Archive for Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Town Talk: Caterer worries about unfair competition from City Hall; Masonic Temple building under consideration; Santa Fe Depot update

February 9, 2011


News and notes from around town:

• City leaders have spent a lot of time talking about the importance of being business friendly, but at least one small downtown business owner doesn’t think City Hall is being very friendly to him. In fact, he thinks the city has become an unfair competitor.

Steve Maceli — owner of the catering and event hall Maceli’s at 1031 N.H. — said the city’s decision to start renting out the newly renovated Carnegie Library building for wedding receptions and other similar types of events is an example of government unfairly competing with private business.

The city rents out the main floor of the Carnegie — located at Ninth and Vermont — for $525 for a six-hour event. Maceli said that price isn’t anywhere close to a market rate for a facility of that quality or size. The Carnegie can seat 220 or more, plus accommodate a dance floor.

Maceli’s rental rates start at $1,000, and he said that’s necessary in order for him to pay off the loan that he took to renovate the building. And, oh yeah, he reminds folks that he has to generate revenue to pay property taxes on the building. The city doesn’t pay property taxes on the Carnegie.

He also said the city, in addition to the cheap rate, has policies that make it tough for private businesses to compete. The biggest two are that the city allows renters to bring in their own food and alcohol.

The city has been in the rental business for a number of years, most notably renting out the North Lawrence depot. But Maceli said that facility was small enough that it does not compete for many wedding receptions or large events.

“But the Carnegie is the type of venue that could take a good chunk of business from people trying to make a living in downtown,” Maceli said.

He mentioned event space at The Eldridge, Pachamama’s, and The Castle Tea Room as several others that would find themselves competing with the city.

City officials previously have supported the idea of using the Carnegie building as event space because they believe it is a way to help get more people into downtown, which will benefit a broad number of businesses downtown. City Hall also is operating on an assumption that event space in town can be hard to find. Maceli, though, takes exception to that premise.

“People in Lawrence are always saying we need more event space in the city,” Maceli wrote in a letter to city commissioners. “I do not believe this is the case. From my perspective, what people are often saying is that they are not willing to pay for the spaces that are already available, or they have picked a busy month and nothing is available at their price point.

“No matter how many event spaces Lawrence has, there will never be enough in April, May, June, October and December. Ultimately some people may have to have their events in other months. That doesn’t mean we need more event space, let alone subsidized event space.”

Maceli said the city could make some changes that would make the situation better. The city could just offer the space for non-profit meetings and such for a nominal fee. Or, if the city wants to continue to offer the building for receptions, it could require that liquor only be served by a caterer or someone else who has the proper state licenses.

“Then there would be some more control,” Maceli said. “I don’t think the city’s parks and recreation staff is going to be responsible for providing that type of liquor control.”

Maceli has sent a couple of letters to city commissioners on the subject over the last month, but he said he hasn’t heard from them. We’ll check in with some city officials and report any thoughts they have.

• Maceli also confirmed he’s in negotiations with First Management to lease the long vacant Masonic Temple building at 10th and Massachusetts. He said he’s interested in using the building as a second location for his event business — although, he said he’ll be less interested if he has to compete with the city.

He said the space is so unique that it might be able to serve as a one-stop shop for weddings. He says the building still has the oldest Reuter organ west of the Mississippi, which could be a drawing card for the building to host actual wedding ceremonies. He envisions weddings happening on the main floor, a dinner happening in the basement, and then guests returning to the main floor for dancing.

• City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday received some new information about efforts to restore the Santa Fe Depot at Seventh and New Jersey streets.

Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard said officials with Amtrak are now considering whether it can pay for some of the interior renovations of the building related to making it ADA accessible. Previously, Amtrak has said it only would be responsible for bringing the outdoor passenger train platform up to ADA standards. If Amtrak also would tackle the interior ADA issues — like new bathrooms — that would reduce the $600,000 in repairs that the city would need to do if it takes over ownership of the building. Amtrak executives are expected to take the Lawrence issue to the Amtrak board later this week.

Also, Stoddard said the city on Tuesday received some communication from the depot’s owner — Burlington Northern Santa Fe — about re-writing an ownership transfer contract that would be more friendly to the city. The railroad indicated it would consider several revisions to a proposed contract that would transfer ownership to the city for essentially no cost. The city had expressed concerns about some provisions, including a requirement that the city accept all environmental liability for the land that the depot sits upon — even though the city would not own the land. The city also has expressed concern that the railroad has been unwilling to proceed with a transfer agreement that is subject to the city first receiving grant money to renovate the depot. It is unknown whether the railroad is willing to bend on that point.

City commissioners on Tuesday, though, said they still were not interested in taking over ownership of the building without first having grant money to fund the improvements.


farva 7 years, 2 months ago

We need affordable event space. There is nothing wrong with the city providing the place and the rent they are charging. It brings people to town without bankrupting them, allowing more money to be spent on other nearby attractions, restaurants, and hotels. There is absolutely no reason why the private sector couldn't rent a room out at that cost and make money.

arlo 7 years, 2 months ago

525 bucks is a steal. I see that being a good source of income for the City. I also see it being more in the $800 - $1000 range. Being able to bring your own food is a great benefit to people wanting to rent the space also. When I got married a few years ago we used a Johnson County property and it worked out great. The required off duty officer (since we had alcohol) didn't even mess with us.

kimk 7 years, 2 months ago

I just catered a function at Carnegie Library and I do not think that the same type of individuals will be renting the two spaces. First of all Carnegie does not have a working kitchen of any sort. So you must bring all equipment you need to cook and serve all the food. There is only one very small bathroom. We had major electrical problems (circuits blowing). So, although the price is lower, I think that people who want a more full service operation will go to one of the other venues and pay the slightly higher price.

BigPrune 7 years, 2 months ago

Two ADA bathrooms are required for 25 or more people. How does the City get away with having only one bathroom? They shouldn't be able to rent out the space for large events since they are breaking their own law.

Anne Bracker 7 years, 2 months ago

There was an article that described the recent renovations to the Carnegie, "Corliss said work to bring the building up to speed is nearing its end. Crews built an addition onto the north side of the building to house new ADA-compliant bathrooms and elevators. Work also was done to prepare the lower “garden level” of the building to serve as the offices for the convention and visitors bureau and Destination Management Inc., the non-profit that oversees the heritage area."

quote from Chad Lawhorn's article on Oct 28, 2010

tonytman 7 years, 2 months ago

Macellis is to high price its just an empty building and the food sucks

local_vocal 7 years, 2 months ago

Sounds like Maceli's business plan didn't anticipate the fact that some people like affordable places to hold functions. I mean, I've been to many functions at Maceli's and while it looks nice, the same food was served at every event. After two events my company had it's employees decide if they wanted to go back, and gave price comparisons, it was an overwhelming vote to stop the use of this facility. A business that is limited in its usage will be held to the constraints of its customers, especially those who choose by their pocketbook.

Beelzebub 7 years, 2 months ago

Message from Lawrence developers to City Commission: Keep stalling on the Santa Fe depot purchase. No one but those preservation nuts is interested in the place anyway. It's been neglected for so long that the whole place could go up in smoke from an electrical fire. We'll build you a nice new multimillion dollar that is "authentic" and respects the "traditions" of Lawrence. A real showpiece. (See Oread Hotel) And don't forget who your friends really are.

quimby 7 years, 2 months ago

I agree that Lawrence needs more reception venues at all price points - AND have character. We really don't have a full range of options for a town of our size. We considered Maceli's when looking at venue locations, but it ultimately came down to the lack of character of the place. Carnegie has character. I really don't think the same folks that would pick Carnegie would pick Maceli's. And what precludes someone from having Maceli's cater a Carnegie event? Lastly, I don't apreciate Maceli's speaking on behalf of folks like me, stating that we don't want to pay for the spaces already available. As I stated above, I just didn't like his space...

Richard Andrade 7 years, 2 months ago

If Maceli is quoted in his letter as saying, "what people are often saying is that they are not willing to pay for the spaces that are already available, or they have picked a busy month and nothing is available at their price point." what that easily translates into is: I'm expensive, I'd like to keep it that way, and if you don't like it, nuts to you.

pace 7 years, 2 months ago

Maceli had a choice. He made a stink about how the city should not make event space available. I have a choice, now I will never use Maceli's . I have used event space from the city, from the county. He wants to ride on the tax payers dime. He wants the city of Lawrence and probably Douglas county to change how they operate. The city and county made event spaces available before he was born, much less before he was in business.

somedude20 7 years, 2 months ago

I have played a few wedding receptions at Maceli’s and I was not impressed with them at all. Keep in mind that they had nothing to do with the band or anything like that so I have no problems with them for that (and I did not even know the couples at all). Rather, it was what they offered (gross food both times), how the place looked (looked like a dark basement in Eudora) and the staff (bad tudes towards guests) made it a not so hot place to rent. I have played there I think twice now and both times something seemed to come up and effect the bride and groom's special day. I am not going to go into details about the ins and outs but think twice before you use them

Tony Kisner 7 years, 2 months ago

I hate paying full price for haircuts. We need to add a few barber chairs in there also.

Bob Forer 7 years, 2 months ago

Although folks are allowed to bring their own food and drink, the lack of a kitchen and kitchen equipment or table service makes it difficult to hold a large event with decent food, drink and table service without hiring a caterer. Steve is an accomplished caterer and his prices are competitive. Instead of complaining, I think he should be concentrating on attracting some of the catering business from private Carnegie events. After all, his kitchen is only 2 short blocks and 1 1/2 long blocks away. This could be a gold mine for him if he concentrates on planning rather than complaining.

CHKNLTL 7 years, 2 months ago

the empT parent company is based in california, "the debt state". the cabs are buying local gas, providing local jobs, and provide a private transport without weird passengers (those that ride the bus all day because they don't have a house/job/life, etc)

Beelzebub 7 years, 2 months ago

Well that, you see, is because we are so concerned about the taxpayers' money...

Beelzebub 7 years, 2 months ago

What about the "Double-Secret-Sales-Tax-That's-Not-Really-A-Sales-Tax-But-A-Kickback-To-The-Developer" at 23rd and Ousdahl? Gosh, I hope the City Commissioners, who are SO worried about not misusing the taxpayers' money, come out on the right side of that one...

ralphralph 7 years, 2 months ago

I abhor these double-secret-tax districts. It originated with a State law, and is the product of the system there that New Gov Sam decried, somewhat, when he dropped the axe on Kansas, Inc., because, he said, it was not serving the economic advancement of the State, but was more about "picking winners and losers".

That is what the double-secret-tax is about ... picking winners and losers. Give your developer buddies a double-secret-kickback, then they can slip you money back to keep your job in Topeka to keep doing them favors.

Don't think so? Ask the owners of a local taco shop, burger joint, pharmacy, etc., how they feel about their new competitors at 6th & Waka getting to advertise a falsely-low price then jack it up at the register, after the sale, to gouge a few extra hidden percent out of their unknowing customers.

This is not economic development, it is corruption. Period.

Corrupt policy, bad law. Repealer?

stickeericketts 7 years, 2 months ago

As far as bathrooms at the Carnegie, there are two small bathrooms on the south side of the meeting hall. However, on the north side, as mentioned, there are two larger bathrooms upstairs and two downstairs (with several stalls and everything). The building looks amazing. If I had a rental facility that looked like "a basement in Eudora," I'd be freaking out too. However, Maceli's works with parks and recreation for wine/beer tastings at least 10 times a year. I'm not sure why they didn't ask for a meeting with the Carnegie supervisor, put out fliers, yadda yadda.

I guess it's easier to complain than take advantage of who you know.

pace 7 years, 2 months ago

Radical wing nuts want to end the fair grounds, end the park and recreation services, end public parks. Privatize or end all state, county and city services. The bus system to be replaced by taxis, the parks and recreation programs be transferred to commercial athletic clubs, Cut funding to public schools but add public funding to private schools. It is too far out, they are literally wanting the government to sell government buildings and then lease them back from the buyers. Generations of working families have paid taxes and advocated for services. Now the radical wing nuts are fine with the idea of looting city assets and put those assets in private hands. Marcilli doesn't want to build a comparable building, he just wants to close public access to public buildings. I am sure the Holodome would of appreciated the county closing the fair grounds but unlike Shawnee county we weren't insane.

Bob Forer 7 years, 2 months ago

Only problem with your argument is that Steve Macili is not your typical "radical wing nut." I understand his politics are on the so-called "liberal" side of the spectrum. He was a strong supporter of the domestic partner registry, which was vocally opposed by the "wing nuts" crowd.

But you do suggest a irony: Funny how folks are willing to compromise their liberal or conservative "philosophies" when one of government's traditional and long-accepted role of providing public accommodations threatens their own pocketbook.

pace 7 years, 2 months ago

Sycho, I did not say macilli was a radical wing nut, nor did I say the Holodome was radically right. Please don't interpret my words to suit your remarks. If you wish to discuss the privatization or closing of buildings for public use. which was the point of my remarks. I have no knowledge of Macilli's character. I just disagreed with his complaint. I disagreed a city facility should not be available to people because he wanted the business. The city and county had space for rent or open to people before he ever opened his business. . If you prefer to instead discuss macilli's character or politics, excuse me from that. There are persons I know and I could discuss them , or persons whose politics are of public record. I leave the debate of personality to you. If you want to make that kind of personal attack discussion, go for it. Just don't change my remarks to and pretendor to extrapolate that I really meant other than I said.

Bob Forer 7 years, 2 months ago

Sorry if I misinterpreted your words. I also disagree with Mr. Macili's complaints.

Darrell Lea 7 years, 2 months ago

Maybe, maybe not. It seems that many business owners in Lawrence will simply do or say anything at any time to give themselves some potential leverage or monetary gain, while trying to eliminate any competitor any way possible. I hope Mr. Macelli is tracking this comment thread. Provide a higher quality product and people will buy it.

KU_cynic 7 years, 2 months ago

There is an obvious solution to this conflict.

Instead of having the city in charge of renting this space, the city should put up for public bidding a 3-5 year concession to host events at the Carnegie Library building. Maceli could could bid for that concession against anyone else who might want a shot at it. The winning bidder would pay the city upfront for the concession, charge whatever he/she thinks the market will bear for the space for events, and then hustle to make a profit at it. After the 3-5 year term is up, perhaps with an interim renewability option, the concession would be rebid.

City makes money, and private enterprise hustles to make taxable profits at the mercy of the market.

Please, please tell me what's wrong with this idea.

Bob Forer 7 years, 2 months ago

If you follow Mr. Maceli's arguments to their logical conclusion, we should do away with libraries because they offer books and movies at little to no cost and "unfairly" compete with book stores and movie rental outlets, public colleges and universities because they "unfairly" compete with higher priced private institutions, subsidized public housing, because it "unfairly" competes with privately owned rental property, community owned health facilities and mental health centers such as Lawrence Memorial Hospital and Bert Nash because they "unfairly" compete with for-profit billion dollar businesses such as Hospital Corporation of America, public sanitation because it "unfairly" competes with Deffenbaugh, public transportation because it "unfairly" competes with the private sector, and so on, ad infinitum.

Do you know how to spell hypocrisy, Mr. Maceli. You and your partner supported, and in fact took advantage of the Domestic Partnership Registry law recently passed by the Lawrence City Commission, which allowed you and your partner, for a mere fee of $75.00, to obtain a certificate and two identification cards, which, while not giving you any additional legal rights (because of the backward and discriminatory politics of Kansas prohibiting gay marriages), is nonetheless sufficient proof for you or your partner to obtain companion medical benefits. You could have obtained the same proof by going to a lawyer and having he or she draw up a Domestic Partnership Agreement. Of course, an attorney would have cost you a heck of a lot more than $75.00.

I guess from your vantage point, its okay for the city to have policies which "unfairly" compete with private attorneys so long as it benefits you, but its not okay if a public benefit (both in increased income to the city and a nice place for folks to gather) might somehow interfere with your lucrative business.

Do yourself a favor and learn the rule of the hole--when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. In other words, complain no more and go back to planning wedding and business receptions, something I understand you are quite good at.

true_patriot 7 years, 2 months ago

Macelli's prices are just out of reach for a lot of folks in Lawrence. Let there be affordable space for lower income folks to have nice events, and let the upper income folks book places like Macelli's and Castle Tea Room, etc.

Matthew Del Vecchio 7 years, 2 months ago

Dear Steve Maceli,

You also can rent this space for the reasonable rate of $525. I expect the city to provide services and community facilities that all Lawrencians can enjoy (this means East Lawrencians also). I gladly pay property tax, sales tax, etc etc because I feel I receive fair value in return. Maybe you should think about whether or not you are providing fair value or taking advantage of people who have limited options. Welcome to the free market.


Lawrencian who passed on your establishment for his wedding reception and after reading your crybaby comments is really glad he did :)

Bob Forer 7 years, 2 months ago

LarryNative, are you suggesting that we close down Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center because its existence adversely impacts the wallets of area psychiatrists, psychiatrists, and clinical social workers who are engaged in private practice?

Darrell Lea 7 years, 2 months ago

LarryNative - the flaw in your statement is as obvious as your choice of the phrase "YOUR dollars."

Until they are spent, the dollars belong to the customer, not the provider of a product or service. Provide a quality product and people will buy it.

Alceste 7 years, 2 months ago

Suggestion: Macelli's might want to form a neighborhood association. Through such an association he shall be able to do very big things which will ease his pain.

Terry Jacobsen 7 years, 2 months ago

Wow. Next time I contemplate voicing a complaint. I'm keeping my mouth shut. What a beating mr macelli took on this one.

Matthew Blankers 7 years, 2 months ago

Nobody deserves a beating. You should be ashamed of yourself for even uttering that!

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