Tuesday, January 8, 2013

KU portion of Rock Chalk Park project wins approval at Lawrence City Hall; KU Relays could be at site by 2014


The starter’s pistol now has sounded on the Rock Chalk Park project.

Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday gave approval to a pair of rezoning requests and a special use permit that will allow Kansas University and its private partners to move ahead with plans for a new track and field stadium, soccer field, softball stadium and other amenities on about 90 acres just north of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

Now, the race is on to have the project ready to host the Kansas Relays in 2014.

“That is definitely our goal,” said Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director for KU. “We’re very excited. This is an exciting time for both Kansas Athletics and the city of Lawrence. This will provide facilities for KU that can compete with facilities across the country.”

Tuesday’s votes, however, do not resolve all issues with the project. The votes do not yet commit the city to build a $25 million recreation center in the park. Commissioners won’t vote on that portion of the project until mid-February, when development agreements are finalized among KU entities, the city, and a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, which will provide financing and construction services for the KU-related facilities.

But commissioners generally were enthusiastic about the project. The rezoning requests — which included 90 acres for the proposed Rock Chalk Park and another 20 acres that could be developed in the future — were approved unanimously. The special use permit was approved on a 4-1 vote, with City Commissioner Mike Amyx opposed. The special use permit plans showed the city’s proposed recreation center at 181,000 square feet with eight gyms and other amenities. Amyx has said he thinks that the city’s facility needs to be significantly smaller, and perhaps at another location.

Commissioners heard from several members of the public who urged the city to approve the project. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Lawrence-based Kansas Licensed Beverage Association — which represents bars and restaurants — issued formal endorsements of the projects.

A few parents of youth athletes also threw their support behind the project.

“Let’s take Lawrence recreation from good to great,” said Heidi Simon, who told commissioners she had a son practicing basketball in Tonganoxie on Tuesday evening because there wasn’t enough practice space in Lawrence. “This project is big and it is bold. There is always risk when you do something great, but there is great reward in what we’re trying to do here.”

Commissioners also heard from people who questioned the project. Both the League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County and the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods expressed concerns about the project.

Some of those concerns may come up again in February when city commissioners consider agreements between KU entities and Fritzel’s Bliss Sports.

As it's currently proposed, Fritzel’s company is the presumed contractor for the KU-related facilities — which his company will own for the first 30 years and lease back to the university, which KU officials contend will save KU millions of dollars compared to financing the project itself.

It also is proposed, though, that the city’s $25 million recreation center would go through a bidding process that deviates from the city’s standard bidding policy. Under the proposal, the bidding could be limited to three companies, and Fritzel’s firm would have the chance to match the low bid on the project.

Commissioners did not get into any of those details at Tuesday’s meeting, but rather said they will be addressed in the agreements they will consider in February.

“All those agreements will be open and available to the public before we take any action on them,” Mayor Bob Schumm said.

On Tuesday, though, the focus was on the KU portion of the project clearing a major hurdle. Marchiony said it is hoped construction could begin in either February or March.

He said the Rock Chalk Project will allow the university to work on a plan to remove the track from Memorial Stadium, which would allow for upgrades to the football amenities offered in the stadium. But Marchiony said no timeline or specific plans have been developed for that project.

“But now that this piece of the puzzle seems to be on the way to being solved, we’ll be able to focus on that more,” he said.


Micky Baker 5 years, 4 months ago

Does this mean that they would revamp Memorial Stadium and put the seats closer to the field?

Tony Bandle 5 years, 4 months ago

This is just the first step in a sequence that must take place in order to provide the opportunity to remove the track. Just from my construction experience, they can't touch the track until the new one is a reality.

My guess is that they need to hedge their bets. Assuming that the new track won't be completed until 2014 and maybe even late 2014, it would appear that the 2015 season may still have the track unless it is decided to play the games in another venue, or schedule all away games for the first half of the season...neither option desirable at all.

I can't emphasize what a GIANT construction undertaking it will be to remove the track, lower the field, extend the stands and regrade all field approaches. This is going to be a big time remodel challenge..not even taking into account the relatively high water table.

It sounds like fun!!!

Steve Reigle 5 years, 4 months ago

I continue to be impressed by Sheahon Zenger. KU needs to make sure to hang onto this guy.

jaybate 5 years, 4 months ago

"People Will Come, Sheahon, They Will Most Definitely Come"

Part 1

First you don't even consider firing Coach Weis, as a used broom, and replacing him with Ed Warriner.

Next you get Rock Chalk Park approved in order to create track and field facility capable of one day housing the future vast expansion in university track and field promotion and TV revenues.

Next, you move the track events out of Memorial Stadium.

Then you rip out the track and jump aprons and pits.

The you dig down 20 rows.

Then you lay in more seating and a grid iron 50 feet below grade You don't build the luxury boxes there. You hang them cantilevered downwards toward the field from the top of the stadium.

Then you lay in a system of drains to keep the below grade field drained.

Then you attach solar powered pumps with grid backup to lift the water up to retention basins at the open end of the stadium.

The retentions basins are designed as majestic, post neoclassical reflective ponds at the open end of the stadium to pump the lifted water into. The ponds are backed by marble wall exactly the height of wheat. The entire length of the marble wall is a bas relief of wheat with the names of great KU football players and coaches etched into it.

Then you fill the ponds with fountains and statuary that are exceptionally photogenic and scaled to work with the back ground of the wall, Potters Lake, the hill, the Campanile, and campus, so that TV cameras in the stadium and up in the blimp love to photograph the stadium and it becomes an iconic symbol of KU and its classical connection with not just Grecco Roman antiquity, but African antiquity, Central/South American antiquity, and Asian Antiquity.

"If you build it, they will come."

--a voice in Ray Kinsella's head in the movie Field of Dreams

jaybate 5 years, 4 months ago

Part 2

"Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come."

--Terrence Mann speaking to Ray Kinsella about whether to build the baseball diamond in the corn field, when Ray was going though hard financial times and in danger of losing his family farm (from the movie "Field of Dreams)

"I'm 36 years old, I love my family, I love baseball and I'm about to become a farmer. But until I heard the voice, I'd never done a crazy thing in my whole life."

--Ray Kinsella telling about the voice he heard in the movie Field of Dreams

Substitute Kansas for Iowa, football for baseball, and Sheahon for Ray.

Sheahon, people will come, Sheahon. They will most definitely come.

Rock Chalk!

mandomax 5 years, 4 months ago

Can someone explain how KU leasing the facilities would save the university money? I thought owning your own property was the way to go? Or are they talking about saving that money in the short term? Surely leasing it for 30 years and then buying it (I assume this is the hoped for sequence of events) will be substantially more expensive down the line. This deal smells to me...

JayhawkerX3 5 years, 4 months ago

FOLLOW THE MONEY! I certainly don't know all the "details", but from my understanding the facilities will "belong" to the builder for a 30 year period during which the university will "lease" them from him (thus the builder generating TONS of tax credits and depreciation over the life of the project for the "owner", credits and depreciation the University as "tax exempt" could not use). I further understand that at the end of the 30 years, the land/facilities become the property of KU. There may possibly be a "buy out" but if so, I'm presuming at the depreciated value of the facilities, which by that time should have been depreciated to about "0", so the buyout will be nominal. So, KU 1) gets the use of the facilities at a rate which is far less that what the facilities would lease for at "fair market value", 2) would NOT have to raise ANY money or go in debt to build the facilities (so that money could be used elsewhere, ie., renovations of The Phog and Memorial Stadium as those plans progress) and 3) get "state of the art" facilities in "record time" (no state bidding processes, approvals, studies, etc.). Though the "devil is always in the details", sounds like a win-win for KU and the contractor/donor so far!

Cora Smith 5 years, 4 months ago

Are there any models or mock ups of the plan? Hard to envision building a venue for track and field with adequate seating with 50m or less.

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