Archive for Friday, December 2, 2011

Town Talk: Lawrence firm makes breakthrough with DNA testing; single-family home construction flirting with new low; Ninth and N.H. project set for city debate

December 2, 2011


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News and notes from around town:

• Forget about the age-old question of “Where’s the beef?” (Remember the Wendy’s commercials from the 1980s? Don’t get me started on square hamburgers, though. OK, I’ll say one word: Communist.) A Lawrence company is making money off a different question these days: “What’s the beef?” Lawrence-based Identigen has made a breakthrough in its process of using DNA to provide specific information about the type of beef that consumers are buying.

The West Lawrence company has been using DNA to trace the origin of steaks and roasts and those types of cuts for a couple of years now. But now the company has discovered how to apply the process to hamburger meat. Identigen has signed a deal with the national food distribution company Performance Food Group to apply DNA tracing to all the ground meat in the company’s Braveheart Black Angus Burgers brand.

The Braveheart brand makes a couple of promises to its customers — which are mainly fine restaurants that are paying for high-quality beef. One is that the patties are Angus, and the other is that the beef is being raised in the Midwest. Identigen’s system tracks the cattle from start to finish, so it can attest to the authenticity of both those claims. And it uses DNA data to back it up. (You know CSI type of stuff. Looks for "CSI: Cow Pasture," coming to CBS soon.)

Even if you don’t care about high-quality Angus beef, you may want to keep an eye on Identigen. Its deal with Performance Food Group marks the first of its kind in the U.S. It expects to sign similar deals with other meat processors in the future.

“We’re definitely having discussions with other people,” said Michele Wells, a spokeswoman with the company.

Hamburger is a big market, and future deals could lead to employee increases for Identigen, which came to Lawrence in part because the Kansas Bioscience Authority invested in it as a rising-star-type of company. Currently, Identigen has about 40 employees, Wells said.

The company has hopes for another boost as well. Currently, the company’s testing program — called DNA TraceBack — mainly is just known by food distribution companies and large buyers. But Wells said a Canadian pork company is in the process of putting the DNA TraceBack label on products that it sells in supermarkets. Wells said Identigen has hopes that eventually its DNA system will become something that shoppers in major grocery chains like Dillons and Hy-Vee will look for.

I have no word of this next one, but here’s hoping that they also eventually develop a home testing kit. That way I maybe could have figured out what it was my wife served me on Wednesday.

• It will be a race to 100, but nobody probably is going to be a winner at the end of this deal. With 10 months of building permit totals in the book, only 86 new single-family homes have been started in Lawrence. That’s down nearly 35 percent from last year, when 131 single-family permits had been issued through October. Today’s numbers also a far cry from the housing boom days when 300 was the norm and it wasn’t unheard of to exceed 400 single-family building permits in a year. Nobody expects that anymore, but now there are questions about whether the local housing industry will even hit the 100 mark. That’s significant because the city keeps building permit records back to 1956 and never has there been a year when the city hasn’t issued more than 100 single-family building permits. The low point came in 2008 when 102 were issued. Builders were hoping that would mark the bottom of the housing recession, but this year is giving it a run for the money. As far as other building stats, here’s a quick look:

  1. Apartment construction has definitely filled a void in the construction market. The city has issued permits for 363 apartment units thus far. Oddly, that’s the best year since 2008 — when single-family construction also was in the dumps. That year, the city issued permits for 557 apartments.
  2. Even though home numbers are down, there have been several large ticket projects on the books. The city has issued permits for $92.7 million in private construction. (It also has issued permits for $7.9 million worth of publicly funded construction.) The $92 million mark already is better than either 2010 or 2009 when $85 million and $68 million worth of projects were started for the year. The largest project of the year, so far, has been a $28 million permit for the new Hunter’s Ridge Apartment Complex near Sixth Street and Stoneridge Drive.

• If the future of big buildings in Downtown Lawrence interests you, mark your calendar for Tuesday evening. City commissioners have agreed to hear whether a six-story hotel and apartment building should be allowed on the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. The city’s Historic Resources Commission has rejected the idea, saying it doesn’t fit with the city’s Downtown Design Guidelines and is not compatible with the adjacent historic district that runs along Rhode Island Street in East Lawrence. Some residents of that neighborhood also have expressed opposition to the building, particularly its height. I recently wrote a whole article about tall buildings in downtown, so I’m not going to rehash all that. But here’s guessing that there will be a lively debate at City Hall. The city already has received a significant amount of correspondence in opposition to the project. But others — including the development team led by local businessman Doug Compton — point out that the city has said increasing the density of downtown and the people living in the district is critical to downtown’s future. This seems to be shaping up as a decision that will have an impact beyond just this particular project. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.


Clark Coan 5 years, 6 months ago

I assume the City Commissioner will override the Historic Resources Commission. Surely, Compton plus his family, friends and employees have given the maximum amount of campaign contributions allowed to the commissioners. Plutocracy at work right here in River City.

Dan Blomgren 5 years, 6 months ago

Personal bias aside the question still remains: Is it good for Lawrence, and is it the right thing to do? If you want to preserve downtown then steps need to be taken to ensure its health and vibrancy including increasing density of housing population. Now if you are against it simply because Compton is for it then swallow that bitter pill caught in your throat and do what's best for Lawrence.

Steve Jacob 5 years, 6 months ago

I say it again and again, why build a home when your a getting such good deal ob preexisting homes? What did a read nationally, houses are the same price as 2003?

Jonathan Fox 5 years, 6 months ago

I'm currently living in a new house that cost less than any equivelent house we could find on the market, and got it built for less than the offering price of existing houses that needed thousands of dollars in upkeep (roof, heating/air...). I'm sorry that people trying to sell their house in this market aren't selling them at the price they got them, let alone at the past seemingly assumed increase in value they expected, so as to cover their mortgage. But the builders have adjusted to the market and dropped their prices accordingly.

vuduchyld 5 years, 6 months ago

Besides...the big problem with new homes is location, location, location. Why would anybody want to live where they are being built?

Jonathan Fox 5 years, 6 months ago

I don't see your connection. You're saying that construction workers should take a huge pay cut and work at a call center?

I fail to see the ill effects of a hotel and commercial space in downtown. And I also see that you don't give any reasons not to.

sad_lawrencian 5 years, 6 months ago

To me, it's really a question of: how "corporate" and cosmopolitan does Lawrence want to become? Either we go in the direction of becoming a "big city" with tall buildings (and other commercialized developments) downtown, and in so doing we lose the small-town, artistic, bohemian atmosphere that many have come to love about Lawrence, or we remain a small/bohemian town with a vibrant art and music scene that alienates large corporations, developers and real-estate magnates. I see it as a choice. Lawrence must pick one side or the other. We can't have it both ways.

pace 5 years, 6 months ago

i like the idea of the tall build on that corner. I like our downtown and it deserves to be livable and commercial. I don't happen to like Compton but the construction of a good building lasts longer than the personality of the developer. As long as design and construction are good. Go for it.

George_Braziller 5 years, 6 months ago

Doesn't matter who wants to build it. The scale and planned use are both WAY too large for that site.

George_Braziller 5 years, 6 months ago

Stavros needed a building that large. He had some "activities" going on in the back rooms which required it. I know a man who used to partake in some of the gaming that went on there.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 6 months ago

"People seem to worry about the health of downtown. If you want downtown to thrive, than you need people, by increasing density (tall buildings) you can increase the number of people that are downtown, the more people that are downtown means more people to eat, shop, conduct business, be entertained etc... keep the core of downtown nostalgic but let the outer bands of the area increase in density"

Where's the market for extended stay? Will it become 12 month leases type extended stay kind of like "Animal House"?

Downtown needs more than high dollar apartments and people. It needs a healthy dose of smart shopping choices for the consumers to be active. Lawrence,Kansas does not have that.

Tons of bars and cafe's are not going to do the job because the market is over loaded.

New living spaces are not expanding the number of available retail dollars to be spent. What we have is tenants moving from one living space to the next.

Laying off city,county and state employees is not smart economics either. Lawrence is losing population numbers as well.

There is no plan or continuity to this aggressive new construction. The same names want to repeat this helter skelter process in North Lawrence ASAP. There is no market to support that endeavor.

Now if the Refro group would:

  1. Bring a new expanded Johnny's with lots of beautiful landscaped outdoor space with tables,chairs and benches this would make more money because Johnny's is a money maker we know this.
  2. Bring a grocery store because North Lawrence consumers need a grocery store and a grocery store would attract more business to Johnny's due to the new grocery store traffic in the area. Notice people use grocery stores every day.
  3. Add a small hardware store and a laundromat because these make money and attract consumers. Johnny's wins across the board( people like to sip beer and eat pizza while doing laundry).

Empty residential and slow moving new retail is a drag and does not draw people as the failed Riverfront Plaza,failed Tanger Mall and the failed New Urbanism demonstrate. The same group of thinkers are pushing the North Lawrence development.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 6 months ago

Infill requires a market for new development. Lawrence is being duped,manipulated and abused by the word "infill".

The population of Boulder County 293,161 plus tons upon tons of tourism dollars annually.

The population of Douglas County 114,278 and high tax dollar sprawl hmmmmmm

Downtown needs more than high dollar apartments and people. It needs a healthy dose of smart shopping choices for the consumers to be active. Lawrence,Kansas does not have that.

Where's the market for extended stay?

Let’s remember that reckless capitalists without customers are out of business sooner or later.

The rest of we taxpayers are stuck with the bills, economic displacement,higher taxes and increased user fees which in general is unfriendly to business and new economic growth.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 6 months ago

Lawrence is a college town which the primary focus is education. That is where the money is so why not focus on more institutions of education?

Build a business college art institute( art & design collge) Vo Tech campus ASE automotive certification institute.

The real estate executives want us to believe that "shop till you drop" can easily generate the same revenue as the 25,000-30,000 college kids bring to town. Let's bring 45,000 - 50,000 students to Lawrence and watch economic growth take place. There is no market for a shop till you drop economy.

The Free Market has spoken which says the kcmo/joco retail market is far more desirable to Lawrence shoppers. The Free Market says stop digging a deeper money hole.

Lawrence cannot support massive retail development which only produces economic displacement that which increases the tax burden on the Lawrence population.

Focus the retail rehabilitation on downtown with attractive new retail selections such as SONY Style,Function Junction and LL Bean. This will create more foot traffic. And in the process create more dollars for our locally owned owners.

Face it the Free Market knows very well that Lawrence is no kcmo/joco retail market. Let's not get duped again.

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