Archive for Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Town Talk: Lowe’s project moving forward in northwest Lawrence; two months, a building permit and $9 million in incentives; used children’s clothing store coming to Mass. Street

August 23, 2011


News and notes from around town:

• This is turning out just like one of my home improvement projects — it gets started a little later than I planned. A proposal to build a Lowe’s store just west of the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa was tentatively slated to go before the Planning Commission in September. Now, it will be October at the earliest. The delay comes as the home improvement retailer changes the proposal it is presenting to planning commissioners. The company is now asking the city to change its comprehensive plan to accommodate the project. This may sound as boring as sanding drywall (man, I hate that) but if there is going to be a fight over this Lowe’s, this is what it will be over. The city’s comprehensive plan — Horizon 2020 — spells out how that area around Sixth and Wakarusa will develop. For a variety of reasons (you can choose to agree with them or not), the plan doesn’t call for the intersection to become a major commercial and retail center. But the problem is, there already is more retail development at the intersection than the plan calls for. So, Lowe’s is asking for a new designation for the area — a CC 600. That means it would be a Community Commercial Center with up to 600,000 square feet of development. (Those planners with their hip slang.) Don’t hold me to these numbers, but I believe the plan currently calls for the area to have about 200,000 square feet of commercial development, and it has something north of 400,000 square feet today. Lowe’s wants to add another 150,000 square feet or so. All this will create heartburn with some neighbors, who fought vigorously against the Walmart that is now at Sixth and Wakarusa. They said that Walmart would open the floodgates for future development and would overwhelm the intersection and the neighborhoods around the area. That hasn’t happened yet, but the argument will be whether it will happen. But let’s be honest, this is Lowe’s and not Walmart. That may dampen the opposition of some neighbors.

I’m not sure any of this is going to create a tremendous amount of heartburn for city commissioners, and at the end of the day it is their votes that count. Instead, I would keep my eye on a different issue that will derail this at the City Commission level. Sources tell me that Lowe’s recently has been inquiring about the possibility of a special taxing district for the project. But sources also have told me that the city has communicated very clearly to Lowe’s that such a special taxing district could make the project much less politically palatable. Nothing is written in stone, of course, but I think the Lowe’s project without a special taxing district has a very comfortable three votes with the City Commission, probably has four votes, and there is an outside chance it could get to five.

With a special taxing district, it very well could end up looking like one of my home improvement projects — paint would be thrown, there would be cussing about why my level isn’t level and my square isn’t square and there would be a smug wife just shaking her head with that I-told-you-so look.

• While we are talking about big projects, a big one in Topeka was scheduled to get started today. The Mars Chocolate plant was scheduled to break ground at 8 a.m. over in Topeka’s Kanza Fire Commerce Park. I bring this up because it was June 29 when Mars made its announcement that it had chosen Topeka for the $250 million project that will create about 200 full-time jobs. So that will be a little less than two months from announcement to ground-breaking and — remember — the project also involved approving about $9 million worth of local incentives. Where would the project be at the two-month mark in Lawrence? You all can answer that, but we obviously will be in competition with Topeka on projects in the future. It seems like they have set their bar. (And it is a candy bar. Get it? It’s Mars. They make candy. The governor can use that in his speech, if he wants.)

• Look for a used children’s clothing store to open Downtown Lawrence. The vacant spot at 816 Mass. (it previously was About Time and long before that it was the old Fun & Games spot) will be home to DoodleBugs. Lawanna Huslig-Hanks plans to open the store by mid-September. The concept is that the store will sell “gently-used” children’s clothing, toys, maternity wear and hand-made craft items that have a children’s angle. Huslig-Hanks is former human resources professional, who decided to get into retail after buying clothes for her 1-year old. Huslig-Hanks said that when she was buying clothes for her older child — now 12 — there seemed to be more options for buying used clothing and toys.

“I’m in a position to do this, and I just feel like there are a ton of parents looking for deals for kids,” Huslig-Hanks said.

She said most items in her store will be priced for about half of what the item sold for new. She’ll also be buying clothes and items from area residents. She’ll offer either cash or store credit. She expects to open the store around Sept. 1 to begin buying items, and then plans to begin selling items by Sept. 15.

• Want a slice and a little sunshine? New plans have been filed for a sidewalk seating area for Pyramid Pizza at 1029 Mass. The area will seat 12. City commissioners are scheduled to approve the plans at their 6:35 p.m. meeting today.

• Mark your calendars for a couple of events. Lawrence Parks and Recreation plans to host its annual Fall Arts & Crafts Festival on Sunday, Sept. 11. The event will require Massachusetts Street from North Park to South Park streets to be closed for the day. On Friday, Sept. 30, look for a street party event in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street. The Lawrence Arts Center is proposing to close a portion of the block to host an event that will be held as part of the Final Friday arts event that will be happening downtown. The event will include a number of art-oriented activities, and also will include alcohol sales. (I know some people who have made an art of that.) City commissioners will consider approving both events at their meeting this evening.


ralphralph 6 years, 6 months ago

  • the plan doesn’t call for the intersection to become a major commercial and retail center. *

How's that plan working out?

Let's see ... NW corner = Mart; other three corners = strip malls. Oh, well.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

Yes, principles are fine. I too have some that I will not bend on. This just isn't one of them. I note the 250 million dollar project in Topeka that was give a 9 million dollar incentive. Not much, all things considered. How many jobs will that plant employ? How many construction jobs to build that facility? How much outside money will be pumped into the local community? Heck, I'm hoping some of those jobs will go to Lawrence workers will to commute. Yes, principles are fine. Like I said, I have some that I simply won't change my mind about. But in the six decades I've been around, I have changed my mind on some. Maybe someday, you too will change your mind. If not, I respect your right to hold firm.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

$9 million for 200 jobs works out to be $45,000 per job.

Is that a good deal or a bad deal? Compared to what? What are the options?

These are the questions that never get posed, much less answered, when it comes to ecodevo shell games.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

That's $45,000 per job for 200 jobs. Jobs that might last 30 years ($1500 per year). And then divide that by the number of people (or taxpayers) in Topeka and you have a very small investment of dollars per Topekan (if one assumes 30,000 taxpayers, then the amount per taxpayer per year works out to a nicklel). And that doesn't count the construction jobs, that while one time investments, 100% of that money is money that would not have been spent at all, at least not in this community. You asked me if that was a good deal or not? And compared to what? You can guess my answer from the comment above. I'll ask you the same questions.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

This assumes that the $9 million is the true overall public investment and expenses that will go for this development. My guess that is that it's the just the tip of the iceberg.

And that doesn't even take into account that this plant will produce candy bars-- something that will cause considerably more harm that good. But I understand that that's a different sort of calculation.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

Let's assume you're right, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Let's assume that 9 million is multiplied by 10 to 90 million and then multiplied by 10 again to 900 million. So we multiply that nickel by 10 = fifty cents and then we multiply it again by ten = $5. So again, five dollars per year per taxpayer for 200 jobs and an initial investment in construction. And that's assuming a 100 fold increase in the incentives. How's that sound to you? And of course, you asked, compared to what? The answer to that question isn't that there will be no candy bars, thereby saving dental bills, no obesity, etc. The answer is that the plant will be built in Texas, or Mexico or somewhere. But it will be built.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

If this is such a good deal, why should businesses finance any of their expansions and developments? Why not just have the taxpayers do it? (which will obviously exclude businesses, because they no longer pay taxes.)

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

It's called win/win. The city includes a minimum of incentives. The business gets a slight boost. And the community as a whole benefits from the influx of jobs.
Look, if you're opposed to these types of deals on principle, I can understand that and respect that. I said as much to "cheeseburger". But your principle doesn't change the fact that this is a good business deal for the city of Topeka and for the Mars company.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

What I'm opposed to is ad hoc deals. Set a policy that has clear criteria that apply to all and that it's not open only to the well-connected, and then track it to make sure that it gives a good bang for the buck, and doesn't merely transfer the tax burden from deep pockets to shallow pockets.

And despite your enthusiasm for this rather generous giveaway of public treasury, I see no indication that any of the above has been done.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

Having uniformity sounds good, but I'm not sure how it would work. There have been suggestions for abatements to build a restaurant at 27th. & Iowa. I would imagine that a project like that might cost a million or less. The Masonic Temple project might cost more, but I'm just guessing. The project in Topeka is a 250 million dollar project that will produce 200 new jobs. Having fairness sounds good, but in multiple threads that seems like a word that's hard to define. Perhaps we should just settle for openness.
But your comment about a rather generous giveaway of the public treasury is just way off base as far as I'm concerned. We're not writing some big check to a company. The city is waiving potential income from the improved value of the property. Whether it's the plant in Topeka or the projects I mentioned here in Lawrence, if the project isn't done, the city wouldn't get that money anyway. So we're not giving away something we have, we're waiving potential income in exchange for something that will benefit the community (construction jobs to improve the property, jobs in the new business, etc.). No check is being written to some business. You make it sound like it's money the city already has and it's being given away. That's just not the way it works.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 6 months ago

Yes, I was speaking of incentives, not special taxing districts.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

As long as it's an informed choice, I'm OK with it, although I think the state/city/county should get a cut for collection and disbursement expenses.

And by informed, I mean clear notices posted at the entrance, at cash registers and on receipts.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

Well, one problem is whether or not customers are easily aware of it, as bozo states.

But, another one is that "taxes" are generally monies that go towards public, not private uses.

And, if people are willing to pay a little extra, why don't the stores just charge a little more?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

One explanation that I've heard is that businesses can borrow against these future tax collections, which seems kind of a silly explanation. If the bank is confident enough that the business will be around to pay off the loan, what difference does it make if they collect the extra 1% through a tax or through higher pricing. Unless they think that the hidden tax will give the company a hidden advantage over its competitors.

kef104 6 years, 6 months ago


I agree with you completely. The area currently being discussed for Lowe's is not part of the special taxing district. Thus, you and I both can happily shop there.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

"Huslig-Hanks is former human resources professional, "

Is there an amateur division in human resources?

Jean Robart 6 years, 6 months ago

can you post a comment that is not a smart aleck comment?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months ago

I like the idea of that used clothing store for children. Hope it does well.

The special taxing district will provide more profit for Lowes and/or the developers thus bypassing the local cookie jars. What a scam on consumers if they buy into it.

All of that new commercial space no matter that after several years Baur Farms still cannot fill their spaces = not paying back the taxpayers for all of that new infrastructure.

Our city commissioners must know more about the economy than all others in the USA. Reckless planning ahead = draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

MattressMan 6 years, 6 months ago

I dont care one way or the other about an extra 1% or whatever tax unless I'd be buying a car or another big ticket item. So having said that, aren't the special taxing district monies supposed to be directed towards infrastructure improvements? Does the special tax ever expire when said improvements are paid for? I dont know that there has ever been a sales tax or any tax that has expired once the initial project was paid for.

jafs 6 years, 6 months ago

The problem with the "tax" is that it can be used for what are usually private expenses, like remodeling a store.

And, no, as far as I know, there's no expiration date with these districts.

Jean Robart 6 years, 6 months ago

Lawanna--best of luick with your store. It is a niche idea.

auntmimi210 6 years, 6 months ago

Yay!!! I am soooo happy we're finally getting a children's used clothing store again! We have been without one for way too long. I will definitely be bringing you business Lawanna! Will you have a Facebook page?

Doodlebugs 6 years, 6 months ago

Can't wait to meet you at the store! You can find us on facebook at

Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months ago

Lawrence Taxpaying Voters should weed out the city hall “Free Lunch” program:

Here’s what happens. And this is a good example of where the news media hasn’t done a good job. I have tons of news clips that say, oh, this new shopping mall is coming or a new Wal-Mart or a new Cabela’s store, and thanks to tax increment financing, this store is going to be built. Well, what is tax increment financing? I’ll tell you what it is.

You go to the store with your goods, you pay for it at Wal-Mart or whatever, and there’s a very good chance that that store has made a deal with the government that the sales taxes you are required to pay, that government requires you to pay, never go to the government. Instead, those sales taxes are kept by Wal-Mart and used to pay the cost of the store. And typically in those deals, the store is tax exempt, just like a church.

========== The back door sales tax never dies. Over time this sales tax adds up that could match the sales tax on a big ticket item. Duped again. Those Legend folks are laughing all the way the bank and so is Doug Compton courtesy of our local elected officials.

MD development wants to laugh a lot as well on those 23rd street over priced properties.

BigAl 6 years, 6 months ago

I'll take it a step further. I won't shop at new facilities that hire all of their construction crews from out of state or even out of town and not even give local contractors and suppliers the opportunity to even offer a bid.

LogicMan 6 years, 6 months ago

Traffic concerns: "this is Lowe’s and not Walmart"

Correct. Where a discount general store will need a lot of traffic to generate a profit, a large hardware/lumber store relies more on high sales per visit. So the customer traffic in and out for Lowe's will be much less than for a Target or Walmart, for example, after the opening weeks. Both types of retailers do need big trucks to deliver their goods, so the City's planners need to look closely at how and when those trucks will make their deliveries.

lunacydetector 6 years, 6 months ago

site plan approval, a building permit, $9 million in incentives approved in 2 months? judge how long it took dillon's to get their own property torn down so they could build a new one in the same spot in lawrence....11 months and counting.....

...if mars wanted to come to lawrence, we'd have a 'ban the happy meal' do-gooder government employee coming forward and tearing up the internet 24/7 about the obesity problem, tooth decay, corn syrup metabolism, virginal farmland scarring, new jobs never pay, corporate welfare, congestion....the chocolate highs wouldn't be enough to convince the people in this town, or the city for that matter.

lunacydetector 6 years, 6 months ago

site plan approval, a building permit, $9 million in incentives approved in 2 months? judge how long it took dillon's to get their own property torn down so they could build a new one in the same spot in lawrence....11 months and counting.....

...if mars wanted to come to lawrence, we'd have a 'ban the happy meal' do-gooder government employee coming forward and tearing up the internet 24/7 about the obesity problem, tooth decay, corn syrup metabolism, virginal farmland scarring, new jobs never pay, corporate welfare, congestion....the chocolate highs wouldn't be enough to convince the people in this town, or the city for that matter.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 6 months ago

Translation: Don't worry, be happy. Bulldozers are your friend. Even if they're bulldozing your house while you're sleeping in it.

ResQd 6 years, 6 months ago

Being a human resources professional probably has nothing to do with selling gently used clothing, however, it sounds as though this is her niche and what she will enjoy doing. I wish her success.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 6 months ago

Now to round out the used clothing agenda on Mass how about some quality one or two used furniture stores maybe even one almost antiques. Heck yes anything not to pay the secret sales tax at the Legends.

There is surely a market for decent used furniture. Can we say recycle and made in America. Plenty of yard sales between here and KCMO where the good buys can be found.

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