Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Town Talk: More about the proposed N.W. Lawrence sports complex, and why Lawrence shouldn’t try to be Olathe

September 5, 2012


News and notes from around town:

• Hopefully playing in a $24 million Lawrence recreation center is more fun than planning for one. It is becoming pretty obvious that city officials are getting worn out by the negotiations and other details that have gone along with building a city/KU sports complex at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

I hadn’t done the math until Tuesday night, but it has been almost 10 months since city commissioners first started talking about this site. It was in early November that commissioners halted planning for a recreation center near Wakarusa and Overland drives and started focusing on this unique opportunity to partner with private development groups led by Thomas Fritzel and Duane Schwada.

As we reported, commissioners on Tuesday deferred all votes on the recreation center for at least one week but probably two weeks. But there were still several pieces of information that emerged from Tuesday night’s meeting that I didn’t have room to report on late Tuesday night. So, here we go:

— City officials tried to get back on message. So much attention has been paid to what this new 180,000-square-foot recreation center could do to attract tournaments to town. But Tuesday night city officials tried to drive home the point that the primary reason to build this recreation center is because current city residents are underserved when it comes to indoor recreation space, especially gyms.

Ernie Shaw, the leader of the city’s parks and recreation department, cited an industry benchmark that says Lawrence — based on its population — should have 18 more gyms than it does. The new center would have eight full-sized gyms. As he has noted before, recreational youth basketball leagues have been cut from 12 games a season to six games a season. The city’s youth volleyball program is basically limited to fourth- and fifth-graders because of a lack of space.

“First and foremost, this project will address the pressing recreational needs we have in the community,” Shaw said.

He also sought to reassure people that the walking track, fitness center, classrooms and other amenities at the proposed center will be open to the public even when the center is hosting a tournament.

“Even if we have a tournament, you are going to still have a recreation center with a lot of things to do,” Shaw said.

— With all that said, the city is still clearly trying to accomplish two things at once. It wants to build both a community recreation center and a facility that can attract regional and even national youth sporting events.

I get the impression that commissioners understand that if they were just trying to build a community recreation center, this probably isn’t the site they would build it at.

Given that, city officials have to convince the public why this unique deal is better than building a simple recreation center on the 29 acres already owned by the city near Wakarusa and Overland. The answer has been because the partnership will allow the city to do something better than what it can do on its own.

But city officials have struggled to clearly articulate what the city is getting out of this partnership. Thus far, several members of the public have seized onto what developers are getting out of the project. Fritzel is getting $24 million over 20 years, and it appears, a chunk of business for a Fritzel construction entity. Schwada is getting several million dollars in infrastructure extended to the 146 acres he owns at the intersection, new retail zoning for the intersection, and a traffic generator that surely will help his Mercato retail development that hasn’t really gotten off the ground across the highway. KU gets land and infrastructure to build a new track and field stadium, which will clear the way for the university to eventually revamp Memorial Stadium once the track is eliminated there.

But what does the city get out of all this? That’s been less clear, but I’ll take a shot at summarizing what I’ve heard from city officials, and then you can decide whether to take it or leave it.

From the Schwada group, the city gets at least 50 acres — but it now looks like 60 acres — of highly visible property at the intersection of two state highways. Oddly, the city hasn’t really talked about how much that land would sell for on the open market. But it is significant.

My understanding is that less visible land along the SLT, just north of the intersection, is on the market for about $31,000 an acre. That site is closer to water and sewer infrastructure, which plays a role in the price. The Schwada site, however, is far more visible. It seems the city would be doing itself a favor by having an outside appraisal done of the site and announcing its fair market value to the public. That would put into perspective how large of a donation is being made by the Schwada group.

Bottom line, I think commissioners believe they are getting a piece of property that would cost in excess of $1 million if they were to try to go out and buy it.

From the Fritzel group, the city is getting cheap financing. That’s how they view it. The city’s architect has gotten a third-party construction company to estimate what the bid would be to build the 180,000-square-foot recreation center as proposed. The estimate is $22.5 million to $25 million. That is just to build it. That includes no costs — such as interest — to finance it.

The current plan calls for the city to pay $24 million over 20 years to Fritzel’s group. To put that in perspective, when the city was thinking about building a $16 million recreation center at Wakarusa and Overland, it was projecting to pay $8 million in interest expenses. On a $24 million building, the interest expenses would be significantly more than that.

So, are we supposed to believe that Fritzel is going to dig into his pocket and cover $10 million plus of interest expenses just because he wants to help the city out? I’m not sure I would quite put it that way. There will be some offsets for Fritzel. For example, if Bill Self’s foundation makes a donation to the project, that money will go to Fritzel’s foundation, not the city. If Lawrence Memorial Hospital decides to build a wellness center in the facility, that money will go to Fritzel’s foundation, not the city. And, if a Fritzel entity builds the center, part of that $25 million construction cost will be a profit margin.

The other big factor to keep in mind is that Fritzel and his foundation also are likely to be both the builder and the landlord for the KU facilities on the site. As proposed Fritzel’s non-profit foundation would have an agreement with the city that would allow the foundation to be the landlord for the KU track and soccer facilities that will be on the site. No one really knows, at this point, what type of deal Fritzel has with KU athletics to build and manage those properties.

But I don’t think the city really cares about all of that. What city officials see is that the city would get a $24 million building for far less than what it would cost the city to build it on its own.

From KU, the city gets a traffic generator and a partnership with the most important entity in town. I think there is a high level of confidence that if KU builds its track and field stadium (remember, the city’s not paying to build it) that Lawrence will become a regular host of the Big 12 Track and Field Championships. I think there is some optimism the NCAA may hold larger track and field events at the site as well. KU plans to build a top-notch facility that will get the track world excited.

But even more important than that, is the city wants to strengthen its relationship with KU. It has been pleased with what the partnership has produced at the bisocience and technology incubator on KU’s West Campus. It wants to do more of that sort of thing. And city officials have picked up a vibe that this sports complex idea is very important to the upper leadership of the university.

How committed the city is to working with KU will become clearer in the next couple of weeks. At the request of City Commissioner Mike Amyx, city staff members will put together a study that shows how much cheaper the city could build this recreation center if it located it on the Wakarusa and Overland drive site.

It will be cheaper. A preliminary estimate shows that there will need to be about $10.7 million worth of city and state infrastructure improvements made to the Sixth and SLT site. The Wakarusa and Overland site currently is thought to need only a $200,000 traffic signal.

But city officials note that the 29-acre site isn’t large enough to accommodate any of the KU uses, like the track and field stadium.

At last night’s meeting, a majority of commissioners said they thought it was important the city find a way to work with KU on this project.

“I can tell you that Lawrence is very dependent on the future success of KU with its recruiting of students and faculty,” said Mayor Bob Schumm. “I feel like we are doing something here that will benefit the city and KU in spades for years to come.”

City Commissioner Aron Cromwell went a step further and said the project will help solidify Lawrence’s overall reputation in the region.

“The image of Lawrence is a young, vibrant, healthy community,” Cromwell said. “That makes us attractive to the region as a place to live, as a place to locate a business. These sorts of things are important.

“If we try to compete with Olathe by being Olathe, we’re always going to lose because Olathe is much better at it. This project gets at a core value of what Lawrence is about.”

• Well, I think I’m going to call it a wrap for today. I have several other good Town Talk items, including news of a new home furnishing store in the Malls, a new boutique downtown, weekly land transfers and several other tid-bits. But all of that will have to wait for future Town Talk columns. This recreation center has worn me out, too. I think the best course of action is for me to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out how not to be Olathe. (Now, if I can just figure out how to convince my wife to not be the Oak Park Mall.)


patkindle 5 years, 6 months ago

i think the more taxpayer money we can spend to move lawrence ahead is money well spent,.... after all, its all about the kids anyway,,, plus it only affects those that pay taxes, so that is ok

blindrabbit 5 years, 6 months ago

When you are in a potential drowning situation, the life guards warn against panicking by collecting your thoughts, applying what you have been taught and moving toward saving youself. This does not always work out, however, these same rationale processes can apply to the City Commissions deliberations about the Proposed Rec. Center. The Commission has been presented with a plate full of tempting treats by a group of individuals who, "so they say" are so altrustic that they have a proposal "the City cannot refuse"; but as the old story goes "beware of trojan (wooden) horses" or "Greeks bearing gifts". In reality this "group of altrustic givers" also expects The City to give some thing in return; like providing zoning concessions, extending utilities, streets and services so they can develop areas surrounding the proposed center, and no-doubt some tax concessions.

By educating onself by following the postings in the LJW and reading hard articles about the Rec. Center it appears that the City Commissioners needs to do like the drowning swimmer, take a deep breath, gather their thoughts and apply some rationale thought to this very controversial project. Several issues seem to need careful attention as part of this process including:

What participation is expected from KU, and what limitations about this for all parties? Is a Rec Center a distance so far away from supporting infrastructure a logical way to go? What are the real economics of this to The City, need a much more detailed "audit"? What is the real potential of attracting major events, in view of the competition from others? Is this a good choice for the City, have other options been fully explored, do we need this?

Slow down , take a deep breath, collect your thought, sharpen your pencil, work out the cost/benefits, and maybe put up to a referendum vote.

tecuani 5 years, 6 months ago

The city needs to partner with KU and build something at Kasold and Bob Billings. That area is HUGE. It seems like the perfect location for something like this.

beeline 5 years, 6 months ago

All things to all people will probably mean nothing ideal for anyone. If Lawrence wants a rec center, build a nice one. I can get behind that. If Lawrence wants to attract tournaments, build something no one else has; 20 gyms OR 20 soccer fields. I can get behind that. The development that will grow around that kind of complex will be tremendous. Even the OP soccer complex is not big enough to host some regional events. If KU wants to build a great soccer facility and a great track stadium, build it-closer to campus. No student athlete wants to take a bus to the NW side of town to see their field. This complex will hurt recruiting, not help it. We probably need all of these built. Our leaders need to prioritize the projects and build them with focus and enthusiasm, not trepidation and blurry vision.

Dan Simons 5 years, 6 months ago

To beat a dead horse, has the city given a real look at the cost savings the farmland site offers. On 15th street there exist on city owned land a 200,000 foot concrete pad, wide enough for basketball, volleyball, and many other uses. Sure the building is in need of repair. Infrastructure is very close, arterial streets serve the site, it has several hundred flat acres the university could build on, and we have already identified this site is a key factor in our future economic growth, close to where the new SLT will connect with K-10, much closer to downtown . Sure seems worth a look

gccs14r 5 years, 6 months ago

If this rec center is such a great idea, Fritzel and Schwada can put up their own money to build it and charge admission. If it's an "essential city service", the City can condemn the property via eminent domain, pay $300 an acre, and put the design and construction contracts out for bid. If KU wants a new track & field facility, they can build one.

sensibleguy 5 years, 6 months ago

And this is why development in Lawrence is so awful - people like the poster above that don't understand basic economics or real estate. Via eminent domain the city would have to pay MARKET value as determined by an independent appraisal process- and it's not going to be $300/acre, that's ridiculous, uninformed and idiotic. And yes, they can put the contracts out for bit - and pay INTEREST on it. Last I checked the city didn't have a magic money tree out back of city hall and they'll have to finance this project somehow. Developers are going to make a profit on something? WELL, then it MUST be bad and the city shouldn't do it. We can't have businesses running around the city making profits, employing people and such. What kind of socialists would we be if we condoned that kind of action?

gccs14r 5 years, 6 months ago

I guess that would depend on how "independent" the appraiser was. Property values are grossly inflated in this town, which seems to serve the connected more than the taxpayers. As for paying interest on the project funds, that would be only if the city did finance it, instead of setting aside money each year until there is enough saved to pay cash. Financing non-emergency projects is idiotic to me.

Businesses are free to make a profit. They shouldn't also take tax dollars. Want taxpayer support? Be a non-profit.

deec 5 years, 6 months ago

Without the infrastructure, it probably isn't worth all that much anyway. Right now it's just a big field, right?

gccs14r 5 years, 6 months ago

Exactly. It'll be worth more after all the upgrades are in place, but right now it's just dirt.

kernal 5 years, 6 months ago

I wish someone would give me a reasonable and sane explanation as to why Lawrence developers have not invested in development east of Lawrence although it is closer to KC. The only people I know who want to be closer to Topeka are those who work there. Given the traffic coming back to Lawrence during the evening rush hour from the KC area versus from Topeka, there are a lot more Lawrencians who work in KC than Topeka.

sensibleguy 5 years, 6 months ago

They have- it's called "Eudora". Go check out the hundreds of vacant lots and you'll know why they haven't invested there lately.Even more important - Google words like "Farmland Industries" and "Flood zone" and you'll get the idea.

Dan Simons 5 years, 6 months ago

I am sure I don't understand the lawrence flood plan maps, but I think map 39 show the Farmland property to be at the 500 yr level, I assume that can be mitigated fairly easily

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 6 months ago

Seems silly for KU to build a separate track and field facility so far away from campus. What's wrong with Memorial Stadium? If track and field gets relocated, that stadium only gets used a few weekends between the end of August and the end of November. Then it sits empty all winter and would sit empty in the spring. They'd get a better use of their money if the stadium renovations included upgrades to track and field. And why does KU need more soccer fields? The womens D1 team plays behind Oliver. The club and recreational teams have the two fields by Watkins as well as all of Shenk by the Park & Ride. Maybe remodel the field behind Oliver so they have more than just some metal bleachers and a small scoreboard. And what about the old football practice fields now that they have the fancy new ones by the stadium? Repaint those to soccer fields if we need them so badly. Sure, it would be great for the city if KU would partner, but it looks unnecessary from my perspective as a student. Give the marching band more than just a scorching piece of pavement and then we'll talk.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 6 months ago

Getting rid of the track impacts more than just the athletes. Where will the cheerleaders cheer from? Where will the cameras run up and down? Will removing the track mean lowering the field to add more stands, in which case the band has to run down more steps or scrap run-in all-together? That track has more of a purpose than just running around. K-State doesn't have a track, and their stadium is ugly and generic. Memorial Stadium is actually quite pretty if you look at the details on the outside. And adding more seats is ridiculous since we can't even fill all the ones we have. Remember the Gridiron Club that Mangino wanted? It was scrapped. At KU, we like our smaller sports arenas. If they wanted to change something at the Phog, fans would put their feet down. So if KU wants to do this, they better not use a dime of my tuition money, and they won't get a single penny when I graduate. Leave our stadium the way it is. You'll be wasting our money if you change it.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 6 months ago

And KU Athletics isn't making much noise about this. If they wanted to remodel the stadium and build new facilities, they would be begging alumni for donations. I haven't heard a word of this on campus. The city is probably fooling themselves that KU is actually on board with this. They also still have to get approval from NCAA that this is actually ok for them to partner on.

Lathrup 5 years, 6 months ago

I remember a few years ago when we (the tax payers) bought into the Wonderful, Fantastic NEW shopping sites ie: Riverfront Mall and the I-70-N2nd center. Take a look at them now and reflect on what the city movers and shakers have sold us on before.

ThingTwo 5 years, 6 months ago

remember the Sunglass Hut! Man they had some cool shades!

blindrabbit 5 years, 6 months ago

KU should build a new track and field facility where the soccer field is, behind Oliver Hall. Or better yet incorporate the complex into the soccer field. Advantages are many: plenty of parking, proximity to all the sports complex facilities around Allen Fieldhouse, much more conducive to a sporting event than a cow pasture 5 miles from campus. The worst thing KU could do is get involved in a project that has so many complicating factors as the proposed City Rec. Center.

The current City Commission is Kool-Aid drunk and dancing to the tune of the three legged pied piper named Fritzel Schwada Stultz. Commissioners Schumm, Dever and Cromwell (and maybe the other two) are beholding to the RealEstate/Developer community and will bend to their wants and wishes.

Curtis Lange 5 years, 6 months ago

They were going to build the new Track and Field complex there just a few years ago; can't remember why they tossed the idea. That location does make the most sense.

patkindle 5 years, 6 months ago

this is only going to cost the tax payers pennies a day....... just like the mt buses, the library, depot and the homeless center...... plus it is all about the kids,..... and dont worry only the taxpayers will fund it..... so most of you skate for free as usual........ hope and change you know

Robert Wells 5 years, 6 months ago

OK. Here goes! No one on here knows better than me what Olathe is.... Trust me when I say Lawrence is so far ahead!!!!!! If you only knew what my connections are with Olathe. ITS DYING THERE!!!!!! BIG time failures are what Olathe is going through. Lots of money is going down the drain. I will stop there.

SDickens 5 years, 6 months ago

Mike Stultz has already donated 50 acres just north of the Fritzel site to the city. How will that ground be used? Since it wasn't contentous, it was not reported by the local media. Not all developers want to raid the city coffers. Infact, I am sure most of them want to see the city collect all of their tax dollars in new developments.

But it would be nice to have access to the sanitary sewer. Not just 5 years ago the system was at capacity. Perhaps we need the new treatment facility before public or private development overloads the patchwork repairs.

blindrabbit 5 years, 6 months ago

SDickens: Maybe Stultz should have slashed and burned the 50 acre property you mention just like he did the two parcels last year to avoid environmemntal issues. Go take a look, one at the end of E. 800 Road to the north of Clinton Lake, the other about a mile north of the Lecompton Turnpike exchange. Kinda reminds one of the midnight plowing of the Elkin Prairie about 10 years ago, or the midnight demolition of the houses by the Douglas County Bank 20 years ago to make a new home for itself. Also, heard he had a issue years ago on south Haskell Avenue.

BringBackMark 5 years, 6 months ago

" “The image of Lawrence is a young, vibrant, healthy community,” Cromwell said. “That makes us attractive to the region as a place to live, as a place to locate a business. These sorts of things are important. "

I thought just a few months ago we were trying to build the image as a great place to retire. Did I imagine that?

There are no "gifts" involved with this project. Between profit margin and what the City will spend on infrastructure, this will be the most expensive in the long run. The only advantage to the City is it doesn't have to finance the project up front. We'll just hide the $1.2 million per year (plus operating costs) in the water slush fund. It will appear as though it didn't cost anythng!

Richard Heckler 5 years, 6 months ago

KU can do a world class track and field project on KU property behind Allen Fieldhouse that would definitely attract many fans and potential new students to Lawrence,Kansas. And benefit the Lawrence business district at the same time. Infrastructure is in place. KU athletics has plenty of money.

If we want to make Lawrence,Ks more attractive to whatever how about a grand display of fiscal responsibility instead of doing not necessary expansion that will effectively raise our taxes forever.

How can Lawrence taxpayers get the best bang for our 1994 sales tax bucks and improve the quality of life for more families and our public school students?

How about if Lawrence,Kansas rehabilitates our elementary schools by using 10%-15% of the 1994 sales tax money to reduce our property taxes? In the event USD 497 needs to increase our property taxes to fund the rehab project. Let our sales tax dollars be a team player.

Additionally I say a NW neighborhood rec center could still be constructed with 2 gyms and a walking/jogging track for public exercise probably for about $10 million. Plus include additional court space at East Lawrence and Holcomb Rec Centers. Now we have achieved shoring up the alleged lack of court space and improved the quality of life throughout Lawrence,Kansas.

In doing the above Lawrence,Kansas has effectively improved the quality of life for more families throughout the community. And maybe improved property values for more families as well. This is definitely within the spirit of the 1994 sales tax that was approved by families throughout the community.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 6 months ago

This Sports Village concept is not a fair use of tax dollars and 10 miles from my home . Yes I live in Lawrence,Kansas well within into the city limits.

Sharon Nottingham 5 years, 6 months ago

I am with Amyx. If we already own the land near Wakarusa, why not use it? BUT, build only for the Community. Do not bank on tournaments. This idea needs to benefit the tax payers. Citizens should be priority one.

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