Archive for Monday, July 18, 2011

Live blog: Downtown property owners discuss future of Downtown Lawrence

July 18, 2011, 9:55 a.m. Updated July 18, 2011, 11:07 a.m.


11:07 a.m. update

Chad's closing the discussion by asking each of the men here what they'd like to see in downtown Lawrence.

Paley: Events. More and more people have come down and enjoyed them, but we need more, different events downtown, bringing more people down here.

Reineman: More retail. More parking. First choice would be to see a CVS pharmacy or a Walgreens.

Compton: The more family-friendly we can make it, the better. We have to keep our focus on the balance of what we give people when we bring them downtown. Wants to see a grocery store or a market come downtown. His focus, if he develops other side of 9th and New Hampshire, is to get some sort of market.

Schumm: More people living downtown. Also, more engagement with the arts community so we have either an art retail center or otherwise support our local artists in downtown.

11:01 a.m.

The conversation has turned to incentives, and whether we need incentives to develop downtown Lawrence.

Reineman and Paley lead off saying we have to identify the right incentives and right opportunities using incentives.

Some redevelopments can't be done without public incentives, the group agreed.

Chad asks whether rebating property taxes — something that has become more popular recently — is going to be the way we get downtown redevelopment projects done.

Paley says he thinks most residents do not want an entertainment-only downtown. And if you begin looking longer term, he says, incentives are one way to make sure that downtown maintains a good mix of entertainment, business and retail.

Schumm says that Lawrence tourism usually is keyed either to KU or downtown. If we let downtown go down, or become strictly an entertainment district, we'll hate ourselves.

Schumm said when he went door-to-door campaigning, mostly west of Iowa Street, the comments he heard most were fix the infrastructure — roads and the like — and make sure you preserve downtown. He senses a lot of interest in keeping the area whole.

10:55 a.m.

"The real key (to downtown's future) is a balance between restaurants, a balance between bars, a balance between retail," Reineman said. "The community needs to keep an eye on that balance."

Moving from that discussion, Chad asked about parking. There's discussion of expanding the size of the new library parking garage even further.

"We need more parking downtown," Reineman said. "There's a perception among people that there's not parking when you come downtown. We need to do everything we can to alleviate that perception."

Paley said there are plenty of parking garages in Iowa City, and it makes it easier to find parking. Reineman says the success of downtown starts with parking.

Compton said there have been discussions dating back to the 80s about parking.

Schumm said that he's in favor of maxing out the available parking at the library.

"This is the one opportunity we have to put in a number of new spaces to support the north end of downtown," Schumm said.

Schumm pointed out that this garage will support the library, the pool and the senior center.

The consensus is that Lawrence has to max out the number of available parking spots that can be added at the library parking garage.

10:46 a.m. update

Schumm makes the point that "once you lose your retail, it's gone for good."

Now, retail is often being pushed out by entertainment. But it hasn't always been that way.

In the 80s, when city leaders were trying to figure out how to improve downtown, they focused on getting more entertainment.

"That really took off well."

Schumm said restaurants have taken off so well because people see the crowds and think they have to eat or drink. But he doesn't expect much more growth in restaurants downtown.

"We've hit the saturation point. Any new restaurants are going to cannibalize from existing ones," Schumm said.

The new downtown task force is going to look at whether there's an ideal mix of businesses downtown, and whether the city should do anything to preserve that mix, Schumm said. Compton said in some communities, cities limit the number of liquor licenses available downtown.

10:39 a.m. update

Based on Schumm's comments, the discussion migrated toward hours.

Paley said he never kept his store open late, but some people it's really beneficial for.

Reineman says if Weaver's felt they could be profitable by staying open late, they would. But right now, they can't.

Compton said one of his tenants, Buckle, does a big portion of its business after 5 p.m.

10:36 a.m. update

Chad started to ask about whether it was an advantage or disadvantage that downtown Lawrence is not a major home for national retailers.

Paley said that when the economy went south, national retailers started shutting stores. But they'll be back, he said.

Schumm said he's talked to national retailers before, and they don't like downtowns. Plus, they don't like dealing with non-professional real estate developers.

"It's a formula that has worked over and over for them," Schumm said. "We don't have consistent store hours — we've tried — but that's what they're looking for."

Reineman points out that many national retailers in downtown Lawrence have not been high performers. He says Lawrence isn't yet a large community. As we continue to grow, we'll be able to support those sort of stores, he said.

Reineman also pointed out that another problem is the 7,000 or so cars who leave Lawrence every day for jobs in Topeka or Kansas City.

"As we talk about the health of downtown, we need to talk about the jobs we have in Lawrence," he said.

10:31 a.m. update

Compton says property taxes and property values downtown are the biggest impediment to doing deals.

Schumm said the only way that will change is a market correction — as sale prices go down, values will go down and property taxes will go down.

Chad asked about why the parking garage development at 10th and New Hampshire didn't generate more activity.

Schumm said that what Lawrence had going for it, "being a real downtown" became less of an exlusive advantage as the Legends and Zona Rosa developed along the same lines of downtown.

Reineman also pointed out that South Iowa Street developed along the same timeline.

10:25 a.m. update

Chad asked specifically about closing down streets permanently, specifically mentioning 8th Street, which is closed often.

Schumm said he'd be willing to consider it, or at least take public comment.

Reineman said he'd love to have a gathering place in downtown, but he's not eager to close streets. He thinks that would contribute to the misperception that it's hard to get around downtown.

Paley said it would be hard to close any of Massachusetts Street, and Schumm made it abundantly clear he had no interest in closing any of Mass, but he thinks it could work to close 8th Street, and change 7th or 10th streets to help aid traffic flow.

Compton said he knows people like having a gathering place. He said he got beat up over eliminating the wall where downtown played movies during the summer.

10:21 a.m. update

Paley complimented Weaver's for being price competitive with business around town, and for being able to endure through good times and bad.

Schumm said "any wholesome activity that puts people on the streets is good for downtown."

Reineman said "we're a youthful, active community and we have a youthful, active downtown. You go to a lot of other downtowns, and they're a ghost town."

Schumm said that there are a hundred different ways to encourage people to come downtown at more hours of the day. And when there are more people, they're like a magnet for even more people.

Paley highlighted Iowa City's downtown as one that's been interesting. He even pointed out that they've closed a couple of blocks permanently and there are kids who love it.

10:14 a.m. update

Paley, who walked in a couple minutes late and is just getting into the conversation, said he's had to cut his rental rates to fill his buildings up. He also said that it's important to maintain a critical mass of retailers.

"I feel like I've had my good times," he said. "Now my tenants are just beating me up."

Compton said he has two meetings this week with existing tenants to discuss how he can keep them.

Reineman said, as a retailer, the cost of doing business has just skyrocketed.

10:08 a.m. update

Compton said he's been able to lease out his most recent building, "perhaps because of how aggressive we've been on rent."

Schumm said the market sales price of buildings downtown has probably topped out, and might have even started to come down. Compton said that will enable landlords to charge lower rents.

"I think concessions are being made, probably more concessions that have been made in the past," he said.

Compton said that while rents have come down, construction costs have not. Schumm said that the Borders building is on sale for 25 or 50 percent of what you'd have to charge, just to cover your costs, on new construction.

Reineman and Schumm both said that banks are being much more cautious, which makes it very hard for landlords to buy buildings and entrepreneurial retailers to start new businesses.

Schumm also pointed out that online retailing is making a bigger impact on retail every year. He said state leaders could do something — charge sales tax — to even it out, but that would only accomplish so much.

10:02 a.m. update

All of the participants today say that the future of downtown will be tied to all of the other types of businesses that downtown residents would need: grocery stores, pharmacies and the like.

They agreed it will take more residents than will come with Compton's building, but Reineman said it's an "incremental" step forward.

Reineman also said that it will be crucial to strengthen surrounding neighborhoods.

Chad asked about the high profile closings that have hit downtown recently. Maurice's, Arensburg, Border's, Penny Annie's and Bay Leaf.

Schumm reminded everyone that jut a few decades ago, all the car dealerships and a couple of grocery stores were downtown. They closed, but other businesses filled in.

Schumm said it's crucial that we take those advantages as an opportunity to redevelop.

Reineman said he was more concerned by the wave of retail closings because, as a retailer, he wants to be located near other retailers.

"We want potential shoppers — the people who live in South Lawrence or West Lawrence to think of downtown when they think of going shopping," he said. "For downtown retail to flourish, we need a lot of retailers downtown."

9:58 a.m. update

Doug Compton weighed in that Treanor Architects coming to downtown is a big deal. Reineman says the more people that work and live downtown, "that's the key for downtown."

Schumm said Compton's development at 9th and New Hampshire is the best thing that's happened to downtown in 10 years.

Schumm says the reason Compton's development is so much better even than Hobbs-Taylor is that 9th and New Hampshire will include rentals and other property that will have year-round residents. Hobbs-Taylor has many residents who just use it for visiting.

Compton also said he's heard a lot of interest in the vacant Border's building.

9:54 a.m. update

We're gathered in the parlor of the News Center with City Commissioner Bob Schumm, developer Doug Compton, Weaver's vice president Earl Reineman and landlord George Paley.

Chad Lawhorn will be moderating the discussion and I will be keeping the online discussion going.

Chad opened up the discussion with a question about how healthy is downtown. The general consensus: it's been rough, but it's getting better.

"Downtown in a comeback phase," Reineman said.

Bob Schumm said he was worried about number of vacancies last year.

"But now I see that there are vacancies all over Lawrence, and all over the country, really," he said.


Vinny1 6 years, 10 months ago

Of course Treanor going in downtown and the new development at 9th/NH is great. However many people in Lawrence will continue to say its bad because they are ignorant and don't like change.

debbyw 6 years, 10 months ago

Isn't it odd that you state people you don't agree with you are ignorant and don't like change. I think you might be the ignoratnt one, because you don't understand that people do not have to agree or accept change. It does not make them ignorant, but comments like your's shows your ignorance

Vinny1 6 years, 10 months ago

The ignorance is directed at the fact that these people don't want any new development downtown, something that is not only good, but also needed, because it is change.

I can't tell you how many people I know that were against the Oread being built, and now not only use it, but like it. They were just scared of change in the first place and ignorant to the facts of what new development would bring.

towardtheblue 6 years, 10 months ago

specifically regarding retail (not income tax revenue) i'm not sure about the impact of the 7,000 cars that leave town for jobs in topeka/kc... i'm one of them. it seems to me the way lawrence is situated is ideal for retail, as professionals whose jobs are in larger markets seek out a town with a different identity, and can spend their free time and discretionary income in a different "home" community. and i may work elsewhere, but i spend significantly more time and money downtown (and refueling in lawrence) than i do in the kc metro. we go downtown (or to south park) for events. however if there were a greater selection of family-oriented entertainment and dining venues, or if it felt like a pedestrian destination, we'd spend even more time downtown.

wowiekt08 6 years, 10 months ago

If you want to see a pharmacy downtown why CVS or Walgreens? Because they're open 24 hours? Wouldn't an independent pharmacy be more fitting for this community? It was really sad to see Round Corner go, but I would love to see another independent pharmacy take it's place. Something very similar to Round Corner Pharmacy in downtown Leavenworth would likely be as successful in Lawrence.

Jonathan Kealing 6 years, 10 months ago

Having sat in the room, I can say they were as interested in the pharmacy aspects of those stores as they were in it being a sort of convenience store, with milk, bread, eggs, etc.

d_prowess 6 years, 10 months ago

I interpreted the desire for a Walgreens or CVS not to be specifically for the pharmacy, but for the general store aspect that those businesses bring. You can pop into one of those stores and get almost anything!

pizzapete 6 years, 10 months ago

Asking Compton how to fix downtown reminds me of Dick Cheney asking Enron execs how to fix the nations energy crisis. When one person owns a quarter of the downtown buildings and consistently raises the rates to 2 or 3 times there previous rents, that person is more of the problem than the solution to what is destroying retail downtown.

blindrabbit 6 years, 10 months ago

Balderdash! The downtown merchants know full-well what is needed to preserve the downtown so it has a future. Just get off your arses and apply what has been suggested in past forums: Among them:

Standard hours of operation Keep the streets and sidewalks clean, including gum removal provide a venue for outdoor art/music/movie exhibitions get Loring Henderson to straighten out the homeless issues Stop panhandling Close off either (or Both) 8th and 10th Streets between Vermont and New Hamp. Get rid of the naysayers business owner types Get The City, DLI and The Chamber to actually work together Need more town/gown interaction Keep store owners and help from using Mass.St. parking during business hours Move visitor center kiosk to downtown Make something useful out of Watkins City Museum Further beautify downtown; planters have really helped, contrary to what Wildgen said

scary_manilow 6 years, 10 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

gudpoynt 6 years, 10 months ago

parking could go multi-story between 8th and 9th on Vermont street, and between 8th, 9th, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Move the farmer's market to the (former) Border's parking lot and across the street in the lot between 7th & 8th on N.H.

You wanna draw West Lawrencians to downtown? Lobby like hell to put a Trader Joe's in where Border's used to be. It's a scientific fact that suburbanites and hipsters alike LOVE Trader Joe's. And it would make the parking lot an even more ideal location for the farmer's market. I imagine the farmers market in a grocery store parking lot would be equally beneficial for both enterprises more than detrimentally competitive. Heck, the added competition might force the vendors at the farmer's to start charging reasonable prices.

Also, I think Compton owes downtown a place to watch outdoor movies. How about an old school, stone ampitheatre on the SE corner of 9th and N.H., next to the arts center. Perfect location, plenty of space, can work closely with the arts center to do out door shows and films. Can use the North wall of the arts center as a film screen.

And it's right next to Compton's new project, so residents and retail are less than 100 feet away.

These millions dollars ideas are free to the public. Your welcome.

Vinny1 6 years, 10 months ago

And then how long before people are complaining of the noise from these outdoor movies?

Scott Morgan 6 years, 10 months ago

Lobby like hell to put a Trader Joe's

Yes, say pretty please with sugar on it, add we are Lawrence too. Tax incentives are what these places listen to. Lawrence is full of lookers, not buyers. Borders found this out quickly.

More like it would be toss the Borders keys to the Trader Vics organization no charge. Maybe just maybe they would consider.

We say add a Merc downtown leadership of places like like Legends laugh. Hey honey, instead of attending a comedy show and our choice of 25 dinning joints, let's go look at organically grown lettuce and the funny bald guys with ponytails.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

Actually, the Lawrence Borders stores is one of the stores that was breaking even financially, which is better than some of them were doing - it's a bit surprising that they chose to close it.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 10 months ago

No way. New building, low relative income. Jafs, I believe you, but have you gotten your figures wrong?

gudpoynt 6 years, 10 months ago

The Merc isn't going to move. Why would they? They're on the street that separates East form West. They're right in the middle, and they have benefited from that. No reason to move. (Remember that their previous location was at 9th and Mississippi).

I mention Trader Joe's because:

a) it's experiencing a popularity boom in our area. I think it would do well. Yes, it's kind of a hippie store, but it's a cheap hippie store. Have you ever been there? Pretty cheap.. not Checkers cheap, but definitely Dillons cheap.

b) the former Border's location isn't exactly in East lawrence, but it's still a good grocery store location. The nearest two grocery stores would be Dirty Dillons and the Merc. But... it would be the nearest grocery store for the Pickney neighborhood, most of Old West Lawrence, All of North Lawrence (unless you cross the river on the Turnpike), and anyone living East of Mass and North of 11th streets. Not to mention, all people who happen to be shopping downtown and who need to hit up a grocery store during their trip.

Your comparison between the Legends and the Merc is apples to oranges. You're comparing household discretionary spending (comedy clubs, restaurants) with non-discretionary spending (groceries).

But alas, Trader Joe's would probably steer clear no matter what we offered them because a) part of their bread and butter is super cheap wines, which they won't be able to sell in KS, and b) between the Merc, the new Natural Foods store coming to 23rd and Naismith, and the dirty Dillon's renovation do not bode well for a new grocery store specializing in natrual foods.

Furthermore, even if a Trader Joe's did come to where Borders was, shoppers would still have to leave downtown for housewares and toiletries.

I'm afraid a Walgreens or CVS would probably have a much better chance there because of this last detail.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

I like the idea of a Walgreen's or CVC store downtown in the former Borders building. Trader Joe's, sounds great. Any chance The Merc would like to expand. That would be fantastic (even though I live closer to it's current location).
And yes, I'd be in favor of incentives being given because the benefits to downtown and the city as a whole outweighs any short term cost to the city.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 10 months ago

OMG, a biscuit and gravy hippy joint went belly up down there, and we think major companies are standing in line to lose money. Good golly, 3 buck breakfasts, no employee benefits, low rent, and no profit. Yes, they went belly up.

Yes, what a business climate. Add in hairy wet shelter dirty men and women begging for money then some unique hand made printer paper magic marker advertising, wow, what a deal. Oh, we can all point to Free State Brewery with pride and say something on the order what a wonderful place it is.

Folks, everybody everywhere has a Free State Brewery now.

Manhattan has is right, local well oiled (money to operate) and local ownership.

funkdog1 6 years, 10 months ago

Later hours, later hours, later hours. as one of the movers and shakers in the article pointed out, 7,000 cars leave this town every day to work and those folks don't get back to town until after Mass street has shut down for the day. DUH. Those are the people with MONEY. Also, retailers need to open before noon on Sundays. Downtown is FULL of people going out to breakfast on Sunday (Teller's, Macelis, Mirth, Milton's, Wheatfield's, the Eldridge ...who have I forgotten?) and then they finish their breakfast and wander around looking in the windows of closed stores. It's absolutely insane.

If a majority of the downtown stores would agree to stay open until 9 p.m. every night, and if Downtown Lawrence Inc. did a decent job of promoting the fact that downtown was open, I guarantee business would increase. At the very least, downtown should be open until 9 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday when people are out dining and drinking. Plenty of folks would be willing to loosen up the purse strings after a couple of drinks.

Wallgreens downtown? Ugh. I'd really prefer to see an independent business take on that role. A Merc expansion is a nice idea.

irvan moore 6 years, 10 months ago

downtown was a nice place 25 years ago, now not so much

Vinny1 6 years, 10 months ago

No grocer/convenience store is going to go in downtown until more people live there. Probably more people than will live in Compton's current project.

And then how long until people start complaining because the Dirty Dillions is getting renovated and "There is already a grocery story on Mass"? That crowd will set in as soon as anything new is proposed.

Lawrence Morgan 6 years, 10 months ago

Gudpoynt has some especially great ideas.

Journal-World, why not give us a transcript of the whole evening? The bit-by-bit aspect is useful, but the whole evening in a transcript or video would be much better to go from.

And I wonder who lives in other towns, such as Iowa City, Palo Alto, Corvallis - who reads the Journal World and could give us many other ideas?

Kookamooka 6 years, 10 months ago

Creative public spaces with fountains, place to have outdoor events...etc.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 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?

Asked, not answered.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 months ago

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?

Asked, not answered.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 months ago

Generally what happens to vacancy rates when you lower rents?

Asked and answered.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 months ago

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?

Asked, not answered.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 months ago

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?

Asked, not answered.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 months ago

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?

Asked, not answered.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 months ago

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?

Asked, not answered, but as plain as day.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 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?

Asked, but not answered.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 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?

Asked, but not answered.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 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?

Asked, but not answered.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 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)?

Asked, but not answered.

Sigmund 6 years, 10 months ago

Isn't it great how LJWorld solicit questions for "downtown leaders" and they won't ask them a single tough question.

How nice is it to have Chad Lawhorn as PR hack to push your political and business interests and to keep Lawrence's tax incentives and subsidies focused nearly exclusively on downtown. Would you say using Chad as a shill is "really sweet" or "totally necessary" to manipulating the city government to help out your bottom line?

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