News and notes from around town:
• Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew has announced this morning that his office will begin issuing special voter identification cards in response to concerns that a new state voter ID law may make it difficult for some people to vote.
Shew’s office has set up a system to produce valid photo identification cards so people do not have to go through the states’ Division of Motor Vehicles, which also issues a free identification card but has seen its offices plagued by long lines recently.
Shew said the card available from the Douglas County Clerk’s office will be available to any registered voter in Douglas County who does not already have a valid photo identification, such as a driver’s license.
People seeking a free photo ID card will have to provide one of the various forms of “residency documents” spelled in federal law. Those can include a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, payroll check or other government document that shows a name and address.
The Douglas County Voter ID will be available at the County Clerk’s office at 11th and Massachusetts, but Shew said the system also is designed to be mobile. That will allow his office to go to nursing homes and other group living environments where residents may not be able to travel to the clerk’s office easily.
Shew’s office will begin issuing the cards on Monday. The state’s primary election is set for Aug. 7.
• There has been a lot of talk recently about a proposed recreation complex in northwest Lawrence, but one topic that hasn’t gotten as much talk lately is whether KU basketball coach Bill Self’s foundation is still planning to make a donation to the project.
Well, city officials tell me that there are still good signs that Self’s Assists Foundation is interested in making a significant donation to the project, perhaps $1 million or more.
But it now appears any donation from Self’s foundation is not scheduled to go to the city, but rather to a non-profit foundation established by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel and his family. Fritzel long has been identified as a key private partner in bringing this recreation complex to fruition.
City Manager David Corliss told me the current thinking is that any donation from the Assists Foundation would be channeled to Fritzel’s foundation to offset the significant donation his family is making toward the project.
As way of a reminder, what Fritzel has proposed is to carry the financing costs of the recreation center. It gets a little complicated but here is how that works: The city will pay Fritzel’s foundation $1.2 million a year over a 20 year period. At the end of the 20-year period, the city will own the 172,000 square foot recreation center/fieldhouse.
If the city were to take that same $1.2 million a year and try to build a recreation center on its own, it could likely build about a $16 million building. You might say, but, $1.2 million multiplied by 20 is $24 million. To which, city officials would say: You don’t know bankers.
In order for the city to build this size of project on its own, it would have go into debt. Based on current interest rates, it is estimated that $16 million of the city’s $24 million worth of payments could be devoted to principal, while the remaining $8 million would go to interest and bond issuance costs. Thus, a $16 million building is the tops the city could do.
Under the proposed scenario, Fritzel would take out the debt to build the project. The city would pay Fritzel back through a lease-purchase agreement: The $1.2 million a year for 20 years.
At this point, you may be scratching your head as you try to figure out what the advantage is to the city in this deal. Either way, the city is paying $24 million.
The advantage is the city believes it is going to get a building that is worth more than $16 million. The city’s mantra throughout has been this partnership will allow the city to get a building that is bigger and better than what the city could build on its own. Right now, that is just a belief, but the city is working to attach hard numbers to the idea.
John Wilkins, an architect with GouldEvans who has been hired by the city, told me he is confident the building will have a construction value above $16 million. I expect he’ll have a more specific number to present to city commissioners by their Aug. 7 meeting.
That number will be a key one in evaluating how good of a deal this public-private partnership is for the city. Basically the difference between that number and $16 million is the donation Fritzel is making to the project. Now that equation likely will include factoring in the value of any donation from Self that will go to Fritzel’s foundation.
It also will be interesting to see if there are other revenue opportunities that will go to Fritzel rather than the city. The one I have heard mentioned most often is naming rights. Will the name of the center be sold? What about naming of individual courts or rooms in the center? Where does that revenue go? I don’t know the answer to those yet.
But one question that has been floating out there seems to be getting cleared up. Some people expressed nervousness about whether the city actually would be getting a good deal on this project, given that Fritzel’s main business is in construction. It had been assumed that Fritzel’s construction company would be the general contractor on this project.
It appears that is no longer the case. Corliss and Fritzel both told me that Fritzel’s company won’t build the project. Instead, the city and Fritzel’s foundation will mutually agree on a builder for the project.
Commissioners will next meet about the project on Aug. 7. That meeting also should include a report from a consultant who is working to calculate the potential economic impact the center could have on the community. I don’t expect any final action to be taken at the Aug. 7 meeting, but all signs are indicating commissioners remain very positive about the project.
• File this away in the category of something I haven’t seen before in my nearly 18 years of covering Lawrence City Hall: The city is giving an individual a “key to the city.”
The lucky recipient is Dimitra Pitsikou, a Greek citizen who has been instrumental in fostering a Sister Cities relationship between Iniades Greece and Lawrence.
As we previously reported, a delegation from Lawrence — including Mayor Bob Schumm and Commissioner Mike Dever — are in Iniades this week to recognize the Sister Cities event. (In case you are worried, the delegation is paying its own way.)
I asked Corliss, who has been in Lawrence City Hall longer than I have, whether he ever remembers a key to the city being given before. He doesn’t, so it appear Pitsikou will have quite a collectible now.
• File this under the category of another week, another set of land transfers from the Douglas County Register of Deeds office. Nothing too much of note here, other than the city of Lawrence has finalized its purchase of a industrial building at 1050 E. 11th Street from Bo Killough. The city plans to use the building to replace the smaller parks and recreation shop building at 11th and Haskell that was lost to a fire earlier this year. The city had insurance proceeds to help cover the $394,250 purchase price of the building.
Click here to see the full list of land transfers for the week ending July 23.