We have one word for Lawrence city commissioners concerning the Rock Chalk Park project in northwest Lawrence: Whoa.
Commissioners will be asked tonight to approve a set of agreements that would formally commit the city to build a $25 million regional recreation center adjacent to Kansas University athletic facilities. This project may be a great deal for Lawrence, but the unique and complex nature of the plans demands that city officials be absolutely sure they have dealt with every detail that could come back to haunt the city and its taxpayers.
A number of revelations about the plan over the weekend indicate that not all of those details have been nailed down and shared with the public. Moving forward on this project tonight would raise doubts about the commission’s commitment to being fully transparent about a project that will have a profound impact on the community.
The documents attached to tonight’s agenda include information about how the city would fund the operation and maintenance of its own recreation center but not any details about how it would share maintenance costs and responsibilities for shared facilities at the complex. Taxpayers learned just last weekend that the KU Endowment Association would not donate the land for the recreation center but would ask the city to pay $780,000 to purchase the land. Taxpayers — and maybe even city officials — only this weekend received confirmation that Bill and Cindy Self’s Assists Foundation still planned to make a donation, perhaps about $1 million, for the project. City officials had said they no longer were counting on that donation. Plans also call for a wellness center at the recreation center, but Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the presumed operator of that center, has made no commitment to the plan.
What other “details” about this project are still hanging? KU Endowment and KU Athletics reportedly have signed contracts to move forward on the KU portion of the project with Thomas and Dru Fritzel’s Bliss Sports LLC, which will own the facility for 50 years, but those documents had not yet been made public by Monday afternoon. Thomas Fritzel has said that will happen. Shouldn’t the city — and the public — take time to see and digest those documents before moving forward?
Although city commissioners haven’t specifically said so, many Lawrence residents suspect they are eager to commit to this project before the upcoming City Commission election to prevent it from becoming an election issue. Here’s a news flash: It’s already an election issue. If voters believe the commission is rushing this project through and perhaps not taking time to deal with all the details, it will become an even bigger election issue.
As noted above, this may be a great project for Lawrence, but the more commissioners rush their action, the greater the chance they will miss something that will prove detrimental or even disastrous to this plan. If city officials are determined to move forward on this plan, for goodness sake, take time to get it right.