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City Hall targets property on Memorial Stadium grounds for transit center

The phrase “warm up the bus” may become a frequent one at Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium, and it has nothing to do with the improving — or declining — fortunes of the KU football team.

A new City Hall report lists a site on the grounds of Memorial Stadium as a leading contender to house a multmillion dollar transit center.

The report says a site just northeast of the stadium — where the shot put and discus rings are now — may be the best location to build a nearly $3 million transit center that would serve both the city and KU’s public transit buses.

As currently envisioned, the transit center would hold a specially-designed parking lot to accommodate upwards of 10 buses. It also would include a small building with public restrooms and a break room for bus drivers.

The option would involve relocating a portion of Fambrough Drive so that it no longer is part of an offset intersection where it connects with Mississippi Street. The portion of Illinois Street that runs onto the stadium property also would be relocated.

As for the discus, shot put and javelin areas, they would be relocated to the Rock Chalk Park complex in northwest Lawrence, where a state-of-the-art track and field stadium is being constructed.

The project is expected to cost about $2.8 million, including about an extra $100,000 per year in operational costs required to reroute the buses to the center.

The consulting firm Olsson Associates recommends that the city also seriously consider two other sites: 2029 Becker Drive, which is the KU Park and Ride Lot on West Campus; and 925 Iowa, which is part of the parking system behind The Merc grocery store at Ninth and Iowa.

The site at the stadium, however, has the lowest costs of the three. The Park and Ride Lot has an estimated $3.7 million price tag, including an annual additional operational expense of about $535,000 to route the buses through the center. The Ninth and Iowa location has a price tag of $3.2 million, including an extra $366,000 of annual operational expenses.

It will be interesting to think through how large numbers of buses will impact the thousands of people who show up on KU game days to tailgate around Memorial Stadium. There are already a large number of buses that arrive at the stadium on game day as part of the shuttle system the city operates from downtown to the stadium. But those buses are confined to parking spaces on Mississippi Street.

These buses — which I assume would be in addition the shuttle buses — would be on the stadium grounds themselves. And, a very key point here, they would be on a portion of the grounds that currently is prime tailgating space.

We may be setting the stage to find out how important tailgating is to the KU game day experience. Let’s face it, the last couple of years, it has been more important than the games. (If the city needs a consultant to advise it on KU tailgating matters, I certainly could form a corporation, so to speak. Of course, any good study will require a large quantity of a certain beverage, several pounds of prime beef, and probably a mobile flat screen television just to be thorough.)

City commissioners will get their first look at the study at their 6:35 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall.

If talk of this issue has left you confused, don’t feel bad. (The thought of a mobile, flat-screen television leaves me discombobulated too.) No, more than likely it is that you thought this issue already was decided. Transit center talk has been in the news a lot lately, with commissioners just last week agreeing to locate a transit hub in the 700 block of Vermont Street. What’s important to remember about that hub, however, is it designed to be temporary.

The city soon will have to move its transit hub from Ninth and New Hampshire streets, once construction work begins on the new hotel at that intersection. It now has been decided that the 700 block of Vermont Street — across from the library project — will be the temporary location.

But city officials all along have said they need to find a better permanent home for the transit hub. It had become increasingly obvious that finding one in downtown may be difficult.

It will be interesting, however, to see how much the city’s bus system routes must change once the main hub is no longer located downtown. It's possible that some routes that come downtown today may not in the future. The report doesn’t provide details about route changes, but it assumes “service to downtown would continue where feasible for specific routes.” It also notes that the city may be able to reduce some of the estimated operating expenses, if it chooses to rethink the number of buses that it sends through downtown.

It all may create quite the discussion. In the meantime, I think I’ll do a little “professional development” for my career in tailgate consulting.

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