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Pittsburg State proving Lawrence and KU not the only university-city sports facility partnership


Lawrence, don’t be alarmed, but a group of Gorillas have been watching you. Now, it is our turn to watch them, for at least a moment.

The folks at Pittsburg State University — home of the Pitt State Gorillas — have been reading with interest all the comings and goings related to the proposed Rock Chalk Park athletic center concept involving KU and the city of Lawrence.

That’s because Pittsburg State and the city of Pittsburg have been working on their own partnership to build a new athletic facility.

Some of you recently saw articles reporting that the city of Pittsburg had agreed to contribute $5 million to a proposed $17 million athletics and events center project at Pitt State. And several of you had asked me how that compared to what was going on in Lawrence.

Well, I recently chatted with a Pitt State official. I’m not sure it is wise to make too many direct comparisons between the Lawrence and Pittsburg projects, but I’m sure that won’t deter some of you. The projects have different components, so it is a little like comparing apples and oranges — but, hey, they’re both fruit anyway.

But here are the details I’ve been given by Pitt State’s Shawn Naccarato, director of government and community relations: The university is planning to build on campus an approximately 123,000 square foot building that will house a competition-grade 300-meter indoor track, an 80-yard practice football field that also can be used for soccer and such, and spectator seating for about 1,000 people.

Sound kind of familiar? Well, familiar, if not necessarily similar. If you are scoring along at home, the proposed Lawrence recreation center is a 181,000-square-foot building that would have eight full-size basketball courts, a walking track, fitness area, an indoor turf field, gymnastics area, a wellness center and a few other features.

The area articles reported the Pitt State project has a price tag of $17 million, but Naccarato told me that also includes an upgrade of the nearby gymnasium and locker rooms where Pitt State plays its basketball games. The new building is estimated to cost about $13 million.

The Lawrence recreation center project has many price tags. The city has one architectural report that estimates the city’s project has a market value of $33.5 million. But that includes all the parking for the project, all the roads leading to the project and other improvements that go beyond the recreation center building itself. The price tag most publicly talked about is $25 million. That is the guaranteed price for the entire project that a partnership involving Kansas University Endowment and Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel are offering to the city.

In terms of just the recreation center building itself, the city’s report estimates it has a market value of about $19.3 million. At 181,000 square feet, that equates to about $106 per square foot.

The Pitt State project, at about 123,000 square feet, comes to about $105 per square foot. So, in the same ballpark for sure, but how many times do I have to tell you that you shouldn’t compare these two? (I don’t know why you keep comparing them.) They’re different projects. For example, I didn’t get any details about whether the Pitt State project includes parking in the $13 million pricetag, and that would impact the price comparison significantly.

(Plus you definitely don’t want me doing architectural comparisons, as my last foray into architecture — a simple birdhouse — would attest. I’d tell you to ask the birds about that project, but they’re not chirping anymore, if you know what I mean.)

One aspect of the Pitt State project that may draw some attention here is that the facility is being designed to include a special flooring that can cover the track and turf field area, which will allow the building to be easily converted into an expo center or convention hall.

There really hasn’t been any talk of that yet in Lawrence. Maybe that is the sort of thing that can be added later, or maybe it is the sort of thing that has to be contemplated at the design stage of the building. I don’t know. But it is kind of surprising that it hasn’t received much, if any, discussion. If the city ever thinks it needs a convention center — and that idea has come up before — this likely will be the largest public building constructed in quite some time in Lawrence, and it has a pretty wide-open design that could accommodate convention and expo-like events.

Of course, there’s also lots of development land immediately adjacent to the recreation center, or just across the South Lawrence Trafficway, that could support hotels, restaurants and the other types of development you would expect to see around an events center.

We could go on and on about what type of events that sort of facility might attract to the city, but we won’t. I’ve got to wrap this article up because the chirping birds outside my window are driving me crazy.

Time to build another birdhouse.


dougfirst 5 years, 2 months ago

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ohjayhawk 5 years, 2 months ago

It's not the city commission taking bids, though. It is KU Endowment Association that is building the complex. Then, they will rent the rec center to the city. Because the KUEA is a private company, I don't believe they have to abide by an open bidding process.

ohjayhawk 5 years, 2 months ago

You are correct. There will be no lease. I misremembered what I had read earlier. However, the city will be, for all intents and purposes, purchasing a finished building. They are not paying (directly) for the construction. KUEA will be bidding the project and building the facilities. The city will then purchase the rec center from KUEA. My main point about KUEA being a private entity and not being subject to the open bidding process is still valid.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

If that's the case, then it should make it that much easier for the proponents to make their case during the referendum campaign.

And could you provide a link to wherever you got your information? It would be helpful for anyone interested in this issue.

meatheadwisdom 5 years, 2 months ago

That is assuming KUED would sell the land...they wouldn't. I trully believe KU (and the city) chose this path because it is the one of least resistance. KU can design it to their liking, build it the way they want and with whom they want, and by owning it they can control the intrest the city has in it. So, if they don't like how the city wants to use it, they don't have to sell it. It also means it is immune to a petition because as stated, they are a private entity and have no requirement to bid it out, unless stipulated by their board of directors.

I would guess this method has shaved at least 18 months of the finish date if it had gone through city government channels.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

This thing won't get built if the city hasn't agreed beforehand to pay the $25 million price tag. And whether or not city residents want to commit to paying that off over the next 20 years could most certainly be put to a referendum.

At the very least, the city commission vote could be postponed until the new commission is seated.

Jonathan Fox 5 years, 2 months ago

Chad, for the Pitt State project, they are moving a parking lot so as to connect the new indoor track to the existing Basketball Arena.

If you check the PSU website, you can find some drawn up plans.

meatheadwisdom 5 years, 2 months ago

I should also add that this Pitt State project has been in the planning process for at least two years, if not longer. I ran track at Pitt State and was down there a couple summers ago to visit. I went to see Coach Jewett, Track coach and asst. AD and he showed me the plans plus how much money they had ALREADY raised and had committed to raise. When PSU won the national championship in football that helped them generate the last amounts they needed to move ahead with the plan.

Andrew Boyd 5 years, 2 months ago

you are very right. the national championship is what sealed this deal for pitt state. the plans for this facility actually have been in the works since the early 2000's when they began renovating the stadium and added the second level to carnie smith. They also had these plans when they thought they would be able to get the chiefs pre season camps

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