News and notes from aound town:
• Maybe they’re not the Pawn Stars that you see on the popular television program on the History Channel, but business is good at Lawrence’s Jayhawk Pawn & Jewelry, 1804 W. Sixth St. So good, in fact, that the store has plans for a more than $700,000 expansion. The store has received a building permit from the city to essentially double the store’s space.
John Geery, the store’s manager, said business always has been good at the pawn shop, but it has about doubled over the last several years. Now, though, it has gotten to the point the store is becoming too cramped.
“We’ve got merchandise piled up on merchandise,” Geery said. “I’m a big fan of having a lot of stuff to show people, but it has gotten to the point that we need to do something.”
Plans call for the building to expand to the east, with some parking being moved to the back of the building. Construction is scheduled to start this spring.
Once the project is completed, expect the pawn shop to expand its offerings in both guns and jewelry. Geery said business for both has been good.
And yes, Geery says he does often get asked whether the Pawn Stars television show has helped business. He’s not sure whether it has brought new people into the store, but he is confident it has helped people better understand what a pawn shop is. I got a taste for what a pawn shop is back in December of 2008, when I spent a day there and wrote an article about it. I discovered it is a great place for odd stories. I just wished I would have pitched the idea to a TV executive.
• A plan to build more t-hangar space at the Lawrence Municipal Airport has been put into a holding pattern by city commissioners. At their meeting Tuesday evening, commissioners said they wanted more information about whether the project would be financially self-supporting. The city’s Aviation Advisory Board is recommending building 20 new t-hangars at a cost of about $1.3 million, in part because the airport has a waiting list of about 40 pilots who want t-hangar space. At one point in time, it looked like the project would about break even. But city staff’s analysis found that rental revenue from the hangars — even when you take revenue from the 30 t-hangars that exist at the airport today — isn’t enough to cover the costs. For the first 12 years of the project, the city will have to take money from its general bond fund to cover the payments. Overall, the subsidy would be about $1 million over a 12-year period. The project would start repaying the bond fund in its 13th year, and would fully repay the bond fund by year 21. At year 30, the hangars are projected to be about $1.2 million in the black. But in the interim, the subsidy would reduce the city’s ability to do other citywide projects, or would force the city to raise the mill levy to make up the difference.
But members of the Aviation Advisory Board asked city commissioners to take a harder look at the project. They said if the airport can host 20 more planes a year, that there could be a significant boost in taxes that the city collects in fuel sales at the airport. Tom Kern, who is president and CEO of the chamber of commerce and a member of the aviation board, ran an analysis that estimated the city could receive another $100,000 a year in fuel taxes. That could be a game-changer in the financial analysis of the project. City commissioners are expected to receive another report on the project in the coming weeks.
• The issue continues a trend of the city commission trying to figure out how much to invest in the airport. The commission has expressed optimism the airport can spur economic development in the city. Already, the city has spent around $600,000 to extend a city water line to the airport. But in November it scaled back plans for $1.9 million worth of sewer improvements at the airport.
A big question is whether Lawrence-based DAR Corp. still has plans to locate a new facility at the airport. DAR in March 2009 said it was seriously considering the airport for a new engineering and production facility for a prototype aircraft that DAR would be designing for a Chinese company. The project is expected to employ up to 65 engineers, mechanics and other technical positions during its first five years. The average salary would be near $80,000 a year.
But then in January, DAR officials confirmed that Salina also was a strong contender for the project, if the deal with the Chinese materializes.
I talked with Willem Anemaat, president of DAR Corp., today and he said Lawrence is still in the running for the project. But first the deal with the Chinese must get completed. The private Chinese company must get governmental approval to have the design work for the plane done in the U.S. That has been a complicated process as the Chinese government has become more concerned about China’s struggles to engineer many of the projects that get built in China.
But Anemaat said he hopes the project gets a ruling in the next three months. At that point, it becomes a contest between Lawrence and Salina. It sounds like Salina has some issues going for it. The Hawker Beechcraft plant in Salina has been laying off employees, many of which are just the type DAR will be looking for. The Salina airport also is home to a vocational school that trains aircraft workers. But DAR has a close relationship with Kansas University, having been founded by Dr. Jan Roskam, a former distinguished professor in aerospace engineering at KU.
“It primarily comes down to whether we can get the right people in Lawrence,” Anemaat said. “It is going to be a really tough choice for us.”