Archive for Monday, August 22, 2011

Town Talk: Downtown retailers and their property tax challenge; more on the Porta Potty in the Kaw; Bum Steer set for 19th and Haskell

August 22, 2011

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News and notes from around town:

• Complaints from downtown merchants about property taxes are about as common as Crimson and Blue on game day. But as I was working on a project about downtown and how it has changed over the last 10 years, I kept coming back to the property tax issue and wondering how that has impacted downtown’s ability to serve as a retail center.

Hopefully you saw our database and interactive map that appeared on the LJWorld.com site yesterday. It lists every property on Mass. Street from Sixth to 11th and shows how much the property has changed in value since 2001, who its owners are, and also how the tenant mix has changed downtown. The one piece of information I found most interesting was this: $13,520 is how much the average-valued commercial building in downtown will pay in property taxes in 2011. That’s $1,126 per month. In 2001, the average-priced building in downtown paid $623 per month in property taxes. That’s an increase of 80 percent, or 8 percent per year. During that same time period, inflation has been running about 2.8 percent per year.

But remember, that’s just for the average-priced building. In 2001, the median value for a building on Mass. Street was $273,400. In 2011, that average price had risen to $437,600. That’s an increase of 60 percent, or 6 percent per year. There were 30 buildings on Mass. Street, however, that had their property values increase by 100 percent or more for the decade. (On our map, those properties have a sunflower icon, since their owners so obviously have a great love for the Sunflower State.) So, rising property values are certainly part of the equation — the largest part, in fact. That part may be taking care of itself. At our downtown roundtable discussion, there was a general consensus that what buyers are willing to pay for a downtown building had declined significantly in the last couple of years. (And I think you have started to see that in some of the appraised values from the county.)

But rising property values are only part of the equation. The other part is the rising mill levy. In 2001, the total mill levy for downtown was about 109 mills. The current rate is about 123 mills. That’s an increase of about 12 percent for the decade.

City commissioners are in the process of appointing a new downtown task force that is supposed to discuss issues that are making it more difficult for downtown to be a retail destination. It will be interesting to see if property taxes get much discussion, and even more interesting to see if anybody has any solutions.

• How about an update on the SS Porta Potty that is docked in the Kansas River? If you remember, I told you last week about a portable toilet that found its way into the Kansas River near the downtown bridges. It is sitting just west of Bowersock dam, near where construction crews are building a $21 million power plant for the Bowersock Mills & Power Co. Well, I was talking to Sarah Hill-Nelson of Bowersock to get an update on the power plant project, and she wanted to give me an update on the Porta Potty too. She said it did not come from her company’s job site. Instead, it came from the job site related to the repaving of the Kansas River bridges. Apparently, a portable toilet perched atop a bridge is too tempting of a target for vandals. Hill-Nelson said her company has offered to help retrieve the toilet. After all, there is large crane on the Bowersock site. But she also noted it won’t be cheap.

“Crane time is very expensive,” Hill-Nelson said. “Cranes like that cost thousands of dollars an hour. That thousands plural. But we’re frustrated that it is not out of there yet. It is embarrassing to us because people see it and think it is ours and it is not.”

As far as the power plant project goes, it has been a good summer. The water levels of the river have cooperated nicely, and Hill-Nelson said there haven’t been any major surprises yet. It will be an interesting project to watch. Most of what you see on the north bank of the site is actually just temporary. What looks like a big pad site is really just mounds of dirt to keep the river at bay. Instead, the real action is the digging that is going on. There is an already deep hole near the center of the site. It is going to get deeper. Hill-Nelson said crews will have to dig 43 feet down to find bedrock that they can anchor the power plant to. Once the hole is dug, it will be filled up with concrete to act as a pier-like foundation for the power plant. It seems like a lot of effort, but without that, we would have a power plant and a Porta Potty to fish out of the river. The power plant is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.

• A quick update on a previous mention about Bum Steer Catering. As we suggested, the company indeed is moving to a new location in the shopping center at 19th and Haskell. But don’t expect the company to get back into the restaurant business. Owner Chris Lemmon told me that he was looking for a new location after his lease expired on an out-of-the-way spot on East 22nd Street. The new spot will give him more visibility, but he said he doesn’t have any desire to get back into the restaurant business. Instead, he'll just stick to catering a variety of events. Lemmon operated a large barbecue restaurant on South Iowa Street, just south of where Applebee’s is, until the mid-1990s. Lemmon said he hopes to be in his new location by Sept. 1.

As for a new sign that also has appeared in the shopping center, Lemmon doesn’t know what the Very Serious Comedy Office is either. The business is setting up shop just north of the Crosstown Tavern. I’ve got a lead on it though, and will let you know what I find.

Comments

lawrence267 3 years, 9 months ago

maybe you should have checked on where the porta potty came from before speculating that it came from bowersock.

it did make them look bad in your last article.

esubrett 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't know which one got contaminated more out of that deal the porta potty or the river.

Brock Masters 3 years, 9 months ago

The people who complain that corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes should applaud the amount the downtown businesses pay in property tax. In fact, I suspect that many believe it should be more because we all know how evil corporations are.

Gedanken 3 years, 9 months ago

People generally complain about corporations paying their fair share of INCOME tax. Rent and property taxes can be deducted to reduce the amount they pay in income tax. It is a different tax and the money goes to different things.

Brock Masters 3 years, 9 months ago

Perhaps people should consider the all the taxes paid by corporations instead of focusing just on income tax. Yes, it a different tax, but it goes to support government services doesn't it?

Do you think these businesses shouldn't be able to deduct rent or property taxes? If so, are you willing to give up your deductions?

Gedanken 3 years, 9 months ago

It does support government services and many of then directly impact their business. It funds those improvements you see downtown - new sidewalks, new trees, the banners, downtown lawrence inc, the artwork, etc. When it snows - they clear out downtown before they finish plowing the rest of town. When you think about it - they are getting great bang for their buck!! I sure wish Lawrence would put some Artwork on the corner of my street. I could use a new tree in my front yard as well. Actually, I would just like my street to get plowed on a timely basis after a snow!

I have no problem with business related deductions. I have problems with business exploiting the tax code to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. There is a societal cost of doing business and the business should be able to pay for it with the products and services they offer. If they can't - then they have no business - being in business!

Brock Masters 3 years, 9 months ago

Help me understand the difference between taking a deduction and exploiting the tax code? How are they exploiting the tax code? What is their fair share of taxes? If you take deductions aren't you doing it to reduce your tax liability? What's the difference?

Gedanken 3 years, 9 months ago

I see you are cherry picking my response. Nothing to say about all the benefits a business downtown receives for their tax dollars?

I doubt I can help you understand the difference between a tax deduction and exploiting the tax code on a LJWorld forum post. I won't go down that rabbit hole with you if you are going to play ignorant. If you really are curious - just google "Tax avoidance strategies" and "double irish". You might learn something!

Brock Masters 3 years, 9 months ago

No one is cherry picking your responses. I was curious about how you distinguish between taking tax deductions and "exploiting the tax code. Do business benefit from downtown improvements? Of course, but so do you and I.

I don't think businesses are exploiting the tax code. If the law permits them to do it then so be it. Don't like the deduction then change the law.

Again, are you willing to give up your deductions?

Gedanken 3 years, 9 months ago

I personally benefit from downtown improvements? I guess I might if I was able to get out of my house when it snowed! Other businesses work to create the environmental ambiance for themselves - so I apologize if I don't worship the ground that the downtown business owners walk on because they pay some taxes.

I can tell you didn't read up on tax shelter avoidance schemes at all.

Do you honestly believe that just because something isn't explicitly illegal - that it is right? That is some kind of messed up moral code you have there.

Sure Fred, I will give up whatever fictitious deductions you think I value so dearly so you can prove your point.

Brock Masters 3 years, 9 months ago

Interesting how some people just can't discuss an issue without attacking a person's character instead of the issue.

You don't think you benefit from have a downtown that is vibrant, well-maintained and attractive to out-of-town shoppers? Would you prefer a run down boarded up ghost town?

You're right, I didn't look at the tax shelter schemes because I wasn't interested in it. I wanted you to provide me an example, but for some reason you choose not to provide an example. Do you really have an example of one that is legal but wrong?

If it is not illegal then it is legal and it is not for me to dictate ethics or morals. If it is wrong then the law should be changed, but until it is then go at it.

I take it by your response that you take no deductions at all - no charity, no mortgage, no earned income, no dependent and so on. Do you think these should be taken away too from those that do use them?

Gedanken 3 years, 9 months ago

I am sorry you took offense, but your position is a prime example of what I find wrong with society today. We don't need a ton of laws that dictate every element of our behavior. We should be able to judge for ourselves a level of decency. Just because it is legal - doesn't make it right. I am sure you will still be able to sleep just fine tonight so I don't feel too guilty.

You obviously don't have any interest in an honest discussion since you won't take any initiative yourself. Don't hesitate to contact me via personal message if you would like to continue in a genuine manner!

gr 3 years, 9 months ago

"Do you honestly believe that just because something isn't explicitly illegal - that it is right? That is some kind of messed up moral code you have there."

I don't think that was very fair. Tax deductions aren't something that just isn't explicitly illegal, but specifically constructed, worded, designed for people to take. They are intentionally created. If you disagree with them and think they should be done away with, contact your representative.

Speaking of unfair, Fred asked you "What is their fair share of taxes?" I'd like to hear the answer. How does one determine what their fair rate is compared to someone else? How can unequal rates be fair in your mind? What is their fair share of taxes?

Scruggsy 3 years, 9 months ago

I saw the porta-potty being removed by the construction crew on Friday... It is no longer in the river.

auntmimi210 3 years, 9 months ago

I understand that the offending porta-potty has been removed, but I'm just curious...how can it cost "thousands of dollars an hour" to use a crane that's already on site? Someone please explain the "thousands" to me. Thanks.

Chris Phillips 3 years, 9 months ago

It is not as simple as one would operate a joystick with a game console. One has to consider the surrounding obstacles, the weight of the item being moved, will it shift it's weight in moving it, securing the item to be moved so that it doesn't fall apart, or drop any of it's contents, where are you going to move it, will it drip it's contents over where other workers will be working, what cleanup will be needed so workers can safely return to the area...and these are just a few uneducated guesses at what can run up the costs...

auntmimi210 3 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for your reply. I understand it would have been a complicated endeavor, but I still don't really understand where the thousands of dollars would have gone though. Crane operator? The admin side? Are there permits they'd have to get? Insurance maybe? Oh well, I'll have to chalk this up to something I'll never really understand. =)

gr 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't think that answered the question.

The question was, why does it cost thousands of dollars an hour to use a crane? Because of the requirements you mentioned, do you intend to mean the crane operator is paid thousands of dollars an hour for his skill?

Bob Forer 3 years, 9 months ago

Chris Lemmon serves up some tasty barbecue. Long, long ago I used to eat at his restaurant at least twice a week. It's our loss that he is not keen on the idea of getting back into the restaurant business, but I understand that if you contact him well in advance, he might be amenable to selling a few slabs and a pound or two of brisket, provided he in already preparing food for a catering job.

Brock Masters 3 years, 9 months ago

Does anyone know if Chris Lemmon serves up some tasty barbecue? Wish someone would post about his BBQ at least once or maybe a dozen times in a row.

Bob Forer 3 years, 9 months ago

Chris Lemmon serves up some tasty barbecue. Long, long ago I used to eat at his restaurant at least twice a week. It's our loss that he is not keen on the idea of getting back into the restaurant business, but I understand that if you contact him well in advance, he might be amenable to selling a few slabs and a pound or two of brisket, provided he in already preparing food for a catering job.

Bob Forer 3 years, 9 months ago

Chris Lemmon serves up some tasty barbecue. Long, long ago I used to eat at his restaurant at least twice a week. It's our loss that he is not keen on the idea of getting back into the restaurant business, but I understand that if you contact him well in advance, he might be amenable to selling a few slabs and a pound or two of brisket, provided he in already preparing food for a catering job.

Bob Forer 3 years, 9 months ago

Chris Lemmon serves up some tasty barbecue. Long, long ago I used to eat at his restaurant at least twice a week. It's our loss that he is not keen on the idea of getting back into the restaurant business, but I understand that if you contact him well in advance, he might be amenable to selling a few slabs and a pound or two of brisket, provided he in already preparing food for a catering job.

Bob Forer 3 years, 9 months ago

Chris Lemmon serves up some tasty barbecue. Long, long ago I used to eat at his restaurant at least twice a week. It's our loss that he is not keen on the idea of getting back into the restaurant business, but I understand that if you contact him well in advance, he might be amenable to selling a few slabs and a pound or two of brisket, provided he in already preparing food for a catering job.

Bob Forer 3 years, 9 months ago

Chris Lemmon serves up some tasty barbecue. Long, long ago I used to eat at his restaurant at least twice a week. It's our loss that he is not keen on the idea of getting back into the restaurant business, but I understand that if you contact him well in advance, he might be amenable to selling a few slabs and a pound or two of brisket, provided he in already preparing food for a catering job.

puddleglum 3 years, 9 months ago

man, I'm looking for some tasty barbecue, but I will only buy it if someone out there can tell me who makes it. any ideas?

Brock Masters 3 years, 9 months ago

I'd love to help you out but I don't have a clue. Maybe someone will post about someone who serves up tasty barbecue.

auntmimi210 3 years, 9 months ago

There used to be a guy...name escapes me... Chris Lemmon maybe? I heard he served up some tasty barbecue. Not sure though. Can anyone help us out on this one?

George_Braziller 3 years, 9 months ago

Any business moving into the south end that crappy shopping center is one place I don't want to eat. After 15 years we finally moved our offices because the landlord wouldn't fix the leaking roof or take care of the horrible cockroach problem.

It was so bad the entire space had to eventually be gutted because no one would rent the place. That shopping center should have been bulldozed long ago.

Bob Forer 3 years, 9 months ago

It was recently sold to a new owner who is putting some money in it. They just finished putting on a new roof, and i understand the parking lot will be repaired soon.

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