City Hall

City Hall

KU athletic director presses case for Rock Chalk Park

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger listens as new football coach Charlie Weis takes questions during a news conference on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011 at the Anderson Family Football Complex.

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger listens as new football coach Charlie Weis takes questions during a news conference on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011 at the Anderson Family Football Complex.

January 7, 2013


If all goes well during tonight’s vote by the Lawrence City Commission regarding land usage and zoning specifications — as is expected — the Kansas University athletic department could begin construction on what has come to be known as “Rock Chalk Park” within weeks.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the potential new complex that would be located in northwest Lawrence, KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger on Monday shared with the Journal-World the many reasons behind the university’s eagerness to begin construction on a $50 million project that will deliver a new home for KU’s soccer, softball and track and field programs.

Those reasons include everything from financial and competitive advantages to important aesthetic and long-range visions for the department. Most critical, however, is the benefit such a move figures to have on KU’s status within college athletics.

“Kansas Athletics, for over a decade, has been searching for a way to address the needs of track and field, soccer and softball,” Zenger said. “Without this opportunity, we would spend the next five to seven, and maybe 10 years, trying to raise $50 million to build these three structures, all the while putting the completion of the renovations to Allen Fieldhouse on hold and, even further, putting on hold the renovations to Memorial Stadium. In light of what we’ve witnessed with BCS-conference realignment over the past several years, that would be the most foolish action that we could ever take.”

Cost advantage

Perhaps the best part, at least through the eyes of the university, is that the $50 million project will cost just $39 million, thanks to the Bliss Sports Foundation, headed by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel, which has offered to take the project at a cost of $39 million spread over 30 years.

“We’ve had no one else approach us with that kind of offer,” said Zenger, who added that, as a parent and member of the Lawrence community, he would love nothing more than to see the city’s plans for a rec center at the same location become a part of this project. The two concepts, however, remain completely separate and will be governed by each party.

“They invited us to walk alongside their project about a year ago, so when we found land that fit our needs, we simply invited them to walk alongside us should they so choose,” Zenger said. “From where we sit, we believe that all of these facilities being in one location makes it a more vibrant entity and, more importantly for the city of Lawrence, a bigger economic engine.”

As far as the “Rock Chalk Park” aspect goes, KU Endowment will own the land, Bliss Sports will own the facilities and lease them to KU for 30 years, and, at the end of the contract, all three facilities will belong to KU. Zenger said such a setup is mutually beneficial and the $11 million savings would allow KU to turn its attention to men’s basketball and football, which are the financial lifeblood of most athletic departments across the country.

“As we continue to watch BCS realignment unfold, there is nothing more critical for our future in that equation than addressing the needs of Memorial Stadium,” said Zenger, who added that none of KU’s early blueprints regarding Memorial Stadium renovations included a track around the football field. “Let me make it really clear: This project, whatever we want to call it, allows us to open the door to address the needs of Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium immediately.”

There also exists the issue of Title IX compliance. Zenger said the mere start of such a project would put KU in good standing in that area, but emphasized that getting a gold star in the annual review of equality between men’s and women’s sports was not the motivation behind the project.

“These young women deserve competition facilities that are equal to their peers in the Big 12 Conference,” Zenger said. “And even if there were no such thing as Title IX they’d still deserve this.”

Would KU still be going forward with the project?

“Absolutely,” he added. “If we’re gonna have a sport and it’s worth having, it’s worth doing well.”

Staying on track

Although upgrades at both Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium offer tremendous revenue potential, Zenger was careful to point out that putting track, soccer and softball first was not simply a get-this-out-of-the-way-so-we-can-get-to-that scenario.

As it stands now, KU is not eligible to host any conference, regional or national track meets because the existing track at Memorial Stadium is not a true 400-meter track. If and when the new track is built, it will be a state-of-the-art IAAF track, of which there are only a handful in the country. Zenger said would return the luster to KU’s historic track programs.

“This will allow the Kansas Relays to become once again what they used to be,” Zenger said.

Moving forward with the current setup is the equivalent of the men’s basketball program playing its home games at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

“So many people think that we need and want to get that track out of Memorial Stadium because of football,” Zenger said. “And they are absolutely correct; we need it out of there. But first and foremost we need it out of there for track and field. It’s been too long, and, when it comes to competition sites, this project is our greatest undertaking since the building of Allen Fieldhouse, preceded by the building of Memorial Stadium.”


blindrabbit 1 year, 3 months ago

Liberal: Agree, a return to pink, could see the KU track athletes a mile away. I know all the "pink" stories, but did not seem to bother Neider, Oerter, Santee, Ryun and even Wilt.


catfishturkeyhunter 1 year, 3 months ago

I can't see doing anything to the football stadium. The football team sucks and will never be competitive with the elite college football teams in this country. So untill they can win on a consistant basis year in and year out, the football stadium is just fine and needs no improvements other than a better parking lot.

The basket ball team is fine too. If they need a bigger place, the Sprint Center is just 30 minutes away. Maybe a better parking lot.

The parking sucks at these games.

After that who cares about tennis, baseball and so on?


rockchalker52 1 year, 3 months ago

Merrill, I think each KU athletic event brings a lot of money & commerce to Lawrence.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

Sports is kind of deceptive. Billions of dollars in corporate welfare is handed out to the pro's annually.... according to what I read. Taxpayers foot the bills for any sports arena.

How much does each KU athletic event cost the City of Lawrence? I would say local governments hand out their share of corp welfare. So what is the net gain?


Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

Please pull from the agenda for the following reasons:

I have concerns that the proposed Rock Chalk bidding process won’t adequately protect the public.

What conditions must be met in order for a private company to own the majority of the facilities on property zoned for public and institutional uses?

Mr. Fritzel has the inside track to be the builder of the city’s $25 million recreation center through a process that deviates significantly from the city’s standard bidding process.

Mr. Fritzel is a key driving force in this proposed project, in spite of the fact he has not publicly outlined his vision or what he sees as his role in the project either at a City Commission meeting or at a public forum.

Mr. Fritzel will have the ability to use the facilities for other events, if certain conditions are met. Such as ?

The city hasn’t fully weighed the recreation center project against other needed city projects.

The number $25 million is mentioned frequently BUT what about cost for new infrastructure? Who eats this cost? Is it split? If so how?

What are the agreements between all concerned parties? Where can these “agreements” be viewed by the taxpayers?

According to the agenda it appears the City Commission is moving forward hurriedly in spite of not having reviewed all "agreement documents" and without knowing actual dollar amounts.

I am requesting that the Rock Chalk project be pulled from the agenda until such time that all necessary documents have been reviewed and presented to the taxpayers for review?

I am also request that the Rock Chalk project be pulled from the agenda until such time that all necessary tax dollar cost numbers are locked in and presented to the public for review.

In the last 15 months, there have been 17 letters to the editor and 14 LJW editorials opposing/questioning this rec center project. I have never seen such outcry in this community.


KansasLiberal 1 year, 3 months ago

Why spend tens of millions of dollars on sports that nobody cares about? That includes football as well as the sports at the new park.


gorilla10 1 year, 3 months ago

Athletics brings in the money and runs the show people......Sorry to break the news!!! Build it, Rock Chalk!


consumer1 1 year, 3 months ago

I smell a new state of the art football stadium in the planning stages. My general opinion is if KU athletics want it. It will cost the rest of us and arm and a leg. Think about parking? If the city has designated spots they would almost never be available to the citizenry of Lawrence.


rockchalker52 1 year, 3 months ago

McKee is right. It's great for the long term. The price is right & there are no new taxes.


leftylucky 1 year, 3 months ago

Athletic director seems to forget in 2009 plans for the Olympic village in the area south of anschutz pavilion that was to cost 8 million for the track facility. (Ljw march 25 2009). At that time the cost was 24.5 million for a track, softball stadium and a soccer stadium. Keeping the athletics around the campus seems safer then sticking all of the female athletics out in a field closer to Lecompton. Who will provide security. The athletic director is spewing bovine manure. Will the new track still be named for hersberger who provided the funds for the track at memorial stadium? It's so sad that kansas athletics can't afford to build their own facilities.
What happened to all of the tv revenue ?


JackMcKee 1 year, 3 months ago

Build it. It's good for the long term of Lawrence!


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 3 months ago

What does KU have to do with a city rec center? Ku didnt partner with a homeless shelter, a library, or any other rec center facility.

This is about development and fleecing the general public to pay for sewers and water lines and streets and fire and police protection.


Bob Forer 1 year, 3 months ago

“This will allow the Kansas Relays to become once again what they used to be,” Zenger said.

Nonsense. The long and slow demise of the Kansas Relays has nothing to do with the the fact that the track is not a true 400 meter track. When the United States converted to the metric system in track and field events, the new distances were simply accommodated by moving the start /and finish lines slightly. The track has been resurfaced many times over the years, most recently, in 2009.

the Big Three Carnival Relays (Drake, Kansas, and Texas Relays ) have decreased in popularity over the last three decades for a number of reasons:

(1) The emergence of football and basketball as primary spectator sports.

(2) The relaxation of the Olympic Rules prohibiting "professionals" from competing. The change has been a windfall to the elite track and field athletes of the world, who now command huge "appearance fees" simply for showing up and competing, without jeopardizing their Olympic eligibility. Track and field is much more popular in Europe, and with much greater attendance, and accordingly, more gate receipts, those meets are able to attract the big name athletes.

(3) The KU Track and Field teams of past--under coaches Bill Eastman, followed by Bob Timmons--boasted a plethora of world class athletes, Since the retirement of Timmons, Kansas track has fielded mediocre teams with no big name stars. And with no big name stars, Kansans quickly lost interest in the Kansas Relays.

The Kansas Relays used to have attendance in upwards of 25.000 people for its main day. The new track won't come close to seating that many people.

Zenger is out of touch if he believes the Kansas Relays has a chance of returning to its past glory days.


minimadoff 1 year, 3 months ago

Sheahon Zenger is getting his story's crossed. Not to long ago his staff said this project was needed to resolve a long standing Title IX law suit, now it's just "To Good To Be True". KU shouldn't cover up the fact that Thomas Fritzel can't do this with out financing with city issued Industrial Revenue Bonds, real estate tax abatement and no sales tax collected on construction materials, the City paying for all infrastructure to the site and on the site. And the special zoning that's being rushed through the process. KU will continue to pressure Bob Schumm, Mike Dever and the City into these one-sided agreements that only benefit Fritzel. The City must finish this before it becomes an election issue.

Zenger, take one for your own team and leave the taxpayers alone.


Liberal 1 year, 3 months ago

I think Kifer is nuts most of the time but the one thing they are correct on is the lack of jobs in this city. Other University cities seem to develop jobs as well. This city just makes excuses why it does not happen.

Way tell em, Mr Zenger, I can not wait to see true state of the art track facilities. The next thing that needs to happen is a return to pink. Tradition matters.


bluzhawk 1 year, 3 months ago

I hear there are some nice homes for sale in Eudora.


Clark Coan 1 year, 3 months ago

I'd like to see a referendum on this project and a sunset clause on the special sales tax. The bus system and library expansion passed voters but I'm not sure the rec center would.


introversion 1 year, 3 months ago

Without Lawrence, there is no KU, and without KU, Lawrence becomes Osage City. I know some of you moved here long before KU was a presence in the community, so I understand your gripes.


KiferGhost 1 year, 3 months ago

They jump higher for the developers who are pushing this. The university will jump for donations that adds to their bottom line and always glad to provide tax relief to the wealth not investing in education at all. The tax code must be changed to end this nonsense.


toe 1 year, 3 months ago

Done deal. University says jump, city asked how high.


KiferGhost 1 year, 3 months ago

Sports and the fans are great people. Penn State, Steubenville, KU ticket scandal and all the cheerleading support for the crooks before they were put away and the millions paid to Perkins for such excellent management. Yeah, think it is pretty clear that people touting sports as character building are full of it and the way this project is being forced through without listening to the community the beat just keeps going on. Sure makes us proud.


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