LAWRENCE | Plans for a $25 million city-owned recreation center and a larger project that would include privately owned athletic facilities for the University of Kansas are on track after the Lawrence City Commission approved agreements for both proposals.
The commission on Tuesday approved a development agreement for the recreation center and an ordinance to give a 100 percent property tax abatement for the next 10 years for the larger project, Rock Chalk Park, which would include track and field, soccer and softball fields for the university.
The commission approved the tax abatement even though its key advisory board on economic development incentives deadlocked earlier in the day on whether to recommend it, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.
The commissioners said they believed the project was important for the community.
"I think there is a potential for the university, our largest employer, to be damaged by not moving forward with this project," Commissioner Mike Dever said.
With the approval, bids on the proposed 181,000-square-foot recreation center with eight gyms and other amenities will be sought in late March and accepted in mid-April.
Tuesday night's vote also is one of the last needed for the university and its private partner, Thomas Fritzel's Bliss Sports, to begin construction on the stadium portion of the project. The tax abatement is expected to waive about $17 million in taxes over 10 years. Bliss will lease the facilities to the university.
The city's Public Incentives Review Committee on Tuesday afternoon deadlocked 3-3 on whether to recommend the tax abatements after member Rob Chestnut questioned whether the city's financial analysis of the project was accurate.
City commissioners said it was difficult to create a traditional financial analysis for the project because it is based on the number of visitors that might be attracted to it, rather than the more traditional number of jobs it will directly create.
Mayor Bob Schumm and Dever also said they were concerned the university might build the sports facilities outside of Lawrence if the commission didn't approve the abatement.
"They easily could leave the community," Schumm said. "There are other people who would love to have this, and one of them is just down the road in Wyandotte County."
The university and Bliss have said they hope to have the track and field portion of the project constructed in time for the 2014 Kansas Relays.