Archive for Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lawrence City Commission candidates explain views on proposed $25M recreation center

January 27, 2013


Several Lawrence city commissioners have said they’re confident a majority of residents support a plan to build a $25 million regional recreation center in northwest Lawrence, even though the project won’t be put up for a citywide vote.

The upcoming Lawrence City Commission election may provide a clue about whether their sentiment is correct.

The Journal-World this week found that the field of City Commission candidates is fairly evenly divided on the project that would build a 181,000-square-foot recreation center, lighted tennis courts and other amenities adjacent to the proposed Rock Chalk Park development that will house Kansas University track, soccer and softball facilities.

Of the nine City Commission candidates interviewed by the Journal-World, four of them — Mike Amyx, Scott Criqui, Michael Rost and Leslie Soden — expressed significant reservations about the size, scope or financial aspects of the project.

The remaining five — Judy Bellome, Rob Chestnut, Jeremy Farmer, Reese Hays and Terry Riordan — either expressed various levels of support or were noncommittal about the project.

Candidates were fairly united on the idea that the city had a shortage of indoor recreation space but were split on whether the city should address those needs through a large regional recreation center or through a more traditional neighborhood center.

Candidates also were divided on whether the recreation center issue will become a major issue in the upcoming City Commission campaign, which will have a Feb. 26 primary election to narrow the field from 11 to six. Three commissioners will be chosen by voters in the April 2 general election.

The current group of city commissioners have indicated they may decide whether to move forward on the project in mid-February. And that has caused some candidates to speculate that by April the issue won’t weigh heavily on the minds of voters.

“I think by the time the campaigns get going, people will know more details about the project and will be more comfortable with it,” Riordan said. “I don’t see it as a big ongoing issue, but I think it is a big issue right now.”

Others, though, said without a citywide vote on the issue, many voters may use the City Commission elections to express their opinions on the project.

“I think this issue is really going to get people engaged, involved and reading about the City Commission candidates,” Rost said. “I think they may not be able to do anything about this project, but they can put people on the City Commission to ensure this type of process won’t happen again.”

Here’s a look at each candidate’s position on the recreation center. Attempts by the Journal-World this week to reach candidates Nicholas Marlo and William Olson weren’t successful.

Mike Amyx

For Amyx, a downtown barbershop owner and the lone City Commission incumbent in this year’s race, the size and cost of the proposed recreation center weigh heavy on his mind.

“I believe a more neighborhood-size facility would have been good for the northwest area of town,” Amyx said. “It would have been a better fit for Lawrence at this time.”

Amyx said he’s also concerned the size of the facility — which is proposed to have eight full size basketball courts, an indoor turf field, gymnastics area, wellness center, walking track and other amenities — will create operating costs that create a strain on the city’s budget. City officials have estimated the fees and facility rentals generated at the facility will fall $300,000 to $350,000 short of covering the operating expenses of the building. The city is projecting that it will have adequate reserves in its sales tax collections to cover that annual shortfall, but Amyx said it makes him uncomfortable.

“That expected shortfall tells me that I need to see a project that is going to be closer to paying for itself,” Amyx said.

Amyx also said he doesn’t support the proposed bidding procedure for the project. The building, as proposed, would be built by the Kansas University Endowment Association, on behalf of the city. KU Endowment is proposing a bidding process that would deviate from the city’s standard open bidding process.

KU Endowment would invite selected companies to bid, with the understanding that an entity controlled by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, who is helping finance the KU portion of Rock Chalk Park, would have a chance to match any low bid.

“My particular feeling is that because public funds are to be used for the project, it should be bid in a traditional way,” Amyx said. “That would be my preference. That is the way the public would know if it is getting the best value for its dollar.”

On the issue of whether the project should be put to a citywide vote, Amyx recently voted with his other four city commissioners against the idea. But Amyx voted with the caveat that if the public were to present a sizable petition asking for a vote, he would support placing the issue on the ballot.

Judy Bellome

Bellome, the retired CEO of Lawrence’s Visiting Nurses Association, said she sees a lot of positives with having a regional recreation center that would be adjacent to approximately $50 million worth of KU facilities, such as the track and field stadium, soccer field and softball stadium.

She said as member of several Parks and Recreation classes, she’s noticed crowded conditions and thinks now is the time for the city to consider a recreation project, especially if Fritzel or other private entities are willing to help the project.

“I like the partnership idea,” Bellome said. “I’ve always been someone who looks to collaborate.”

But Bellome said she still would like a little more explanation about how the project will fit in with other city priorities.

“I am not opposed to the size of the facility,” Bellome said. “But I am concerned about the $25 million going into it. What does that mean we won’t be able to fund?

“It sounds like a very worthy project, but I have learned over the years that you prioritize what you need most.”

Bellome said she believed the bidding process can work, as long as the city is open with the public about the process. She said given the fact that KU Endowment and Fritzel were teaming up to donate about 26 acres of ground to the city for the project, it was understandable that they would want to have some control over the building of the facility.

“As long as that is disclosed and it is all out there for the people to see,” Bellome said. “That is a big donation.”

Bellome also said she didn’t think the project needed to go to a citywide vote. She said she had concerns about the multifaceted project being boiled down to a simple up-or-down vote.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say they are not opposed to the whole thing but are just opposed to parts of it,” Bellome said.

Rob Chestnut

Chestnut, the chief financial officer of a Topeka-based publishing company, said the city has fallen behind on the amount of indoor recreation space.

“There isn’t any doubt that we have a chronic shortage of gym space,” Chestnut said.

But he stopped short of declaring the proposed regional recreation center a good deal for the city. And he said a future City Commission likely won’t be asked to make that decision.

“I think it will be the job of a future City Commission to abide by the terms of the agreements that are being crafted now,” Chestnut said. “But I don’t have a lot of information on those agreements.”

Chestnut said he has been studying the city’s sales tax fund, which is proposed to be the funding source for the 20-year debt that will be issued for the recreation center.

“I think everybody acknowledges it will be tight,” Chestnut said. “It will require a lot of resources out of that fund, particularly for the years between now and 2016.”

On the proposed bidding process, Chestnut said he would like to know more details, but he said he does understand why KU Endowment officials would want to use a bidding process more typical of what the association normally uses.

“When you are working with a partner, you have to work with them on all the terms of a project, and sometimes you have to blend processes,” Chestnut said. “I think that is what is happening here.”

Chestnut said he thought it was appropriate for the project to move forward without a citywide vote. He said the project is the type of project discussed with voters in 1994, and he noted the sales tax was designed to remain in effect for perpetuity.

“Philosophically, this is one of the reasons I believe in sunsetting sales taxes,” Chestnut said. “But they didn’t sunset this sales tax.”

Scott Criqui

Criqui, an executive with Lawrence’s Trinity In-Home Care, believes the city does need more indoor recreation space.

“Do we need a regional recreation center, though?” Criqui asked. “That’s is hard to gauge. It has not been so transparent whether there is a need for that.”

Criqui said he has concerns the city seems to be relying heavily on the results of a 1994 sales tax election that authorized spending on recreation projects in the community. That’s the proposed funding source for the recreation center.

But legally, that 1994 vote also allowed the sales tax dollars to be used on other governmental projects, and he said he’s uncertain whether the community has had a true discussion about how to spend the sales tax money.

“I think there is an interesting conversation about priorities to be had,” Criqui said. “I think we are basing this off of priorities from a 1994 vote. Do we really need to spend all of this completely on the recreation facility?”

Criqui also is concerned about the proposed bidding process.

“I don’t think many people are in favor of that, including myself,” Criqui said. “Transparency is what we expect from a public process, and I’m not sure we have had enough of that yet.”

On the issue of a citywide vote, Criqui said he’s not yet ready to call for one. He said he would support a vote if citizens started a significant petition drive calling for a vote.

“If a group gathered 3,000 signatures or something like that, it would tell me that there is some concern out there,” Criqui said. “But I haven’t heard of anyone who has done that yet.”

Jeremy Farmer

Farmer, the executive director of the Lawrence food bank Just Food, said he thinks most community members support the general idea of a regional recreation center.

“What I’m hearing from most people is they aren’t as upset about the project as they are about the process,” Farmer said.

Farmer said he can see the benefits of a regional center that could draw youth tournaments and other sporting events that would attract visitors to town.

“Our community is incredible,” Farmer said. “The question I’ve been asking other people is why wouldn’t we want to share that with citizens of other communities?”

On the bidding process, Farmer said he can understand how KU Endowment is seeking a modified bidding process.

“Regardless of how it is done, it needs to be transparent to the citizens,” Farmer said. “Ultimately, if the city was building this on its own, it would have a different process. But because KU Endowment is propelling this forward, they have the ability to choose the contractor they want. This really will boil down to how open everyone is with each other.”

Farmer said he can see both sides of the issue on calling for a citywide vote on the project.

“But I think most of the objection boils down to process, and that is a tough question to put to a vote,” Farmer said.

Reese Hays

Hays, chief litigation counsel for the Kansas Board of Healing Arts in Topeka, thinks most people do want a new recreation center in Lawrence. He’s not sure they want a 181,000-square-foot center, though.

“Can the city afford this, and is that what the citizens want?" Hays asked. “An early ’90s tax vote doesn’t really give a clear picture of what the people want today.”

Hays said he wants more details to emerge about the proposed bidding process and the reasons behind it. He noted the entire project is seeking a tax abatement from City Hall because leaders argue the Rock Chalk Park essentially will operate like a government-owned property.

“If this is going to be treated like a government project, then the transparency needs to be there,” Hays said.

Hays said he is in support of putting the project to a citywide vote.

“The reason I’m running is because I want to give the voice to the people,” Hays said. “To rely upon an early ’90s vote as the reason to move forward on a very large project seems problematic.”

Hays said he’s not sure the project would win voter approval.

“I think it is an open question,” Hays said. “When I talk to people about it, they have a lot of questions.”

Terry Riordan

Riordan, a Lawrence pediatrician, said there is “no doubt” in his mind that Lawrence needs more indoor exercise space.

“I see children come into the office everyday who are too heavy,” Riordan said. “I hear from parents about lack of gym space and how their children only have six games in a season.”

Riordan said he sees the benefits of having a large facility that is adjacent to other KU sports facilities.

“I think this will be a destination,” Riordan said. “People love coming to Lawrence. I’ve talked to too many people who are going out of town for facilities like this. Lawrence has everything else; it just needs something like this.”

Riordan said the $25 million price tag deserves close study, but he believes it has the potential to be a good investment for the community.

“Sometimes there is a unique opportunity to do something that benefits a lot of people,” Riordan said. “If you have foresight and the analysis says it makes sense, you should do it.”

On the bidding process, Riordan said he is becoming more comfortable with the proposal as he learns more. He said the fact KU Endowment will invite bids from at least two other competent builders helps. So too does the city’s plans to hire its own construction monitor who will inspect the building process and report back to the city.

Riordan also said as more details emerge about the project, he is comfortable with the project moving forward without a citywide vote because he is confident city commissioners are thoroughly studying the issue.

Michael Rost

Rost, an attorney for a Topeka insurance company, said he has multiple concerns with the proposed project.

He said it is troubling the city has approved public incentives for at least two hotel projects — The Oread and the proposed Marriott in downtown Lawrence — in recent years, and now the city is being asked to build a regional recreation center that will help fill hotel rooms.

“It looks like one hand is shaking the other,” Rost said. “If the real goal is to provide recreation services to people who live here, I think smaller and more centrally located makes more sense. If they are trying to bring in tourism and big events, I get that, but I think you have to do a better job of showing how that is going to work.”

Rost also said he has heard “no good explanation” why the city shouldn’t follow its long-standing bid policy, and he is concerned about how information on the project has emerged in the last few months.

“All this information is just coming out in dribbles,” Rost said. “It seems like they feel like they are going to get this through anyway, so why waste time explaining it.”

He also said he is concerned that the city hasn’t put the project to a citywide vote. He believes the decision to forgo an election is part of a strategy to ask voters for a tax increase to fund core services — such as the infrastructure sales tax — while using existing tax dollars to fund projects that would fare questionably at the ballot box.

“If you are going to do this, you should have a tax increase associated with it, and then you should go the voters and ask for their approval,” Rost said.

Leslie Soden

Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet care business, said she thinks the city is moving forward with a very large project without sufficient community buy-in.

“There still isn’t really citywide, community buy-in on this idea of a regional recreation center,” Soden said. “There already is buy-in on the idea of a neighborhood recreation center. I think everyone really likes that idea.”

Soden, though, said she is supportive of the KU portion of Rock Chalk Park and thinks those facilities will be a “huge boon for the community.”

Soden said the proposed bidding process for the facility is drawing major concern from many of the people she’s talking to.

“To me, that’s the main negative of the project,” Soden said. “It is what makes the project look fishy, and it is why some people are walking around calling it a backroom deal.”

Soden also said she is concerned the city hasn’t done enough analysis to determine if the recreation center really can attract as many tournaments and usage fees as the city is projecting.

“There is a risk there,” she said.

She said the city also is taking a risk by not putting the project to a citywide vote.

“I understand why the city doesn’t want to have a vote, but they need to have a vote,” Soden said. “For the next 20 years, there will be people pointing to that project as the root of all evil at City Hall because they didn’t vote on it.”


vermont 1 year, 2 months ago

not at all interested in Soden. Let's hope that her biased, constricted viewpoints don't make it to the table. She does not, and probably never will, represent the Lawrence community and its DIVERSITY, values, traditions and what it needs to be at this point in history. Soden, please understand that, although it's not personal, you're not qualified to represent this community at this time. Try again in 10 years.

  • Jackson Bentley, M.D.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

Not spending $25 million on a project that will require an estimated $300,000 a year of new tax dollar spending for operations will leave a a few bucks left over for new landscaping in the "eastside warehouse district". Plus Rhode Island and Vermont in downtown are ready for some planters on the corners such that Mass Street is sporting.

Also when talk of "gateways to Lawrence impressions' are brought up why not choose massive and beautiful Kansas landscapes? Deciduous oak and maple tree forest accompanied by a wild assortment of beautiful ornamental grasses = very very low maintenance. These it seems would be more pleasant to the eyes than big box like buildings and strip malls.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

What could be the alternative for a lot fewer tax dollars?

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. And for a lot fewer tax dollars = smart spending.

This is definitely within the spirit of the 1994 sales tax that was approved by families throughout the community.


JackMcKee 1 year, 2 months ago

Wow 150 "signatures" which probably equates to about 25 real people. I'll give you whiners credit. You sure make a lot of noise for a couple dozen people.


JackMcKee 1 year, 2 months ago

With arguments like Kifer's it's not hard to understand why the CC isn't giving more credence to these people. What's the precedent for a city wide referendum on a relatively minor outlay like this proposal? Unless Lawrence just wants to disband its CC and vote on every proposal. It's obvious this is just a bunch of no growth/no change ninnies that don't like the fact that it's not one of their pet projects. I'm proud of the CC for telling these people just how ridiculous they are.


JackMcKee 1 year, 2 months ago

This all reminds me of the dustup over American Eagle, Wal Mart and Home Depot. There are some people in Lawrence that just can't help but shoot themselves in their feet.


JackMcKee 1 year, 2 months ago

The Rec Center is about bringing people, and lots of them, to Lawrence. Lawrence, in case you missed it, is a tourist town. We lack an ocean and mountains, but what we have is KU. This is like developing a chunk of a mountain for a larger ski resort. Anyone that can't grasp the basic fundamentals of this project has no business running for City Commission.


bearded_gnome 1 year, 2 months ago

I particularly liked:

Rost, an attorney for a Topeka insurance company, said he has multiple concerns with the proposed project.

He said it is troubling the city has approved public incentives for at least two hotel projects — The Oread and the proposed Marriott in downtown Lawrence — in recent years, and now the city is being asked to build a regional recreation center that will help fill hotel rooms.

“It looks like one hand is shaking the other,” Rost said. “If the real goal is to provide recreation services to people who live here, I think smaller and more centrally located makes more sense. If they are trying to bring in tourism and big events, I get that, but I think you have to do a better job of showing how that is going to work.”

---nicely thought through.


bearded_gnome 1 year, 2 months ago

^^Soden said the proposed bidding process for the facility is drawing major concern from many of the people she’s talking to.

“To me, that’s the main negative of the project,” Soden said. “It is what makes the project look fishy, and it is why some people are walking around calling it a backroom deal.”

---Leslie Soden, if this statement means you're listening to your friend Merrill/dickie, ... when he opens his salt shaker he sees back room deals when he looks inside it! based on his posting, "backdoor" or back room deals are breaking out all the time. so, consider ...


bearded_gnome 1 year, 2 months ago

Amyx, Hays, Rost, represent my views on this very clearly. Soden and Criqui also partially represent my views on this neighborhood/regional combo, though I'm not saying there are "backdoor" deals on this [more on that to Ms. Soden next.]

I feel that this neighborhood rec center and regional KU hub has mission creep and mission fuzz: we aren't very clear what it is now supposed to accomplish and its mission is getting fuzzier or poorly defined. by combining the neighborhood and the regional I think we are running into some of this.

I also believe that we are now way behind fixing our infrastructure: water and sewer pipes are far behind schedule for replacement; and the other night's commish meeting it was reported as improvement that our streets are now down to being only one fifth in poor or broken condition!

we have trouble with basics but want to spend money on these less necessary things like the NW rec center and regional hub combo. yes we need more tennis courts and other rec opportunities but I think this is a very expensive way for our city to get them. and when we have trouble supplying ourselves water, we need to be more careful about our priorities.


Boston_Corbett 1 year, 2 months ago

Just took a look at the petition, created by "Nick Danger" and signed by his architect buddy. I hope I didn't hurt my computer when the coffee spewed out of my nose.

I detect a Cool front approaching. Batten down the Trade Routes. Woof, woof.


kuguardgrl13 1 year, 2 months ago

I would feel much better about this entire project (the city part and the KU part) if it didn't seem so secret. KU Athletics only very recently made students aware of the project. Being a Lawrence voter, I have reservations about the Rec Center. As a student, I also have mixed feelings about the KU facilities. I know our lady athletes deserve more than what they have. But what does NCAA require that we give them? Why is this Rock Chalk Park that is so far away from campus better than remodeling what we currently have? What massive changes will they make to Memorial Stadium after the new track facility is built? Athletics sent out a survey to ticket purchasers. That survey was geared towards adults, particularly alumni. The identifier questions didn't have a good option for "I'm a student, and I don't donate tons of money". Yet I pay several thousand dollars a year to the university. But that doesn't matter because KU Athletics is effectively a separate entity from KU. Nearly 30,000 potential opinions don't matter because we don't buy season tickets for several hundreds of dollars a year and don't send KU Endowment a nice, big annual check.


KiferGhost 1 year, 2 months ago

We can never question the "winners", the Self's, athletic department, no we need to listen to them and accept everything they say as the gospel because doggone it they are winners. Now let's just never mind that the athletic department has 5 past employees in prison and this scandal only became public because our developer buds got caught paying off the Junction City commissioners otherwise lew would still reign supreme. And let's not forget the developer in charge of this project has twice screwed the city over by hiding stuff from our commissioners (still must be since the candidates on the commission are still only discovering things about the project already moving forward). Yes, let's continue listening to the winners and not think about anything. Here is another winner with the same song and dance bull while he ruined other people's lives because he and the organizations backing him had the money to hire the lawyers.


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 2 months ago

If this center is 25 million. You can bet any other town could. U can bet any other town could build it for 18 million or less. How ,uch did it cost to build south jr high?


trashcartguy 1 year, 2 months ago

We keep being told we’ll love this once we’re given the details. I’m sorry the only detail I need is it is the proposed 20M expenditure. It doesn’t involve schools, roads, sewers, utilities etc. They put the library and the T up for a vote because they knew those would pass unlike this issue..


thuja 1 year, 2 months ago

Getting exercise is as easy as walking out your front door.

This kind of 'getting exercise' lines the pockets of automobile, petroleum, utilities, infrastructure.

Will the T be allowed to stop here or is that too low class?


vermont 1 year, 2 months ago

had a similar experience with Chestnut...will not get my vote.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 2 months ago

"But Amyx voted with the caveat that if the public were to present a sizable petition asking for a vote, he would support placing the issue on the ballot."

"On the issue of a citywide vote, Criqui said he’s not yet ready to call for one. He said he would support a vote if citizens started a significant petition drive calling for a vote."

They asked for it-- here's your chance--


jhawk1998 1 year, 2 months ago

The City missed the boat on this one. Back before the first high school football stadium was built there should have been some community-based planning. One facility should have been built that was centrally located and provided all the communities needs for the next 50 years. We continue to suffer from day-to-day piecemeal site planning that increases community costs. don't we have some large nearly empty apartment complexes that could be converted to rec facilities? As to the doctor's comments about overweight children - how many prescriptions is he writing for these kids to get daily exercise? Isn't it true that those who workout closest to home are most likely to maintain their regimen? Be a lot cheaper to buy every child in town a jump rope.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

Criqui,Rost,Soden and Hays in the final six.

It's time for new thinkers and faces in government.

I want to know how each feels about local corporate welfare? Do wealthy investors get it or do we use it for seed money to fire up a small business venture that has a need in our community?


lunacydetector 1 year, 2 months ago

i was an advocate for chestnut when he first ran...i even put his sign in my yard. after he was elected i had a major concern and called and left him a message. then i left him another message, and another, and another. he never returned one of my calls. he will not be getting my vote.

on another note, does lawrence's hierarchy not realize we the people recognize phony and cliquish? it reminds me of high school...or the local chamber of commerce.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 2 months ago

Children over weight? What and how much are they being fed. Make exercise fashionable in the neighborhood.

Indoor facilities? I say set up work out space in the home and see how that works. If we notice the most popular work out space is out doors on bikes,walking and jogging and it is available as we speak.

Setting up a work out space in the home will cost a whole bunch less than tax increases. In fact making $800 tax dollars to each resident would very definitely cost taxpayers a ton less money.... and it would be making excellent use of YOUR tax dollars. City Hall could provide vouchers for exercise equipment = fiscal responsible approach.

Now what is taking place at the public school gym? Children are not getting a daily workout of some sort? We certainly did 5 days a week at public schools through high school. Plenty of exercise at recess as well.


Keith 1 year, 2 months ago

“I think by the time the campaigns get going, people will know more details about the project and will be more comfortable with it,” Riordan said.

What are these details and why are they not public at this time?


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 2 months ago

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