Talk may soon start turning to action on a proposed $25 million, city-owned recreation center.
Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a development agreement that could allow construction on the center to begin by late April.
“People are going to come here and love this place,” Mayor Bob Schumm said of the plans for a 181,000 square foot recreation center that would be adjacent to Kansas University stadiums for track and field, softball and soccer. The entire project — slated for about 90 acres north of the northeast corner of Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway — is called Rock Chalk Park.
Commissioners gave preliminary approval to the development plan on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Mike Amyx opposed. Commissioners are scheduled to give final consideration to the plan at their March 5 meeting.
Commissioners heard about an hour’s worth of public comment from a fairly evenly divided crowd — one more person spoke in favor of the plan than against it.
Supporters largely told commissioners that there was an acute need for gym space in Lawrence. The project calls for eight full court gyms, and supporters said they were confident there would be more than enough demand from youth teams and other users to make the gyms a worthwhile investment.
“It looks like we are getting a good deal in terms of other facilities, and it is meeting the needs of our community,” said Marcus Dudley, executive director of the Sporting Kaw Valley soccer association. “I’m afraid with some of the emotions that have gotten involved in this project that we have the let the ‘how’ of this project get in the way of the ‘why.’”
Several opponents questioned the size of the facility, and also said the $25 million project deserved to be put to a public vote.
Commissioners, though, stuck to the positions they have staked on the project over the past several months. Several acknowledged that the project has gone through multiple changes that have increased the number of questions among some in the public.
“Improving the project and doing the right thing dictates change on a project of this size,” City Commissioner Hugh Carter said. “If we never made any changes and just stuck to a cookie cutter project, we would have half the project that we do today.”
Amyx was the lone commissioner to lobby for a smaller project, and he said the city should again consider a 29-acre site it already owns near Wakarusa and Overland drives. Amyx also came out in favor of a citywide election on the issue.
A majority of commissioners, though, said the public adequately decided the issue as part of a 1994 sales tax vote that called for the sales tax revenues to be used for recreation projects, among other items.
If commissioners give final approval to the project on March 5, plans for the recreation center — which also will include an indoor turf field, walking track, fitness area and other amenities — could be ready to distribute to potential bidders in late March. Architects are estimating the city could be ready to award a bid — which will use the city’s standard bidding process — on April 23.
Commissioners will use the next two weeks to review new documents related to the deal. That includes agreements that Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel and his Bliss Sports, LLC have made with KU entities to develop and operate the university’s portion of Rock Chalk Park. Commissioners said they would further review those documents but had not yet seen any significant concerns with those agreements.