Fritzel has made $50,000 payment related to Varsity House settlement with city, officials confirm

As city officials negotiate a no-bid contract with a company led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel for work at its proposed recreation center, City Hall officials have confirmed he’s made good on a previous settlement agreement with the city.

City Manager David Corliss said Thursday that Fritzel within the last several weeks has paid in full a $50,000 settlement related to how one of his companies proceeded with the Varsity House Apartments in the Oread Neighborhood.

Commissioners and Fritzel reached agreement in late November on a $50,000 settlement related to how Fritzel’s company dismantled an early 1900s home known at the Varsity House to make way for an apartment development at 11th and Indiana streets.

City commissioners had approved the concept of Fritzel moving the old house several feet to accommodate the design of the approximately 50-unit apartment complex. But City Hall leaders and local historic preservationists expressed concern when Fritzel’s method to move the house involved dismantling the structure.

City commissioners said the dismantling of the house — which gained its name by previously serving as the home for Kansas University’s varsity football players — violated the spirit of what they had approved. But Fritzel said he made his plans for dismantling the house fully known to members of the city’s planning staff.

The two sides agreed to resolve the dispute by Fritzel agreeing to make a $50,000 donation to the Douglas County Community Foundation, with the money being used to fund historic preservation efforts in the city.

Corliss said Varsity House LC provided a $50,000 check to the Douglas County Community Foundation on April 25. The city had been delaying issuing an occupancy permit for the apartment complex until the settlement matter was resolved.

After completing final inspections on the apartments, an occupancy permit was issued on May 24, Scott McCullough, the city’s planning director said.

At some point, city commissioners will be asked to provide recommendations to the Community Foundation’s board of directors on how the $50,000 donation should be spent, Corliss said.

He said an agreement with the foundation gives its board the final authority on how to spend the money, but it also requires that the City Commission be consulted on how to spend the money. The agreement requires the donation to be used for historic preservation purposes.

Corliss said he was uncertain when the matter may come before the commission. He said the foundation would be responsible for soliciting applications.

There should be no shortage of interest in the funds. At least two prominent historic preservation projects will be under way shortly. The Lawrence Preservation Alliance is doing repair work on the 1869 Turnhalle building at 900 Rhode Island Street.

The city also has won a $1.2 million grant to restore the 1950s-era Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence. City officials will have to provide about $300,000 of local matching funds to complete that project.

Questions about the status of the Varsity House settlement had grown in recent weeks after the Fritzel family’s Gene Fritzel Construction Co. won a $10.5 million bid to build the city’s recreation center near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The city, through a no-bid process, also has agreed to allow a company led by Fritzel to build about $12 million worth of infrastructure to serve the site.

City officials earlier this month gave Corliss the authority to sign contracts for the two projects, but he said Thursday those contracts haven’t yet been signed. He said the parties are still finalizing the documents.