Town Talk: Floor plans taking shape in new rec center design; will sports complex become concert venue?; possible events Rock Chalk Park may try to attract
News and notes from around town:
• In Atlanta, the three-pointer didn’t quite go in for KU on Tuesday night. But at Lawrence City Hall on Tuesday, there was plenty of success for Kansas University and others who are rooting for the city to build a $25 million recreation center as part of a Kansas University sports complex in northwest Lawrence.
The deal isn’t quite sealed yet, but a majority of city commissioners clearly put the project on that path. Commissioners in the next several weeks will start reviewing contracts that will spell out the specifics of an agreement between the city and the Kansas University Endowment to build the project.
If public comment from last night’s meeting is any indication, commissioners will want to pay particular attention to any details that describe what role Thomas Fritzel and his entity, Bliss Sports, will play in maintaining and operating the KU facilities once they are built.
So, plenty more details to come. But for the moment, I think folks may start focusing more on the actual recreational details of the project. Lost in the talk of deals and finances and such is that the plans for the 181,000 square foot center are now more specific than ever. Here’s a look at a few details:
— The recreation center will be built on two floors: A parking level floor, and a ground level floor, which a parks and recreation official told me you can think of as kind of like a giant walkout basement. (Does that mean my wife is going to make me sleep on a couch in the ground level of the new recreation center? That’s my most frequent experience with basements.)
— The parking lot level, which is where most folks will enter the building from, will include: a 1,700 square foot weight room; a 1,700 square foot cardio room, which will be separate from the weight room; a 1/8th mile indoor walking/jogging track, which will be built on mezzanine overlooking two of the facilities large sports courts; a 2,000 square foot dance studio/classroom space; a concession stand and food court area that also doubles as a mezzanine and viewing area that looks down on all the various sports courts below; 7,000 square feet for a wellness area that project leaders hope will be run and designed by Lawrence Memorial Hospital; men’s and women’s restrooms and three individual shower units mainly designed to serve the cardio and weight room users.
— The ground floor space is dominated by gyms and sports courts. The ground floor will have eight full-court, high-school-size gyms that also can be converted into 16 cross-court gyms that are more appropriate for junior high and grade school type of competitions. The gyms also can be converted into 16 volleyball courts.
The ground level also will include a 22,000 square foot indoor soccer field that will be designed to be used as either one full-size adult soccer field or three youth fields. Next to the soccer field will be a 5,850 square foot gymnastics area. Two party rooms — for birthday celebrations and other types of events — will be located right next to the gymnastics and soccer areas.
The gym space, however will be divided into two sections. Two of the large gyms will be located below the track and cardio room area, while the other six gyms will be located in what could be described as a separate wing of the building. That wing also will include the soccer and gymnastics areas.
Parks and Recreation leaders are pleased with the design because it will make it feasible to essentially have only a small portion of the building open during the daytime hours of a weekday when the number of users will be far less than during a weekend or an evening when sports teams most often play. The design should cut down on heating and cooling costs for the facility.
But make no mistake, the building is being designed to accommodate a lot of people. In addition to the mezzanine viewing area, each of the gyms will have space on the sides for spectators.
“We are trying to design this with the vision, we hope, of 1,000 people running around the facility at any given time,” said Ernie Shaw, leader of the city’s parks and recreation department.
• The city is hoping to attract regional and even national youth sporting events that will cause those thousands of people to visit the facility.
But commissioners on Tuesday also attempted to downplay that part of the facility a bit. City Commissioner Hugh Carter specifically made reference to a consultant’s report that estimated the facility could attract about 30 tournaments per year.
“I’m not sure those numbers are right, and neither are the consultants,” Carter said, pointing out disclaimers in the report that said the numbers shouldn’t be relied upon as projections of demand for the facility.
Carter said he does think the facility will be successful in attracting tournaments. But he said even if the center doesn’t perform as expected in that category, the center still will be a success because it will be meeting the needs of local recreation users.
That may be so, but if the center doesn’t meet projections for attracting lots of events, there will be residents who will contend the city could have met is local recreational needs with a smaller, less expensive center. The 181,000 square foot center will be larger than all of the city’s other recreation centers combined.
Following the city’s efforts to attract major events to town, though, will be fun. One question that is starting to get brought up around town is whether some of the events will be nonathletic in nature.
Specifically, the question of concerts is emerging. The newest site plans for the project no longer show the 4,800 seat amphitheater once proposed. The area where the amphitheater was once shown is now empty, which means it certainly could come back in future iterations.
Between the amphitheater and the track and field stadium — which will have the ability to seat 10,000 — it is easy to see how the site could become a venue for outdoor concerts.
Neither city nor KU officials have addressed that subject much. The requested zoning for the property would allow concerts. One neighbor of the site — Jack Graham, who for those of you interested in history, is the same Jack Graham involved with the Elkins Prairie controversy of the 1990s — has raised concerns through his attorney about the possibility of concerts on the site.
I’ve heard from others around town, though, who believe the project’s economic development potential could grow significantly if musical events are added to the mix of potential uses.
A safer bet, though, is that city and university officials will aggressively go after sporting events. Even though the indoor center has gotten most of the talk, I think the outdoor facilities — particularly the track and field stadium — may be the key to landing some of the really large events. Here are some events I’ve heard mentioned as possible targets for the city:
— The AAU National Junior Olympics, which could attract about 15,000 athletes. Lawrence hosted the event in 1988.
— The U.S. Special Olympics, which has been held in Midwestern cities such as Lincoln, Neb., and Ames, Iowa, in recent years.
— The NCAA Track and Field National Championships. KU officials have said they expect the facility to be one of the top four track and field competition venues in the country when it is built.
— The Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Outdoor Championships. KU officials have said the city may have a chance to become a regular host of that multi-day event.
— The Kansas State High School Activities Association’s Track and Field Championships, which currently are held in Wichita.
— The Sunflower State Games, a statewide Olympic-style competition that was hosted in Lawrence for years until the event moved to newer facilities in Topeka.
I’ve asked around about whether the track and field stadium will be designed so the infield of the track also can be used as a football stadium on occasion to host a state high school football championship.
Lawrence hasn’t hosted a state championship game for years. I’ve been told that state high school association leaders believed KU’s Memorial Stadium was too big for state championship events, and conditions at Haskell Indian Nations University stadium weren’t up to par.
Since that time, though, both Lawrence High and Free State High have built new facilities. I don’t know if their sizes meet the standards for state football championships.
I’m sure Lawrence officials already are finding out because after last night’s decision, sports is poised to become an even bigger industry in this town.
• I think I’ll call it a wrap on Town Talk today. We’ve been heavy on recreation center news the last couple of days. But that will change tomorrow. I’ve got some restaurant news and other items I’m working on about new businesses coming to town. In the meantime, I’m going to try to figure out how to get out of this basement.