Thursday, June 30, 2011

Deal near for KU Coach Bill Self to donate $1 million for new west Lawrence recreation center


Reader poll

Would you use a recreation center if one was built in West Lawrence?

  • Yes, I would 48% 338 votes
  • No, I already have a gym membership elsewhere 5% 38 votes
  • No, I already use another city recreation center 5% 40 votes
  • No, I wouldn't 40% 280 votes

696 total votes.

A deal is in the works for Kansas University men’s basketball coach Bill Self to make a more than $1 million donation to spur construction of a new west Lawrence recreation center.

Mayor Aron Cromwell confirmed the city soon will start discussing an offer made by Self’s Assists Foundation to donate $1 million to a recreation center project and for Self to donate his time to help raise another $2 million in private funds.

“We’re just waiting in the wings to hear from the city, and hopefully that will be sooner rather than later,” said Erin Zimney, executive director of the Assists Foundation. “Nothing has been formalized yet, but I can tell you that we would love to support a project like this.”

Zimney said Self and the foundation have sensed a lack of available gym space and other indoor recreation space in the city, particularly on the west side.

Cromwell said the city is interested in considering a partnership.

“I feel like this could be a really good way to leverage some private money for a needed project,” Cromwell said.

Self’s donation, however, would pay for only a fraction of the center. Cromwell estimated the total costs for the project may be close to $15 million.

Project years away

City leaders have had preliminary discussions about using existing sales tax money to finance the remainder of the project. The city last year finished paying off the Indoor Aquatic Center, which freed up about $260,000 a year. By 2016, the city also will have paid off the Eagle Bend Golf Course and the Community Health Center. Those two projects will free up another $1.2 million in funds.

City staff members previously have recommended a 40-acre site of city-owned property that is just north of the Walmart at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive as a prime location for a West Lawrence center, which they have said would fill a gap in the city’s recreation offerings.

City Manager David Corliss said if the project moves forward — it likely will be discussed by city commissioners in the next two to three weeks — construction wouldn’t begin until at least 2013. The city would use 2012 to concentrate on design and private fundraising. Cromwell said the city wouldn’t issue any new debt for the project until private fundraising was completed.

City funding

The project comes forward, however, at a time when city commissioners will be contemplating a rise in the city’s property tax rate to fund other needs. The mill levy in 2012 is expected to increase by at least 1.7 mills to pay for a voter-approved expansion of the Lawrence Public Library. Commissioners also are expected to consider an additional property tax increase to fund more police officers.

The countywide sales tax — approved by voters in 1994 — allows the sales tax collections to be used for any governmental purpose. But Corliss and Cromwell said they would be hesitant to recommend that the freed up sales tax money be used to fund police needs or other projects not related to parks and recreation. That’s because parks and recreation projects were a selling point used to convince voters to support the sales tax 17 years ago.

“We have the legal authority to use it however we want,” Cromwell said of the sales tax dollars. “But the moral authority I don’t think is there to use it for anything other than recreation.”

In 1994, voters were told the new 1 percent sales tax would fund: Parks and recreation projects; the Community Health Building that houses Bert Nash and the Health Department; construction of Douglas County Jail; and to provide property tax relief. Since then, the city also has begun spending about $600,000 per year of sales tax money to fund street projects.

Potential plans

Formal plans for a new recreation center haven’t been developed, but Parks and Recreation leaders have been discussing concept plans for the past several years. Features that previously have been mentioned as possibilities for a new center include:

• Six full-size gymnasiums that could be used to accommodate basketball, volleyball and indoor soccer. The fieldhouse concept has been touted as a potential economic development benefit if it can be used to help draw more youth tournaments to the city.

• A quarter-mile walking/jogging track that would be built on a mezzanine above the gym space.

• Space for advanced gymnastics equipment.

• Areas for dance, aerobics, fitness and wellness programs.


mikehawk 8 years, 7 months ago

What? No comments. In light of so much negative KU News, this is special and is such a strong signal of the commitment of Bill and Cindy Self to the Lawrence and KU community. Thanks, Coach. I hope it all comes together and becomes something special.

Gary Wirsig 8 years, 7 months ago

Are you sure it was a "steak"? Maybe he leveled her with a pork chop.

Seriously, it is interesting that both these issues should be published on the same day. Quite a contrast, or so it would appear.

ahpersecoachingexperience 8 years, 7 months ago

hahaha! message was typed while grilling dinner.

TwistedFish31 8 years, 7 months ago

Grilling? Figured you used an easy bake oven aphesccolkjasdflj trollboy?

UmbertoConforti 8 years, 7 months ago

What does "creep me out" mean. You aren't calling yourself a creep are you? You better leave that to TwistedFish31.

jaybate 8 years, 7 months ago

Hey, how about using Self's foundation money and tax revenues and site to leverage an incubator business park, wherein companies willing to locate there and hire kids from the neighborhood willing to keep living in the neighborhood get a tax break. This way the use of the land use puts kids to work and increases the economic base of the community. No doubt they could also weave in a recreation component for kids too young to work. And if the locals with kids were employed locally and their kids were recreating locally, wouldn't this be the best of all possible worlds.

Rebuild America. Now!

yates33333 8 years, 7 months ago

I haven't driven around in Lawrence for a few years, but East Lawrence seems to need investment more than the newer area. The stuff west of the campus already looks prosperous.

Michael Auchard 8 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, but rich people don't live in East Lawrence. Come on, don't be naive.

Scott Smetana 8 years, 7 months ago

Awesome for Self... but...

I live in Colorado Springs and we're luck enough to have 2 different Multi-Million dollar sports facilities near our home. Lifetime and VillaSport. VillaSport is amazing and costs our family about $110/month. We use it 5X week. Both are privately funded. Why doesn't something similar open in Lawrence without taxpayer money or donations?

Lance Hobson 8 years, 7 months ago

I like it! I wouldn't get too concerned about taxpayer money when a private citizen like Bill Self front's upwards for $3 million, that would be looking a gift horse in the mouth. When I hear about things like this it makes me miss Lawrence even more.

LAJayhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

$1 million is a pretty significant percentage of Self's yearly income.

That's an impressive donation.

Joel Hood 8 years, 7 months ago

It is impressive. But, what is more impressive is his committment to the Lawrence community in general (as opposed to KUAI) and the clarify of his priorities as demonstrated by his personal committment. How rare is that?

LAJayhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Couldn't agree more. I was thinking the same thing. He is truly, honestly committed to making Lawrence a better community.

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