Editorial: Botched effort

Poor handling by both public and private entities have cast a pall on the Rock Chalk Park project.

February 21, 2013


The ongoing debate about the proposed Rock Chalk Park project, along with the city recreation center, has not presented a picture of a well-organized, well-structured and well-explained multimillion-dollar project.

Building and financing this project may be a super idea with a super design, but the manner in which it has been presented to the public leaves many damaging, questionable and suspicious marks on the developer, the city, Kansas Athletics and the Kansas University Endowment Association.

Those who teach at the university’s nationally rated department of public administration should use the Rock Chalk Park and the city recreation center as an example of how to mess up, cloud and weaken a major collaborative project involving city, private, not-for-profit and state university entities. The public has been left with the feeling their government officials have done a sloppy, careless job in carrying out their responsibilities. Also, it appears these city officials were determined to push through the project regardless of serious and troubling details.

Why didn’t all those involved in the project make an extra effort to detail every facet of the complicated deal rather than to delay, conceal and disclose details only when asked to explain this or that about various parts of the very complicated project?

In a way, it is understandable that KU Athletics, the city and the builder might be somewhat reluctant, or embarrassed, to disclose all the details. However, it has been a major surprise to see the Endowment Association not be more forthcoming as the deal details unravel.

KUEA enjoys a proud record. It is held in the highest regard and is looked upon as a national leader in the field of educational fundraising. Although it is a totally separate entity, it is one of the university’s finest assets. It has a record of being a super clean operation. And yet, KUEA officials OK’d a deal that limited the building of the project to a single contractor with no competitive bid process allowed. And KUEA officials have acknowledged they did not, and still do not, know all the details of various agreements. And there are questions relative to conflicts of interest among some KUEA officials.

This does not reflect well on a financial institution that must have, and must operate with, a squeaky clean reputation.

There are many good people involved in the recreation complex deal, individuals who have done much good for the city, the university and the state. Nevertheless, it is disappointing to watch important details emerge week after week (only when some of the players have been asked to explain their actions), details that should have been made crystal clear at the outset. It is understandable that many observers are puzzled, disappointed and suspicious of how the project has been manipulated and presented to the public.

Again, city leaders, Kansas Athletics, the Endowment Association and officials of the construction company all have been tarnished in one way or another by the manner in which they have handled or explained — or not fully explained — their respective roles and involvement in this project.


leftylucky 5 years, 3 months ago

Lets not forget the chancellor and her overlooking conflict of interest from the endowment, and Kansas athletics. Looks like JT Stewart has more pull than the chancellor. How does the city provide a General public institutional zoning to a private entity. This should be a u zoning but to have a u zoning the university would have to abide by the city of Lawrence development code and environmental regulations. The endowment instead created a for profit alternate ego company to try to protect the endowment from lawsuits.

GUMnNUTS 5 years, 3 months ago

WOW!!!! 418 signatures. How many are real and how many are duplicated?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

Given that the only way to know about this is through seeing it here on these boards, and word of mouth from there, the current 420 signatures is pretty impressive.

But there's one way to get a more comprehensive view of public opinion on this project-- put it to a vote. Are you afraid of how that might turn out?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Equity Issue

Here's another scenario that might come back to bite taxpayers in the butt. This one gets built. This does not do away with the equity issue no matter what.

The plan leaves North Lawrence and Southeast Lawrence without a rec center. Both have had a major influx of population and still growing.

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 do 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 surely 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 simply not practical thinking. 29 cents a gallon gasoline went bye bye some time ago. A ton of people in Lawrence do not bring home $60,000 or more in wages such that many of the most vocal promoters do and some are on our tax dollar payroll.

In fact it still seems to me this1994 sales tax money was to provide"neighborhood" centers and such not field houses. The equity issue is on the table.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Why drop 31 million tax $$$$$ in one neighborhood for 1 rec center?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Let them know!!!

Mayor Bob Schumm schummfoods@gmail.com Home (785) 842-6729 Work (785) 842-7337

Vice Mayor Michael Dever mdever@sunflower.com (785) 550-4909

Commissioner Hugh Carter hughcarter@sunflower.com (785) 764-3362

Commissioner Mike Amyx mikeamyx515@hotmail.com Home (785) 843-3089 Work (785) 842-9425

Commissioner Aron E. Cromwell aroncromwell@gmail.com (785) 749-6020

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

"Why didn’t all those involved in the project make an extra effort to detail every facet of the complicated deal rather than to delay, conceal and disclose details only when asked to explain this or that about various parts of the very complicated project?"

This is all too often business as usual. When city government approves projects little if any in-depth explanations are offered as to how conclusions have been reached. Commissioners expect we taxpayers to accept their wisdom on matters if any and don't ask questions.

"I like the looks of this" or "this is a wonderful project" etc etc etc is all that is shared.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Where are the retail impact studies for taxpayers to review?

Where are the economic impact studies for taxpayers to review?

Where are the bids for the taxpayers to review? Why the secrecy? perhaps corruption?

Lawrence Chamber of Commerce has been trying to steal retail from Topeka,Kansas City and JOCO for 30 years which has proved to be a mammoth failure. The city is paying the Chamber $400,000 a year to tell city government what t do.

Trying to steal away athletic events from these same municipalities will be a monster task considering these locations have decades upon decades of experience.

What is going to come out of this? Local developers asking for more more and more millions of dollars in tax dollar corporate welfare to build more motels/hotels. Developers say without tax dollar handouts their projects will not make money. This is what taxpayers need to prepare themselves for ...... more tax dollar shakedowns.

Catalano 5 years, 3 months ago

Of all the editorials on this project, this was the best and, by far, the most colorful. Thank you.

streetman 5 years, 3 months ago

Good summary. Couldn't help but notice that this is following the Obamacare passage process -- one could easily substitute "Obamacare" for "Rock Chalk Park" in the editorial.

Patti Poe 5 years, 3 months ago

The more information that comes out about this project - the worse it sounds for the city. Paid parking, all concessions profits, very little control - only after Fritzel and KU assert THEIR controls. A city vote 20 years ago does not give the commissioners a blank check for 2013.

WilburM 5 years, 3 months ago

For once, I could not tell if this was written by Dolph or the editorial page staff. In short, this project stinks from a whole range of angles. Really, the worst packaging of a major project I've seen in 30+ years. Takes me back to the Mass. St. Mall days (which led to the ousting of three commissioners). Stop it now. And then, maybe, start over.

Catalano 5 years, 3 months ago

"For once, I could not tell if this was written by Dolph or the editorial page staff."

Me, too. I decided Dolph did the first draft (notice the "Again..." last paragraph) then it just got better after staff edited and colorized it.

Hudson Luce 5 years, 3 months ago

I wonder if Todd Sutherland's bank - University National Bank - which financed the Junction City deal which fell through and nearly took University National with it - is involved in the financing of this deal? Sutherland sits on the board of the Endowment Association, so it would be a possible conflict of interest. There's another detail which ought to come into the light of day.

GUMnNUTS 5 years, 3 months ago

Dolph is jealous he didn't think it up.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 3 months ago

When you spend up to $31 million dollars of the public money and you contribute to a deal that locks the people of Lawrence into a 50 year lease you should expect that we might want some accountability.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

$31 million dollars is too much money for one neighborhood rec center. The cost of the existing rec centers were built for about $7 million tax dollars.

Why should new west Lawrence be subjected to preferential treatment?

North Lawrence has been around for several decades longer yet still has no rec center per se. What's up with that? Why is North Lawrence being subjected to discrimination?

New west Lawrence has more miles of hike and bike trails than any other neighborhood in Lawrence, Kansas. Why is east Lawrence being subjected to discrimination?

Why do the tax dollars flow to new west Lawrence so easily?

tiredofnegativity 5 years, 3 months ago

Wow I am just stunned by the amount of time you all have to banter back and forth...merrill you clearly have too much time on your hands! Want to talk EQUITY....does the NW side of Lawrence even have a Rec Center? What a joke and I am so incredibly tired of the shallow minded East Lawrence residents having a pitiful attitude of "have vs. have nots" . If you could get beyond this shallow way of thinking you could then see the benefits of a project such as this and what it will do to stimulate economic growth for our community as a whole...not just the NW side!!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

I don't think there'd be much if any opposition if this were a rec center on the scale of any of the other three rec centers in town, rather than a regional (not neighborhood) center that's larger than all three of the existing centers combined. I'd certainly not be opposed to it.

fuel_for_the_fire 5 years, 3 months ago

"shallow minded East Lawrence residents". Wow, thanks for contributing to the negativity, tiredofnegativity!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.