There were questions about taxes, there were questions about traffic, and there were questions about how a proposed public-private partnership to build a new recreation complex in northwest Lawrence would work.
But Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm said he was pleased with what he didn’t hear from a crowd of about 70 people who gathered for a public forum at Free State High School on Wednesday regarding a proposed recreation center and complex.
“I didn’t hear anybody say ‘stop,’” Schumm said after the public gave more than an hour’s worth of comments. “I heard people say ‘make sure you know what you’re doing.’ I agree completely with that.”
The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board hosted a public forum to get input on a proposed recreation center that would be built on 50 acres of property donated to the city on the northwest corner of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Sixth Street.
The crowd included people who had concerns about the unknown details of the project, but also people who were excited about a facility that is proposed to be about 160,000 square feet and have room for at least eight full-court gyms, plus other amenities.
“I’m a youth league basketball coach, and I know I had eight or 10 kids approach me last year about being on a team, but the city said we couldn’t have any more teams because we didn’t have the gym space,” said Dan Simon, of Lawrence. “I know there are a lot of questions, and a lot of concerns about money. That’s fair, but as long as the city works to protect taxpayers, I don’t think you are going to find a better plan than what has been presented.”
The crowd was told the plan still includes strong interest from Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self’s Assists Foundation, and that Kansas University is a “likely partner” to build an outdoor track stadium and soccer field at the site. The entire complex is expected to be large enough to attract regional tournaments and other events that will boost the local economy.
But questions remain about how much money the city ultimately will have to pay for the project. The recreation center — which in addition to the gyms likely would have a walking track, cardio and weight rooms, an indoor turf field for soccer and football, and a gymnastics area — is expected to cost about $15 million.
City officials, though, expect to pay for the extension of roads, water and sewer service to the site. Such extensions likely will cost millions of dollars, but the city doesn’t yet have a firm estimate.
Several in the crowd said they wanted more details about what other development will occur around the recreation complex. Lawrence businessmen Duane and Steve Schwada are proposing to donate the 50 acres of property to the city, but they will keep about 90 acres adjacent to the site. Current plans call for all the acres to be zoned for commercial uses.
“I think we’re more concerned about the commercial rezoning than the recreation center,” said Alan Black, who is an officer for the League of Women Voters of Lawrence and Douglas County.
City officials told the crowd that a list of proposed commercial uses hasn’t yet been developed, and that any retail development at the site will have to go through the city’s standard planning process.
Schumm also said city commissioners won’t approve any rezoning requests for the property until all the details for the recreation center firmly are in place. He said that should protect the public from having property rezoned and then seeing the recreation center plans collapse.
“We understand we have to nail down all the details really tight,” Schumm said. “People have to know what we’re going to get, how we’re going to pay for it, and who is going to run it.”
Schumm said he expects the city will be in a better position to answer those questions by the end of June. If the project wins approval from city commissioners, some construction work could begin later this summer.
— City reporter Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-6362.