After more than a year’s worth of noise surrounding a proposed $25 million recreation center, city commissioners on Tuesday are set to put the project on track toward construction.
Commissioners are being asked to approve a May 7 bid opening for the 181,000-square-foot building, slated for an area near the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The city also will host an open house from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
But the bid process up for approval ensures that it will be the next city commission — the one installed after the April 2 election — that will be responsible for accepting the bids and issuing $25 million worth of bonds needed to pay for the facility.
Retail rezoning request also up for approval
Plans for a 181,000-square-foot city recreation center won’t be the only reason city commissioners are looking at the intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Commissioners also are being asked to approve a rezoning request that will allow up to 155,000 square feet of retail space to be built on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The 146-acre site is across the trafficway from the proposed site for the city’s recreation center and the larger Rock Chalk Park sport village.
The City Commission previously has balked at the retail zoning for the corner, and the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in October recommended denial of the retail zoning request.
But in February, the Planning Commission reversed itself and recommended approval of the retail zoning.
The property is owned by a group led by Lawrence developers Duane and Steve Schwada. The group has argued retail zoning at the corner will be important in assuring there will be appropriate retail amenities available next to the Rock Chalk Park sports village.
On Monday, two candidates in the field said they are holding open the possibility of redesigning the project or significantly shrinking it if they are elected to office. But the other four candidates in the field have indicated they aren’t comfortable in revisiting the contentious recreation center decision now that the current city commission has committed to the project. If those positions hold, that makes it unlikely that a future commission would overturn any decision on the recreation center. Three of the five city commission seats are up for election, but the two holdover commissioners — Mayor Bob Schumm and Commissioner Mike Dever — have been enthusiastic supporters of the current plans.
“I think it becomes dangerous to have commissions overturn the decisions of past commissions because then you really open the city up to lawsuits,” said candidate Scott Criqui. “I don’t agree with this commission’s decision, but I have to respect it. That is just part of life.”
Candidate Rob Chestnut said he also wouldn’t be likely to alter the plans for the project or reduce its size. He said the project has great potential, and the city has made a good faith commitment to move forward on the center. The city last month signed a development agreement with an entity of the KU Endowment Association and Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Sports.
“At this point, it is clear the city is contractually bound by the agreement,” Chestnut said. “I feel like it will be my job to make sure all the parties are held accountable to the terms and conditions of the agreement.”
City Commissioner Mike Amyx, the lone incumbent in the race, and candidate Leslie Soden both held open the possibility of seeking changes to the project.
“If we have to vote for accepting a bid for a 181,000-square-foot building, I will vote against that,” Soden said.
Soden said she would seek to negotiate a new project that would still be built on the proposed site but would be smaller. She questions the financial soundness of the current facility.
“The numbers are just staggering,” Soden said. “It is going to be a money pit.”
Amyx has been the lone current city commissioner to cast votes against the proposed recreation center. He said he will keep open the option to vote against the construction bids and the financing of the project.
“I will question any project that comes along until the final decision is made,” Amyx said. “I’m not going to just change my opinion on it.”
The other two candidates in the race — Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan — both have consistently expressed support throughout their campaigns for moving ahead with the proposed recreation center.
As for the latest details on the project, the public will get to see the plans up close at Tuesday’s open house. The main elements of the project remain largely unchanged from previous proposals. They include:
• Eight full-court gyms that can be converted to 16 cross-court gyms or volleyball courts.
• An eighth-mile, four-lane, indoor walking track.
• A gymnastics area.
• An indoor turf field for soccer and other sports.
• A cardio/weight room area.
• An aerobic/fitness area.
• An area to support a future wellness center.
During their Tuesday night meeting, which begins at 6:35 at city hall, commissioners will consider putting the project out for bid.