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More twists with recreation center project: KU Endowment now requiring city to pay for land; UPDATE Self's Foundation again planning donation to city
Think of it like a buzzer beater, or more accurately, like three of them. The buzzer is about to sound on this more than year-long debate on whether the city should move ahead with a $25 million recreation center in northwest Lawrence.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider signing an agreement that moves the project toward a bid letting.
But before they do, three new twists and turns to this ever-changing proposal have come in just before the buzzer. Here’s a look:
• If you are like me and thought Kansas University Endowment was going to donate the 26 acres the city’s recreation center will sit upon, you were wrong.
City Manager David Corliss now has confirmed the city is set to pay KU Endowment $780,000 — or $30,000 an acre — for the site.
The $780,000 will be applied to the $25 million maximum price KU Endowment has guaranteed the city project to come in at. In other words, the fact KU Endowment is charging the city for the land won’t increase the maximum price the city will have to pay for the project. So, you’ll have to decide how much any of this matters. I’m not exactly sure at the moment why KU Endowment wants the land to be paid for rather than donated, but I’ve been told that because of the way the deal is structured with various LLCs and such that donating the land may be problematic from a legal or tax standpoint. But I don’t have firm details on that. If I get some, I’ll update this.
But the idea the city will have to buy the land does seem worth noting because one of the reasons the city is pursuing this project is because it believes it is getting a value. Yet, the city is now paying $780,000 for a 26-acre recreation site when it already owns a large site near Overland and Wakarusa drives, which the city long touted as an excellent site for a center. Some folks may be surprised that the city would pay for a new recreation center site when it already owns one.
I suspect a few people also may note that when the city was considering building the project on the west side of the South Lawrence Trafficway, it was proposed the city would receive a donation of 50 to 60 acres of land — from the Schwada family — that the city would own outright. That proposal didn’t call for the city to pay for the land.
Corliss said the $30,000 per acre the city will pay to KU Endowment is equal to what KU paid for the property. Again, the $780,000 doesn’t increase the maximum price the city will have to pay for the project. But it does increase the chances the check the city writes to KU Endowment will be bigger than it would have been otherwise.
• UPDATE: Well, count Bill Self and his Assists Foundation back in the game. I just talked with Erin Zimney, executive director of the Assists Foundation, and she said the organization is still very much planning on making a donation — likely in the $1 million range — to the city's recreation center. That was welcome news to city officials because on Thursday afternoon City Manager David Corliss told me the city no longer was planning on receiving a donation from the foundation. I had heard that same sentiment from other city officials in off-the-record conversations as well. Zimney said she's not quite sure why the city thought the donation was off the table, other than the city and the foundation had not talked about the possibility in recent months. The last public statement from the Assists Foundation was in March, when the project was still slated for property on the west side of SLT. "Our plan has always been to support a recreation center, if indeed it does happen," Zimney said. She said Self and his wife, Cindy, were both very excited about what a recreation center could provide for area youths. Zimney said the foundation likely would wait until after the city accepts a bid to build the recreation center — which likely would be in mid-April — before it formalized a donation to the city. Zimney said she did not think the foundation would be financially supporting the KU portion of Rock Chalk Park, although she said board members found that project to be exciting as well.
If you remember all the way back to November 2011, when the city was contemplating a $15 million center on land at Wakarusa and Overland drives, one of the driving forces was that KU Coach Bill Self’s Assists Foundation was prepared to make at least a $1 million donation to the project.
Well, Corliss now has confirmed to me that the city is no longer expecting that donation. This isn’t much of a surprise because the idea of a donation from the Assists Foundation hasn’t come up much recently at City Hall. Ever since the project grew and moved to the east side of the SLT, I had gotten the sense that the idea of a donation to the city was up in the air. But now we have a city official confirming it.
I’ve heard it is still possible that the Assists Foundation may make a donation to the project, but its money would go to KU Endowment. I haven’t yet chatted with the Assists Foundation, but I’ll attempt to do so and provide an update.
• You also may remember that one of the added benefits of having a recreation center that is much larger than a standard recreation center is that there would be room to house a “wellness center.”
Indeed, the 181,000-square-foot design has about 7,000 square feet for a wellness center. What it doesn’t have at this point is anybody to run it.
The assumption has been that Lawrence Memorial Hospital would operate a wellness center, although what exactly would be included in that center hasn’t been very well defined yet. But city officials have confirmed that LMH hasn’t made any commitment to be part of that wellness center, and is not likely to make a commitment before the city will bid this project.
In other words, the recreation center will include about 7,000 square feet of what the building industry calls “spec space.” It is still possible LMH will want to do the wellness center. I cover the LMH board and the subject has come up, but so far the board hasn’t engaged in a full-blown discussion about becoming involved in the project.
Various city officials told me the city always can request proposals from other health care companies that want to run a wellness center in the city.
That could get very interesting. There is speculation that KU Hospital would be a group interested in running a wellness center in the city. And who knows if other Kansas City or Topeka hospitals would be interested in the space as a way to better attract Lawrence patients to their hospitals.
The question becomes whether the city — which technically owns Lawrence Memorial Hospital — is really interested in allowing the city-owned recreation center to be used as a way for a potential LMH competitor to gain a toe-hold in the community?
Another option is the city could use the 7,000 square feet of space for additional recreational purposes. There already are groups that are looking to change the design of the center. A group of local handball and racquetball players have asked the city to consider building a couple of courts in the center. An even more unique proposal has come from horseshoe pitchers.
Apparently, indoor horseshoe pitching is becoming more popular, especially since the sport’s demographics are trending toward the older side these days. Many older pitchers no longer like to be out in the summer heat or winter’s cold to pitch in tournaments.
Now, if indoor horseshoe pitching gets added to the facility before Tuesday’s meeting, that truly will be a buzzer beater worthy of Sportscenter.