Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Commission must decide if city’s ready to build library

June 9, 2006


It would be big.

When it comes to building a new downtown library, that was about the only conclusion city commissioners came to Thursday morning after hearing all five proposals for the project.

Commissioners did not eliminate any of the plans put forward by private developers, nor did they set a timeline for deciding whether to move forward on the project that likely would require $40 million to $70 million in public money.

Instead, commissioners took a deep breath and decided to ponder one very large question.

"The real question we have to answer is whether we are really ready to do a major redevelopment downtown," Mayor Mike Amyx said.

Amyx said he wasn't ready to answer that question yet, but wanted everyone to realize how big an investment a new library would be for the public. He said in addition to actually coming up with the money to build the library, the city would need to increase the library's operating budget to run a larger facility.

Those cost estimates aren't fully determined, but Amyx said it would not be unreasonable to think that a five-mill property tax increase could be needed to cover both construction and operation costs.

"For me, I would love to see a new library in downtown, and we've really been brought some exciting ideas," Amyx said. "But we need to understand for sure what direction we're going. These are real dollars, and this is a real long-term commitment."

Sales tax

One new idea emerged from Thursday's study session: using a new sales tax to pay for the project rather than property taxes. Members of the team - led by developer Doug Compton - proposing the 800 block of New Hampshire Street as the site for the next library said a three-tenths of a cent sales tax for 25 years could pay for their project, which has an estimated public cost of $49 million. Theoretically, a sales tax also could be used to fund the other plans put forward by developers, though the size of the tax would be different depending on the cost of each plan.

Any new sales tax would require a public election, but commissioners already have committed to putting the library issue on a ballot regardless of how it is funded. No date for an election has been set, though April 2007 has been mentioned as a possibility.

City Commissioner Mike Rundle said he would be willing to consider using major portions of the city's share of the existing one-cent countywide sales tax to fund a new library. Currently, the city uses much of that money to fund parks and recreation projects. Several of those projects - such as the Indoor Aquatic Center and the East Lawrence Recreation Center - are set to be paid off soon. He said it might even be worth trying to get the county to use some of its countywide one-cent sales tax proceeds to help fund the library because many rural residents use the Lawrence library.

"I think it is an idea worthy of discussion," Rundle said.

Are we ready?

But before any of those details get discussed, commissioners made it clear they first must decide whether to tackle a project so large.

City Commissioner Sue Hack said downtown needs a large project, especially one that would add abundant parking and significant numbers of new residential living units.

"I know this is a risky proposition, but if you just listened to this room today, you could hear so much excitement," Hack said. "It is very exciting to stand on the cliff and see where our downtown could be."

But Rundle said there probably should be citywide discussion about how much risk the community is willing to take. He said several of the projects rely on large amounts of new retail space being filled to help pay for the projects.

He said the city had seen a previous public-private partnership - the Downtown 2000 project that sought to redevelop much of the 900 block of New Hampshire Street - not attract the retail it had expected, despite a new 500-space parking garage that was built in the block.

"That is a very big question for me," Rundle said. "Can we support all of this new retail, or even all of these new condos, and when?"

The plans

All five proposals are large in terms of dollars, but each one represents a slightly different flavor for commissioners to consider. They are:

¢ A proposal by the Fritzel family - longtime construction magnates in the community - is the largest of the bunch. The most current version - which is scaled back and would not include the need to use eminent domain to purchase houses near Sixth and Kentucky streets - would add 110,000 square feet of retail space along Vermont Street over a six- to 10-year period. It also would add about 1,400 parking spaces, more than 300 new living units to downtown, and an expansion of the Eldridge Hotel, which is partially owned by the Fritzel family. The project would require about $65 million in public money to pay for the library and public parking and other infrastructure. But the new retail, office and living units are projected to produce large amounts of new tax dollars to cover those costs. But that only happens if tenants are successfully found for the new buildings.

¢ A proposal by members of the Simons family - which owns the Journal-World - to locate the library in the former Riverfront Mall also would include significant new retail, office, parking, hotel space and 84 new condos. But many of the tenants for the project already have been identified, said Dan Simons, who is leading the development team. Sunflower Broadband, which also is owned by the Simons family, would occupy a large portion of the office space, moving from its current location in the Riverfront building to make way for the library. The same scenario would exist for the Marriott hotel, which would occupy a new building to the south of the Riverfront building. The project would require about $73 million in public money, but like the Fritzel plan, it is expected to generate new tax revenues to help pay for the project.

¢ The Compton led project, which would place the library near the northeast corner of Ninth and Vermont streets, would involve opening a new downtown hotel and also includes office space and 13 condos. But the developers have expressed optimism that the new space would attract tenants because their plan would include demolition of several office buildings in the block, leaving those businesses searching for new space. Those businesses include Lawrence Bank, Aquila and Charlton Manley Insurance. The project would require about $49 million in public money, but would use new tax revenues from the business and condos to help pay for the project.

¢ A project to place the library in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street has the least amount of commercial development of the plans proposed by the private sector. The project - proposed by members of the Downtown 2000 project - would include a small amount of office space and about 20 condos. Under the current proposal, the plan would require about $45 million in public money. The project - which would place the library adjacent to the Lawrence Arts Center - would produce the smallest amount of new tax revenues of the four private developments. It also is generally considered to have the most daring design, requiring a five-story building that would span parts of New Hampshire Street.

¢ A project to expand or rebuild the library on its site at 707 Vt. would not involve a private developer and would not include any new commercial or living space. Plans have been developed to either expand or build a completely new library on the site. Both options would cost $48 million. The project would not directly produce any new tax revenue, and it would provide the least new parking of all the proposals.

The feel

City Commissioner David Schauner said in addition to the financial aspects of the project, the commission needs to carefully examine how each project would affect the feel of downtown.

"It can be cool, but cool isn't necessarily downtown in terms of architectural style," Schauner said. "These are decisions that are going to affect Lawrence for a long, long time."

The projects also could affect adjacent neighborhoods. Three of the five proposals would overlook the East Lawrence neighborhood. K.T. Walsh, a board member for the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. said she was disappointed that only one developer - Jeff Shmalberg of the 900 New Hampshire Street project - had formally approached the association.

She said she had concerns that several of the projects would build large multistory buildings that could essentially "wall off" East Lawrence from the downtown.

"We would like to get involved sooner rather than later," Walsh said.


Richard Heckler 11 years, 10 months ago

The Simons family project is not practical period. They want to extend sixth street to Connecticut and tear down much of current Riverside Mall. That means relocation costs. This is very very wasteful.

Offices only in a library is acceptable to me. Owner occupied Condos I could live with. This retail concept I do not like.

9th and New Hampshire still gets my vote and use old library for office space or a medical clinic.

lunacydetector 11 years, 10 months ago

these commissioners are just like kiddies in a candy store.

do they consider the new parking garage a success? do they consider the M-T Bus a success? do they consider the eaglebend golf course a success?

probably not the case but i would hope they have good enough sense to realize those are wasting the taxpayer's dollars.

to go down in lawrence history is at the forefront of their decision making.

lunacydetector 11 years, 10 months ago

...and merrill, i'm surprised i haven't read you suggesting some sort of 'cost benefit analysis' for the library, or do those only apply on selective items ?

anonimiss 11 years, 10 months ago

There would be no benefit financially from a new library. Late fees, maybe. About 1 late book per person per year sound fair? Still won't pay for the building unless 100,000 each have a $5 late fee for in each of 80 years. Operating expenses increase also. I still think the city needs to stop running itself like a trailer family-going out and spending too much money to get some cosmetically appealing luxury while the infrastructure rots in the ground.

geekin_topekan 11 years, 10 months ago

Retail space will provide the tax revenue to cover construction costs?Thats the most perverted thing I have ever heard. Each one of these proposals has that one common denominator,build me a free mall and condos to sell and I'll let you puy your library in the lobby.

KsTwister 11 years, 10 months ago

No Way! Not even, they have streets to fix and they removed $200k for that department in 2004. It is time for a law to stop frivolous spending.I will get signatures to put it to a vote first,how stupid can they be??? don't answer that,we already know.Dear Commissioners your citizens are out of funds with your taxes and special assessments-STOP already.

geekin_topekan 11 years, 10 months ago

Tell you what commission.I am trying to get my own enterprise up and rolling. Why do these "tax winner's"have to be in the millions?Try it on the small scale and see how it goes. I want to get my own OTR business up and running cuz I'm sick to death of working for other people. City of Lawrence,buy me a truck.This relatively small investment would yield a ten-fold return in tax revenue.Not to mention the charities I would be glad to give.I would have to hire a relief driver so that would provide employment for one homeless road dog.OTR driving is a lifestyle just like homelessness.So I would be doing our city a fine service by removing at least one hobo from it's bowels. My charities would include prepaid eye exam/glasses vouchers for poor people.And a yearly contract with a LOCAL lumber yard to provide lumber for the cash strapped LHS wood shop class. Not a million,I am talking....10K tops.Try this and send me your $200,000 analyst to interview me and give me a jingle since your in the market to give million of citizen's dollars away for private interprise.I don't have a house to bulldoze in the name of public domain.I hope that this doesn't deter you any.

monkeyhawk 11 years, 10 months ago

Didn't some of us predict along time ago that this was mearly a "development" in library clothing? Some are not easily fooled. The only word that comes to this mind is -- outrageous.

A 5 mill property tax increase??? Who will get hit the hardest? The people on the west side who already generate the major percentage of already excessive taxes for the city. Who is completely disregarded when it comes to perhaps a satellite branch of the so called library?

Facts are, most on the west side DO NOT GO DOWNTOWN and will benefit in NO way from this taxpayer subsidized private development.

I smell a rat.

"I know this is a risky proposition, but if you just listened to this room today, you could hear so much excitement," Hack said. "It is very exciting to stand on the cliff and see where our downtown could be."

Maybe you should get out to some other parts of the city and listen for excitement. There isn't any. Perhaps you should broaden your horizons and mingle with the little people.

Of course you you hear excitement coming from the saliva of those who stand to make a bundle off the suckers.

Janet Lowther 11 years, 10 months ago

Sales tax? NO WAY!

If they are going to raise taxes to pay for this project, it should be property taxes so the Feds can help pay it. (Property tax is deductible from federal income tax. Sales tax is not, except in states which have no major income or property tax.)

I'm not in favor of most government programs, but the free public lending library is one of the very few government programs which has been worthwhile and with very few adverse side affects.

girly 11 years, 10 months ago

I think the existing library just needs to get more new books. Everytime I go there, the sections I look in have books about 30 years old. Plus, the stench of the homeless is overwhelming....

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 10 months ago

is what we say going to make a diffrence if the commish. has afready made up its mind??

Richard Heckler 11 years, 10 months ago

Mixing retail with a city library could not be a great idea if the retail does not fly. Taxpayers will not want to bail out that portion as the city has more or less done in the Riverfront Mall. Retail turnover means noisy rehab projects each time space changes owners. All residents or retail owners will have to accept whatever the library may want to do. If taxpayers are funding the library portion just give us a library.

Projects like these SHOULD REQUIRE economic impact studies paid for by the developers. If tax revenues do meet with the projections guess who gets to make up the difference. Considering this Rundle did ask the most important question. Hobbs Taylor Lofts and the retail space is moving quite slow.

These are not the kind of projects that commissioners should be thinking about what our city may someday look like standing from a cliff. Economic Impact Studies are more business like.

Sales tax versus property tax. A sales tax allows one to spend accordingly. A property tax increase over and above our annual inflated 8%-15% increase does not leave property owners a up or we'll own your property. LOW Fixed incomes do not absorb any of this well. I would say that Douglas County Property Tax Increases are more regressive than a sales tax.

Confrontation 11 years, 10 months ago

Hack said: "It is very exciting to stand on the cliff and see where our downtown could be."

At least one of them realizes that they are about ready to fall off a cliff.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 10 months ago

The final decision is a long way off and the plans presented may not work according to what was said at a Lawrence Association of Neighborhood meeting. Dave Corliss and David Schuaner made that clear. The current plans are just ideas that popped out of heads. What is missing is new ideas for a stand alone library.

Extending 6th street to Connecticut could take out some homes and I say NO to emminent domain.

KsTwister 11 years, 10 months ago

I have one thing to say to Hack standing on a cliff......JUMP!!!!!

Confrontation 11 years, 10 months ago

Marion, I don't know if you noticed, but Yellowhouse has place a few poem posts today. You really should save these poems, sale them in a book, and donate the money to their legal fund :)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 10 months ago

For all of you pi**ing and moaning about these library proposals, keep in mind that they were all proposed by the pave-it-over crowd to whom you want to return control of the city commission.

Rhoen 11 years, 10 months ago

"I know this is a risky proposition, but if you just listened to this room today, you could hear so much excitement," Hack said. "It is very exciting to stand on the cliff and see ..."

... the route we will be traveling when we finally jump off it ...

KsTwister 11 years, 10 months ago

The pave it over crowd just wants to be able to drive down a street without having to put the vehicle in the shop for potholes and alignment due to crappy roads. No wonder everyone has a truck in Lawrence-you must. Library expansion is ok but realize that KU's library is accessible,the schools library is accessible and it is not the only necessity but a waste of taxpayers money. At least the pi**ing and moaning crowd has intelligence to realize that Lawrence is at its taxpayers limit because people in hell want ice water too. Last week another street caved into the sewer drain,but that wasn't in the paper either. City Hall is running out of band-aids.

WilburM 11 years, 10 months ago

Maybe the most important thing in this entire article is Amyx's explicit recognition that the Library has to compete with other needs, which are substantial. That's what leadership is about, no less that envisioning some huge project. Right now, infrastructure and water issues seem immense and growing. A responsible commission needs to act accordingly, or risk getting tossed out, which could easily well happen with any kind of major giveaway.

Jersey_Girl 11 years, 10 months ago

I recently moved back to Lawrence after living elsewhere for the past 14 years and I'm saddened by how small and rather pathetic the Lawrence library is. Lawrence has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years and yet the library hasn't. For those of us who use the library recreationally, it doesn't have much to offer. This is not the library's fault; it has not been able to grow with the town. Lawrence needs a larger library.

Godot 11 years, 10 months ago

Hack said, "City Commissioner Sue Hack said downtown needs a large project, especially one that would add abundant parking and significant numbers of new residential living units"

See, friends, this has nothing to do with a library, now, does it?

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 10 months ago

down town needs to get rid of some of its bars and add something but not residential anything. I thought downtown was supposed to be family friendly shopper friendly and all that?

Godot 11 years, 10 months ago

The way the LJW has presented the information about the various plans is confusing: probably meant to be.

I will tackle these projects one at a time, as I have time, so that the picture becomes much clearer.

Godot 11 years, 10 months ago

Option Number 1, presented by the Fritzel Family:

In addition to the Library and public parking, this plan creates 110,000 sq ft of retail space and 300 additional living units. Not said is what existing structures will be demolished to make room for this new development.

Fritzel would put up $110,000,000; taxpayers would put up $65,000,000.

Fritzel will argue that, under his plan, the city really won't spend anything, because the $65,000,000 would be repaid by Tax Increment Financing, meaning that the new enterprises would generate enough new tax dollars to repay the city the $65,000,000.

The problem I see with this is that one of the arguments given for including the new development with the new library was that it would create ADDITIONAL tax revenue for the city. Some have argued that, without ADDITIONAL tax revenue, we can't afford to staff and operate the new library.

So, if you look at it through the Fritzel's rose colored glasses, the city gets a library for free and only loses $65,000,000 in future taxes that they never would have had without the development. No big deal. Win-Win...

...except that the city won't own the library.

When all is said and done, the Fritzels will own all of it: the 110,000 sq feet of retail space, the 300 living units, THE LIBRARY and even the additional parking. They generously offer to lease the library back to the city for an as-yet-to-be-determined annual rental fee, and would, in the future, be willing to sell the library back to the city, no doubt at a nice profit.

Sounds like a great retirement and wealth transfer plan for the Fritzel Family, transferring tax dollars from Lawrence citizens to the Fritzel family fortune.

How do you feel, as a taxpayer, about paying $65,000,000 for a library that the Fritzels will own and will LEASE BACK, or even SELL BACK to the city?

anonimiss 11 years, 10 months ago

This is like welfare in reverse. Raise sales tax (which supposedly hits poorer families harder who don't have as much to spare for their necessities that will be taxed) so you can pay $40 million plus to one of the four richest families in Lawrence. The rich get richer off of stuff like this.

Rationalanimal 11 years, 10 months ago

There's not enough rubber and ink in Lawrence to cover the checks this Commission is about to write for the holy-grail of their pet projects. Get ready to bend over taxpayers (a/k/a people that actually get up before 11:00 a.m., hold a steady job, and file a fed tax form each year). I know that's a foreign word for some in Lawrence. Ironic that those that contribute the least are the most ambitious spenders. Case in point, examine the profile of our Commission.

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