Editorial: Bidding debacle

May 17, 2013


The question that City Commissioner Mike Amyx raised after bids for the city’s new recreation center were opened on Wednesday should be of concern to all Lawrence taxpayers: “I think the question is out there, though, how much less would we have paid if we bid it all?”

In a surprising development, the low bid for the recreation center that will be part of the Rock Chalk Park development in northwest Lawrence came in at $10.5 million, just under half of the city’s estimate of $18.5 million to $20.7 million.

That’s good news, but not as good as it could be considering the city’s agreement to spend up to $25 million to fund the recreation center plus infrastructure work that will serve the entire complex, including track, soccer and softball facilities that will be owned by developer Thomas Fritzel’s company and leased to Kansas University. The city agreed to a no-bid contract for the infrastructure work, which will be completed by Fritzel’s company.

If the recreation center bids had come in close to estimates, the city would have been committed to paying about half of the $8.3 million estimated cost of the infrastructure work. However, the low construction bids for the rec center probably mean the city will pay all of the infrastructure costs. That amount could, indeed, be $8.3 million or it could be less. Unfortunately, it also could be much more as long as the combined cost of the rec center and the infrastructure doesn’t exceed $25 million. It’s hard to tell at this point because even though infrastructure work has begun at the site, Fritzel has been unable to provide solid figures on the cost of that work.

Commissioner Bob Schumm said it’s fine with him that the city will end up paying all the infrastructure cost because “that helps support KU’s mission out there.” Is that really the case? Although KU will be a primary — paying — customer for Rock Chalk Park, the athletic facilities will be owned by Fritzel and his Bliss Sports foundation. With that in mind, it seems that the city’s investment in infrastructure primarily will benefit Fritzel entities, not KU.

Gene Fritzel Construction, of which Thomas Fritzel is an executive, submitted the low bid for the recreation center. A suspicious mind might wonder whether the Fritzel firm was low-balling the rec center contract so the city would have more money to spend on infrastructure, but the fact that the highest of eight other bids was for $13.577 million indicates that, for whatever reason, the city’s cost estimates once again vastly missed the mark.

If the city had insisted on a traditional bidding process, who knows how low a hungry contractor would have gone on the infrastructure part of this project? If the city had been a tougher negotiator and capped its infrastructure cost at half or even slightly more than half of the total cost, the city might have saved $5 million or $8 million on the combined rec center and infrastructure project.

That’s a lot of taxpayer money. Rock Chalk Park may end up being a great asset for Lawrence and KU, but taxpayers continue to have real reasons to question the unconventional financial arrangement city officials were willing to accept with the developer of this project.


bidrigging101 5 years, 1 month ago

All the questionable actions associated with this project have been the fault of Thomas Fritzel since day one. The question should be asked, how much better would this have been if Fritzel had never been involved. Fritzel paid architects designed the project, Fritzel paid attorneys krafted the documents. Fritzel set the project cost as a lease back to the city long before city staff drafted cost estimates to match or cover Fritzel's. KUEA is a major part of the problem, they asisted Fritzel in scamming the taxpayers with their demands to include their builder in all portions of the project on or off their property.

It's been a revolving door of plans and legal documents that no one could track or understand at the city. Now, the inept city leaders are covering their trails and hiding from the fallout.

The city commission should stop this now. The development agreement isn't signed by all parties and walk. KUEA owns the land, they are leasing it to Fritzel for fifty years. Let them do what they want and leave the taxpayers of Lawrence alone.

The city can build the rec center on city property at 6th and Overland Drive. Pick one of the legitimate companies that bid yesterday and have them re-design the building for this slightly smaller site. Infrastructure is 99% complete, save millions of dollars and start building trust back within this city. Enough is enough.

jafs 5 years, 1 month ago

Well, that sets a pretty low bar for business people, ethically speaking, doesn't it?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

That bar would be equally low for we the voters, who elect incompetent city commissioners.

cabmando 5 years, 1 month ago

low ball bid on rec center, will be made up on infrastructure profits(unlimited, no bid) robbing Peter(tax payers) to pay Paul(Bliss sports) Mr Mayor you're right on this one, we should have concerns on this whole process.

juma 5 years, 1 month ago

A concern I have, besides this whole scam and how the now gone komishioners played it, has to do with access. The Aquatic Center (LIAC) was poorly designed with regards to access and parking. Whenever FSHS is having a game, practice or whatever, then the LIAC parking lot is full and driving in/out is terrible. I thought the LIAC was for everyone; even those who don't care about FSHS. Now we are talking about a massive rec center for the use of the citizens of Lawrence. It will be built next to the KU sports complex so now the question. On KU game day will a citizen be able to easily access the city rec center??? There are people in Lawrence who could give a damn about KU sports and don't want to suffer the BS.

webmocker 5 years, 1 month ago

"oneeye_wilbur When all of the parties involved are parked in a nursing home one day, they will be long forgotten!"

And the taxpayers of Lawrence will still be paying for their decisions.

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