The races that consist of the KU Relays have ended, but the bigger race is just beginning.
The University of Kansas and the City of Lawrence broke ground on the new Rock Chalk Park back on April 16th, but the next step comes next week on Tuesday, May 14th.
On this day, city officials are prepared to receive construction bids for the new recreation center that would span five acres on the land adjacent to the new KU facilities.
The Lawrence Recreation Center is proposed to have more than 180,000 square feet at the intersection of 6th street and George Williams Way. This would allow more gym space for Lawrence patrons and more basketball/volleyball courts.
A “Blissful City”
It would seem that Bliss Sports has wrapped up the $25 million project, but that official announcement will come from the City of Lawrence and the City Commissioner on Tuesday.
Bliss Sports, which is already working on the KU facility is making the push to win the city over; one way to do that is to help pay the cost to establish this.
“This is a huge project and something that the city of Lawrence really needs,” said Dru Fritzel, co-owner of Bliss Sports. “We really just want to see it come to life after all these years of a lot of talk, but no action.”
Bliss Sports has already set up one program to help offset more than $11 million for the KU facilities. The entire Rock Chalk Project is being financed by Fritzel and leased back to the university over time.
The city has capped its portion of the developments at $25 million, which comes from tax dollars from the Lawrence residents and other recreation accounts the city has stored up.
The city is taking on it’s second cooperative effort with another brand.
The City of Lawrence runs and operates the Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center, which is also set up and used by Lawrence Free State High School.
With both of the joint efforts coming from public school systems, KU looks to build off this success, even if it comes from the separate athletic department.
“We look forward to the second half of this project coming in with the recreation center,” said Sheahon Zenger, KU Athletic Director. “We look forward to being the eternal, or perpetual neighbor, with the city.”
The Health Craze Meets the Migration
There has been a lot of people calling for a new recreation center for some years now.
The city has three indoor recreation centers now, using the Community Building at 11th and Vermont, the East Lawrence Center on East 15th Street and the Holcom Sports Complex at the corner of 27th and Lawrence Avenue.
However, all of these are older, worn-down buildings and they are pretty small. The newest building is the Holcom Park Center and that was constructed in 25 years ago in 1988.
“There is no doubt in my mind Lawrence needs more exercise space,” said Terry Riordan, a pediatrician and a City Commission candidate who had a vote on the project. “I’ve talked to so many people who end up traveling to Kansas City or Topeka to reach facilities like the new proposed ones. Lawrence needs something like this.”
All of these facilities are older, but they are also all located in unique parts of town.
In the 2006 PLAY Study, more gym space was called for, for the youth and the city, and the need for an indoor community recreation center in northwest Lawrence was recognized.
This fits the theme going on in Lawrence, where families and businesses seem to be shifting more toward the western parts of Lawrence.
This doesn’t appear to be a problem for too many people, though.
“Lawrence is really, somewhat of a small town,” Zenger said. “I don’t think anything is inaccessible in Lawrence, Kansas.”
One Arkansas-based company has had plans approved to build an apartment complex and a nine-hole golf course combination on the other side of George Williams Way.
Plans for a new ten building strip mall are starting to take shape, which would put a new shopping center on sixth street. Bliss, and the Fritzel brothers, have their hand on this project as well.
“This set up would have three major stores and seven other smaller ones,” Fritzel said. “It would bring in retailers that current residents have no access to unless they drive to Topeka or Kansas City.”
Hopefully Zenger is right. The patrons of the city seem willing and excited for this new development to pop up, but as for the students on campus, it may be asking a lot.
Preston Sycks, a freshman from St. Paul Minnesota said he went to close to sixty “non-revenue” games this year as part of Rock Chalk Rewards, where he accumulated points for going to the smaller sporting events, such as soccer and softball. Later his points are turned into prizes for supporting KU Athletics.
“If this was the set up this year, I wouldn’t have gone to as many games as I did this year,” Sycks said. “Since I don’t have a car, it would be nearly impossible for me to get to games; and it’s just far away, really an inconvenience.”
There are talks about buses running from campus to Rock Chalk Park, but nothing has been finalized. Nothing will probably be set up until the fall of 2015, when soccer hopes to kick-off at the new complex.
Paying Off the Debt
While the $25 million project may seem like a lot from the city, if all goes according to plan, then the city will be able to get out of the red numbers pretty quickly.
The city will be able to rent out sections of the complex for team practices and individual trainings. The facility hopes to become home to annual amateur basketball and volleyball tournaments. These tournaments could bring in thousands of kids from across the Midwest and kids of all ages.
Then there is the revenue outside of the facility and these tournaments that greatly benefit the city.
With all these teams and families coming to tournaments in the area, they need hotels, food, and memorabilia. Since there really aren’t any major tournaments in Lawrence now, it’s hard to say how much this will impact the city, but it will certainly help.
“I think we will see a lot of things: restaurants, hotels, attracts pop up out here,” Fritzel said, and the city has a great possibility to become a favored attraction for parents and coaches.”
The University’s Rock Chalk Park will also help. Since the improvements to the playing grounds will improve so much, it will put KU, and Lawrence, on the map to host Big 12 tournaments, and maybe some bigger NCAA preliminary tournaments.
“Our full 400 meter track will set us up to be able to host Big 12’s and great events at the new facilities,” said Stanley Redwine, head coach for KU track and field. “Also we will be able to have U.S.A. meets, and things like that, in conjunction with the city.”
There’s a lot to look forward to whether you’re a KU fan or a Lawrence resident, or both.
While there are still some questions, and a lot of them will be answered on the 14th, one thing is certain, and that is that the future of KU soccer, softball and track and field seems very bright.