Archive for Sunday, August 21, 2011

Business, property owners weigh in on downtown Lawrence issues

August 21, 2011


Learn the facts, see the data

The Journal-World has built an interactive map with property owners and property values around downtown. Explore the database in this related story.

The Journal-World at the beginning of its project to chronicle the changing nature of downtown Lawrence invited four prominent property owners and businessmen to participate in a roundtable discussion.

In mid-July, the following shared their thoughts and concerns about downtown Lawrence:

• Doug Compton, the president of Lawrence-based First Management Inc., and the largest property owner on Massachusetts Street.

• George Paley, a former downtown retailer who has bought multiple properties throughout the city with an emphasis in the downtown area.

• Earl Reineman, a longtime Lawrence retailer who is a vice president with Weaver’s department store.

• Bob Schumm, the owner of Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse, a city commissioner and a downtown landlord.

Here’s a look at several issues the group discussed.

General health of downtown

Reineman: “I think it is in a comeback phase,” he said, although he agreed that the economy had presented multiple challenges to downtown, especially retailers.

Schumm: Said he largely agreed with Reineman’s assessment. “About a year ago, though, I was pretty worried with the number of vacancies that were occurring,” he said. But he said the fact that there are also multiple vacancies in outlying strip centers in Lawrence suggests to him the vacancy issue is more of a broad economy problem than a downtown-oriented problem. “In my opinion, it was probably the highest vacancy rate we’ve seen downtown since I can remember,” said Schumm, who has been in business for more than 40 years downtown. “But it also was matched by the virtues of the Great Recession.”

Compton: Agreed that it is on a “positive comeback” right now. But he said that he was definitely concerned about one year ago with the vacancy level. He cited Treanor Architect’s decision to move its offices downtown, which likely will bring upwards of 70 employees to downtown.

Reineman: Said the Treanor project is “huge” for downtown, but said Compton’s seven-story retail/office/apartment building that is under construction at Ninth and New Hampshire is a “great thing for downtown.” “The more people who work and live in downtown is really the key to downtown.”

Schumm: Went a step further and said Compton’s Ninth and New Hampshire project likely was the best development for downtown in the last 10 years.

Downtown and the real estate market

Compton: Said the market is adjusting in downtown as the economy has been “horrible.” “Some of us bought properties in the last five to 10 years that we might have paid a higher price than what some of those values might be today,” Compton said. “Usually those values dictate your rent numbers. We bought our last building at a lesser price than we paid for previous buildings. That allowed us to rent it for less money. I don’t want to dance around that issue. It is a fact.”

Schumm: “I see buildings on the market for a long time for a price for which they used to be snapped up in a matter of weeks,” Schumm said. “That tells me that the market has topped out.”

Paley: “Being very honest, I’m cutting rents to fill them up,” Paley said. “I’m working hard, I love all the restaurants, but if we don’t keep the balance of retail, I think we’re in some jeopardy. I’ll say it that way. Fortunately I’ve been in this for awhile, and I feel like I’ve had my good times. Right now this is just one of those times that tenants are beating me to pieces.”

Downtown events and a pedestrian mall

Paley: Said he came back from downtown Iowa City recently thinking: “Why couldn’t we close two blocks on Eighth Street” to convert it into a public gathering area.

Schumm: Notes that one of the features of the new library is a grass plaza area. In terms of Eighth Street, he said traffic flows could be concern. “I would lean towards looking at it and taking public comment about it. We don’t have a very good gathering area in downtown.”

Reineman: Said he would love to have a defined gathering area but said he is concerned about “contributing to a perception that is already out there” that access is difficult in downtown. “I would have to think long and hard about closing any streets.”

Paley: Said closing any part of Mass. would be problematic, but he suggested closing one block of Eighth Street on both sides of Massachusetts and maybe making Seventh street a one-way street and either Ninth or 10th Street a one-way. “Everything took a long time here. Staying open on Sundays, angled parking. But if people would just stop and think for a moment: When Aunty Martha comes to town, they don’t take her to Walmart. They take her to downtown. Why they then go home and forget about downtown for anything else? I don’t understand it.”

Compton: Said he knows people would like to have a gathering place downtown. Said he got a lot of comments about his new development at Ninth and New Hampshire streets taking the place where downtown movies have been shown in the past. “I got beat up over that.”

Development in good years

On why downtown didn’t see more development during the good years of the 2000s. In particular, questions about why the Downtown 2000 project in the 900 block of New Hampshire saw rather lackluster private development until just recently.

Schumm: “For a long time we had one of the best games in town,” Schumm said. “We had a real downtown. Someone along the line, they read our book.” He said new developments like The Legends near the Kansas Speedway in western Wyandotte County that are made to look like a downtown have hurt Lawrence’s downtown. “That has drawn away a lot of our customer base.”

Reineman: Reminds people that South Iowa Street was developing at this time period too. “There’s a lot of retail out there.”

Compton: Said he thinks Schumm “is exactly right” about The Legends. “Drive through there sometime and count the Douglas County tags. It is scary.”

National retailers

It is noted, though, that The Legends has quite a few more national retailers than downtown Lawrence. Why have more national retailers landed in downtown, and is that good or bad?

Paley: Said national retailers are more in a closing mode than an opening mode at the moment.

Schumm: Said national retailers have a bad feeling about downtowns everywhere. “They don’t look at downtown Lawrence any differently than the 200 downtowns that have been bombed out and are trying to get a Bed Bath & Beyond or something. They are about taking the guesswork out of any decision. We have multiple owners they would have to work with. We don’t have any consistent store hours here. We try, but chains are really looking for that consistent package.”

Reineman: Said national retailers are a close-knit group, and they know the national chains that have been in Lawrence “have not been high performers.” “Lawrence is not yet a big community. There is a big difference in the eyes of a national retailers between a community of 85,000 to 90,000 people and a community of 120,000.”

Downtown hours

Paley: Said he thinks part of the discussion for downtown has to include more consistent hours and later hours. “I think you have to give those people going to Kansas City or Topeka (to work) a chance to come back downtown and shop.”

Reineman: Said if Weaver’s felt it could be profitable by staying open later it would stay open later. Said Thursday evening hours have become less significant over time rather than more significant.

Compton: Said he has tenants, like The Buckle, that do well after 5 p.m. He said the shopping environment has changed since he was a retailer in downtown in the early 1980s. “In the ’80s you used to be able to shoot a cannon off after 5 o’clock in downtown. Now, you’re not going to get a place to park.”


Sigmund 6 years, 7 months ago

“For a long time we had one of the best games in town,” Schumm said. “We had a real downtown. Someone along the line, they read our book.” He said new developments like The Legends near the Kansas Speedway in western Wyandotte County that are made to look like a downtown have hurt Lawrence’s downtown. “That has drawn away a lot of our customer base.”

Well I guess The Legends kinda "looks like Lawrence" and a "downtown" except for all the stores they have that Lawrence downtown does not have, and all the parking that Lawrence downtown doesn't have. But other than they are pretty much identical, except The Legends is a lot newer, and cleaner, and the Livestrong stadium, and NASCAR track, and lacks panhandlers, and that girl that sits on the sidewalk and endlessly shakes her maracas but again those are just small items. Even Buffalo Bob's is exactly the same as Aurthur Bryant's BBQ, Backfire BBQ, and Famous Daves BBQ. Yep, except for all the differences, Lawrence and The Legends are identical.

Unless I am headed to Sunflower Bike I am unlikely to drive downtown and pay for parking, otherwise if I am doing any serious shopping or dining (over $100) I am headed to KC.

But don't think for a moment I don't support downtown Lawrence, I do! I helped them pay for new fire sprinklers, and build a new lighted sidewalk from campus, and I subsidize each rider on the empTy that feeds lots of bus riders with money burning a hole in their pocket right to their cash registers.

Just answer me this, why is it always "our downtown" when they want our tax dollars, but "their private business" when there are profits to be taken?

Tim Quest 6 years, 7 months ago

Pay for parking? That quarter is just killing you, isn't it? The horror!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

And I bet you really appreciate the eminent domain that was used to throw land owners who'd been there for generations off of their property, just so you could patronize the private businesses that are now profiting off of those forced land sales.

Haiku_Cuckoo 6 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, spending $6 in gas to avoid a .25 cent parking meter makes lot of sense. Plus the walk across the Legends parking lot is probably longer than a couple blocks of Mass St.

tomatogrower 6 years, 7 months ago

All the parking, Sigmund? Seriously? All the parking at the Legends is far away from most stores, unless they are on the outskirts. I have to walk much further than I do when I go downtown. Even the furniture store's parking requires you to cross a busy road. I don't mind walking there or downtown, but unless I'm window shopping, I walk a lot less downtown than I go to the Legends or any huge mall. And if you want free parking, there's plenty in the back parking lots where you can usually park very close to your destination. Many stores even have a rear door, so you don't have to walk around to Mass. Obviously you don't shop downtown often.

freestatehawk 6 years, 7 months ago

Haven't been to Backfire yet, but unlike Buffalo Bob's, Aurthur Bryant's and Famous Dave's actually serve edible food. Arthur Bryant's is actually damn good. Considering all of the restaurants that have come and gone on Mass., I'll never understand how Bob's stays in business.

pizzapete 6 years, 7 months ago

He owns the property so he doesn't have to pay a Compton size rent.

pz5g1 6 years, 7 months ago

I'll make the trip just for Cabela's. Somehow Lawrence manages not to have a sporting goods store of any kind outside of Wal-Mart, which sells junk.

Sigmund 6 years, 7 months ago

"In mid-July, the following shared their thoughts and concerns about downtown Lawrence"

Here are the links to those articles that Chad forgot to provide Live blog: Downtown property owners discuss future of Downtown Lawrence

Town Talk: Downtown roundtable event planned for Monday, questions sought for downtown leaders

Richard Heckler 6 years, 7 months ago

A fine furniture store Johnson Bros Furniture provide Lawrence with excellent built furniture and were competitive priced with the KCMO market. They also offered the same high quality product names or could bring them in. Why did they close? That was a sad day for downtown Lawrence.

People with more money than sense were paying more than market value for the privilege of owning Big 12 real estate during the reckless "boom town economy" period. Johnson Bros furniture were among the victims of inflated rent that followed reckless buying habits. They had to close their doors. That was a sad day for downtown Lawrence

Those who pay too much for real estate by their choice don't really need to increase rents accordingly. Instead could ask for what true market rent value is or was. No one made buyers be stupid about doing business. Now it cost too much to do business in Lawrence,Kansas.

Local reckless buyers and westside developers who are the same faces are killing downtown. People were not coming to Lawrence to visit big box stores. The "vintage" downtown was the draw. These same reckless real estate are also demanding tax dollar handouts from we taxpayers = draining our wallets and increasing our taxes.

Legends is not that great a deal in real terms. Some of those places are getting the "secret additional sales tax" that goes back to the developers not to the taxpayers. Legends is also pulling business away from other communities as well which brings on economic displacement NOT overall economic growth.

Legends did not necessarily create additional jobs or additional spending. Legends is pulling all of that away to the detriment of other communities with a lot of help from taxpayers. In many ways taxpayers are killing themselves by way of being manipulated by rhetoric coming from special interest groups such as local developers,local real estate executive types,local Chambers which control local governments.

mae 6 years, 7 months ago

So, um yeah. I totally get what you're saying in your last paragraph. Legends did not create jobs. Nobody works there?

Thats_messed_up 6 years, 7 months ago

Merrill get off the public library computer, people are waiting!

Richard Heckler 6 years, 7 months ago

Over Stored

Why don't our smart movers and shakers know this? Why don't the movers and shakers pay heed?

Local voters and taxpayers should also know about this in order to keep local movers,shakers and city/county government reined in while at the same time protecting a strong downtown retail and OUR tax dollars.

So what is this thing called this?

This decade's building frenzy produced a bumper crop of new retail space. But the occupants haven't materialized.

The carnage in retail hasn't been this bad since an anarchist bombed Chicago's Haymarket Square in 1886. In January, Liz Claiborne said it would shutter 54 Sigrid Olsen stores by mid-2008; Ann Taylor announced that 117 of its 921 stores would be closed over the next three years, and Talbots axed the Talbots Men's and Talbots Kids concepts and 22 Talbots stores. (Those muffled screams you here are Connecticut preppies trying to suppress their rage.) Even Starbucks has scaled back its yearlong saturation-bombing campaign.

Blame that exhausted marathon runner, the American consumer. Fueled by cheap credit instead of PowerGel, she looked great at Mile 16, but bonked at Mile 23 and is now crawling to the finish line. Sales fell in December, putting the cap on a miserable Christmas season. Last week the government reported that retail sales rose 3.9 percent between January 2007 and January 2008. But back out inflation and sales of gasoline, and retail sales fell in real terms in the past year. Clearly, demand is down.

And supply is up.


blindrabbit 6 years, 7 months ago

Balderdash! The downtown merchants know full-well what is needed to preserve the downtown so it has a future. Just get off your arses and apply what has been suggested in past forums: Among them:

Standard hours of operation Keep the streets and sidewalks clean, including gum removal provide a venue for outdoor art/music/movie exhibitions get Loring Henderson to straighten out the homeless issues Stop panhandling Close off either (or Both) 8th and 10th Streets between Vermont and New Hamp. Get rid of the naysayers business owner types Get The City, DLI and The Chamber to actually work together Need more town/gown interaction Keep store owners and help from using Mass.St. parking during business hours Move visitor center kiosk to downtown Make something useful out of Watkins City Museum Further beautify downtown; planters have really helped, contrary to what Wildgen said

Pastor_Bedtime 6 years, 7 months ago

And let's level the downtown competitive playing field by refusing any more corporate welfare to Compton and his ilk. When one developer is allowed to dominate so many jobs and opportunities for others are lost.

Carol Bowen 6 years, 7 months ago

And, why is Loring Henderson responsible for the homeless issue? The major property owners are capable. Why should the Chamber or the city be involved?

08Champs 6 years, 7 months ago

I love going downtown - but I work for a living, so the lack of evening hours is what prevents me from being a regular. Weavers might not have the evening traffic to justify it, but it's because their inventory is geared toward an older consumer that is more likely to be retired.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 7 months ago

And richer customers. Who can afford their merchandise?

cowboy 6 years, 7 months ago

Downtown was quite vibrant yesterday with the Buskerfest , why , because families came. If you only cater to drunks and students you will not have a vibrant downtown.

lunacydetector 6 years, 7 months ago

cut down the trees. you can't find a store you cannot see. bad for retailers....and it's this way all over town. the trees mature and fill in at the same height as the store's sign.

try it on one block for and see if sales increase in that area. it can be monitored through sales tax collections, and trying it during our current economic depression should give a better read on if it is working. my money says sales will increase, plus we won't have the city crews sweeping leaves in the fall. try it, the patrons might like it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

Get out of your car, and you can see the signs just fine.

And besides, a treeless Mass street would be truly hideous. But I get the impression you generally approve of concrete and asphalt wastelands.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

Get real. Sure, they're required to have some amount of green space, but the ratio of green space to impervious surface in the S. Iowa stores is no greater than downtown.

But I'm just curious what your point is. Do you favor cutting down all the trees along Mass. St.?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

Lunacy is the who wants to cut down the trees, not me.

And the downtown was developed in a much different era. It's not surrounded by 6-lane thoroughfares, nor are there 10-20 acre parking lots anywhere downtown. Is there a lot of pavement downtown? Of course. There has been for nearly a century. But there are also several city parks in the downtown area, too.

parrothead8 6 years, 7 months ago

Your lunacydetector must be off, because I could have sworn I read that you want to cut down the trees downtown. People love those trees, especially during the holidays when they get decorated with lights, and during the summers when they provide just a little more shade on the sidewalks.

lunacydetector 6 years, 7 months ago

look at the photos of the downtown that were taken in the late 1800's. not a tree on the block, and for good reason. columbia missouri has a larger downtown and it is more thriving than lawrence's and not a tree on the block.

frankwiles 6 years, 7 months ago

There also won't be any cars, cell phones, street lights, parking meters, or neon signs in those 1800s photos. Should we get rid of those downtown too? Correlation is not necessarily causation. Perhaps Columbia has a thriving downtown because we have a better basketball team, makes just as much logical sense. ;)

ResQd 6 years, 7 months ago

I love the trees as well, and would HATE to see them go. It's one of the things that beautifies the downtown in my opinion. On that note, being someone who rarely goes downtown, I went shopping there last month and was the slow lady driving down massachusetts looking for specific stores. I rarely shop downtown, because it is catered to the younger generation.

lunacydetector 6 years, 7 months ago

it beautifies, but are the trees good for business? here's a photo from the 1940's. one side of the street has trees and the other side does not. i wonder if it would be possible to see which side of the street had the higher sales back then? it was taken during wartime, so would the economic calamity today compare to then? 19

daddax98 6 years, 7 months ago

Has anyone consulted the Lorax with this plan?

funkdog1 6 years, 7 months ago

Funny that the downtown landlords are lamenting the turn toward restaurants and away from retail. I checked on the rents of downtown property recently. Rent is now averaging about $3,000 per month for a small boutique type space right on Mass Street. Do the math and that's a huge amount of yearly overhead to overcome before a store can even begin to think of paying wages. It's no wonder many of the stores won't stay open late; they can't afford to pay more than one eight hour shift a day. All that high rent does is to enourage large corporate chains to locate downtown.

And just for the record, in 25 years of living in Lawrence, I've only ever had one panhandler be aggressive toward me and that guy was obviously drunk. The panhandlers have never stopped me from frequenting downtown.

NY152 6 years, 7 months ago

I shop in Kansas City. Except for Winfield House there really isn't anything there I like.

mae 6 years, 7 months ago

One thing that draws crowds to the legends, crown center in kc and all over wichita are fountains that the kids can play in. Parents can relax and sit down for awhile and talk, laughing at their kids and then get up and back to shopping when the kids do something embarrassing. As a social experiment I sat at a lot of these fountains this summer and everyone that touched the water smiled. Those that didn't usually were frowning and doing some type of indoor mall speedwalking thing.

akt2 6 years, 7 months ago

Times and habits have changed. When I started kindergarten 45 years ago we went to Weaver's and bought school clothes in the form of dresses and patent leather shoes. Now days families don't have time to shop downtown. The so called "box stores" can easily accommodate them. If they can't, the internet can. No tax and no shipping in many instances. If you shop brands and sizes that you know, it is a cinch. It is delivered to your door and rarely do you need to return items. A lot of people have the money, but no time and nowhere to spend it downtown.

mae 6 years, 7 months ago

Agreed, it's way too easy to become a recluse on your computer and only go out for necessary things nowadays, groceries and toilet paper. There could be a real problem also with the law governing how many people can live in a house. The student ghetto is a term most students will give you blank stares at now. Crime is actually an attraction for the top dawgs recruited by ku. They do bring all the girls wherever they go and that brings the other guys that are sports fans and can possibly get lucky.

08Champs 6 years, 7 months ago

Apparently you had an agenda today - or you wouldn't be off on some tangent regarding student athletes. What are you implying when you use the term ghetto and say the top athletes are attracted to high crime rates?

I don't know how young guys getting "lucky" have anything to do with this article/discussion. Deep breath and focus.

blindrabbit 6 years, 7 months ago

Lunacy: I worked downtown in "the treeless days" of the 1940's-60's, kind of a depressing place, no escape from the 100+ degree days during the days of little or no air conditioning. Agree, it is kinda hard to see storefronts and signage, but my legs seem to be working fine. The one thing that was done back then were the creative window decorations for KU homecoming football games; several artists got their public start there; but the "greeks" stopped doing their floats and the "art" went as well. Also, the reason no trees during the 1800's along Mass., the horses and cattle ate anything alive, remember the horse and buggy days.

lunacydetector 6 years, 7 months ago

it should be for historical reasons to remove the trees. look at the successful retail around town.....none have trees blocking the signage. it is a suggestion that should be seriously considered. downtown needs businesses to thrive to be a success. the way it is now, the trees hamper their visibility. they cannot be a success if they cannot be seen. if people want trees, they can walk in one of our parks.

frankwiles 6 years, 7 months ago

Ummm... Your detector appears to be broken.

mae 6 years, 7 months ago

Panhandling is an easy fix. Kcmo and chicago are the two places that I know of that do it well. Put police out undercover for awhile with gimmicks. Eventually all the others are going to step up and become a draw or know they won't get the money that the officers refuse.

mae 6 years, 7 months ago

Basically, the solution is to make them a draw to downtown and make them happier with more efficient skills at drawing money to both them and local business.

Nellane Laney Croan Stussie 6 years, 7 months ago

"Put police undercover for awhile with"... tasers!

pizzapete 6 years, 7 months ago

Compton: Said he has tenants, like The Buckle, that do well after 5 p.m. He said the shopping environment has changed since he was a retailer in downtown in the early 1980s. “In the ’80s you used to be able to shoot a cannon off after 5 o’clock in downtown. Now, you’re not going to get a place to park.”

Yea, unless you can get the city to give you your own parking garage?

mae 6 years, 7 months ago

Fully agreed on this one. If you can't find parking then you're either an idiot or you can't walk far. The rest of us look at empty handicap parking spots, move along and walk to our destination. Go put a handicap tag on your car instead of being too uppity and afraid of people recognizing your car. If it's in your HOA then take up legal action with them instead of making public policy.

mae 6 years, 7 months ago

Fully agreed on this one. If you can't find parking then you're either an idiot or you can't walk far. The rest of us look at empty handicap parking spots, move along and walk to our destination. Go put a handicap tag on your car instead of being too uppity and afraid of people recognizing your car. If it's in your HOA then take up legal action with them instead of making public policy.

lunacydetector 6 years, 7 months ago

cut down the trees. if you cannot find a business, how can it be successful?

Frederic Gutknecht IV 6 years, 6 months ago

If you can't find a business, you're incompetent and afraid to get out of your car.

jafs 6 years, 7 months ago

Trees downtown have little impact on businesses there, as far as I can tell.

I've never had a problem finding a store there.

The real issues are the costs, which are high, and related to the high overhead, and possibly parking, for those who don't like to walk a little bit.

And, clearly, it's nice to have trees to provide some shade when it's hot and sunny, if you're walking downtown to do some shopping.

blindrabbit 6 years, 7 months ago

Lunacy: Is your family involved in either the tree removal or firewood businesses? Maybe you should have volunteered to help remove the organic limb sculpture that was recently removed from Spooner Hall on campus.

lunacydetector 6 years, 7 months ago

the point of my 'cut down the trees' cannot have a successful retail business if NOBODY can find you. Aesthetically as pleasing to the eye trees create, they also prevent a potential customer from finding your store.

nothing else seems to be working to turn downtown around, thus my try it on one block suggestion.

if you ever worked in retail on a corporate level which i did for 25 years and you're looking for a storefront for a new store, the main criteria is always, location, location, location and for good reason, even if it costs a little more. obviously, your store also needs to be seen!

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