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City commissioners to consider request for more retail zoning near proposed site of recreation center, sports park


It is beginning to look more and more like Lawrence won’t just be getting a new sports complex and recreation center in northwest Lawrence, but will be getting a new retail area as well.

Tonight’s meeting of the Lawrence City Commission will go a long way in determining whether that is true. Commissioners tonight will be hearing another request from a group led by Lawrence businessmen Duane and Steve Schwada to rezone 146 acres on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway for retail uses.

Yes, that was the piece of ground that originally was going to house the city’s 181,000 square-foot recreation center and KU’s track and field stadium and soccer field. When those plans were being touted as the greatest thing since Danny Manning’s baby hook shot, city officials were in favor of allowing retail zoning on the property. The idea was that such a sports complex would need to have some hotels, restaurants and other uses to support visitors.

But soon enough, those plans fell by the wayside. The city, KU and private developer/financier Thomas Fritzel banded together and changed the plans for the project.

The project in September made a sudden change in direction when KU said it no longer was interested in the site on the northwest corner of the intersection but instead had decided on a larger site near the northeast corner that could accommodate more facilities. City commissioners said they were interested in having their recreation center be on that side of the road too.

At that time, four out of the five city commissioners said the change in direction meant there no longer was a need for retail zoning on Schwada’s property.

That left the Schwadas with a piece of property that had just recently been annexed into the city, but doesn’t have any city zoning attached to it.

Schwada ended up looking like the kid standing on the playground after the other kids had left and taken their ball with them. But Duane Schwada is one of the more successful developers in this town, and it hasn’t taken long for folks to realize he has his own ball he can bring to this game.

Over the last few months, representatives of Schwada have been making the case that nothing really has changed in regards to the need for certain types of retail development — again, think hotels, restaurants, gas stations and such — to support this sports park. If anything, since the project has become larger, the need for supporting retail has grown.

Originally city commissioners believed the adjacent Mercato development would have plenty of capacity to support the sports park. After all, it is zoned for retail already, and it is empty.

But here are the two things to remember about the Mercato development: It is controlled by Schwada, and it is zoned and planned for a specific type of retail development — big box stores. Currently, the development is the only one in the city that can boast of shovel-ready sites for new big box stores in Lawrence. That zoning and development plan was hard won, and representatives for Schwada have indicated he’s not going to change those plans simply to accommodate a hotel or a restaurant or other types of smaller users.

But he would accommodate those type of users on the 146 acres on the northwest corner of the intersection. I suspect he also could accommodate another big box store or two on that site, especially since a 181,000 square-foot recreation center won’t be taking up any space on the property. (UPDATE: As I read through some of the proposed zoning language, there may be some limitations on big box stores at the site, depending on how large you consider a big box store to be. There probably will be more details tonight.)

Whether the development ought to get that type of zoning or not, is where city commissioners are at tonight. The Planning Commission has been split on the matter. In October, it voted 4-3 to recommend denial of the retail zoning for the corner. But then in November, it passed a new recommendation that essentially asked the City Commission to send the issue back to the Planning Commission for more in-depth review.

I don’t have a good sense about what city commissioners may do tonight. But it does appear clear that there is more consideration being given to making that corner a future retail hub than what was the case a few months ago.

Now, whether retail zoning will produce any new retail development at that corner in the near future is another question. Extending infrastructure to that site is expensive because some of it has to cross the highway. City officials were going to cover a lot of that cost when the recreation center was going to be located there. It is presumed now that any development on the corner would require the developers to pay for the infrastructure extension. But that’s not tonight’s battle, and, as this project has shown, everything is subject to change.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall.


Catalano 5 years, 3 months ago

This is what happens when you move too fast. I'm rooting for Jane tonight. You go, girl! And if Schwada ends up suing the city, the city ought to send the bill to KU.

Hooligan_016 5 years, 3 months ago

We are already way overbuilt on general retail.

Catalano 5 years, 3 months ago

But this isn't "general" retail...this would be retail to support Rock Chalk Park. You know...restaurants and hotels etc. Aren't really any out in that area. That would be the argument, anyway.

Joe Hyde 5 years, 3 months ago

I'm with you guys. KU Endowment should select the type and design, then build for themselves some solely-owned KUEA buildings, courts, fields and parking as a demonstration project. But they build on their own land on their own nickel. See whether a KUEA handpicked project portion works as a combination KU-Leasee team training center and events venue. See if this part of the project generates profit.

This is a lot of city resident tax money we're talking about. Since KUEA is who initiated the development scheme in the first place, hand them the dice and let's watch the dots. Convince us in a couple of years if they can, by showing us hard data supporting claims of the project's profitability.

pizzapete 5 years, 3 months ago

I'd just like to know what all this new development is going to cost the city, ie., we tax payers. It's real nice this developer is giving us a small parcel of his land so we can spend 25 million dollars developing and maintaining it for him. We're already helping him to make the remainder of his property go from 5,000 an acre to a cool 60 or 75 thousand or more an acre and it sounds like he needs us to add more incentives to rezone and develop the rest of his land? How much are all the new roads, sewers, traffic lights, and maintenance that comes with the recreation center going to cost us already? I have a feeling we need to get out our wallets folks, this bus to nowhere makes frequent stops and every stop is going to cost us more money.

Bob Forer 5 years, 3 months ago

I think we need to slow down. Obviously, if the city goes in on the sports complex deal, this would make a little bit of sense. However, I think we need to look very carefully at the city's involvement in the Rock Chalk Park project. Its a lot of money, and the no-bid aspect of the project stinks to high heaven. Having two other handpicked companies bid to ensure the price is "competitive" is a ruse. I'm not buying it.

KiferGhost 5 years, 3 months ago

KansasLiberal 4 hours, 53 minutes ago To me that sounds like an argument against building Rock Chalk Park.

The winner with the rational argument!

KiferGhost 5 years, 3 months ago

I am so totally surprised the retail to support this sport nonsense is being suggested, who would have thought that the means to an end wasn't obvious from the beginning.

KiferGhost 5 years, 3 months ago

Catalano 6 hours, 8 minutes ago This is what happens when you move too fast. I'm rooting for Jane tonight. You go, girl! And if Schwada ends up suing the city, the city ought to send the bill to KU.

Surely you understand this is a given. Why do you think they are building this all out in regards to his land in the first place? Lowes, one of those major corporations that wingnuts in Lawrence think have all the right answers are even aware that the town isn't ready to develop in that area yet but our slacky city commissioners will make the dreams of the masters come true.

KiferGhost 5 years, 3 months ago

Theme song of the Lawrence developers and bankers as they screw the city more.


KiferGhost 5 years, 3 months ago

And remember, open discussion on the CadreLawrence page is only open to their ideas. So much for their typical PR control of what open discussion is.

grandpaD 5 years, 3 months ago

Tying all this to K.U. is a big mistake. Their track record with spending money effectively is not that strong. The city commissioners are so eager to make them (K.U.) happy they would sell their souls. This is all based on assumptions and maybe's that Lawrence will make this pay. The "build it and they will come" concept is dangerous in this economy. This whole project needs to be voted on by the Lawrence taxpayers.

Bob Forer 5 years, 3 months ago

An idea: If there is truly a need for more hotels, let KU Endowment totally fund and build a for-profit hotel complex, complete with a casino. With the profits they could fund the development of a Hotel/Casino Management Program in collusion with the KU School of Business.

There are only a few Hotel/Casino Management Schools in the country, and none that I know of in the Midwest. KU students could be given first shot at the jobs created, and be paid a decent (more than minimum) wage to help pay for tuition.

The casino would bring in a huge amount of folks into Lawrence. Sure, there are social ills associated with gaming, but we already have Indian Casinos less than two hours away, as well as the "River Boats" in Missouri, and the Lottery is available within a few minutes of most households in Kansas, so we would not be adding significantly to the social problems associated with gambling.

The profits associated with well-run attractive casinos boasting other nearby amenities are huge. Casino-type gambling in America, as well as in Kansas, is here to stay. Why not take advantage of it, and help fund the tax burden instead of watching those huge profits siphoned off by large out-of-state for-profit corporations. .

I think folks would be more apt to come to Lawrence to spend their gambling and other discretionary income as opposed to an out-of-the-way converted corn field that has no other destination amenities.

A program of this size could pay for itself (and in fact add to city and state general tax revenue) without involving the expenditure of taxpayer money, and would bring in students from out of state who prefer to stay in the Midwest rather than attend school in the two coasts where most of the Hotel and Casino management programs are located.

How bout a Culinary Arts Program as well.

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