Lawrence is thinking big, and it is not alone.
Bill Beckner, a research manager for the National Recreation and Park Association, spends his time trying to help people understand trends in the recreation industry.
These days, one is easy to spot: Extra-large regional recreation centers, like the $25 million, 181,000-square-foot center Lawrence is contemplating.
“They can be a really good deal,” Beckner said, if the centers can provide a healthy lifestyle for residents and attract people to a community.
But Beckner said communities that are hoping to attract a number of large tournaments and events will have to work hard to do it. “It is a very competitive business to be in,” he said.
Lawrence officials are counting on about 32 events a year to use its proposed regional recreation center. Lawrence's basketball history and Kansas University’s success in the sport are expected to help attract tournaments and other events that would help pay for the operating costs of the center.
City officials commissioned a study that estimated the indoor center could generate about $7.6 million a year in spending in the local economy, if it attracts the projected number of events.
Beckner said Lawrence’s 32-event figure isn’t out of the question. “They might be able to do that,” he said. “But they had better be hooked up with the convention and visitors bureau in a real strong way.”
City Manager David Corliss said the city envisions a joint effort between the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau to book tournaments and other sporting events at the center.
Beckner said many communities are looking at the potential to build recreation facilities that not only serve their residents but also work as an economic development tool. He said he has been working with officials of a Minnesota town of 30,000 people that is contemplating a facility of 145,000 square feet.
A private development group in Wichita is moving forward on a 65,000-square-foot, 12-gym facility that it anticipates will attract regional and national tournaments. The center, which is applying for STAR bond financing from the state, would be attached to a hotel, water park and major retail development.
Beckner, who wasn’t aware of the plans in Lawrence, said all the activity makes for an interesting time in the industry. He said there are sure to be winners and losers in the latest trend.
“I have done a lot of feasibility studies on that stuff,” Beckner said. “You have to be real serious to make it work. Every event out there is contested at this point, and by several groups. And there is not a lot of money in it to begin with. You have to have the hotel and restaurant space to make it work.”