Archive for Friday, August 19, 2011

Town Talk: Santa Fe depot lighting up while debate over restoration may be heating up; 8,870 city potholes; can I still pinch you on Half St. Patrick’s Day?

August 19, 2011


Subscribe to the Town Talk email edition

Subscribe to the email edition of Town Talk and we'll deliver you the latest city news and notes every weekday at noon.

News and notes from around town:

• If you were out and about Thursday night and thought that East Lawrence had a different glow about it, you may have been right. At least part of the neighborhood did. Three new neon signs have been installed at the Santa Fe Depot at Seventh and New Jersey streets. If you remember, the signs were a hot topic of discussion about this time last year. That’s because one of the signs was hot, as in stolen. In what we called the Great Train Station Robbery, somebody got up on the building and took one of the long blue signs that says “Lawrence” right off the roof. A day after the article appeared in the J-W, the sign appeared in Martin Park in a Christmas tree box with a note that wished a Merry Christmas and was “signed” by KU men's basketball Coach Bill Self. Well, that sign wasn’t able to be restored, said Carey Maynard-Moody, a leader of the Depot Redux citizens group that is trying to restore the 1950s-era building. So Amtrak has had replicas of the two Lawrence signs made. (There are two Lawrence signs. One on each end of the building.) Amtrak also had a third sign made. It replaces an old Santa Fe sign that hung over the front door to the depot. The new sign, though, reads Amtrak, instead of Santa Fe. But to satisfy historical requirements, the new sign is in the same style as the Santa Fe sign.

• A blue neon glow isn’t the only thing that has returned to the depot. Debate about whether the city ought to take over ownership of the building is also likely to return. City and depot leaders have confirmed to me that Amtrak has made an offer to pay for about $140,000 worth of ADA improvements that must be made to the inside of the station, which is still owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe. But Amtrak’s offer is contingent upon the city taking over ownership of the building. Those ADA improvements have been a significant concern for city commissioners as they have considered purchasing the station from Santa Fe so that the building could be restored. Amtrak’s offer would take care of all the ADA work needed at the station, including new bathrooms, entrances, water fountains and other such items. Amtrak already is working on a several hundred thousand dollar project — funded by stimulus money — to rebuild the exterior platform to conform with ADA requirements. But there would be plenty of other costs for the city to pick up. The city estimates there may be another $475,000 worth of roof repairs, HVAC replacements and other building maintenance issues that would have to be done fairly soon to protect the building. On top of that, there are probably another $900,000 worth of phase II improvements that are less pressing. The city has long said it doesn’t have money in its budget to do the repairs, but it has applied for grants. But because the city doesn’t own the building, winning a grant to restore it has been difficult. The question city commissioners have struggled with is whether they should take over ownership of the building before they know they have a guaranteed funding source for improvements. (Santa Fe will sell the building for a dollar, but there are other conditions attached to that.) Thus far, the answer has been no. We’ll see whether Amtrak’s latest offer changes any minds. Look for the issue on a City Commission agenda in the next few weeks.

• From trains to automobiles. Just how many potholes are there on Lawrence streets? What would you say if I told you that there were 8,870 of them during the first six months of 2011? That’s how many the city says there were, and city leaders said that’s actually good news. The city fixed 8,870 potholes during the first six months of the year, and they’re on pace to deal with 17,740 potholes for the full year. That’s about a 42 percent reduction in the number of potholes they found and fixed compared to 2010. I know what you cynics are thinking — there’s still as many potholes but the city just isn’t fixing them. There’s data out there that suggests you’re wrong. The city also tracks the number of calls it receives on its Pothole Hotline (832-3456). Those numbers also are way down — by about 72 percent — from the same time period a year ago. City leaders say their emphasis on street maintenance and rebuilding several roads is starting to show up in the numbers. Plus, weather — particularly how nasty the freeze-thaw cycle is — will cause the numbers to fluctuate.

• Downtown is not the only place that can throw a party. The businesses out at Sixth and Wakarusa are banding together to throw a KU football bash on Sept. 1. The Salty Iguana, Famous Dave’s BBQ and McDonald's all will be serving food and hosting an event that will include the KU Pep Band, speakers, music and games. The Salty Iguana also will be serving alcoholic beverages at the outdoor event. City commissioners are scheduled to approve the event at their Tuesday evening meeting. The party would run from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

• Perhaps downtown partiers heard of this West Lawrence event and began to panic that their reputation as Partiers in Chief was in jeopardy. Not to worry, though, the folks at the Sandbar came up with something. They’re proposing to close Eighth Street in front of their bar to celebrate — wait for it — the halfway point to St. Patrick’s Day. (I can imagine the genesis of this idea now. Downtown’s Party Committee nervously gathered around a table, which looked conspicuously like a bar. They drank water that smelled conspicuously like rum. They fretted. They wondered what else could they do. “We’ve already thrown shot puts in the middle of the street,” someone pointed out. Javelins were mentioned, but quickly dismissed. Then someone who had partaken in several glasses of water yelled “Half St. Patrick’s Day, Half St. Patrick’s Day.” Then everybody celebrated with half pinches.) Anyway, the event will be from 1 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Sept. 17 in the 100 block of East Eighth Street. Organizers have told the city that the event also will serve as a fundraiser for a local charity. City commissioners are scheduled to give final approval to the event, which will include closing that section of street, at their Tuesday meeting.


d_prowess 6 years, 10 months ago

I like the idea of Half St. Patrick's day, but I would much rather they did a half Halloween day! Halloween and people in costumes seems to grow every year in Lawrence and this would be a chance to do it twice. It would also help support businesses like Fun & Games that have costumes available year round.

Royals 6 years, 10 months ago

The Royals have been celebrating halfway to St. Paddys day for a while, including this year.

TNPlates 6 years, 10 months ago

I would like to see 8th Street between Mass and New Hampshire permanently closed and turned into a mall area. Let there be more public events - 1/2 St. Patty's, 1/2 Halloween, etc. - and add some funkiness to downtown.

George_Braziller 6 years, 10 months ago

It's not going to happen. That section of street is one of the primary unloading areas for delivery trucks. There are often two trucks unloading at the same time.

gccs14r 6 years, 10 months ago

No reason why it can't be blocked off for normal traffic, but opened up for deliveries.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

People may very well stop reporting the potholes, if they aren't getting fixed well and in a timely manner.

So, the reported numbers aren't any guarantee that there aren't many more potholes than are being reported.

Take_a_letter_Maria 6 years, 10 months ago

I'm one of those people that stopped calling jafs.

After several calls last year, only to watch the potholes remain for months past the time of the call, I figured the city either wasn't paying attention or didn't care. I've been tempted to call a couple of times this year, but figured why bother.

parrothead8 6 years, 10 months ago

I've always used the online pothole reporting form, and every pothole I've reported has been fixed within a week...usually within 2-3 days.

Sprinkles 6 years, 10 months ago

$18M on a beautiful new library superfluous? In this day and age? Studies show that library usage is up in visits during these rough economic times. Something needs to be done to offset all the slashes in public school funding.

texburgh 6 years, 10 months ago

It does sound like a lot of money but I do believe the investment is a worthy investment.

First, I think the building is historically significant. It is a beautiful example of a specific period in architectural history. Sometimes it's hard to see though because of the condition it's in. Restored, it will be a shining example of a particular architectural style/movement.

As for passenger rail travel, I had never really traveled by rail in the US (once back in the 70's on a short commuter route back east) but recently did take Amtrak from Lawrence out west. I was prepared for the worst but I had a wonderful travel experience. The train was very comfortable, relaxing, and even fun. I admit that the times in Lawrence are not terribly convenient and that my return trip was delayed but Amtrak was great. Nice staff on the trains, roomy seats, the ability to walk around or head to the observation car to enjoy scenery or play cards or just have a drink. And as for that delay, my airline delays have been as long as 36 hours! I plan on using Amtrak again and I would highly recommend it to others.

I would hope that the restored building could become a kind of transportation hub. How about moving Greyhound there as well?

I look forward to the restoration and hope it proceeds. It would be a wonderful thing if some of our local contractors could pitch in with the repairs - not for free but why not at lower rates with a corresponding tax benefit? I would hope this could be done without the city having to come up with all the extra money. I would hope this project would become a matter of civic pride. But I'm kind of a dreamer...

Nathan Anderson 6 years, 10 months ago

Amtrak ridership has increased by about 10 million in the last 10 years. Track is much easier to maintain that highways. Nice try.

conservative 6 years, 10 months ago

The city doesn't have the money for a million dollar renovation of a rail station. The fact that the railroads are wiiling to spend 140,000 AND sell the building for a dollar should be the first clue that it is a money pit that they would love to pawn off.

Nathan Anderson 6 years, 10 months ago

Another possibility is that when the building was constructed, the freight companies were in the passenger rail business and built the station for that purpose. They are no longer in the passenger rail business and the BNSF track that comes through Lawrence isn't part of their main line.

JerryStubbs 6 years, 10 months ago

AMTRAK is a great way to get to the Grand Canyon for a camping trip. You can carry quite a bit of luggage and gear for free, and while it's a long trip (about 18hrs I think) it's quicker and less work than driving.

If you don't want to go that far, Albuquerque/Santa Fe are on Southwest Chief route that comes through Lawrence, as well. The big city of Chicago is at the other end of the route. It too is a compromise between flying and driving. Downtown Lawrence to downtown Chicago in about 9 hours-- but you can take your bike, whatever.

debbi 6 years, 10 months ago

Just a clarification on the Halfway to St. Patrick's Day party- this event is through the St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee, and credit for the event should go to them. It's not a Sandbar event, though it happens to be in front of our building, and we are assisting the group with party logistics since we have some experience in that area!

Carol Bowen 6 years, 10 months ago

Multimodal transportation is a long overdue concept in Lawrence. Many towns and cities have refurbished or replaced their train stations. Even impoverished communities managed to fix up their stations with a combination of public and private funds.

The station's interior is quite nice and serviceable. I have noticed quite a few passengers when I have been there. Taxis are available. The cost of a ticket is very affordable. We should be asking how many passengers get on and off, and what other communities do to make the most of their investments. What's wrong with Lawrence? Are we afraid of mass transit, or do we lack the sophistication to think beyond the automobile?

auntiesocial 6 years, 10 months ago

I agree wholeheartedly! I sometimes take the train to Kansas City. For $13 I can board and travel to downtown Kansas City, Missouri or vice versa. These days I spend more on gas to drive my car to the city.

Lawrence citizens like to congratulate themselves on their 'green' attitudes, one would think that the idea of train travel and mass transit would be embraced, but it is understandable that this is a rather foreign idea in Kansas. Let gasoline climb in excess of five bucks a gallon and perceptions will change rather quickly.

ralphralph 6 years, 10 months ago

An Amtrak depot ... that surely wouldn't become a financial black hole for local taxpayers.

Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 10 months ago

I thought Texburg, Hearme, Jerry Stubbs and MacHealth are right on the point. In many parts of the country, commuter rail is in great demand. People in Lawrence still prefer their automobile. But I suspect, as time goes on, people would gladly commute if commuter rail were available (and if multiple modes of transit were available when they got there, which is also a problem at the present time).

Bob Harvey 6 years, 10 months ago

Halfway to St. Paddys Day. Love it. Can I get a "Fins Up?"

Sunny Parker 6 years, 10 months ago

Bulldoze that building! It's a waste of tax payer dollars to try and renovate it. When will people realize that there is no more money to be wasted on these pet projects!

muddfoot55 6 years, 10 months ago

Personally I think we as a city need to look at usage. How many people are actually using the train depot vs number of people using the library. If we were a comuter town that used the train faithfully and in numbers, I would have no problem. Money on the library would better serve the citizens of Lawrence.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 10 months ago

Why does this newspaper continue to keep these stale news stories on the web site? This is going on 3 days now. I thought the idea was to report new and breaking news, not continue to keep old and previously reported news, unless there was some sort of followup. Anybody know why the JW seems to like to linger on old news??

hildirid 6 years, 10 months ago

The Town Talk home page specifically says that new columns are only posted on weekdays. You are free to complain about that policy, of course, but not to act as if it hasn't been openly stated.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.