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Girod envisions convention center, hotel, possibly medical facility as part of $300M gateway project at KU football stadium

An aerial shot from the east of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium in 2017.

A “gateway” project near the University of Kansas' football stadium could cost more than $300 million, and university leaders are interested in a hotel/convention center and a significant health care presence on the site, KU’s chancellor said Thursday.

Major renovations to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium would remain a centerpiece of any such project, but everything built around the stadium would be very significant too, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a brief interview with the Journal-World on Thursday.

“It would be a very big project,” Girod said.

Girod said the project at 11th and Mississippi streets is also likely to include something else: New debt for Kansas Athletics. He said it is unlikely that donors and private development money will be able to fund the entire project

The new debt for Kansas Athletics would come at a time when the department’s future revenue streams are in question as conference realignment is actively underway in college athletics, creating concerns that the Big 12 Conference could become a second-tier type of conference that doesn’t produce media rights revenue at the same rates as it does today.

Girod, though, said he is concerned about KU’s future status in a top-tier athletic conference if it doesn’t undertake a project like the one envisioned for the northern edge of KU’s campus.

“Not doing it dictates an outcome,” Girod said. “You have to start there. We can choose not to do it, but we probably can anticipate what our long-term outcome will be in terms of where we do sit conference wise.”

When asked about whether KU had made a determination that it was unlikely to remain in a top-tier conference without significant improvements to its football stadium, Girod expressed concerns that could be the case. He said it was clear KU’s successful men's basketball program alone won’t be enough to secure KU’s spot in the future of college athletics.

“It is a football conversation right now,” Girod said of conference discussions. “We just won a national championship in basketball, but it is a football conversation, and that puts us at a disadvantage.”

The $300 million figure attached to the project is not a surprise, and it conceivably could go much higher. KU has listed about $300 million in football stadium improvements in its capital improvement plan for years. To add a convention center, hotel, medical businesses and other amenities presumably could add significantly to the total cost. Girod did not provide an upper-end estimate of what the project could cost, but he said that the $300 million figure was entirely possible, though he also said KU might look to do some of the project in phases.

Girod also clarified that KU currently envisions the project happening entirely on property that KU already owns, and that it wouldn’t include going north of the football stadium, which currently is a mix of single family homes and aged apartment buildings.

In comments to the Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday, Girod mentioned the grassy tailgate area that is near the corner of 11th and Mississippi streets as an area ripe for development.

“Through some preliminary work we feel there is a high probability that a convention center hotel, potentially medical facility and perhaps some others make sense on that corner as part of our re-do of the football stadium,” Girod told the board.

Girod noted the city of Lawrence had done a study of convention center possibilities in Lawrence dating back to 2015, and that KU has reviewed that work, while also commissioning a new economic development study. Indications are that the Lawrence economy could support a convention center, Girod said.

“It actually was an incredibly positive study, but they just didn’t think they had the bandwidth to pull it off,” Girod said of the city’s previous study about convention center possibilities in the community.

Girod did not elaborate on what type of medical facility KU is envisioning on the property. His comments, though, will spark speculation about the University of Kansas Health System gaining a greater presence in Lawrence.

The health system surrounding the KU-affiliated hospital has been one of the faster-growing health systems in the state, but it has a fairly limited physical presence in Lawrence. The KU hospital and LMH Health have been in strategic partnership discussions about how the two entities can work more closely together.

Girod said he expects one way the new project will be funded is through private developers paying to locate in the project. KU is conducting an economic feasibility study, in part, to show how much potential there is for business activity at the site. Girod believes the area is poised to become the new “front door” to the campus as KU opens a new welcome and visitors center next to the KU Alumni Center, which is located just up the hill from the football stadium.

KU’s strategic plan also envisions the university becoming a player in the business of hosting conferences and conventions. University leaders believe KU has space — ranging from the ballroom at the student union to lecture halls — that could host large meeting-based events. The Kansas Union's meeting space is just up the hill from the football stadium, and The Oread hotel, which is in the process of becoming a Hilton-branded property, also is just up the hill from the 11th and Mississippi project site.

Girod did not say how much debt he believes Kansas Athletics may have to take on to complete its portion of the project. But Girod emphasized he intends for any new debt to be put on the books of Kansas Athletics Inc., rather than issued through the general university. He said he does not envision using state dollars or tuition dollars — which are the primary sources of funding for KU’s general operations — to fund any part of the project.

“We know we are going to have to take out some debt service for this, but we will try to limit that to the degree that we can, and focus on fundraising and private development,” Girod said.

Girod said he expects to provide another update to the Board of Regents in November, perhaps even asking the board to approve a project plan and scope, which is a state requirement for new KU building projects.

Comments

Brett McCabe

I have absolutely no faith in this man. How we picked a neck doctor to run a major university......oh yeah.....it was Brownback-appointed members of the Regents.....if this works under his watch it will be pure, dumb luck. The first step would be to fire him, hire someone with a clear vision, who isn't wandering around in the dark saying...."maybe we'll have a knee-surgery center and a Whattaburger. Or maybe a convention center and a doggie daycare. We just know that it's going to cost a bunch of money".

He has already telegraphed his punch....private donors aren't going to cover it.

How these nimrod millionaires continue to have their jobs is an insult to pretty much everyone. Unless you are a red-hatted-magat, then you'll just double your monthly donation.

Please, keep this man out of the room of all major conversations. He has about as much charisma and leadership ability as an expired Almond Joy.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Rodney Crain

I am with you Brett.

Just a few short weeks ago, a survey was sent to season ticket owners, then 2-3 weeks later, we are opening the process for bidders for our stadium upgrade, and now this?

Geerod - "Trust me boys and girls I know my track record is an obvious failure, so let me tell you what my vision is - we are going to have everything, and by the way we have no way to fund it, so I am going to take on debt like you have never seen for this baby. Sure you would have to be a complete idiot right now to go deep in the red, but we can figure that out later".

In 2 months we will have it all sorted out. He already knows that what he wants to do is a pipe dream, so he is going to take on debt.

There is no way this is going to go smoothly.

If you are going to do multipurpose stuff, you will need a staff in place at least a year before it opens booking events in those venues. Maybe two years for some events. You need someone selling every inch of space to vendors as well. This has (choose your color) elephant written all over it. Epic Boondoggle on an multi-purpose level. They should have a large open area for students to show up too. How will this affect other business's in town? There are only so many dollars to spend.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Brad Watson

Another head scratcher....West Campus out by the soccer fields is the ideal location...the stadium is only used 6 weekends a year.......Somebody needs to put a governor on Dr. Girod as far as 11th and Mississippi development....makes no sense...you have a hotel at 12th and Oread...put one on the other side of campus...for some balance and much more room to design a real convention center/hotel...not to mention the parking issue. ....Did any of these planning experts/architects actually go and graduate from college? ...Sometimes you really have to wonder!

1 week, 3 days ago

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Brad Watson

If you are determined to place it on the stadium side of campus....maybe the JRP /Carruth O'Leary buildings should be torn down and put the convention center there...and a better view!

1 week, 3 days ago

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Doug Roberts

No need for insults, Brett.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Randy Bombardier

I have to wonder how much conversation has been done with the city of Lawrence. There needs to be a 30 and 40 year plan. There should be a Urban Renewal district and use tax increment financing (including sales tax) to take the entire area of old Town to the next level. Then the stadium and convention center, etc have a context. If you want synergy for a community that's what you do, not a project here, a project there. Certainly address transport.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Rodney Crain

That would take too long for GeeRod. If I were an owner, anywhere close to this I would be worried about how much money this going to pull from my business, let alone generating a dull blade to my profits by supporting this.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Jeff Coffman

What no track?

My favorite is comments and "possibly"...meaning they really don't have the plans yet.

1 week, 3 days ago

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Joey Meyer

What’s up with all the Girod frustration?

We know we need stadium work. The good news is that it’s going into the space with one of the best campus views in the country.

Additional revenue and year round use is more of a good thing too, is it not?

1 week, 2 days ago

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Robert Brock

Blow up Memorial Stadium! Long live Memorial Stadium (start over and rebuild this eyesore)!

1 week, 2 days ago

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Joey Meyer

It's a great site for a stadium... just imagine putting Baylor, Colorado State's or San Diego State's brand-new stadium right on this site. Any of those on the KU campus would be fantastic and well-regarded nationally.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Brad Watson

Lets start filling Memorial Stadium consistently before going crazy about expansion on that...do the necessary improvements to the restrooms etc...if you want to do a hotel /convention center...do it separately ...but really think it through...I believe West Campus is a better location.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Bville Hawk

Except for the stadium part everything about this "plan" is hair-brained and complete folly. How do people with no experience building or running anything end up in positions of power? I'm thinking our president, our chancellor...

1 week, 2 days ago

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Rodney Schulz

KU wins a single conference road game and the chancellor goes on record requesting $300 million. Am I missing something? How much that debt service is going to come from the basketball program? There should be zero coming from the basketball program. As for football, has anyone watched the movie or read the book “Concussion”?

1 week, 2 days ago

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Rodney Schulz

And as for a medical facility, did not the entire US medical system prove themselves incompetent and untrustworthy on the Covid situation? India handles it with almost no money and hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin and a little zinc. And these incompetent American medical folks think they need another medical facility? It’s another reason for me to move my family over to India and leave the USA behind.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Ryan Mullen

Our Stadium sucks donkey butt. They need to rip the whole thing down. I am convinced of this now.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Dirk Medema

Rodney - $300M is just a placeholder from previous stadium talk. From what they are talking about, I’m guessing we’re way north of that.

Randy - Transportation impacts were one of my questions with that area tucked into the residential area. It is encouraging that we have piggybacked on the research that the city has already done. There will need to be a lot more once site specific criteria comes into play.

While there are obvious benefits to west campus and spreading facilities out, there are also benefits to having more consolidation. There has been a lot of movement in this direction from an urban development standpoint.

While not discussed much in the article, this really has nothing to do with the 2Ws this season. It was a discussion at the Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday that was probably scheduled long before any games were played. It is a required step in the process just as the meeting in November is another step.

In some ways this is taking the concept that was successfully applied in Rock Chalk Park and blowing it up by several orders of magnitude. In some ways it’s like saying TTU, you’ve got a nice little project.

Go big or go home, because the status quo or anything close is ultimately doomed to failure.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Rodney Crain

Dirk there is no way that he, nor Goff should be thinking about taking on a placeholder of $300m in debt. Not now. Maybe in a few years. Global finance is not going to calm down until Russia becomes stable again. The way Ukraine is being supported that is 18 months at the least. You don't take on debt when the interest rates are high.

Whatever dumb and dumber do, please please do not let them hire another KU Grad to run this. Nil alone should make anyone rethink going down that rabbit hole again.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Dirk Medema

Rodney - Completely agree with you on debt, interest rates, and where the world/Ukraine are right now. At this point though, we don’t know what that debt level is. $300M would be a reasonable ballpark $ for the stadium and maybe for the non-stadium component as well, but we have no idea how much would be privately financed, etc

There’s just not enough info to know one way or the other much less be vehemently opposed. We just don’t know but the university has a process that is required to move forward and moving forward is really the only option that doesn’t end in irrelevance.

It is a process and all the answers are not known at the beginning any more than all the relevant info is shared with the public. Some people just like to think they do know all and if they don’t know then it doesn’t exist.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Mike Mainzer

The priority is upgrading the stadium to actually make the facility comparable to a power 5 conference football program. Regardless of win loss record, that needs to be done. It’s gotta be tough to bring recruits there and impress them. Likewise, any conference realignment committee would look at Memorial and question the commitment to football as a revenue generator for the university and conference. We’ve got the right coach in place now upgrade the facilities and phase in any commercial development based on a plan and needs assessment.

1 week, 1 day ago

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Brad Watson

Recruits don't care about the stadium....they do care about the other facilities and that is where the focus should be...keep the stadium the way it is...upgrade the inner workings and keep this great piece of history for future generations to enjoy...I love the stadium...I wouldn't change anything...except the inner workings!

1 week ago

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