Questions persist

Can an ambitious recreation project being considered by the city really fulfill all of the goals being set for it?

September 9, 2012


It takes a while to get all the questions answered on a project with as many pieces as the proposed recreation complex at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway — and Lawrence city commissioners are right not to commit to the project until at least most of those questions are answered.

That hasn’t happened yet.

The overarching question that many taxpayers and some commissioners seem to be struggling with is exactly what purpose and what population the proposed complex is intended to serve. The complex is being touted as a way to serve local recreation needs, attract large tournament events to Lawrence and forge a beneficial partnership between the city and Kansas University, which reportedly has committed to building a new track and field facility next to the proposed recreation center.

There is a shortage of basketball courts for local leagues and recreation purposes, we are told. The new recreation center would supply eight full-sized courts to address that need but would place them at the far edge of the city, a less-than-ideal location for local users. If the goal is primarily to serve local recreation needs, many residents argue it would be better to build the center on land that is more centrally located or even use the money to build two or three smaller centers that would be more accessible to various Lawrence neighborhoods.

The second goal, which seems to be largely driving the proposal at this point, is to build a recreation center that will attract outside visitors to Lawrence for basketball and volleyball tournaments. This is an attractive prospect but something of a gamble. It’s hard to know how many tournaments the city would attract or exactly what the benefit to the city or other Lawrence businesses would be.

The third goal — a partnership with KU — also is attractive but also raises questions. The community has heard almost nothing directly from KU Athletics about this plan. It would be great to have a KU track, field and soccer facility that would attract national NCAA events, but is the northwest location the only, or even the best, location for such a facility? The KU facility would be a fine neighbor for a city recreation center, but there seems to be little synergy between the two facilities except for a common parking lot.

One benefit for the city in this project appears to be the willingness of developer Thomas Fritzel to offer a favorable financing deal that will allow the city to build a larger recreation facility than it otherwise could afford. That could be a savings for the city, but it also would mean some loss of city control for the project. Also, remember Fritzel is a developer and few developers enter into deals unless there is a profit angle somewhere in the project. The $10.7 million required to make infrastructure improvements for the proposed site also needs to be figured into the equation.

The proposed recreation project is a noble attempt to meet a number of city needs and goals, but it also runs the risk of trying to achieve so many goals that it doesn’t do any of them very well.


Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

In response to: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2012/sep/05/town-talk-more-about-proposed-nw-lawrence-sports-c/?city_local

KU can do a world class track and field project on KU property behind Allen Fieldhouse. A plan put forth by Lew Perkins. This would definitely attract many fans and potential students to Lawrence,Kansas. This benefits the Lawrence business district at the same time. Infrastructure is in place. KU athletics has plenty of money.

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

How about partnering with USD 497 to rehabilitate our elementary schools? By applying 10%-15% of the 1994 sales tax money to reduce our city property taxes to offset any USD 497 need to increase our taxes for the rehab project. Let our 1994 sales tax dollars be a team player.

Additionally construct a NW neighborhood rec center with 2 gyms and a walking/jogging track for public exercise probably for about $10 million. Plus additional court space at East Lawrence and Holcomb Rec Centers for maybe another $3 million. Just estimating.

Now we have achieved shoring up the alleged lack of court space and improved the quality of life for our public school students throughout Lawrence,Kansas.

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

A best bang for our 1994 sales tax dollars.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

A gift that costs Lawrence taxpayers no less than $30,000,000(million) is not really a gift.

BTW my house and a lot of East Lawrence is at least 10 miles from this big idea. That is about $7-$8 in gasoline. Prairie Park will be further away.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

How on earth does 10-20 miles come out to $7-$8 in gas?

We have older cars, and get about 20 miles/gallon in the city. That would mean a round trip to and from this facility would cost about $3.50 at today's gas prices.

I don't like this project - don't get me wrong. But unless you get about 10 miles/gallon, it shouldn't cost as much as you're saying it does.

average 5 years, 7 months ago

It's not just 10 miles from you. It's a third-of-a-mile back from 6th street (leaving the developable lots on 6th to be sold). The nearest actual existing city residence to this site (on Coving Drive) are over 1.5 miles from this rec center by road (there are a few rural houses closer, but they wouldn't be paying taxes for this anyway). By comparison, a rec center on the Farmland property (not advocating necessarily) would be within 1.5 miles of all of Prarie Park, everything east of Haskell, and all the way to 19th and Mass. Thousands of residents closer to such a site than the single very nearest address to this proposal.

If it's all about the tournaments, then we need a more frank discussion about how many tournaments we can really expect (the numbers right now need something like 30% of the entire KC market for tournaments to work out). If it's about residents, you'd build it in town.

Jean Robart 5 years, 7 months ago

picky picky picky! Still should not be as punishing a gas bill as he stated.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

The writer forgot the single most important goal, and the main driver of this proposal-- the rezoning of this area, which will dramatically increase the value of the land after the extension of water, sewer and other services, at a considerable cost to taxpayers.

5 years, 7 months ago

Big box retail at a major gateway to our city is not something I am interested in

Kate Rogge 5 years, 7 months ago

Hey, McGee. Tell me again what a dolt and moron I am for opposing this project.

Windemere 5 years, 7 months ago

The city needs more gym space very badly. Happy to keep the scope of the project much smaller than what's being discussed today. In the current economic climate, very keen on conserving tax dollars and not gambling on something risky, as may be the case if we cross our fingers that we bring tournaments to town with a huge new facility. The new gym space need not be as far west as K10 & 6th, but in the interest of fairness, it most definitely ought to be on the west side of town, e.g. between Kasold & K10/6th St. Anyone who has had the fun of driving over to the E. Lawrence Rec Ctr and the joys of its parking situation will agree that new gym space belongs on the West side.

spiderd 5 years, 7 months ago

Oh good lord. I'll completely agree with you that the west side of town could use a rec center, and agree with you that it shouldn't be outside of town as they propose, and it shouldn't be huge. But please... cry me a river with you having to drive to the EL rec center a few times a year. Do you know where YSC is? I'm assuming you do if you have kids and are driving around for sports. Baseball, soccer, and football ALL are out at YSC out on the very west edge of town.

Windemere 5 years, 7 months ago

For many parents it's much more frequent than a few times a year. As for YSC, that facility obviously requires far more land than a fieldhouse and so the options of where to locate these types of fields are limited. Not sure there would have been a better location more in 'the middle". One thing YSC does have in common with the EL Rec center, though , is the horribly planned parking/entry/exit. One narrow place to get both in and out of that big YSC facility. Really??? I think a 1st grader could have anticipated that bottleneck mess.

spiderd 5 years, 7 months ago

Not arguing that the EL rec center is wonderfully planned. I'm also 100% in agreement with your assessment of YSC, that place is a traffic joke on tournament days. And I'm not in any way saying they should have built it somewhere else, it is what it is where it is. My point is that the equity that needs to be built is by the west side of town getting a reasonable rec center, not by reducing west lawrence folks drive time. There is absolutely no lack of fairness occuring by some parents having to drive to EL for a few basketball games. 90% of practices/games/tournaments in 75% of the major team sports occur at YSC. Often this has parents visiting the facility 3 or more times a WEEK for most of the year depending on what sports your children are involved in - yes, experiencing the fun of driving over there and dealing with joys of its parking situation every single time. Just asking you to look at the bigger picture and consider your definition of "Anyone" more carefully. Other than that, sounds as we're in agreement on the rest of your points!

cowboy 5 years, 7 months ago

Folks against something new in Lawrence , whoda thunk it...

Spent the morning at Blue Valley West watching a grandsons football game. A beautiful facility with soccer , softball , baseball , and football stadiums. They actually water the grass and it is beautiful. Contrast that with Lawrence and our build it tiny or don't build it at all mentality and one can immediately understand why Lawrence is getting smaller. Lawrence is a dump quite frankly. If I were moving to the area Lawrence would rank pretty low on my list.

Kendall Simmons 5 years, 7 months ago

It's not being against something new. It's being against something that is poorly thought out and a mass of wishful thinking.

This is a pie-in-the-sky project that left behind our actual needs long ago. Most of us simply want to return to meeting the needs of Lawrence residents.

If private developers want to take a chance on for-profit projects, then let them. But we taxpayers simply do NOT need to give or guarantee them anything.

Jean Robart 5 years, 7 months ago

The question of the "reckless" center is not whether it can deliver on all its goals--it's whether it can deliver on ANY of its goals. This would not be a good project to bill the city residents. And don't be deceived, the residents will may and pay dearly for this gift.

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