Tonight appears to be the Lawrence City Commission’s last opportunity to heed the pleas of many community members to slow down and make sure all of the pertinent details are locked in before committing to a city recreation center in northwest Lawrence.
If, as seems likely, city commissioners give final approval tonight to a development agreement for the center, the city will be obligated to pay at least $2.3 million in fees and incentives even if the center is never built. Based on recent commission actions, it appears this project is almost certain to be approved, but what is the rush? Why would commissioners commit to this project and give up much of their bargaining power before remaining questions about parking and other shared facilities at the site are answered — legally and in writing?
Would the five commissioners stake the financial futures of their own businesses on the same careless and sloppy oversight they have given the proposed Rock Chalk Park project?
Kansas Athletics and the Kansas University Endowment Association can do whatever they wish because they are dealing with private money. Even so, their degree of oversight raises many questions.
However, the city’s role in the project deals with public money that deserves close and expert examination. Time and time again, there have been grand sounding explanations of why and how the Rock Chalk Park deal was being put together, who would do what and who would be allowed to do what, only to have a real and different story come out a few days later.
As the mayor said last week, many of the details are between developer Thomas Fritzel and the KU entities, but key issues between the city and the developer also remain to be worked out. What happens, for instance, when city events or just routine use of the recreation center conflicts with a major event at the KU facilities? How will parking be apportioned? Will people attending a KU event take up all the free spaces that should be available for patrons of the city’s center? How will parking be allocated if the city center is hosting a major event? No parking details had been locked in by Friday. Even if city officials are able to cobble an agreement together before tonight’s meeting, there will be little opportunity for the public or commissioners to digest all the details. Again, what’s the rush?
The city, its attorney and city commissioners have jammed this project through without the proper care to all details. There has been too much trust and not enough verification. This is not the way a city should be run.