Rec center? Try rec park

City leaders get a look at the latest plans for a sports complex that could grow to be 100 acres

A map of the proposed layout of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex, proposed for about 90 acres north of the northeast intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. Note that north on the map is to the right.

Rock Chalk is set to get quite a bit louder in northwest Lawrence.

Architects have filed the most detailed plans yet with Lawrence City Hall for a proposed sports complex that would house multiple facilities for Kansas University and the city of Lawrence.

Planners also have submitted a name for the complex that could grow to more than 100 acres in size: Rock Chalk Park.

“It really is going to function more like a park than an institutionalized set of buildings,” said Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm. “I think there will be a level of amazement throughout the region when they see it in full operation. It will be unbelievable for our prestige when it comes to our amateur sports offerings.”

As previously reported, the plans still call for a new city recreation center/youth fieldhouse, and several KU athletic venues including a track-and-field stadium, soccer field and softball stadium.

But the new plans also show how expansive the project — slated for vacant property north of the northeast corner of Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway — could become. Plans call for eight lighted tennis courts to be built adjacent to the city’s recreation center, with room for a dozen more in future years.

The plans also now show a 4,000-seat amphitheater that would be near the city’s recreation center and nestled along the banks of Baldwin Creek, which runs through the property.

“I would hope you could have some plays and some musicals out there,” Schumm said. “With the arts in this town, I think there would be a lot of opportunities. I think it could be a fun place to be out on a summer evening.”

The area along the creek and adjacent property that the city already owns is being planned to have five to six miles of trails that could be used for everything from nature walks to cross country courses, Schumm said.

But the plans also show an area — the southeast point of the property most visible from the South Lawrence Trafficway — housing a small arena of 5,000 seats or less. The plans label the arena as future development, and both architects and KU officials said there are no immediate plans for when the arena may be built or what it would house.

“We’re really just trying to show how we can leave some appropriate areas that could add future uses that would be of interest to KU or other users,” said John Wilkins, an architect with Lawrence-based Gould Evans, which is designing the project in conjunction with Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects.

KU officials said they are pleased with the plans they have seen thus far.

“We’re very excited about the possibilities this site presents,” said Jim Marchiony, a KU associate athletic director. “We think the addition of the recreation center adds to the attraction of it. The athletes will be excited about playing in such a comprehensive sports venue. We think the site will draw many events to the city of Lawrence.”

Here’s a look at other details from the plans filed at Lawrence City Hall:

• The city’s recreation center/youth fieldhouse is still planned to be about 181,000 square feet. The building — which will include a multitude of gyms, a fitness center and more indoor recreation space — is slated for the far north end of the site, near Baldwin Creek.

• KU facilities proposed to be built as part of the first phase of the project include: a track and field stadium with 7,500 permanent seats and 2,500 temporary seats; a soccer field with 2,500 seats; and a softball field with 1,000 seats.

• Plans show 1,400 paved parking spots as part of the complex, with other open areas that could accommodate overflow parking.

• The KU portion of the project would include more than just outdoor sports fields. The plans also include all the necessary locker rooms, press boxes, concession areas and other amenities. In addition, the plans call for a 15,000-square-foot, two-story “training facility” to be built on site.

• Two new roads are planned as part of the development. A new road would run west from where George Williams Way currently dead ends. It is tentatively planned to be named Rock Chalk Drive. George Williams Way also would be extended north to lead into the large parking lot for the complex. A new road to serve the interior of the complex also would be built. It is scheduled to be named Rock Chalk Parkway.

• Thus far, all the improvements are slated for 89.8 acres that are directly north and west of where George Williams Way currently dead ends. But the property that is slated to be purchased by Kansas University Endowment also includes 19.7 acres that are farther north and west. Plans currently show that property remaining vacant but being available for expansion in the future.

Schumm said city and KU officials continue to work on agreements related to the financial aspects of the partnership. The city previously has identified $1.2 million a year in sales tax money that it currently receives that it could use for the next 20 years to pay for the recreation center. It has also looked at issuing additional city debt to pay for needed infrastructure improvements in the area.

All the financial agreements, plus several land use issues, will have to come to the City Commission for formal approval. Many of those issues could be up for approval before the end of the year.

“I think by spring, you could see some construction activity out there,” Schumm said.