Archive for Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Northwest rec center plan draws positive interest

June 6, 2012


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.


softsun 5 years, 10 months ago

Great project from the progressive City of Lawrence. Solve problems as they come along and keep it moving forward.

Windemere 5 years, 10 months ago

Glad there's a lot of interest. Continue to be concerned that the scope of this project is too large. These are lean times; what's wrong with building such a project in phases, eg the gym space first, less-urgent aspects of the project later ( perhaps)? Seems as though nearly every constituency gets "something" even though there may be very few people in that constituency. Is that a wise, budget-conscious approach?

Ken Miller 5 years, 10 months ago

Agree that an eye must be kept on how this project is financed and who does what. But like the old saying says, you can't hit a home run if you don't step up to the plate and take a swing. It's time our city is known for more than just KU and colorful people who walk around in socks and Birkies.

Patricia Davis 5 years, 10 months ago

I will be voting against this. This is not the time to cram down more property taxes for people who are going to be taking a huge hit when Brownbakistan tax inequality hits the fan. The story about the crumbling, but new, tennis courts at LHS, the lack of professional oversight and the use of incompetent workers (drainage seriously underplanned and badly executed), and other in other stories relatively new schools with hideously leaking roofs does not fill me with hope that our tax money will be well spent here. One day we want to attract retirees. The next day we want to jack up property taxes. Typical.

Patricia Davis 5 years, 10 months ago

This is the same old how to cook a lobster tax increase. You know the story. If you place a lobster in boiling water, it will jump out of the pot. If you start low and build up the heat, the lobster will be cooked. Tax is tax. We have been warned that the Lawrence police wants/needs a new $30 million office. That is a higher priority that serves the whole of the community rather than a facility on the west of town that serves developers and a few users. Just because a bond expires does not mean bring on the new and continually build on the old "temporary" tax base. If you don't think sales tax is going up when Brownback's tax "cut" comes into force, please enlighten me.

Robert Schehrer 5 years, 10 months ago

How about using this freed up sales tax to reduce property taxes?

kansasredlegs 5 years, 10 months ago

You are forgetting that Schumm & Crew used the "retiring bonds" as cruch to raising the mil levy for the last budget. Remember, "I'm only voting for this increase of X.XX mil increase, since we'll be reducing our debt load and the actual tax will remain relatively flat." How quickly "we" and "they" forget what is said.

Now let's go ahead and saddle more debt on this horse with the uncertainty of future State assistance with the current administration's tax plan. When it's all said and done, we'll have one heck of a private, tax-subsidized rec center with open taxpayer basketball time from 1:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m.

kansasredlegs 5 years, 10 months ago

Mayor & crew know the details. Just not prepared to let the taxpayers know them until it's to late to stop this "critical" project. Surprised to not hear "stop"? Come on Mayor, you and crew already said this is going to happen regardless, so opposition is at a minimum.

Corliss is quoted as saying that Fritzel "may" do the construction. Really? Who would have ever thought that? Schwada's 90 acres goes up in value 10 times plus etc. but this is a "good deal" according to our non-developer, BBQ Mayor. Well, if "better know what you're doing" is handing out taxpayer money to the old guard and paying all developers infrastructure costs and "giving" Fritzel a no bid contract to build, then I would have to agree Mr. Mayor you do know what you are doing.

blindrabbit 5 years, 10 months ago

Please incorporate a Oregon Trail set-aside into the plans. Would hate to see the property paved-over right on top of the very ruts of the Trail. With a little creativity, some recognition of the historical significance of the Trail as it crossed this parcel and Lawrence's role in trail migration would be noteworthy. And the expense of this recognition would/could/should be minimal!

The State/County already have recognized the importance of the early trails by perserving the Santa Fe Trail ruts that are adjacent to the Black Jack site just east of Baldwin City. Because of the way the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails departed the Westport area and diverged, Johnson and Douglas Counties are the only two counties that are bisected by both trails

hipper_than_hip 5 years, 10 months ago

Nothing screws up a good development plan like the need to preserve something historical.

Robert Schehrer 5 years, 10 months ago

The proposed site of the northwest rec center is closer to Lecompton and would take less time to drive to it than say from 23rd and Mass. Street. So, maybe Lecompton residents will want to chip in a few tax dollars too.

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