AP: KU sports complex project in Lawrence moves forward

1/10/2013

KU sports complex project in Lawrence moves forward

KU sports complex project in Lawrence moves forward

LAWRENCE (AP) — The University of Kansas plans to begin building its part of a large new sports complex in Lawrence, but the city will wait until February to vote on its portion of the project, which will be called Rock Chalk Park.

City commissioners on Tuesday approved rezoning requests and a special-use permit that will allow the university and its private partners to move ahead with plans for a track and field stadium, soccer field, softball stadium and other amenities on about 90 acres in northwest Lawrence.

The vote does not commit the city to building a proposed $25 million recreation center in the park. Commissioners will vote in mid-February on that part of the project, which plans indicate could include eight gyms and other amenities, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (http://bit.ly/WNxkpj ).

Jim Marchiony, associate athletic director at the Kansas, said the university hopes construction will begin in February or March, with the track ready in time for the 2014 Kansas Relays.

"That is definitely our goal," Marchiony said. "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."

Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel will provide financing and construction services for the university-related facilities, with his company owning the facilities for 30 years and leasing them to the university.

The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Lawrence-based Kansas Licensed Beverage Association — which represents bars and restaurants — have formally endorsed the project, as did some parents of young athletes.

"Let's take Lawrence recreation from good to great," said Heidi Simon, who said her son was practicing basketball in Tonganoxie on Tuesday 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."

However, others have expressed concern about the project, including the League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County and the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods.

The proposal includes allowing the city's $25 million recreation center to go through a bidding process different from its usual procedure. It would limit bidding to three companies, and Fritzel's firm would have the chance to match the low bid on the project.

Commissioners said they would discuss those issues before voting on the agreements they will consider in February.

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.

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