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Archive for Thursday, August 25, 2011

Town Talk: Vermont Street BBQ deal for Mass. location falls through; Berry Plastics project delayed but still moving forward; a new fee for city sidewalks?; artificial turf turned down

August 25, 2011

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News and notes from around town:

• Well, kiss my pork butt. It looks like bad news for barbecue fans. (Really, I’m not pulling your pork here.) We’ve previously reported that efforts to re-open Vermont Street BBQ in a new location on Mass. Street were going pretty slowly. Now, it has become official. Commercial real estate agent Allison Vance Moore confirmed to me that a deal for Vermont Street to open in the former Joe College location at 734 Mass. has fallen apart. (Kind of like a slow-cooked pork butt.) Moore, an agent with Lawrence’s Colliers International, said the property owner has directed her to begin marketing the property again. I’ve put several calls into Chris Brann, the former general manager for Vermont Street who was going to reopen the restaurant. But I haven’t heard back from him, so I can’t tell you whether that dream will live on at another location. Man, why am I so hungry for a pulled pork sandwich?

• One deal where the stakes (not steaks, focus) are quite a bit higher is with Berry Plastics and its plans to build a $20 million warehouse and printing facility on a site northwest of Lawrence. For much of 2010, economic development leaders in Lawrence were in full rush mode to get this project approved and ready to be built because the company was on a tight timeline. Well, the project sailed through the approval process like few others, but now it is in a definite holding pattern. For months now, a building permit has been ready for the company to pull (not pork) a building permit. (Focus stomach, focus.) But the project — which will be just west of the Lecompton interchange — hasn't started. But sources tell me that this isn’t a sign that the deal is falling apart. Instead, it is just taking longer than anyone had hoped. My understanding is that the actual $20 million building won’t ultimately be owned by Berry but rather by a New York hedge fund. Berry and the hedge fund (potentially cool band name) are still trying to work out all the details of that financial arrangement. Lawyers who bill by the hour have gotten involved, and they’re racking up the hours.

“We have been in pretty constant communication with Berry,” said Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug. “Attorneys for various parties on the East Coast are working out details on the financing and ownership of the building, and that just hasn’t been completed yet. But I have gotten no indications that there are any problems.”

A local representative with Berry declined to comment on the matter, and an executive with Berry’s corporate offices in Evansville, Ind., did not return a call for comment.

Privately, people in Lawrence economic development circles tell me they still believe the deal — which is seen as critical to keeping Berry and its more than 900 employees in Lawrence for the long haul — will happen. But yes, the delays have created some anxiety.

• I think it has been well known that Lawrence residents have had some anxiety over the condition of the city’s streets from time to time. What you may not hear as much about, though, is the condition of the city’s sidewalks. Well, Gwen Klingenberg, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods does. Klingenberg said the condition of sidewalks is a pretty frequent topic among neighborhood associations. That’s why Klingenberg is floating an idea that could ultimately lead to a new fee showing up on your monthly water, sewer and trash bill from the city.

The idea would be that a nominal fee of perhaps 50 to 75 cents would be added to the monthly bill of each city water and sewer customer. That money then would be put into a special city account that would be used to care for sidewalks. Just to be clear, nothing has been formally proposed at City Hall, and such a new fee isn’t imminent. Instead, Klingenberg is just talking about it with various community and neighborhood leaders to see if there is some support. She said she has heard from several neighborhood associations who are interested in the idea. Negative feedback, so far, has been running light. The idea is not entirely new. City Manager David Corliss proposed a similar idea in one of his recommended budgets several years ago. But the idea did not get any traction with city commissioners at the time. If the idea does start moving forward, several details would have to be worked out. What about people who don’t have a sidewalk on their property? Would they still pay? Klingenberg says likely yes, since the sidewalk are open to everybody to use.

A bigger question, though, is whether this new fund would mean the city is taking over legal responsibility to keep sidewalks in good condition. Currently under state law, if a sidewalk runs through your property, you are responsible for its maintenance. The city could approach it one of two ways. It could take over all maintenance responsibilities, or it could use the new sidewalk fund to do improvements for those property owners who have financial hardships that prevent them from maintaining their sidewalks. We’ll see if this idea goes anywhere or whether it becomes like my evening jog — it ends before it ever gets started. (I’m not lazy. I just refuse to run on poor sidewalks.)

Renderings of a proposed apartment development at 1043 Indiana Street. The project would incorporate the old Varsity House property, shown on the right edge of the rendering, and add new apartment units.

Renderings of a proposed apartment development at 1043 Indiana Street. The project would incorporate the old Varsity House property, shown on the right edge of the rendering, and add new apartment units.

• Planning commissioners met Wednesday night on a couple of items we discussed in Town Talk. Planning commissioners approved on an 8-0 vote the rezoning and the preliminary plan for a new apartment complex at 1043 Ind., which is the site of the old Varsity House. The project will move the Varsity House down the block just a bit and will make room for a new development that will include five one-bedroom apartments, 41 two-bedroom apartments, 4 three-bedroom apartments. The old Varsity House would be converted into a boarding house with six bedrooms. The whole project would have two levels of underground parking, which would be a new feature for apartments in the crowded Oread Neighborhood.The project, though, still must have its design approved by the Historic Resources Commission, which will discuss it on Sept. 15. That may be where more of the debate occurs as questions over whether moving the Varsity House is appropriate will be raised. Ultimately, city commissioners will have to approve the project as well. But the 8-0 vote from the Planning Commission is a good sign that the project — designed by local architect Paul Werner — has this far avoided traditional problems related to zoning, parking and other such matters.

The idea of artificial turf, however, did not evoke a positive response from planning commissioners. They rejected a proposed rule change that makes the use of synthetic turf an acceptable landscaping component in the city. Planners followed the advice of the planning staff, and rejected the item on a 6-2 vote. My understanding is that the discussion Wednesday night was significant. It included two national experts who were flown into the meeting to discuss the merits of artificial turf. City commissioners ultimately will have the final call on the issue.

Comments

08Champs 3 years, 5 months ago

Biemers BBQ - best pulled pork in town. Not the "chopped pork" they sell at that "famous" place that's full of fat and gristle.

Brent Fry 3 years, 5 months ago

+1

Even when Vermont Street BBQ was open, Biemers pulled pork would still be the best option. Especially when combined with their onion rings and spicy ranch. Guess I know what I'm doing for lunch today.

frankfussman 3 years, 5 months ago

Chad, Your downtown property report, online, did not list the rental costs of property. I was in a shop on Mass. Street last week and they said that before the owner bought the building, they were paying $8,000 per month rent!!! (The rent included maintenance, but the landlord did not properly take care of that.) This may by a reason why some businesses cannot afford to locate in certain buildings downtown. The owners may be asking too much. Do you have any idea of the rental costs downtown?

onceajhawkalwaysajhawk 3 years, 5 months ago

Amazing! 50 more multi-family units that will add pressure to more vacant apartment units around town, which will mean that the complexes with vacancies will have less money for maintenance and up keep (BLAH, BLAH, BLAH,BLAH...) This town is in a real downward tail spin right before our eyes!

onceajhawkalwaysajhawk 3 years, 5 months ago

What? Why add more period? Lawrence can't fill the units it has vacant now?? Or is the idea that if new units are built, the owners of the older complexes will tear them down and donate the land for a park??? Yeah that's what will happen.. HOLLY COW, that's it...Get the city to BUY all those apartment complexes that are falling apart and build parks! (Come on...open your eyes people!)

A more pro-active solution is that in order to build a new complex you have to build it on a exiting complex parcel of land

onceajhawkalwaysajhawk 3 years, 5 months ago

Obviously it doesn't help with your understanding of the problem OR maybe it's because you're one of the greedy developers who has over built multi-family complexes in this community. People like you don't care about how over building multi-family complexes creates an excess supply which causes the older complexes to deteriorate due to lack of revenue needed to maintain the properties and after 10 years...GETTO properties all over town! Tell me I wrong after you drive around and look at any complex 10+ years old. You just don't get it OR you don't care how Lawrence will look in 20 years.

kernal 3 years, 5 months ago

Building them close to campus makes sense. There will be 99 less students commuting to campus, saving gas and jockeying for parking. I think over the years to come, we will see more apartments being built within walking distance of campus.

Bob Forer 3 years, 5 months ago

I ate at Vermont St. a few times and always thought their food was mediocre. I would rank it at the bottom of the list for local BBQ.

somebodynew 3 years, 5 months ago

  • ( a bunch) on Biemer's. Pulled pork and the brisket are both excellent. Personally, I am not too keen on their sausage, but that is just a personal taste kind of thing for me. Great place and good local owner.

somebodynew 3 years, 5 months ago

Oh, and they can keep fighting over pennies on that Berry Plastic thing as far as I am concerned. A few more months before I put up with a whole bunch of semi traffic by my house (for 11 new jobs).

slowplay 3 years, 5 months ago

"The idea of artificial turf, however, did not evoke a positive response from planning commissioners. They rejected a proposed rule change that makes the use of synthetic turf an acceptable landscaping component in the city."... Yet they approved it for the Oread Hotel?

boxers_or_briefs 3 years, 5 months ago

It was a smaller area...but still looks nasty.

boxers_or_briefs 3 years, 5 months ago

"The idea of artificial turf, however, did not evoke a positive response from planning commissioners.... City commissioners ultimately will have the final call on the issue."

If the city commisioners vote for the use of artificial turf then they are definitely in someones back pockets. Vote no and make them rip it out!

boxers_or_briefs 3 years, 5 months ago

"It included two national experts who were flown into the meeting to discuss the merits of artificial turf."

The Fritzels must want to use this a lot more than just one apartment complex if they're flying in national experts. Vote No!!

Steve Jacob 3 years, 5 months ago

Let me get this right, and if I am wrong, sorry. We bent over backwards for Berry Plastics and they could not get a loan from a bank? I have to believe that a bank would charge less interest then a hedge fund.

somebodynew 3 years, 5 months ago

srj - if I understand this situation correctly Berry is not getting a loan from a hedge fund. It is the hedge fund that actually owns the building that Berry wants to build. It is very confusing and another reason this should not have been fast tracked through. These are the 'little things' that the public didn't know until all this was put through and the county agreed to a lot of $$ to help out. Now the lawyers are arguing over money (not theirs mind you - everyone else's).

tomatogrower 3 years, 5 months ago

" Commercial real estate agent Allison Vance Moore confirmed to me that a deal for Vermont Street to open in the former Joe College location at 734 Mass. has fallen apart. "

I'm heartbroken.

helloannie 3 years, 5 months ago

Vermont Street? Ugh....Bland, tasteless, overpriced. That pretty much sums it up. This lady is from the South and I can tell you Vermont Street is not representative of BBQ!

And more fees on our sewer and water bill? Look it up, Lawrence folks already pay way more for water and sewer on average than most Americans.

larrydog 3 years, 5 months ago

Yes on both points. I have heard it time and time again that Lawrence is one of worst managed cities around.

Tex 3 years, 5 months ago

There's more than one kind of barbecue. It's not the same in Dallas as it is in Kansas City as it is in Memphis as it is in Charlotte... I liked Vermont St. I had some great food there, some not so good food, but they had fried okra and kids ate free on Sundays. I've had Biemer's once; I thought it was all right, but the unfunny 'double entendre' ad slogans they put on their sign are enough to turn me off. Thanks, Biemer dude or dudette, but I don't want 'ur sauce' on my face.

helloannie 3 years, 5 months ago

Agreed that there are many different types of BBQ. However, IMO Vermont Street is just BAD BBQ......

Zac Hamlin 3 years, 5 months ago

I believe that Ms. Klingenberg's idea would carry more support if the fee was dedicated to a fund that provided low or zero percent financing to home owners with derelict sidewalks in order to make needed repairs. The city should not assume the responsibility of the home owner, but they should consider supporting efforts to improve the quality of a community experience. There is no reason that the fee would need to be permanent either, a baseline of funding could be created and once that trust fund was created it "could" be self supporting.

pizzapete 3 years, 5 months ago

Just say no to fake grass. The city shouldn't allow it for the same reason it's illegal to park your car in your front lawn, it looks tacky.

Maybe Vermont St. could open in the old joe schmoe location. It would be cool if they set up a cafeteria style BBQ instead of the sit, order, and wait forever (for food that's already cooked) thing they had going on at the last location.

kantubek 3 years, 5 months ago

Why do they need to move the Varsity House for the new development? Seems more like a ploy than a necessity. I guess Werner just wants some curb appeal, but at what cost? Moving a 61 year old structure is quite drastic.

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