Construction on the Rock Chalk Park recreation center should begin soon, after the Lawrence city commissioners approved the project Tuesday night.
The public-private partnership between the city, a Kansas University Endowment entity and a private company led by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel will include eight gyms, an indoor turf field and a fitness center, among other amenities. The city is investing $22.5 million in the 181,000-square-foot project to be located at the Sixth Street and K-10 intersection.
The commissioners delayed the final agreement at their last meeting but had their concerns addressed Tuesday, enough to approve the measure by a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Mike Amyx dissenting.
The revised development agreement now requires monthly meetings for the commissioners to review infrastructure costs to make sure they are paying fair-market value, as the city is allowing Fritzel’s firm to build the infrastructure on a no-bid contract. In addition, the revised development agreement makes clear that the project's legal fees, loan origination fees and loan interest fees are exempt from a 2.5 percent management fee that Fritzel's firm is entitled to charge the city as part of the construction of the project.
A couple of residents voiced their displeasure with the project prior to the vote.
“My perception of this is the taxpayers in Lawrence are getting the shaft,” said Ross Duffy, of Lawrence. “I don’t think most of the middle-class and lower-class people can afford it.”
After another citizen complained about the secrecy surrounding the project, Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said that the “venomous and offensive” commentary often heard in Lawrence is unproductive and called for more civility in local politics. Commissioner Bob Schumm added that the public had been able to give its input on the proposed project for the past 18 months.
In other business of note, the commissioners:
- Approved construction of a new traffic signal at Bob Billings Parkway and George Williams Way to make way for an expected increase in traffic in the area after the completion of an interchange at Bob Billings and K-10. The Kansas Department of Transportation estimated that a additional 5,000 vehicles would start using the interchange immediately after it is completed in November 2015 (construction is expected to start next spring). The city approved $275,000 in general obligation bonds for the project.
- Loosened the requirements for when a retail market study would need to be completed before a large retail project can be built in the city. City planning staff already does such analysis every two years. The study will now be required for proposals of more than 100,000 square feet rather than 50,000, and applicants will no longer be required to provide independent, project-specific analysis. Thresholds of an 8 percent vacancy rate and 100 square feet per capita also were removed.