Editorial: Junior Olympics is lesson for city
The city of Lawrence is right to pursue a financial audit of the 2017 Junior Olympics hosted by the Lawrence Sports Corporation.
After all, understanding the financial impacts of events like the Junior Olympics can help guide future city contributions.
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 the LSC gives the city the right to audit records related to the city’s contribution to the Junior Olympics event.
The Junior Olympics brought 8,000 athletes and their families to the Lawrence area last summer. City officials were sold on the event by LSC officials who predicted that the financial impact would be staggering based on impacts at previous host cities. But the actual results appear to be underwhelming.
Though there was a boost in hotel revenues during the event, local sales tax receipts did not improve from the year before during the event. And University of Kansas spokesman Joe Monaco said that the LSC still owes KU at least $73,000 for services it provided related to the Junior Olympics, which were held at Rock Chalk Park. Monaco said the university has been unable to get a response from LSC and its executive director, Bob Sanner, regarding the outstanding balance.
City Manager Tom Markus, who began his job at Lawrence City Hall in 2016 after the city committed funds for the Junior Olympics, is rightfully concerned about the finances.
“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.”
Whether the city will get the financial records to perform the audit is unclear. The LSC originally was part of eXplore Lawrence, but the two organizations parted ways in the midst of preparation for the Junior Olympics. Sanner has not responded to inquiries, though some LSC board members said the organization’s board has been disbanded.
Hopefully, the city will be able to look at the Junior Olympics records, though it is pretty clear from what is already known that the event fell far short of delivering a return on the city’s $150,000 investment.
Let the Junior Olympics experience serve as a red flag for the city on similar events in the future. And when the city does invest public dollars, it should come with the expectation of transparency when it comes to the event’s financial records.