A project under consideration by the Douglas County Commission would turn Clinton Lake State Park into a paradise for active outdoors enthusiasts — particularly millennials.
A nearly $70 million outdoor recreational center planned for the area, which would be called the Kansas Outdoor Center, would include a man-made whitewater rafting and kayaking facility, zip lines, rock climbing, a trail system, an outdoor amphitheater, restaurants, a $1.5 million beer garden and a conference center. Talk of the project dates back several years and is seen as a boon for tourism. Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison in 2014 said the project “probably would be the second biggest thing the state has done for tourism, next to the NASCAR track. It really would be an outdoor lifestyle center.”
In an article from The Lawrence Journal-World, KDWPT assistant secretary Linda Craghead said the proposed center, which would be estimated to hire about 850 seasonal workers and 150 full-time employees, would not be an amusement park, but rather an “active lifestyle center.”
The proposal also alluded to the notion that some might see this as an amusement park, or as one Lawrence resident called it the “bastardizing” of nature. The group said in the plan it would strive for authenticity, stating “This means the Center will not ‘dumb down’ the experience by offering halfhearted or gimmicky attempts at the activities. The market knows the real deal and they will only accept this ‘urban’ or man-made substitute if it is close in kind and effect to the ‘real’ experience.”
The facility would make revenue from “day visit” passes that would generate approximately 50 percent of its income, plus hospitality elements such as food, beverage and retail. The Kansas Outdoor Center’s gross revenues were estimated to eventually exceed $20 million with more than $5 million in net income annually.
I think this idea represents a great way to bring more people out into nature and enjoy the thrills of the outdoors with activities that aren’t necessarily native to Kansas. For Lawrence, a city with a thriving young community, it also is a way to keep students in town throughout the summer and likely will have huge economic benefits for years to come. It disappoints me that Topeka and Shawnee County officials haven’t attempted to spend more on bringing attractions like this to Topeka. If the proposal is passed by the city of Lawrence, the result will be great for the city and the state as a whole.
Currently, the city of Lawrence, Douglas County and the nonprofit Plei are looking at different options to fund the project. Under the most recently proposed option that went before the Douglas County Commission this month, either the city or county would back STAR bonds for the developer and Plei would run the center but would have to build an additional development off-site to help pay off the STAR bonds. Only 49 percent of the revenues at the Kansas Outdoor Center would be able to pay off the STAR bonds under the current proposal, so the off-site development would help pay the remaining 51 percent.