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Monday, January 7, 2013

KU athletic director presses case for Rock Chalk Park

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger listens as new football coach Charlie Weis takes questions during a news conference on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011 at the Anderson Family Football Complex.

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger listens as new football coach Charlie Weis takes questions during a news conference on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011 at the Anderson Family Football Complex.

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If all goes well during tonight’s vote by the Lawrence City Commission regarding land usage and zoning specifications — as is expected — the Kansas University athletic department could begin construction on what has come to be known as “Rock Chalk Park” within weeks.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the potential new complex that would be located in northwest Lawrence, KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger on Monday shared with the Journal-World the many reasons behind the university’s eagerness to begin construction on a $50 million project that will deliver a new home for KU’s soccer, softball and track and field programs.

Those reasons include everything from financial and competitive advantages to important aesthetic and long-range visions for the department. Most critical, however, is the benefit such a move figures to have on KU’s status within college athletics.

“Kansas Athletics, for over a decade, has been searching for a way to address the needs of track and field, soccer and softball,” Zenger said. “Without this opportunity, we would spend the next five to seven, and maybe 10 years, trying to raise $50 million to build these three structures, all the while putting the completion of the renovations to Allen Fieldhouse on hold and, even further, putting on hold the renovations to Memorial Stadium. In light of what we’ve witnessed with BCS-conference realignment over the past several years, that would be the most foolish action that we could ever take.”

Cost advantage

Perhaps the best part, at least through the eyes of the university, is that the $50 million project will cost just $39 million, thanks to the Bliss Sports Foundation, headed by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel, which has offered to take the project at a cost of $39 million spread over 30 years.

“We’ve had no one else approach us with that kind of offer,” said Zenger, who added that, as a parent and member of the Lawrence community, he would love nothing more than to see the city’s plans for a rec center at the same location become a part of this project. The two concepts, however, remain completely separate and will be governed by each party.

“They invited us to walk alongside their project about a year ago, so when we found land that fit our needs, we simply invited them to walk alongside us should they so choose,” Zenger said. “From where we sit, we believe that all of these facilities being in one location makes it a more vibrant entity and, more importantly for the city of Lawrence, a bigger economic engine.”

As far as the “Rock Chalk Park” aspect goes, KU Endowment will own the land, Bliss Sports will own the facilities and lease them to KU for 30 years, and, at the end of the contract, all three facilities will belong to KU. Zenger said such a setup is mutually beneficial and the $11 million savings would allow KU to turn its attention to men’s basketball and football, which are the financial lifeblood of most athletic departments across the country.

“As we continue to watch BCS realignment unfold, there is nothing more critical for our future in that equation than addressing the needs of Memorial Stadium,” said Zenger, who added that none of KU’s early blueprints regarding Memorial Stadium renovations included a track around the football field. “Let me make it really clear: This project, whatever we want to call it, allows us to open the door to address the needs of Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium immediately.”

There also exists the issue of Title IX compliance. Zenger said the mere start of such a project would put KU in good standing in that area, but emphasized that getting a gold star in the annual review of equality between men’s and women’s sports was not the motivation behind the project.

“These young women deserve competition facilities that are equal to their peers in the Big 12 Conference,” Zenger said. “And even if there were no such thing as Title IX they’d still deserve this.”

Would KU still be going forward with the project?

“Absolutely,” he added. “If we’re gonna have a sport and it’s worth having, it’s worth doing well.”

Staying on track

Although upgrades at both Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium offer tremendous revenue potential, Zenger was careful to point out that putting track, soccer and softball first was not simply a get-this-out-of-the-way-so-we-can-get-to-that scenario.

As it stands now, KU is not eligible to host any conference, regional or national track meets because the existing track at Memorial Stadium is not a true 400-meter track. If and when the new track is built, it will be a state-of-the-art IAAF track, of which there are only a handful in the country. Zenger said would return the luster to KU’s historic track programs.

“This will allow the Kansas Relays to become once again what they used to be,” Zenger said.

Moving forward with the current setup is the equivalent of the men’s basketball program playing its home games at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

“So many people think that we need and want to get that track out of Memorial Stadium because of football,” Zenger said. “And they are absolutely correct; we need it out of there. But first and foremost we need it out of there for track and field. It’s been too long, and, when it comes to competition sites, this project is our greatest undertaking since the building of Allen Fieldhouse, preceded by the building of Memorial Stadium.”

Comments

Ferd Magellan 1 year, 3 months ago

This is at least 10 years overdue. So glad we're finally getting the gears in motion. Some historically pathetic athletic departments around the country has been cruising past KUAD in recent years.

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kranny 1 year, 3 months ago

Point being, go ahead and build it because it will look cool and we keep up with the Neighbors.

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kranny 1 year, 3 months ago

It ain't about the money. To be honest, few universities actually make a profit from the athletics program as a whole. Out of the 119 fbs schools only about 19 make a little profit. The main reason for numerous athletics is prestige which vicariously results in large donations to the universities. The only sports that typically generate a profit are football and basketball. The rest fall in the red. Read the following: http://www.centerforcollegeaffordability.org/uploads/athletics.pdf

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Brandon Pope 1 year, 3 months ago

From Jayhawk Slant via Twitter

Lawrence City Commission passes 20 acres, 90 acres, and special use permit.

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Knoff 1 year, 3 months ago

Hope the complex is started tomorrow and the upgrades to the football stadium start next week.

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JayHok 1 year, 3 months ago

Over/Under. The track will be removed in time for 2015 football season.

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JayHok 1 year, 3 months ago

Down the line how great would it be for the new exterior on the filled in side to match the campus. Think the natural history museum.

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danmoore 1 year, 3 months ago

Is there no place on campus this could be built? It really diminishes the appeal when you have to drive there as opposed to walking from a dorm.

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JayHok 1 year, 3 months ago

Is this the first we've heard about track removal? The track team must be excited they will be able to finally host real meets.

Very happy the administration has their eye on the ball and is sharing this with the Jayhawk fanbase, alumni etc. What a breath of fresh air.

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hawkfansa 1 year, 3 months ago

My son a graduate of the industrial design department had a cool suggestion. Whenever the improvements to memorial stadium come into the discussion, why not design the exterior like the Bejing bird nest stadium. Additionally, a large menacing Jayhawk atop the seats in the east end of the stadium would be fun. Possibly add in some sound effects when KU scores.

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Chris1955 1 year, 3 months ago

I not guaranteeing that the B1G is going to extend an invitation to KU to join; however, if a prospective invite was in the future, what would KU need to do to ensure an invitation?

Would KU have been told to turn the football program around ASAP? Would you necessarily hire Charlie Weiss as HC if you didn’t need to get a quick fix? Would you be handing out scholarships to so many JuCo's if you didn’t need a quick fix? Would you be upgrading Memorial Stadium, by removing the track, and sprucing it up if you weren't trying to meet a timetable?

Yes, you can make an argument that these events do not mean there is an ulterior motive for them. I understand that we're also tightening our admission standards as well.

We know the B1G seems to be following some "rules" regarding new members. These "rules" seem to be adding contiguous members, adding new TV markets, and adding AAU universities. KU meets these minimal conditions.

I can see KU becoming the 15th member of the B1G, and believe it or not, Mizzou comes along as the 16th! Yes, I'm probably hallucinating.

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Greg Ledom 1 year, 3 months ago

Dr. Zenger took a fair amount of crap for not being a big/quality/experienced enough hire when he came on board. All he's done is kill it since then. RCJH Dr. Zenger!

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Matt Kenton 1 year, 3 months ago

AWESOME news! Zenger just showed he is an AD that truly "gets it." The fact that he has been working behind the scenes on this and found a way to get it done affordably and quickly just earned him a huge amount of trust from me.

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Tony Bandle 1 year, 3 months ago

Matt, my apologies for straying way off topic but what is the status of the new construction for the Naismith's Rules?

Are there preliminary plans or even schematics? Any idea on construction start? Just askin'...thanks.

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John Mueller 1 year, 3 months ago

Now, I'm sorry but that there is funny!!!

I saw the old fart at AFH the other day.

Kind of shocked that he's welcome.

I would like to audit his Williams Fund contributions, though...

And, Dear Bob,

Sorry but I read the LJW for sports, if I want to read a real paper, I read the WSJ.

Sorry I was not up on Lawrence community news, but this here thing is the Internet and if you write a story about a KU sports breakthrough and don't even bother to talk about the details, why write the story?

And, if the story has already been written, then why write a bad story about the old story????

Now, is the Kid from Hawaii gonna commit or not?

Or is that also in the community section?

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mahkmood 1 year, 3 months ago

Zenger should use this project's budget to get some home gym equipment

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dynamitehawk 1 year, 3 months ago

I wonder if they will sell commemorative chunks of track... If they do I'm going to buy a bunch and in the spirit of Memorial Stadium, and build a tiny track around something and make people trip....like a confessional or something.

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mojayhawk 1 year, 3 months ago

Read between the lines. This is a stepping stone, a precursor to upgrading Memorial Stadium. Long overdue.

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jayhawkarmy 1 year, 3 months ago

Why don't we use the money to fix the football stadium!?

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mahkmood 1 year, 3 months ago

I thought Matt's article a few weeks ago suggested the Big12's GOR made the conference rock solid, and that adding new teams probably wouldn't make financial sense. So why is Zenger mentioning conference realignment so much? The B1G rumor is that Delaney wants to get to 16 or 18 soon, so that the new B1G tv network deal can be made. If KU is not interested in leaving the B12 for a better home, which could only be the B1G or SEC at this point in time, why would Zenger even mention realignment? Why not just say, "This will allow us to improve the basketball and football facilities"? Either he's using the realignment issue to blow political smoke to get the deal approved, or KU is improving its CV for someone bigger and better.

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Brandon Deines 1 year, 3 months ago

Has a construction timeline been discussed? If they break ground in the next few weeks, can they compete in the facility in spring 2014?

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Chad Dexter 1 year, 3 months ago

This sounds great. A step in the right direction for removing the track from Memorial Stadium is a good thing, IMO.

I see that this article is dated yesterday. Any word on whether the vote passed for this park?

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Hurinfan 1 year, 3 months ago

Is there anyway that this would hurt the Kansas relays in any way? It's nice having a facility for it but I always enjoyed having the relays in the heart of campus and in the center of town. I though it gave it a certain flair.

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Tony Bandle 1 year, 3 months ago

I think I understand ahperse's frustration but these facilities are part of the necessary landscape of a top-rated college campus.

If I might offer a parallet comparision, ADA Accessibilty requirements cost 100's of millions of dollars in construction every year while being used by a very small precentage of the population. HOWEVER, these amenities are being used and are dictated by law, thus justifying the expense.

One must consider the price of these non-revenue facilities as " the cost of doing business" as a college campus as dictated by national policy.

Regarding the track, 35 plus years of architectural practice tells me that this "little undertaking" won't get done in the nine month time frame between football seasons, so there is the whole question of where we play unless we bunch a whole schedule of away games at the beginning of the season. Little details like this need to be worked out, so building the facilities now will buy some "design" time, for sure.

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Dave Coen 1 year, 3 months ago

I care about Track & Field and remember, K.U. has great Track & Field tradition:

Indoor Track & Field National Champions: 1966, 1969, 1970 Indoor Track & Field Runner-up: 1973, 1975 Women's Indoor Track & Field Runner-up: 2012

Outdoor Track & Field National Champions: 1959, 1960, 1970 Outdoor Track & Field National Runner-up: 1956, 1958, 1969

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LSD 1 year, 3 months ago

Build it fine, but the track and other facilities better be open to the public. If public tax dollars are going for a facility it needs to be open and not some protected part of the K.U. athletics kingdom.

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Reuben_J_Cogburn 1 year, 3 months ago

Do it.

We've voiced our opinions till we've turned blue in the face. Everyone is in agreement. The track in Memorial needs to go. At first, my opinion was we need to win first before renovations, but my vision has been skewed.

Now I'm leaning more towards a "build it, and they will come" point of view.

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Steve Hillyer 1 year, 3 months ago

I found it interesting how Zenger mentioned realignment more than once in this article. Also, wasn't there suppose to be a small indoor arena as a part of this project? I am hoping an ice rink can be a part of it.

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Left_of_Lawrence 1 year, 3 months ago

I believe the land for the site, which is north of 6th street and west of George Williams Way, was donated by a KU alum.

The development plans are Big. It should help KU and help the community, kind of like how the Lawrence Indoor Aquatics Center helps Free State and the whole community, but bigger. I'm looking forward to running or riding the trails along the creek at the north end of the development.

The bottom line of KU Athletics fans is do you want to compete in Division 1, or just be a member of Division 1.

Let them get started on the development. Go KU! Go Lawrence!

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Kyle Rohde 1 year, 3 months ago

Hmm....so the new softball complex built less than ten years ago was a waste of money apparently but this does sound like a great plan.

My question on location though - why does it have to be way out by Free State when the University has such a huge swath of land between Iowa & Kasold/23rd & Bob Billings Parkway? The number of students attending track meets, soccer or softball games will be minimal with a location so far away, I would think.

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ahpersecoachingexperience 1 year, 3 months ago

Let me do the math

$39,000,000... those 3 sports make a profit of X a year... carry the 1= -infinity years until those sports pay off their facility.

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John Mueller 1 year, 3 months ago

At the risk of catching serious flak for missing an entire paragraph or two.....

Did I miss where this facility would be located? What kind of amenities would exist from a fan experience, facilities for athletes, etc.???

I love me some Matt Tait, but this story seems like a rough draft without the critical information about the actual facility and, frankly, some insight as to what is in store for both Memorial Stadium and AFH in terms of upgrades and timing....

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ahpersecoachingexperience 1 year, 3 months ago

Spending 39 million on three sports that nobody cares about?!?!

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kujayhox 1 year, 3 months ago

i am all for this project getting started. it helps the olympic sports and the athletkc department as a whole.

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