Posts tagged with Recreation Center
Recreation center debate causes commissioner to question ‘relevance’ of Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods; other notes from last night’s Rock Chalk Park meeting
There will be all types of shots taken at the proposed Rock Chalk Park and the city’s $25 million recreation center. There will be bank shots, hook shots, 33-foot three-point shots, that come up three feet short, taken by my teammate who never passes the ball. You get the idea.
But at Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting, the project created one other type of shot: a shot over the bow.
City Commissioner Hugh Carter delivered one to the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods. The group had issued a formal statement criticizing how the city was moving forward with the project. Specifically, it called for the commission to hold a citywide election on the issue and questioned the proposed process that will allow the $25 million recreation center to be built using a bidding process that significantly deviates from the city’s open-bidding policy.
Carter on Tuesday said that he had read that statement and wished he could give it more weight. But he said he’s no longer convinced that LAN is representative of neighborhoods across the city.
“I’m concerned about the relevance of LAN at this point,” Carter said.
Carter pointed to the group’s letter that stated the association met and unanimously voted on the group’s position. But Carter questioned what that really meant. He said if LAN was representative of neighborhoods in the city, that would suggest that the majority of people in every neighborhood in the city were against this project. He called that idea “inconceivable.”
Of course, what I think the letter meant was that every voting member of LAN who was at the meeting voted in favor of the organization’s statement expressing concern about the project. The question is how many people actually were there to vote?
I asked that question shortly after the group came up with the statement, but I don’t have a real firm answer on it. About 20 people attended the LAN meeting, but not all of them are voting members. Generally, anybody can attend a LAN meeting, but you have to be appointed by your neighborhood association as a representative to LAN before you can vote. I don’t think LAN President Laura Routh was trying to hide the vote total when I asked her about it. I just think she didn’t have her meeting notes in front of her when I contacted her. She did say, though, that it was a well-attended meeting by LAN standards.
The idea that the organization has become more of an east Lawrence/central Lawrence dominated organization isn’t a new one. But it is not often that a city commissioner calls it out as publicly as Carter did on Tuesday.
“My feeling is that LAN is becoming more of a faction and more polarizing,” said Carter, who is leaving the commission in April when his term expires. He recently was named as the new vice president of external affairs for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
It will be interesting to watch relations between LAN and City Hall in the next few months. I don’t know enough about LAN’s current membership to provide insight on its reach across the city. It has, at times, had a good reach into west Lawrence. It was pretty active in that area during the time the city was debating whether to build a new Walmart at Sixth and Wakarusa.
It wasn’t long ago that you normally could count on someone with fairly strong LAN ties being a significant candidate for a City Commission seat each election. But that trend has diminished some the last couple of elections.
Routh is a newly elected president for LAN, and that will be interesting to watch too. In the past she has frequently questioned the City Commission on several issues ranging from operations of the police department to transparency at City Hall.
Whether LAN becomes more or less of a player at City Hall remains to be seen. One thing that is certain is that my basketball buddy will be looking up what a “shot over the bow” is. If there is a shot to be taken — and missed — he certainly wants to know about it.
While we’re on the subject, here are a couple of other news items and notes from the Rock Chalk Park debate last night at City Hall:
• City commissioners agreed 5-0 that they aren’t planning on putting the idea of a $25 million recreation center project to a citywide vote. Commissioners conceded they have been questioned by residents about it, but they are sticking to the position they previously have expressed.
That position is that because the project isn’t raising any new taxes a vote isn’t necessary. The city held citywide elections related to sales tax increases for the T, for public infrastructure, and most recently for a property tax increase to expand the Lawrence Public Library.
But all of those projects involved tax increases. This project will be paid for through existing revenues from a sales tax approved by voters in 1994 for recreation and other projects. Some residents, however, have argued that given the city will be adding $25 million worth of debt to its books for this project, that a vote would be appropriate.
Commissioners on Tuesday indicated they were concerned about setting a precedent that every large project had to be subject to a citywide vote. Instead, they said they believed residents still supported the idea of electing commissioners to make those types of decisions.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx went along with the statement, but he said he would support putting the issue to a vote, if a significant number of residents presented a petition seeking a vote. Details on how many people would need to sign weren’t clear.
• City Manager David Corliss did alert commissioners that they likely will see a request in the coming weeks for industrial revenue bonds related to the Rock Chalk Park project and Thomas Fritzel’s entity, Bliss Sports, that will be building and financing the facilities for KU.
The idea of an IRB for the project has come up before but hasn’t got a lot of attention because the project was still working its way through other issues. Industrial revenue bonds have to be issued by the city, but the city is not financially obligated to pay those bonds in case of a default. Private companies often seek the bonds because they provide lower financing rates and some tax advantages. For example, construction materials are exempt from sales tax, if the project is being paid for with industrial revenue bonds.
• Ernie Shaw, the leader of the city’s parks and recreation department provided a new set of numbers to city commissioners last night to try to alleviate concerns that the proposed 181,000 square-foot, eight-gym recreation center would be too large.
He said new numbers for 2012 showed that the city had 123 youth basketball teams in parks and recreation programs, with about 1,200 kids participating. In total about 500 games were played, and the department tries to provide gym space for at least one hour of practice per week for each team. Currently, the city essentially owns three gyms where it can provide those practice sessions and relies heavily on use of school district gyms to accommodate both the teams.
The department also has about 155 adult basketball teams in its program and about 200 volleyball teams, Shaw said.
“I’ve been here 40 years now, and I can tell you that we continue to fill up our facilities,” Shaw said. “It is not a stretch to think that parks and recreation, that the community, needs a facility this size.”
Lawrence Chamber of Commerce takes official stance in favor of $25M recreation center, proposed Rock Chalk Park
It sure feels like the proposal to build a $25 million city recreation center as part of a public-private Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence is entering a new phase.
Another large community group has taken a formal position on the project. This time, it is the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, and the city’s largest business organization is supportive of the project.
“The entire Lawrence community will benefit from this world-class facility,” Doug Gaumer, chair of the chamber's board of directors, said in a statement. “The Rock Chalk Park Sports Park project will help build our community’s infrastructure and enhance the amenities and quality of life that make Lawrence a desirable place to live and work.”
If you remember last week, the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods — the city’s largest neighborhood organization — issued an official position that it thought the city should hold a citywide election on the idea of whether the city should proceed with the $25 million regional recreation center portion of the project. It also expressed concerns that the recreation center project is proposed go through a bidding process that deviates from the city’s typical bidding policy.
The chamber in its statement on Monday said it does not see the need for a citywide election.
“We understand that no tax increase will be necessary for construction of this project and therefore no public vote on the issue is necessary,” Gaumer said in the statement. “We urge the city approve the necessary zoning and special use permit necessary to build Rock Chalk Sports Park, and provide a much-needed and long-overdue amenity for its citizens.”
City commissioners are scheduled to vote on the zoning and the special use permit for the project at their Tuesday evening meeting. Tuesday’s vote, however, doesn’t yet commit the city to build the $25 million recreation center portion of the project.
Commissioners won’t make any commitments to build the recreation center at the site until they have been presented with formal agreements between KU entities and a private company led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, who are all part of the proposed partnership for the park.
The city is projecting those agreements will be completed by the commission’s Feb. 19 meeting.
How about a special Saturday edition of Town Talk.
The citizens group Cadre Lawrence hosted a public forum on the proposed recreation center and Rock Chalk Park project for northwest Lawrence Saturday morning.
Not a whole lot of new information came out of the forum. The panel was made up entirely of supporters of the project, so it wasn’t the type of event where there was much back and forth. Members of the audience also had to submit questions on note cards, so there weren’t many opportunities for the public to voice their opinions on the project.
But here’s a quick look at a few comments made by panel participants.
• Sean Lester, senior associate athletics director for KU, made one of the more definitive statements of the day. He said KU will not be allowing any concerts to be held in the proposed 10,000-seat track and field stadium. He said the risk to the world-class track and field surfaces would just be too great.
But other speakers made it clear that there could be other non-athletic events happening in the Rock Chalk Park. City Commissioner Mike Dever said the community shouldn’t be closing doors on future opportunities when it comes to non-athletic events at the facility.
The parking lot itself — it will have more than 1,400 paved spaces — is large enough to accommodate large events on its own. Think of some of the events that have closed downtown streets in the past. The idea of street dances with adult beverages have become popular in downtown in the last few years. Whether some of those events would migrate to the new location, I’m not sure.
Also not mentioned Saturday morning is just what the mover-and-shakers of this project have in mind with a future amphitheater and an indoor arena. Neither are included in phase one of the project, but there is space mapped out for each of those uses in future phases. Both of those uses seem to indicate that there has been some thought given to the area becoming a concert venue. The information submitted to the city shows a future arena would have “3,000 seats for sporting events and an additional 800 seats for concerts.”
The project leaders seem to be skittish about talking about non-athletic events at the site, I suppose because it could increase opposition from some neighbors. (Although neighbors are few at the moment.) My sense is, however, there would be plenty of people who would be excited about the area becoming a concert venue.
Lawrence is a music town, and an ability to hold larger-scale concerts would add to the economic development impact of the facility. Maybe I’m wrong, though. Maybe the community would revolt against such an idea.
• Lester also confirmed that KU eventually will look to sell naming rights for the park. “Who ever came up with the idea of Rock Chalk Park, that is great,” Lester said. “But we would love to put someone’s name in front of that.”
KU, however, won’t have any ability to sell naming rights for the city’s recreation center. City commissioners would control that process.
• Jana Dawson, a member of the city’s parks and recreation advisory board, said it would cost the city more money to build a recreation center on property the city already owns near Wakarusa and Overland Drive in northwest Lawrence.
That statement probably needs some qualifiers. If you were to build exactly the same size of facility, there are numbers that suggest that is accurate. (Although, it is unclear how fully the city has studied its options at that site.)
But it is worth remembering that in November 2011, city commissioners expressed support for an idea that would build a five gym recreation center with a wellness center, walking track and fitness area for $12 million in public money and about $3 million in private donations.
Since that time the project has grown in both size and cost. The current proposal has eight gyms, an indoor turf area, outdoor lighted tennis courts, a gymnastics area and other features. The cost is now $25 million, plus several million dollars in interest the city will pay on the 20-year bonds it will have to issue to fund the project.
What has remained the same is the city's plans to pay for it through proceeds from an existing sales tax. The money has become available because the city is retiring debt on several other projects, including the Eagle Bend Golf Course and the Lawrence-Douglas County Community Health building. (A previous version of this article also listed the Indoor Aquatics Center. That was a mistake. That debt already has been paid off.)
City Manager David Corliss said the need to have more than five gyms could be supported by national statistics. City officials frequently quote a national statistic that indicates a city of Lawrence’s size ought to have about 18 more gyms than it does.
Corliss also said there were questions about whether the smaller facility would provide much of an economic development benefit to the city in terms of attracting tournaments to town. It should be noted, though, that when the city was discussing the idea of a five gym facility, commissioners were enthusiastic about its ability to attract tournaments to the city. Plus, the nearby New Century Fieldhouse in Johnson County is an 88,000-square-foot facility with four gyms and an indoor soccer field. Officials there have had success in attracting tournaments to the facility. We’ve previously reported that when it opened in June 2011, the project — which renovated a warehouse — had a price tag of $8.2 million plus interest costs.
• City Commissioner Mike Dever clearly has become one of the more passionate supporters of the project. He made a closing statement where he tried to give assurances to the public that the city was poised to make a good investment with the project.
“I know the vision of this facility scares some people,” Dever said. “It is a large project. But I think the city is in as good a position as it can possibly be to take on this project.”
He said it is common to read national publicity about how Lawrence has as rich a basketball history as any community in the country. Yet, he said the city hasn’t done enough to capitalize on it.
“We’re told that the history of basketball is as robust here as it is anywhere, yet we don’t even have enough courts for our kids to play and practice on,” he said. “Our goal on this project has been to measure twice and cut once. We have measured and measured and measured.
“I can tell you that the sum of the parts of this project are more valuable than the individual pieces.”
The public will have a chance to weigh in on the project in a more traditional public hearing format at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, as commissioners consider zoning issues and a special use permit for the project.
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.
Questions emerge about how much Fritzel and his foundation will control operations of KU facilities at proposed Rock Chalk Park
It is becoming a bit clearer that Lawrence may be getting more than just a publicly owned sports complex with the proposed Rock Chalk Park.
Saying it is getting a bit clearer, however, is kind of like saying the Kansas River is clearer than a tar pit. But in recent days the public has started to hear rumblings that Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Foundation is set to play a major role in the operation of the KU facilities at Rock Chalk Park.
Tuesday night, Mayor Bob Schumm confirmed to me that it is his “understanding” that the Bliss Foundation will have a master lease over all the KU facilities at the proposed Rock Chalk Park, which would be just north of the northeast intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Schumm said he hadn’t yet seen any documents related to Bliss Foundation’s operational role in the facility, but his understanding is that the Kansas University Endowment Association will own the land, but Fritzel’s foundation will be offered a land lease on the property. Kansas University Athletics then will have an agreement with the foundation spelling out KU Athletics’ use of the facilities, which will include a 10,000-seat track and field stadium, a soccer field, softball stadium and nearly 40,000 square feet of indoor training space and an indoor softball field.
It also will include acres and acres of ground. The first phase of the Rock Chalk Park is listed at 90 acres, although 20 of those acres are scheduled to be owned by the city and won’t be subject to any lease agreement with Fritzel’s foundation.
The whole situation has at least one neighbor to the property — landowner Jack Graham — questioning how the public should expect this sports complex to be used. Specifically, will the agreements between Fritzel’s foundation and KU give Fritzel the right to host multiple events that have nothing to do with KU athletics or even athletics in general?
As we reported Tuesday, city planning staff members are highlighting that the project’s special use permit will allow for non-athletic events to be held at the complex. The report indicates the city hasn’t yet seen specific plans for what that might entail. But the report lists some examples, including music concerts, festivals, BBQ cookoffs, car shows, and BMX or Motocross events. Or think about all those runs and street dances that currently happen downtown.
The staff report even mentioned tractor pulls, but that probably isn’t the most likely of happenings. Music concerts, however, may be a different deal. We noted with interest when plans showed a 4,000-seat amphitheater for the complex. The amphitheater is no longer shown in phase one of the development, but a site on the property is still set aside for an amphitheater.
When I asked Schumm Tuesday night whether he understand the role that the Bliss Foundation would have in operating the KU facilities and potentially booking them for events, Schumm said: “I’m not certain at this time that I do.”
But city commissioners went ahead and gave round one approval for the zoning of the property on Tuesday. The city, however, still must approve the zoning ordinance on second reading, and there was some talk about delaying that vote until a bit more information emerges.
I’ll attempt to get more information today from KU Endowment and from Fritzel.
But in the meantime, think about this: The Rock Chalk Park already is designed to be a basketball magnet, with the city’s mega recreation center scheduled to have eight full court gyms. If music concerts become part of the plan, watch out. It is difficult to think of two things that Lawrence loves more than basketball and music. (There are a couple of other things I can think of, but I’m not sure they’re legal.)
This complex has been sold so far with economic development in mind, and using this as a concert venue would boost that potential. But loud outdoor music concerts come with their own set of challenges.
It will be interesting to watch, but if basketball and music become the new strategy, I’ve already got the marketing tag line: Rock Chalk and Rock ’n’ Roll.
Planning commission recommends approval of permit for sports complex/rec center, which now contemplates hosting non-athletic events
They didn’t exactly break out in the Rock Chalk chant, but the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on Monday night did recommend approval of a key special use permit for the proposed Rock Chalk Sports Park near the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Planning commissioners voted 6-3 to recommend approval for the proposed sports complex, which would combine Kansas University facilities with a city-owned mega recreation center.
The special use permit spells out the general uses at the site, and they are much as we have reported them over the past several months: A 10,000-seat track and field stadium, a 2,500-seat soccer field, a 1,000-seat softball stadium and a 28,000-square-foot indoor training center plus a 14,000-square-foot area for an indoor softball field. All those facilities would be university-owned.
The city-owned facilities would include a 181,000-square-foot recreation center/youth field house and eight, outdoor lighted tennis courts.
The plan also shows a host of other future improvements that could be contemplated by the university at some point. They include: A 3,800-seat indoor arena that could accommodate sporting events and concerts; a 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheater; eight tennis courts and an indoor tennis facility; and a lacrosse field.
All the items are still subject to tweaking, but the general outline of the project is starting to become more solid. The SUP application does make one thing clear: Rock Chalk Park will need a major variance from the city’s parking standards.
According to the city staff report reviewing the project, the various uses of Rock Chalk Park would require 5,244 parking spaces under the city’s current code. The plan proposes to provide 1,454 paved parking spaces plus another 700 unpaved spaces for overflow parking.
The city’s planning director, though, said the project makes a good case for receiving an exemption from the code. It is unlikely uses will be occurring simultaneously at all facilities in the park. A parking study estimates that 520 spaces would be needed to handle a typical day at the recreation center plus accommodate a soccer match at the facility. About 1,000 spaces would be need to accommodate a large basketball or volleyball tournament plus either a softball or soccer event.
The city’s review of the project, however, acknowledges there likely will be some events that the proposed parking won’t be able to accommodate. The proposed parking is estimated to accommodate an event of about 6,400 people. The track and field stadium, however, is designed to seat 10,000 people.
The city’s planning staff is recommending the project be allowed to proceed with the proposed parking because the large events won’t be frequent, and a plan can be developed to provide shuttles to the event. The city mentioned deals might be reached to run shuttles from Free State High School or from the KU Park and Ride Lot.
Who knows whether the Kansas Relays or perhaps a Kansas high school state track meet will ever fill the stadium, but the special use permit also brings up the possibility of the site hosting non-athletic events. The city and KU haven’t laid out any specific plans for what type of non-athletic events they might be interested in, but the staff report provides a few examples: Music concerts; festivals; BBQ cook-offs; farmers markets; racing and vehicle exhibitions, including BMX and Motocross racing and truck and tractor pulls. The idea of non-sports related events seemed to be part of the reason why the SUP drew three negative votes on Monday. The city is proposing that any non-athletic event receive a special events permit from the city. Each such a permit would have to be approved by the City Commission. But some planners argued that there should be a more rigorous notification process to let neighbors of the sports complex know an event permit application has been filed.
Commissioners Deron Belt, Jon Josserand and Bryan Culver voted against the SUP on Monday.
The Planning Commission’s recommendation now goes to the Lawrence City Commission, which will consider giving final approval to the SUP. A date for that hearing hasn’t yet been set.
City commissioners, though, will be taking action tonight on the proposed zoning of the property. Commissioners are scheduled to approve rezoning for 90 acres from Agricultural to General Public and Institutional Uses. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall.