Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods calls for public vote on recreation center project, expresses concern about bidding process; two public meetings set on project
Activity around a proposed $25 million city recreation center in northwest Lawrence is starting to heat up again.
The latest news: The city’s largest neighborhood group is now officially calling for a citywide election on the project and is expressing concerns that the proposed bidding process won’t adequately protect the public.
Board members of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods last night unanimously agreed to submit comments expressing concern about the proposed process to build a regional recreation center as part of a public-private sports park just north of the northeast intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
“As we see it, the project as proposed falls far short of the desired standard of public bidding and cost certification,” Laura Routh, the newly elected president of LAN told me this morning. “Under the conditions outlined thus far, we have no assurance that taxpayers will get full value for their money.”
LAN also took the position that a citywide election on the project should be held, “given the magnitude of the project and the resulting long-term debt to be incurred by taxpayers.”
Ruth also said LAN is concerned that the city hasn’t fully weighed the recreation center project against other needed city projects.
“LAN is concerned that the city has failed to fully assess this project’s impact on other needed priorities in our community,” Routh said.
It will be interesting to see if LAN’s position robs the project of any momentum at City Hall. Thus far, it appears the project has solid support from four of the five city commissioners. Commissioner Mike Amyx has been the only commissioner to express strong reservations. But LAN is the largest communitywide organization to express such concerns about the project.
Both opponents and supporters of the project will have a couple of opportunities to get engaged with the project in the coming days.
The citizen’s group Cadre Lawrence is hosting a public forum at 10 a.m. Saturday at Fire Station No. 5 at 19th and Iowa streets. The group has assembled a panel that currently consists of City Manager David Corliss, City Commissioner Mike Dever, Senior Associate Athletics Director Sean Lester and Paul Werner, a Lawrence architect for the project.
Cadre Lawrence is billing the event as an opportunity to get answers from people who “are actually in charge of the project.” But the panel doesn’t include Thomas Fritzel nor a representative from the KU Endowment Association, which will own the land and eventually transfer a portion of it over to the city. I think those entities, particularly Fritzel, are who members of the public want to hear from most.
Fritzel is the Lawrence businessman who is providing all the financing to build the KU facilities at the Rock Chalk Park site, and it recently was revealed that he ultimately will own the facilities that KU Athletics will use. As it is currently structured, Fritzel has the inside track to be the builder of the city’s $25 million recreation center through a process that deviates significantly from the city’s standard bidding process.
I think most people would agree that Fritzel is a key driving force in this proposed project, but near as I can tell, he has never publicly outlined his vision or what he sees as his role in the project either at a City Commission meeting or at a public forum.
The Cadre forum will be structured in a way that people can submit their questions via notecards, but it isn’t designed to be a forum where people can come to the microphone and deliver speeches about their thoughts on the project.
People will get that opportunity at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.
City commissioners will take action to finalize the rezoning of the proposed site, and will get their first look at the special use permit application for the project. Commissioners will hold a public hearing on both of those items.
The details of the special use permit are basically as we have reported them in the past, so I won’t go over all that again. In summary, the main uses include the 181,000 square-foot recreation center, which will be owned by the city; and a track and field stadium, softball stadium, soccer field and other amenities that will be owned by a private group led by Fritzel. Those facilities primarily will be used by Kansas University Athletics, but officials have confirmed that Fritzel will have the ability to use the facilities for other events, if certain conditions are met.
The fact that Fritzel will own many of the facilities on the property was revealed to the public fairly late in the process. It will be interesting to see if that becomes an issue in the zoning and special use part of the project. The zoning for the proposed project is slated to be for “General Public and Institutional Uses.” At least one adjacent land owner to the project has questioned what conditions must be met in order for a private company to own the majority of the facilities on property zoned for public and institutional uses.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. Tuesday’s meeting essentially will clear the way for the Fritzel/KU facilities to proceed at the site. But commissioners aren’t yet taking action committing the city to the recreation center idea. That won’t happen until formal agreements between KU entities, Fritzel and the city are presented to commissioners for consideration.
If you are a follower of the political process in Lawrence, tonight might end up being an interesting evening.
It sounds like a shake-up is in the works at the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods. The group has its meeting where it elects its officers at 7 tonight in the ground floor meeting room of the Hobbs Taylor Lofts Building at Eighth and New Hampshire streets.
It looks likely that longtime LAN chair Gwen Klingenberg is facing a major challenge to keep her leadership position with the organization. Sources tell me a strong push is being made to install Laura Routh, a longtime City Hall observer and frequent critic of the police department, to the top spot.
In fact, the effort may be so strong that Klingenberg may not even seek another term. One source told me that she essentially had resigned her seat leading up to tonight’s vote, but I haven’t been able to confirm that with Klingenberg.
Routh, however, did confirm to me that she is seeking the position.
Some of you may be wondering why you care at this point. That’s understandable. LAN doesn’t always garner a lot of attention, but it has been one of the major political players at Lawrence City Hall in the past. As the largest neighborhood organization in the city, it has an ability to muster forces for or against any number of projects.
Within the last decade LAN has held considerable sway with the commission at various times. How much sway it holds today is debatable, and that may be what this change in leadership is partially about.
A member who called me up about this potential change, said there is a split in the organization currently. One group, it appears, is seeking more aggressive advocacy from LAN, while another group is concerned that if such aggressiveness is perceived as being confrontational with City Hall that it will make it more difficult for LAN to get things done.
Routh stopped short of saying that her platform as president would involve amping up the aggressiveness of the organization. But anyone who has watched City Hall much recognizes that Routh is not hesitant to challenge commissioners and call them out on issues.
“I’m a pretty known quantity,” Routh told me. “I’m a pretty direct person. I think people know that about me. But my intention is to serve as the membership desires."
LAN runs a pretty open ship. Its meetings are open to anyone interested in Lawrence neighborhoods, but only members of the organization can vote.