Fritzel family takes over ownership of Alvamar; some renovation work begins with much more on the way
Members of the Fritzel family now own the Alvamar Golf and Country Club, and renovations to the west Lawrence property are already underway.
As we previously have reported, a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel has been working to purchase the country club. Members of the club were recently notified by letter that members of “the Gene Fritzel family” have bought the property. Gene Fritzel is Thomas’ father and a longtime building contractor in the area. According to records with the county, though, Thomas Fritzel is still very much a major part of the ownership group. A trust of Thomas Fritzel and Stacia Fritzel are shown as the new owners of the property near the clubhouses, and a newly formed company called Eagle 1968 LC owns other parts of the club. Thomas Fritzel is listed as the resident agent of the Eagle entity, but it is new enough that the state doesn’t yet have documents on file listing the shareholders of the company.
In due time, there will be a lot that is new at Alvamar. As we previously have reported, the ownership group has filed plans for major renovations at the club, including the addition of many more apartments and living units around the course. Several folks who have booked events in the banquet space of Alvamar are already being affected by the renovations.
A local caterer called me and said several people had contacted him looking for event space because the Alvamar banquet facility — which is in the private members' clubhouse — has been temporarily closed. An employee at Alvamar confirmed renovation work is underway at the clubhouse, and it likely will be closed for a couple of months. I’ve got a call into the general manager of the country club to get more details, but it sounded like new flooring, paint and other amenities were being updated in the distinctive clubhouse building, which I’m almost certain was built by Gene Fritzel several decades ago.
I’ll let you know when I get more information.
I do have additional information on some of the redevelopment plans that have been filed at the city. Lawrence architect Paul Werner has filed a final development plan for the portion of the club that is near the clubhouses. It provides more detail about what’s in store than any of the other plans filed thus far. Here’s a look:
— A new two-story, 24,000 square-foot clubhouse, fitness and wellness center is planned for the area near the entrance to the current driving range of the course.
— Four swimming pools will be added to the property. They include a 50 foot by 80 foot pool with a slide, a 30 by 50 foot lap pool and a pair of smaller pools that are 16 by 24 and 16 by 16 foot. The pools will be surrounded by about 6,000 square feet of cabana space. The pool area also will include a 2,500 square-foot grill area. The pools are proposed to be concentrated in an area kind of near where the public clubhouse is located today. That clubhouse will be removed.
— Kansas University is proposed to get a larger training facility for its golf team. Plans show a 4,000 square- foot building for the team. Currently, the team has about 1,300 square feet of space at the golf course. The new building will be farther to the east than the current facility.
— A two-story banquet facility that will include 24 guest rooms. Werner previously has said the facility will operate as a minihotel that serves wedding parties who are expected to rent the attached banquet facilities. The guest rooms are also expected to be available to golfers who want to stay overnight at the course. (That’s a good idea. I know if I don’t get started before 8 a.m., it can get really dark before I get my 18 holes completed.) The plans list the facility at 20,000 square feet, but the plans don’t make it clear whether the total facility is 20,000 square feet or whether each floor is 20,000 square feet. The facility is proposed for an area east and south of the existing public clubhouse.
– 2,400 square-foot “sports medicine office” that would be south of the new banquet facility. The city’s planning department said it hadn’t received more information about what would be included in that facility. (Another brilliant idea: A doctor’s office at a golf course. Just think how much gas physicians could save if they didn’t have to drive from their office to the course.)
Sandra Day, the lead planner reviewing the project for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, said the final development plan must win approval from the Planning Commission before the project can move forward. The group hopes to get a hearing at the Planning Commission in February, but Day said planners likely will need to see more details before it is ready to go to the commission. She said the filings don’t yet include elevations showing how each of the new buildings will be designed.
It is important to remember that the latest plans are only for a portion of the project at Alvamar. The part of the project that involves building new apartments and living units around the course is not included with this most recent filing. (Although you can see some of the apartment buildings on the submitted plans, but they show up just for context.) It will be interesting to watch those plans come forward. The city has approved a preliminary development plan that calls for nine multifamily buildings that would house a total of 292 living units.
The final development plan will provide more detail about where those buildings are located and what they’ll look like. As I mentioned above, the most recent plans aren’t for the living units, but they do provide a glimpse at what is to come. It looks like there definitely will be some new opportunities for luxury living in the community. The plans show one four-story building right north of the new pool area for the country club. The plans also show another four-story building just to the west of the proposed pool area.
Also expect significant changes to the golf course design. The new owners have committed to keeping 36 holes of golf at the facility. The new plans, though, do show new locations for both the No. 9 and No. 18 greens. No word yet on when those changes will begin.
The letter to members, however, indicated some more minor changes to the golf course are already underway. It noted crews will be removing and thinning some trees to improve the quality of play and turf conditions. (Sure, they can cut down trees, but when I pull a chainsaw from my golf bag everybody gets hysterical.) The new owners have kept Orion Golf Management to oversee the course. Orion has been in charge of golf operations at the club for about the last three years.
Alvamar reaches deal to sell course and club to group led by Rock Chalk Park developers; city to add larger snow plows for winter
Changes appear to be on the way for Alvamar golf and country club. As we previously reported, the board has been considering selling the course, and now we have confirmation that a deal has been struck to sell the business to the same group that has partnered with the city and KU to build the Rock Chalk Park sports complex.
Bob Johnson, chair of the Alvamar board told me a deal has been struck with Bliss Sports, the group led by longtime Lawrence builder Thomas Fritzel. Johnson said both sides are conducting their due diligence, and he expects the deal to be finalized in March or April. (Due diligence on a golf course can take time. Mine usually involves whether I can safely hit back onto the fairway from this lush stand of Berber carpet, or whether I’m going to have to break another window to do so. These guys may be talking about a more financial-oriented due diligence, although I can tell you windows aren’t cheap.)
This deal shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to folks who have been following the situation. We reported in September that there was a lot of speculation that a group led by Fritzel was seeking to buy the West Lawrence course. What most people watching the situation want to know is whether Fritzel has plans to keep all 36 holes of golf that currently exist at Alvamar, or whether one of the courses may be redeveloped into housing or other uses.
I’ve reached out to Fritzel, but have had no luck in talking with him. Johnson, though, said the board is operating under the assumption that all 36 holes of golf will remain.
“Obviously, it is the buyer’s decision,” Johnson said. “But we have heard nothing to believe that the golf course will be anything other than what it is now. If I were to predict, I would say the chances are overwhelming that it will be a 36-hole facility.”
But Johnson said he is aware that there is significant speculation that one of the courses will be removed to make way for more housing or other development.
“It makes a really good rumor,” Johnson said. “I know it would upset people. That is probably why it is such a good rumor.”
What does seem to be a likelihood is that Kansas University’s golf program will continue to have a home at the golf course. If I were a betting man (and I would be, if windows didn’t cost so much) I would bet that KU’s presence at Alvamar grows. Fritzel formed Bliss Sports, in part, to create new facilities for KU at Rock Chalk Park. Bliss owns the facilities but KU rents them. Plans certainly have been in the works to expand KU’s indoor practice facility at Alvamar. KU’s website list plans to make the facility nearly five times larger by adding team lounges, locker rooms, offices, training rooms and an indoor chipping and putting area.
Johnson said he’s excited about the future of Alvamar. He said the shareholders of Alvamar have had discussions in the past about selling to out-of-town golf course companies.
“For the community of Lawrence and the golfing community, it probably is the best thing that could happen,” Johnson said. “These buyers are people who have been in this community their whole lives and their futures are in this community.”
The deal includes about 300 acres that comprise the golf course and country club grounds, Johnson said. He said there likely are pockets within that 300 acres that are suitable for infill development. But he said the deal does not include any of the large amounts of raw, develop-able West Lawrence ground that is owned by Alvamar Inc.
It will be interesting to watch how Alvamar does change in the future. The courses and country club are a West Lawrence institution. Famed Lawrence businessman Bob Billings founded the course with business partner Mel Anderson in 1968. A second course was added in 1970. Today, Alvamar is one of only two 36-hole golf facilities in the state, according to Alvamar’s website. The courses also are a bit historic in the world of golf. The 1968 course, according to Alvamar’s website, was the first golf course in the world constructed with zoysia grass fairways. As for the country club, the members' clubhouse was built in 1984 by local builder Gene Fritzel, who is Thomas’ father.
As I have said many times on the golf course, things have a way of coming full circle (although usually I’m just talking about my nasty hook.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• When the snow starts falling, the Batmobile will not be plowing the streets of Lawrence, but do expect to see some winged vehicles tackling the job.
For the first time, the city’s Public Works Department will equip four of the department’s snow-plowing trucks with a device called a “wing plow.” The plow is mounted on the side of the truck and extends about eight feet. City officials are optimistic that the new piece of equipment will allow major roads like Iowa, Sixth and 23rd streets to be plowed more quickly.
“We think it will speed up the process by about a third,” said Mike Perkins, the street division supervisor for the city.
Larger cities have been using the wing plows for awhile, said Mark Thiel, the city’s assistant director of public works.
“We’re probably one of the smaller cities that are using them,” Thiel said. “We’re just trying to stay ahead of the game. It is another tool for us.”
Perkins said the new wing plows will make it more important than ever for the city to follow the advice of not passing a snow plow. The trucks will be equipped with special lights to draw attention to the fact that a blade is hanging off the side of the truck, but motorists will need to use care.
“It is a clear, clean path right behind the truck,” Perkins said. “That is the best place to drive.”
Crews earlier this month did mock snow-plow runs throughout the city to prepare for the upcoming snow season. Thiel said in addition to the wing plows, the city has made changes to increase the amount of salt the city can store. The city now has the capability to store about 10,000 tons of salt, which is about twice the amount the city would expect to use during a season. The extra capacity could become crucial in the future, Thiel said.
“That is a huge benefit to us because we don’t have to worry about re-ordering in midseason,” Thiel said. “Sometimes there can be a four to six week lead time for salt orders.”
Thiel also recently provided city commissioners with his best estimate on what type of winter we’ll have this year. He said the city looks at forecasts from the National Weather Service, the Farmers Almanac and a private subscription weather service. The forecasts are mixed this year, with the National Weather Service predicting a largely normal winter, while the subscription service is predicting below-average temperatures but about average snowfall totals. The Farmers Almanac is calling for “bitter and snowy” conditions in Kansas.
“I think we’re pretty much going to have a repeat of what we had last year,” Thiel said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of cold weather early and a lot of small events early.”
Thiel said he thinks the chances of major snow — six inches or more — will increase significantly in January and February.
That won’t be good news for the city budget. The last snow season was a fairly expensive one for the city. Thiel said the city spent about $1 million clearing snow in the 2013/2014 season. That was about twice the amount spent in 2012/2013, even though snow totals for the two seasons checked in at about 30 inches. The big difference is that in 2013/2014 there were 13 snow or ice events the city had to work, compared with just eight in 2012/2013. In addition, one of the events last season was a 14-inch snow in early February that required extra resources.
In case you have forgotten last winter, Thiel has gathered several numbers to help remind us. Here’s a look:
— The city had 30.2 inches of snow in 2013-2014, as measured in downtown. That was the second highest total of the last 10 years, trailing only the 36.4 inches in 2009/2010. The 10-year average is 17.4 inches. The smallest snowfall total of the last decade was 1.4 inches in 2006/2007.
— The city had 12 days in 2013/2014 with measurable snowfall. The average since 1981 is 13 days.
— February was the big month last year, with 16.2 inches of snow. That ranked the month as the fifth snowiest February on record in Lawrence. December had 5.3 inches, January 5.4 inches and March 3.3 inches.
Lawrence, get your best Wolfman Jack voice warmed up.
It is beginning to look more likely that Lawrence once again will have a nonprofit community radio station where local residents can try their hand at the broadcasting business.
As we reported back in June, a group was in the early stages of developing a plan for a low-power community radio station. Well, the group has taken a major step. It has reached a deal to place a radio antenna on top of the grain tower in North Lawrence.
Rich Wenzel, the organizer of the community radio effort, said it is the most significant step yet toward the station getting on the air.
"I would say the chances of this actually happening now are much greater and are looking really positive," said Wenzel, a longtime Lawrence resident, solar energy expert and fan of community radio.
Wenzel said he expects to have his building application filed with the FCC by this week. The FCC will then confirm that the antenna location does not interfere with any other approved frequencies. Wenzel hopes the station will be in a position to start broadcasting in the next eight to 10 months, but concedes it may take up to 18 months to get through all the necessary processes.
As for what the station will air, Wenzel said that will depend a lot on what the community wants to produce.
"We will become involved with all types of civic groups around town, for sure," Wenzel said. "Beyond that, there are a lot of creative people in the community, writers, musicians, inventors who we want to give a forum to."
Wenzel particularly has been reaching out to Lawrence neighborhood associations for help with the effort. He said he envisions neighborhood associations using the station to air programs that provide information about what is going on in their neighborhoods and around the city.
The station will be run as a nonprofit entity, Wenzel said. He said he's currently in negotiations with an existing nonprofit agency to serve as the sponsor of the organization. He said he's also close to securing studio space for the venture. He said there currently are not plans to sell advertising. Instead, the venture will attempt to fund itself much like a public radio station does through underwriting and grants.
Wenzel, who said this venture is his first foray into starting a radio station, said the station is expected to operate at about 100 watts. That would allow the signal, which will be on a yet-to-be determined spot on the FM dial, to be heard in all parts of Lawrence, although he said the signal may be spotty in the far southwest part of the city.
Wenzel has been working with a professional broadcast engineer, who has expressed confidence that the antenna location in North Lawrence will pass muster with the FCC. But that appears to be the next key step for the project. After that, it likely will become a matter of whether the organization can raise the money to get the station off the ground.
Lawrence has had community radio stations in the past. The one many people remember was based out of Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence during the mid-1990s. I'll keep you posted if I hear more information about this latest venture.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I'm taking this as a sign that I can safely get out the Christmas gnomes: Holiday music is in full swing on a new Lawrence-based online radio station.
Well, on Nov. 1, Wachs launched a sister station, The Santa Station. It can also be found at Lawrencehits.com. Click on the icon of a Santa wearing a pair of headphones. The station will play all holiday music between now and Dec. 25. The station also has set up a phone line where any member of the community can record for free his or her own holiday greeting that will run on the station. People can call 913-608-9911 for that service. Wachs said he also hopes to run local holiday music from choirs or bands in the area. People can send an mp3 file for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The station is the latest effort by Wachs, who previously was the general manager for local stations KLWN and KLZR, to get Internet radio off the ground in Lawrence. So far, he said he's pleased with the results.
He said 12,000 different Lawrence computer IP addresses have logged onto Lawrencehits.com since its June launch. He said at peak times there are about 1,000 computers logged onto the station.
"It seems like we have become a choice for listen-at-work radio," Wachs said. "We have a large spike between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m."
• Perhaps you remember last year at about this time, Lawrence city commissioners reached a $50,000 settlement with Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel-related concerns about how one of his companies dismantled the early 1900s Oread neighborhood home known as the Varsity House.
As we reported in June, Fritzel paid the $50,000 settlement in full. Now city commissioners are being asked to figure out how to spend the money. Per the agreement of the settlement, the money must be used to further historic preservation in the community.
So commissioners are being asked at their meeting this evening to approve a request for proposals from local groups that have to use all or part of the $50,000. As proposed, groups will have until 5 p.m. on Dec. 13 to submit a proposal to the city manager's office.
City staff members are suggesting that any project that furthers historic preservation in the city should be considered. Examples, they said, included rehabilitation of structures, educational projects or special programs related to historic preservation. Staff members are recommending that special consideration be given to projects that involve properties listed on the Lawrence Register of Historic Places.
City commissioners ultimately will be asked to approve a recommended project. The city expects to award the money in early 2014.
• One housekeeping note: Town Talk will be off practicing its Wolfman Jack voice and polishing its Christmas gnomes. In other words, I won't be writing this column the rest of the week. Look for Town Talk to return on Monday.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Bids to convert former Farmland fertilizer site into new business park come in far lower than expected
If you have about 450 acres of an abandoned fertilizer plant, now is apparently a good time to convert it into a business park.
The city is in the process of awarding two key construction contracts to convert the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant on the east edge of Lawrence into a business park. And both bids for the contract came back well below what the city was expecting.
Last week the city awarded a $4.98 million bid to Lawrence-based R.D. Johnson Excavating for street construction, waterline installation and lot grading at the site. The city’s engineers had estimated the work to come in at $8.16 million. That’s a difference of almost 40 percent.
This week, commissioners are scheduled to accept bids to install the necessary sewer lines for the site. The low bid is from Amino Brothers at $601,089. The city’s engineers had estimated a cost of $1.41 million. That’s a difference of almost 60 percent.
I guess that is why you take bids.
City officials are hoping other construction firms are as hungry as these. The city in the next week or so is set to approve a set of bids for the $18 million library expansion project. Those bids have already come in, and my understanding is interest was extremely high by contractors.
On May 14, the city will be getting bids on an even larger project: the $25 million city recreation center. We’ll see how hungry recreation center builders are. But what we won’t see are any bids for the infrastructure work on that project.
The city negotiated a deal with KU Endowment officials and Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Sports that calls for the recreation center building to be bid through the city’s normal bid process. But the infrastructure work for the KU and city project — things like streets, sewers, waterlines and parking lots — won’t be bid through the city’s open bidding process. Instead, Fritzel’s Bliss Sports will use its preferred contractors and will negotiate a price for that work. I’m sure the city will make Fritzel aware of these bids, assuming the price hasn’t already been fully determined. (Some dirt-moving work is under way at the site.)
The city has an interest to pass these bids along because the city likely will be paying for a portion of that infrastructure work. The Rock Chalk Park deal calls for the city to pay for 100 percent of the cost to build the recreation center building. The city then will pay for infrastructure work up until a point that the city’s total cost on the project reaches $25 million. So, if the city’s recreation center bid comes in at $19.9 million, which is the current estimate by the city, then the city will pay $5.1 million for the infrastructure/parking work. (I previously had said $7 million, which shows why I don't have a career in math.) That means the city would pay a little less than half of the infrastructure/parking costs that are estimated at $13.5 million. Some people have said that sounds about right, since the infrastructure will serve both the city-owned property and the property that will house the KU track, softball and soccer facilities.
But as the Farmland project has shown, estimates are more of an art than a science. If those estimates — much like the Farmland estimates — are 50 percent too high, then the city would be paying for about 75 percent of the infrastructure and parking costs for the entire Rock Chalk Park project. (That is assuming that the city’s estimate for the construction of the building comes in at $19.9 million. Perhaps that estimate is high also, which changes the dynamics even more.)
It will be interesting to watch but perhaps hard to sort out. What is clear is it seems to be a good time to be going out for bid on construction projects.
The city is taking advantage of the good prices on the Farmland project. Originally, the city thought it may only be able to install the streets, sewers and waterlines in this first phase. But because the prices were low, the city added an alternate that allows for about 12 pad sites to have preliminary grading work completed. That will speed up the process for future business park tenants to build on those lots.
Work on the streets and sewers at the Farmland site is expected to go on throughout the summer and into the fall. The city hopes to have lots ready to build upon at Farmland by late 2013 or early 2014.
It may end up being a good time to have industrial property to offer. I read this article today from the Washington Post about how European manufacturers are starting to relocate to the U.S. because of our cheap natural gas prices. Chemical companies, in particular, are among those migrating.
It is funny how quickly the world changes. When I covered Farmland’s bankruptcy about a decade ago, high natural gas prices were one of the leading factors that put the Lawrence fertilizer plant out of business. Not that I think it is very likely, but how odd would it be if the big new user for the revamped Farmland site is a fertilizer plant?
City set to go out to bid for $25 million rec center; commissioners asked to OK retail rezoning for area across highway from center
After a weekend of shoveling snow, perhaps you are looking for a new form of recreation these days. If so, mark your calendars for Tuesday evening to learn the details on the city of Lawrence’s biggest recreation project yet.
As previously reported, the city will host an open house to show off the designs for its $25 million, 181,000-square-foot recreation center set for an area near the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The open house will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. The public will get its peek at the plans just before city commissioners are set to send them out for bid. Commissioners at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday will be asked to start the bid process for the project.
Under the process, the plans will be released to potential bidders on April 9 — the plans are complete enough for an open house but aren’t yet complete to the point that they can be shared with contractors.
Part of what is going on right now is the city has hired its own Quality Control Management Team to review the plans that have been developed jointly by Paul Werner Architects and Gould Evans. According to a city memo, the Quality Control Team of Craig Penzler’s CP/Sports and Dan Foltz’s KBS Constructors is reviewing the roof and mechanical engineering plans of the facility.
It is a bit unusual for the city to hire a separate team to check the plans of an architect that is working on the city’s behalf. But, as you have perhaps noticed, this is a bit of an unusual project. The architectural firms of Paul Werner and Gould Evans certainly have been working with the city on the design of the recreation center, but it wouldn’t be completely accurate to say they have been working for the city.
During the design process, both architectural firms have been closely tied to Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Sports company, which is the private company that has been the driving force behind the larger Rock Chalk Park sports village that will be built adjacent to the recreation center. So, those mixing of interests has caused the city to agree to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars or more to hire an independent review of the plans.
At this point, the independent review has found the plans to be solid. The review team will stay on the job during construction of the facility to serve as the city’s representative on the job site.
Once contractors receive the plans on April 7, they will have about a month to put together a bid for the recreation center. The city will open the sealed bids on May 9.
As a reminder, the city has committed to pay $25 million for the project. If the recreation center bids come in below $25 million, the city will pay the difference to Bliss Sports and/or a KU Endowment entity that is responsible for building the infrastructure for the Rock Chalk Park sports village.
We’ll see how much competition there is among area builders for the project.
• Recreation center plans aren’t the only reason commissioners will be looking at the intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway on Tuesday.
Commissioners at their weekly meeting also will be asked to rule on a contentious zoning request for property directly across the South Lawrence Trafficway from the recreation center project.
Essentially, commissioners are being asked to decide how much — if any — retail/commercial development should be allowed on 146 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
If you remember, the city’s recreation center once was proposed to be located on a portion of that site. At the time, the city was planning to approve commercial/retail zoning for a good portion of the site, in order to accommodate hotels, restaurants and other uses that would complement the recreation center.
But when the project got pulled from that site and moved across the highway, there was talk from the City Commission that any idea of retail development on the site was done too.
Well times and thinking do change. The project now comes to the City Commission with a positive recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission is recommending the northwest corner be allowed to have up to 155,000 square feet of retail uses in the future. City commissioners on Tuesday will be voting on a rezoning ordinance that will give the property that right.
In somewhat of a surprise move, the Planning Commission also has opened the door to retail development on the southwest and southeast corners of the intersection. The Planning Commission is recommending approval of a planning document that calls for the southwest corner to have up to 25,000 square feet of retail development, and the southeast corner to have up to 60,000 square feet of retail development.
At the moment, there aren’t rezoning requests for either one of those properties, but this plan makes it likely that such retail uses would be approved in the future. (Assuming the plan is followed, which isn’t always a good assumption.)
The southeast corner is vacant, but is next to a growing housing development just north of Langston Hughes Elementary. The southwest corner largely is thought of as the west campus for Lawrence’s First United Methodist Church. But there also is a vacant portion of ground near the church. That ground is owned by a group of investors, and Allison Vance Moore — a commercial real estate agent with Lawrence’s Colliers office and one of the city’s leading retail brokers — already has a "for sale" sign planted in that property.
It has been interesting to watch how opinions on this area have changed in a relatively short period of time. The Planning Commission in October voted to deny the retail rezoning for the northwest corner of the intersection. But by January, it became clear the political winds on the City Commission had shifted toward allowing retail zoning at the northwest corner, so the Planning Commission reconsidered the issue in February and recommended approval of the rezoning.
So, what has changed to cause the City Commission to now look favorably upon retail development at the site? It is tough to say for sure, but certainly commissioners have gotten an earful from the owners of the property, which is a group led by Lawrence developers Duane and Steve Schwada.
That group has been making the argument that the city is about to make a huge mistake in building the recreation center and Rock Chalk Park without a clear plan of how to build the necessary commercial and retail uses that visitors to the park will expect.
The Rock Chalk Park property — as currently zoned — doesn’t have any area for retail or commercial uses. Originally city commissioners assumed the vacant Mercato development, just south of the Rock Chalk Park site, could accommodate the necessary retail development for Rock Chalk Park.
But Schwada also controls that property, and there are indications he’s reluctant to change the plans of that development. It is the only site in town that is zoned for future big box store development. That was a hard-won victory at City Hall, so to change those plans to accommodate hotels, restaurants and other such uses may not be likely.
Instead, he has pointed to his property across the street. So, perhaps, the city has decided it doesn’t want to play that bluffing game with the Schwadas.
But that leaves a large question looming. If the area on the west side of the SLT is expected to carry the load in terms of hotels and such for the new Rock Chalk Park destination, who is going to pay to have the necessary infrastructure extended across the SLT?
If there are several million dollars worth of expenses to extend water and sewer to the site, are any hotels, retailers and such going to pay to develop on that piece of property? If they don’t, how is the Rock Chalk Park area going to have the necessary hotel and retail space that many people say is needed to support the development?
At this point, the city hasn’t done anything to indicate it is willing to pay to extend those pieces of infrastructure to the site. But, of course, just a few months ago the city was indicating that it wasn’t going to approve retail zoning for that property either.
So, as I’m prone to say, it will be interesting to watch.
An entity controlled by Thomas Fritzel will be the exclusive provider of all concessions on the Kansas University portions of the proposed Rock Chalk Park project, according to documents released today.
And that's not the only way Fritzel or his related entities could turn a profit from the project that has been billed largely as a public sports village.
I’ve quickly read through four separate agreements involving Fritzel’s Bliss Sports, Kansas University Endowment’s RCP LLC and Kansas Athletics. The documents are complicated, and I’m not promising I’ve caught every detail. I’ve put a call into Fritzel for more explanation, but haven’t yet heard back from him. But here’s what I’ve gleaned from the documents.
• A signed operating agreement between KU Athletics and Bliss Sports states Bliss “shall have the exclusive right to control and manage concessions associated with any use of the stadiums, including athletics-sponsored events, developer-sponsored events and third-party sponsored events.”
In other words any event held on the KU portion of Rock Chalk Park — this agreement doesn’t cover the city’s recreation center — will have its concession needs served by Bliss Sports.
But the agreement goes on to say that “any net revenues” generated from concession sales will be deposited into a special escrow-like account called a “maintenance fund.” That fund can be used by KU Athletics to make repairs at Rock Chalk Park over the years.
That sounds like a pretty good deal for the university, and it may well be. But what is not clear from the agreements is what, if any, controls will be placed on how Bliss runs the concessions.
For example, would Fritzel be allowed to create another entity — let’s call it Fritzel Foods — that would serve as the supplier for the Rock Chalk Park concessions business? If so, the hypothetical Fritzel Foods could purchase the supplies needed for the concessions business, turn around and sell the supplies to the concessions business for a profit, and seemingly none of those profits would have to be deposited into the maintenance fund.
I’m not saying that’s the intention, but I am asking whether there is anything that prevents it.
The details related to the concessions business were surprising because Fritzel had not made any such details clear when he gave an interview to the Journal-World on Jan. 18.
“It will be run just like Allen Fieldhouse, 100 percent like Allen Fieldhouse,” Fritzel said when describing whether his entities would be in a position to make any money off the Rock Chalk Park. “The important thing is Kansas Athletics controls everything.”
The agreements released by Fritzel today were signed Feb. 12. The documents indicated they replaced a previous set of agreements signed on Oct. 12. What those agreements called for is not known.
• Bliss, in addition to KU Athletics, will have the right to charge “reasonable parking fees” for any event on the KU portion of the project. Both Bliss and KU Athletics must agree to the parking rates, but the agreement states: “It is the intent of the parties that as a general rule, at a minimum, parking fees will be charged for conference-wide collegiate athletic events; statewide, regional, national and world-wide sporting events; and third-party sponsored events.”
City Manager David Corliss told me this afternoon that the city will want to create a separate agreement to make it clear that the City Commission would have to approve any parking fees on a per-event basis. It has been proposed that the city would contribute money to help build the parking lots that would serve both the city and KU portions of the project. Corliss said that means the city will want to be involved in setting parking policy for the development.
Like the concession revenue, the parking money would go into the maintenance fund. Like the concessions revenue, the questions of how Bliss would be allowed to operate the parking system remain.
• Bliss would have the authority to use any of the stadiums and other KU-related facilities rent-free. KU Athletics would have limited ability to deny Bliss use of the facilities. Bliss could host private athletic events at the park without city approval. Any non-athletic events hosted at the park would require a special use permit from the city.
• As previously reported, KU Athletics will pay $1.3 million a year for 30 years to Bliss Sports to cover Bliss’ costs to finance the project. Also as previously reported, Bliss will maintain ownership of the facilities for 50 years. What has not been previously disclosed is that the lease also calls for KU to pay lease payments in years 31 through 50 as well. Fritzel made no mention of that provision when interviewed by the Journal-World in January.
The rate of the lease for years 31-50 will be the “fair market rental value” of the property as determined by Bliss and agreed to by Kansas Athletics.
City commissioners tonight are scheduled to take their biggest vote yet on the recreation center project. Commissioners are being asked to approve a development agreement that spells out how the city would help pay for infrastructure at Rock Chalk Park, rebate approximately $1 million in building permit and other city fees the project normally would be required to pay, and provide a 10-year property tax abatement for the project.
Corliss said his recommendation will continue to be for commissioners to proceed on the project. “I’m not seeing anything in these agreements that is still not a good deal for the University of Kansas and the community,” Corliss said.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 tonight at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.
The city now has posted the full agreements. They can be found here.
Well, that didn't take long.
One day after Mayor Bob Schumm said he wanted to see the agreements between Thomas Fritzel's Bliss Sports and the various KU entities involved in the Rock Chalk Park property, Fritzel has produced them.
Fritzel has provided four sets of agreements to Lawrence City Hall. (He also dropped off a set of copies for me, as well.) I'm just now starting to read them.
The city will be posting the documents to its Web site shortly. I'll provide a link once it does.