City Hall brokers deal to scrap controversial bidding process for $25M recreation center; proposal now calls for open bidding

Facing mounting concerns from the public, City Hall officials have brokered a tentative deal to scrap a controversial bidding process for a proposed $25 million city recreation center in northwest Lawrence.

Mayor Bob Schumm said all parties have agreed in principle to a new plan that will allow the proposed 181,000-square-foot regional recreation center near the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway to be bid through the city’s standard, open bidding process.

“I think the court of public opinion has been of great value in moving this project from how it started out to where this new proposal is,” Schumm said.

The deal marks a reversal from a controversial proposal that would have limited the number of companies that could bid on the project, and also included a clause that would have given an entity controlled by Lawrence builder Thomas Fritzel the chance to match any low bid on the project.

Members of the public had begun to increasingly question whether that process could ensure the city would receive the lowest and best price for the recreation center. Schumm said he shared some of those concerns.

“I’m a lot more comfortable than I was two or three weeks ago,” Schumm said.

The new proposal includes several elements:

• Any qualified, licensed contractor will be allowed to bid on the recreation center project, just as is the standard for typical city construction projects.

• The city of Lawrence will run the bidding process. The previous proposal called for Kansas University Endowment to run the process.

• The city of Lawrence will hire the contractor and oversee the construction of the recreation center. The previous proposal called for KU Endowment to hire the contractor, oversee the construction and then eventually sell the completed building to the city.

• The infrastructure for the site — such as roads, sewers and parking — will be built through a partnership between KU Endowment and Fritzel’s Bliss Sports. The city will contribute to those infrastructure costs but will have its participation capped in order to ensure that the city’s total expenditure for the recreation center does not exceed $25 million.

The new proposal is not yet final because the necessary documents haven’t been crafted or signed. But Schumm said both KU Endowment officials and Fritzel have expressed agreement to the new terms.

Schumm said he expects to have final documents ready for the City Commission to consider at its Feb. 19 meeting.

He said the change in the bidding process is not expected to cause any of the design elements of the proposed recreation center to change. The project is designed to have eight full-sized basketball courts that also can be used for volleyball, a walking track, an indoor turf field, a gymnastics area, a fitness center, eight outdoor lighted tennis courts and other amenities. The entire park — about 26 acres owned by the city and about 60 acres that will house the KU components — will have about 1,400 paved parking spaces to be shared by both entities.

The way the new deal is structured, the city will pay the full amount of the bid for construction of the recreation center building. The city’s architects have estimated the building will cost between $19 million to $20 million to construct.

The infrastructure portions of the city and KU portions of the project will be bid through a process controlled by KU Endowment and managed by Fritzel’s Bliss Sports. The city will contribute an amount to the infrastructure that brings the city’s total contribution to the project to $25 million.

For example, if the city’s receives a $19 million bid on the recreation center, it will contribute $6 million to the infrastructure portion of the park.

The city’s architects have estimated the infrastructure and parking portion of the park will cost about $13 million to construct.