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Consultants recommending naming new Rock Chalk Park recreation center SportQuest; local Eagles lodge closed following investigation

Get ready, Lawrence. You soon may be embarking on a quest. I'm almost certain it won't require a hobbit, three rings or even a donkey and windmills, for that matter. No, think a quest for a championship. Think a quest for success.

Start thinking SportQuest. It soon may be the name of the city's new multimillion dollar recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.

A consulting firm hired by the city is recommending the 181,000-square-foot, eight-gym center be named SportQuest at Rock Chalk Park. Or, at least that will be part of the name. Consultants also are recommending that the city seek to find a title sponsor for the center. In that case it could be something like: Hy-Vee SportQuest at Rock Chalk Park, or OrthoKansas SportQuest at Rock Chalk Park, or Dick's Sporting Goods SportQuest at Rock Chalk Park. None of those companies, of course, have agreed to that, but they were among several companies listed as prospects in a report prepared for city officials.

The marketing firm — Premier Sports Management — is estimating a corporate sponsorship for the center could generate $95,000 to $125,000 a year for the center, minus the cost of signs and Premier's 20 percent commission. The company thinks there also is the potential to attract two or three presenting sponsors that would have signs in spaces such as the gyms, fitness area, turf field and other such spaces. Those sponsorships could fetch $40,000 to $75,000 per sponsor. In total, the city hopes to generate at least $225,000 a year in revenue, minus the commission.

We've previously reported on the likelihood the city would pursue corporate naming of the center. But it still will be interesting to see how the public reacts. In a memo to commissioners, parks and recreation leaders note that some in the public may be opposed to the corporate nature of the idea, but staff members said without the revenue from sponsorships, they may have to consider the idea of "memberships and other general use charges."

As for the name SportQuest, that is being recommended by the Lawrence-based marketing firm Miller Meiers. The company says it is important for the facility to have a name that distinguishes it from the facilities — such as the track and field, soccer and softball facilities — that will be used by Kansas University. The name also should give the center a "distinct persona from other facilities in the state and region."

The Miller Meiers team is recommending SportQuest in part because the center is designed to serve as a sporting facility for youth tournaments but also as a wellness and fitness center for local residents. The idea is there may be teams on a quest for a championship, while there may be others users who are on a quest for health and wellness.

The company considered some other names. They included: AdAstra, OneLawrence, Freedom, Kanza, Victory, SportsOmni, and SportsPlex.

One that did not make the list, but that I had heard early one was The Rock at Rock Chalk Park. It was edgy, and I'm almost certain we could have gotten the actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to regularly serve as a weekend referee at the center.

It will be interesting to see whether any name besides Rock Chalk Park ever truly sticks to this center. Rock Chalk Park has become such a strong name in the community already, I can already hear kids saying: "We're going to be playing at Rock Chalk this weekend."

In other news and notes from around town:

• There is mystery surrounding the local Eagles Lodge today. The club and banquet facility at 1803 W. Sixth Street is closed, and a notice on the door says the club's charter has been suspended by the national Fraternal Order of Eagles.

The notice says a "thorough investigation" found at least a half-dozen violations of the by-laws of the organization, including violations of presidential duty, secretarial duty, treasurer duty and auditor duties.

The club is frequently used for wedding receptions and other events. I'm not clear on how this suspension will impact people who have booked events at the facility. The notice stated an agent was being appointed for the location, and the agent would have broad powers to act immediately. So maybe the facility will reopen soon. I called the national headquarters, and an employee there was unaware of the suspension of the club's charter. I'm reaching out to local leaders of the club now, and will provide an update when I have one.

UPDATE: I got in touch with Caleb Regan, who was the club president at the time the suspension of the club's charter occurred. He said the club is meeting with an agent from the national organization on April 18, and hopes to have the club reopened by April 19.

Regan would only characterize the reason for the club's closure as "errors of an operational nature."

"It is not a financial issue or a criminal issue," Regan said.

He said the closure does mean that the club's regular Friday night bingo games are on hiatus until the club reopens. He said if the club is able to reopen by April 19, the closure will not impact any wedding receptions or other similar events booked for the club. A fundraiser for the Toys for Tots and Blue Santa programs is scheduled to go on as planned at 4:30 p.m. on April 19.

"As long as we have certain things in place by then, we're hopeful that we'll be allowed to continue operating after that point," Regan said.

Regan said a Lawrence flea market event scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday will be allowed to take place in the parking lot of the facility.

The club has about 600 members and auxiliary members, Regan said. But the club is open to the public at various times, such as for bingo and a host of events. Prior to the shutdown, the club had been discussing a possible sale of its building, and moving to a smaller location.

"It is prime real estate, and we really don't utilize all the space all the time," Regan said.

He said he does expect the club to bounce back from its current troubles.

"I am disappointed but we just have to do whatever we can to get the operations up and rolling again," Regan said. "We do a lot of good through charities in town, and it is important for us to be an institution in Lawrence."

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    Home sales in city up by 7 percent for 2014; update on city bus hub; more numbers on Rock Chalk Park infrastructure

    I spent my weekend hosting an overnight birthday party for six 11-year old boys, so I know a thing or two about being in the market for more space (You know what they say: Two's company, three's a crowd, and six is an insane asylum.)

    According to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors, there were a few other space-hunters out there as well. Through February of 2014, home sales in the city are up a solid 7 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

    February isn't particularly a big month for home sales, but the next several months sure are. The spring season will go a long way in determining whether Lawrence's real estate market posts a third straight year of rising sales.

    It is a little too soon yet to predict whether that will be the case. While home sales are up for the year, the pace of growth does seem to be slowing some in recent months. For example, February's home sales were up just 4 percent compared with February 2013. That continues a slowdown trend that began about midyear 2013. During the first half of 2013, sales were up 29 percent over the same period a year earlier. In the second half of 2013, sales growth slowed to 6 percent. But all of this may be me just being unnecessarily jittery. (Funny how watching a golf cart loaded with six boys jumping through a ring of fire will do that to you.)

    Regardless, here's a look at some other statistics from the most recent report.

    — The number of active listings on the Lawrence market is down to 344, which is about 7 percent less than a year ago. That drop generally has been viewed as a positive sign that the market has heated up from where it was a few years ago. It is interesting to note that the number of newly constructed homes on the market is 45, which is up from 32 a year ago. That's a sign that builders have had more confidence in the market in recent months. Whether that confidence will be repaid is the big question for the spring season. In February, only one newly constructed home sold. That's down from six a year earlier.

    — The median sale price for homes in 2014 is $149,700, down 14 percent from a year ago. But I wouldn't pay much attention to those numbers just yet. The drop likely is due to the small sample size, not a reflection that housing values are going down . The numbers, though, are probably a good indication that smaller, less expensive houses are what's selling best right now.

    — The median number of days that a home sits on the market before selling is 84, which is almost unchanged from 86 a year ago.

    — The number of pending contracts at the end of February was 93, down from 143 at the end of February 2013. Pending contracts are a decent indicator of what to expect in the month ahead, so this may be the one number that creates some concern for the industry. The 93 contracts, however, are still a pretty healthy number, but just not the huge number that was posted a year ago.

    Bottom line: We'll just have to wait and see where all this lands. If nothing else, the golf cart has taught me that.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • If you are interested in the city's transit system, mark your calendars for April 21. The city has scheduled a meeting at 6 p.m. at Fire Station No. 5, 19th and Iowa streets, to further discuss the possibility of placing a new transit center along Iowa Street.

    As we reported in October, the city has an interest in vacant property near 21st and Iowa streets to use as a transit hub, which would serve as the main transfer point for bus routes in the city. The city has conducted a traffic analysis for the area, and wants to share the results of that study with neighborhood members and others at the April 21 meeting.

    City commissioners likely will be asked to make a decision on the site sometime in May. The site is on the northeast corner of 21st and Iowa streets. City officials also had been interested in a site near Ninth and Iowa streets, basically behind The Merc's building. But as we reported in October, KU officials haven't been wild about that site. KU — which also will use the hub for many of its bus routes — wanted a location closer to campus. The owners of the Ninth and Iowa property also must not be wild about the idea. City officials said they recently have not been successful in setting up any discussions with the owners of the Ninth and Iowa property.

    We reported a couple of weeks ago about how construction crews are racing to get a lot of street, parking lot and other infrastructure work done at Rock Chalk Park ahead of the Kansas Relays in mid-April.

    Well, the city has produced a new report on Rock Chalk Park work, and it gives a few more numbers on how the project is proceeding. Among the findings:

    — At the end of December 54 percent of all the infrastructure work at the complex was complete. That is about $6.6 million of the projected $12.2 million in infrastructure costs. As it currently stands, the city is projected to pay for about $10 million of that work. Bill Self's Assists Foundation is projected to pay for up $2 million of the work. Neither Kansas University, nor the private development group that will own the property, is currently projected to pay for any of the infrastructure work.

    — An update on how much infrastructure work was done at the end of February wasn't included in the report. But the report noted no infrastructure work was completed in January because of the weather.

    — In February, city inspectors noticed the site wasn't complying with regulations designed to keep construction dirt and other materials out of city storm sewers. Inspectors issued a notice of violation to the project, with instructions to add appropriate sediment barriers to the site within two weeks. City staff reports the corrections were made.

    — As previously reported, some cracks have shown up on the concrete parking lots and streets at the project. City staff members now have more precise numbers on that issue. After walking the entire project, about 3 percent of the panels in the parking lot have cracks and about 2 percent in the streets are cracked. The report notes that the developer will need to make repairs to the panels before the work is accepted by the city.

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    Construction crews racing to get Rock Chalk Park finished for KU Relays; trash day to change for many Lawrence households

    Maybe you are like me on this sad morning: sleep-deprived and desperately looking for something to take your mind off that Jayhawk basketball game. No, the loss didn't keep me up, but that freaky looking Stanford Tree on the sideline sure did. (Stanford's earth science professors must be very proud.)

    I've always found quickly switching gears to another sport helps ease March Madness heartbreak. (Easing heartbreak and the Kansas City Royals have always gone hand in hand.) But perhaps track and field is just the sport this year. After all, KU has a National Championship program.

    It also has a race of a different type on its hands this year. Construction crews are racing to complete a long list of items to make the new Rock Chalk Park track and field stadium ready to host the Kansas Relays in mid-April.

    As we previously reported, the university will be seeking a temporary occupancy permit that will allow the Kansas Relays to be held at Rock Chalk Park from April 16 to 19. City officials recently have provided a substantial list of improvements that need to be made to infrastructure at the site in order for the city to issue the temporary occupancy permit.

    The list includes some concrete work that has been done but apparently hasn't held up well since its recent construction. Crews are being instructed by the city to replace 13 panels of concrete on Rock Chalk Drive that have significant cracking. The city is requiring removal of the concrete, re-installation of dowel bars, and pouring of new concrete as a condition of approval for the temporary occupancy permit.

    If you remember, we previously reported that an inspector at the site noticed in November that crews incorrectly had prepared an area for a concrete pour. When notified of the incorrect methods, construction crews went ahead with the pour anyway. City staff members have said that joint needs to be repaired, and they have listed that area as needing replacement before the the temporary permit will be issued.

    City officials previously have said they are pleased with the overall quality of the concrete work and other work being conducted by Bliss Sports, the Lawrence-based firm that was awarded the no-bid contract to build the infrastructure at the site. It also should be noted that there are hundreds, if not more than a thousand, panels of concrete that have been poured at the Rock Chalk site, so I will leave it to people more experienced than I to figure out whether the current cracking problems are anything unusual.

    In addition to replacing some concrete, there are several other items that need to be addressed before the Relays can be held at the new facility, which is expected to be one of the top track and field venues in the country. Here's a look at the other items city officials are requiring for the permit:

    — Completion of at least five different street intersections at or near the site;

    — Sealing of all joints along Rock Chalk Drive and George Williams Way;

    — Completion of public sidewalks leading to the stadium;

    — Completion of curbs and gutters for streets and parking lots that will be used for the relays;

    — Installation of traffic signs.

    With a little bit of help from Mother Nature, I expect construction crews will figure out how to get all that done. But one issue that wasn't addressed in the city memo I saw is the issue of lighting at the site. City officials have conceded that they erred by allowing work to begin at the site prior to city commissioners approving a lighting plan for the project. A neighbor to the site, Jack Graham, has expressed concern about the current lighting situation, and the last we reported was that city officials were still reviewing information on the lighting. City commissioners haven't yet approved a lighting plan for the site.

    I'm not sure how much of the Kansas Relays is planned to be held under lights. I'll do some checking around, though, to determine whether the lighting issue is something that will have to be addressed prior to the Relays receiving a city permit. City commissioners are scheduled to receive a briefing on the issue at their Tuesday evening meeting.

    In the meantime, I'll also try to get that Stanford Tree out of my head once and for all. I'm not sure track and field is going to do it, but I have figured out what will: golf. Give me a driver and a golf ball, and I can guarantee that tree will get what's coming to it.

    In other news and notes around town:

    • Here's a bold prediction: A few Lawrence garages may stink for the first couple of weeks in May. That's because a few people may forget to set out the trash on the right day in early May as the city implements a major change in its trash route system.

    The city on May 6 plans to implement a new route system that will change when trash is picked up for about half the households in the city. The change is part of the city's preparations to implement a curbside recycling program in October.

    There is no easy way for me to describe the changes, so I'll point you to the map below. It shows which days of the week neighborhoods will be served.

    A map of the proposed trash routes for the city. The new routes are scheduled to begin on May 6. Photo: City of Lawrence

    A map of the proposed trash routes for the city. The new routes are scheduled to begin on May 6. Photo: City of Lawrence by Chad Lawhorn

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    City getting serious about a downtown ice rink; update on naming rights at Rock Chalk

    Maybe by the next Winter Olympics I won't have to convert my kitchen floor into an ice rink to participate in the beautiful sport of figure skating.

    As we reported in December, leaders with Lawrence Parks and Recreation had some interest in a downtown, outdoor ice skating rink. Well, the idea has gained momentum.

    The department is spending about $1,200 to have the architects of the Lawrence Public Library expansion determine how the plaza area between the library and the new parking garage could be modified to accommodate a rink.

    Jimmy Gibbs, one of the department's division managers, said it appears the plaza could accommodate a 60-by-80-foot rink if one of the three planned terraces is removed.

    The rink, which could hold about 125 skaters at a time, would be designed to be disassembled when not in use so the plaza could be used for summer concerts and other such events.

    But parks and recreation leaders also are considering artificial ice. The parks and recreation department in Grandview, Mo., operates a rink with artificial ice and the reviews apparently have been good. The product is a slick, smooth plastic like material that allows skaters to use regular ice skates.

    "We could have a Christmas in July event in downtown if we wanted to," Gibbs said.

    Bringing more people to downtown Lawrence, especially during the winter, is a big reason behind the ice rink idea, which has received preliminary support from City Manager David Corliss.

    The idea of artificial ice may make the project more financially feasible. It is estimated that electricity for a real ice rink could cost about $5,000 a week, especially during a mild winter when temperatures are frequently above freezing.

    City officials are researching the cost of an artificial rink, but they think there would be around $100,000 in upfront costs. The city would try to recoup those costs through skate rentals and by finding an area company to sponsor the rink, Gibbs said.

    Parks and recreation leaders should know more in the next few weeks about the feasibility of the plan. Ultimately, city commissioners will be asked to weigh in.

    In the meantime, I'm going to keep practicing. The Olympics have so inspired me, I think I'll try one of these triple sow-cow jumps I've been hearing about. What's that? It's spelled Salchow. Oh.

    Boys, load those pigs back up.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Let's stay in the world of recreation and provide an update on the 181,000-square-foot recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. City officials are trying to figure out what to name that center, and it appears they are at least open to the idea of allowing a corporate sponsorship type of name for the facility.

    Ernie Shaw, leader of the parks and recreation department, told me that a consulting firm has told the city that it may be able to garner $75,000 to $125,000 a year for the naming rights at the center. City commissioners haven't made a decision that they want to go in that direction — in fact, the commission hasn't publicly discussed it — but I'm told that city officials at least want to explore the idea.

    Shaw said his department will recommend that the center have a sort of secondary name as well, so that if a sponsor drops out in future years that the city doesn't have to start over from a marketing and branding standpoint.

    The consulting firm estimates that the city could generate another $75,000 to $125,000 a year in naming rights for certain indoor areas of the center, such as the gymnastics area, indoor track and other such areas.

    It will be interesting to see if the Lawrence has the corporate base to support such sponsorships, and even more interesting to see which corporations or other organizations may want to have their name on the facility.

    • Gov. Sam Brownback should expect to hear from the Lawrence City Commission soon. At the suggestion of City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, the commission will send a letter to Brownback urging him to expand the state's Medicaid program under the provisions of Obamacare.

    Farmer, who works with a host of low-income families as the director of Just Food, said he's frustrated the state isn't accepting the federal government's offer to pay for the vast majority of an expansion of the state's Medicaid program. Farmer said he's generally not supportive of the City Commission telling the state how to spend its money — the city does not like it when the state does that to them — but Farmer said this is different because the state is rejecting federal funding for the program.

    Some state officials have expressed concern that the federal funding for the program may not always be in place, which then would leave the state with a difficult funding decision to make.

    Commissioner Terry Riordan, a Lawrence physician, strongly supported Farmer's suggestion for a letter. Other commissioners also said they were fine with it. None of the commissioners, however, were real optimistic that a letter from the city of Lawrence was going to do much to change the governor's thinking.

    Farmer said he thought the city should be on record as supportive of the idea nonetheless. The idea of writing a letter to the state wasn't part of last Tuesday's city commission agenda, but Farmer suggested the idea near the end of the meeting. I'll let you know if I see a copy of the letter.

    Reply 8 comments from Michael Dennis Bob Forer Wayne Kerr James Howlette Kingfisher Rick Masters

    City may leave downtown Christmas lights up until Valentine’s Day; update on Rock Chalk Park construction

    Next year, I'm going to have the folks at the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department write a note for me. I need something to convince my wife that my reluctance to put away the Christmas lights isn't laziness. Well, now the parks and recreation department is proving that I simply was trying to give the public what it wanted.

    A good portion of the Christmas lights strung in downtown Lawrence will remain up for at least a few more weeks, parks and recreation leaders have decided. Mark Hecker, assistant director of parks and recreation, said the lights would remain up through at least the end of January and perhaps through Valentine's Day.

    "I think people may start getting tired of them in a week or so, but right now people really like them and want us to keep them up," Hecker said.

    Several downtown merchants have expressed an interest in the lights remaining on, and visitors seem to like the idea too.

    "I think it is a great idea because it is just so dark out right now," said Kevin Loos, chair of the city's parks and recreation advisory board, which was recently briefed on the decision. "I was downtown recently and came out of a restaurant, and it was great to have some light."

    As we previously reportedd, the city has a real interest in trying to get more people into the downtown area during the winter season. City officials even are considering the idea of a temporary ice rink in future years. Perhaps the lights will become part of a "Winter Wonderland" theme that city officials are trying to create.

    Once again, I think I may be a step ahead of the city on that one. I use the Winter Wonderland moniker frequently. I tell my wife that's what I'm trying to create by not shoveling the snow out of the driveway.

    I may need a note for that one too.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The next time you are out by Sixth Street and George Williams Way, take a look to the north. Work on the city's 181,000-square-foot recreation center at Rock Chalk Park is progressing to the point that you can get a sense of how large the facility is going to be.

    Parks and Recreation officials recently were updated on the construction project, which has reached the point where cranes are lifting the pre-poured concrete walls. Already, about 60 of the walls have been stood up and put in place. By next week, steel girders will start being placed atop the building to support the roof.

    Plans still call for the facility, which will have eight full-court gyms, an indoor turf field, a gymnastics room, a walking track, cardio and weight room and several other features, to be open by late summer.

    Members of the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board did ask parks and recreation leaders about the recent news regarding concerns with the concrete work on a portion of the project. Engineers raised concerns about one concrete pour on a small portion of a key entrance road to the complex.

    But board members were told that overall city officials are very pleased with the work the contractors are doing at the site.

    "I have been involved with a lot of construction projects, and there is nothing that is ever perfect," said Ernie Shaw, the city's acting director of parks and recreation. "But from our standpoint, this project has been as good or better than any I have been involved in."

    • While we are on the subject, there has been talk going around in some construction circles in the city that a stop-work order has been issued for a major portion of what is commonly referred to as the KU side of the Rock Chalk Park complex. Upon hearing that rumor, I checked in with the city's inspection department, and it is partly accurate and partly not.

    Scott McCullough, the city director of planning and development services, confirmed that construction crews have been instructed not to proceed on a small portion of the locker room/clubhouse building that is between the track and field and soccer facilities. But McCullough said the city has not issued a stop work order that shuts down all construction on the project.

    Instead, he said the issue involves the type of building material being used to construct a few walls inside the facility. During their routine checks, inspectors on site determined that the stud material for a handful of walls did not meet fire code. McCullough, though, said the problem wasn't found on all the walls in the building. Instead, it just showed up in some minor structures such half walls built around locker room hot tubs, built-in benches and other such areas.

    McCullough said the contractor a plan is developing a plan to replace that stud material with material that meets the fire standards. (I'm not sure of all the details on this case, but one example of such an issue is replacing wooden studs with metal studs.)

    In talking with McCullough, I really don't think this is a major issue and shouldn't produce any significant delay on the project. But the project is the subject of quite a bit of public interest, and I heard the talk, so I wanted to clear it up.

    • Construction work hasn't yet begun on the system of walking and running trails to be built on the Rock Chalk Park property, but architects have started getting more serious about designing potential paths for the trails. A preliminary set of plans has been drawn up that allows for a certified 5K running course on the property. It is also believed that the property can also host a 10K course. Designers have said the walking/running trails will be a nice feature for parents who have some time to kill between the games of youth tournaments at the site.

    But with a certified 5K course, I also would expect that the city will try to convince many of the 5K runs that are held downtown to consider using the Rock Chalk Park property. That would alleviate the need for the city to provide police officers to control traffic downtown during the races.

    It will be interesting, though, to see if race organizers want to leave the downtown area and all the shops and entertainment that comes with the district.

    "This site will have a lot of potential to host events, but a lot of events want to run downtown," Hecker said. "That is a big draw for a lot of the events."

    Reply 5 comments from Merrill Terrylee Clark Coan Wayne Kerr Scottburkhart Erin Graham

    Concrete work begins on Rock Chalk Park rec center; city hopes Bill Self event will open center next year

    I'm not sure that it is ready yet for a pick-up basketball game with my buddies, but the city's recreation center at Rock Chalk Park is starting to look a bit more like a recreation center.

    Parks and Recreation officials report that the first concrete for the 181,000-square-foot recreation center was poured on Saturday, and walls for the building may start going up by the end of next week. Once that process begins, the building will start to take shape quickly because officials estimate the pre-fabricated walls only will take about eight weeks to install.

    "The hope is to get this thing under cover before the weather turns bad," said Ernie Shaw, leader of the city's parks and recreation department.

    Shaw said the official timeline for the facility is still July of 2014, but contractors are holding out hope that the facility will be open about two months before that. An early opening would give the city a chance to open the center with a bang. Shaw said the city would like for the first event hosted at the facility to be Kansas University coach Bill Self's youth basketball camps, which normally take place in June. That event immediately would introduce the facility to hundreds of area kids and their families.

    But Shaw stressed that even during a large event like that, a portion of the facility would remain open to the public for free gym play, fitness room use and other similar activities.

    "We will always have a portion of the facility open to the public," Shaw said. "That's a requirement that will never go away with any event."

    The nearly $23 million project — that price includes related infrastructure in addition to the center itself — certainly is drawing attention from those in the sports world. Parks and recreation officials said 15 weekends through the end of 2015 already have been spoken for. When the center is up and fully operational, the city hopes to have about 30 weekends a year occupied by tournaments or some other sort of event that generates visitor spending in the community.

    The city hopes to be a player for national and regional tournaments as well. But Shaw said the city hasn't yet finalized its structure for how it will compete for those tournaments. He said the city understands it will take a marketing effort to draw those events to Lawrence, but he said discussions are still underway about whether a city employee would be in charge of those marketing efforts, whether the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau would lead the efforts, or whether the city would seek to contract with an outside firm for assistance.

    Coming up with a plan will be important because competition in the region is likely to be significant. All signs out of Wichita point to a major youth fieldhouse project that we previously reported on coming to fruition. According to reports from Wichita media, the Wichita City Council earlier this week approved the final development agreement with a private company to build an approximately 60,000 square foot fieldhouse that will have 12 gyms in it. Unlike the Lawrence project, it is receiving special STAR bond financing form the state, which is expected to help developers build a major hotel and retail center around the fieldhouse. As we have reported, there also are several competitors in the Kansas City area.

    The Lawrence project — which will have eight full-court gyms, an indoor turf field, fitness center and other amenities — is adjacent to land zoned for commercial development, but thus far plans for hotels, restaurants and retailers have not yet been filed at City Hall. There also are large amounts of property for sale near the intersection, but in checking with commercial real estate agents, they don't report the area heating up with interest yet.

    But that may change as the sports complex continues to come out of the ground. In addition to the recreation center, work is underway on Rock Chalk Park, which will have a track and field stadium, soccer and softball facilities owned by a group led by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel. Those facilities will be leased to Kansas University. The first event is expected to be the KU Relays in April.

    Another part of the development to keep an eye on is whether the city decides to pursue any naming rights for the facility. What I've heard is that the idea thus far isn't to offer an overarching naming rights opportunity for the entire center, but rather to offer rights for portions of the facility, such as individual courts or rooms. But all that is subject to change. The city is having its legal staff research what is permissible while ensuring that the facility maintains its tax-exempt status.

    In the meantime, I think the city's top priority with the project is making sure the facility gets built on time. It appears on track, but if that changes, I can probably get them some help. I'll call up my pick-up basketball buddies. They have a lot of experience at throwing up bricks at a recreation center.

    In other news related to parks and recreation:

    • The city is seeking a $400,000 grant to build a trail from the Rock Chalk Park site near Sixth Street and the SLT to Queens Road. The trail — which would travel along an existing city utility easement — would tie into the system of trails that would be built on the approximately 140-acres that will be a part of the complex. Taking the trail over to Queens Road would allow the city to have a 10k trail in the area. City officials, though, concede the grant is far from a sure thing. It is an outdoors grant that traditionally has been used to fund improvements in state parks. The trail issue, though, will be one to watch. The city has plans for a 5K trail on the site, but it is unclear whether the project budget of $22.5 has enough money for the trails.

    • The city has received a $20,000 grant to install new playground equipment near the East Lawrence Recreation Center. The grant requires the city to provide $20,000 in matching funds for the equipment, and to gather a team of community members to help install the equipment.

    Reply 6 comments from Merrill Repaste Nick_s Minimadoff

    Big permit for Rock Chalk Park helps push city building totals to new highs

    It remains to be seen how often we'll hear the Rock Chalk chant during this year's football season, but the traditional cheer is making quite a bit of noise in the Lawrence construction industry.

    The latest building permit numbers are out, and the big Rock Chalk Park ship has come in. The city issued permits for a whopping $33 million worth of projects in August, led by a $25 million permit for the Rock Chalk Park sports complex near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

    For the year thus far, the city has issued permits for $148 million worth of projects. That's up 115 percent from the same period a year ago. What's even more impressive is that the $148 million total is more than what the city issued for all of 2012. In other words, builders have started more projects in the first eight months of 2013 than they did during the entire 12 months of 2012. In fact, it is not even that close. The city issued permits for just under $100 million worth of projects in 2012.

    So, from that standpoint, the final four months of the year will look a lot like my Thanksgiving day suit — signs of gravy everywhere.

    Here are some other facts and figures from the latest building permit report:

    • Single-family home construction had another decent month. Builders took out 14 permits for single-family homes, up from 8 during the same period a year ago. Year-to-date, the city has issued permits for 114 single-family homes or duplexes. That's up 44 percent from the same period a year ago. One more decent month, and builders will have exceeded the total for all 2012, when 126 single family and duplex permits were issued.

    • No new permits for apartment construction were issued in August, but apartment building in Lawrence is still having a booming year. Year-to-date, the city has issued permits for 374 living units, which is the highest total in at least the last five years.

    • The city thus far in 2013 has issued permits for four projects that exceed $10 million in value. They are: The Rock Chalk Park sports complex at $31 million and counting; the Marriott TownPlace Hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire at $13.8 million; the apartment complex next to Walmart at 5100 W. Sixth St. at $13 million; and the city's recreation center at Rock Chalk Park at $10.5 million.

    Reply 4 comments from Minimadoff Nick_s

    City commissioners to decide whether to order audit of Rock Chalk Park processes

    City commissioners will find themselves in an odd position tonight: They’ll get to decide whether they want one of their more controversial projects of the last several years to be audited.

    More specifically, they’ll be asked to decide whether they want their city-hired auditor to more closely look into the Rock Chalk Park recreation center project.

    Each year, City Auditor Michael Eglinski brings forward a list of topics for city commissioners to consider for performance audits. This year, at least three of the topics on his list for consideration are related to the controversial Rock Chalk Park recreation center.

    Eglinski has proposed an audit of the processes the city will use to ensure fair prices are being charged for the estimated $12 million worth of infrastructure work taking place at the Rock Chalk Park site in the northwest corner of the city. If you remember, the city deviated from its bid policy and is allowing the infrastructure work to be built through a no-bid contract with a company led by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel.

    The city has said it will review all the invoices for the work related to the infrastructure, and compare them with market prices to ensure that the costs aren’t inflated. But exactly how the city will do that isn’t entirely clear. This audit would examine some of those processes.

    Eglinski has put this topic on his list of seven that he is suggesting commissioners give serious consideration. Eglinski has a larger list of topics that he said are probably lower priority items, but deserve consideration as well. Two of those topics have tie-ins to the recreation center. They are:

    • A review of public-private partnership practices. The recreation center is one of the larger public-private partnerships in the city’s history. But this topic also could review some other high-profile projects, such as the proposed hotel development at Ninth and New Hampshire streets and The Oread hotel in the Oread neighborhood. Both of those private projects received significant assistance from City Hall.

    • A review of the process for reviewing and approving incentives such as tax increment financing, transportation development districts, tax abatements, and industrial revenue bonds. The Rock Chalk Park project is expected to receive about $40 million in industrial revenue bonds. But perhaps the biggest incentive the project is receiving is the city is set to pay for essentially all of the roads, streets, sewers and other similar infrastructure to serve the track and field, soccer and softball complex that is part of the Rock Chalk project. Those facilities will be privately-owned by a group led by Fritzel. Kansas University will lease the facilities.

    Eglinski — who reports directly to the City Commission, rather than to the city manager — is asking commissioners to choose four to five audit topics for him to work on this year. Here’s the complete list of seven higher priority topics that he’s presenting to commissioners:

    • Recreation center construction invoice controls;

    • Barriers to the city adopting additional performance measurements systems for services provided by City Hall;

    • How the city can or should control the amount of fats, oils, and grease dumped into the city’s sewer system;

    • A financial indicators report for the city. Eglinski annually completes this report that compares Lawrence’s finances to those of other cities.

    • An examination of the police department’s workload, examining the claims that the department needs about 30 additional employees.

    • A review of the condition of the city’s sidewalks and the community’s efforts to maintain sidewalks.

    Eglinski also compiled a list of 28 other audit topics that he has considered. They include audits of: cable television franchises; capital planning and budgeting; cash control testing; condition of public buildings; downtown parking; vehicle and equipment conditions; financial policies; flow of traffic; finances of the Eagle Bend Golf Course; cost accounting methods for the solid waste division; municipal court workload; funding of outside agencies; the parks and recreation department’s fee waiver policy and scholarship program; the performance of the city’s parking fund; the condition of pavement markings in the city; payment card industry data security standards; process for reviewing and approving economic development incentives; public private partnership practices; purchase card transaction reviews; record retention policies; reliability of the city’s population forecasts and estimates; risk assessment survey of department and program managers; safety and workers compensation; solid waste rate structure; span of control analysis; vehicle and equipment replacement; water conservation.

    Commissioners will discuss possible audit topics at their 6:35 p.m. meeting tonight at City Hall.

    Reply 18 comments from Jack22 Merrill Steven Gaudreau The_big_b Pizzapete Leslie Soden Lawrencereporter Kernal Larry Sturm Foodboy and 5 others

    Another residential development files plans for area near recreation center, Rock Chalk Park

    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.

    Reply 11 comments from Gelatinouscube Jayhawkfan1985 Oneeye_wilbur Frankie8 Roadwarrior Jhawk1998 Thomas Bryce George_braziller Jayhawker07 Calitony

    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?

    Reply 22 comments from Blindrabbit 1yardstare Lloyddobbler Lawrencereporter Krichards Oneeye_wilbur Chad Lawhorn Oletimer Somebodynew Mikekt and 4 others

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