News and notes from around town:
• If there is a cake with 158 candles on it, sign me up for a piece.
Today, Sept. 18, is Lawrence’s 158th birthday. I don’t know if anyone is serving cake, but — again — I would eat a piece. In the past, the City Band has had a special concert, and I think offered cake, but I haven’t seen any news of such a concert this year. I believe in the past, Watkins Community Museum of History has offered cake, but I’m not sure that is happening this year. (I may just be dreaming that once happened.) Regardless, if I hear of an event with cake today, I will pass it along. (Well, I’ll figure out how big the cake is first.)
But, in all seriousness, the day Lawrence was founded is a day worth celebrating. It is easy to go over the top with emotion about how Lawrence is such a special place, and how its founding is so unique.
Anybody who has been in Lawrence very long has heard the story about how the city was founded upon a political cause — abolition — rather than a commercial dream. Revisionists can bicker with that, I suppose. There certainly were people who came to Lawrence, even in the beginning, to make a buck.
But it is hard to dispute that Lawrence is a place where beliefs turned to blood. The folks who founded Lawrence didn’t just say they opposed slavery — they lived that opposition. They were a keystone brick in the wall that stopped slavery’s westward march, and ultimately led to its demise.
There is a group of Lawrence residents who think that is worth remembering at least once a year. As we reported in March, a group of Lawrence history lovers would like to have an annual event that could be billed as Founders Day. In particular, the group would like to see some sort of activity on Founders Day that would draw people out to Sesquicentennial Point, the largely undeveloped 97-acre park near Clinton Lake Dam that marks the city’s 150th anniversary.
Obviously, Founders Day did not gather enough momentum during the summer to become a reality, but longtime Point supporter Clenece Hills recently told me work is still underway to boost the fortunes of Sesquicentennial Point. She said she is working with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to get better signs at the point, particularly related to how individuals or groups can purchase a stone at the Point’s Walk Through Time.
Hills also said she is set to begin a marketing campaign to 100 organizations and individuals who have played an important role in Lawrence’s history in hopes of convincing them to purchase a stone in the commemorative walkway that leads to a time capsule that will be opened on Lawrence’s 200th birthday in 2054. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is doing its part, too, by better marketing the availability of the point for weddings and other such events.
There also has been talk of the city purchasing a portable stage for a variety of events, some of which could be concerts at the Point.
All of this seems to be a recognition that for the Point to further develop, there need to be more activities to get people to the somewhat remote yet beautiful site, which is basically atop the hill that is across from the city’s off-leash dog park.
It will be interesting to see if a new city committee designed to organize an effort to help the city remember the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid will incorporate the Point into its plans. The Point property didn’t play any role in the raid that I’m aware, but the committee may be looking for a location for some sort of commemorative piece or gift to the community. But first, the group has to get together. The 150th anniversary of the raid is next Aug. 21, and so far the city has not appointed the membership of the committee. (If you are interested you can sign up here.)
In sum, better signs are probably important to the Point’s cause, better marketing too. But I’ll tell you what else can not be underestimated: Cake.
• I’ll be on the lookout for cake later this morning at a celebratory event for U.S. Highway 59. Kansas Department of Transportation leaders are hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Highway 59 project at 10 a.m. at the Baldwin Junction interchange.
So, if you want to be able to fully play the role of old geezer someday and say, “I was there when they cut the ribbon on this road, sonny,” you need to show up at 10 a.m. for the event.
Gov. Sam Brownback will be the featured speaker. The mayors from Lawrence and Baldwin City also are expected to attend, as well as numerous county officials.
But don’t get confused. You can’t start driving on the new portion of the road yet. Work on striping and such continues. As of a few days ago, KDOT was estimating the entire stretch of U.S. Highway 59 would be open during the first week of October.
I’ll be at today’s event for more than just the cake. It will be interesting to see in future years how much impact this new four-lane freeway between Lawrence and Ottawa has on our economic development efforts.
The road should be attractive to industry because it connects Interstate 70 to Interstate 35. In the past, companies that wanted to have easy access to both of those major east-west and north-south interstate highways mainly were looking at Kansas City. Now they’ll have at least two other options. It also will be interesting to see how often we end up competing with Ottawa for industrial development, and how we fare in that battle.
But first, it will be interesting to see if the governor brings cake.
• If there is cake to be had at the Lawrence City Commission meeting tonight, there is a good chance it will be owned by the Kansas University Endowment Association and the association will decide on the proper portion sizes.
KU Endowment leaders recently sent a letter to city officials alerting them to some thoughts on how a potential partnership to build a sports complex/recreation center between the city and KU should proceed.
The letter, received late Monday, spells out that KU Endowment expects to have significant say over any city recreation facility that would be built on KU land as a part of a KU-city sports complex.
For those of you who have forgotten, the latest proposal involves the city building its proposed $24 million recreation center/youth fieldhouse on property north of the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the SLT. The property would be owned by KU Endowment, and also would house a track, soccer and softball stadiums for KU.
The key part of the KU Endowment letter is this: “Not unlike other donations, it would be common to have the stipulation that the ground lessor (KU Endowment) will retain certain rights to ensure a desired high level of quality control for any improvements made on the land, including, but not limited to, site development, architectural deign, quality of materials and construction, and final approval and selection of architects and contractors. These expectation are important to KU Endowment, as all land developments must meet the highest standards.”
The letter goes on to state that the city would be leading its own process to design the recreation center, and that “joint approval” with KU Endowment is expected. But the key phrase seems to be that KU Endowment would have “final approval” of the selection of the architects and contractors. That means the recreation center project would not be a traditional city bid construction project. City commissioners have final approval in that type of process.
The city and KU Endowment have other agreements about where city buildings are located on KU Endowment property. Fire Station No. 5 is the most prominent example. Whether the same type of arrangement was in place for that project, I don’t know. Vice-versa, KU has its boat house on city-owned land in Burcham Park. Again, I don’t recall what type of stipulations were placed on KU in terms of design and contractors. It does make sense that a land owner doesn’t want to consent to just anything being built on their property.
But the issue of who would build the new recreation center has been one of several question the public has about the project. Previously, a partnership with Thomas Fritzel, an executive with Lawrence-based Gene Fritzel Construction, has been proposed. But where that partnership stands, now that the focus has shifted to a new site, isn’t clear.
The KU Endowment letter does indicate that the approximately 100 acres of land is being gifted to KU Endowment, but it does not say who the gift is from.
The letter also does not address whether KU Endowment — as the owner of the property — is planning to pay for the approximately $5 million in infrastructure costs needed to make the site ready for development, or whether the city of Lawrence will be expected to cover all of those costs.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall to discuss the recreation center idea.