Archive for Friday, April 7, 2006

Downtown’s value sparks call for fire sprinklers

April 7, 2006


One tipped-over candle is all it would take to wipe out more than 100 years of Lawrence history.

That's something to think about, Fire Marshal Rich Barr says, as city commissioners this summer discuss whether to spend public money to help downtown businesses install sprinkler systems.

"You could lose a lot of historic structures with just one fire," Barr said. "You might be able to rebuild, but they won't look the same."

City commissioners on Thursday said they were well aware of that. At a study session to discuss the 2007 city budget, commissioners said they wanted to consider adding a program that would rebate at least a portion of a business' cost to install a sprinkler system, which often can be around $20,000 for a typical downtown building.

Several commissioners on Thursday admitted having fears that a fire could start in one downtown building and spread to neighboring structures - many of them built in the mid-1800s - much like happened during a fire last year in Fort Scott. That fire destroyed about 10 buildings and significantly damaged at least another five.

Such a fire in Lawrence would wipe out history and a significant portion of the city's retail trade industry, Commissioner Sue Hack said.

"If something like that happens here, we are in terrible trouble," Hack said.

The program that Interim City Manager David Corliss is proposing still lacks key details, but its premise is simple. Commissioners would start setting aside money to fund a rebate program for downtown building owners who install a sprinkler system.

What percentage of the total cost should be rebated, what guidelines a business would have to meet and how much money the city would set aside each year all would need to be determined.

The basic idea, though, sounded appealing to downtown business owners.

Clay Belcher, an owner of Signs of Life, already has a sprinkler system in his building at 722 Mass. He said he wouldn't have a problem with the city stepping in to help some building owners who haven't been able to install sprinklers.

The unique role that downtown plays in the community justifies the public investment, he said.

"I think it is a legitimate concern for government," Belcher said.

Jim Connelly - an owner of Silver Works, which is housed in an 1866 building at 715 Mass. that does not have a sprinkler system - said the cost of installing sprinklers was certainly the No. 1 reason most buildings didn't have them.

"I think we all want to do it, if we can just figure out how to do it," Connelly said.

Barr said it was probably unrealistic for many of the mom-and-pop businesses to come up with a financial solution on their own anytime soon.

Fire sprinklers hang from the ceiling of the second-floor art gallery in Signs of Life, 722 Mass. St. Signs of Life is one of only a few downtown businesses that have a fire sprinkler system.

Fire sprinklers hang from the ceiling of the second-floor art gallery in Signs of Life, 722 Mass. St. Signs of Life is one of only a few downtown businesses that have a fire sprinkler system.

As an example, Barr pointed out what happened after the 1997 fire that gutted the Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop in the 800 block of Massachusetts Street. Firefighters continue to say they were fortunate that the blaze didn't spread to adjacent buildings.

And Barr said every building on the east side of that block was affected by the fire either through smoke or water damage. Despite the fire, none of the buildings in the block - except Sunflower - has installed sprinkler systems, Barr said.

In fact, no block along Massachusetts Street downtown has more than four buildings that are fully sprinkled, according to a map compiled by city fire leaders.

Whether the new program is a slam-dunk for the 2007 budget is undetermined. It likely will have to compete against large-ticket items such as more funding for streets, sewer projects, homeless services and a long list of other ideas that continues to grow.

And the idea of mandating downtown businesses to install fire sprinklers didn't gain much traction Thursday, although the city has the legal authority to do it.

"I don't think we can look at a mandate at all," said Mayor Mike Amyx, who owns a downtown barbershop that lacks sprinklers. "We would have to look at all the financial impacts that would really have on our downtown businesses."

The city only mandates downtown building owners install sprinkler systems when they do large-scale renovations, and then only if the buildings meet certain size requirements.


MyName 12 years, 1 month ago

Geez, the cynic that never sleeps!

Is it a bird? Is it a PLANE? NO! It's SUUUUPER PUNDIT!

Richard Heckler 12 years, 1 month ago

Property owners should install sprinklers systems in their private investments not me or my tax paying friends. Fix the 2nd street bump instead and clean up or repair sidewalks first thank you.

Doug Compton and Larry Brown can afford sprinklers. From this day forward any time a building changes ownership create an ordinance that new sprinklers are part of the deal. Anyone that owns or is buying downtown Lawrence real estate can afford sprinklers.

KsTwister 12 years, 1 month ago

Ha,ha,ha, ha,ha, sorry had to laugh. WHY does everyone thinking more money from the working class will fix everything????? The working class is in debt now at least up to our grandchildren. So what do you have in mind to protect them against tornados while you at it?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 1 month ago

If the city wants to LOAN the money to property owners who can't otherwise afford to put in sprinklers, that would make sense if it lessens the risk of downtown getting leveled in an out-of-control fire.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 1 month ago

Spending money for downtown landscaping is generating business and beautifying downtown. That is plenty for now.

DaREEKKU 12 years, 1 month ago

God, first yesterday and now today. Every post I seem to read bashes Lawrence, bashes the city commission, bashes the "liberal hippie agenda".....most of you people won't be happy no matter WHAT anybody does...get over it! You don't appreciate downtown and don't care? Move to Topeka where it dies at 5 pm and the streetwalkers take over at 8. You want to blame the "liberal hippies" for the high cost of housing? Move to Topeka where you can buy a two story house for $30,000 and listen to gunfire every night (yes, this is true). I don't think a lot of you realize what a thriving and progressive town we have, we should fight to keep it that way. Dowtown is part of what makes Lawrence so great, but a town is only as good as it's people. All the towns I lived in before this were maybe that's why I see such a jewell here....both in the physical town itself and the people who live here. I would vote yes for the sprinkler systems!

Bruce Bertsch 12 years, 1 month ago

To use the so called conservative's own argument...It is private property and the owner should be responsible, not the government. If the owner cannot afford to install proper protection, perhaps they should sell to someone who can. It is not the place of government to subsidize the owners of downtown properties any more than they should subsidize Wal-Mart. The property owners knew the risks when they purchased the property; its a business and all business has risk.

akuna 12 years, 1 month ago

Marion. Would you quit commenting and move out of Lawrence? I am really starting to dislike you. It is people like you that make the world suck. I hope you have a great, bright, sun-shiny weekend :)

Janet Lowther 12 years, 1 month ago

Marion pretty much nailed it: At least at today's prices anyone buying a downtown building can afford to install sprinklers, even though present owners may not be able to afford that kind of capital investment.

Likewise, owners of unsprinkled buildings should be held liable for fire spreading to adjacent buildings to give them a further incentive to install sprinklers.

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

Agree totally that anyone who purchases property downtown can afford the sprinklers. There are very few "mom and pops" left; big investors own most of it. There is no way taxpayers should subsidize the sprinklers. What a joke.

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

The business owners can borrow the money and then write off the interest and the improvement. This isn't like requiring an upgrade to a personal home.

Pass the ordinance that Merrill recommends.

average 12 years, 1 month ago

This libertarian says, hold the business (and their insurance) liable for fires that spread to the neighbors.

Fire insurance for a properly sprinklered business should be 1/3 to 1/4 as much as a business without. This would be all the incentive necessary to get sprinklers installed. No taxes needed.

But, since we are too polite to find fault, either directly or through negligence, there is little disparity in fire insurance rates.

KsTwister 12 years, 1 month ago

I question the legality of taking taxpayers money to improve private property not owned by the city.....let me call my lawyer in Kansas City. Quick another study!

KsTwister 12 years, 1 month ago

I suggest City Hall hold a Bake Sale. Thanks Marion

lunacydetector 12 years, 1 month ago

if the city uses taxpayer money to subsidize all these properties downtown, will they subsidize the owners of buildings that already have installed sprinkler systems? wouldn't that be fair, or will they only reward the cheapskates or the poor owner who has building(s) downtown that haven't installed sprinklers?

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

Marion, your post about loans and improvements and insurance must be about some othre world, 'cause it sure isn't true in Lawrence.

kansasboy 12 years, 1 month ago

I thought there was a no smoking in buildings policy. Don't candles give off some smoke? BAN CANDLES!!!!

kansasboy 12 years, 1 month ago

P.S. I thought this was a reactive city not proactive.

monkeyhawk 12 years, 1 month ago

Of course, the fire danger is much more real with you-know-who owning a number of buildings downtown.

Do NOT use any of our tax dollars on any privately owned businesses in this city. Many of us who pay the most never even go downtown.

Linda Endicott 12 years, 1 month ago

I was looking at the On The Street over at the side, and the guy who said he was an "assistant cheese buyer".

Does this mean there's a head cheese buyer? And what or who are they buying the cheese for?

Wow...the things you learn on the internet...

bankboy119 12 years, 1 month ago

BTW, I did just put up. I'd be happy to give out names of banks that they could go to, just not on LJW because last time some one posted something about a specific place it got pulled.

Banks are a for profit entity, just like any other business. If we were to lose money on a loan why would we do it? Prime is 7.75% right now, on unsecured business loans we can do them for as low as Prime+4%. 4% on $10,000 is $400. That's all the bank makes and that is gross profit. The other $775 that you pay in interest isn't kept by the bank, that's what the bank pays back to their loans

bankboy119 12 years, 1 month ago


You are completely correct about the relationships between banks and insurance companies. We do insurance now just like we do brokerage investments. It's a one stop shop. Just like Super Target keeps you from having to go do Best Buy to buy a movie, the grocery store to get food, and (insert retail clothing store here) to get clothes. It's a one stop shop.

bankboy119 12 years, 1 month ago

lol wait we did clear this up on the OTS thread right?

MyName 12 years, 1 month ago

Rats!! Foiled again by Suuuuper Pundit! I must remember to wait until Suuuper Pundit sleeps before revealing my evil hippie plan in a public forum! But wait, what's this---1st post: 1 am, 2nd post: 7:58 am. Suuuper Pundit doesn't sleep! It's his special ability! That and his razor sharp "wit" ("You so silly, You so silly long time"... There's no way I can compete with such vertiginous verbosity! GRR!!)

How will I ever be able to advance my Evil Liberal No Growth Hippie Agenda if Suuuper Pundit is always there to protect the city?? I must go back to my lair and think of a plan...

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

Of course not. And you wouldn't be able to track that down, either, because Compton and friends set up a different LLC for nearly every property they purchase.

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