When the new Junction City High School opens next year USD 475 will have about 30 acres of land to figure out what to do with. One idea that is gaining traction is to turn it into community space for, among other things, a sports complex.
The idea of a sports complex in Junction City has floated for decades but never materialized. Junction City Mayor Jeff Underhill said the proposal city commissioners learned about in executive session on Nov. 3 could be the one that will make the dream a reality.
“Even when I was a kid, there was talk of the sports complex,” he said. “I really think that if it's going to happen, this is our best option and the easiest route to it.”
Kendall Schoenrock, a commercial real estate developer and a 1999 Junction City High School graduate, brought the proposal to the city and the school board. He said he plans to formally approach county officials after the holidays.
The idea starts with the school district following through with their plan to demolish the school, once it’s vacated. David Wild, USD 475 chief operations officer, said demolition will cost about $2 million and will begin after they remove all salvageable assets from the building.
Once the land is cleared, the city would take ownership
“The south ten acres are divided into two future development sites,” Schoenrock said. “The southeast five acres is where we would have a new community library.”
The Dorothy Bramlage Public Library staff have worked for several years on a plan to expand. Library Director Susan Moyer said the proposed location joins several others, which are all on the table including staying where they are on Seventh Street.
“Since we've been talking about the library building project, a number of alternate locations have been proposed to us,” Moyer said. “Like any location, it has its pros and cons. I think that it will definitely be something that we will weigh out.”
One of the advantages she said is its location on the west edge of town where there is a lot of new development.
“I think we would be a good anchor for the site and I think the site could be a good anchor for the library,” she said.
However, just as location is a pro, it is also a disadvantaged compared to where they are now.
“We're kind of in that government area,” she said. “We have a pretty good dash-in aspect from Fort Riley — people who need to dash in on their lunch hour and get something notarized, we're pretty close to that right now. It's really just going to be a matter of trying to weigh it out.”
In the southwest five acres, is where a natatorium would eventually go.
“That would be later on the timeline,” Schoenrock said. “In order to do an indoor pool that is joint use with the school district, the county, the city, potentially the YMCA, or other interested parties … you're talking three to five years out for the initial brainstorm, and probably a few years longer for actual construction … but you need to plant those seeds now.”
The remaining green field space would transform into sport fields with plenty of parking.
“That’s a really attractive site to run multi-day tournaments to bring in people from out of town,” Schoenrock said. “And to really set up a properly funded Parks and Rec department … and really start to have bigger, more structured, more successful youth sporting events in Junction City.”
How to pay for it
Schoenrock said the proposal is based on two assumptions. One, the school district demolishes and mitigates the site and two, the city accepts the ownership of the greenfield, which is the fully cleared site and then maintains that through the Parks and Recreation Department.
Wild said plans are in place for demolition and Underhill said the city commission is looking favorably at the project.
“If where the building is was turned to green space, very easily we could turn that into youth football fields and youth soccer fields right now, within our existing budget,” Underhill said. “As our debt load gets paid down … that's just going to get us more opportunities to turn that into what we really want it to be.”
Schoenrock said the approach he and other community members are taking is do break up the plan into phases.
“The question here is how you execute for the short term, how you execute for the middle term and how you execute for the long term,” he said. “The initial cost is very minimal for the city.”
In the first three to five years the cost for maintenance is just chalking the fields and mowing the grass. In the five- to 10-year range they can start looking at planting specific types of grass and putting in irrigation to start improving the site.
One potential funding source Schoenrock spoke about is the transient guest tax, which is controlled by the Convention and Visitors Bureau. In 2014 the county commission approved a 1% increase, effective Jan. 1, 2015, of the TGT and earmarked it for a sports complex. The 1% raise brought the local TGT to 6%.
That project never materialized.
“The CVB is focused on bringing outside people to Junction City with an emphasis on them staying overnight,” Schoenrock said. “I think when you have a significantly large site, like what we will have … that is absolutely right for youth sports tournaments and other types of events. That greenfield opens up in my mind limitless opportunities and limitless potential to bring in large events that people come in and stay overnight here for.”
Events like music festivals and Sundown Salute could potentially go there.
Schoenrock said he has not yet formally approached anyone in the county including Michele Stimatze, CVB director, about their potential involvement. However, he has worked with CVB through his involvement with Play JC, an organization focused on youth sport.
“I worked with Michele to do the Momentum Volleyball Tournament last February, where we brought in 200 outside teams for a an event,” he said. “I've had good success working with Michele. She was very helpful in helping us to organize and plan that youth sport event, which is one of the inspirations for this, the potential of this site and what we can do in the future. And I look forward to working with Michelle and the CVB on how we get outside visitors to overnight in Junction City.
Although they haven’t been officially approached, Stimatze and County Commission Chairman Keith Ascher said they have heard a little about the project.
Stimatze said her initial thoughts is that it could be “a big thing for Junction City and Geary County.”
Her prime concern is how much the TGT has decreased because of COVID-19.
“This past year, we have taken a major hit in transit guest tax dollars,” she said. “I'm not saying that we would not support it, we would support it, in some way, but I don't know financially what we can do.”
In fiscal year 2020 the Geary County CVB brought in just over $527,000, a decrease of 18% from the previous year, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue. However, the KDOR also shows that in first three months of the 2021 fiscal year, which is July through September, Geary County CVB brought in $190,858, up from the previous year’s first quarter when the CVB received $183,863 in TGT.
When the CVB abandoned the sports complex idea for which the county had raised the TGT, the 1% went into a newly created Special Projects fund. That fund has about $200,00, some of which is committed to a renovation project at Freedom Park, Stimatze said.
“(The other) 5% is our working budget,” she said. “That's our financials for the department, the CVB wages, that kind of thing.”
Ascher said he would likely defer a decision of TGT support for the project to the CVB board.
“I think that would be something, since we reinstituted the CVB Committee, that would have to go through them and then see what their recommendation would be,” Ascher said.
The next step
The project is in its infancy. Schoenrock presented the idea to city and school officials, who have voiced their support.
Wild received authorization from the school board to enter discussions with the city about how the partnership on the project will happen, but has held off initiating the conversation.
“I have not started talks yet,” Wild said. “I was going to give Kendall a little more time to talk to the county. He mentioned he had not had that chance yet. I wanted to give him some space to do that.”
When discussions do start, Wild said he is looking forward to where the project can lead.
“I think the project has some positive merits,” he said. “It achieves some of the things that the community has been trying to achieve for quite some time.”
Likewise, Underhill expressed interest in pursuing the conversation.
“It's a fantastic opportunity for the community and a good use of that land that I don't really see any other use for once the school's gone,” he said. “I’m really excited for our community to have some semblance of a sports complex and, and I think it's very doable on the city and the school district’s part and hopefully the county can help us out with that as well.”