Archive for Tuesday, January 8, 2013

KU portion of Rock Chalk Park project wins approval at Lawrence City Hall; KU Relays could be at site by 2014

January 8, 2013


The starter’s pistol now has sounded on the Rock Chalk Park project.

Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday gave approval to a pair of rezoning requests and a special use permit that will allow Kansas University and its private partners to move ahead with plans for a new track and field stadium, soccer field, softball stadium and other amenities on about 90 acres just north of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

Now, the race is on to have the project ready to host the Kansas Relays in 2014.

“That is definitely our goal,” said Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director for KU. “We’re very excited. This is an exciting time for both Kansas Athletics and the city of Lawrence. This will provide facilities for KU that can compete with facilities across the country.”

Tuesday’s votes, however, do not resolve all issues with the project. The votes do not yet commit the city to build a $25 million recreation center in the park. Commissioners won’t vote on that portion of the project until mid-February, when development agreements are finalized among KU entities, the city, and a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, which will provide financing and construction services for the KU-related facilities.

But commissioners generally were enthusiastic about the project. The rezoning requests — which included 90 acres for the proposed Rock Chalk Park and another 20 acres that could be developed in the future — were approved unanimously. The special use permit was approved on a 4-1 vote, with City Commissioner Mike Amyx opposed. The special use permit plans showed the city’s proposed recreation center at 181,000 square feet with eight gyms and other amenities. Amyx has said he thinks that the city’s facility needs to be significantly smaller, and perhaps at another location.

Commissioners heard from several members of the public who urged the city to approve the project. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Lawrence-based Kansas Licensed Beverage Association — which represents bars and restaurants — issued formal endorsements of the projects.

A few parents of youth athletes also threw their support behind the project.

“Let’s take Lawrence recreation from good to great,” said Heidi Simon, who told commissioners she had a son practicing basketball in Tonganoxie on Tuesday evening because there wasn’t enough practice space in Lawrence. “This project is big and it is bold. There is always risk when you do something great, but there is great reward in what we’re trying to do here.”

Commissioners also heard from people who questioned the project. Both the League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County and the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods expressed concerns about the project.

Some of those concerns may come up again in February when city commissioners consider agreements between KU entities and Fritzel’s Bliss Sports.

As it's currently proposed, Fritzel’s company is the presumed contractor for the KU-related facilities — which his company will own for the first 30 years and lease back to the university, which KU officials contend will save KU millions of dollars compared to financing the project itself.

It also is proposed, though, that the city’s $25 million recreation center would go through a bidding process that deviates from the city’s standard bidding policy. Under the proposal, the bidding could be limited to three companies, and Fritzel’s firm would have the chance to match the low bid on the project.

Commissioners did not get into any of those details at Tuesday’s meeting, but rather said they will be addressed in the agreements they will consider in February.

“All those agreements will be open and available to the public before we take any action on them,” Mayor Bob Schumm said.

On Tuesday, though, the focus was on the KU portion of the project clearing a major hurdle. Marchiony said it is hoped construction could begin in either February or March.

He said the Rock Chalk Project will allow the university to work on a plan to remove the track from Memorial Stadium, which would allow for upgrades to the football amenities offered in the stadium. But Marchiony said no timeline or specific plans have been developed for that project.

“But now that this piece of the puzzle seems to be on the way to being solved, we’ll be able to focus on that more,” he said.


Cindy Yulich 2 years, 10 months ago

Good job to all involved in bringing these much needed facilities to our community!

Richard Heckler 2 years, 10 months ago

Keep your tax dollars at easy access because the city portion will not pay back and will need further tax dollar injections.

No one knows if any major traffic will come through this new project. KCMO/Johnson County and Topeka are in the mix and have been for several years. Which is to say more speculation than substance is on the tax dollar table.

This matter deserves a vote by the tax payers. It is somewhat troublesome to observe local taxpayers willing to accept a large tax dollar item to move forward without question. As if sports facilites are some golden goose. When in fact they are truly tax dollar money holes.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 10 months ago

Are you talking about the empT, Library, Bus Repair facility, or the bicycle paths? No wonder you don't have anything Merrill. This facility, at least in some kind of way has the ability to generate revenue. From what I have seen, none of the things you support do.

DennisReynolds 2 years, 10 months ago

Is there a way to block merrill so that I don't even accidentally scan his nonsense?

bad_dog 2 years, 10 months ago

It's simple. Use a little self discipline rather than try to silence another. Just read the poster's user name then decide whether you want to peruse what is posted. If not; scroll on!

flyin_squirrel 2 years, 10 months ago

Love it! We need new facilities for KU Track, Softball and Soccer. And now with a new Track Stadium on the way, we can start looking at how to remove the track from Memorial Stadium.

somebodynew 2 years, 10 months ago

“All those agreements will be open and available to the public before we take any action on them,” Mayor Bob Schumm said.

Yep, read all you want. Then we are going to sign them whether you like them or not. It does meet the definition of transparent, I guess.

flyin_squirrel 2 years, 10 months ago

Grandma, please use your glasses when you read. This has nothing to do with your tax dollars. KU Endowment and KUAC are paying for this project. The Rec center is what your tax dollars will be used for, and it hasn't been approved YET.

Don Whiteley 2 years, 10 months ago

Politics and public opinion on campus and in Lawrence remain unaltered: sports first, education somewhere further down the line. Your future tax dollars at work.

minimadoff 2 years, 10 months ago

Tax dollars will be used to build the infrastructure on and off site for this project. There will be tax abatement issued so no real estate taxes paid by Fritzel, there will be no sales tax on construction materials paid by Fritzel. The taxpayers will be spending money on this project.

rtwngr 2 years, 10 months ago

Well, if Merrill is against it, I must be for it. @Number_1_Grandma - The Fritzels have a good 'track' record. I suspect you're just another low information voter that thinks if someone is a good entrepreneur then they must be dishonest but thanks for your left handed slander.

KU79 2 years, 10 months ago

That sums it up well. There are lots of CAVE people in Lawrence...citizens against virtually everything. If you want to find them, just read the comments after almost any article here. This is a great project for Lawrence and for KU!

Joe Hyde 2 years, 10 months ago

From the news story:

"It also is proposed, though, that the city’s $25 million recreation center would go through a bidding process that deviates from the city’s standard bidding policy. Under the proposal, the bidding could be limited to three companies, and Fritzel’s firm would have the chance to match the low bid on the project." (Italics added)

Using this method to solicit bids for the construction of a public facility would be a textbook example of collusion between city commissioners and a private construction firm.

patkindle 2 years, 10 months ago

ok, you folks with money listen up.

get those check books out and start writing its all about the kids, and ku is for it so it must be good the rest of the people will enjoy what you paid for hope and change, share the wealth

Patricia Davis 2 years, 10 months ago

And it still looks like the hideous K-mart distribution center.

lawrencereporter 2 years, 10 months ago

Could investors be baling out Fritzel and themselves by driving this project from the inside. Thomas Fritzel under Fort Development LLC. developed a residential subdivision called Olivia Farms in Junction City. Fritzel is currently running from paying millions of dollars for three years of delinquent real estate taxes and special assessments owed Junction City. Two members of the Fort Development LLC group are well positioned within KU Endowment, one as a KU Endowment Executive Committee member and another as a KU Endowment Trustees.

Conflict of interest?

JackMcKee 2 years, 10 months ago

Great news for KU. Great news for Lawrence. Good job City Commission!

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