Emerging plans to build a major recreation facility in northwest Lawrence present some exciting possibilities for the city.
After several years of discussion about the city building a new recreation center near Free State High School, a group of public and private entities now have shifted the planning focus to a much larger project further west, at the northwest corner of the Sixth Street intersection with the South Lawrence Trafficway. The statement released last week came from the city of Lawrence and Bill and Cindy Self’s Assists Foundation, but Kansas University also reportedly is interested in locating facilities, perhaps outdoor track and field venues, at the same location. A couple of local developers, including one group that may donate land for the project, also have been involved in the planning.
No plans or cost estimates have been released, but city officials say the facility probably would include multiple basketball courts, a large arena, an indoor elevated track, an indoor turf field, a health and wellness center, a fitness facility and other amenities including concessions and walking trails. The hope is that the new center not only would provide many recreation opportunities for local residents but also could be used to attract tournaments and major youth sporting events to the community. Such events would be a major economic boon for the city.
It sounds like a fabulous project, but it will present some significant challenges. The fact that the Self foundation, KU and private developers are interested in partnering with the city on this project gives the recreation center an entirely new dimension. It will be important to carefully delineate what each group’s expectations are for the design and use of the building and grounds.
Whoever — the city or a private entity — is charged with scheduling and managing the facilities will have to balance a number of interests. For instance, if city taxpayers are going to be asked to contribute money that would otherwise have been used to construct another city recreation center, they should be assured that the larger facility will provide the same community services, including such things as class and meeting space and open gym time for youngsters. The partners also will have to establish priorities for use of the facility for camps, tournaments and other events.
Bringing several public and private interests to develop this project is an interesting challenge, but certainly a worthwhile effort that could provide many economic and recreational benefits for Lawrence. It will take some time to get it right, but it’s great to see this project finally moving forward.