Archive for Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Town Talk: Development group to seek city help on Masonic Temple; city commissioner proposes closed-door meeting with business leaders; downtown parking subject of meeting next week

April 27, 2011


News and notes from around town:

• As we previously reported, local caterer Steve Maceli has an idea to take over the former Masonic Temple space at the southwest corner of 10th and Massachusetts for use as a unique reception and wedding hall. Well, that idea is now reaching a new level of seriousness. Maceli and the building’s owners — a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton — are asking the city to consider providing assistance to restore the one-of-a-kind downtown building.

The Compton ownership group is asking the city to use the Neighborhood Revitalization Act to help lessen the property tax impact of a major renovation. The Neighborhood Revitalization Act is a program that gives a property tax rebate to projects that fix up decaying properties. The city approved its use recently for Treanor Architects to remodel and expand the old Strong’s Office Supply building in the 1000 block of Vermont Street for it new corporate headquarters. The act only allows new property taxes generated by an expansion or an improvement. In other words, whatever the property tax bill is for the building today will continued to be paid in the future, but the development group would get a break on the new taxes that would be added to the property as a result of the improvements. The group is proposing a tax rebate period of 15 years. In year one, the property would have 95 percent of its new taxes rebated. The percentage would decline by 5 percent a year through the 15-year period. After year 15, the property would receive no rebate.

In addition, the ownership group also is asking the city to consider ways it could help with installation of a fire sprinkler system in the building.

Maceli told me he’s excited about the possibilities for the project. He believes the building could make downtown a major destination for weddings. He envisions the building being a one-stop shop for weddings because the main floor of the building — which has a historic Reuter organ — could be used for wedding ceremonies, while the lower level could be used for receptions. Maceli would continue to keep his existing facility at 1031 N.H. for events, and it also would continue to serve as his commercial kitchen.

But Maceli believes the project will be very difficult to do without the tax rebate program and other assistance. Without the help, he said, the lease payment on the building would be too high to feasibly operate a reception hall.

“If we don’t get some kind of assistance to do the work that needs to be done, I’m afraid it will continue to sit empty,” Maceli said. “The building still is a Lawrence treasure. To bring that treasure back to life, we just need some help.”

Representatives of the ownership group said they have struggled to find a tenant that would work for the building. Most potential tenants would have required a complete reconfiguration of the building. Other tenants also likely would need major changes to the facade of the building, which with its Egyptian Revival-style has to be on a list of most unusual facades in northeast Kansas.

Maceli doesn’t want to change the facade, and can use the space in its current configuration. But the building needs an elevator and other ADA improvements, plus new wiring, the fire sprinkler system and other similar improvements.

The building has been vacant since about 2003, when the Lawrence Scottish Rite sold the building to move to a new location in eastern Lawrence.

A date hasn’t been set for city commissioners to consider the most recent proposal for the building.

• Newly elected City Commissioner Hugh Carter is following through on a campaign pledge to have better communications with local business leaders. Carter has asked the city manager to schedule the first of what he hopes will be quarterly CEO Roundtables. The event will feature six to eight business leaders, up to two city commissioners, one county commissioner and members of the city and county’s staffs. Carter talked about the roundtable idea frequently during his recent campaign. But now Carter has added one other detail. He thinks the meetings should be closed to the public. Carter told me he didn’t think it would be a good idea to allow the media or members of the public to attend the meeting because it may cause business leaders to not truly speak their minds.

Carter probably is correct that a meeting without the media would be a bit different. If I had a dollar for every time that a crowd of people have hushed their tones as I’ve walked up upon them, my kids might actually have a college fund. But, on the other hand, the public has been told for a long time now that economic development and making the city more business-friendly is one of the most important issues facing the community. (In almost 20 years, I have yet to cover a City Commission election where that hasn’t been a central theme.)

Carter wants to really hear from business leaders about what is wrong with our community. But if the public is unable to hear those concerns — and business leaders apparently are too timid to mention them publicly — how will the public ever know whether its elected leaders are addressing those concerns?

To be clear, I have no inclination that Carter wants or will allow the meetings to become some venue for shady dealings. But closed-door meetings involving elected officials haven’t exactly been the most popular idea among some members of the public in recent years. It will be interesting to see whether the public cares much about this proposal.

No date has been set yet for the first quarterly roundtable.

• City officials will have a special meeting on Tuesday to talk about downtown parking in the 1000 block of Vermont Street. City staff will host a meeting from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at City Hall to discuss a proposal to convert the two-hour free parking lot in the 1000 block of Vermont into a 10-hour metered lot. The proposal is aimed to accommodate a project by Treanor Architects to relocate their headquarters to a vacant building that is adjacent to the lot. The city previously held a meeting about the parking proposal, but few businesses in the block attended. As commissioners were ready to approve the plan earlier this month, several businesses — Rex’s Stadium Barber Shop, Aimee’s Coffee House, and D&D; Tire, to name a few — raised questions. So, the city decided to have a second meeting before taking any action. When commissioners last discussed the idea, they seemed to be leaning toward making only a portion of the lot available for 10-hour parking, and leaving the rest as two-hour parking to accommodate retail businesses. It also will be interesting to see what commissioners decide on a request to help the Treanor project out on parking rates. Treanor officials are proposing to buy about 50 long-term parking passes at the current rate of $192 per year. But Treanor wants that $192 price locked in for the next 10 years. When commissioners last discussed the subject, Carter and Commissioner Bob Schumm indicated they thought that would set a bad precedent. The other three commissioners, however, didn’t weigh in on the subject.

• If you want to enjoy the beauty of Burcham Park, be aware that it will be difficult to do so on Thursday. Access to the park will be closed from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. while crews with Burlington Northern Santa Fe work on the railroad crossing that is at the entrance to the park at 200 Indiana Street.


gccs14r 7 years ago

If the lease payment is too high, maybe Maceli should be asking Compton for a rebate, not the City.

kansasredlegs 7 years ago

Wasn't it Maceli's that argued about the City-subsidized meeting place at the museum? If so, I certainly expect the asking lease price to be lowered by an agreed-to prorata amount for this proposed subsidy.

Believe we will hear crickets now that Maceli's can be getting some financial advantage of that taxpayer slop.

Tristan Moody 7 years ago

Closed-door meetings: bad idea. Carter may have good intentions, but it makes shady dealings far too easy. Government needs to be more open, not less, and this will take things in a dangerous direction.

pizzapete 7 years ago

I couldn't agree more, shady and dangerous indeed..

Steve Jacob 7 years ago

It does seem shady, because you know some of the ideas that will be floated will involve tax payer money. The public (mostly) is reasonable, take for example the Maceli's story above. He wants some tax-payer money, and he's being honest about it, and what he wants sounds fair.

flyin_squirrel 7 years ago

If the city ever wants a new business to take over the Masonic Temple, they are going to need to give them assistance. The building does not meet current code, and will cost a fortune to renovate to current code. Marble, stone and concrete are not easy to modify, and making a balcony meet ADA requirements is also a tall task (not to mention the entrance which has stone steps).

And this doesn't even address the kitchen in the basement that is currently under the sidewalk in the city right of way.

Hopefully Marceli's can make this property an asset to our downtown, rather than the eyesore it is now.

pizzapete 7 years ago

It sounds like the owner needs to spend some money to meet those codes. Why should the bill be passed on to us?

Bud Stagg 7 years ago

What do we get out of the deal? If I'm going to invest my tax dollars into this then we should own part of it. I am tired of millionaires getting tax dollars. They should be paying them. Come on Doug, take a chance, spend some cash or get out of the development business. Maybe you shouldn't have bought the temple in the first place?

kansasredlegs 7 years ago

Wrong!!! If this building failed to meet all the codes as you indicate and it would not be allowed to be occupied until such codes have been met, then such conditions were certainly negotiated in the final purchase price.

Basically, Compton purchases the property at at discount for all the issues mentioned, then lets it sit for a few years, people start to grumble, then he steps in and says, I can fix it with tax dollars!!!!

The IQ of our commission will be clearly shown if this boondoggle is given $1 in tax money. Even if never occupied, Compton will have a fixed up building at tax payer expense if this Commission goes along.

Jayson Hawk 7 years ago

Compton has plenty of money to update the Temple without assistance from the city. He could use the money he receives from the special tax district on his development near Free State High School.

Charlie Dominguez 7 years ago

Totally agree with this particular writer. Its easy enough for the taxpayer to justifiably argue against special tax breaks for developers. However, this building has sat empty for some time and could become "demolition thru neglect"; which then begins another round of "he should they didn't".

So, lets invest the money and provide this developer the funds upfront to create the necessary improvements to bring in even better, a local business, which is a win for more than just a few. I for one am for this option.

jaychalk 7 years ago

Federal, state, and local governments can't meet their obligations now, yet private businesses want to keep asking for the government to subsidize their businesses?? What ever happened to free markets? Instead, we have government subsidized markets. If the numbers don't work now, then it is probably not a viable business.

BigPrune 7 years ago

The Masonic Temple needs to be wiped clean off the earth. It has stairs that go up from the sidewalk and it has those hideous columns. In my youth, that building scared me because I thought it had dead people in it - like a mausoleum. There's a thought, if the hysterical society people need to keep the exterior just like it has been for 100 years, turn that ugly building into a mausoleum. They can use the broken Reuter organ for tombside services. If it looks like a duck, and acts like a duck, it is a duck - not a wedding reception hall.

DeMontfort 7 years ago

"In my youth, that building scared me because I thought it had dead people in it - like a mausoleum."

Well that certainly explains a lot.

guess_again 7 years ago

flyin squirrel: Spending too much purchasing a historical building does not require squat from the taxpayers. Mr. Compton & friends had every ability to judge the environmental issues (including asbestos), HVAC issues, and other code issues long before they acquired the property. But they had the cash (really, access to credit) And they had greed.

Now they want to be guaranteed a profit by governmental subsidy? Why not let every downtown merchant off the property tax tab? I mean, it is all historic, right?

Let the ownership group sell it at a loss to someone else who has the wherewithal to rehab the property. (But you notice, they don't want to do that, they want to be guaranteed a profit for their poor business judgement)

If people like Compton weren't going around downtown buying up every property, the property values downtown would not be out of control, and the rents would be more reasonable, and there would be fewer vacant windows. (Hopefully the vacant windows, and lack of associated rents, will start to moderate some of those property values). But give Compton et al a pass?

Mike Myers 7 years ago

" It will be interesting to see whether the public cares much about this proposal. "

I care. Bad idea.

Mike Myers 7 years ago

Why don't we just put Doug Compton, Mike Treanor, Paul Werner, and The Fritzels on the city payroll. It would be cheaper for the tax payers if we just gave them all about 100k per year to go away. How the F are we supposed to pay for and improve our schools if we keep giving away our tax revenue to all of the develpers? How!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

They expect way more from the city than being on the payroll could ever supply.

deec 7 years ago

Oh, look! Dougie with his hand out again.

no_thanks 7 years ago

I like the idea of breathing new life into the Masonic Temple, and have no problem with the abatement request. The abatement is for taxes towards any improvements to the building. Such a request costs the City nothing as they will continue collecting the same amount of tax as it does today (that is, based on the value of the building today), as well as, an incremental percentage of the improvements that increase every year. There is no additional infrastructure that will be required by the City.

Now, the idea of the City providing a sprinkler system and/or making the building ADA compliant for a private entity is not an appropriate use of funds. The City should not be in the business of picking winners and losers for private enterprises, social services (what agency deserves money and what doesn't), or other pet projects (downtown events, etc...).

ferrislives 7 years ago

"The Neighborhood Revitalization Act is a program that gives a property tax rebate to projects that fix up decaying properties."

Isn't this the same thing as what happened with the property off of Connecticut that they let fall into disrepair, only to then ask to redevelop it? Compton/First Management has owned that building for years, and it's been boarded up all of that time with not much maintenance that I ever noticed. So how is that different?

Gedanken 7 years ago

Interesting - wasn't Steve Maceli the guy complaining about the newly renovated Carnegie Building. I believe his claim was that he couldn't compete since the City had rental rates too low until they finally raised him. Now he is asking for assistance from the city to make his latest business venture work. Will he give deep discounts to people who want to the rent his hall that own property in town? If the answer is no, then the city should say no.

kansasredlegs 7 years ago

Hey Hugh: I know you're new, but slow down Cowboy. The operative word these days is Transparency.

btw: Who gets to pick the so-called business leaders? Is it determined by how much they and/or their businesses donated to commissioners campaigns?

George Lippencott 7 years ago


how about closed door meetings with residential property owners or actual property tax payers or a host of other groups?? Not really a good idea!!

John Hamm 7 years ago

There is absolutely no good news for the citizens of Lawrence in this article. Compton wants to bleed you and me more for his personal gain. The city's going to hold "closed door" meetings with business leaders! Whoa, how about Joe Citizen? Oh, that's right, he's irrelevant here in Lawrence.... Treanor wants their share of my pie. And did someone say "beauty of Burcham Park?" Have any of you seen it lately? Not such beautiful as it once was by a long stretch!

ilovelucy 7 years ago

I think this is an excellent idea. The Temple is beautiful and should be used. Good luck to the group involved!!

Clark Coan 7 years ago

Have you ever eaten at Maceli's? It is mediocre food at best.

fatarnie 7 years ago

Just wondering, how come nothing mentioned about the new place taking over Old Chicago? The Star shows Saints Pub and Patio opening there in August, any clues on what that place is like?

irvan moore 7 years ago

downtown is a protected district that several of the commissioners have a personal interest in, the New Hampshire project going in now, the Treanor project, the parking garage, we are going to foot the bill for private development that most of us will never set foot in.

alfie 7 years ago

Saints Pub + Patio expanding to Lawrence

Locally owned Saints Pub + Patio has taken over the Old Chicago Pasta & Pizza space in Lawrence and will open its fourth location there.

Saints also has a location in Lenexa, along with two operations in the Des Moines area.

The new location, at 2329 Iowa, is being gutted and remodeled for an opening by August.

The sports bar will have about 40 flat-screen TVs, pool tables, and an indoor patio area with garage doors that open up to another large outdoor patio in nicer weather.

It will have about 30 full-time and part-time employees.

Menu items include Jerk chicken egg rolls, Italian panini, pulled pork tacos and Cajun chicken linguini.

"We've made it so it's a sports bar with a casual atmosphere, great drink specials, a menu with made-from-scratch items that we’ve worked hard on with our chef," said Kem Anderson, owner with her husband, Scott Anderson, and third partner Marc Mundt.

They plan additional area locations.

Larry Gaines and Phil Peck of Block and Co. Inc. handled the negotiations for Saints.

Betty Bartholomew 7 years ago

Oh, gross - like we need another sports bar/grill in town.

Sigmund 7 years ago

Remember all the tears from some of these same Kommissioner's with Dipheria? I remember between the sobs the pledges of "Transparency" and "Openness." I remember "technical" violations of the law without any "technical" punishments greased along by a democratic DA and a democratic AG. Not a damn thing has changed. They hide owners and principles behind LLC's and LLP's and now cut special deals with City in private. Corporate Welfare and Cronyism on display. Downtown Landlords own this and all previous Kommmission's and there is not a thing you can do about it.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

What a concept...

Buy downtown property,let them become an eyesore then 15 year tax abatements go to the wealthiest people in town. How interesting.

Here’s what happens.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years ago

The "historic" Reuter Organ" has not been kept up and been allowed to deteriorate and become unusable for many years. The cost to refurbish it would almost probably exceed the cost of a new one. I think the planners of this project will be horribly shocked when they inquire as to what it might cost to update this instrument which is a very old, very obsolete and very limited use instrument compared to modern musical taste and practice.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

"Newly elected City Commissioner Hugh Carter is following through on a campaign pledge to have better communications with local business leaders. Carter has asked the city manager to schedule the first of what he hopes will be quarterly CEO Roundtables. The event will feature six to eight business leaders, up to two city commissioners, one county commissioner and members of the city and county’s staffs. Carter talked about the roundtable idea frequently during his recent campaign. But now Carter has added one other detail. He thinks the meetings should be closed to the public. Carter told me he didn’t think it would be a good idea to allow the media or members of the public to attend the meeting because it may cause business leaders to not truly speak their minds."

Sorry folks this should be a series of study sessions. After all the taxpayers money is almost always involved.

WE TAXPAYERS are the most important stake holders. If the business community cannot be honest in public what does that say about Lawrence,Kansas?

This will be a rerun of the Bush/Cheney secret energy meetings Lawrence style.

WE do not elect people to hold secret meetings.

How many secret meetings take place that are kept from taxpayers?

suggestionbox 7 years ago

Allow and support Steve Maceli to get this location moving forward. Who cares about Compton? More jobs and events and functions and a well kept building on our main street is a good idea.

pace 7 years ago

I love the building and like the idea of receptions there. Normally I think we should help. I am not personally crazy about the guys involved but, looking at the picture, preservation of unique space. the darn building going back in use rather than shuttered, a little history saved. I am so against closed meetings, we had enough behind the scenes foolery with Sue.While I am no Compton or Marcelli fan, that is a matter of personality, I don't wish to put hindrance in the way of business or a good idea because of personal style.

wtff 7 years ago

Not related to this discussion..

..but who can tell me what those cameras are on the west side of the east facing stop light (westbound traffic) at Clinton Pkwy and Wakarusa?? They look a lot like red light cameras trying to take a picture of your rear license plate.

Someone should look into this and if there is info about it, please share it here. Just seems sneaky to me.

twoton 7 years ago

We have enough vacant storefronts on Mass St. lets get with the program and approve this request. We need to be supporting businesses that bring more people downtown.

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