KU athletics pulls support for popular downtown shot put event

Kansas Athletics is pulling its financial support for a popular downtown shot put event that has attracted world-ranked professional athletes as part of the Kansas Relays.

An athletics department spokesman said the decision not to spend the $50,000 to $60,000 was made for budgetary reasons.

“It is a significant amount of money,” said Jim Marchiony, a spokesman for the athletics department. “It speaks to fiscal responsibility.”

KU Athletics has an annual budget of about $70 million, Marchiony said.

Relays at Rock Chalk

Kansas University plans to hold the KU Relays at the new track and field stadium at Rock Chalk Park, although the facility won’t be entirely completed.

Jim Marchiony, a spokesman with KU Athletics, said the university plans to seek a temporary occupancy permit from the city to hold the relays at the stadium.

The stadium is expected to be largely completed, but may not be finished to the point that the city could issue a standard occupancy permit. City Manager David Corliss said KU has been given the application information for a temporary occupancy permit. Ultimately, city commissioners will have to decide whether to issue the permit.

The relays are scheduled for April 16-19.

Leaders with the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau plan to save the event, said Bob Sanner, the sports marketing manager for the CVB. He’s working to raise $60,000 in private funding to pay eight to 10 professional athletes to compete in an event that would happen the same week of the KU Relays but would not be part of them.

Marchiony said KU will not pay for professional athletes to compete at the relays this year. He said budgetary issues caused the department to cut the $200,000 line item that was used to pay for travel expenses, appearance fees and other related expenses.

The cutback comes just months after the Lawrence City Commission agreed to spend more than $10 million of taxpayer money for roads, parking lots, sewer lines and other infrastructure to support a new track and field stadium and other facilities at Rock Chalk Park.

As part of that decision, the city commission waived its bidding policy to allow the university’s preferred contractor to build the infrastructure. The city also ended up paying for a larger percentage of the infrastructure than originally envisioned.

When first proposed, it was projected that the city and the university, and the University’s its private partner Bliss Sports, would share the costs for the park’s infrastructure, a portion of which will support the city’s new recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.

But when the development agreements were signed, city taxpayers had agreed to pay for about $10 million in infrastructure costs, KU basketball Coach Bill Self’s charitable foundation had agreed to pay for up to $2 million, and KU and its private partner were not projected to pay for any infrastructure.

Marchiony said taxpayer support for the track and field stadium shouldn’t be a factor in the athletics department deciding whether to support the downtown event.

“I don’t see a connection,” Marchiony said. “I think Rock Chalk Park will be a tremendous facility that for years will benefit the Lawrence community and the area. That will happen.”

City commissioners on Friday were just learning of KU’s decision to not fund the event, which in the past has attracted up to 3,000 spectators to downtown.

Mayor Mike Dever, a leading proponent of Rock Chalk Park, said he did not want to question KU’s reasons for dropping its support.

“But you’ve piqued my interest and I’ll want to have some conversations with them to learn more about it,” Dever said.

“I’m a little bit surprised that it is a budgetary issue,” said City Commissioner Mike Amyx, who has voted against the Rock Chalk Park project. “I just know the shot put event has been an extremely popular event. Downtown enjoys a lot of benefits from having it.”

Sanner said the CVB wants to try to continue the event because, when the weather cooperates, it brings good crowds to downtown Lawrence and is the type of event that isn’t offered elsewhere. The event is held in the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire streets. The streets are blocked off, a temporary shot put ring is constructed and a street festival with music, food and drinks is set up behind the venue.

The professional athletes who are paid to compete in the event have been a big draw, Sanner said. Since the event began in 2011, it frequently has attracted top ranked competitors including Olympic bronze medalist Reese Hoffa.

Sanner said he doesn’t have plans to ask city government for funding. But as has happened in the past, the city is being asked to donate its time to construct and tear down the shot put venue. Commissioners will consider approving the necessary permits at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday. If approved, the event will be held on April 18, which is the Friday of the Kansas Relays.