Archive for Friday, March 2, 2012

Town Talk: Activity heating up on possible public-private rec center; Housing Authority exploring partnership on affordable housing development; city starts planning for March Madness

March 2, 2012


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News and notes from around town:

• Maybe Bill Self’s motivational skills extend far beyond the basketball court. Whatever it is, it sure appears the city of Lawrence is moving into a higher gear on this idea of a public/private partnership to build a significant fieldhouse/recreation center in northwest Lawrence.

My understanding is a variety of city officials met for a couple of hours on Wednesday at the basketball office at the headquarters of Kansas University Athletics. Now, probably not coincidentally, the city has scheduled an executive session at their Tuesday evening meeting to discuss possible acquisition of property. There has been no official word from City Hall on this, but it is my understanding commissioners will discuss receiving a donation of 40 to 50 acres of property near the northwest corner of Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway for a possible fieldhouse/tournament center.

As we have previously reported, a group led by Lawrence businessmen Steve and Duane Schwada have expressed an interest in donating property to the city, if the city is interested in pursuing a facility that could serve as a magnet for regional or even national youth sporting tournaments.

We also have reported supporters of this project have been looking at a large youth fieldhouse facility in Frisco, Texas, as a possible model for what could be done here. That facility has about 145,000 square feet, 12 gyms, an indoor/soccer/youth football field, a food court, fitness center and several other amenities.

I’m still hearing that’s a general concept for what is possible for a Lawrence project, but I think the local facility also would include a wellness center and maybe some more outdoor activities. I’m also still hearing a track and field facility is in the mix. I don’t have a good handle on whether that would be the type of facility that could replace the track at Memorial Stadium or whether it is more of a youth-oriented facility.

In all honesty, there are several aspects of this project that still aren’t clear to me, but it seems like some important developments are occurring that the public should at least be aware of. Going forward, I think these will be some of the big questions that will determine whether this idea actually turns into a project:

— What is the price tag and how would the costs be split among the city, private interests, and perhaps the KU Athletic Department?

— Who will operate the center? The facility in Frisco is owned by the city but operated by a private group that works to attract tournaments and other events to the center. Would Lawrence officials be comfortable with such an arrangement, or would they rather have a facility that is run by the city’s parks and recreation department? If the facility is run by a private group, will there be parts of the building that are run like a traditional city recreation center? You know, areas like a fitness/cardio room and free gym time for pick-up basketball games and such.

— Will Bill Self come out and publicly endorse the project? Self’s foundation has previously said it is very interested in a facility that can boost the presence of youth sports and promote wellness in the community. When the city was considering building a $15 million recreation center at Sixth and Wakarusa — which would have included five to six gyms — Self’s foundation had indicated it likely would donate $1 million to the effort. If the coach comes out and says this public/private partnership is a great idea, that will open a lot of ears in this town and in the broader KU community.

— How will the public react to such a major project? There certainly has been a fairly active group of parents and others who have said Lawrence is missing out on a lot of dollars because many youth sporting events are being held out of town. This larger facility may be more appealing to them than a traditional city-operated recreation center. How the rest of the public reacts probably will depend on how much the city will have to spend and how much access the public will have to the facility.

As for Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners usually don’t take any formal actions after executive sessions. If the commission wants to move forward with this piece of property, I would expect that to show up on a future City Commission agenda.

• Speaking of proposals, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority wants to receive some from the development community. Shannon Oury, executive director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, has sent a letter to city commissioners informing them that the authority likely will begin discussing a new affordable housing project with private developers in the community.

The housing authority recently was approached by a local developer interested in working with the authority to build a new “affordable multifamily project.” After receiving the proposal, the authority’s board decided it would be best to issue a call for qualifications to determine if there are any other developers interested in working on a project with the authority.

Oury stressed in her letter that the current concept for an affordable housing development would not require any city funding. But the city ultimately would have to be involved because the housing authority’s by-laws call for the city to hold title to property owned by the housing authority.

Commissioners will receive the letter at their Tuesday meeting.

• If the Jayhawks don’t make it to either the Elite Eight or the Final Four this year, remember this number: 8713. That’s the number of a city ordinance that will be up for approval at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. The ordinance bans the possession of glass bottles or other glass containers on sidewalks and other public rights of ways in downtown from noon on Saturday, March 24, to 6 a.m. on Monday, March 26, and also from noon on Saturday, March 31, to 6 a.m. on Tuesday, April 3.

Those dates coincide with the dates of the Elite Eight and the Final Four of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The ordinance is an effort by the Lawrence Police Department to plan for large crowds in downtown, if the Jayhawks make a deep run into the tourney. The idea of not having a bunch of glass bottles around in such a frenzied environment is kind of a best-practice for public safety.

And no, the city is not trying to jinx the Jayhawk’s chances by doing this before tournament even begins. An ordinance typically takes a few weeks to go through the entire approval and publication process.

But still, you have to worry. What if an opposing coach gets a hold of this ordinance? What type of bulletin board material would that be? “Pursuant to the general police powers of the city of Lawrence,” or “this ordinance shall take effect an be in force.” Pretty bold legalese.

In case you are wondering, the fine for carrying a glass bottle in downtown on those dates can be up to $100 plus court costs.


JackMcKee 5 years, 9 months ago

“affordable multifamily project" = cheap apartment complex. No thanks. Lawrence already has enough.

Enlightenment 5 years, 9 months ago

Sounds like another low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) deal. I'm all for it providing it is built in a good location. If it is a LIHTC deal, it will prevent full-time students from residing at the development and provide affordable rentals for low to moderate income households.

Enlightenment 5 years, 9 months ago

I wonder who the developer is and where they want to build.

blindrabbit 5 years, 9 months ago

Let's go for the Cadillac, but not Romney's wifes. Years ago there was a proposal to build a privately funded ice rink out near Sport to Sport, Crystal Sports was the name I believe. Figured lots of use from fun skaters, figure skaters and hockey sliders. Thing died as it did not attract enough shareholders; i was a willing participant. Question, why not include this in the proposed Rec. Center package, as a "state of the art", would be the "envy of the Midwest". Maybe make it fee based, like Eagle Bend Golf Course.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 9 months ago

I agree rabbit,

If you are going to do something, do it right the first time.

Fred Sherman 5 years, 9 months ago

An ice rink likely could not function economically only on a fee-based basis. Some (high) level of public subsidy would be needed to cover both the capital up-front costs and operational costs. The free-market demand to support an ice rink is marginal - at best. This is partly why the Pepsi Ice-Midwest facility @ 135th & Quivira in O.P. is no longer an operating ice rink. When the chiller machine broke at Ice Midwest a little more than a year ago, the folks that operate that facility chose not to pony up the large amount of funds to fix / replace that expensive piece of equipment to make ice, and now the facility caters to folks to play and practice, volleyball, indoor soccer and other field sports that don't require ice.

Joe Adams 5 years, 9 months ago

Pepsi Ice failed because the ownership put off needed repairs until it was too expensive. Bad decisions led to a need to replace everything instead of spending the money on simple repairs. That being said, there is a plenty of support for hockey in this town, especially since Pepsi Ice is no longer there. When the closest rink is Topeka and is only open 6 months a year, as an ice rink, something needs to change. Look at the Mavericks in Independence...there is a huge fan base and it is growing every game. The more hockey grows in KC, the more it will push west. I don't know that an ice rink should be included in this plan for a rec center but I definitely hope that they leave open the opportunity for something in the future.

blindrabbit 5 years, 9 months ago

Dangnabit: I wanted to apply for the Zamboni job! I know the cost would be high, rent out off-hours to figure skaters and hockey teams. I'll bet KU students (teams) would love to participate in intramural hockey leagues (for fees). Who knows, maybe Lawrence has a future world champion figure skater out there. Anyway, many states north of here have rinks, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan; why not here; Canada full of em.

aldo 5 years, 9 months ago

Such a facility already exists in Lawrence and is called Gametime Recreation. Located in the old FedX building at 28th and Haskell.

mom_of_three 5 years, 9 months ago

I think Gametime Rec has only a couple of courts. Nothing like which is discribed above. Springdale Arkansas had something like Frisco on a smaller scale - about 6 indoor courts all squashed side by side, running track above, indoor soccer field and food court, with exercise area and some other rooms.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

Lawrence,Kansas is not Frisco,Texas not by a long shot. We don't have the big bucks to support extravagance.

Frisco is an affluent city in Collin and Denton Counties in the U.S. state of Texas and a rapidly growing suburb of Dallas. As of the 2010 Census, 116,989 people were living in Frisco up from 33,714 in the previous census. Frisco was the fastest growing city in the United States in 2009,[3] and also the fastest growing city in the nation from 2000-2009.

In the late 1990s, the northern Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex suburban development tide hit the northern border of Plano and spilled into Frisco, sparking explosive growth into the 2000s. Like many of the cities located in the booming northern suburbs of Dallas, Frisco serves as a bedroom community for many professionals who work in the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex.

Since 2003, Frisco has received the designation "Tree City USA" by the National Arbor Day Foundation.[5] In 2007, Frisco received the National Arbor Day Foundation Growth Award for the third year in a row. This award recognizes environmental improvement and encourages a higher level of tree care and tree preservation within the community. A 2007 Forbes study named Frisco as the seventh-fastest growing suburb in the United States.[6],_Texas

Frisco is considered a suburb of Dallas and Lawrence is a suburb to no other city. Dallas is more than twice the population of KcMo and tons of oil money.

JoCo/Overland Park is a suburb to Kansas City. Which is likely where this type of idea might be successful.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

There is a lot of high risk thinking and spending of our tax dollars taking place. It is obvious that Lawrence taxpayers will not be consulted on the matter = no taxpayer approval by way of the ballot box.

Sooooooooooooo what has happened is USD spent more than $20 million on PLAY. This new extravagant field house spending is more of PLAY that was more or less introduced by former Mayor Bonnie Lowe a few years back. Lawrence has trouble attracting significant industry so the city and developers it appears have decided to make big time sports a new industry WITHOUT notifying taxpayers. A lot of our taxpayer dollars will be spent without our approval.

The tax dollar spending to support such an extravagant project will never cease. I say the City of Lawrence taxpayers should receive 45% of all profits for the investment of OUR tax dollars. If there will in fact be profit. Obviously private money is not so sure which is why that private money is not doing this project in a Free Market fashion..

People who have a ton of money are not necessarily economic giants when it comes to urban economics and managing the city in a fiscal responsible manner.

My feeling is the 1994 sales tax money is being abused. Taxpayers need some real hard evidence that this will pay back.

This explains the sudden surge in hotels and motels in Lawrence,Kansas. Hopefully Lawrence will not be filing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 9 months ago

Can't you find any more recent material to use in your copy/pastings, merrill.? Things may have changed in the last 5 years.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

West Lawrence Sports Arena Where’s the money?

Now, in this country right now, we are spending $2 billion a year subsidizing the big four sports: baseball, basketball, football and hockey. It accounts for all of the profits of that industry and more. Now, there may be individual teams that make money, but the industry as a whole is not profitable.

whitecho 5 years, 9 months ago

Chad, Any idea if Self's version of a larger presence for youth sports would possibly include a top-notch, concrete skatepark? The kind that makes people travel to KC now? Seems like when you're talking about several million to build such a facility, what's a couple hundred thousand for a destination skatepark to be included?

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