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News and notes from around town:
• More details are emerging about a possible youth fieldhouse/recreation center that would be built in northwest Lawrence. And the details are emerging from the man who likely will be in charge of the city process for the next year.
City Commissioner Bob Schumm is scheduled to be installed as mayor at Tuesday evening’s City Commission meeting. Schumm was the top vote-winner in the last city commission election, and tradition says he’s in line to be the next mayor.
I chatted with Schumm about his mayoral agenda, and you can read that article this weekend. But he also shared more details than have been available thus far about the proposed youth fieldhouse project, which would be built through a public-private partnership on property at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. Here’s a look:
— About $13 million is a good bet for how much money the city will put into this project, Schumm said. How much money developers — which include Steve and Duane Schwada and members of the Gene Fritzel Construction company — will put into the project remains less clear. The $13 million amount is about how much the city thinks it can pay without raising taxes. City leaders are hoping to use money that will become available after the debt for several sales tax-financed projects — such as the indoor pool and the community health building — are retired in the next year or so.
— The current working idea, Schumm said, is a development group — probably led by Thomas Fritzel — would own the fieldhouse/recreation center. The private group would take care of the maintenance, security, utilities and other such functions that come with owning a building. The city would pay a lease payment (that’s included in the $13 million) to the private group, which would entitle the city to use the facility for parks and recreation classes, leagues and other functions that normally take place in a recreation center. City employees of the Parks and Recreation Department likely would staff the facility.
— After 20 years of lease payments, the city would own the building, Schumm said. The city would own the ground that the building sits on from the very beginning.
— Schumm hopes to have the building up and going by early 2013, which means this project has a ticket on the City Hall Express. That train has sometimes been subject to delays, so we’ll see what the future holds.
What’s clear, though, is Schumm is excited about this project and its potential to attract major youth sporting tournaments and other events to the city. When the city was talking about building a traditional recreation center near Sixth and Wakarusa, Schumm didn’t seem to have quite the same enthusiasm. He certainly was open to the idea, but he also was among the group that questioned whether now was the right time for such an endeavor.
But this expanded project, Schumm said, has such a strong economic development component that it demands the city’s attention. He said the numbers city commissioners are being given is that many of these youth tournaments bring 2.5 visitors for every player who participates in the event. Many of these tournaments have 50 or more teams.
“This is a big, big opportunity for us,” Schumm said. “I think it really will put Lawrence on the map as an exciting place to visit from all over the Midwest. We’re going to get a lot of recognition out of it, and it will identify us as a first-class city.”
• From basketball to bikes. If you remember quite awhile ago, we reported there is a group interested in building a BMX bicycle track in Lawrence. You know, one of those places with the big jumps and the other sorts of things that keep insurance executives awake at night. Well, that idea is still alive, and actually city staff members are spending some time trying to figure out where such a facility could be located.
Parks and Recreation leaders told me they currently are looking at two pieces of city property that could house a BMX track.
— A five-acre site near the city’s popular off-leash dog park below the Clinton Lake Dam. Or if you are familiar with where the small parking lot for Sesquicentennial Point is, the site is right across the road from that. I believe the site used to be part of the outlet camping ground area.
— A five-acre site near East 1700 and North 1300 roads. That is property that currently is ag land and is quite a bit southeast of 23rd Street and Franklin Road. But the city owns the property because it has a utility pump station on the property. Eventually, the area will be a high-profile location, if the east leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway is completed. The area — which also includes vacant ground owned by the school district — would be near the route of the SLT.
Neither site is very convenient for Lawrence residents to bike to, but parks and recreation leaders said they’re not sure the facility would be appropriate for a traditional city park. The track isn’t the most attractive of things, since it involves large piles of dirt and fencing.
I’ll check in with some of the proponents of the track to find out a little bit more of what they have in mind. When I last chatted with them, they were envisioning a 1,500-foot track with outdoor lighting. At that time, they were not asking for any city funds to help with the construction or maintenance of the track. Instead, the city’s contribution would be some ground to house the facility.
Parks and Recreation leaders told me that they definitely are operating under the assumption the facility would receive no financial support from the city. The ground also would remain under the control of the city, and the BMX folks would have some sort of lease with the city to use the property.
• In the name of a busy Friday (I still have to get my Crimson and Blue face paint on) we’ll call that a wrap for this week’s Town Talk. Have a good and safe weekend.