It is decision day — sort of — for the idea of a $25 million, city-owned recreation center.
Commissioners at their meeting tonight are set to take their biggest vote yet on the long-debated project, but Mayor Bob Schumm said Monday he will delay final approval of a key development agreement until the city gets more information.
Specifically, Schumm said he wants a better understanding of how Kansas University Endowment and Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel propose to operate the non-city portions of Rock Chalk Park, which will include a track and field stadium, soccer field, softball facilities and other amenities next to the city’s recreation center.
“I was promised by Thomas Fritzel that those agreements would be made public, and I’m going to hold his feet to the fire on that,” Schumm said.
Schumm said he will ask his fellow commissioners to withhold final approval of a development agreement to build the recreation center until agreements between KU entities and Fritzel’s Bliss Sports are made public.
The development agreement between the city and KU Endowment’s private corporation RCP LLC spells out how the city will contribute millions of dollars to help build infrastructure to support Rock Chalk Park, will provide a property tax abatement for the project and will rebate almost $1 million in city fees that normally would be charged to the development.
For those reasons, Schumm said the public deserves to know more details about how Fritzel’s Bliss Sports LLC will be involved in the project. Officials have said Bliss will finance and own the various stadium and KU-related facilities for 50 years, and that KU Athletics will make about $39 million worth of lease payments to Bliss during the next 30 years.
But the agreements detailing what role Fritzel’s company will play in operations of the Rock Chalk Park property have not been made public.
Dale Seuferling, president of the Endowment Association, confirmed to the Journal-World on Friday that the agreements with Fritzel’s firm had been signed, but he declined to make a copy available.
Fritzel told the Journal-World in January that he would make the agreements public once they were finalized, but when contacted Monday, he declined to do so.
Fritzel also said in January that the agreements would ensure that his company would not have any special rights to profit from Rock Chalk Park, such as through concessions, parking fees, facility rentals or other such agreements. Fritzel went so far as to say that the only revenue he would derive from the project are the lease payments, which will be used to repay any loans he takes out to build the facilities for KU.
Seuferling, though, declined to go into details about what the agreements allow in regard to Fritzel’s ability to generate revenue from the property.
A two-vote process
Schumm said he now wants to find out those details, but he also wants to keep the project moving forward.
Schumm proposes that commissioners still take a vote at their meeting tonight on a development agreement between the city and the Endowment Association’s RCP LLC.
But the agreement will be in an ordinance, which means it must be approved on “second reading” before it becomes official. Normally, the second reading of an ordinance is a routine matter that happens the following week.
Schumm, though, said he will delay the second reading of this ordinance until the requested information is provided. He said he hopes the city would be in a position to give final approval to the development agreement by early March.
“I really believe it is time that we either move ahead or move aside on this project,” Schumm said.
In addition to wanting more information from KU Endowment, Schumm said the city also needed to provide more information about its proposed development agreement.
The city posted an approximately 50-page copy of the agreement to its Web site last week, but several key parts of the document still had blank pages left to be filled in.
The agreement lists 11 exhibits that are a part of the development agreement, but 10 of the 11 exhibits were left blank with the understanding that they would be filled in later. Schumm has said he expects many of those exhibits to be completed by the time the city approves the document on second reading.
Some of the exhibits are other agreements that will govern the project. For example, they include: a purchase agreement and easements that allow the city access to the 26-acre site where the recreation center will be built; a site plan detailing how the entire project will be built; and plans for how Bliss Sports will build infrastructure to serve both the KU and city portions of the project.
The development agreement, though, does provide some new details related to the project. They include:
• The city is estimating it will rebate $902,000 in city fees that normally would be paid by Rock Chalk Park Development. Those include building permit fees and water and sewer impact fees. But the largest chunk is forgiveness of $785,000 in special assessments that the property would have to pay for a sewage pump station. The city at-large now will pick up those costs. Those costs are not included in the city’s $25 million price tag for the project.
• The city now estimates the value of the city’s 181,000-square-foot recreation center — including eight outdoor tennis courts — will be $22.6 million. It estimates the value of the infrastructure — which will include roads, parking and utilities to serve both the city and KU portions of the project — will be $8.3 million. Previous estimates had been as high as $13 million for the infrastructure and parking.
The agreement calls for the city’s costs for the recreation center and related infrastructure to be capped at $25 million.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall.