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Archive for Sunday, January 2, 2005

Lawrence endures ups, downs

Eldridge Hotel sale, smoking ban among notable developments in 2004

January 2, 2005

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Lawrence businesses saw plenty of change in 2004, from sales going up in smoke to new owners taking over landmark properties and millions of dollars of investments in jobs and equipment.

And whether businesses endured trials, faced tribulations or celebrated triumphs, they all shared space in an economy that trudged along at an uncharacteristically guarded clip.

"We bank on it coming back, because of the history that's here," said Gary Rauckman, a Lawrence home builder who endured a residential construction market on track for a 10-year low. "Most contractors just feel it's going to be back. That doesn't make it any easier, but it's just the way it is -- the way it was this year, anyway."

Here is a look at some of the notable developments, issues, closings, relocations, overhauls and other projects that made business news in 2004:

  • The Eldridge Hotel sold for $2.92 million during an October auction in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The new owners -- a group led by Kansas University alumni Susan and Mitchell Chaney, of Brownsville, Texas; and Bobby Douglass, a Chicago businessman who starred as a KU and professional football player -- soon formed an ambitious renovation plan to restore the landmark building to prominence.
  • Protection One Inc., a monitored security company, moved its corporate headquarters to Lawrence from Topeka. The company's new home, in the I-70 Business Center in North Lawrence, has about 65 employees and gives the city its first corporate headquarters of a publicly traded company.
  • E and E Display Group, founded in Lawrence in 1953, closed its Lawrence center July 1, eliminating 105 jobs. The maker of displays and other store fixtures already had laid off 70 employees in May.
  • Restaurants and bars found themselves facing a new business reality when Lawrence's new smoking ban took effect July 1. Some properties added patios and decks to accommodate smokers outdoors; others closed, blaming the ban for stifling sales.
  • Patrick Conroy, owner of Crown Amusements and Games, Lawrence,
cleans a jukebox at the Crosstown Tavern during a November stop to
collect money from his coin-operated machines. Conroy said the
business had lost money since the city's smoking ban took effect
July 1.

    Patrick Conroy, owner of Crown Amusements and Games, Lawrence, cleans a jukebox at the Crosstown Tavern during a November stop to collect money from his coin-operated machines. Conroy said the business had lost money since the city's smoking ban took effect July 1.

  • Astaris started the year by announcing plans for a $5 million expansion at the northern edge of town, bolstering the phosphate plant's capacity and adding 10 jobs.
  • HiPer Technology moved into the former Honeywell plant in southeast Lawrence, producing wheels -- made from high-tech plastic -- for use on all-terrain vehicles.
  • ProQuest Pharmaceuticals, a private drug-development firm born out of KU research, sold in December for $7 million in stock to Baltimore-based Guilford Pharmaceuticals Inc.
  • Lawrence Memorial Hospital officials confirmed in November that they were exploring a possible $35 million expansion project, financed, in part, by a $5 million capital campaign.
  • Roger Billings, a Missouri businessman known as "Dr. Hydrogen," in May abandoned plans to convert the dormant, 467-acre Farmland Industries fertilizer plant southeast of Lawrence into a cutting-edge manufacturing center for hydrogen fuel cells.
  • The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America announced in July that it would remain in Lawrence, after association leaders had considered moving the operation's 120 jobs to a more "golf-centric" area of the country.
  • Dan and Jill Blomgren spent much of the year fighting charges from the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The division accuses the Blomgrens of owning multiple liquor stores, and Jill Blomgren of illegally running a catering store out of one liquor store, among other charges.
  • Two businesses in the Park Plaza Retail Center closed in the face of competition: Lawrence Athletic Club closed its south location as KU's student recreation center drained away members, and Ed Marling's Home Furnishings struggled to hold off Nebraska Furniture Mart's dominance near the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.
  • Developers' push to develop a Wal-Mart at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive remained mired in court, as their efforts to overturn city zoning decisions lingered unresolved.
  • Downtown welcomed construction of its first condo project: Hobbs Taylor Lofts, a five-story building to include a bank and other retail space on the street level, plus office space on the second floor and 31 loft-style apartments -- each selling for $130,000 to $495,000, depending on size and finishes -- above.
  • The Lawrence construction industry ended 2004 poised to hit a 10-year low, as a shortage of available lots for new home construction and lack of large construction projects have left builders hungry for work.
  • Low interests on mortgages helped keep sales of homes brisk in the city. With December's sales yet to be tallied, the number of residential sales was up 1.9 percent from the record pace of 2003.
  • County farmers welcomed bumper crops of corn and soybeans this year, welcome diversions from the below-average yields and drought-ravaged hauls of recent years.

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