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 9 months ago

Maybe they should move the West Lawrence Rec center to the North Lawrence Riverfront. Imagine have 2.5 million visitors right next to downtown Lawrence every year...

Keith 5 years, 9 months ago

"And perhaps it involves a trolley."

Having brought it up, was there nothing more to say about it?

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 9 months ago

I just now realized that. I'll add a sentence, but the gist is that Downtown Lawrence Inc.'s letter said the group believes the area can be part of downtown, if something is done to improve the connectivity between the two locations. The letter mentioned making some improvements that would make it easier to walk across the bridge. (Perhaps a better guardrail system would be a start). And the letter also mentioned that maybe there could be some sort of trolley between downtown and the North Lawrence site. I know Johnny's owner Rick Renfro has brought that idea up to some groups. Thanks, Chad

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

There is one consequence that usually goes unmentioned. City Hall is draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

There won't be 2.5 million people as a result of the new reckless idea which is nothing more than further expanding PLAY in which $20 million tax dollars have been spent by way of USD 497.

There is no hard evidence anywhere demonstrating how this wild idea will perform. Thus far this concept is based on thin air.

KCMO metro and Topeka will be tough competition. This plan is likely from the same thinkers who thought Topeka and KCMO metro shoppers would drive to Lawrence to shop our downsized shopping opportunities. Yes the same thinkers that brought New Urbanism which has failed,Tanger Mall which has failed,Riverfront Plaza which has failed and downtown economics has been wrecked in the process..

BTW the way this is not the Dallas,Texas metro....

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

Why are taxpayers financing any part of this endeavor?

Put this project to a vote before approving anything. Spending $15-$20 million tax dollars on a project requires tax dollar support beyond construction demands a vote.

We were forced to vote: for the library The T * Fixing streets and potholes

Why is this different?

We voters are by far the most powerful and most important economic stakeholders!

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

We voters are by far the most powerful and most important economic stakeholders!

What makes we voting spending taxpayers the most important stakeholders in any new development or construction project whether it be private or local government? Each one of us spend thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars in this community without which Lawrence would be nothing. Yet we are cast aside under the facade that none of this is any of our business.

Is it the taxpayers responsibility to guarantee the real estate industry and developers a nice tidy profit on their speculation and/or risky investments? Absolutely not!

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

I believe all incentives to sell and/or develop property should come from those wanting to profit from their endeavors:

  1. Real estate agencies
  2. Property owners
  3. developers
  4. building contractors and suppliers

Never from the taxpayers! Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be. Why? Because this type of local big government socialism does not benefit the lions share of the population. We are not necessarily the profiteers.

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. That's right without we taxpayers there could be no tax dollar mooching.

spiderd 5 years, 9 months ago

How about a gondola lift across the river? We can run the cables with water power just as the original hydro station used cables to power machinery. Quick! get it going now while the new plant is under construction. Transportation, greenyness, history, education and financial development all in one.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

Note: all of the profiteers go to the bank and borrow their money plus interest

a partnership between private development groups and the city = a tax dollar subsidy and making zero money for the taxpayers = Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill).

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston has been closely tracking the nation’s income gap in the pages of the New York Times. In 2004, he published the bestselling book Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich — and Cheat Everybody Else. David Cay has just published a new book. It’s called Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill).

Note: all of the profiteers go to the bank and borrow their money plus interest

bendover61 5 years, 9 months ago

Bill, stick with coaching basketball. There is no way this will be self sustaining, look at Eagle Bend or Sport to Sport.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 9 months ago

Did Merrill say something? I am surprised he hasn't piped in with his opinions.

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