Lawrence is dubbed the “Birthplace of Basketball” by many, but for those who aren’t present for any of head coach Bill Self’s imaginably passionate pre-game speeches, or for those who aren’t University of Kansas students and subsequently don’t have access to Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center, there aren’t too many places to play the game.
It’s not just basketball players, either; soccer, volleyball, softball and track and field athletes are at a shortage of high-quality competition venues within Lawrence city limits. Young athletes who aren’t playing for their high school teams or any of KU teams are seemingly left with just a few crowded venues around town.
This shortage hasn’t gone unnoticed by city officials, which is where the $25 million recreation center and sports complex tentatively named “Rock Chalk Park” comes in.
On Tuesday, city commissioners voted to move forward and continue to work with KU Endowment to plan the construction of the proposed complex at Sixth Street and South Lawrence Trafficway – about a mile west of Lawrence Free State High School in northwest Lawrence.
Tuesday’s vote marked a significant step forward for the project, but there’s still more to be done before developers break land. Vice Mayor of Lawrence Michael Dever says the affirmative vote is a result of to the city’s intention on building the highest-quality facilities possible.
“Due to a desire to have a high-quality environment [at the complex], KU Endowment is going to provide the land to the city at no cost,” Dever said. “In return, they want to make sure what we build is going to be high-quality and will be consistent with the facilities that are constructed throughout the university.”
Dever says that some members of the community have expressed concern over KU Endowment’s involvement in the project, as well as the involvement of Bliss Sports, a group KU currently contracts to build and maintain its athletic facilities on campus.
“We had opted for trying to find a way to build this thing without competitive bid,” Dever said. “The university wanted us to use Bliss because they’re already contracted to build KU’s facilities, and they wanted us to use Bliss to build ours.”
As of now, the proposed complex will feature a variety of indoor sports courts, a 22,000 square foot indoor turf soccer field, as well as three new stadiums for KU’s women’s soccer, women’s softball and track and field teams.
Though KU athletics will have access to the facilities, Dever says that the complex’s massive indoor recreation center will be fully available to the public.
“This is being built with the main intention of serving any resident in Lawrence,” Dever said. “The plan is to attempt to build a 185,000 square foot indoor recreation center that would be available to the public and could be rented or leased for volleyball, basketball, and soccer tournaments.”
Though KU’s softball, soccer and track and field teams would likely start competing at the complex once it’s built, Dever insists that the project isn’t just being designed to benefit university athletes.
“KU athletes can obviously use it whenever they want – they’re Lawrence residents, too,” Dever said. “But the intention is for this to be a city facility that would utilize joint parking facilities, joint drive facilities and joint outdoor recreation facilities.”
The complex could also give Lawrence soccer players a much-needed venue for indoor competition in the winter. Students who make the 40-minute drive east to Kansas City to play in indoor leagues could cut their travel time significantly if they’re playing at Rock Chalk Park.
“There’s going to be a [22,000 square foot] indoor turf area that will likely have the ability to be broke down into smaller, futsal-sized fields,” Dever said, adding that the complex’s basketball courts could potentially be used for futsal as well.
“Our main focus is to try and make more access to courts,” Dever said. “Right now, we don’t have many at all and we can no longer use [KU’s] Robinson [Center] for tournaments due to NCAA regulations. We felt that, as a city, we needed more court access and that’s what we opted for with this project.”
City officials hope that the complex will become a premier venue for national athletic tournaments. If the facilities are built to the standards developers are expecting, they could possibly host events like the Special Olympics and state high school tournaments and championships.
Going forward, Dever says city commissioners will continue to work with KU Endowment to draft a contract to highlight the agreement and fine-tune the design and construction contracts. They will also take a look at the project’s finances and if they will translate to the project’s development.
“The next agreement will be to determine what kind of facility we’d build and whether or not the cost estimate would cover all the potential costs associated to what we’d agreed to,” Dever said.