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News and notes from Saturday morning's forum on proposed recreation center and Rock Chalk Park

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How about a special Saturday edition of Town Talk.

The citizens group Cadre Lawrence hosted a public forum on the proposed recreation center and Rock Chalk Park project for northwest Lawrence Saturday morning.

Not a whole lot of new information came out of the forum. The panel was made up entirely of supporters of the project, so it wasn’t the type of event where there was much back and forth. Members of the audience also had to submit questions on note cards, so there weren’t many opportunities for the public to voice their opinions on the project.

But here’s a quick look at a few comments made by panel participants.

• Sean Lester, senior associate athletics director for KU, made one of the more definitive statements of the day. He said KU will not be allowing any concerts to be held in the proposed 10,000-seat track and field stadium. He said the risk to the world-class track and field surfaces would just be too great.

But other speakers made it clear that there could be other non-athletic events happening in the Rock Chalk Park. City Commissioner Mike Dever said the community shouldn’t be closing doors on future opportunities when it comes to non-athletic events at the facility.

The parking lot itself — it will have more than 1,400 paved spaces — is large enough to accommodate large events on its own. Think of some of the events that have closed downtown streets in the past. The idea of street dances with adult beverages have become popular in downtown in the last few years. Whether some of those events would migrate to the new location, I’m not sure.

Also not mentioned Saturday morning is just what the mover-and-shakers of this project have in mind with a future amphitheater and an indoor arena. Neither are included in phase one of the project, but there is space mapped out for each of those uses in future phases. Both of those uses seem to indicate that there has been some thought given to the area becoming a concert venue. The information submitted to the city shows a future arena would have “3,000 seats for sporting events and an additional 800 seats for concerts.”

The project leaders seem to be skittish about talking about non-athletic events at the site, I suppose because it could increase opposition from some neighbors. (Although neighbors are few at the moment.) My sense is, however, there would be plenty of people who would be excited about the area becoming a concert venue.

Lawrence is a music town, and an ability to hold larger-scale concerts would add to the economic development impact of the facility. Maybe I’m wrong, though. Maybe the community would revolt against such an idea.

• Lester also confirmed that KU eventually will look to sell naming rights for the park. “Who ever came up with the idea of Rock Chalk Park, that is great,” Lester said. “But we would love to put someone’s name in front of that.”

KU, however, won’t have any ability to sell naming rights for the city’s recreation center. City commissioners would control that process.

• Jana Dawson, a member of the city’s parks and recreation advisory board, said it would cost the city more money to build a recreation center on property the city already owns near Wakarusa and Overland Drive in northwest Lawrence.

That statement probably needs some qualifiers. If you were to build exactly the same size of facility, there are numbers that suggest that is accurate. (Although, it is unclear how fully the city has studied its options at that site.)

But it is worth remembering that in November 2011, city commissioners expressed support for an idea that would build a five gym recreation center with a wellness center, walking track and fitness area for $12 million in public money and about $3 million in private donations.

Since that time the project has grown in both size and cost. The current proposal has eight gyms, an indoor turf area, outdoor lighted tennis courts, a gymnastics area and other features. The cost is now $25 million, plus several million dollars in interest the city will pay on the 20-year bonds it will have to issue to fund the project.

What has remained the same is the city's plans to pay for it through proceeds from an existing sales tax. The money has become available because the city is retiring debt on several other projects, including the Eagle Bend Golf Course and the Lawrence-Douglas County Community Health building. (A previous version of this article also listed the Indoor Aquatics Center. That was a mistake. That debt already has been paid off.)

City Manager David Corliss said the need to have more than five gyms could be supported by national statistics. City officials frequently quote a national statistic that indicates a city of Lawrence’s size ought to have about 18 more gyms than it does.

Corliss also said there were questions about whether the smaller facility would provide much of an economic development benefit to the city in terms of attracting tournaments to town. It should be noted, though, that when the city was discussing the idea of a five gym facility, commissioners were enthusiastic about its ability to attract tournaments to the city. Plus, the nearby New Century Fieldhouse in Johnson County is an 88,000-square-foot facility with four gyms and an indoor soccer field. Officials there have had success in attracting tournaments to the facility. We’ve previously reported that when it opened in June 2011, the project — which renovated a warehouse — had a price tag of $8.2 million plus interest costs.

• City Commissioner Mike Dever clearly has become one of the more passionate supporters of the project. He made a closing statement where he tried to give assurances to the public that the city was poised to make a good investment with the project.

“I know the vision of this facility scares some people,” Dever said. “It is a large project. But I think the city is in as good a position as it can possibly be to take on this project.”

He said it is common to read national publicity about how Lawrence has as rich a basketball history as any community in the country. Yet, he said the city hasn’t done enough to capitalize on it.

“We’re told that the history of basketball is as robust here as it is anywhere, yet we don’t even have enough courts for our kids to play and practice on,” he said. “Our goal on this project has been to measure twice and cut once. We have measured and measured and measured.

“I can tell you that the sum of the parts of this project are more valuable than the individual pieces.”

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the project in a more traditional public hearing format at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, as commissioners consider zoning issues and a special use permit for the project.

Comments

Larry Sturm 2 years, 8 months ago

Look for the city to get screwed again by Fritzel.

Catalano 2 years, 8 months ago

It would be nice if KLWN would make the audio of the meeting available as a .mp3 or something similar so one doesn't have to be tethered to their computer to listen to it. Surely they have the capacity to do that?

Sorry you had to work today, Chad, but thanks for being there.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 8 months ago

"City Manager David Corliss said the need to have more than five gyms was evident. City officials frequently quote a national statistic that indicates a city of Lawrence’s size ought to have about 18 more gyms than it does."

When consultants say the city is 30% over loaded in retail .....awww that can't be true.

When the city is told Lawrence population is dropping or is a certain number ....awww that can't be true.

When Lawrence is told we have too many grocery stores ....awww that cannot be true.

But when a national statistic that indicates a city of Lawrence’s size ought to have about 18 more gyms than it does. ...... awww that must be true cuz we politicians want more gym space for this Rock Chalk Park. Is it true that Lawrence needs this number? Who knows.

flyin_squirrel 2 years, 7 months ago

But when Merrill posts links that are 10 years old supporting his views, awww it must be true!

Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 8 months ago

Chad, very many thanks for being there to report this!

John Hamm 2 years, 7 months ago

No concerts? Bad! Move Downtown street happenings to a parking lot on the West side of town? NOT! Retiring debts paid by current sales tax? Why not retire some of the sales tax? Dever.... poised to make good investment? English translation = "It's a done deal." Better get them petitions to get it on the ballot come April started now.

Bob Forer 2 years, 7 months ago

It think it is very revealing that the panel, composed solely of supporters for the project, required all questions to be submitted in writing on note cards. Such a method is hardly conducive to the give-and-take reciprocal dialogue that is essential in a free and open democracy. The naked suppression of real conversation is nothing more than polite bullying.

Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 7 months ago

It is ridiculous that the panel required all questions to be submitted in writing on note cards. I agree with Sycophant on this!

He also has a last sentence which I feel is worth repeating: "The naked suppression of real conversation is nothing more than polite bullying."

Elizabethhatchett 2 years, 7 months ago

I do not understand why many of you do not use your real names when making comments. It seems to me your reliability would be considered.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm more interested in substantive comments about the value of the project (and the process behind it) than I am in your or anyone else's real name.

BTW, how do we know that your real name is Elisabe Thhachett?

Bob Forer 2 years, 7 months ago

Somebody like you with a postgraduate degree should understand that words speak for themselves. For instance, even though you may be the person you claim to be, I didn't take your comment seriously, considering you signed up specifically to make this comment.

Don't you have anything better to do than shill for the millionaire developers. By identifying yourself, are you hoping they will throw you a bone?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

“I know the vision of this facility scares some people,” Dever said. “It is a large project. But I think the city is in as good a position as it can possibly be to take on this project.”


It's not the project that's "scary," it's the smoke-filled-room process that has been followed to cram this down the city's throat.

Put it to a vote, and make your case to voters, Dever.

KiferGhost 2 years, 7 months ago

It is clear they know they can't. Fast track it is their answer.

Jim Fisher 2 years, 7 months ago

I think the project is kinda going through a "dream phase" where people imagine how much they can get the public to accept. In phase 1. I disagree with using the facility to take some of the street events out of downtown. Most everyone gets some benefit from those events, and we don't have to pay double sales tax to help support "private" enterprise

Phil Minkin 2 years, 7 months ago

" Jana Dawson, a member of the city’s parks and recreation advisory board, said it would cost the city more money to build a recreation center on property the city already owns near Wakarusa and Overland Drive in northwest Lawrence." As Chad points out, this is disingenuous, and a distortion of the truth. When city officials and employees begin a concerted effort to cloud and mislead the public it is time to slow down.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

A member of the upper echelons of Parks and Rec has a vested interest in being disingenuous if it'll get them a fancy new toy to play with.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

Why don't these blogs show up on the discussions/forums page?

Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 7 months ago

Blogs should appear on the front page, like they used to!

Joe Hyde 2 years, 7 months ago

How can supporters claim that this project is good for the city of Lawrence? KU Endowment Assn. is the project's original instigator, but KUEU will not be locked into paying the bulk of the project's cost. Lawrence taxpayers will.

As for the project's cost, how can supporters claim its pricetag represents a fantastic deal for the city? There's no hard data to back up this claim. What we have instead is KUEA frantically trying to push the cost of this project onto the local tax base while simultaneously insisting that the city must bar itself from exercising the conventional practice of competitive bidding common to major public projects? Have these people lost contact with reality?

This project reeks of scandal, to the point of qualifying as a criminal enterprise. You do not authorize the expenditure of $25 million in taxpayer money based on the poisonous combination of secret agreements and no-bid construction contracts.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 7 months ago

Do you think there should be a citywide vote on a new rec center?

http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2013/jan/do-you-think-there-should-be-city-wide-vote-creati/

interesting yet not surprising results thus far.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 7 months ago

Tax increasing growth has been rightly blamed for many things: destroying green space, increasing air and water pollution, fracturing our neighborhoods ,closing neighborhood schools and ignoring the taxpayers desire for a walking/cycling friendly community.

But there is one consequence that usually goes unmentioned. Developers and their tax increasing business unfriendly growth plans are draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

Higher city taxes/user fees is the direct result of over 30 years of subsidies paid for by the local taxpayers. These range from the obvious to the obscure and include big projects. Such as billions we spend on new roads, water/sewer lines,traffic lights as well as the quite generous ones like the wide variety of tax incentives that support local developers in their quest to further over build Lawrence,Kansas.

The Lawrence Downtown family retail experience is an endangered species thus business unfriendly.

We've subsidized tax increasing growth at such a basic level for so long, that many taxpayers believe without it Lawrence will die. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of business unfriendly tax increasing development.

Yes developers and their tax increasing business unfriendly growth plans are draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.... absolutely.

Nikki May 2 years, 7 months ago

I'd rather have this project than the library project. AND the "city" voted on that. I won't go on a tangent about how not many voted in that election, but I put it out there, regardless. I'm not against libraries and for sports. Since this isn't about the library and that's done, I'll move on.

As a parent and coach I see the need for more availability. This year, my son played parks and rec basketball. That is the non-competitive league, anyone can play. These leagues are limited in number of teams. Ideally, any kid should be able to find a team, but at a point these teams do fill up. Obviously, Lee Ice does a great job finding solutions for fitting all these ages, all these teams into the space we have (I have never heard of a player turned away). Then there is the hoopsters league. Same age groups, just as many teams, also need game spots. Not to mention they all need practice times! The hoopster league has games late into the evenings. If there were more gyms, it would be so easy to have those games all done at the same time. Not to mention there isn't any open gym during that time. If a group of adults want to play, then too bad. This is just one sport, but there are other sports too. Do I want to drive to the west side for all the games? Not really, but it's Lawrence. "Clear across town" in Lawrence isn't really that bad. I get spoiled when the games are at ELC or the Community building, being an east sider. BUT it will be nice (especially with the SLT).
We do have some tournaments here in town, it would be so easy for the familes from out of town to just be in one spot.

KiferGhost 2 years, 7 months ago

Well pretty clear our chambercrats realize what a load of crap they are pushing on the taxpayers. We already know the commissioners owned by the developers will approve this but the so called open for discussion group, cadrelawrence can't even allow open discussion at one of their controlled discussion groups. Scum rises to the top and this is certainly true in Lawrence.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 7 months ago

More gym space should be available to the general public by way of our public schools. After all the "first phase" of this big spending PLAY project was a 20 million $$$$$ expenditure throught USD 497. PLAY is and was introduced as a public project. Therefore the gym space within the public school system should be available. This $20 million should also have received taxpayer approval.

This "Rock Chalk Park must be the second phase of PLAY. PLAY due to the cost of say 60 million $$$$$ should have been approved by the voters for it is a tax dollar money hole. Professional sports receives several billion tax $$$$ annually to supplement their high rolling activities.

Building a NW neighborhood rec center to include 3 new gyms should help immensely in relieving any capacity pain. And taxpayers own this land.

Driving round trip across town can easily be a $7-$10 trip each time let's not kid ourselves plus car pollution.

KiferGhost 2 years, 7 months ago

So much for the free enterprise principles these leadership lawrence types pretend to support. If it hadn't been all the handouts provided by the taxpayers our well off developers would be broke. Lawrence and real business is never going to happen because there is no imagination in Lawrence, only crony capitalism so the cons can continue on with their scams.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 7 months ago

According to the agenda it appears the City Commission is moving froward in spite of not having reviewed all "agreement documents" and without knowing actual dollar amounts.

http://www.ci.lawrence.ks.us/assets/agendas/cc/2013/01-08-13/01-08-13_agenda_click_here.html

Richard Heckler 2 years, 7 months ago

"City officials frequently quote a national statistic that indicates a city of Lawrence’s size ought to have about 18 more gyms than it does."

What is the criteria for reaching this number?

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