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Archive for Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Town Talk: Chocolate store coming to downtown; Olive Garden project still on the ropes; Poehler building to seek financial incentives from city

July 13, 2011

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News and notes from around town:

A semi-truck from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory unloads near Dowtown Lawrence on Wednesday, July 12, 2011. A new store will open in the Cold Stone Creamery location in the 600 block of Massachusetts Street.

A semi-truck from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory unloads near Dowtown Lawrence on Wednesday, July 12, 2011. A new store will open in the Cold Stone Creamery location in the 600 block of Massachusetts Street.

• This is where I wish I had some sort of technological device that could filter out portions of this Town Talk column so my wife would not be able to read it. But alas … chocolate lovers will have something new to cheer in downtown. Cold Stone Creamery, 647 Mass., is in the process of adding a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory franchise to its location. Store employees told me training is expected to begin in the next week, so the chocolate store likely will be up and running within the next couple of weeks. Lawrence had a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for quite a while in the lobby area of the SpringHill Suites by Marriott at Sixth and New Hampshire streets. But that location closed, and the town has been without one for awhile. The chain sells all sorts of individual and boxed chocolates, in addition to caramel apples, fudge and other similar sweets. I’m sure I’ll find out what else they sell in more detail as I examine my credit card receipts.

• Lovers of Olive Garden Italian food may have less to cheer about. As we reported before the July 4 holiday, the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee dealt a blow to a development that would house an Olive Garden restaurant at 27th and Iowa streets. The committee actually recommended approval of some tax rebates for the project, but it did so with negative votes from Mayor Aron Cromwell and City Commissioner Bob Schumm. Ultimately, the City Commission makes the final decision on the tax rebate issue. Without Cromwell and Schumm’s support, the project doesn’t have enough votes at the City Commission to proceed. (Remember, Commissioner Mike Amyx isn’t voting on the development because his parents sold some land to the developers, so the project needs to win three of the four remaining votes.) When we last reported on it, we said if there was to be a change of heart it would come from Cromwell. He struggled a bit at the PIRC meeting on which way to vote. But I’ve checked in with City Hall sources and I've been told there has been no change on that front. In fact, it has been suggested to the developers that they withdraw their request and not even allow it to come to the City Commission level. For the last two days, I’ve called an attorney with the development group to see if they indeed are withdrawing the request. I haven’t heard back.

It will be interesting to see if the group decides to make commissioners consider the project anyway. At the PIRC meeting, County Commissioner Mike Gaughan urged the city to look at creating a Community Improvement District for the project. That is one of those districts that is allowed to charge a special sales tax that can be used by the developer to help make a project work financially. This same development group — MD Management — asked for a special taxing district for property it owns around 23rd and Ousdahl. That set off a storm of public opposition against the idea of special sales taxes.

But what people forget is that at one point it seemed the City Commission was close to reaching a compromise on allowing CIDs to be used in Lawrence. In June 2010, a majority of commissioners said they might be more comfortable with the special taxing districts if the districts were required to post a sign notifying shoppers that a special sales tax was being charged. There long has been a concern that these special tax districts are not transparent enough to consumers. Originally, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce expressed concern at the sign idea. But then in July 2010, it brought forward a proposed sign it could support. At the same time, the City Commission agreed to hold a public hearing on the 23rd and Ousdahl special taxing district. But from that point on, the sign proposal and the 23rd and Ousdahl project just withered away.

I got the sense that there was a political decision made that it would be best not to have this issue discussed by the City Commission so close to the April City Commission elections. I got the sense some didn’t want this to become an issue for campaigns. If that was the thinking, it didn’t work out. Bob Schumm ended up using the issue of “sneaky taxes” to win a first-place finish in the election. Now, it is probably more politically difficult than ever to bring up the idea of special taxing district.

But I still wonder whether the sign idea would have appeased a majority of people opposed to the special taxing districts. (It certainly wouldn’t appease all.) In a town that has recently let its residents vote on whether to raise their taxes for streets, transit and library, would it allow consumers to vote — with their pocketbooks, so to speak — whether they want to pay an extra tax to eat at the Olive Garden? I don’t know, and I don’t think we’re going to find out.

• Speaking of financial incentives for projects, here’s one I’m going to get you more information on. But for now it is clear that a project to convert the former Poehler warehouse building at 619 E. Eighth St. into an affordable rental housing program is moving forward. But it also is clear it will seek city financial incentives to do so. City Manager David Corliss has confirmed that a Kansas City development group is seeking $750,000 worth of public improvements (and perhaps some private ones) to be made in the area surrounding the old four-story Poehler building. The bulk of the money would go to reconstruct Delaware Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. The project would include new pavement, storm water upgrades, new curbs and new sidewalks. But the request also seeks help with some off-street parking for the project. I’ll check into this more, but I believe that means financial help with constructing a privately owned parking lot for the building.

The $750,000 in city money would be in addition to local property tax rebates the development can qualify for. It has been a given that the project would seek those rebates (which are the same kind Olive Garden is seeking). The area surrounding the Poehler building already has been approved as a Neighborhood Revitalization Area, which makes it eligible for the rebates. (The area got that designation when local developer Bo Harris planned to revitalize the area. That project ultimately fell on hard financial times.) The $7 million Poehler project also is using state tax credits to help finance its construction. Those state tax credits to come with the requirement that the apartments in the project be subject to an element of rent control. The idea is the apartments will be rented below the prevailing rental rates in the city. The developer previously has said one-bedroom units would start at about $500 a month. Two-bedroom units would be about $600 a month.

Comments

Fred Mertz 3 years, 5 months ago

LJWorld - just a note to tell you that I appreciate this reoccuring column in your paper. It helps keep me informed on what is going on in Lawrence in a timely and interesting manner.

Thanks.

kshiker 3 years, 5 months ago

Totally agree. This is the best regular column in the entire newspaper. Keep up the good work!

Richard Andrade 3 years, 5 months ago

This actually probably the most informative (and entertaining) piece of information the LJWorld puts out regularly. It's the only column I actively search out in fear that I missed an item. Good writing, Chad. You're funny, concise and good at what you do.

puddleglum 3 years, 5 months ago

keep it up Chad! best article in the paper!

Alison Roberts 3 years, 5 months ago

Glad to see some additional affordable rental units coming to Lawrence!

thepianoman 3 years, 5 months ago

Just curious, has anyone thought of the impact of Olive Garden across the street from Paisanos? I believe it would be across the street, right?

If it does happen, this could have a big impact on Paisanos. UGH. This is a locally run restaurant. Would hate to it sqaushed by another chain restaurant. Hmmm.

droppinplates 3 years, 5 months ago

If Paisanos served good Italian food it wouldn't matter who was right across the street. The one time I went there it was so bad I never went back. I've never been to Olive Garden so I can't comment about their food.

CardHawkFan 3 years, 5 months ago

Not that I am proponent for Olive Garden, although my wife loves it, but couldn't agree more about Paisano's! The worst service I have ever had. The only reason I ever went back was because it is a decent place for a date...if you don't mind waiting to get a table when the place is empty, or your food, or a refill on anything, or decent service. I think that is what they bank on, that you will be so tired of your wait that you will just sign whatever bill they put in front of you just so you can leave. Speaking of that, I was wondering how come I got charged for someone else's water bill...

sundowner 3 years, 5 months ago

I too, ate there once in the dank smelly basement for a birthday party a few years ago & never went back.

schula 3 years, 5 months ago

Pianoman -- I completely agree with you! Paisanos is my favorite place to eat in Lawrence. Those that complain of bad service must have been on an off night. I have never had bad food or service from them.

jafs 3 years, 5 months ago

My wife and I used to eat there regularly, and liked it quite a bit.

Recently, however, we've had a number of bad experiences, with both the food and the service.

somedude20 3 years, 5 months ago

Nope gave it 5 chances and each time the service, the food, and that cheap looking dinning room stunk. Their crap food makes OG taste like 5 star cuisine!!! Yuck Yuck Yuck even Pizza Hut's pasta is better and that is say a lot

jafs 3 years, 5 months ago

If signs are required for CID areas, that would be the same as if the businesses simply charged slightly higher prices for their items, and thus not be necessary.

Why not do the simple thing?

Also, in the same vein, shouldn't businesses be required to show the sales tax rate on receipts? Especially if the city has a few different rates going?

Scott Morgan 3 years, 5 months ago

stated this before, have never eaten at an Olive Garden. Nor own stock, or wish to. The Olive Garden/Red Lobster type restaurant would be good for Lawrence.

  1. Put a quality new modern building in a very ugly and visible part of 23rd St.
  2. Help drive shoppers back to Lawrence
  3. Provide good solid private sector jobs with benefits. Manager/Asst. Manager, Bar Manager, Catering Manager...........
  4. Provide a boost in sales tax revenue, both on site and tough to measure ripple effect.
  5. Positive happenings, as advertising, sponsorship, on and on.

Or,

McHippy Fish Shanty and Candle Shop. Located wherever the owners can find some cheap rent. Best Burgers in Town. For reservations call BR 549 and tell Milly the call is about the restaurant not the house painting stuff.

McHippy's open 7 days a week 10:30 A.M. to Midnight, except Monday and some Sundays, Wed. and Monday at times if the owners sister in law can't cover. May close early if babysitter has high school tests the next day. Grilled Tuna Special Every Friday the cook can find Tuna if not pulled pork sandwiches.

pizzapete 3 years, 5 months ago

A fish and candle shop, that sounds awesome. We need more locally owned businesses like this in town, sounds like you'd be happier living in Olathe or Topeka.

Scott Morgan 3 years, 5 months ago

Really? Of course I was being absurd. I do like local small business, but one can not live on bread alone. Or, maybe in the case of Olive Garden Breadsticks. Having a cooperate joint like Lobster or Olive in town can only help.

Would you trust a McHippy type joint to handle a business meeting, or better yet a focal point for folks from the surrounding area to gather? Been burned by suggesting to out of town guests a quaint place only to find it closed, out of the special, or in a recent case just out of business.

On one hand we wish for better career type jobs, on the other we pull for the Mc.......Hippy name business. Maybe true, maybe not, but read where a typical Red Lobster joint pays over 100 K for 3 positions. Doubt McHippy Fish and Candle could do this.

The old Jo-co is cooperate is dated too. I did live there in the 80s. El Wifo and I went by the old place and the little strip center smartly added to our subdivision. Little stores from Movie Rental to hair salon, to sandwich shop. Smartly as in smart growth with tax revenues. Back in the day it was only the gas station which was not locally owned we both noted.

Gotta have business, to do business.

stuart 3 years, 5 months ago

But why give them 600K in tax breaks? If they want to come, let them. But please do not pay them to come, pay them with your $$ when you go to eat there not with our tax dollars.

irvan moore 3 years, 5 months ago

i sure don't see how we have money to give away if we don't have money to deal with what we got. did ya notice the projects gettin' the giveaways are downtown or close enough to benefit downtown?

Richard Andrade 3 years, 5 months ago

I'm sure others may have mentioned this, and I am against cutting any deals to land Olive Garden, BUT, I do find it weird that Bob Schumm, as a local restauranteur, does not recuse himself from this vote. I would think it a pretty clear conflict-of-interests if a commissioner with a restaurant has a say on the viability of another restaurant.

notanota 3 years, 5 months ago

The outcome would be the same. Not enough commissioners to vote yes.

ILoveLawrence 3 years, 5 months ago

That this is the best series the LJWorld has.

thepianoman 3 years, 5 months ago

Well -- to those who enjoy Paisanos (I'm one of them!), I will be the featured Lounge pianist on Saturday, July 23, 7-9:30 pm. Come out and soak up some good food, air conditioning and awesome piano music!!

jafs 3 years, 5 months ago

Nice plug.

What kind of music do you play?

thepianoman 3 years, 5 months ago

A wide variety...Classical, contemporary pop, country, ragtime...Hope to see you there!

boxers_or_briefs 3 years, 5 months ago

I hope you're better than the food and service that keeps getting slammed here.

notanota 3 years, 5 months ago

I wouldn't know. All I know is that he likes to bang the private arts funding drum.

Sigmund 3 years, 5 months ago

"The committee actually recommended approval of some tax rebates for the project, but it did so with negative votes from Mayor Aron Cromwell and City Commissioner Bob Schumm. "

Doesn't Kommissioner Schumm own a competing restaurant downtown and doesn't he own and lease substantial amount of commercial property downtown? Wouldn't Olive Garden on Iowa street compete against Buffalo Bob's and impact those commercial interests? Shouldn't he also recuse himself along with Amyx especially considering the committee recommended approval?

You can download Shumm's substantial interest filing here which also will tell you what Bob thinks the future of the US dollar is.... http://www2.ljworld.com/documents/2011/feb/23/bob-schumm-substantial-interest-filing/

notanota 3 years, 5 months ago

If he owned a nearby Italian place, you'd have more of a point.

Terry Jacobsen 3 years, 5 months ago

Not really... the fact that he owns a restaurant of any type puts him in a position to unfairly keep out competition for his own benefit. That is a very strong case for him to recuse himself from the vote.

lunacydetector 3 years, 5 months ago

during obama's depression, any new business looking around is good news...but they don't need a tax subsidy....a manufacturing plant employing hundreds is another thing.

discussed 3 years, 5 months ago

Has anyone thought that maybe the reason Bob Schumm is voting no is because he owns a restaurant and does not want more competition? Just a thought that crossed my mind when I was reading the article.

lunacydetector 3 years, 5 months ago

bob schumm got elected because nobody remembers or lives here anymore when he was on the commission before.

Kelly Johnson 3 years, 5 months ago

Dear Olive Garden officials: your projected $5 million profit should be more than enough to offset the tax breaks you want. BUILD THE RESTAURANT ALREADY! All the comments from all the different times this has been mentioned should provide some evidence that people WILL eat at OG if it's here.

docancan 3 years, 5 months ago

I have to agree about how bad Paisanos is! We booked a rehearsal dinner and the bride and groom were served LAST...their food was cold, and they messed up the dessert order that was given in advance... We went back a few months later and they refused to sit us in a more private location (we were celebrating an occasion) and instead sat us right in the middle of loud college students, and then they served us cold food again as well as terrible service. The food gave us food poisoning that night and we vowed never again to go back. I would def eat at Olive Garden if it were in Lawrence...we already drive to other Olive Garden locations! Never had problems and the service is phenomenal!!!

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