It is clear many behind-the-scenes discussions are occurring at Lawrence City Hall regarding plans for a proposed public-private partnership to build a recreation complex in northwest Lawrence.
Details revealed recently by Mayor Bob Schumm may have opened some eyes, especially the news that a concept plan for the project calls for a 300,000-square-foot building and a 15,000-seat outdoor track and field stadium.
City leaders and private developers appear to be in a “brainstorming mode” in which they are looking for ways to ensure a new facility would stand out from the competition and truly make Lawrence a destination for sporting events and the crowds that come with them.
Such brainstorming is a positive sign. Now is not the point in the process to think too small. But now is the time to begin communicating more with the public. This entire process has been billed as a public-private partnership. It is time for a key partner, the public, to receive a briefing.
Thus far, the private development group, which includes Lawrence businessmen Thomas Fritzel, Duane Schwada and Steve Schwada, have not made a broad presentation to the public explaining its vision for the project and why it is worthy of public support. Such a presentation ought to be made by the developers sooner rather than later. Likewise, city officials should be upfront with the public about the city’s (taxpayers’) role in the project.
Such a meeting also could allow the public to chime in with its thoughts about what amenities are needed or which ones would be considered over the top. It is becoming clear such a discussion will need to happen because the idea has grown from initial plans that would simply provide needed gym space in the community. It would be better to hear the public’s ideas now rather than when the project is trying to win zoning approval at City Hall.
At first blush, the idea of a major recreation complex that could serve both the needs of the community and attract significant visitor dollars looks promising. As with any project, the financial details that are to come will go a long way in determining its feasibility.
But before we even get to that stage, there’s an important step that should come first. In any partnership, it is critical for the partners to get to know each other and establish a common purpose. If city leaders truly want this to be a public-private partnership, it is time for our private partners to brief us on their vision.