Archive for Friday, January 4, 2013

Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods calls for citywide election on recreation center project

January 4, 2013


The largest neighborhood organization in the city is now calling for a citywide election on a proposed $25 million recreation center.

The Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods also took an official position questioning whether the unusual bidding process proposed for the project does enough to protect taxpayers.

“As we see it, the project as proposed falls far short of the desired standard of public bidding and cost certification,” Laura Routh, the newly elected president of LAN, said Friday. “Under the conditions outlined thus far, we have no assurance that taxpayers will get full value for their money.”

The association held a meeting Thursday night — with about 20 members present — to craft a formal position on the project to deliver to city commissioners.

Routh said the group decided to ask city commissioners to conduct a citywide election on whether the project should move forward, “given the magnitude of the project and the resulting long-term debt to be incurred by taxpayers.”

As currently proposed, the city would spend $25 million for a 181,000-square foot-regional recreation center that would be part of a larger public-private sports park on about 90 acres north of the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

City commissioners have addressed the issue of whether the project should go to a citywide election. A majority of commissioners have said they do not believe an election is needed because the project is not proposing to raise any existing taxes.

Plans call for the recreation center to be paid for through proceeds of a sales tax approved by voters in 1994. The tax has been used to build multiple recreation facilities, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department building and other uses. Money is available in the sales tax fund because several long-term bonds have been or soon will be retired.

On Friday, Mayor Bob Schumm said he thinks there are reasons to not put the project to a citywide vote.

“The form of government is a representative form of government,” Schumm said. “As long as we’re not raising taxes, I don’t see the need to have a specific vote on it.”

Schumm said his read of the public, though, is that the community is supportive of the project.

“My feeling is that we have a majority of people in the community who want to see this through,” Schumm said. “The people who are a little ill at ease about it are concerned about the arrangement to deliver the project.

“The arrangement is unusual, but it comes up with a project that is quite extraordinary.”

As currently proposed, the project would create a partnership among the Kansas University Endowment Association, KU Athletics, the city and a private company led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel.

Fritzel is the Lawrence businessman who is providing the financing to build the KU facilities at the Rock Chalk Park site, which will include a track and field stadium, soccer field, softball stadium and other amenities. It recently was revealed that Fritzel ultimately will own the facilities that KU will use, and Fritzel will have the ability to use the facilities for other events, if certain conditions are met.

The city would own the recreation center and about 20 acres of ground within the Rock Chalk Park area. But as it is currently structured, Fritzel would have the inside track to build the city’s recreation center through a process that deviates from the city’s standard bidding policy.

Routh said members of LAN expressed support for the idea that the city needed more indoor recreation space, but questioned the bidding process and whether the city was placing the project ahead of other city priorities.

Schumm said he has become more comfortable with the bidding process in recent weeks.

As previously reported, KU Endowment — which is insisting upon building the city recreation center and then transferring ownership of it to the city in order to control the quality of the project — has agreed to accept two other bids for the work.

KU Endowment would invite bids from two other contractors — of the Endowment Association’s choosing — in addition to a bid from Bliss Sports, an entity that Fritzel controls.

If either of the bids from the other two contractors is lower than Fritzel’s bid, Fritzel would have a chance to match the bid and receive the work.

As has been the case from the beginning, Fritzel is pledging if the project has overruns that push the project to more than $25 million, he’ll cover those costs. The city believes the value of the project as it is currently designed is closer to $33 million, meaning Fritzel would be providing the city a value.

“I’m a lot more comfortable with it,” Schumm said of the proposed process. “We are going to have a market price established on this project. There will be two other bidders bidding on it, and we will know what we’re getting.”

Commissioners will be hearing rezoning issues and an application for a special use permit for the project at their Tuesday evening meeting.

But commissioners won’t take any action Tuesday that commits the city to moving ahead with the regional recreation center. The city won’t make such a commitment until it has seen proposed agreements with the KU entities and the Fritzel group.

Schumm said those agreements are scheduled to be completed by the commission’s Feb. 19 meeting.

“All the documents before they are signed will be in the public view,” Schumm said. “I’m trying as best as I can to be as transparent and as open with the public as possible.”


Jean Robart 2 years ago

Sounds like an awfully good idea to me, especially if public funds (aka taxes) are used.

scaramouchepart2 2 years ago

The neighborhood group and new pres seems to behind the times. As the article points out the City Commissioners have already made those decisions.

lunatic 2 years ago

It is a great project. We would be foolish to not proceed

Bob Forer 2 years ago

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cowboy 2 years ago

LAN has no standing and you and your 20 members are not speaking for the city at large. Electing Ms Routh president of anything seems a treacherous endeavor.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

I expect they speak for a good many more people than you do.

gl0ck0wn3r 2 years ago

I doubt it. Twenty people in a city the size of Lawrence is pretty spastically insignificant.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

"“All the documents before they are signed will be in the public view,” Schumm said. “I’m trying as best as I can to be as transparent and as open with the public as possible.”"

Good-- that means that when it's put to a citywide vote, voters will be well informed.

Keith 2 years ago

Schumm said those agreements are scheduled to be completed by the commission’s Feb. 19 meeting.

“All the documents before they are signed will be in the public view,” Schumm said. “I’m trying as best as I can to be as transparent and as open with the public as possible.”

But those documents will be signed, no matter what you unwashed public have to say about it. Buffalo Bob has spoken.

minimadoff 2 years ago

Research Thomas Fritzel's recent deals. 1. The Varsity House. 2. Plastic grass. 3. Oread Hotel cell towers. 4. Junction City development, Olivia Farms.

Do you really trust Thomas Fritzel.

homergoodtimes 2 years ago

Transparent Schumm, is the City being asked to issue IRB's for Thomas Fritzel's benefit to finance the project, will there be tax abatement on Fritzel's property, will sale tax on construction materials be avoided. Transparent Schumm please tells us.

lawrencereporter 2 years ago

Schumm became more comfortable with Fritzel's bidding process after the $50,000 dollar fine was levied from Fritzel for the Varsity House site plan violations.

blondejuan 2 years ago

Is this a democracy or a dictatorship?

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

I'd be all for a vote if I felt a substantial percentage of the electorate would actually take the time to come out and vote. Sadly, I doubt it would happen. So have a vote, or not. Have our elected officials decide, or not. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

Put this matter before the voters. Let the chips fall where they may.

The process for this project was ill conceived from day one. Certainly not well thought out.

KU athletics has plenty of money they DO NOT need my tax dollars. This has been a recklessly presented endeavor from day one. Should have been tabled forever. One more reason this project should be put before the voters.

What could be the alternative?

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. 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.

A best bang for our 1994 sales tax dollars and taxpayers as stakeholders. With a few bucks left over for new landscaping in the "eastside warehouse district" in addition to Rhode Island and Vermont in downtown.

Generally speaking this big tax dollar project has been changed so many times no one knows what will be the end result. Not a good way to do business.

irvan moore 2 years ago

i think the idea of having a rec center vote, the commission vote, and the school bond vote during the same election might make the taxpayers realize that it is going to be impossible to not raise taxes when you spend this much money regardless of what the commisioners and the school board are saying

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

This project will also have an estimated $300,000 or more annual operating budget which means every 3 years another $1 million tax dollars will be invested in this project. In a place that will be empty a good deal of the time.

Real estate value will depreciate from day one.

msezdsit 2 years ago

The problem with a city vote is low voter turnout. It is possible to ram this project through with the votes of those who are promoting it and seem like the city was in favor, as a whole. The safe thing to do is just shelve the whole bad idea.

Steve Jacob 2 years ago

At this point, why not wait until the new commission vote on the in April? Make it an election issue.

And if you really hate the rec center idea, start a petition to "sunset" the 1994 sales tax vote. Take away that money at the center will not get built.

beeline 2 years ago

I voted for the tax in 1994 and enjoy the many projects it has funded. This project fits the intent of the tax. We voted for our commissioners. Let them represent us. Not everyone agrees with every check the Commission writes, but that is what elections are for.

Taxpayer2 2 years ago

The classic Lawrence 'protest everything crowd' tactic is to demnad a public vote in the eleventh hour. This group does not care what the majority of Lawrence thinks, they only want to stop the park.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

That makes absolutely no sense.

This project has been cooked up in secret and on the fast track, with no public input asked for (or apparently even desired.)

The only way to find out what the majority wants is to have a referendum in one of the elections already scheduled in the next couple of months. Why are you afraid of letting the voters decide, as they'll get to do in the upcoming school bond election?

jhawkinsf 2 years ago

Like you, Bozo, I'm very skeptical of this project. And if given the opportunity to vote today, with the information available, I would vote no.

Given that though, calling for a referendum, calling for the voice of the voters to be heard, is just so much rhetoric. When one side or the other receives 8%+1 of the vote of all eligible voters, that side will claim a mandate. And when the side that gets 8%-1 takes the issue to court, and tries to tie it up there for 2+ decades, trying to overturn that very voice of the people that was called for, we'll again see that this particular process is broken, if by fixed we mean having a majority of voters making an informed decision.

Another path must be found. Maybe it's allowing taxes to go sky high, getting the electorate so angry they'll come out in droves. Maybe it's information drives on downtown street corners. Maybe it's recall petitions of city commissioners who support this project. Maybe it's organized peaceful protests outside their homes. But calling for a referendum with the majority having their voice heard won't be what happens. The overwhelming majority most certainly will be home watching TV or playing video games come election day.

skinny 2 years ago

I vote no! Lets use that money instead to lower the personnel property taxes in this city which are way to high!

Taxpayer2 2 years ago

I agree with Skinny. Taxes are too high. The Rock Chalk Park will grow business and that will help drive residential taxes down.

Hoots 2 years ago

I vote NO. This thing is a total scam just like the library which benefited the same people. Voters in this town need to look further than the tips of their noses and ask a few more questions before they vote yes.

Abdu Omar 2 years ago

We Lawrencians are being mislead. I do not believe that this rec center will attract lots of users because of its location. Who can walk from 6th street and say Wakarusa to the rec center? No one and if they do, that is their excercise. If this project were built on land inside Lawrence where many could use it, I would be all for it. Instead of building the eyesore hotel north of campus, why wasn't a rec center put there? Then you would have citizens from KU and the general public using it. Or put it downtown or where ever but out near the SLT is foolish because it isn't accessible I also think there should be a vote on this. Everyone I speak to about it is against it because of the reasons I mentioned and because it will use tax dollars we could use for something more centered on the community and not making Fritzel rich. Excuse me: richer!

Mari Aubuchon 2 years ago

Put it to a vote! I doubt that this will pass.

I do not think that this is the time to spend money on an expensive and unnecessary project. We need improvements to our existing water treatment plant, another one not far down the road, and upgrades to the police department and several schools. All of this will cost us a bucket load of money but they are essentials that will benefit far more residents and taxpayers than the rec center. I also have serious doubts about the way that this the entire project has been and will be handled.

Loretta Ybarra 2 years ago

Maybe a vote with a ballot reading "do you support this project or would you rather see improvements to existing infrastructure like the roads and parks in your neighborhood today?" And this would bring the people of Lawrence out to vote. In the last five years, Dolph Simons got the 2300 block of Vermont St street repaved twice and new sidewalks installed. He doesn't care about this initiative. I ride my bike two blocks north on Vermont and am dodging potholes. There is also a great park close to our neighborhood where the basketball court is crumbling concrete and old goals falling apart. There are more neighborhoods that would benefit from existing issues being fixed than this new development. Let's face facts - Fritzel, Compton and friends have spent the time figuring out how to best line their pockets with our tax dollars and have ensured there is city council in place to green light them every step of the way. Too bad in 1994 people trusted city government would take these funds to keep our city from disrepair, not make contractors rich - again.

Loretta Ybarra 2 years ago

I've seen many gatherings at his house. He hires valets to park guests cars on the street for several blocks around. Nobody parks cars in the parks next to his house.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

Don't know about the parking situation, but he does have a nice green-space buffer zone between himself and the rest of the neighborhood, maintained by the city.

James Minor 2 years ago

A citywide vote on the rec center is necessary due to the mis-understandings on the revenue growth in the area. The taxpayers need to understand how the center in the proposed location will be sustainable over a 10 year period before it goes to a vote. Any investment in a venture like this requires a clear path in understanding how the residential and business revenue return will aid in the centers maintenance and expansion capabilities. There has been a lot of input from the local developers on growth potential in this area but the taxpayers need to be sure that the discussions are not unrealistic projections.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years ago

Remember we have a new police station getting ready to be shoved down our throats too.

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

" The Rock Chalk Park will grow business and that will help drive residential taxes down."

Talk about rhetoric. There is no evidence that any such action will materialize. In fact City Hall has acknowledged this project will never pay back the taxpayers.

The consultant on the project raised some flags as well.

LAN has never said no to a fiscally responsible investment such as a neighborhood rec center.

irvan moore 2 years ago

the original plan to build a neighborhood rec center out west has been hijacked by endowment and fritzel and the desire of city commissioners to build a monument to themselves without regard to the consequences for the citizens of lawrence

Mike Myers 2 years ago

With 25 million we could build a beautiful 10 million dollar west side rec center and spend 1 million dollars on sidewalk & bike path improvements in every neighborhood in the city. We could benefit every tax payer in the city and turn our town into the most pedestrian friendly city in the midwest which could be more marketable than one mega rec center that benefits few, sits mostly unused and costs plenty to heat, cool and maintain...

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

Want to attract higher wage employment to Lawrence, Ks. ?

Invest in the future by way of developing safe walking pathways and safe bicycling pathways. Parents want to feel confident that their children can walk and bike safely to school.

And adults want to feel confident that they can walk and bike safely to employment,grocery shopping and socializing.

All of the above could be accomplished for millions upon millions less that the Rock Chalk Park. Throw in a NW Lawrence Rec Center and taxpaying citizens would STILL be millions upon millions of tax $$$$$ ahead.

People like to be outside not stuck in some climate controlled building that requires several hundred thousand dollars a year for operations.

gl0ck0wn3r 2 years ago

Merrill speaks for the people, of course.

2 years ago

i have to agree that building is incredibly ugly

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years ago

I feel the same way about the new library... If you want to read a book buy the freeking thing and support the authors. Don't ask everyone else to fund or pay for your leasure.

ThePilgrim 2 years ago

I think that we need an Olive Garden, Lowe's, and the SE section of the SLT bypass more than this KU-partnered boondoggle!

minimadoff 2 years ago

Where's Hugh Carter been lately, no stupid quotes in the newspaper.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Why are supporters of this initiative so resistant to submitting it to the public. We got to vote on the T and the Library. Why not this?

Just because a stream of our money - not the commission's money, may be available we should not bypasses the normal priorities process of our community.. Personally, I question the bait and switch game associated with the original community approval of the dedicated recreational account.

Just because one of the city lawyers potentially under pressure from our city manager - an advocate,-says it is so does not mean the burden of community support has been met for redirecting that funding stream. More importantly, with the normal turnover here, a goodly (unknown) percentage of us had nothing to say with the original decision which according to the city encumbers us forever. 0

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

Hugh Carter is moving to the expanded Chamber of Commerce payroll as a lobbyist.

"There will be two other bidders bidding on it, and we will know what we’re getting.”

The other two bidders have no chance of being accepted as the "builder" so goes the rumor in which case there is no incentive to submit truly competitive bids. It's an exercise to pull the wool over taxpayers eyes aka making believe the bidding process is on the up and up.

Commissioners will be hearing rezoning issues and an application for a special use permit for the project at their Tuesday evening meeting.

"But commissioners won’t take any action Tuesday that commits the city to moving ahead with the regional recreation center. The city won’t make such a commitment until it has seen proposed agreements with the KU entities and the Fritzel group."

In essence the numbers are not in. Yet Lawrence is moving as if all of the facts are available in which to base a fiscal intelligent decision. If what we read is true city hall still does not know a lot about major issues surrounding the project. Not a great way to transact business.

Who does know? Anyone?

Pete_Schweti 2 years ago

A public vote would just approve this thing anyway, just like the M-T and the "Library" expansion. People in this town are idiots.

Mike Myers 2 years ago

I don't think it would pass a public vote. Anytime Merrill and Wilbur are on the same side of an issue that really says something.

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

Do you think there should be a citywide vote on a new rec center?

interesting yet not surprising results thus far.

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

Tax increasing growth has been rightly blamed for many things: destroying green space, increasing air and water pollution, fracturing our neighborhoods ,closing neighborhood schools and ignoring the taxpayers desire for a walking/cycling friendly community.

But there is one consequence that usually goes unmentioned. Developers and their tax increasing business unfriendly growth plans are draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

Higher city taxes/user fees is the direct result of over 30 years of subsidies paid for by the local taxpayers. These range from the obvious to the obscure and include big projects. Such as billions we spend on new roads, water/sewer lines,traffic lights as well as the quite generous ones like the wide variety of tax incentives that support local developers in their quest to further over build Lawrence,Kansas.

The Lawrence Downtown family retail experience is an endangered species thus business unfriendly.

We've subsidized tax increasing growth at such a basic level for so long, that many taxpayers believe without it Lawrence will die. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of business unfriendly tax increasing development.

Developers and their tax increasing business unfriendly growth plans are draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

JackMcKee 2 years ago

Laura Routh vs Bill Self. Anyone want odds on who wins?

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