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Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Slow down

Lawrence city commissioners need to make sure they have dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s before moving forward on a proposed recreation center project.

February 19, 2013

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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.

Comments

Richard Heckler 1 year, 1 month ago

Why drop 31 million tax $$$$$ in one neighborhood for one rec center?

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 1 month ago

The ballot should read:

One large Field House

Of

3 equitable neighborhood rec centers...

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 1 month ago

Here's another scenario that might come back to bite taxpayers in the butt. This one gets built.

There is an equity issue no matter what and this new giant facility will not make that go away.

That still leaves North Lawrence and Southeast Lawrence without a rec center. Both have had a major influx of population and still growing. SE Lawrence does have Prairie Park Nature Center however athletic events cannot be scheduled.

There is an equity issue no matter what and this new giant facility will not make that go away.

WE taxpayers know this field house scenario will cost we taxpayers more than $31 million after all infrastructure is installed etc etc etc. Traffic Lights/water lines etc etc get expensive.

Considering the total cost will be more than 31 million no matter how the picture is painted why not build a neighborhood rec center in NW Lawrence with 3 gyms, North Lawrence with two gyms, and Southeast Lawrence with 2 gyms ?

This is going to come up. Spend an estimated 11 million on each each facility.

Schedule local athletic events according to where most team members reside.

Jumping in a car to drive across town is not practical thinking. Not any longer. 29 cents a gallon polluting gasoline went bye bye bye some time ago.

A ton of people in Lawrence do not bring home $60,000 or more in wages such that a lot of the loudest promoters do and some are on a tax dollar payroll.

In fact it seems this 1994 sales tax money was to provide "neighborhood" centers and such. SE Lawrence is going to want a swimming pool one day.

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LogicMan 1 year, 2 months ago

"Lawrence city commissioners need to make sure they have dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s before moving forward ..."

What's to worry about? It's not like they'd put a little note on a huge set of documents saying something like they'd put up huge, ugly cell phone towers. Or something.

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streetman 1 year, 2 months ago

"What other details about this project are still hanging?" How about those 30+ events/tournaments per year that will supposedly show up to help pay the overhead for this thing? Identify who some of these might be. Talk to their leaders/organizers about the likelihood of their abandoning their current venue for Lawrence. The current host cities certainly aren't going to give up without a fight. I don't see it happening. But I do see Lawrence townspeople getting stuck with a larger tab on this than optimistic commissioners suggest. Perhaps we should be focusing more on essentials, like the impending infrastructure upgrades.

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Bob Forer 1 year, 2 months ago

An exceedingly temperate, balanced and well reasoned editorial. I cannot understand how anyone--even the most ardent supporters of a mega rec center--could disagree with the editorial's central premise. If we are going to do it, let's do it right.

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rockchalk1977 1 year, 2 months ago

From the recent Q&A... will my taxes go up to pay for this project? 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. What part of this don't you anti-growth people understand.

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Stain 1 year, 2 months ago

This entire project has been mired in secrecy and was conceived in back rooms from the start.

Thanks to Chad Lawhorn the people know a little more about it. Kudos for doing what a journalist is supposed to do, Mr. Lawhorn.

I don't want the city to do business with taxpayer money with an individual who fleeced another city (Fritzel, Junction City).

And that they were about to, makes he question the entire project and the integrity of KU Endowment, the city commission, and all parties involved.

Scrap it.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

Local participants need to learn how to make use of what space is available. It's all about scheduling. All participants cannot practice at the same time nor play at the same time. Convenience gets too expensive for my tax dollar. If more basketball and soccer games are wanted stretch out the local season..... August 21st to May 1st. We city slickers are not restricted to NCAA rules.

Adding 2-3 gyms to the existing inventory will spell relief. The land near Free State is owned by taxpayers and so is the existing infrastructure now in place.

We've reading some about this new high dollar living project that comes with a 18 hole golf course,new city infrastructure and tax incentives..... it is located nearby this new Field House project.

The more structures and land the city own's the more the budget becomes expanded which is in and if itself a tax dollar increase any way taxpayers look at it.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

Be practical! Go where taxpayers own the land as we speak and much infrastructure is in place.

For a community of 68,000 Lawrence has plenty of gym space = reality.

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.

Connect the Burroughs Creek hike and bike path to the river levy by way off Hobbs Park through the new development in the "eastside warehouse district". A design path has been created so lets get on with it. Maybe cost $200,000.

In doing the above Lawrence,Kansas has effectively improved the quality of life for more families throughout the sales tax dollar community. This is definitely within the spirit of the 1994 sales tax that was approved by families throughout the community.

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Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 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? http://www.ci.lawrence.ks.us/currenttopics/PLAY/i_executive%20summary.pdf

PLAY Overview http://www.ci.lawrence.ks.us/currenttopics/PLAY/i_executive%20summary.pdf

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 http://www.ci.lawrence.ks.us/currenttopics/PLAY/i_executive%20summary.pdf

Background and Process http://www.ci.lawrence.ks.us/currenttopics/PLAY/i_executive%20summary.pdf

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: http://www.ci.lawrence.ks.us/currenttopics/PLAY/i_executive%20summary.pdf

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