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Timeline, funding for KU football stadium project coming into clearer focus

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Post last updated at 1:57 p.m. Wednesday, July 19:

Demolition of the west side of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium could begin as soon as December to kick off an ambitious plan to revamp the entire area around 11th and Mississippi streets.

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KU also confirmed it is looking to design the stadium for a capacity of 40,000 fans (the stadium’s current capacity is 47,000) and more than 100 luxury suites. The total project is expected to cost $335 million, KU has told the Kansas Board of Regents as recently as May.

Several of KU’s requests for proposals (RFPs) shed light on the project’s timeline and offer more details on the specifications expected for the new KU football stadium and surrounding area — which officials have dubbed the Campus Gateway Project. The documents outline plans for the site that include student housing, an entertainment venue, a hotel and office, restaurant and retail space.

The RFPs, created to attract contract bids for the project and obtained via the Kansas Open Records Act, provide more insight into what the University is looking for than what previously has been made public. For example, in a June 22 RFP for development and operations of the project, KU confirmed it anticipates demolishing and reconstructing the west and north stands of the football stadium, plus erecting an adjoining 55,000-square-foot conference center, beginning in December as part of the first phase of the project.

This first phase, according to the RFP, is expected to be completed by 2025.

The June RFP also included new details about the mixed-use development recommendations from Chicago-based Hunden Partners, one of the project’s consultants, that KU recommends to be built around Memorial Stadium, including:

  • Student housing: a 175-unit, 425-bed apartment-style facility
  • Entertainment venue: a 2,500-capacity flat-floor venue
  • Hotel: a 175-room property
  • Office space: 20,000 square feet, including partnered sports medicine facility
  • Restaurant/retail space: 53,000 square feet, including a KU athletic retail store

In addition, a separate RFP for food and beverage services in the complex provided details about luxury suites and premium seating that would be included in the renovated football stadium:

  • Founders Suites (10): 240 seats
  • Traditional Suites (13): 208 seats
  • Mini Suites (15): 180 seats
  • Living Room Boxes (40): 160 seats
  • Loge (41) : 164 seats
  • Ledge: 294 seats
  • Club: 1,758 seats
  • Memberships: 400

However, following publication of this story, a KU athletics spokesperson said the number of suites would ultimately not be what was included in the RFP but totals were not yet finalized.

Other details, such as parking, are still being evaluated, according to the RFP. The master developers and operators for the new project are expected to be selected by Dec. 8.

You can read the entire RFP here:

KORA-2023-387-Gateway-Project-Bid-Records

It appears KU has not used any public dollars to pay for the consulting work on the project. In an open records request to KU, we also sought records of any invoices paid to the five consultants KU has publicly said it is working with on the project, but was told there are no records available.

KU spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson confirmed in an email Monday that this means the consultants are being paid through private funds through KU Endowment. Those records are not subject to open records requests under Kansas law.

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The project is estimated to cost $335 million and will be funded by ARPA (federal COVID-19 relief) funds, private gifts, and the Athletics Association. KU in February was awarded up to a $50 million grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce through the department’s University Challenge Grant program, which requires a 3-to-1 matching ratio — meaning KU had to commit to match at least $150 million in private funds to receive the $50 million.

Projects selected for the University Challenge Grant program are ones which “attract, recruit and aid in the retention of students and help build the state’s workforce,” according to the Department of Commerce website. It is funded through money proposed by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and approved by the Kansas Legislature.

Patrick Lowry, spokesperson for the Department of Commerce, said in an email that the department is merely the administrator of the Challenge Grant funds, though it also administers the ARPA funds distributed by the federal government. The state Legislature in SB 267 detailed that the ARPA funds be used “for the purpose of supplementing private donations, public-private partnerships and revenues to fund strategic initiative projects at the University of Kansas that develop and strengthen local and national partnerships,” Lowry said.

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According to a January report from the Kansas Legislative Budget Committee, $75 million for University Challenge Grants came from money allocated by the federal government through its various COVID-19 relief packages. Five of the six Regents universities applied for different projects that ultimately totaled more than the $75 million available, meaning KU’s application beat out other schools’ proposals to be selected by the Department of Commerce.

The full funding breakdown for the 11th and Mississippi Streets project is as follows, Barcomb-Peterson said in her email:

  • $35 million in ARPA funds appropriated to KU by the 2022 Kansas legislature
  • Up to $50 million through the Kansas Department of Commerce’s University Challenge Grant program
  • $250 million private funding from a combination of the following:
    • private donations
    • development opportunities on the site
    • bonding debt serviced with revenues generated by the stadium

“No tuition funds or State General Funds will be used for the project,” Barcomb-Peterson said.

This likely means a majority of the funding sources for the renovation project will not be made public unless the donors themselves choose to do so, since KU Endowment is not subject to the Kansas Open Records Act.

A preliminary rendering of the new David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium and surrounding area circulated online last month after a market analysis from Hunden, one of the lead consultants, was made public. As for when new, more detailed renderings may be made public, Barcomb-Peterson said the public still may have a few months to wait.

“A master developer has not been chosen yet,” she said. “The university put out an RFP/RFQ just last month, and proposals for a P3 master and/or mixed-use developer are not due until October.”

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Conner Mitchell (he/him), reporter, can be reached at cmitchell (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-435-9264. If you have sensitive information to send Conner, please email connermitchell (at) protonmail (dot) com. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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