City leaders are hoping to unveil detailed plans for a multimillion-dollar recreation complex in northwest Lawrence at a public meeting in the first week of June.
“We do want to get people’s opinions on what this project should offer, how it should function and who should operate it,” said Mayor Bob Schumm, who said an exact date for the public meeting hasn’t been set yet.
But city commissioners are poised to take a major step on the proposed public-private project before it receives that public input.
Commissioners on Tuesday will consider approving a request to annex 146 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway to house the recreation complex and supporting retail amenities that could range from restaurants to a hotel.
The annexation process traditionally is the point where discussions about extending city infrastructure to a site take place. Schumm said he had not received a detailed estimate on the costs to extend water service, sewers and city streets to the site, but said it had been described as a cost of “several million dollars.”
Schumm also confirmed that the current working agreement with a private development group calls for the city to pay for those infrastructure costs.
A development group led by Lawrence businessman Duane Schwada has offered to donate about 50 acres to the city to house the recreation complex. But a condition of the donation, Schumm said, is the city extend the infrastructure to the site.
Extending infrastructure to the 50-acre site essentially will bring the infrastructure to the remaining 100-plus acres that will continue to be owned by the Schwada group.
Schumm said he believes the deal is reasonable.
“I think it is a fair deal,” Schumm said. “It obviously creates a benefit for the other property, but if we were doing this on our own, we would have to bring the infrastructure to the site on our own and pay to acquire the property.”
City commissioners are moving ahead with the annexation even though the necessary rezoning to allow the recreation complex is at least a month from reaching the city commission.
Schumm said he wasn’t entirely certain why the two issues weren’t proceeding together. He also said he wanted to find out more information about what, if any, obligation the city would have to provide city infrastructure to the site, if the recreation complex deal fell apart. City Manager David Corliss said if the recreation center project didn’t proceed, the city would not be obligated to pay for the extension of infrastructure to the site.
Corliss said he’s recommending the annexation process continue on its current pace because it will keep the project on track, plus he said annexation at the location makes sense.
“It is at the intersection of two state highways,” Corliss said. “It is a piece of property that needs to be in the city limits.”
The annexation is not contingent upon the recreation complex moving forward. If approved, the property will become part of the city on June 4.
Schumm, though, hopes the upcoming public meeting answers many questions about the vision for the new complex. Detailed plans haven’t been released to the public, but discussions have included a 300,000-square-foot indoor center that would have at least eight gyms, a walking track, wellness center, food court and other amenities. In addition, a 15,000-seat outdoor track and field stadium that could host the Kansas Relays and other events has been contemplated.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board recently expressed a desire for more information about the project. In particular, board members said they wanted to ensure the project also could serve as a traditional West Lawrence recreation center, in addition to attracting regional tournaments and sporting events.
Parks and recreation leaders told the board that figuring out who will control the schedule of the facility will go a long way in determining how useful it will be to city recreation programs.
“Scheduling is going to be so important of an issue,” Mark Hecker, the city’s parks superintendent told the board. “We really need to get that issue figured out before it is determined who is paying for what.”
Schumm said he’s convinced commissioners will insist that any plan be able to serve both the community needs and the larger desire to attract regional sporting events.
“It simply must comply with the city’s needs as a neighborhood recreation center,” Schumm said.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.