Archive for Thursday, July 23, 2009

Retail wanted

At least one local businessman is putting a priority on bringing more retail back to downtown.

July 23, 2009


Many Lawrence residents would applaud Dan Ranjbar’s goal of bringing more retail business to Massachusetts Street.

It remains to be seen, however, to what point Ranjbar will stand on principle when it starts to affect his bottom line.

Ranjbar owns the building that formerly housed Arensberg’s Shoes. It is a great, Art Deco-style building right in the heart of downtown. Although the storefront has been vacant for several months, the only business that has expressed an interest in the space as it’s currently configured is a restaurant.

That’s not what Ranjbar is looking for. He, like many other Lawrence residents, including many downtown business people, think there are enough restaurants in that area. What Ranjbar told the Journal-World he wants is “retail, boutique or spa type businesses.”

To that end, he plans to invest significant money to split the building so it can accommodate two retail businesses on the ground floor and more in the basement, in addition to two office spaces on the second floor. But no restaurants.

“We have enough places to eat,” he said. “We need more places to shop. I will sit on it as long as I can to get that.”

How long will that be? Ranjbar, who is a local orthodontist, may have more financial flexibility than some downtown property owners, but especially after investing more money to alter and improve the former Arensberg space, how long can he wait to see some return on his investment?

One of the common complaints voiced by business people leaving downtown is that rents are so high that they make it difficult for a business to be profitable. Will Ranjbar’s principles extend to offering the space in his building at a lower rental rate to a retail or spa business? That’s a lot to ask of a business person.

Another issue is what it costs — in terms of both time and money — for a building owner or prospective business to meet the city’s planning requirements for remodeling done at a business site. This is of particular concern to Lawrence Chamber of Commerce representatives who have been told many discouraging stories.

Ranjbar describes his plans for the building as “stunning,” a space that will rival the ambiance of Teller’s, a restaurant in a building of which he is part owner. He’s already getting some interest from potential retail tenants, he said, but he wants “to feel confident that the person I put in there will stay afloat.”

That, of course, is the challenge, to find the right kind of business to make a go of it in downtown. It probably won’t be a big box store. It might be a national chain, although Lawrence’s market is barely big enough to attract such chains. It might be a retail outlet that offers special products not readily available elsewhere, perhaps with an active online retail operation to help support its bottom line.

The future of downtown clearly is uncertain, but we wish Ranjbar well in his new project. Downtown Lawrence has lost some longtime stalwart retailers in recent months, and it could use some new blood.


BigPrune 8 years, 10 months ago

This is a problem city wide, downtown and elsewhere. A conspiracy to stifle growth creating unnecessary vacancies, or ignorance by a no growth mindset of so-called expert(s)? I guess we will have to see how long it takes for the City of Lawrence to resolve its "issues." The clock is ticking. Lawrence has been in a recession for a few years now caused by the City government that is so desperate for tax dollars, it makes outsiders laugh at its absurdity.

igby 8 years, 10 months ago

He should just sell it to a business owner or someone who wants to run a business there.

igby 8 years, 10 months ago

We need to get ride of this so call planning office, it should of died with Rundle, Shauner and Boog, now that their gone. They have ruined Lawrence's small business market.

Mark Kostner 8 years, 10 months ago

It can be done, although in this economy it will be slower. Since leaving Lawrence I have seen several other successful downtowns, mostly in college towns like Lawrence. Boulder, CO, Santa Cruz, CA, Tempe, AZ, Santa Monica, CA, and Flagstaff, AZ, that people flock to. And here's the real kicker--just before the slowdown the new trend in shopping centers after the eras of malls and big box stores was to recreate the traditional downtown experience. Here in Las Vegas we have two faux downtowns, the District, and Town Square. There were two more that got scratched due to the economy. So out at the edge of town in the desert they were trying to recreate the ambiance of Downtown Lawrence! Just take out those parking lots along VT & NH and infill with shopping. The thing I request as a visitor is another hotel or two as I would rather stay downtown than on Iowa or I-70.

grimpeur 8 years, 10 months ago

Time for the editors to back up this repeated mantra with some concrete and specific examples of real-life "discouraging stories." Same for you, Prune. What examples do you have of the city stifling growth? Be specific, name businesses and describe the unfair, unnececessary, or stifling measures these businesses have been forced to meet. Who has gone out of business because of these measures?

Seems to me that when it comes to development, the city gives out enough rope. But I'm willing to listen to any truthful examples of this mythical "no-growth" mindset.

Tony Kisner 8 years, 10 months ago

The space is big and splitting it makes sense. On the other hand I would not over build, actually leaving the space somewhat unfinished for the new tennant to have input on.

Downtown just needs a few good ideas and some of these spaces will fill in again. Retail is a very tough business.

Kookamooka 8 years, 10 months ago

If you actually crunch the numbers, the only businesses that regularly thrive in downtown are the ones that 1. own their buildings or 2. sell diamonds or TONS of beer.

Ironically, I always thought Arensburgs owned that building because they had been in business for so long. Now that I know they didn't, they are just another downtown Lawrence rental statistic.

The price of rent to the amount of product a retailer needs to sell to break even is skewed. This isn't Rodeo Drive. Stop catering to the wealthiest 1% of our retail market, make the rents affordable so businesses CAN sustain AND sell products at a reasonable price so we don't have to go to South Iowa or Kansas City or God...even Topeka to buy what we need and want.

P.S. Lawrence. Why not try investing in something other than retail for our entertainment?

bluedawg79 8 years, 10 months ago

I agree with Kookamooka. Sad to say the wealthiest 1% do have a lot of control in this community as far as development. And, I'd say its safe to bet most do a large portion of their shopping and dining in KC! To top it all off we see this HUGE new multi-use development rising from the ground south of Free State High School. For what? Oh, so the Westsiders can get their late-night 4th meal at the Bell. Waste!

Ann Gardner 8 years, 10 months ago

Kook: Arensberg's did own the building. They sold it.

vermont 8 years, 10 months ago

Like a said yesterday, I think that Downtown Lawrence retailers are not putting in the effort like some of the other comparable college towns. They need to be open later. Their needs to be more events that promote Lawrence's culture and diversity. Let's celebrate our unique downtown community and get exited about it again. An outdoor venue on the river, New Hampshire and Vermont expansion. 2-3 day events - art, music, health. It sounds to me like the DLI and CVB are not getting the job done. Someone needs to lay out the responsibilities of these organizations. People like Bob Schumm need to understand that in order to thrive you have to take chances and help your community grow because without growth strong communities become weak ones - or boring ones. These ideas are scary for some but what those people have to realize is that this is capitalism, you can take take control of facilitating DTL growth and make it positive or you can watch the rest of Lawrence suck it dry.

vermont 8 years, 10 months ago

...what happened to the Get Downtown event?

localgirl9 8 years, 10 months ago

Staying open later downtown is a tough row to hoe. There is a terrible lull in business during the dinner hours and after that the drunks come out. I loved it when coming downtown later to stroll and shop was promoted regularly but it has been a good decade since I saw those promotions. Rent downtown is high, so high. And retail is a fast changing game. It is hard to make the balance. I don't want to see downtown Lawrence fall apart. So every time I am home I spend whatever I can spend downtown at my favorite stores, which are almost always the locally owned ones. I have yet to spend a dime on the Abercrombie corner...

Kookamooka 8 years, 10 months ago

The Arensburg's story must have been more complicated than I thought. Their prices were high. Higher than comprable stores in KC. They owned the building? Then I can't account for their prices and inability to compete.

There is never any shortage of dreamers in Lawrence who believe they can keep afloat on Mass St. The Banana Republic's and Victoria's Secret's that would normally be attracted to our Sorority shoppers aren't touching our market with a 10 foot pole for a reason. Could it be rent?

It's interesting to me how long these owner /developers are comfortable leaving their storefront's empty. Like Orchard Corners next to Tellers. Tax incentive to write off the loss?

Kontum1972 8 years, 10 months ago

we need a biker bar on Mass...that will liven things up

exhawktown 8 years, 10 months ago

GRIMPEUR - The editorial stated "Another issue is what it costs — in terms of both time and money — for a building owner or prospective business to meet the city’s planning requirements for remodeling done at a business site. This is of particular concern to Lawrence Chamber of Commerce representatives who have been told many discouraging stories."

I will not divulge the name of the business I am affiliated with, as I do not want any identifying details associated with my user name. However, I have run into some discouraging requirements I believe are alluded to above. If you really are interested, you might check out the city code online: Remodeling is almost always an issue with a vacant commercial building.

Chapter 5 is specifically on building and construction. It's 152 pages. It's probably comparable to that of other cities in the state of similar size. When you want to remodel, it can get costly, especially with certain licensing requirements of contract work, which is a little unfortunate if you know how to do that work yourself. The information on fees, permits, and restrictions on signs is also interesting. Pages 123-148.

BigPrune 8 years, 10 months ago

grimpeur, Can you guarantee there would not be any retribution from City Hall or your types (vandalizing of vehicles/mailboxes, letters to the editor campaigns bashing the whistle blowers, etc) if examples were produced?

I didn't think so. Freedom of speech in Lawrence, Kansas does not exist if it applies to criticism of liberal policies.

Names withheld to protect the innocent or victims.

BigPrune 8 years, 10 months ago

exhawktown, I think what the editor was referring to is the requirement that any new business that wants to occupy a vacant space has to first file a site plan if it's a change of use (in other words, it's a different business than the one that just went out of business). This costs money and time. Also, when it applies to areas outside of the downtown, the parking codes have changed and most places don't have a big enough parking lot anymore. So a parking variance would be needed. So, the business hires an architect/engineer to file the site plan. This is very costly and time consuming. Then they take it to City Hall and City Hall has 30 days to say yes or no. What if they say no? How much money and time is wasted on this gamble? Then, after the site plan is submitted and the new parking codes are calculated, it is discovered based on the new parking code requirements, that the particular vacant space no longer has enough parking so a parking variance will need to be filed. Time? Try another 60 days, and the business can still be turned down. Again, more money and time wasted and gambled because the parking variance might not be approved. With the downtown, they have to meet historical requirements and get approval. Then what? Why should a business even try? So they don't, and go to another city where they can rent a space, get a building permit and be open for business. In Lawrence, if someone wants to open a business, it might take 6 months minimum just to sign a 3 year lease. I know, I checked into it because I wanted to rent a space for a business. I took my business to Lenexa. It was a cake walk, compared to Lawrence.

BigPrune 8 years, 10 months ago

...and one more thing, the 6 months minimum to get the necessary approvals from the City does not include the 45-60 days to remodel the space.

Don Zimmer 8 years, 10 months ago

Lawrence's reputation is well deserved. I work with tenants in the midwest and they exchange info amongst themselves. So lawrence is not even aware of the potential tenants that do not even attempt to come to Lawrence after visiting with their fellow retailers. Lawrence missed the "Golden Era" for retailers, they are all in extreme shutdown mode in today's economy.

My own personal experience in Lawrence was a disaster with a company that wanted to build immediately on retail zoned property.I was informed by two previous charimen of the Planning Commission and the engineer that it would take two years and that there would be a 99.99% chance it would be turned down because it would increase at least one additional car to the area. The tenant hoped so.

Just recently a very liberal and desireable tenant informed me that in order to get a change of their existing signage (they changed logos and did not add any new area) they had to hire an atty.

puddleglum 8 years, 10 months ago

igby:"now that their gone" nice grammar. yeah, so far we have what? Wal-mart? thank gawd "their" gone... (eyes rolling)

jimmyjms 8 years, 10 months ago

I think it's crazy to say that we have enough restaurant options. Downtown is home to exactly two "upscale" restaurants, and the tier below that has, what, six at the most? Below that is fast food or just "kind of crappy" eateries.

It's his property, and he can do what he wants, but property owners in DT need to take a look in the mirror - rents are ridiculously high, and most of the unique shopping is gone.

BTW - why in the hell is the Masonic Temple just sitting there rotting?

Richard Heckler 8 years, 10 months ago

How many years has the masonic lodge building been neglected thus costing taxpayers money? And having the building appear as blight.

Guess the LJW writer doesn't want to talk about his friends.

The more eating and drinking establishments Lawrence adds the more anti economic growth.

I would suggest the building owner talk to Old Navy or Lands End or Sony Style or Apple Store.

Kookamooka 8 years, 10 months ago


I would love to. Want to give me a million dollar loan?

Richard Heckler 8 years, 10 months ago

Hey building owner maybe Lego Store. The closest one is in St Louis sooo the KCMO/JOCO and Topeka region might enjoy this opportunity. These stores contain lots of items that cannot be purchased any place but a Lego Store. Some very cool stuff.

These stores do not require a huge amount of space. Lure them with quite reasonable rent.

grimpeur 8 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Chickenships. You're anonymous. Put up or shut up. I've dealt with the city in new and remodel construction. The rules are there. What's so onerous about them? How are they changed in midstream? Why are they unfair? What, other than rent, makes leasing downtown so expensive? Try Jeff Co if you want to do whatever.

Oh, poor baby...just 152 pages of 1.5 inch margins, 12-point font and triple spacing? Read much? Or just whine about having to follow rules? How freaking easy does it have to be before you actually comply? Try calling someone at the city. I have. With perfectly satisfactory results, residential or commercial. How about reading the requirements instead of "gambling" with the future of a business? But no. Let's blame the city for it.

Not enough parking? You have got to be freaking kidding me! In this town, there is absolutely no place that has insufficient parking! The problem is too many lazy-a$$ drivers who can't bear the thought of walking 15 minutes or catching a ride with someone. That's not a problem of insufficient parking. That's a problem of too many unnecessary cars.

So, playwell, two chairs of the planning comm said it would take 2 years to do WHAT? WHAT were you or your friend/client/imaginary rabbit trying to do? An attorney to change signage? One additional car? See above. Sorry, but these contradictions indicate that you probably don't realize how far out and ridiculous your BS claims are.

Give me ONE example. So far, nothing but vague innuendo. I guess if you spend all your time and money trying to get around the rules instead of getting down to business...

I await your concrete and specific examples. If you don't want to name names/businesses, name the specific requirement and how it impacted/oppressed/cheated/cost you or anyone else you know of. Good grief, no wonder these crybabies can't succeed.

BigPrune 8 years, 10 months ago

It is quite obvious that "grimpeur" knows not what he or she is talking about. Call the planning department and tell them that you want to rent a space for a business and ask them what they will require. Tell them that you are looking at the downtown and a couple of strip shopping centers. See what they say before you start acting like an expert (which it's quite obvious you are definitely not an expert by any means).

Then, call some neighboring communities, like some in Johnson County, Topeka, Manhattan, Wichita or just go out of state and call and ask - just make sure the town is around the same size as Lawrence or bigger to be fair.

I dare you. Or, were you part of the "knows not what they do" citizen committee that helped rewrite the code and ruin our town?

Report back your results.

Kookamooka 8 years, 10 months ago

Seamus. Why can't the developers who bought the property at ridiculously high rates during the bubble, just cut bait and realize that they may have to take a hit for the greater good?

Commenting has been disabled for this item.