Kansas University’s decision to withdraw from plans for a city-KU recreation complex on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway presents an opportunity to city officials.
The possibility of partnering with KU on a different development near the northeast corner of that intersection may prove to be a good opportunity for the city. However, before city officials jump into such a deal, they need to take this opportunity to step back and take a fresh look at their plans for a new recreation center.
The recreation complex that was being proposed by developers Duane Schwada and Thomas Fritzel was not what the city would have planned or built on its own. The city would have built something smaller and at least a little closer to the center of the city — and designed more to serve local recreational needs than to serve as a destination for out-of-town visitors participating in volleyball or basketball tournaments.
Now is the time for city officials to take a breath and make sure they are clear on their goals for this center. How important or beneficial is it to share a site with a KU facility? The two facilities could share some parking and utility improvements but would operate independently. Does whatever the city gains from the association with KU offset any disadvantages, such as the center’s relatively distant location for local users?
Maybe partnering with KU will be a great deal, but city officials again need to carefully examine the details. The city’s recreation center apparently would be built on land owned by KU, and the city needs to consider any problems that might pose. Other details such as who will pay for extending utilities to the site must be hammered out in a way that’s fair to all parties.
The city also needs to find out whether Fritzel still is willing to help finance a recreation center so the city can build a larger facility than it otherwise could afford — and whether the city can reach a satisfactory deal with Fritzel to do that. There must be total transparency on the cost of the structures, as well as costs associated with extending the infrastructure. There is no excuse to manipulate costs or the assignment of costs.
City officials seemed eager after Tuesday’s meeting to work out a deal with KU. There’s nothing wrong with that. Lawrence is proud to be the home of the state’s largest university, and the city has every reason to be supportive and enthusiastic about KU’s plans to build new track, soccer and softball facilities at this location.
That being said, city officials need to remember that their primary duty is not to build a facility that works for KU or one that works for developers of the surrounding property. It needs to be a facility that works for the residents and taxpayers of Lawrence. They should take enough time to make sure whatever the city agrees to meets that goal.