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Commission to host open house, set bid date for $25M recreation center; city commission candidates split on whether they would alter project

March 25, 2013

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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.

Comments

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

The petition still has the same number of votes it had a couple of days ago. Whatever momentum it had, it's seemingly lost it's steam. The total number if signers, myself included, represents one sixth the number of votes cast for Commissioner Amyx during the primary, which was itself represented a miserable 8.6% turnout. Assuming all those who signed are Lawrence residents and eligible voters, the petition represents about 1% of the total. I hope no one is deluding themselves into thinking this petition represents the will of the people. Flipping a coin would be a better predictor of that.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

" I hope no one is deluding themselves into thinking this petition represents the will of the people. "

The only way to know the will of the people is to have a city-wide vote.

But that isn't why you posted-- you're just knee-jerking with your cynicism, at what you hope is my expense.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

You're half correct Bozo when you say the only way to know the will of the people is to have a vote. But the other half of that equation that would make your statement true would be only if the people then came out and voted. You and I both know that that is not likely to happen. What is much more likely is that a small, vocal minority will get somewhat more votes than some other small and vocal minority. The will of the people won't be heard either way, unless you'd like to define the will of the people as silent apathy.

What you won't admit is that you could care less about the will of the people. You just want your position to prevail. The other side is doing the exact same thing, so you're no better or no worse than they are. But will of the people it ain't.

The best chance you have to have your position prevail is to get as many bites of the proverbial apple as you can. Win once, and you can claim victory. So if this legitimately elected commission doesn't do as you wish, call for a special election. If the next commission doesn't do as you wish, well, then it wasn't a specific referendum on this issue (though you've taken the other side of that argument, when convenient). If the next commission does agree with your position, then yes indeed, it was a referendum on this issue. And even if a special election did happen and your position lost, you take them to court and tie up the project for decades, as you did with the SLT. Of course, in that case, the will of the people be damned.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

"What you won't admit is that you could care less about the will of the people. "

Actually, the expression is "couldn't care less," and in addition to getting the expression wrong, it's a strawman argument.

My primary objection isn't really about the merits of the project itself (although they are dubious) but rather the process involved. It's highly unlikely that any project that was cooked up in such non-transparency could ever survive a referendum. That's why projects of this type and size should never be undertaken without a referendum (and the one that happened 20 years ago doesn't count.)

The SLT is irrelevant to this situation. This city's voters should never had the right to vote on the fate of property that rightfully belongs to Haskell. And let's not forget how flawed the language of that ill-conceived referendum was-- the State Supreme Court made the idiotic ruling that the referendum was misleadingly worded, but that the city was within its rights to word it in a way that prejudiced it towards a particular result.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 8 months ago

I actually agree with several of your points. The process used stinks. And if given the opportunity to vote today, I'd vote against the rec. center for that reason alone.

That said, the straw man argument is the "let the people decide", when you know that between 80-85% won't take the time to vote. Let the loudest minority decide is more like it. Unfortunately, that process stinks just as bad.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

The point is that if it had to go to a referendum, they'd be much less likely to go through a process as flawed and downright corrupt as this one was.

And the fact that 80-85% wouldn't vote is no reason to deprive the 15-20% who would of their right to express their opinion.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 8 months ago

A couple of months ago, you said categorically that a vote for Obama was a referendum on Obamacare. Not a vote on his foreign policy. Not a vote on how he's conducted the economic recovery. Not that he's pro-choice while Romney was not. Not on Obama's evolving position on same sex marriage. It was a referendum on Obamacare, flat out, so you said.

We have had and will continue to have votes on the city commission. Clearly this issue has dominated the discussion. Why is this somehow less a referendum?

The fact is, Bozo, that calls for a referendum is nothing more than a political ploy by people like you to have a second or third bite at the proverbial apple. Should you lose one vote or two, you'll call for a third and fourth, all the while claiming the earlier votes were meaningless. It's a fine political strategy. What it isn't is a moral high ground. It's as equally underhanded as the pro-developers who rammed this through prior to the city election. You don't want the voice of the people to be heard. You want your position to win.

BTW - As I write this, the petition has gained exactly zero new voters in the past few days. Another indication that the overwhelming majority of Lawrence citizens simply don't care.

jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

This city commission election is in fact very closely tied to the sports center proposal.

Unfortunately, there aren't three candidates who will try to stop it, there are only two.

So it's virtually a done deal already, regardless of who we vote for - thus our vote for commissioner can't possibly reflect our desire to stop the project in any meaningful way.

You're right that participation in city politics is absurdly and distressingly low - that doesn't mean that we shouldn't all get the chance to vote on stuff like this. I'd prefer if turnouts were 100%, but if they're not, the folks who choose not to participate have voluntarily removed themselves from the decision.

By not participating they're saying something like they just don't care. That's their right, and then the decision is left to those of us that do care.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 8 months ago

The reason there are only two candidates opposed to this project is because you chose not to run. You voluntarily removed yourself from the decision making process. We live in a representative democracy, where we elect people to make decisions. That's exactly what has happened. The system is working in exactly the way it's supposed to.

We have six candidates for three spots. But we had 11 before the primary. The voters spoke. If only two remain who are opposed to this project, that's because that's what the voters wanted.

Do you really want the voters voting on stuff like this? The Library, the "T", the SLT? Sounds good, but does it really work out well? All those things were approved. California has a history of voter initiatives, commonly called propositions. The state does it, cities do it. Every feel good measure that hits the voting booth is passed, leaving the legislature impotent and the state broke and broken.

I have mixed feelings about this project. The method used to ram this through just prior to an election stinks, in my opinion. That said, elsewhere in this thread, there is talk about the availability or lack thereof of the use of this facility by Lawrence residents. The less availability because of all the tournaments coming to town just means increased business activity, an influx of outside dollars, which is good for local businesses and increases the local tax base which provides services for all. If those tournaments don't happen, then the facility is there for our use and benefit. Either way, there would be a benefit. So while the method used to pass this stinks, the project itself sounds good.

But all this talk about letting the people decide, they are. It's called an election.

jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

The three I liked all seemed opposed to this project - one of them seems to have changed his tune since he won the primary.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

"A couple of months ago, you said categorically that a vote for Obama was a referendum on Obamacare."

I never stated it in any such way. It certainly indicated that there wasn't anywhere near the opposition to it (and Obama) that the Republicans had hoped to generate, but it most certainly was not a referendum, and I never called it that.

"The fact is, Bozo, that calls for a referendum is nothing more than a political ploy by people like you to have a second or third bite at the proverbial apple. Should you lose one vote or two, you'll call for a third and fourth, all the while claiming the earlier votes were meaningless."

That's not a fact-- it's a straw man, posted by someone more interested in contrariness for contrariness's sake than "facts."

"As I write this, the petition has gained exactly zero new voters in the past few days. Another indication that the overwhelming majority of Lawrence citizens simply don't care. "

It's much more likely an indication of how few Lawrence citizens read these reader comments. But you're right that Lawrence citizens don't pay much attention to local issues and elections. Sadly, that's the case with voters, especially in local elections, throughout the country. And that's largely intentional and a direct result of the political systems we've set up, and the education we give kids with regard to civic participation. The big money that largely determines who gets elected likes it that way, and are happy to spend the money (upon which they get a great return) to make sure that apathy is maintained.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

I think it's also an indication of the number of people who actually read this forum and are willing to make the extra click to sign a petition that they know, cynically but probably realistically, will be ignored by a commission swayed much more by cronyism than public opinion.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

"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.”"


Yes, it would be a money pit-- but The People Who Really Matter are at the bottom of that pit ready to collect all the money that's thrown into it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

“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.”


Legislative decisions are overturned all the time. That's why there are elections. If you think it's a bad idea, there is no reason to go along with it.

And there would be no grounds for lawsuits. The city might be on the hook the $2.3 million it's already committed to, but that's a whole lot less than $25 million. And stopping or scaling back the city rec center would not stop the KU athletics portion of this project-- unless Fritzel chose to back out because the city would no longer be subsidizing it.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Yes.

I'm disappointed in Criqui here - this leaves me with only 2 candidates I really like. And, even if my candidates win, there won't be enough votes against continuing with this mess.

Keith 1 year, 9 months ago

“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.”

Really? Future commissions are bound to continue the practices of past commissions? It may be a stretch in this case, but look up legislative entrenchment.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

Can we hate the game (while not ignoring that the player is the one making the rules to said game?)

Jerry Harper 1 year, 9 months ago

The problem with the open bid is that it is really meaningless. City pays $25 million no matter what the bid. If it comes in low, the savings simply increase the city's share of infrastructure costs. The only exception would be if the entire package came in for less than $25 million. Highly unlikely.

Daniel_Larusso 1 year, 9 months ago

Is this going to be free and hassle free for everyone like the other community buildings?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

The way it's been described, it'll be unavailable to the general public for over half of the weekends out of the year.

Chad Lawhorn 1 year, 9 months ago

Just a point of clarification, the city has committed to keeping at least one gym open for public play during even large tournaments held at the facility. Presumably, the cardio, weight rooms, walking track and other such features would be open during tournaments as well. Thanks, Chad.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

But if the tournaments are as successful at drawing out-town attendees as they expect, the congestion at the center will make it essentially inaccessible to other users.

Jerry Harper 1 year, 9 months ago

The problem is parking. If you have a tournament or a KU event that fills up the lot, it doesn't make muchdifference if a court is open. You can't get there from here.

Jerry Harper 1 year, 9 months ago

Parking is the problem. If parking lot is full for 100 team tournament or a track meet or a softball game, you can't get there to use the one gym kept open.

Jerry Harper 1 year, 9 months ago

  • You can build the same recreation center – but with 3 courts (as Parks and Recreation repeatedly proposed doing until word came down to change its story) for about $14.7 million – and add an additional full court and parking to Holcom ($1.6 million) and to East Lawrence ($1.6 million). That gives the 8 full size city courts (16 cross-courts). located to serve all areas of the city far more conveniently and for less money than the proposed recreation center ($19 million)?

  • Proponents erroneously claimed over and over again that these very same standards showed Lawrence to have a shortfall of 18-20 basketball courts (and continued to do so right up until the moment Chad Lawhorn’s story in the Journal-World debunked that tale)?

  • Not one dime of economic development money or hotel/motel tax money -will be used to pay for the proposed recreation center or any shortfall in operating expenses – even though its gargantuan size was justified on economic development and tourism grounds for the avowed purpose of putting ‘heads in beds?’

  • If the feasibility study is wrong (and it most assuredly is), guess who get to pick up the entire operating costs (estimated at $1,000,000)? A) The economic development budget, B) The tourism and vistors budget, C) the taxpaying public

  • The proposed recreation center would be a staggering 9 times larger than any one of the other three city recreation center? (See relative size below.)

  • Lawrence already has 3 times as many city-owned gyms as other cities in the 80,000-100,000 population category nationwide according to NRPA data?

  • The the firm making the feasibility study stated that the City should not rely upon its projections? “Because procedures were limited, we express no opinion or assurances of any kind on the achievability of any projected information contained herein and this report should not be relied upon for that purpose.”

  • The feasibility study projections assumed that the proposed recreation facility would host 50 tournaments, clinics and camps each year – more than one every weekend excluding holidays? Hosting that many events will make it, as a practical matter, almost impossible for Lawrence residents to use the facilities on any weekends and many weekdays? (Parking problems among other issues.)

  • When KU hosts events at its associated facilities, e.g. track meets, and when Fritzel’s Bliss Foundation hosts events, it will be, as a practical matter, almost impossible for Lawrence residents to use the recreation center? (Parking problems among other issues.)

  • The so-called ‘competitive-bidding’ requirement for the proposed recreation center is a joke and doesn’t save Lawrence a single penny because the city pays $25-million to the Endowment Assn./KU Athletics no matter what the bid unless – fat chance – the bids on the center and on the infrastructure come in far, far below projections?

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