Archive for Sunday, February 17, 2013

Recreation center and Rock Chalk Park Q&A

A map of the proposed layout of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex, proposed for about 90 acres north of the northeast intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. Note that north on the map is to the right.

A map of the proposed layout of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex, proposed for about 90 acres north of the northeast intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. Note that north on the map is to the right.

February 17, 2013


On the street

Should there be a citywide vote to approve the $25 million recreation center as part of the larger Rock Chalk Park?

If the city will have to foot the bill, in a democratic society we need a vote.

More responses

Decision day is nearing on what could be the largest city-funded project in recent memory.

Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday meeting are scheduled to review a set of proposed agreements that formally would commit the city to build a $25 million regional recreation center as part of the larger Rock Chalk Park project in northwest Lawrence.

The project has had many twists and turns over the past year. Here is an effort to answer some of the more common questions associated with the planned complex.

Q: Where would the project be built?

A: In Northwest Lawrence, north of the Sixth Street and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange.

Q: What would be built at the site?

A: Think of the project as having three parts:

· Part 1: The city's portion. It would include the 181,000-square foot recreation center containing eight full basketball courts that could be converted to 16 half courts or volleyball courts; an indoor turf field; an eighth-mile walking track; a fitness room; a gymnastics area; classroom space; an area set aside for a “wellness center”; and various other components. In addition, there would be eight lighted outdoor tennis courts; a parking lot; a detention pond to hold stormwater runoff; and various trails that go through a wooded portion of the property. The city portion of the project will cover about 26 acres.

· Part 2: The KU portion. It would include an Olympic-grade track and field stadium with seating for up to 10,000; a 2,500-seat soccer field; a softball stadium with room for up to 2,500 seats; a 28,000-square-foot indoor training area for softball; and multiple parking lots. The KU portion will be on about 64 acres.

· Part 3: Possible future expansion. The plans submitted to the city include at least four facilities that are not proposed to be built now, but could be built on the KU portion of the property in a future phase. They include an indoor arena with “3,000 seats for sporting events and additional 800 seats for concerts;” a 4,000-seat amphitheater; eight outdoor tennis courts; an indoor tennis facility; and a lacrosse field. All would have to win land-use approvals from the City Commission before they could be built.

Q: What about parking?

A: The city’s portion of the project will have about 800 paved parking spaces. The KU portion will have about 700 paved parking spaces. It also will have an unpaved area that can accommodate about 700 vehicles for overflow parking. Agreements will be in place to allow the city to use the KU parking spaces, and vice versa.

Q: Who would own what?

A: The city will own the 26 acres, the recreation center building, the eight outdoor tennis courts, and the 800 rec center parking spaces. The city will pay $780,000—$30,000 an acre—to the KU Endowment entity to purchase the land the recreation center will occupy.

An entity controlled by the Kansas University Endowment Association — RCP LLC — will own the ground the KU facilities are built upon. An entity controlled by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel and his wife, Dru, — known as Bliss Sports LLC — will own the actual KU facilities for the first 50 years. During that time, Kansas University Athletics will lease the facilities from Bliss and have full use of them. At the end of the 50-year period, ownership will revert to a KU entity.

Q: Why won’t KU own its facilities from the start?

A: The simple answer is financing. The Fritzels — through Bliss Sports — have offered to make a philanthropic gift to the university by financing the KU facilities at below-market rates. KU will make lease payments over 30 years totaling $39 million. KU officials believe the fair market value of the facilities is closer to $50 million.

Q: Is Fritzel proposing something similar for the city recreation center?

A: Not quite. What Bliss and KU Endowment have agreed to do is guarantee that the city won’t have to spend more than $25 million to build the center and the necessary infrastructure to serve the center.

Q: Is that a good deal for the city?

A: Many city leaders believe it is a good deal. The city thinks the fair-market value of the city project will be more than $30 million — about $19 million for the recreation center and about $13 million for parking and infrastructure. Others have questioned how the city arrived at that number, especially since the infrastructure and parking costs include projects that will benefit the KU facilities as well.

Q: How will we know if it is a good value?

A: The city in recent weeks announced it will go through a normal bidding process to choose a contractor to build the recreation center. That should settle that part of the question. The infrastructure and parking part of the project, however, will be controlled by KU Endowment and Bliss. The city will have access to all the invoices for that part of the project and will be able to see if prices are coming in above market norms. Plus, the city’s costs are capped at $25 million.

The bigger question may be how much of the infrastructure costs the city will pay versus how much the KU parties will have to pay. It depends on the size of the bids to build the center. The most likely scenario — based on current architectural estimates — is that the city will pay 50 percent or more of the parking and infrastructure costs. Whether that is the right amount depends on how you feel about the balance of the city-KU partnership.

Q: I thought the city wasn’t going to go through a normal bidding process for the recreation center. What's the plan?

A: Originally, the city was planning to use a modified bidding process in which KU Endowment would have controlled the process and given Fritzel — who is a builder by trade — the chance to match any competitor's low bid. But that plan was scrapped Jan. 31, in part because city residents were expressing concern about the process. Instead, the city will open the bidding to any qualified construction company.

Q: Does the city think it will make money off the recreation center?

A: Not directly. The city estimates the recreation center will have an operating budget of about $1 million. It estimates it will generate about $650,000 in revenue through rental fees, classes and other activities. The remaining $350,000 will be funded through the city’s sales tax fund. The city hopes the project will contribute to the economy by drawing visitors and event participants to town.

Q: How many tournaments and outside events will the city need to attract to meet that $650,000 revenue estimate?

A: About 32 per year is what City Manager David Corliss has estimated.

Q: Will my taxes go up to pay for this project?

A: Not as currently planned. The city has money in a sales tax fund that is becoming available, in part, because the city is paying off the bonds for the Eagle Bend Golf Course and the Community Health Building.

But there are always caveats. If the economy tanks and sales tax collections go down, the city would have to raise taxes to pay for the recreation center debt. Plus, the city could use this newly available sales tax money to pay for other city projects, which otherwise may require a tax increase in the future.

Q: Did I hear that this project is going to get a break on property taxes?

A: That’s the plan. The KU portion of the project, it has been determined by the state, is not eligible for KU’s standard automatic property tax exemption. That’s because Bliss Sports, which will own the facilities for 50 years, is a for-profit company. But the city can issue Industrial Revenue Bonds for the project. Those come with a property tax abatement for 10 years. It is not clear what happens for the other 40 years Bliss owns the facilities. There has been mention the KU entities will seek special state legislation providing a permanent property tax abatement for the project.

Q: Hasn’t there been an issue with Thomas Fritzel paying taxes and other fees due on another of his projects, in Junction City?

A: Fritzel is a partial owner of Fort Development LLC, which is behind on property taxes and special assessments related to a struggling Junction City housing development. The Geary County Treasurer’s office earlier this month provided documents showing the company was behind on its property tax payments and fees by about $3.4 million. Unlike the Junction City project, the Rock Chalk Park project does not propose that Fritzel or Bliss sports would be responsible for any special assessments to pay for the infrastructure related to the park.

Q: If a for-profit company is going to own the KU facilities, will Fritzel and his company be using the facilities to generate a profit, for instance by running the concession stands, charging for parking, renting the facilities to non-KU entities, etc.?

A: Fritzel told the Journal-World in January that Kansas Athletics will be in charge of all events that are hosted at the facility. Fritzel said the only revenue he will receive from the project are the lease payments from Kansas Athletics. The agreements spelling out Fritzel’s role in the KU project, however, haven’t yet been made public. Fritzel has said they will be once they are signed. Any non-athletic events that are hosted at the site will require a special-use permit from City Hall.

Q: I heard Bill Self’s Assists Foundation was going to make a donation to the city’s recreation center. Is that true?

A: Yes. City officials as late as Friday had said they thought the Assists Foundation no longer was going to make a financial donation to the recreation center. But after that was reported by the Journal-World, the executive director for the foundation said a donation of approximately $1 million was still planned to be made to the city. Erin Zimney, executive director of the Assists Foundation, said the organization likely would wait until the city formally accepts a construction bid to build the project — likely in April — before formalizing a donation.

Q: Is $25 million really going to be all the city pays for the facility?

A: There will be some additional costs to equip the facility with fitness equipment, desks, sports equipment, bleachers and other such items.

Q: Has this idea for a recreation center come out of the blue?

A: Not exactly. The idea of a new recreation center in Lawrence has been discussed for a long time. The city actually approved a major center for Centennial Park in the 1990s, but then backed away from the project just prior to signing the construction documents.

City Manager David Corliss has cited the need for more recreation center space in northwest Lawrence in several of his recent budget proposals to the City Commission.

The City Commission in November 2011 agreed on a concept of a $15 million recreation center that would be funded with $12 million in city funds and $3 million in private donations. But just weeks after that meeting, the focus shifted to the intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway, where a group led by the Schwada family was offering a donation of land. Fritzel then generated interest from KU in the concept, the city’s recreation center grew in size and price, and the project has dominated City Hall—and Lawrence—discussion ever since.

Google Map

Fritzel properties

View Fritzel-owned properties in a larger map

The following is a list of Douglas County properties owned by Thomas Fritzel, or one of the companies he owns. The list is not comprehensive, and Fritzel and his companies may own other properties not on this map. The properties listed below have an appraised value of more than $22 million.


Richard Heckler 5 years, 4 months ago

Wouldn't a neighborhood rec center help?

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

Construct a NW neighborhood rec center with 2-3 gyms and a walking/jogging track for public exercise probably for about $10 million. On city owned property. Now we have achieved shoring up the alleged lack of court space.

There are a lot of basketball courts in Lawrence. Some public school buildings that are not being used would certainly help.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 4 months ago

“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.”

jhawk1998 5 years, 4 months ago

No more spending by the city until they stop running off business. And I mean businesses that aren't asking for tax abatements. Whole Foods, Lowe's, come on fellow readers, chime in. Otherwise there is no potential of broadening the tax base while we are increasing the burden on the current taxpayers.

GUMnNUTS 5 years, 4 months ago

When did the city run off Whole Foods?

Matthew Herbert 5 years, 4 months ago

thanks for reminding me about the Lowe's fiasco. I am a resident of the very neighborhood the commission worried would be devalued by the presence of a huge Lowe's warehouse style instead I got a Taco Bell, Burger King and Smashburger/Biggs Burger. Thanks for keeping my neighborhood so "classy".

lawrencechick 5 years, 4 months ago

Final answer: Let KU do their own thing, go back to the $15 million rec center and put a new outdoor pool next to it.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 4 months ago

Let YOUR commissioners know!

Mayor Bob Schumm Home (785) 842-6729 Work (785) 842-7337

Vice Mayor Michael Dever (785) 550-4909

Commissioner Hugh Carter (785) 764-3362

Commissioner Mike Amyx Home (785) 843-3089 Work (785) 842-9425

Commissioner Aron E. Cromwell (785) 749-6020

TongiJayhawk 5 years, 4 months ago

Funny how it's NEVER an option to lower sales taxes when bonds are paid off and sales taxes become available!!!

A: Not as currently planned. The city has money in a sales tax fund that is becoming available, in part, because the city is paying off the bonds for the Eagle Bend Golf Course and the Community Health Building.

But there are always caveats. If the economy tanks and sales tax collections go down, the city would have to raise taxes to pay for the recreation center debt. Plus, the city could use this newly available sales tax money to pay for other city projects, which otherwise may require a tax increase in the future.

GardenMomma 5 years, 4 months ago

32 tournaments and outside events a year is quite a lot! How many tournaments and outside events do we currently attract? Do outside events include the current LPRD events - basketball, soccer, etc.?

deec 5 years, 4 months ago

And every event means the taxpayers will not have access to the facility for their own use just as the pool is closed to the public during events. I'd guess most tournaments would be scheduled for weekends, so the public that paid for the facility would not be able to use it 32 weekends per year.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 4 months ago

The flip side to that argument is that with all the outside dollars coming into this community as a result of those tournaments, the economic impact to Lawrence taxpayers would be lessened or even diminished to less than zero. In the mean time, nearby hotels will see an increase in guests, nearby restaurants will see a similar increase, nearby retail stores the same, each contributing more to the city in sales taxes and providing more jobs to Lawrence residents. Or if none of that happens, then we have a great big rec. center for all residents to enjoy.

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 4 months ago

The city previously has made a commitment that it will maintain at least one gym for general public use even during large tournments that may be hosted at the recreation center. Thanks, Chad.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 4 months ago

It takes just a few minutes to get to any number of hotels or restaurants or retail stores. I guess it depends if they're in the mood for Chinese or Mexican.

average 5 years, 4 months ago

One way or the other, the "32 tournaments" part doesn't add up. I don't think it's anywhere close to reasonable... that's getting something like half the tournament traffic of the entire KC metro area to decide to drive an hour out of their way to Lawrence.

On the other side of the coin, if there really were 32 tournaments a year, that means that the general taxpaying public would be excluded from the facility (or at least secondary users) on the majority of weekends of the year. Which doesn't exactly inspire my support either.

deec 5 years, 4 months ago

It seems unlikely that restaurants et. al. are going to hire more employees to cover this speculative tourney business that occurs sporadically throughout the year. Some workers may pick up a few extra hours on those weekends.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 4 months ago

deec, you seem to be willing to maximize the negative effect, "taxpayers will not have access to the facility for their own use ... ", but then minimize the positive, "some workers may pick up a few extra hours on those weekends".

If it's a lot of the time taxpayers won't be able to use the facility, then it's going to be a lot of extra hours in hotels, restaurants, retail, etc., with lots of extra income to the city by way of extra taxes. If however, it's just a few extra hours for a few extra workers on a few weekends, then there will be plenty of opportunity for taxpayers to enjoy the use of a brand new facility. It's not like a chinese restaurant where you pick one from column A and pick another from column B.

deec 5 years, 4 months ago

And you seem willing to do the same, only on the opposite side. This scam is bad for the community no matter how it is prettied up. Lots of tournaments, which are highly unlikely, won't result in lots of jobs. If the wildest imaginations of the city come true, the public will have very limited access to the facilities on most weekends. Even if some new part-time fast food jobs are created, they will not pay enough to compensate for the inevitable higher taxes that will be needed to fund the operating expenses that will not be covered by the existing sales tax.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 4 months ago

You obviously don't have kids or kids that play competitive sports. Every weekend there are multiple tournaments for every age group and every experience level.

leftylucky 5 years, 4 months ago

Dru Fritzel construction or dfc who built the oread still seem to have liens filed against them. What happened to bliss foundation. If someone is injured on bliss facilities is bill liable? If someone drowns in the city storm water pond is bliss liable? What will be rcp llc liability.will endowment own the storm-water ponds. Why is the city responsible for 1 million dollars in architect fees when this wasn't the city idea? Will bliss be providing bliss police force to manage the facilities?

Joe Hyde 5 years, 4 months ago

If the information is accurate that Mr. Fritzel is part owner of a development company that is currently $3.4 million behind in taxes it owes Junction City and Riley County, KS, this means his attempt to develop another property in Lawrence for the purpose of acquiring money through lease agreements constitutes a Ponzi scheme.

You gotta pay people who you owe money to. Pay them on time. Otherwise capitalism goes face-first into the mud.

Brian Hall 5 years, 4 months ago

Here's an idea: If Lawrence really wants a brand-spanking new rec center then why doesn't the city renovate the rec center at Holcom? It's centrally located, the city already owns the land, it's a bigger piece of land (31 acres as opposed to 26) and I think more people would go for it. In fact, if Bill Self's Assists Foundation still wants to donate $1 million for that maybe the city would even agree to name the park Holcom-Self Park.

As for KU, if they want their own rec center, I'm pretty sure they own several square miles of land west of Iowa Street and can obtain their own money from KU Athletics and private donors and alumni.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

1southernjayhawk 5 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Alex Keiffer 5 years, 4 months ago

Weren't there once plans for the new rec center to have an ice arena? I'm pretty sure I once read about that...

chootspa 5 years, 4 months ago

Yes, and then the idea went away. Pity. I thought the ice arena idea was brilliant.

Mark Currie 5 years, 4 months ago

I am all for this to be put to a public vote. The way it stands now seems to scare me for some reason. I get the idea we would all be better off if the city not walk, but run away from this iffy deal. I just feel each taxpayer should get a jar of vasoline should this go through as planned. I agree with the poster above who said let KU do their own thing with Fritzel. Just my thoughts, & yes I will sign the petition.

juma 5 years, 4 months ago

Water!! Has there been an evaluation of how much water these facilities will use and how that will be supplied with the existing water use infrastructure?? I have not seen/heard any discussion about water. Not surprised given the ignorant CC we have.

Sue McDaniel 5 years, 4 months ago

This whole project is not even about benefits to the taxpayers of Lawrence. It is about the good ole boys and the "poor" people driving their kids to other cities. Guess what, they will still have to! Let KU do whatever they want, the current plan has nothing in it I need to drive to. It is being forced on us. Reminds me of the Riverfront Mall......

juma 5 years, 4 months ago

oneeye , my question is the actual amount (mgd) of water that will be required and does our existing water supply source have the capacity to meet the additional water demand required. Will there be another $$$$$ cost down the road to increase the supply side?

otto 5 years, 4 months ago

"It also will have an unpaved area that can accommodate about 700 vehicles for overflow parking."

Remind me again why it is illegal to park on an unimproved surface in the city of Lawrence.

EJ Mulligan 5 years, 4 months ago

Chad and LJW, thank you for this Q&A. Great idea and excellent coverage of this community issue. Local newspapers with local journalists are critical to democracy.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 4 months ago

The birth of this fiasco began about here at least this is about when the public at large got wind of it. This is a high dollar PLAY concept make no bones about it. Does it ever stop?

PLAY Overview

PLAY Committee Members Kelly Barth, Mark Buhler, Dave Corliss, Fred DeVictor, Rick Gammill, Mike Grosdidier, Sue Hack, Paige Hofer, Bonnie Lowe, Pam Madl, Julie Manning, Scott Morgan(USD 497), Wayne Osness, Linda Robinson(USD 497), Bob Sanner, Ernie Shaw, Doug Stremel and Doug Vance.

The Mission Statement of PLAY

Background and Process

The first step in the needs assessment was to collect data from a variety of sources. Three methods were developed to collect data for this study. The design team has completed the following:

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