Tuesday night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting ended up being like a baked bean dish at this weekend’s Memorial Day barbecue: It was too much for one sitting. So, here are a couple of leftovers from the meeting.
I have had some people ask me whether Tuesday’s meeting ever produced an explanation about why the city’s cost estimates for the recreation center were so much higher than the actual bids the city received from nine contractors.
After all, the $10.5 million low bid received by the city was significantly less than the $18.4 million and $20.7 million estimates produced by two architects hired by the city.
City commissioners did receive a bit of an explanation. There were several aspects mentioned, but the biggest factor was that architects didn’t account for how much some key commodity prices have fallen, and how competitive the regional construction market has become for large construction projects.
The two architects — the team of CP Sports and KBS Constructors Inc., and Lawrence-based Gould Evans — both noted that several large commodity-oriented bids came in significantly lower than expected. For instance, CP Sports said the bids for steel, HVAC/plumbing and the electrical estimates came in $6 million below its estimates. And Gould Evans said the bids for steel, HVAC and wood flooring came in $4 million below its estimates.
Several of those commodities had been in high demand because of building booms in China and the Middle East, Craig Penzler, an architect with CP Sports, wrote in a memo to city officials. But “with international booms slowing, the large commodity materials are more readily available,” Penzler wrote. “We believe we are seeing an impact upon the pricing for larger projects.”
One of the more interesting outcomes of the bidding process was the bid the city received from Crossland Construction. Gould Evans hired Crossland to produce a mock bid for the project a few months ago. It provided an estimate of $16.8 million. When Crossland bid the project for real, its price was $10.7 million. Granted, the building’s design at the time Crossland provided the mock bid wasn’t exactly the same as it was at the time of the real bid, but it was pretty close. The two bids were not.
The explanation seems to be that conditions have changed rapidly in the past month or two. Or, in some cases, even in just a few hours. In his memo to city officials, Penzler said he had a conversation with one Topeka bidder who said subcontractors on the project aggressively started cutting their prices in an effort to win the job. According to Penzler, two hours before the bid was due to the city, the Topeka contractor believed his total bid for the recreation center was going to be about $16 million. Over the next hour, the bid had dropped to $14 million. And then just before the 2 p.m. bid deadline, it had dropped to just under $13 million.
Clearly, there is a lesson to be learned here: If the city had set the bid date a few hours later, contractors would have been paying the city to build the project.
Well, maybe that’s not quite the takeaway here. But it does show the power of bidding. As has already been reported, the city isn’t going through a competitive bid process on the infrastructure portion of this project. At Tuesday’s meeting, Public Works Director Chuck Soules said he is looking over the previous $8.3 million estimate for infrastructure. (It really is closer to a $9.3 million estimate when you include some site work and other items that aren’t technically called infrastructure but are part of the no-bid package.) Soules is comparing the cost estimate with bid prices the city has seen for similar work, such as the bids received for the Farmland business park project and the Iowa Street reconstruction project.
Soules said his preliminary analysis shows that it is unlikely that the infrastructure work should come in any higher than the $8.3 million estimate. But, as we reported, the city now wants to hear what developer Thomas Fritzel, who is building the infrastructure, says. They’ve asked Fritzel to provide a firm quote on the infrastructure costs within the next two weeks.
One last leftover from Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. And this one really is just a crumb. But it appears that next week’s City Commission meeting may produce a conversation about the use of drones in Lawrence airspace.
City Commissioner Terry Riordan said he had been approached by some citizens who want to discuss a city drone policy. Of course, the city doesn’t have drones. But apparently there are some people in the city who are concerned about future use of drones in Lawrence airspace, I presume by the federal government.
Commissioners indicated they weren’t going to put the topic on their regular agenda. It would seem unlikely that the city would have any influence over the federal government on the topic. But anybody is free to come and speak during the commission’s open public comment period at the end of each meeting. It sounded like some representatives of the group may do that at next week’s meeting.
You can bet I’ll keep an ear open for that.
UPDATE: I've talked this afternoon with Ben Jones, a Lawrence resident who is part of a group of about dozen or more people who have started meeting about the drone issue. He said the group will ask the city to consider an ordinance that would limit the city's use of drones — such as for police department surveillance and other such activities — until standards can be developed. He said the ordinance would be modeled after one passed in Charlottesville, Va..
The group does plan to speak at Tuesday night's City Commission meeting. Jones said the group, which crosses political lines, isn't expecting Lawrence to get into the drone business any time soon, but it thinks a resolution would be a good opportunity for the city "to get ahead of the curve."
The area around the proposed Lawrence recreation center and Rock Chalk Park site continues to heat up.
Lawrence developer Tim Stultz has filed plans at City Hall for a 40-acre development of single-family homes and apartments south and east of the recreation center site.
The plan is seeking rezoning for the area at the northwest corner of Queens Road and Overland Drive. The request seeks to create 15.89 acres of RM-12 apartment zoning, 21.54 acres of traditional RS-7 single family zoning, and 3.34 acres of small-lot RS-5 single family zoning.
Based on the preliminary plans, it looks like there will be the potential for about 80 to 85 single-family homes in the area. The plans aren’t yet detailed enough to indicate how many apartments may be a part of the project. But the plans do indicate that the development really wants to integrate the single family homes with the apartment development. Specifically, the plans talk about how the apartment complex will have its own clubhouse and swimming pool, and how that facility will be available to the single-family residents on a membership basis.
That’s not an unheard-of concept, but it is a bit new for Lawrence. It will be interesting to see if that may be a model for creating a more harmonious relationship between apartments and single-family development.
What will be particularly interesting to watch, however, is how quickly the area around the recreation center and Rock Chalk Park begins to fill up with new homes and apartments.
Obviously, the recreation center has brought out a lot of emotions on both sides of the fence, but the area really does have some elements to be a dynamic residential neighborhood. Homes within this area will be within walking distance of indoor basketball courts, a fitness center, an indoor turf field, a walking/jogging track, outdoor tennis courts, and about five miles of walking trails through the Rock Chalk Park area. That’s in addition to the various stadiums at the Rock Chalk Park site, which probably won’t be open for use by the public but will attract multiple spectator events. And time will tell whether the Rock Chalk Park facilities become venues for non-KU events, such as barbecue festivals, community runs and other celebrations.
But that is just one element of the area. If you are willing to lace your walking shoes up a little tighter, you can walk to an indoor pool as well. The city’s Indoor Aquatic Center is down the hill near Wakarusa and Overland drives. (It is about a mile, so you’ll need to lace them up tight. And notice my great sales skills: I mention down the hill but don’t mention the uphill trip on the way back.)
But maybe the most unique aspect for the area will be golf. The Links development — about 630 apartments that will surround a nine-hole golf course — certainly is within walking distance. As we previously have reported, it basically will be just east of the recreation center and Rock Chalk Park site. The Arkansas-based developers say they are going to start the project this year, but they have had timetables in the past that haven’t come to fruition. So, we’ll see.
The Links' development group, though, is further along than they have been. Hugh Jarrett, a spokesman for the group, shared details with me about the company's golf plans for the community. He said the nine-hole course will be open for public play, both on a membership basis and on a daily greens fee type of basis. He didn’t release any details about how much it would cost to play a round there. People who rent apartments at the complex will be able to play unlimited golf at the course with no green fees.
Based on plans filed at City Hall, the course will be more than a standard par 3 executive course. It won’t be as expansive as the city’s Eagle Bend course, but depending on its pricing, it certainly could be a competitor.
Here’s what the plans show for the course’s layout: Hole No. 1, 333 yards; No. 2, 254 yards, plays partially over about a half-acre lake; No. 3, 100 yards; No. 4, 250 yards, plays over a portion of what looks to be an approximately 3-acre lake; No. 5, 487 yards, plays over a portion of the same lake; No. 6, 112 yards, plays through a narrow alley of trees; No. 7, 487 yards; No. 8, 123 yards; and No. 9, 333 yards.
I’m sure I’ll hit a few balls out there some day. Fair warning: If you happen to be walking to the Indoor Aquatic Center that day, you may want to wear a helmet.
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.
Perhaps you have heard about it, and now you’ll get to see it too: The proposed $25 million city-owned recreation center in Rock Chalk Park.
The city will host an open house from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on March 26 at City Hall for folks to view plans and renderings for the proposed 181,000-square-foot, eight-gym recreation center.
City officials are getting the open house in right under the wire. About 30 minutes after the open house concludes, commissioners are scheduled give the OK for the city to seek bids on the project.
In other words, if you want to provide any feedback to commissioners that they’ll have time to consider, you may want to take a look at the plans and renderings now. Click here to see what the city has available.
The basic components of the center really hasn’t changed from what has been proposed for many months. Among the major features:
• Eight full-court gyms that also can be used as 16 cross-court gyms or 16 volleyball courts.
• An indoor turf area that will be striped to accommodate one full length soccer field or three cross court fields.
• A gymnastics area.
• A four-lane, indoor walking/running track.
• A dance studio.
• A cardio and weight room area.
• Two party rooms that can be rented for birthday parties and other such events.
But what we haven’t seen much of — especially since the project moved from the west side of Sixth Street and the SLT interchange to the east side of the road — are renderings of the exterior. The city now has a couple of those that they are sharing.
The March 26 open house will be a come-and-go type of event rather than a forum during which the city takes comment about the project. But I’m sure there will be city officials on hand who will be able to answer questions.
In terms of questions, I still get a few from readers about the project. Let me see if I can answer a couple of them here.
• Have all the key votes on the project already taken place? No. On March 5, the City Commission on a 4-1 vote approved a development agreement for the project. That certainly was the most significant vote the commission has taken on the recreation center project yet. It sent the clear message that the city plans to build the recreation center, and the agreement seems to commit the city to pay at least $2 million worth of costs, if for some reason it decides not to build the center.
• What other votes are left to be taken? Well, the city will have to vote to put the project out to bid at the March 26 meeting. That shouldn’t be much of a deal. But there are two more votes that will be a little more interesting because they both will come after a new City Commission is seated on April 9. One vote will be to accept construction bids for the project, and the other will be to issue bonds that will pay for the project. Those votes are where the rubber meets the road.
• Does the current crop of City Commission candidates have any interest in revisiting the issue? Might they choose not to accept the construction bids? Well, legally, the new City Commission could choose to reject the bids or decline to issue debt for the project. There’s nothing in the approved development agreement that forces the next City Commission to do the project.
But whether there are any candidates who have a strong inclination to reverse the decision of a previous City Commission is a bit hard to ascertain. What is clear: Two candidates — Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan — have been pretty supportive of the recreation center project throughout their campaign.
Mike Amyx — the lone incumbent in the field — voted against the project. Rob Chestnut, as a member of the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee, voted against recommending the package of economic development incentives for the KU-oriented projects in the adjacent Rock Chalk Park project. But that’s different from saying he doesn’t support the recreation center project and, indeed, he has said he likes the concept, although he has some concerns about the financial arrangements. At a March 6 Voter Education Coalition forum, he made statements indicating he wouldn’t be game for reversing the past commission’s decisions on the project.
The two remaining candidates — Scott Criqui and Leslie Soden — have expressed multiple concerns about the project, but when asked about the project at the March 6 forum, neither said anything about overturning the City Commission’s decision on the issue. But that also wasn’t exactly the question they were asked by the moderator.
At Monday’s North Lawrence candidate forum, Soden, Criqui and Amyx all brought up the recreation issue unsolicited. Soden said she was interested in reducing the size of the building by half, and Amyx made an interesting statement.
“The next City Commission will do more on this project than the current commission,” Amyx told the crowd. “We’re going to be dealing with the financing of it. Three members of this panel right here will become a majority of the next commission. That’s a reason to get out and vote.”
So, tough to ascertain what type of issue the recreation center will be on the campaign trail. But as part of our campaign coverage, we will attempt to get the candidates to more directly answer the question of whether they would consider overturning the city commission’s previous decision on the issue.
But here’s something to remember: Math makes it unlikely that such an overturn will happen. Two existing commissioners will remain on the commission: Bob Schumm and Mike Dever. They are the two strongest supporters of the recreation center project on the commission. That means three candidates who disfavor the current project would have to win in the City Commission election.
After the primary, Amyx, Farmer and Riordan held the top three spots. As we’ve noted, two of those three have expressed consistent support for the proposed project.
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.
More twists with recreation center project: KU Endowment now requiring city to pay for land; UPDATE Self’s Foundation again planning donation to city
Think of it like a buzzer beater, or more accurately, like three of them. The buzzer is about to sound on this more than year-long debate on whether the city should move ahead with a $25 million recreation center in northwest Lawrence.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider signing an agreement that moves the project toward a bid letting.
But before they do, three new twists and turns to this ever-changing proposal have come in just before the buzzer. Here’s a look:
• If you are like me and thought Kansas University Endowment was going to donate the 26 acres the city’s recreation center will sit upon, you were wrong.
City Manager David Corliss now has confirmed the city is set to pay KU Endowment $780,000 — or $30,000 an acre — for the site.
The $780,000 will be applied to the $25 million maximum price KU Endowment has guaranteed the city project to come in at. In other words, the fact KU Endowment is charging the city for the land won’t increase the maximum price the city will have to pay for the project. So, you’ll have to decide how much any of this matters. I’m not exactly sure at the moment why KU Endowment wants the land to be paid for rather than donated, but I’ve been told that because of the way the deal is structured with various LLCs and such that donating the land may be problematic from a legal or tax standpoint. But I don’t have firm details on that. If I get some, I’ll update this.
But the idea the city will have to buy the land does seem worth noting because one of the reasons the city is pursuing this project is because it believes it is getting a value. Yet, the city is now paying $780,000 for a 26-acre recreation site when it already owns a large site near Overland and Wakarusa drives, which the city long touted as an excellent site for a center. Some folks may be surprised that the city would pay for a new recreation center site when it already owns one.
I suspect a few people also may note that when the city was considering building the project on the west side of the South Lawrence Trafficway, it was proposed the city would receive a donation of 50 to 60 acres of land — from the Schwada family — that the city would own outright. That proposal didn’t call for the city to pay for the land.
Corliss said the $30,000 per acre the city will pay to KU Endowment is equal to what KU paid for the property. Again, the $780,000 doesn’t increase the maximum price the city will have to pay for the project. But it does increase the chances the check the city writes to KU Endowment will be bigger than it would have been otherwise.
• UPDATE: Well, count Bill Self and his Assists Foundation back in the game. I just talked with Erin Zimney, executive director of the Assists Foundation, and she said the organization is still very much planning on making a donation — likely in the $1 million range — to the city's recreation center. That was welcome news to city officials because on Thursday afternoon City Manager David Corliss told me the city no longer was planning on receiving a donation from the foundation. I had heard that same sentiment from other city officials in off-the-record conversations as well. Zimney said she's not quite sure why the city thought the donation was off the table, other than the city and the foundation had not talked about the possibility in recent months. The last public statement from the Assists Foundation was in March, when the project was still slated for property on the west side of SLT. "Our plan has always been to support a recreation center, if indeed it does happen," Zimney said. She said Self and his wife, Cindy, were both very excited about what a recreation center could provide for area youths. Zimney said the foundation likely would wait until after the city accepts a bid to build the recreation center — which likely would be in mid-April — before it formalized a donation to the city. Zimney said she did not think the foundation would be financially supporting the KU portion of Rock Chalk Park, although she said board members found that project to be exciting as well.
If you remember all the way back to November 2011, when the city was contemplating a $15 million center on land at Wakarusa and Overland drives, one of the driving forces was that KU Coach Bill Self’s Assists Foundation was prepared to make at least a $1 million donation to the project.
Well, Corliss now has confirmed to me that the city is no longer expecting that donation. This isn’t much of a surprise because the idea of a donation from the Assists Foundation hasn’t come up much recently at City Hall. Ever since the project grew and moved to the east side of the SLT, I had gotten the sense that the idea of a donation to the city was up in the air. But now we have a city official confirming it.
I’ve heard it is still possible that the Assists Foundation may make a donation to the project, but its money would go to KU Endowment. I haven’t yet chatted with the Assists Foundation, but I’ll attempt to do so and provide an update.
• You also may remember that one of the added benefits of having a recreation center that is much larger than a standard recreation center is that there would be room to house a “wellness center.”
Indeed, the 181,000-square-foot design has about 7,000 square feet for a wellness center. What it doesn’t have at this point is anybody to run it.
The assumption has been that Lawrence Memorial Hospital would operate a wellness center, although what exactly would be included in that center hasn’t been very well defined yet. But city officials have confirmed that LMH hasn’t made any commitment to be part of that wellness center, and is not likely to make a commitment before the city will bid this project.
In other words, the recreation center will include about 7,000 square feet of what the building industry calls “spec space.” It is still possible LMH will want to do the wellness center. I cover the LMH board and the subject has come up, but so far the board hasn’t engaged in a full-blown discussion about becoming involved in the project.
Various city officials told me the city always can request proposals from other health care companies that want to run a wellness center in the city.
That could get very interesting. There is speculation that KU Hospital would be a group interested in running a wellness center in the city. And who knows if other Kansas City or Topeka hospitals would be interested in the space as a way to better attract Lawrence patients to their hospitals.
The question becomes whether the city — which technically owns Lawrence Memorial Hospital — is really interested in allowing the city-owned recreation center to be used as a way for a potential LMH competitor to gain a toe-hold in the community?
Another option is the city could use the 7,000 square feet of space for additional recreational purposes. There already are groups that are looking to change the design of the center. A group of local handball and racquetball players have asked the city to consider building a couple of courts in the center. An even more unique proposal has come from horseshoe pitchers.
Apparently, indoor horseshoe pitching is becoming more popular, especially since the sport’s demographics are trending toward the older side these days. Many older pitchers no longer like to be out in the summer heat or winter’s cold to pitch in tournaments.
Now, if indoor horseshoe pitching gets added to the facility before Tuesday’s meeting, that truly will be a buzzer beater worthy of Sportscenter.
City releases draft agreement related to bidding of proposed recreation center; other agreements between Fritzel entity and KU not yet released
Let’s all play lawyer, which of course means we need to say “theretofore” and “henceforth” several times because we bill by the hour.
The city has released the draft agreement that would govern how the city would bid the proposed $25 million city recreation center, and how the city would partner with Kansas University Endowment and Thomas Fritzel’s private entity to build infrastructure for the recreation center and the adjacent Rock Chalk Park.
Your law degree is likely better than mine, so review the document for yourself by clicking here.
I have reviewed the document quickly (I would have failed Billing by the Hour 101 in law school). My quick take is there don’t seem to be any surprises in the information that is there, but some watchers of the project probably will want to see more information.
What hasn’t been released yet are any agreements between Fritzel’s entity and Kansas University Endowment or KU Athletics in terms of how Fritzel’s company will manage and operate the facilities near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. If you remember, Fritzel’s Bliss Sports LLC actually will own the facilities and lease them back to KU Athletics at a discount, while KU Endowment will own the land and lease it to Bliss Sports.
I’ve talked to several people who want to see those agreements because they will spell out what role, if any, Bliss will have in operations such as providing concessions, charging for parking and selling alcohol at events.
Fritzel told me in a previous interview that Kansas Athletics will be in charge of those issues, just as they are at events held at Memorial Stadium or Allen Fieldhouse. Fritzel went on to say that his company won’t receive any revenue from the project, other than the lease payments KU will make to occupy the facilities.
But, I think some folks still want to see the documents. Fritzel has said he’ll make those documents public once they are finalized. It appears, however, the public won’t see them before the city’s Feb. 19 meeting, which is when the city likely will consider signing agreements that commit the city to move forward with the recreation center.
At least Mayor Bob Schumm isn’t counting on it. Schumm said he has some interest in how the operations of the adjacent Rock Chalk Park will be handled, but he said he does not think it is critical to know the details before the city makes a decision on the recreation center project.
He said that’s because the largest issue regarding the operation of Rock Chalk Park is whether there would be any inappropriate events held at the facilities that would interfere with the recreation center or cause other problems. He said the city has the protection it needs in that area because the city must approve a special use permit before any nonathletic event can be held at Rock Chalk Park.
As for what is included in the document that is available for review, the most significant details have to do with the city’s bidding process. The agreement spells out the recreation center portion of the project will follow the “normal bidding process used by the city for its construction projects.”
As previously reported, how the infrastructure — such as roads, parking lots and sewer lines — will be built won’t use the city’s standard bidding process. That’s in part because the infrastructure will be a joint venture between the city and Rock Chalk Park Development, since most of the infrastructure will be shared between the two projects.
I’ve had several people ask for more details about that part of the project, so here’s a quick look:
• The city will have agreements in place that make it clear it won’t pay more than $25 million for the recreation center and the surrounding infrastructure.
• RCP LLC — a private entity controlled entirely by KU Endowment — will contract with Fritzel’s Bliss Sports to build the infrastructure. Architects have estimated it will cost about $13 million to build the infrastructure.
• According to the latest agreement, Bliss Sports will hire King Construction, an area excavation company, to build the infrastructure.
• The city will go through its normal bidding process to select a builder and to get a guaranteed price on the recreation center building. Architects have estimated it will cost about $18 million to build the 181,000-square-foot building.
• Bliss Sports will provide invoices to the city and to KU Endowment showing the amount it has been billed by King Construction. Bliss will be allowed to add a 10 percent management fee to those amounts. City officials said KU Endowment has indicated that is the standard management fee KU Endowment pays its contractors.
• The city won’t make any payments for the infrastructure until such time it is ready to take ownership of the recreation center and the 26 acres of property that will be included in the project.
• Under the terms of the agreement, the city does not yet know what percentage of the shared infrastructure costs it may pay for. It won’t know that amount until both the costs for the recreation center and the infrastructure are identified.
Maybe a few examples would be helpful. Say the city gets a bid for $15 million on the recreation center, and the infrastructure costs $13 million to build. In that scenario, the city would pay $15 million for the building and would pay $10 million of the $13 million in infrastructure costs.
On the flip side, say the city gets a bid of $20 million on the recreation center and the infrastructure costs $13 million to bid. In that scenario, the city would pay only $5 million of $13 million in infrastructure costs.
Or, say the city gets a $13 million bid for the recreation center and the infrastructure only costs $10 million to build. Under that scenario, the city would pay $23 million for the project instead of the agreed upon $25 million.
How likely that is to occur, I don’t know. What seems more likely: The city will pay $25 million for the project, which was going to be the case even before the city agreed to the open bidding process. But now, the city does have a bid process in place that will give it comfort that it will be getting a good value for its building.
Now, the city must ensure it will get a good value for the infrastructure. City officials I’ve talked to have said they’re comfortable they will. A majority of commissioners long have said they are willing to help KU cover some of the infrastructure costs for Rock Chalk Park. They note that it is not unusual for cities to help universities with projects that are expected to draw visitors or students to the community.
It also is worth noting that the city won’t pay any of the costs to construct the actual KU facilities, such as the track field stadium, soccer field and other such amenities. Those facilities are expected to cost about $40 million.
As for other details in the agreement, they include:
• The city will have the ability to hire a construction quality control manager that can inspect all portions of the infrastructure projects.
• Bliss Sports can be made to improve any portion of the infrastructure project, if the city, KU Endowment and the project architect believe the infrastructure doesn’t meet the agreed upon plans.
• Plans for the infrastructure can’t be changed, unless the city agrees to the changes in writing.
• Building permit fees and impact fees for both the infrastructure improvements and construction of the KU facilities will be rebated back to Bliss Sports or KU Endowment, whichever entity pays the fees.
• Several important details of agreement have yet to be released. The document posted by the city doesn’t yet include several exhibits and secondary agreements that will govern various aspects of the project. Those include agreements that spell out how the 26 acres for the recreation center will be transferred from KU Endowment to the city, and what specific KU facilities will be covered by industrial revenue bonds and the tax abatement that comes with those bonds.
Commissioners will discuss the agreement, and possibly vote to sign it, at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.
Online petition drive asks city commissioners to put $25M recreation center project up for citywide vote
There was a fairly interesting development this weekend related to the city’s proposed regional recreation center.
It started with an article in the Journal-World on Sunday about the various positions each City Commission candidate has taken on the proposed $25 million regional recreation center.
Candidate Scott Criqui said, among other things, that he would support the commission calling for a citywide election on the recreation center vote, if residents showed they really wanted a vote — like through a petition drive.
“If a group gathered 3,000 signatures or something like that, it would tell me that there is some concern out there,” Criqui said in the article. “But I haven’t heard of anyone who has done that yet.”
Well, Criqui might as well have said the word “abracadabra,” because by Sunday morning an online petition had begun.
The petition is active at the online site Change.org. The petition was started by some fellow named Nick Danger. I didn’t find a listing for him in the local phone directories, but I’m working under the assumption that Nick Danger might be an assumed name.
As of Monday morning, the petition had 69 signatures. I’m not overly familiar with Change.org, so I haven’t figured out yet how to see the full list of signatures. But the Web site shows several of the people who have signed, and it appears to be full of real-life people with real-life names.
It will be interesting to see what the number gets to by the time city commissioners are scheduled to perhaps take formal action on the recreation center project at their Feb 19 meeting.
The petition, of course, has no binding impact on the Lawrence City Commission. Its only impact will be whether a lot of signatures causes commissioners to reassess their thoughts on the need for an election.
Commissioners already have voted 5-0 to not put the issue on the ballot. Most of the commissioners have said that a 1994 sales tax vote for recreation projects and other needs made it clear that residents were in favor of such a project. Commissioner Mike Amyx, though, made his vote with the caveat that if residents presented a significant petition asking for a citywide vote, he would support putting the issue on the ballot.
I’m not sure what number, if any number, of signatures would cause a majority of commissioners to reconsider the idea of a citywide vote. As far as a legal petition that would force the city to place the issue on a ballot, I think that is a pretty tall order in Kansas.
But there is a state-prescribed referendum process for cities, and I believe in Lawrence it requires valid signatures totaling 25 percent or more of the number of voters in the last city election. (I’m basing this off what [I read online].) But if my interpretation is correct that the signatures only have to total 25 percent of the number of voters in the last election, then a successful petition would need somewhere between 1,700 to 2,700 signatures of registered voters. (I don’t have the exact number of voters in the 2011 election in Lawrence. There were 10,839 voters throughout the county in 2011, and I’m estimating about 7,000 of them were in Lawrence.)
If by chance I’m wrong, and you have to get 25 percent of the total number of people registered to vote, the number of signatures would grow to about 20,000. (I’ve got a call into the county clerk’s office to get a better education on this, and will update this post with what I learn.)
The referendum law also requires that the question on the ballot be a specific ordinance that would be adopted into law. So, asking a simple question of whether we should build a $25 million recreation center wouldn’t pass muster. It would have to be something like, an ordinance requiring public recreation projects totaling $25 million or more to be voted on by the voters of the city of Lawrence before construction can commence. (Again, I’m on a bit of shaky ground here in my understanding of the law.)
What is clear, is that an online petition is a heck of a lot easier. We’ll see where it goes.
UPDATE: I chatted briefly today with Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, and he confirmed that there is a process for putting issues on the ballot. Shew, though, said it is most likely to be used to call for a vote on an item that already has been approved by the City Commission, rather than proposing a new ordinance that the City Commission adopt.
How that would apply, if at all, to the recreation center issue, is a little tough to figure. But Shew said most of the Kansas laws regarding using a petition to put an issue on the ballot call for signatures equaling 25 percent or more of the voter total from the last city election. In Lawrence's case, that would be around 2,000 signatures.
So bottomline, if folks really want to try to create some sort of binding petition-drive, they'll need to do a bit more research with Shew, the city attorney or both.