The University of Kansas is taking improvements to its football stadium more and more seriously – and this time the plans may involve much more than football.
KU officials recently began advertising for design firms interested in providing “conceptual and schematic design” services for a new walkway project at 11th and Mississippi streets, which sits at the foot of the Mount Oread and is the current location of Kansas’ David Booth Memorial Stadium.
The RFP that KU has started advertising through its bidding system says the project would provide an “improved home” for Kansas football, but it also lists a host of other uses that could be part of it. ‘a project. These include: “A year-round, multi-purpose venue that can incorporate conference or entertainment capabilities, retail, restaurants, healthcare services or other facilities that support economic development and the academic mission of the University.”
The application document says KU leaders envision the project as a new “gateway to campus.”
The idea of major renovations to the KU football stadium is not new. As we reported, KU has always kept stadium renovations in its official five-year capital improvement plan, which is approved annually by the Kansas Board of Regents. The current plan – approved this summer – includes $350 million in projects for KU’s football stadium.
However, getting a project on the capital improvement plan and having it built were two different things. KU conducted several campaigns to raise funds for football stadium upgrades, but failed to start the major project as the team continued to struggle in the win-loss column.
The idea of upgrading the stadium – which opened in 1921 and is generally considered one of the oldest in college football – has been the subject of growing speculation as universities across the country seek to improve their portfolios after that the Big Ten’s recent expansion has created new hopes or worries of conference realignment.
Details of using the 11th and Mississippi site as a venue for a multi-purpose venue that can accommodate conferences and other events are a more recent idea. As we reported, KU leaders have been touting the idea of holding more conferences and events on the KU campus to generate additional revenue for the university.
KU is working more closely with the City of Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, and KU recently hired its own staff to manage and better assess the potential for increased events, conferences, and conventions on campus.
How a new location would play into those plans is still unclear. However, the site at 11th and Mississippi streets would place it near two venues that should be important for any event activity – the Kansas Union and its grand ballroom and the Oread Hotel, which was recently sold and will become part of the Hilton properties brand.
It wasn’t immediately clear how big of an area KU was looking at near the intersection of 11th and Mississippi. This intersection is basically at the northeast corner of the KU football stadium entrance. The area north of the intersection is densely developed with older houses, while the area to the east has been developed in recent years with the multi-storey HERE apartment complex. However, there are plots of open space, surface car parks and outdoor training grounds near the stadium which could potentially be available for the development of additional equipment and structures.
According to the bidding documents, KU intends to take bids until September 13. Hiring a design firm will not guarantee the project will go ahead, but will likely be a key step in determining a price for the installation, which in turn would be important in attracting potential donors.
The application documents note that three KU entities are actually involved in the project: the University of Kansas, Kansas Athletics, and KU Endowment, which is the private fundraising arm of the university.
I expect more details to come soon and will provide an update when they arrive.
— Matt Tait, Journal-World Sports Editor, contributed to this report.