Local organization that received city funding for Junior Olympics left more than $70K bills unpaid
photo by: Mike Yoder
A local sporting events organization that received public dollars to host the Junior Olympics last summer appears to no longer be operating, leaving behind thousands of dollars in unpaid bills related to the event.
The city provided funding for the Lawrence Sports Corporation to host the 2017 USA Track & Field Junior Olympic Championships. The Junior Olympics were held at the University of Kansas’ Rock Chalk Park, and the now apparently defunct LSC owes the university tens of thousands of dollars.
University spokesman Joe Monaco said in an email to the Journal-World that the LSC owes KU at least $73,000 for services it provided related to the Junior Olympics. Monaco said the university has not gotten a response from LSC regarding the outstanding balance.
The city is also looking for answers. In 2015, the City Commission agreed to pay $150,000 to assist the LSC in hosting the Junior Olympics. The city’s funding agreement with LSC gives the city the right to audit records related to the city’s contribution to the Junior Olympics event. City Manager Tom Markus, who began his job at Lawrence City Hall in March 2016, recently requested that LSC provide financial records related to the Junior Olympics for the city to review.
Markus said the city had concerns that LSC had left bills for services related to the event unpaid, and that it is also in the city and public’s interest to know whether the event was financially successful or not overall.
“I’d like to see a full accounting of the whole operation,” Markus said. “And I think the public would like to see a full accounting of the operation, to know that when people ask us for these contributions that we know that that’s what it takes to actually make it successful.”
The $73,000 that LSC owes KU may not be the extent of the unpaid bills. Monaco said that KU also billed the LSC for parking and transit services, but that he would not be able to confirm the total amount charged or whether it has been paid until Monday. He said an approximately $110,000 bill for public safety and housing services had been paid in full.
Meanwhile, signs indicate that LSC is no longer operating. The non-profit LSC was incorporated in 1990, according state business records on the Kansas Secretary of State’s website. Those records also indicate LSC is delinquent in filing its annual report for 2017, the year it hosted the Junior Olympics, and that the last report filed was in 2016.
The Journal-World’s calls to LSC Executive Director Bob Sanner regarding the status of the organization have not been returned. Calls to LSC Board Chair Steve Schwada also were not returned, but via email Schwada directed any questions about LSC to Sanner. But other board members reached by the Journal-World confirmed that the board has disbanded.
When the city contribution was originally requested in 2015, city leaders were told that the city’s rate-of-return for the contribution would be “staggering” based on the economic impact of the event in recent host cities. At the time, LSC was a subsidiary of the local convention and visitors bureau, eXplore Lawrence, but that later changed. In October 2016, eXplore Lawrence announced that it had split away from the LSC. The split occurred in the midst of preparations for the Junior Olympics, and the city subsequently created the funding agreement for the event between it and the LSC.
The Junior Olympics were a success on many accounts, though there have been questions regarding how much the event benefited Lawrence’s economy. More than 8,000 athletes competed, bringing thousands of fans to the northeast Kansas region. But Lawrence hotels could only accommodate about 20 percent of the stays, and the athletes and fans didn’t do as much spending in Lawrence as originally thought. The Journal-World reported last year that the city’s special hotel room tax collections increased by $25,000 to $50,000, but that its sales tax collections were stagnant.
Markus said that the city requested in May to audit the books of LSC, and that Sanner subsequently agreed to provide some limited financial information, but did not agree to a full audit. Specifically, Sanner said that, per the funding agreement with the city, he would provide additional information on the invoices related to the city’s contribution. Markus said that the city has requested a date for the review by the end of this month, but had not heard back as of Friday afternoon.