News and notes from around town:
• If you believe The Wall Street Journal, there’s about a one in three chance that the Lawrence Borders store is set to close. The Journal reported this weekend that Borders is in the “final stages of preparing a bankruptcy filing.” According to the newspaper’s sources, the company would shut down about 200 to 250 stores — or about a third of the chain’s total. Of course, there’s no way for an outsider to really know whether Lawrence’s store is on that list. Some have said the Lawrence Borders store does pretty well for its size. But unless you’re one of the financial executives at Borders (and I don’t think you would want to admit to that), you’re probably just guessing.
The Journal article also questions whether any of Borders’ 674 stores will survive. The article said “many Wall Street bankers and lawyers who have studied the chain believe it may not be able to avoid liquidation.” The chain is expected to have more than $1 billion in liabilities when it files its bankruptcy petition.
A filing could happen today or tomorrow, the Journal reports.
• City commissioners may be facing a tough call at the Lawrence Municipal Airport. Leaders of the airport want the city to move ahead with a $1.3 million project to build 20 T-hangars to store private aircraft. The airport long has had a list of pilots waiting for new T-hangar space to become available. About 25 pilots have said they’re ready to lease space at a rate of $255 per month.
But city commissioners have said that it is important for the project to pay for itself. That’s where this project starts to look a little bit like a foggy runway; it is unclear. According to the city’s economic development planner, the hangars will produce enough revenue to pay off the bonds for the project in 25 years. The problem is, the only way the city can get a low enough interest rate to make it feasible — in staff’s opinion — is to issue 12-year bonds. That means the project would need a city subsidy of about $64,000 per year for the first 12 years. That is money that likely would come from the city’s general fund. The project would reimburse the general fund in its latter years.
Some of the revenue numbers also are up for debate. The city is not just using rental revenue from the hangars but also is trying to account for increased revenue from fuel sales, property taxes and other benefits that would come from having more planes based at the airport. One of the interesting things to come out of that is how little property taxes aircraft in the state pay. According to the city, only eight of the 28 aircraft housed in the existing T-hangars pay any property taxes. That’s because state law exempts aircraft that are more than 25 years old or are classified primarily for business use.
But one factor the city didn’t use in its analysis is whether having more aircraft based at the airport would make it more likely the city would receive future Federal Aviation Administration grants. Several FAA grants take into account the number of landings and takeoffs at an airport. More planes based at the airport likely would increase those numbers.
The city has said it wants to make the airport a more inviting place for businesses to locate. It already has spent about $600,000 to extend a city waterline to the airport. It also has plans to improve sewer service at the airport, in hopes of landing some new businesses.
• There are some new numbers out about the city’s homeless population. Bert Nash has prepared a report detailing how many people its homeless outreach workers served in 2010. According to the report, the outreach team served 692 people. Of that number it served 148 families. The report notes that for the purpose of this report homeless doesn’t necessarily mean people sleeping on the streets or in a homeless shelter. It also includes people who are “precariously housed,” which is defined as someone who is sleeping in somebody else’s house — like a friend or relative — because they can’t afford housing on their own. That category accounted for 34 percent or about 235 people.
The report also found that 33 percent of people were chronically homeless, which means they have been continuously homeless for a year or more or have had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. The other 33 percent were people who fell somewhere in between those two categories.
Other stats from the report include:
• 50 percent of the people presented with a mental illness;
• 38 percent had a known substance abuse disorder;
• 12 percent of the people were found sleeping outdoors or in an abandoned building, car or similar structure;
• 31 percent were found in an emergency shelter;
• 45 percent were in an apartment or temporary housing;
• 73 percent were white;
• 52 percent were between 35 and 50 years old;
• 269 people served were children, and 48 percent of the children were 6 or younger.