Archive for Friday, July 15, 2011

Town Talk: ‘Donation meters’ may be newest strategy to combat downtown panhandling; Ninth Street turning lane planned; downtown Mexican restaurant details; softball to provide $1 million boost

July 15, 2011


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News and notes from around town:

• Pedestrians soon may notice a change in Downtown Lawrence related to, well, pocket change. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider giving approval for staff members to move ahead with a plan to install parking meter-like devices at various locations around downtown. But the devices wouldn’t have anything to do with parking. Instead, they’d have everything to do with trying to discourage panhandling in Downtown Lawrence. The devices would be “donation meters.” The idea is people with “spare change” would be encouraged to deposit the spare change in the donation meters rather than giving the money to panhandlers. The money in the donation meters then would be given to social service agencies that work with people who are homeless.

Mayor Aron Cromwell brought up the idea when he took office more than two years ago. In May, Cromwell told me that he was a bit disappointed more work hadn’t been done on that idea and others to discourage panhandling downtown. Several other cities, including Atlanta, Cleveland, Denver, Las Vegas, Miami and Nashville have donation meter programs.

The city plans to use old parking meters it already has in inventory for the program. It hasn’t recommended a specific number of meter nor specific locations. Staff members want feedback from city commissioners about that issue. Staff, though, recommends placing the meters in locations where panhandlers often congregate now, such as near mid-block crossing areas, corners and breezeways. City commissioners also will need to decide what organizations the money should be given to.

This may not be the last effort the city undertakes on panhandling. Cromwell has said before that he wants a full-blown public education campaign about why people should not donate to panhandlers. I wonder while he is at it, if he could create a public education campaign targeted towards my wife. She seems to think all meters in downtown are donation meters. She seems to "donate" a $3 fine every time she parks at one.

• Have you ever been stuck behind a motorist on Ninth Street trying to turn left onto Kentucky? If that has frustrated you, city commissioners are exploring a project that may interest you. Earlier this year, the city received a $175,000 safety grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation to improve the traffic signal at Ninth and Tennessee streets. But as the city started looking at that area, it decided it should adding a left-turn lane at Ninth and Kentucky as well. The city believes it could use $125,000 in city funds to accomplish that part of the project. The idea will require widening Ninth Street between Kentucky and Tennessee streets, and that may cause some on-street parking spaces to be lost. No details yet on how many, or whether that is likely to create a problem with businesses along that stretch of street. Commissioners are being asked to approve debt financing for the project at their Tuesday meeting.

• As we’ve previously reported, the owner of Tortas Jalisco in West Lawrence has plans to open a restaurant in downtown. Well, now he has a name for it as well — Mexquisito. The restaurant will be in the former Teapouro location at 712 Mass. Owner Angel Alvarez told me the restaurant will be similar to Tortas Jalisco, but its menu will be slightly different. He said he plans to have more dishes that carry the flavor print from Mexico City rather than the Jalisco region of Mexico. So, you have a perfect idea of what I’m talking about now, right. Yeah, I don’t either. Alvarez said it kind of would be like comparing California cooking to Kansas cooking. He tried to explain it further, but said the best bet is for people to just come and see for themselves. Imagine that. As for when the restaurant will be open, he’s still trying to get all the final approvals from the city. Once those are done, he hopes to be ready to open in about four weeks.

• I am getting a lot of questions about Vermont Street BBQ and whether its reopening is still on track. I wish I had some news to report to you. I haven’t been able to catch up with the owner of the restaurant. We reported back in February that the former general manager of the restaurant was going to reopen the popular eatery in the spot formerly occupied by Joe College. A sign for the restaurant still is in the window of the location. But I peeked through an opening in the butcher paper covering the window, and there wasn’t any work going on yesterday. The space is still pretty much a shell with what looks like a new floor and some light fixtures that have been hung. I couldn’t tell whether work had begun on a kitchen or not. Originally, the owner had hoped to open by April or May. I’m still hoping to get more info in the near future. Chris, if you’re reading this, call me. I’ve lost your cell number. (There you go everybody, your look behind the journalism curtain. It is pretty high tech stuff, isn’t it?)

• Restaurants in Lawrence should be loving this coming week. The city will be host to the US Specialty Sports Associations World Series Girls Softball 12B tournament during the week of July 17 and 23. That means teams of 12-year-old girls and their families will descend upon the city. The Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau — which has been a driving force in attracting the event — is expecting 60 teams for a total of 2,200 visitors. Those visitors are expected to spend $1 million in the city during the week. The opening ceremony for the tournament will be a Hoglund Ballpark on Monday. The Outdoor Aquatic Center will be closed from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday for a social event related to the tournament. Tournament games will be played at the Clinton Softball Complex and the Youth Sports Complex in West Lawrence.

• UPDATE: Yesterday I reported a rumor that the crew of "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" was staying in a Lawrence hotel because the show apparently will remake a house in the area. The rumor was the crew would be working about 45 minutes south of Lawrence. Well, the Ottawa Herald in today's edition is speculating that the home will be in or near Ottawa.

"We feel very strongly it is going to be near Ottawa or at least in Franklin County," Tom Weigand, the president of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce told the Herald.

The show's public relations director told the Herald that about a dozen families have been under consideration for the show. The winner will be announced on July 31 when the family receives that famous knock on their door. Remodeling work will begin the next day, and is expected to be completed in about a week. The show likely would air in September or October.

I didn't mention yesterday that the show is looking for volunteers. People 18 years and older can sign up at The show also will be hosting a "pep rally" at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Overland Park Convention Center.


Romans832 6 years, 8 months ago

Will the donation meters be fitted for pennies? I recall one panhandler who admitted discarding the pennies he received. On the other extreme, what if someone wanted to deposit paper money? If donation meters accept only nickels, dimes, and quarters (as a parking meter), it seems a bit restrictive.

guesswho 6 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the updates all around; I like it when our sports facilities can attract these types of tournaments; - track, softball, swimming. Maybe a new rec center with more basketball courts could attract additional tournaments. Maybe a benefactor could donate $1 million or so if the city could come up with the would be a win win situation.

Just an idea..

youngjayhawk 6 years, 8 months ago

I totally support the donation meter idea and educating the public against donating to panhandlers = progressive ideas! Perhaps, if these ideas are implemented, these panhandlers will move on to other cities, making our downtown more inviting. Love it!

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 8 months ago

Wow. I really hope all of those girls and their parents take care in the excessive heat coming our way. I'm not sure what idiot in their association booked this event into Lawrence but Kansas in late July is not the place to have a sporting event like this. They would have been much better off in Seattle or Maine or someplace like that. If they don't have at least one person collapse in the heat I'll be surprised and, although I'm sure I'll be castigated for saying this, I think it was irresponsible of both their association and the Convention and Visitors Bureau for doing this. But then making money at the expense of children has never been a problem with this country. Just take a look at the fast food industry.

MISTERTibbs 6 years, 8 months ago

USSSA books their "World Series" events all over the country. Teams are eligible to compete in whichever world series event they chose to pay their entry fee for so most teams chose one that will be in a relatively sane driving distance for their members.

Of the 42 teams entered, only the team from Ft. Collins might not be used to the heat that they will encounter.

BTW that means the CVB overshot it by about 30%. That brings it down to $700k in additional sales impact.

MISTERTibbs 6 years, 8 months ago

Also, it isn't just making a buck at the expense of Children. USSSA hosts tournaments for people of all ages.

TheStonesSuck 6 years, 8 months ago

I don't think it will be so bad. Many summer tournaments take a sort of siesta midday when it's really hot. Morning games, evening games, lounging by the pool in between. I miss being a kid!

Kelly Anderson 6 years, 8 months ago

Speaking as a softball parent....I think this is awesome! And hate to burst your downer bubble but we as parents, teammates, coaches and vendors are very well equipped and ready for all types of weather for these tournaments. Just because they are girls does not mean they are not any tougher for their sport. They are athletes through and through and believe me they have played in ALL types of weather!! Very proud to throw like a girl!!! I encourage EVERYONE to come out and watch these games.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 8 months ago

The fact that it's girls has nothing to do with it. I would have said the same thing if it were boys. I like the idea of having organized sports for children. I played softball as a kid myself. I like the idea of anything getting kids off their butts and moving. When I was growing up (a half century ago) my dad would actually cut the plug off of the TV in June and not put it back on until September. Never bothered us, although my mom hated it. We weren't city kids, though, and had 10 acres of land that included a natural spring "swimming hole", a tree house and a tire swing that was our personal play ground. I truly wish that kids today had half of what I grew up with. But when the weather service is actually publishing an "excessive heat advisory" with multiple days well over 100 for the same week that this is planned, can you blame me for saying something about it?

mom_of_three 6 years, 8 months ago

Not sure where you have been, but there are been softball tournaments in July in Kansas forever. I remember playing in july as a kid, and my kids have played outdoor sports in july. I know the state tourney has been in olathe in july. yes,its hot, but all kids know what to do ,as well as their parents, coaches and refs. The heat is a concern, but most are used to it.

hail2oldku 6 years, 8 months ago

Any estimate on how much money was brought in last weekend with the MV Junior Olympic track meet, the MAYB basketball tournament and the baseball tournament all going on a the same time?

Also, why any reason why there weren't recycle bins out at LHS last weekend? LOTS of plastic that could have been recycled ended up in the regular trash cans around the campus instead.

notanota 6 years, 8 months ago

I love the donation meter idea! I also second the recommendation that there be a way to donate bills and not just coins, but we can already take cash payments for fines, so I'm sure there's a way to do this.

Maybe the signs could also include the location of places where you could drop off goods or make bigger monetary donations? Probably just listing a website where we could find the info and a QR code for easy reference.

irvan moore 6 years, 8 months ago

it would be nice if the mayor could devote some time and energy to parts of Lawrence other than downtown. if he really wants to stop panhandling downtown he should look at some of the incentives we are giving to developers and maybe put up donation meters for them instead.

pizzapete 6 years, 8 months ago

Great idea to fix the light at 9th and Kentuky. Also, I'm excited to try the new Tortas Jalisco, I always liked the food, but the location was a little too far out of the way. They should be a good fit downtown.

lunacydetector 6 years, 8 months ago

the city should wait about a year before putting in donation meters downtown to see what the effects of losing s.r.s. will do to the panhandling situation in downtown.

Chengdu808 6 years, 8 months ago

I travel 9th St. going east every day and have NEVER had a problem at that intersection. At most I have to wait for 2-3 cars coming west across the intersection. This idea must have something to do with concerns other than traffic. If waiting 30 seconds or so behind another car seems a problem to you then you need to rethink your priorities.

kernal 6 years, 8 months ago

That wait is longer than thirty seconds when the students are in town. Having a left turn at that intersection would also help traffic flow from downtown.

Kelly Johnson 6 years, 8 months ago

Can I have a donation meter downtown solely for my own benefit? That would rock!

Terry Sexton 6 years, 8 months ago

CasitgatedCait48 - has a nice ring to it, but don't be too hard on yourself. It's a nice sentiment, wanting to keep all the precious snowflakes from melting. Wouldn't want any exercise to get in the way of that fast food you were talking about.

kernal 6 years, 8 months ago

At the beginning of every semester, people turn South on Kentucky. Doesn't matter what intersection it is. It's like watching out for deer during the rutting season.

xclusive85 6 years, 8 months ago

No one turns left from 9th onto Kentucky? They do if they are travelling east before they turn!

Chad Lawhorn 6 years, 8 months ago

I'm confused now. If you are heading east on Ninth Street and want to turn onto Kentucky, you would turn left, correct? There's a signal at Ninth and Kentucky, but no turn lane. As the article states, the traffic signal improvements would be for Ninth and Tennessee, but the turn lane would be for Ninth and Kentucky. I think — I'm going from memory here — the current signal is a single head. The new light would have a head over each lane, which makes the signal more visible. I think that is the safety part of why the city got the grant. As for whether there is much traffic that turns off of Ninth Street onto Kentucky, I suspect there is. I suspect there will be more in the future as the city builds a new parking garage that probably will have an entrance off of Kentucky Street.

Thanks, Chad Lawhorn Journal-World

Kelly Anderson 6 years, 8 months ago

Thank you!!! I was waiting for your reply!

guesswho 6 years, 8 months ago

not sure what town you are talking about. If you are in the left hand lane of 9th street going east and the person in front of you is turning left onto Kentucky (going north), it can take several lights. That is a bad intersection. Not the worst in town, but it definitely slows things up.

pizzapete 6 years, 8 months ago

Good point Wilbur, I was thinking it was Tennessee they were talking about. Both could probably use a better signal.

Take_a_letter_Maria 6 years, 8 months ago

How smart is Wilbur? Not near as smart as he thinks since there is a left turn lane from Sixth onto Tennessee that runs almost the entire length of the block.

Look at Google Maps if you don't believe me.

Ricky_Vaughn 6 years, 8 months ago

Donation meter? Seriously? That's the best thing these clowns can come up with?

Just because I have change in my pocket doesn't mean it's "spare". Now the city wants my change? Don't we already give them enough money? This is just panhandling without the entertainment.

Whether I have change in my pocket or not, I don't give it to panhandlers and I certainly won't be feeding these stupid things.

notanota 6 years, 8 months ago

Nobody's required to donate anything, hence the whole "donate" concept. If you don't give your change to panhandlers, you're not the problem targeted by this solution. These are not the meters you're looking for. Move along now.

kernal 6 years, 8 months ago

Speaking of deer, saw a fawn several yards West of the intersection of 15th and Kasold yesterday afternoon. Please keep an eye out in that area of town because there are probably more.

hipper_than_hip 6 years, 8 months ago

Isn't Kentucky a one-way going north? Tennessee is one-way going south.

dogsandcats 6 years, 8 months ago

I don't give change to panhandlers, nor would I put it in donation meters. What, when panhandlers ask for change, people are going to say "Yes! I do have some change, but instead of giving it to you, I'm going to deposit it into this meter over here so that you can't get to it! Go to your local social service agency if you need money, but not the SRS, because Osama Bin Brownback shut it down."?

Also, Mexquisito? Sounds too much like Mosquito. Doesn't sound like a place I'd want to eat.

notanota 6 years, 8 months ago

I think the idea is that the panhandlers won't congregate in the areas where they see that someone else already has their hat out, especially if there's more chance the money in that meter is used to pay for food and not booze.

Jimo 6 years, 8 months ago

Yeah, but what do you do if the panhandler is a multinational bank seeking to socialize its losses (while privatizing its gains)?

notanota 6 years, 8 months ago

Talk to them over $350 bottles of wine?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 8 months ago

Let's see, if a multinational bank want to socialize its losses while privatizing its gains, then those who want to tax the wealthy (or corporations) at rates higher than the rest are just doing the same thing in reverse, right? Two side of the same coin, you can't have heads unless you have tails.

always4ever 6 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the update on Vermont Street BBQ. My husband is so excited for them to open!

cowboy 6 years, 8 months ago

Donation Meter , really That is the single most world class dumb idea I have heard since the last big idea Cromwell had. Does he sit on his porch at night getting fired up and think this stuff up ?

pizzapete 6 years, 8 months ago

It's probably over a bottle of whiskey and a jug of Free State that he comes up with this stuff. Although most people wake up the next morning and realize all those great ideas don't make as much sense when sober.

SWJayhawk13 6 years, 8 months ago

I don't know that the home being made over is in Ottawa, but there is going to be an event in KC next Tuesday evening to celebrate it.

Jillster 6 years, 8 months ago

How in the world are "donation meters" going to stop panhandling? It's still going to be easier for panhandlers to just keep on asking strangers for money rather than participate in any distribution of "donations." What motivation will they have to stop doing what works for them?

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

The idea is that instead of giving money to the panhandlers, people who want to help will put money in the meters instead.

So people won't be giving to the panhandlers directly, thus discouraging the behavior.

Nellane Laney Croan Stussie 6 years, 8 months ago

If the benefitting agencies don't hand out booze and drugs, I suspect donation meters will do little to reduce panhandling!

somebodynew 6 years, 8 months ago

And what will really happen to the donation meters is that some enterprising crook (homeless or not) will simply steal the $300 meter and take whatever change is in there. And before anyone laughs, it does happen occassionally to regular meters also - just doesn't get reported until there is a bunch of them.

oldbaldguy 6 years, 8 months ago

I like to come to Lawrence to shop/dine. I don't like the panhandlers, the dogs tied outside bars, the dog crap and cigarette butts on the sidewalks of Mass. I guess that is ambience of a college town. The meters are a dumb idea. As long as there is a wet shelter downtown there will always be a panhandler problem. Lawrence is too friendly to these yardbirds.

oldbaldguy 6 years, 8 months ago

I like to come to Lawrence to shop/dine. I don't like the panhandlers, the dogs tied outside bars, the dog crap and cigarette butts on the sidewalks of Mass. I guess that is ambience of a college town. The meters are a dumb idea. As long as there is a wet shelter downtown there will always be a panhandler problem. Lawrence is too friendly to these yardbirds.

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