Archive for Friday, July 15, 2011

Town Talk: Downtown roundtable event planned for Monday, questions sought for downtown leaders

July 15, 2011


News and notes from around town:

• Town Talk on Monday morning will be focusing on one part of town in particular. I’ll be moderating a “Downtown Roundtable” with four of the larger property owners and business leaders of downtown. The purpose of the roundtable is to bring together some downtown leaders who don’t always get a chance to sit down and have an extended conversation. I’ll pose several questions about downtown’s past and future and see where the conversation goes.

The four individuals who have agreed to participate are:

  1. Doug Compton, president of First Management Inc. and owner of multiple downtown properties.
  2. George Paley, a former downtown retailer who now owns multiple buildings throughout downtown.
  3. Bob Schumm, a city commissioner and a longtime restaurant owner who also owns commercial property downtown.
  4. Earl Reineman, vice president of Weavers Inc., the largest retailer in Downtown Lawrence.

The discussion will begin at about 9:45 a.m. on Monday. We’ll have a live blog of the discussion so you can follow along as it happens or read it later at your convenience. If you have some issues you’d like addressed, leave them in the comment section below and I’ll consider them for inclusion in the discussion.

In a few weeks (the timeline is still a little shaky) look for a broader article on downtown that examines ownership patterns along Massachusetts Street, how property values have changed and other issues surrounding the downtown.


News_to_me 6 years, 9 months ago

"downtown leaders who don't always get a chance to sit down and have an extended conversation." For my money, actions speak louder than words, but it should be interesting. You've definitely got four gentlemen with contrasting styles and motivations.

Mr. Reineman, how has Weaver's managed to survive all these years?

Why is rent so high downtown that small businesses struggle to stay there?

Mr. Compton (oh so many questions, but I'll be nice), what is the plan for the vacant lot just north of the Arts Center

How does the loss of longtime fixtures like The Palace, The Bayleaf and Round Corner Drug affect downtown?

Send some of those around the table.

squarepusher 6 years, 9 months ago

How about an "Up-town" roundtable? Not always about downtown, you know.

pinecreek 6 years, 9 months ago

1) What is needed to increase the 'quality' of the downtown merchant base? No offense to some of those on Mass St, but psychics and more bars don't cut it for most families and visitors.
2) The vacancy rates seem to be increasing a lot lately. Yes the economy is bad, but downtown has weathered this storm before. What is different this time? 3) Wish list question: if each participant at the roundtable could have 1 new retailer or specialty store (perhaps one you've seen in another city) locate in downtown Lawrence, what would that choice be?

antney 6 years, 9 months ago

Any plans for the vacant Borders Building? Can we get a grocery store? Trader Joes would be nice. Checkers would work as well.

Can we get some bike paths or sidewalks big enough for strollers?

Why can't we close Mass for pedestrian only traffic (like Boulder)?

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

Some cities have done well with downtown pedestrian malls, while others have found them not to work.

It's hard to know in advance which way it would go here.

A downtown grocery store sounds good - I hope the building doesn't just sit vacant for a few years.

lunacydetector 6 years, 9 months ago

downtown grocers don't work. a & p used to be downtown 30+ years ago. the building it was in is boarded up with for lease signs for at least a decade. there isn't good enough traffic flow. where would people park to carry their groceries anyway? people need to be realistic. hobbs taylor lofts has sat empty since it was built years ago and there are other large buildings that have sat empty for years as well. what could be the underlying problem as to why downtown has struggled the past decade? i certainly see a pattern of failure. i bet nobody else does, and 3 of the 4 players being interviewed don't either.

Sigmund 6 years, 9 months ago

How much more corporate welfare in the form of taxpayer subsidies do you intended to suck out of the local economy to protect your downtown investments? We didn't receive any thank your notes for your fire sprinklers that tax payers helped pay for, did they get lost in the mail?

Why do you always talk about "Our Downtown" when you need tax payer dollars for your businesses, yet the taxpayers never see our share of downtown profits from your "privately owned" businesses?

Generally what happens to vacancy rates when you lower rents?

Just how much equity did the average downtown landowners cash out with new loans when the economy was good and interest rates were low, and just how far underwater are they now? Which local bank do you think has the most exposure to bad loans downtown?

How many shoppers, and how many dollars, do you think the EmpTy brings to downtown Lawrence? Would you oppose a more rational routes for the EmpTy if that meant fewer buses used downtown as a hub?

For Commissioner Schumm, you recently gave the City Staff raises for their invaluable service, so why after this excellent staff recommends the Olive Garden project do you oppose it? Is it because you own a downtown restaurant and don't want the competition or is it because you own downtown commercial property and oppose anything that draws traffic to the South Iowa shopping district?

Finally, just how invaluable is Chad Lawhorn and the Lawrence Journal World as an advocate for your both political and commercial interests? If the World Company needed to cut back further on personnel and he was let go, just how much could he make as a private PR guy?

Carol Bowen 6 years, 9 months ago

We strolled downtown tonight. I hadn't had time to do that for years. My impression was that there are way too many places to eat and KU shops. It was disappointing.. The property values have been inflated by years of speculation. Any effort to plan the downtown has to address its problems and develop guidelines, so here are my topics:

  1. What should the downtown look like in10-20 years? What customer base are we looking for?

  2. Could we consider a plan with ratios of use? ( a percent for eating establishments, a percent for clothing, ...)

  3. How could we address the inflated property values? Local businesses cannot afford the costs downtown .

  4. What should the skyline look like? Decide before development?

Sigmund 6 years, 9 months ago

Here are the private businesses who got corporate welfare for their fire sprinklers:

Tellers, 746 Mass: George Paley Lawrence Masonic Temple, 1001 Mass: Consolidated Properties, aka Doug Compton Buffalo Bob's, 719 Mass: Bob Schumm Goldmakers, Peter Zacharias The Bayleaf, 725 Mass: Anne Yetman The Casbah, 803 Mass, David Millstein Hobbs, 700 Mass, Mark Swanson Silverworks and More, James & Cara Connelly

Recently there was $300,000 reduction in what the city spends each year to replace aging fire equipment despite the infrastructure sales tax voters approved in 2008 and the city agreed to spend about $500,000 of sales tax money each year to purchase new fire equipment.

Does the recent cut to the fire protection in the City of Lawrence, in spite of the the clear intention of the voters and promises of the Commissioners, concern downtown landowners less because they have taxpayer subsidized sprinklers? Do Commissioner Schumm, Mr. Paley, and Mr. Compton favor a special tax on all their properties to pay back those subsidies to mitigate the recent $300,000 reduction all of Lawrence now face in 2011?

Sigmund 6 years, 9 months ago

Recently the Commission approved another $28,094.29 as part of the KU lighted pathway project to downtown businesses. On average how much in additional revenues to downtown businesses do you expect from this project? Given all the different ways taxpayer money is used to benefit downtown businesses, at the expense to other areas of Lawrence, do you favor a Special Tax District to permanently fund all of these projects or do you like using general tax revenues for that benefit private downtown investments better?

Sylvie Rueff 6 years, 9 months ago

Would it be possible to reduce the focus on alcohol consumption in downtown Lawrence? Some towns and cities require any new alcohol licenses require 60% of sales dollars be for food. Certainly, we have as many bars as we need downtown. I understand, the sale of alcohol is the most profitable use of space; but, when it begins to affect livability, and quality of the downtown experience the profits are very short-term.

If food and shopping were the focus, later hours throughout the week, which might better serve working people, might be more attractive to merchants.

We just returned from Asheville, where a couple of large store spaces have been turned into art markets. There were no 'dead during the daytime' bar spaces we walked by as we shopped the attractive shops from large to tiny. There is a weekly downtown Art Market in the summer, as well as a several active theater/dance/music performance venues located off of alleys, at the edge of downtown, and up stairs. Of course, there are were more tourists downtown on the Saturday we were there than locals. But, wait...tourists are good, right?

As for that lot by the Art about planting some trees and having weekly Art Fairs there?

Sigmund 6 years, 9 months ago

sylviejr (anonymous) says… "Would it be possible to reduce the focus on alcohol consumption in downtown Lawrence? Some towns and cities require any new alcohol licenses require 60% of sales dollars be for food."

What a wonderful idea! That way current downtown investors, like Commissioner Schumm, who already have liquor licenses can more effectively prevent competition and keep their prices and profits high. Even better, we could restrict any new bars or restaurants from tearing down any old dilapidated empty buildings and constructing new ones anywhere in town (What? That would be illegal? Since when?). OK, let just keep all of our tax incentives and subsidies focused nearly exclusively on downtown and screw everyone else even though staff unanimously approve other projects. I wonder which Commissioner's we can get to go along with that?

Sigmund 6 years, 9 months ago

How much in Corporate Welfare does Mr. Compton want so he can develop the empty Masonic Temple now that he has tax subsidized fire sprinklers? Will he be asking this Commission for taxpayer dollars and abatement, or does he think he will wait to see if yet another Commissioner with investments in downtown can be elected to improve his odds? At what point will the Commission decide Mr. Compton behavior is "demolition by neglect" and begin issuing citations and imposing fines?

Sigmund 6 years, 9 months ago

Mr. Paley why has Teller's Italian food gone down hill so badly over the last 5 years? In your travels to Olathe, Overland Park, Kansas City, or Topeka have you ever eaten at a the very popular and profitable Olive Garden Italian Restaurants? Do you think it's popularity is due to its "value for money," its extensive menu, or it's "family friendly" (not to be confused with the every Tuesday night, from 10pm to close, when Teller's invites everyone, especially the LGBT community, to join us for Family Night, a Teller's tradition for over 18 years)?

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