It is still a mystery how much a company led by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel intends to charge the city for infrastructure improvements related to Rock Chalk Park and the city’s northwest Lawrence recreation center.
But city commissioners on Tuesday began sending their own message about how much they expect to pay for the entire project: $21.6 million.
City commissioners at their weekly meeting approved a preliminary debt resolution that anticipates the city will not spend more than $21.6 million for the entire construction project — including the cost of the 181,000-square-foot building, its parking lot, utilities, all management fees and soft costs that Fritzel’s company would receive.
Commissioners expressed disappointment that neither Fritzel nor Kansas University Endowment — which controls the project site near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway — had produced firm numbers on the infrastructure costs for the project.
“We have been waiting on that number for some time, and it is now time that we get that in hand as soon as possible,” said City Commissioner Bob Schumm.
On a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved accepting the $10.5 million low bid from Fritzel’s Gene Fritzel Construction Company to construct the actual recreation center building. But the approval came with a caveat: The city would not sign the construction contract with the Fritzel firm until the city has received a firm quote on the infrastructure costs for the recreation center and the adjacent Rock Chalk Park development.
Schumm said the written quote needs to include language that the costs for the project “shall not exceed” an agreed-upon amount. By approving the preliminary bond documents Tuesday, the city has indicated it believes that amount should be at or below $21.6 million, Mayor Mike Dever said.
A majority of commissioners, though, said they were thrilled with the $10.5 million low bid on the recreation center. All nine bids received on the project came in well below the $18 million to $20 million architects had estimated for the project. The city had estimated the entire project — construction plus infrastructure — would cost the city $25 million.
“We’re going to have a municipally-appropriate building that we can be proud of and show off to our neighbors and show off to those in other states,” Dever said of the building that is expected to draw visitors to the city for regional youth sporting events. “I think the timing was very right to do this project.”
The city opened bids for the construction of the recreation center building — which will include eight basketball courts, an indoor turf field, walking track, fitness center and other amenities — last week.
But commissioners are deviating from standard city practice by allowing the infrastructure for the project to be built without going through a bidding process. Instead, a firm led by Thomas Fritzel will do the infrastructure work for the recreation center and the adjacent Rock Chalk Park, which will have stadiums for track, softball and soccer that will be owned by a Fritzel company but leased back to Kansas University.
Infrastructure work began on the Rock Chalk Park site prior to last week’s recreation center bid opening. But when city officials asked Fritzel for a quote on the infrastructure costs, he told the city he didn’t yet have a number to give them.
City Manager David Corliss confirmed on Tuesday the city also hasn’t received a signed master development agreement for the site from Kansas University Endowment Association.
Corliss revealed that part of the issue delaying the execution of the contract is questions over how large of a management fee Fritzel’s firm should be paid for overseeing the infrastructure construction.
The master development agreement calls for Fritzel’s firm to receive up to a 10 percent management fee on the cost of the infrastructure and site work. The city previously had estimated the cost of the infrastructure and site preparations to be about $9 million, although the recent batch of low bids has caused the city to re-examine that estimate.
Corliss said the city has the right to be part of the process of setting that management fee, and has entered discussions with the parties to negotiate a fee that is less than the 10 percent maximum.
Fritzel did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.
Tuesday’s actions don’t commit the city to issuing any debt for the project yet. Rather, the preliminary documents set a July 16 date to sell the city bonds for the project.
Commissioners approved all the necessary documents on a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Mike Amyx opposing. Amyx has been consistently opposed to the city’s plans in the Rock Chalk Park area, and said Tuesday that he thought there were other city projects that deserved more consideration than the recreation center.
Depending on how quickly agreements are signed, construction on the recreation center could begin in June.