Various local developers say they have never seen a major Lawrence development advance so quickly and enjoy such enthusiastic support from City Hall as the proposed recreation/commercial project at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
In past years, projects of similar size that would open up sizable acreage for retail development some distance from the highly protected downtown business districts, often have faced long, contentious delays and had to jump through numerous hoops before getting the go-ahead from city leaders.
The proposed northwest Lawrence recreation complex is an ambitious project, and there is no question it would be a major asset for the city. Plans call for a large fieldhouse with eight basketball courts, the Kansas University track, perhaps soccer fields and other athletic facilities.
In addition, sizable acreage would be set aside for commercial/retail development, creating the potential for large “big-box” stores, smaller retail outlets, restaurants, motels and other commercial operations.
The star attraction would be the basketball facility, which would be designed to host regional high school and AAU basketball tournaments.
KU basketball coach Bill Self and his wife, Cindy, have proposed making a pledge of more than $1 million through their Assists Foundation, which would play a central role in developing and marketing the facility.
No community could be more fortunate than Lawrence in having the Selfs’ generosity and involvement. In a relatively short time, the highly successful Jayhawk basketball coach has become just as much a star and prized asset as any of his players. If the Selfs are supportive of a project that provides healthy recreational facilities for young people it’s bound to be a winner.
Added to the generous contributions of the Selfs through their Assists Foundation, the father-son team of Duane and Steve Schwada has offered 50 acres for the project at no cost to the city. The Schwadas have a good, sound record in Lawrence. They are tough, but they carry through on their word. There is no double talk, which often is the case with developers.
With the combined efforts of the Selfs and Schwadas, the project seems to be on a fast track for approval. However, there are questions or concerns about the project that should be addressed.
Most of those interested in the project, whether they are enthusiastic backers or, particularly, if they have serious questions, acknowledge they are hesitant to be too critical for fear of offending the Selfs. They don’t want to say anything or raise serious concerns or objections that might cause the Selfs to pull out of the project. They don’t want to appear not to appreciate the Selfs’ generosity or possibly be the cause for altering the grand-sounding plan. They don’t want to be looked upon by fellow Lawrencians as being responsible for delaying or damaging the chances for a successful and unique development.
The fact is, city officials should acknowledge the huge project would indeed have a major impact on downtown Lawrence, which, in the past, has been looked upon as an untouchable, the city’s finest asset. Nothing would be approved that might damage the 10-block downtown area.
Who’s kidding whom? The recreation project could easily suck the air out of downtown, with many retail, commercial and athletic operations. How are those on the east side of Lawrence, particularly children, expected to get to the center: on foot, on bicycles or by special transportation?
If Kansas University athletic officials intend to build a track at the far northwest corner of the city, will it be open for public use? Who will control the facility, and who will be responsible for the cost of its operation and upkeep?
It’s far better to ask questions, tough questions now, rather than 10 years from now, about why the project was fast-tracked through City Hall. The public, taxpayers, need to know all there is to know about the project, the potential commercial development and how it could affect Lawrence’s downtown. How will children and adults from throughout the city be able to access and use the many athletic facilities. What is the cost to use the basketball courts, soccer fields, track and field venues, exercise equipment and other attractions?
It’s a great idea and would be great for the city, but there needs to be complete openness and transparency on all facets of the development, the good and less good. There should be no hidden or overlooked details and no after-the-fact waivers.