The University of Kansas is getting more serious about upgrades to its football stadium — and this time the plans may involve far more than football.
KU officials recently have begun advertising for design firms that are interested in creating “concept and schematic design” services for a new gateway project at 11th and Mississippi streets, which is at the base of Mt. Oread and is the current the location of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
The request for qualifications that KU has begun advertising through its bidding system says the project would provide an “upgraded home” for Kansas football, but it also lists a host of other uses that could be part of a project. Those include: “A multi-purpose year-round venue which may incorporate conference or entertainment capabilities, retail, dining, health care services, or other facilities that support economic development and the University’s academic mission.”
The bid document said KU leaders envision the project being a new “gateway to campus.”
The idea of major renovations to KU’s football stadium is not new. As we’ve reported, KU has consistently kept stadium renovations in its official five-year capital improvement plan, which is approved each year by the Kansas Board of Regents. The current plan — approved this summer — includes $350 million worth of projects for KU’s football stadium.
However, getting a project on the capital improvement plan and getting it built have been two different things. KU has had several campaigns to raise funds for football stadium upgrades, but has failed to start the major project as the team continued to struggle in the win and loss column.
The idea of upgrading the stadium — which opened in 1921 and is generally considered one of the oldest in college football — has been a subject of increasing speculation as universities across the country look to improve their portfolios after the Big Ten’s recent expansion created new hopes or worries of conference realignment.
Details about using the 11th and Mississippi site as a home for a multipurpose venue that could host conferences and other events is a newer idea. As we’ve reported, KU leaders have been touting the idea of hosting more conferences and events on the KU campus as a way to generate additional revenue for the university.
KU is working more closely with the city of Lawrence’s convention and visitors bureau, and KU recently has hired its own staff to manage and more fully vet the potential of increased events, conferences and conventions on campus.
How a new venue would play into those plans isn’t yet clear. However, the site at 11th and Mississippi streets would place it close to a pair of venues that are expected to be important in any events business — the Kansas Union and its large ballroom and The Oread hotel, which recently was sold and will become part of the Hilton brand of properties.
It wasn’t immediately clear how large of an area KU is looking at near the 11th and Mississippi intersection. That intersection is basically at the northeast corner of the entrance to KU’s football stadium. The area to the north of the intersection is densely developed with older homes, while the area to the east has been developed in recent years with the multistory HERE apartment complex. However, there are patches of open space, surface parking lots and outdoor practice fields near the stadium that potentially could be available for development of additional amenities and structures.
According to the bid documents, KU intends to take bids until Sept. 13. The hiring of a design firm won’t guarantee the project will move forward, but likely will be a key step in determining a price tag for the facility, which in turn would be important in attracting potential donors.
The bid documents note that three KU entities actually are involved in the project: the University of Kansas, Kansas Athletics and KU Endowment, which is the private fundraising arm of the university.
I expect more details to come soon, and will provide an update when they arrive.
— Journal-World Sports Editor Matt Tait contributed to this report.