Associated new development could support Clinton Lake outdoor center financing, Douglas County Commission told

The proposed Kansas Outdoor Lifestyle Center at Clinton Lake would be a 1,500-acre facility hosting outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting and kayaking, zip lines, biking, running, hiking, climbing and paddle boarding.

The outdoor recreational center proposed for Clinton Lake State Park could be reliant on additional new off-site development to retire the public financing its advocates say would be necessary to make the $70 million project a reality, the Douglas County Commission was told Wednesday.

A day after they gave a presentation on the Kansas Outdoor Center to the Lawrence City Commission, Jeff Wise, Plei managing principal, and Linda Craghead, assistant secretary of Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, introduced county commissioners to the proposal.

The non-profit Plei would run the outdoor center, which Craghead said would be built in the undeveloped Campground No. 2 of the 1,200-acre Clinton State Park. That site is on the western section of the park and accessed by North 1450 Road.

The Clinton Lake outdoor center would have the same features as the U.S. National Whitewater Center that Plei developed near Charlotte, N.C., Wise said. Those include a manmade whitewater rafting and kayaking facility, zip lines, rock climbing, a trail system, outdoor amphitheater, restaurants, beer garden and conference center.

Wise said the center would have about 850 seasonal workers and 150 full-time employees.

The center would showcase what Kansas has to offer to visitors and its residents, Craghead said. Because it would appeal to the active lifestyles of Millennials, it would help keep them from moving elsewhere or entice them to move back home, she said.

“This is not an amusement park,” she said. “Everything you do there is active. It is an active lifestyle center.”

Craghead and Wise told commissioners Sales Tax Revenue Bonds are one mechanism being explored to finance the $70 million center.

STAR bonds allow Kansas municipalities to issue bonds to finance the development of commercial, entertainment and tourism areas and use the sales tax revenue from the development to pay off the bonds.

There were two concerns with the use of STAR bonds, Craghead said. One was that the state’s STAR bond enabling legislation expires June 30. She said a number of municipalities have made extending the public financing tool a priority for this coming legislative session.

The other concern was that only 49 percent of sales tax revenue captured at the center could be used to retire the STAR bonds, Craghead said. An associated off-site development would be needed to provide the remaining 51 percent of sales tax revenue needed to service the bonds, she said.

Plei, the state, Douglas County and city of Lawrence could work together to find an appropriate site for the associated development, Craghead said.

“Obviously, that’s not going to be in the park, but it potentially could be in the county or the city based on your comprehensive land-use plan,” Craghead said. “There might be some areas that there’s been efforts to develop, but there just hasn’t been much happening. If you are trying to recruit, could this be a helpful tool to help recruit there?”

Craghead told commissioners STAR bonds could be a tool to extend infrastructure west of Kansas Highway 10. After the meeting, she mentioned the West Six Street corridor as a possible location of an off-site commercial development. The undeveloped commercially-zoned Mercato property adjacent to Rock Chalk Park is in the Sixth Street corridor.

Any plan the city and county give initial approval to would be subject to a third-party feasibility study of its potential to generate the needed revenue to retire the debt, Craghead said.

Lawrence by itself couldn’t support the center, and it would need to draw from a 90-minute drive radius, especially the Kansas City metropolitan area, commissioners were told.

After the presentation, commissioners agreed it would be premature to make any comment on the proposal. Commission Chair Jim Flory, whose term on the commission will end Jan. 9, said he thought the center would work with the youthful demographic Plei looked to attract. After the meeting, he said there was much he didn’t know about the use of STAR bonds in general or for the specific proposal, including what entity would be required to back the bonds.

Even though the proposal is in its early stages, commissioners did hear concerns about the proposal In comment after the presentation, an emotional Mike Myers of Lawrence disputed Craghead’s statement that the center would not be an amusement park.

“You can say it’s not a theme park, but it is,” he said. “The state of Kansas is broken. It is willing to take our most pristine property and bastardize it.”