KU to continue relationship with Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel, despite his July conviction

photo by: Nick Krug

Thomas S. Fritzel stands behind one of his attorneys, Thomas Lemon, as he leaves the Frank Carlson Federal Courthouse in Topeka on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018.

The University of Kansas will continue to allow developer Thomas Fritzel to use the Jayhawk name and brand at his Lawrence golf club, despite his felony conviction in July for improperly disposing of asbestos.

Whether or not the university’s position will change if Fritzel is convicted in a second, unrelated felony fraud case remains to be determined. Chancellor Douglas Girod said, “We’re just going to have to analyze as it happens,” calling the situation “not straightforward” and citing that it involves other entities.

But for the time being, a felony conviction won’t jeopardize Fritzel’s unique arrangement with KU, which gives Fritzel the ability to use “Jayhawk” in the name of his private business and to use the university’s official Jayhawk logo as part of his business’ logo. In February 2017 KU announced the deal with Fritzel. For a fee of $1.2 million paid over 10 years, the Lawrence developer has the unique right to use the Jayhawk name, brand and image to promote The Jayhawk Club, a golf and country club Fritzel operates in west Lawrence. Prior to Fritzel’s ownership, the facility was called Alvamar Country Club.

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The university’s reasoning for continuing the relationship remains the same as it did at the onset of the partnership: the men’s and women’s golf programs’ longtime use of the club.

“Alvamar Country Club had been a great home for the university’s men’s and women’s golf programs, and there had been a strong partnership between the club and the university going back many years,” said Joe Monaco, KU’s strategic communications director. Monaco said the men’s team has used the club since shortly after its 1968 opening. The women’s team, which began in the mid ’70s, started using the club in that decade.

“The new license agreement was an extension of that partnership that we determined would benefit the university, our golf programs and – most importantly – our students via new scholarships and academic programming. That analysis hasn’t changed.”

Monaco said the university has no plans to discontinue the partnership at this time, but that the university will continue to review it to ensure it continues to benefit the university. The university does not believe its reputation has been brought into disrepute by Fritzel’s conviction.

“We are confident the actions of a single, local developer have not impacted our national brand,” Monaco said, adding that stakeholders remain excited about The Jayhawk Club partnership.

Fritzel faces a second felony trial early next year. In a separate case, Fritzel has been charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the city of Lawrence and one count of interstate transportation of stolen funds, for which he will go to trial on January 21, 2020, according to his attorney, Edward Novak.

It is unclear whether KU could end the relationship with Fritzel, if it so chooses. When asked, Monaco pointed to a section in the business agreement that states the licensee agrees to not to do any act “which will or may dilute the Name or Marks or tarnish or bring into disrepute the reputation of or goodwill” associated with the university or Jayhawk brand during the terms of the agreement. The alleged fraudulent activity is thought to have occurred prior to the agreement, which was signed on October 1, 2016.

Monaco also said the university immediately looked into any negative repercussions towards students or staff that might have developed out of the illegal disposition of the asbestos, and that “we confirmed there is no risk to KU student-athletes or staff.” The golf program did not move into the Jayhawk Club until after the site was declared safe for use from inspectors, Monaco said.

During the trial, federal prosecutor Richard Hathaway argued that Fritzel knew there was asbestos on the roof of the clubhouse and did not properly dispose of it per the Kansas Department of Health and Environment requirements. Hathaway also contended that there was a large debris pile on site containing asbestos, and that instead of ceasing work on the site and leaving the debris pile in place, Fritzel removed it, against the advisal of KDHE employees who said they tested the pile positive for asbestos.

No level of exposure to asbestos is considered safe, but effects are worse after chronic exposure, according to The Mesothelioma Center. Exposure to asbestos can result in various cancers, research has shown.

For the three counts of which he was charged — failing to notify environmental agencies prior to removing asbestos material, knowingly failing to wet asbestos before removing it from the construction site, and knowingly failing to dispose of asbestos waste in leak-tight containers — Fritzel could face up to seven years in federal prison and a fine of up to $500,000. His sentencing is set for November 13.

The federal charges for which Fritzel will go to trial in January relate to his indictment for scheming to collect more than $400,000 in fraudulent tax refunds from the City of Lawrence related to his development of the Oread Hotel. Fritzel and the city of Lawrence reached a settlement in a civil suit in 2017.

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The Jayhawk Club is not the only relationship the university has with Fritzel.

Kansas Athletics Inc. and the KU Endowment Association have multiple agreements with Rock Chalk Park, the sports complex in northwest Lawrence that a for-profit Fritzel firm owns. Rock Chalk Park includes stadiums for KU track and field, softball and soccer.

In May 2018, the Journal-World reported on an unusual lease agreement change that occurred between Kansas Athletics and Fritzel in which Kansas Athletics voluntarily voided a lease that gave them considerable leverage over the future of Rock Chalk Park for one that removes their ability to reject two 10-year extensions of their relationship with Fritzel. Kansas Athletics currently pays Fritzel about $2.2 million a year to lease the facilities at Rock Chalk Park.

The original lease, signed in 2012, gave KU the option whether or not to extend the 30-year contract for an additional 20 years. The Fritzel entity now has the sole ability to decide whether to extend that lease for an additional 20 years. Based off the pricing in their current lease, a 20-year extension would cost KU an additional $44 million in lease payments.

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