• If you have some questions about the city’s proposed regional recreation center in northwest Lawrence, a forum from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. this evening at Lawrence Free State High is the place you ought to be. The forum will be an open house style of event where you can go up to one of several stations and just start asking questions, rather than having to get in front of a large crowd and speak into a microphone.
An article on the LJWorld site today details how the cost of the project have risen over the last year, and also how the project has grown in scope. Many city officials believe the $25 million project has much more potential now to attract regional and national youth tournaments and sporting events than it did when it was proposed as a much smaller project a year ago.
That really will probably be the key question — and also the toughest question to answer — with this project. How many youth basketball and volleyball tournaments can this proposed center attract? And how much economic impact will those tournaments produce for the community? Every deal of significance has risk, and I think most would agree that this is the part of the deal that contains the most risk for the city. What is the true market for these youth tournaments?
The city hired a consultant to study the economic impacts of such a facility, and it determined the center would inject about $6.3 million a year worth of spending into the Lawrence economy. The report projects the facility will host about 34 tournaments a year and about 25 ticketed events a year, such as KU soccer and track and field events. (This study was done before a KU softball stadium was added to the project.)
The authors of the report certainly talked to many potential users, but it is a little difficult to understand how the consultants came up with the projections they did. But it also is important to remember what type of report this was. In the grand scheme of things, it was a pretty quick report on the subject. The authors of the report warn city officials of that with the statement that “because procedures were limited, we express no opinion or assurances of any kind on the achievability of any projected information contained herein and this report should not be relied upon for that purpose.”
In terms of other questions about the project, I still hear inquiries from folks wanting to know more detailed information about the cost of the project. Here is a breakdown of what city officials currently think the cost of the project will be:
— 181,000-square-foot indoor recreation center/fieldhouse: $19.3 million.
— Lighted outdoor tennis courts: $640,000.
— Infrastructure, such as roads and utilities: $6.8 million.
— Recreational paths: $1.2 million.
— 1,400 paved parking spaces: $5.6 million.
If you add that all up, it totals $33.5 million. The city, however, believes it has negotiated a deal with KU Endowment to cap the city’s cost at $25 million (plus the interest the city would accrue on the bonds to finance the project). In other words, the city believes it will get $33.5 million worth of facilities for $25 million. That is why even though this project has taken many odd twists and turns that commissioners have stayed committed to it. The city believes it has a chance to get a real value.
City leaders have told me that now it is time for all of you to start saying what you believe. Tonight’s public forum and Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting are likely going to be important times to make comments on this project. If the hope is to start construction on this sports complex by spring, the city will have to start making some commitments pretty soon.
• Speaking of questions, there a nasty rumor that took hold on Twitter Wednesday that Milton's, the popular breakfast spot/coffee house at 920 Massachusetts St. had closed. I don't have any information on the genesis of that talk, but I would tell you that Milton's was open this morning.
I've got a call into owner David Lewis to see if he can shed any light on how such a rumor got started, and if there is anything new at the restaurant. If I get more information, I'll let you know.