At least one point about a proposed sports complex in northwest Lawrence became clearer Tuesday: The public is divided about the wisdom of the plan.
As for most of the other details about the proposal to locate a $24 million city recreation center and a KU track and soccer complex at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway? Well, it likely will be another two weeks before those are cleared up.
Commissioners at their weekly meeting deferred all votes on the proposal, and instead said they wanted to have more time to negotiate key agreements with private development groups led by Lawrence businessmen Duane Schwada and Thomas Fritzel.
Members of the public, though, didn’t wait to deliver their opinions. Commissioners took more than an hour’s worth of public comment, with significant numbers of people speaking for and against the project.
“I can honestly say I have never felt frightened by any of your decisions, until now,” said Melinda Henderson, a Lawrence resident. “This project scares the bejesus out of me.”
Several speakers said they worried the city would commit to the $24 million recreation center and then wish it had that money to deal with tough times that may come when the state tightens its budget. Others also mentioned the money could be used to help pay for a requested $40 million in improvements to the police force, or to cut property taxes.
About twice as many people spoke against the proposal as for it, but commissioners did hear from several people who said the project would address multiple needs for the city.
Some speakers said gym space has been sorely lacking in the city since the 1990s — when one remembered holding youth league basketball practices at 6 a.m. in the gym/cafeteria of Hillcrest School. Others said the community also is losing out on a chance to host large regional youth tournaments because it doesn’t have adequate facilities.
“But this is not just about bringing tournaments to town,” said Andy Pitts, a Lawrence resident who has children involved in youth sports. “This is about providing what this community deserves.”
City commissioners also were slightly divided on the issue. City Commissioner Mike Amyx said he wanted more details about how much cheaper it would be for the city to build a recreation center on 29 acres of land already owned by the city near Wakarusa and Overland drives.
City staff members said they could provide that information but noted the 29-acre site would not be large enough to accommodate any of the Kansas University components.
Commissioners said they were fine with getting the extra information, but four of the five commissioners said they were still very interested in having KU as a partner in the project.