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Compton makes proposal for downtown mural; KU pulls plug on popular downtown shot put event; a tax rebate for apartment project looming
A downtown mural, a shot put and possibly a few million dollars in taxpayer-funded incentives: That's either one really strange pre-St. Patrick's Day party, or else it is the current stew of issues brewing at Lawrence City Hall.
Indeed, there are several interesting issues slated for the Lawrence City Commission's meeting next week. Here's a look:
• A development group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton was given until April 8 to provide an update on how his group could save a prominent downtown mural that is on the site of a planned multistory apartment building.
Well, Compton said he didn't need until April 8 to spell out the situation. He has sent a letter to city officials saying it will be impossible to allow the wall that houses the mural to remain standing during the construction project at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
As part of the construction of the seven-story apartment building, crews will dig a hole more than 30-feet deep to accommodate an underground parking garage. Digging that deep hole and leaving the wall in place aren't compatible, Compton said.
But Compton said he's willing to provide up to $20,000 to split the existing wall into sections and have it moved to another location. If that isn't deemed acceptable, he said he also would commission Lawrence artist Dave Loewenstein to recreate the mural on a designated space on the proposed building. The mural, however, would be significantly smaller than it is today.
I haven't had a chance yet to talk with supporters of the mural to determine whether any of Compton's proposals seem like a workable solution. I'll let you know when I hear back on that. City commissioners are scheduled to discuss Compton's letter at their meeting on Tuesday.
"I hope the commission agrees that we have made reasonable offers to resolve the issue," Compton wrote.
The city already has given the bulk of the approvals needed for the seven-story apartment building, which will be built on the site of the former Black Hills Energy headquarters. The city, however, must still approve a site plan for the project. It is unclear how much authority the city has to insist on preserving the mural as part of the site plan. The more important approval for the project is more than $4 million in tax increment financing incentives for the building. The city has given preliminary approval for the incentives, but final approval isn't expected to come until April. Those incentives are completely discretionary on the part of the city. City commissioners, though, have been big supporters of the proposed apartment project and the idea of new residents living in downtown. So, I wouldn't expect this mural issue to put the project in any jeopardy, but it will be interesting to see what tack commissioners take on this.
• Over the past few years, the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire streets has turned into an odd scene even by downtown Lawrence standards: World-class athletes have used the intersection to conduct a shot put competition.
It has been part of the Kansas Relays, and when the weather has cooperated, it has been a boon to downtown. Some of the events have brought about 3,000 people to downtown for the competition and a street festival afterward.
But this year's event has an unexpected complication: The Kansas University athletics department is pulling all financial support for the downtown shot put event, according Jim Marchiony, a spokesman for KU Athletics. In fact, the KU Relays this year won't have any professional athletes. Marchiony said the decision was made for budgetary reasons. He estimated the Relays previously spent about $200,000 a year related to bringing in professional athletes to compete.
"It is a significant amount of money," Marchiony said. "It speaks to fiscal responsibility."
KU Athletics has an annual budget of about $70 million, Marchiony said.
Bob Sanner, the sports marketing manager for the Lawrence Convention & Visitors Bureau told me the CVB plans to keep the event alive. But it needs to raise $60,000 in sponsorship money to pay for it. A bulk of that is to pay appearance fees for eight to 10 professional shot putters to compete. The professional athletes have been a big draw to past events. Many times the event featured multiple athletes ranked in the top 10 in the world. Reece Hoffa, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, has been a frequent competitor at the event.
Marchiony said KU's decision to pull out of the downtown event was in no way a reflection of the event. He said the shot put competition was viewed to be a success. He said KU likely will revisit the issue of having professional athletes compete at the Relays in future years. But at the moment, he said budget issues won't allow it.
The timing of KU's decision to cut back on the relays likely will create some questions. KU is making a major investment in its track and field program, but so too are city taxpayers. The new Rock Chalk Park sports complex will include a world-class track and field stadium, among other facilities. In case you have forgotten, the city is paying for more than $10 million worth of roads, parking lots, sewer lines and other infrastructure to support the track and field stadiums and the other facilities.
It is a bit difficult to put into context the amount of financial incentive city taxpayers are providing to the project because certainly some of the infrastructure being built at Rock Chalk Park will support the city's new recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. But there is an incentive being provided to KU. When the project was first proposed, it was projected that the city and the university (and its private partner Bliss Sports) would somehow split the costs for the infrastructure needed at the park.
But when the final development agreements were signed, city taxpayers had agreed to pay for about $10 million in infrastructure costs, Bill Self's charitable foundation had agreed to pay for up to $2 million in infrastructure costs, and KU and its private partner are not expected to pay for any of the roads, sewers and other infrastructure needed to support the track and field stadium and other facilities.
On Friday, Marchiony said taxpayer support for the track and field stadium shouldn't be a factor in the athletics department deciding whether to support the downtown event.
"I don't see a connection," Marchiony said. "I think Rock Chalk Park will be a tremendous facility that for years will benefit the Lawrence community and the area. That will happen."
As for the downtown event, Sanner is approaching private businesses and other groups to provide the funding for the event. He said he has raised about $30,000 so far. He doesn't plan to ask the city of Lawrence to donate money to the event. The city, however, as it has done in past years is being asked to donate its time to set up and tear down the shot put venue.
If approved, the event would take place on April 18, which is the Friday of the Kansas Relays, but the event would not be an official part of the Relays.
• While we're on the topic of incentives, it looks like city commissioners will have another request for a property tax break to consider. This one is still developing, but there is word that the large multistory apartment complex proposed for a site across the street from KU's Memorial Stadium has an interest in a property tax rebate.
An application hasn't yet been filed, but City Manager David Corliss said the Chicago-based development group has indicated it will seek a 95 percent property tax rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. In the meantime, the rezoning for the project, which will include a five-story building with about 175 apartments and some retail space, will be up for approval at Tuesday's City Commission meeting.
When the tax rebate request comes, commissioners will have an interesting decision to make. The city is poised to give tax incentives to an apartment project — the one at Ninth and New Hampshire mentioned above. But that is in downtown, and the idea of bringing new residents to downtown has been a big part of that incentive request.
Whether the city wants to start offering tax incentives for apartment projects in other parts of the community will be an interesting discussion.