Archive for Thursday, November 1, 2012

Town Talk: City to have public meeting on proposed sports complex; speculation that Fritzel will get to build $25M rec center without going through city bid process; ugly sweaters coming to downtown

November 1, 2012


News and notes from around town:

• I wouldn’t be surprised if this idea to build a new city recreation center/Kansas University sports complex in northwest Lawrence soon gets messier than a pickup basketball game full of 40-year-old men. (Trust me, those get messy.)

City leaders have scheduled a public meeting from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 8 at Free State High School to provide an update on the idea of a regional recreation center that currently is proposed for about 100 acres north of the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

The city will go over some cost estimates for the project — we’ll go over those in a moment — but I don’t think that is what will make this project messy. Instead, I think it is another hot topic at City Hall: The Varsity House project.

You surely remember that Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel is behind the Varsity House project, and that a majority of city commissioners believe he hasn’t lived up to his end of a compromise to move the old Varsity House in an appropriate way. The city is looking for a way to force Fritzel to pay some sort of restitution on the project.

Fritzel long has been a player in this idea to build a new regional recreation center. His role in the project when it was proposed for the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the SLT was pretty well understood.

But when the project moved east across the trafficway, exactly what his role will be became less clear. Details will start to come out soon, and it will be interesting to see how the general public reacts given the dust up that has occurred with the Varsity House.

Here’s what multiple sources have told me to expect Fritzel’s role to be when it comes to the regional recreation center: He’ll build the city’s $25 million recreation center, and he’ll be allowed to do so without going through the city’s normal bidding process.

That’s why this project likely will get messy. City leaders are going to have to come up with a way to explain why they are giving $25 million worth of business to a man they currently are trying to figure out how to fine because they don’t believe he upheld his end of a deal that was made with City Hall.

In addition, there are several members of the public — including a few commissioners — who still believe Fritzel did wrong on two other projects: the unexpected addition of cell towers masked as flag poles atop The Oread hotel, and the installation of large amounts of artificial turf at the former Boardwalk Apartment site, despite the fact the city’s code did not allow the use of that product.

In fairness, Fritzel, when he is in the mood to talk — which isn’t often — can provide reasons why those projects happened the way they did. His reasons hold water with some, but don’t for others.

The city likely will contend that it isn’t so much doing business with Fritzel but rather is doing business with the well-respected Kansas University Endowment Association.

Several sources have told me the deal will be structured like this:

— KU Endowment, in the beginning, will own all the land that will house the recreation center and the sports complex. Endowment will insist the project be built to certain standards to convey the proper level of quality expected by KU.

— With that in mind, KU Endowment will construct the city’s recreation center on a “build-to-suit” type of arrangement. After the project is completed to the city’s satisfaction, the city will pay KU Endowment $25 million. The city then will own the recreation center and, as it currently is proposed, the land that it sits on.

— But as part of this deal, KU Endowment gets to select the builder for the city’s recreation center. The overwhelming speculation is that Fritzel — who is a top executive at Lawrence’s Gene Fritzel Construction Co. — will be the builder for both the recreation center and the KU components that include a track and field stadium, softball stadium and other features.

So, the city very much will be doing business with a man who they are accusing of breaking faith on another multimillion-dollar construction project. Why is the city open to this? Because the city thinks it is going to get a good deal.

Remember, the city believes it will pay no more than $25 million for its recreation center and related amenities, which include lighted tennis courts, hiking paths and parking.

Well, the city now has numbers that estimate the actual value of everything the city will get for $25 million is actually $33.5 million. So it is kind of like one of those QVC-type of deals of “for this one low, low price you get all of this.” (I have found a QVC analogy is helpful in my household.) The assumption is — although it hasn’t clearly been spelled out — is that Fritzel will cover the difference either by taking less of a profit on the construction project or through some other means.

I need to find out a little bit more about where the city got its $33.5 million estimate. I assume it is from Lawrence’s Gould Evans architecture firm. But I don’t have many details about how that important number was developed.

I’ve also been told by sources that the city intends to further protect itself by having two contractors provide “mock” bids for the recreation center once it is completely designed. That is meant to give the city confidence that it truly is getting a recreation center that is worth at least $25 million. In case you are not following along, the city will pay a couple of contractors to produce bids for a project that those contractors have no chance of building. Already I can hear questions from some members of the public about whether a fake bid produces real numbers.

It all creates an interesting situation because if the city really does get $33.5 million worth of improvements for $25 million, that is quite a deal for a complex that city leaders believe will attract numerous visitors and outside dollars to the community. There would be many people in the community who would be upset if the city walked away from that type of value.

But the good old Varsity House issue is going to ensure that there are many people who question — fairly or unfairly — whether Fritzel will follow through on his end of the deal.

I’ve talked to several city commissioners about whether the Varsity House project will impact the recreation center project. They all have conceded it will make the recreation center project more politically difficult. Remember, there is a City Commission election in April. But I don’t believe there is a majority of commissioners who are ready to walk away from this deal.

I’ve been reminded that the city’s ultimate protection in the deal is that the city’s doesn’t hand over a $25 million check until it is satisfied it has gotten the project it has expected.

That is a powerful balancing force, as long as it works out that way. But if you end up in a situation where KU — the city’s largest employer — says it has upheld its end of the deal, and you have the city that says it hasn’t, talk about messy.

That’s an old man going up for a layup, blowing out his ACL, planting his face in the gym floor-type of messy.

• Hey, what says mess better than an ugly holiday sweater? (Perhaps an ugly holiday sweater with gravy on it, which is usually what happens to mine.)

Well, Downtown Lawrence better get ready for a whole host of people in ugly holiday sweaters. My understanding is that the group is working to create a 5K race for Dec. 1 that would be billed the “Ugly Sweater Run.” It promotes itself as the “ugliest 5K on the planet,” and it features runners wearing ugly holiday sweaters traversing a holiday-themed course in downtown.

My understanding is the organizers of the race somehow set up a “sledding area,” provide hot chocolate, and also have Sam Adams Winter Lager available for those of age. The event also works to generated donations for the Toys for Tots program.

I think the city is still working with event organizers on finalizing a time for the event. Dec. 1 also is the date for Downtown Lawrence’s Old Fashioned Christmas Parade, so the event will need to work around that major draw to downtown.

I think more details will be available in the next day or so, and I’ll pass them along when I get them.


dougfirst 5 years, 5 months ago

I promise you our company would love to bid on the recreation center. Put the entire project out for real bids.

pizzapete 5 years, 5 months ago

Doug "handout" first? Are there enough tax breaks and special tax districts built into this deal to make it worthwhile for you?

pizzapete 5 years, 5 months ago

That was a rhetorical question. With the city paying the bill for this mega playground any developer knows there's going to be enough meat on that hog to feed all of his employees and a family of zebras for a year or more.

WilburM 5 years, 5 months ago

Oh please. No bid process, from the guy who has continually abused the process and produced two buildings on Mt. Oread that range from undistinguished to ugly. This so-called process has been hazy and insider-dominated from the start. And associating it with the KUEA doesn't necessarily make it any more attractive.

Pepe 5 years, 5 months ago

What is the rationale behind not putting it up for an open bid process? Why not put it to an open bid and award the project to a qualified contractor who submits the lowest bid? I can't see much of a downside to an open bid process but I can see a real downside to not using an open bid process.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 5 months ago

Most city's would have pulled Fritzel's contractors license by now.

lawrencereporter 5 years, 5 months ago

Check out the letter (link provided below) from KU Endowment President Dale Seuferling dated October 2, 2012. KU Endowment is willing to ensure that Thomas Fritzel and his profit hungry ego get to build the City recreation center. Why, is Dale Seuferling and his powerful board members willing to walk the plank for Thomas Fritzel when this goes in the dumper and the City taxpayers lose. The entire reputation of the University of Kansas will be on the shoulders of one person, Thomas Fritzel. Fritzel is known for one thing, how he manipulates local politicians, city development codes, rules, and regulations for his personal benefit. One would think the University of Kansas and its leaders would chose do this project the right way, above, any, and all question, a true partnership with the City not and one-sided under the table deal to benefit a high profile KU donors son-in-law.

Here's the link to the city's website with the new recreation center information listed and the letter from KU Endowment.

irvan moore 5 years, 5 months ago

i'm ok with the development but really think the city should tell ku that there will be no partnership if fritzel gets this on a no bid deal

kernal 5 years, 5 months ago

No, they don't all operate the same way as builders seem to in Lawrence, KS.

It's time for Kansas to require a state license requirement for general contractor's with more backbone to it than what we have on a local level.

PhilChiles 5 years, 5 months ago

We've got a few hundred ugly/Christmas sweaters coming out soon at Wild Man Vintage, for anyone who is looking for them! We keep seeing more and more of those parties every year, it's a great idea.

hipper_than_hip 5 years, 5 months ago

I got a sweater for Christmas - I asked for a moaner or a screamer.

formerfarmer 5 years, 5 months ago

I don't see a problem here, If the city wants to buy the finished product from KU at a reduced price, then don't complain about who is building it. It's KU's right to use whoever they want.

If the city doesn't want Fritzell to build it, then tell KU the city will build it themselves and put it out for bids.

Pretty simple, and no one will have anything to cry about.

blindrabbit 5 years, 5 months ago

Guess Gene Fritzel has lost control of his money grubbing offspring!

Kontum1972 5 years, 5 months ago

lol...same old business....Quantrill left his offspring here....or mb he had the right idea when he torched the town....obtw i love the new trash cans....and the concept for them....too many injuries for the workers...from lifting the trash hall....have you ever heard of a weight- prevents one from blowing out your back when you lift?

bornherelongago 5 years, 5 months ago

Thomas is getting the bid because it was ordained by John Stewart who is giving big, big money to the KUEA for this very purpose. John is Thomas's father in law. It is a done deal. Live with it.

Catalano 5 years, 5 months ago

Oh, please do a Venn diagram of Stewart/Fritzel/Cromwell.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

This is just another vanity project in the competition among local plutocrats. Compton got "his" intersection downtown, and now the Fritzels are using their influence at KU Endowment and in the KU Athletic Dept. to build yet another monument to themselves (and make a boatload of money in the process.)

Budgets_Smudgets 5 years, 5 months ago

"mock bids" ????

Fake, fake. Fake, fake, fake.

blindrabbit 5 years, 5 months ago

Of which John Stewart do you speak?, the one with Wichita connections???

overthemoon 5 years, 5 months ago

Welcome to Friztelville. They've always got a family member or employee on the city commission or important boards. But at least they aren't as corrupt as the Dunns.

I can't imagine that any contractor will put together a 'mock' bid for free. It takes weeks of work to bid a project of this size.

Anthony Mall 5 years, 5 months ago

Lawrence is so corrupt!!! Same people, same crap, every time!!! City council must make a fortune in kickbacks, benefits, and golf passes!!!

jafs 5 years, 5 months ago

Sure, because the idea of staying and fighting for a better city is so silly.

Emigrated yet? You hate Obama, so you should leave the country, according to your own philosophy on this.

Emily Mae 5 years, 5 months ago

Couldn't possibly think of a WORSE contractor to get the cities business....

DanR 5 years, 5 months ago

Chad...Any word yet what the tenant(s) will be at 33rd and Iowa?

Nick_ex 5 years, 5 months ago

I'm pretty sure its Chipolte and AT&T.

Laundrytime 5 years, 5 months ago

If the runners are only wearing ugly holiday sweaters then it could be the Ugliest on the Planet.

Owen Foust 5 years, 5 months ago

Why do we keep electing these democrats downtown. Talk about the good ol boy network..... They keep screwing things up left and right.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 5 months ago

--- Lawrence,Kansas taxpayers do not need this facility! Simple as that.

--- Politicians are like used car sales people sometimes. Lawrence,Kansas does not need this facility.

--- Worried about the health of taxpayers? Want to attract new business to Lawrence? For 25 million dollars Lawrence,Kansas could become one of the most walkable/safe bicycling communities in America . And it would add market value to all other neighborhoods instead only the westside of town. Let's share the wealth and quit making the west side the sole focus of OUR millions of tax dollars. Let's show some wisdom and fiscal responsibility.

--- Build an $8 million neighborhood rec center on the property that taxpayers own as we speak. Spend the other $17 million on the walkable Lawrence Community meaning all other sides of town.

--- Add lighting to known heavy pedestrian traffic = potentially reducing rape crimes

maintenance travel surfaces known as safe walking/biking pathways that could connect all neighborhoods and commercial centers in Lawrence,Kansas.

--- It seems that so much tax dollar focus on the westside is saying that our city government is trying to quietly develop a real live "slum neighborhood" district. This is reckless economics.

--- Lawrence,Kansas taxpayers do not need this extravagant facility that will come with a $350,000 or more annual operating budget! Simple as that. $350,000 will provide tons of low maintenance miles for safer walking and biking.

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