Archive for Monday, July 25, 2011

Town Talk: UPDATE: Lowe’s files plans for West Lawrence store; I-70 Business Center may be landing major office tenant; City issues report on whether our streets are holding up

July 25, 2011, 10:40 a.m. Updated July 25, 2011, 3:14 p.m.


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News and notes from around town:

As we predicted would happen, Lowe's has filed plans at Lawrence City Hall to build a new 145,000-square-foot store at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Congressional Drive. The proposed site is just west of the Walmart at Sixth and Wakarusa. The plans — filed by local architect Paul Werner — propose the Lowe's store plus two other smaller buildings that would front on Sixth Street. The development proposal comes after city commissioners previously balked at plans to build a Lowe's near Sixth and Folks Road. Commissioners cited concerns about that project being too close to Free State High. The new proposal moves the store farther from the high school, but places it on land currently zoned for apartment development. Whether planners believe the area near Sixth and Wakarusa can support more retail development will be a major question with the project. Developers submitted information with the plans that indicate the area certainly can handle any additional traffic that would be created by a Lowe's. A private traffic engineer hired by the development group estimated that the Sixth and Wakarusa intersection is operating at 33 percent of its capacity, while the Sixth and Congressional intersection is operating at 18 percent of its capacity. The engineer estimates Lowe's would increase traffic volumes at the intersections by about 25 percent. I'll get you more information as I begin to talk to some of the players involved.

• Sources tell me to keep an eye on the former Tanger Factory Outlet Mall — now the I-70 Business Center — in North Lawrence. Word from multiple sources is that a major office user is set to locate in the former mall. No word yet on who the tenant is, other than it is an out-of-state company that currently has a Lawrence office but wants to have a larger presence in the city. Job numbers also are sketchy, but it sounds like the company could be adding 50 or more jobs. The deal, which I hear will be finalized soon, would bring the I-70 Business Center space to near capacity. That would be quite a transformation for the property, which often has been pointed at as an example of development gone bad because it sat largely vacant for years as the outlet mall phase faded in Lawrence. Now, the center is home to the corporate headquarters of Protection One security, serves as a call center for a home oxygen supplier, houses the state driver’s license office and several other smaller tenants. It always seemed like the property should work as an office park. It obviously has great access to the Kansas Turnpike and it has one of the larger parking lots in the city. Perhaps its time has finally come.

• If you want to understand Lawrence streets, you need to understand fly ash. Yes, fly ash. It is a by-product of burnt coal from power plants, and when you mix it with water it becomes hard like concrete. The city of Lawrence requires that fly-ash be mixed with dirt to create a solid base for new streets that are built in town. But it wasn’t always that way. And as the mantra in City Hall goes, that is one of the major reasons that Lawrence seems to have more than its fair share of crumbling streets.

But, is that mantra true? City commissioners asked the city’s performance auditor to check in on the issue. His new audit on pavement data is now out. Basically, he found that the fly-ash is making a difference in the quality of streets, and that the public works department does a good job of monitoring the changing world of pavement design to ensure the city doesn’t fall behind the curve again.

For those of you hoping to find answers about why the city fell behind in the first place, you won’t find many here. The audit simply notes that the city changed its street standards in 2003 — that’s when Public Works Director Chuck Soules joined the city — but that “some other area communities had raised their standards years before Lawrence.” We’ve written an article about that subject before, even talking to the city’s former public works director who said he certainly wishes the city would have used more fly ash and more common sense in some cases. It also points out that the treated base issue isn’t the only reason our streets are crumbling.

As for what the audit did find:

  1. The audit compared streets built in 2002 without the fly-ash and streets built in 2003 with it. The report found that 76 percent of non-residential streets built without the fly-ash treatment had potholes. That compares to 41 percent of the streets that were built using the treatment.
  2. Based on current pavement data — collected by public works employees who inspect and rate the condition of each street in the city — non-residential streets built with the fly ash treatment are expected to last 25 percent to 40 percent longer before they need crack sealing, microsurfacing or mill and overlay.
  3. Only 10 percent of the 205 miles of streets built in the 1980s and 1990s had a fly-ash treated sub-grade. In the last decade, 70 percent of newly built streets have treated subgrades.
  4. Public Works officials are monitoring street conditions and construction standards more closely, and are implementing more frequent changes in construction standards. For example, last year the city changed its construction standards related to the use of recycled asphalt after officials began noticing the material seemed to be wearing at a much faster rate than standard asphalt. Since 2009, the city has been hosting an annual meeting with area contractors during which the city communicates changes to design standards.

City Auditor Michael Eglinski’s only recommendation for the city was to create a formal policy on how to maintain brick streets. The city for years has struggled with whether they should rebuild brick streets as brick or whether they should be replaced with traditional asphalt or concrete. It is definitely a money issue. Brick streets cost about three times as much to build as a conventional street.

City Manager David Corliss, in his response to the audit, said he agreed that a policy should developed. He said that one option could be that numbered streets that run east/west could be rebuilt with concrete or asphalt, while brick streets that run north/south could be rebuilt with brick. Those north/south streets tend to be more residential in nature, Corliss noted. Plus, he said the bricks from the east/west streets could be salvaged and used in rebuilding the north/south streets. Expect that idea, or something like it, to be presented to the City Commission in the future.

City commissioners tentatively are scheduled to review the findings of the audit at their Aug. 2 meeting.

• Speaking of changes at City Hall, look for one in the economic development arena. Corey Mohn, the city’s economic development coordinator, will be leaving the city position at the end of this week. Mohn will take a leadership position with Network Kansas. The organization is a statewide network that helps entrepreneurs and business start-ups with financing and other issues. The group — also known as the Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship — recently received another $10.5 million to distribute as seed capital for business start-ups and expansions. I expect to be hearing more about this group in the future. I understand that the cities of Baldwin, Eudora and Lecompton are putting together an application to work together to create a program that would allow businesses in those communities to access that funding. More on that in the future.

As for Mohn, he’s been with the city for only a few months. He came to the position from the Kansas Department of Commerce. He replaced Roger Zalneraitis, who left Lawrence to become the executive director of an economic development agency in Colorado. I haven’t had a chance to talk to City Manager David Corliss about Mohn’s departure, but I assume the position will be filled. Economic development has been a priority of the commission. This position does all the analysis of incentive requests the city receives, and also works with the Chamber of Commerce to provide information to new businesses and firms looking to expand.


irvan moore 6 years, 11 months ago

if you have a guy in a position like that who leaves after a few months there is something really wrong someplace.

conservative 6 years, 11 months ago

Beatnik I agree. Either the guy is completely incapable of handling the job, or more likely since he already has a new higher profile job, he figured out Lawrence would shoot itself in the foot with regards to any economic development. Congratulations to Corey for getting out quickly before this town could tarnish his resume.

gccs14r 6 years, 11 months ago

I really don't like comparisons such as "It is definitely a money issue. Brick streets cost about three times as much to build as a conventional street." when there doesn't appear to be a maintenance or longevity component included in the calculation. If the street costs three times as much to build, but needs only one-tenth of the maintenance and lasts five times longer, then the so-called expensive street ends up being cheaper overall.

gccs14r 6 years, 11 months ago

Oh, and if we'd use granite cobbles instead of brick, the streets would last even longer.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

Coal fly ash is said to be quite toxic and radioactive.

The info is not hard to find...

Bob Forer 6 years, 11 months ago

I wonder if City Auditor Mike Eglinski is the same person who grew up in Lawrence and attended Central Junior High at the same time I was there. That Mike was at short end of some unwarranted bullying by a few kids. If it is the same guy, I am tickled to see that he overcame such gratuitous and underserved bullying, and now plays an important part in our city government, a job which he appears to do quite well. Good for you Mike. To all kids out there who are the targets of bullies, remember, there is life after junior high and high school. It gets better, trust me.

NotASquishHead 6 years, 11 months ago

Sweet! Bring on Lowe's! Change the zoning, we need a Lowe's much more than we need more apartments.

devobrun 6 years, 11 months ago

I live on the northwest corner of town and I do a lot of construction/fix it projects. Home Depot is adequate but way down south. It is especially challenging to get there with Kasold under construction.

Lowe's is better than Home Depot and if it is on 6th street, wow. It'll save me $50/week in gas and time. I vote in favor of it ASAP.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 11 months ago

Adequate, Home Depot is adequate. Sums up Lawrence thinking. devo, have you ever thought a Lowe's could be competition bringing in more out of towners which builds our sales tax revenues.

We don't live in the Soviet Union, we can have more than one choice.

Mel Wedermyer 6 years, 11 months ago

Just the extreme Right (All the time) egging them on.

LogicMan 6 years, 11 months ago

Lowes: "The proposed site is just west of the Walmart at Sixth and Wakarusa."

Excellent! Thanks for taking our suggestions.

Git 'er done!

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

Why can't they submit a plan that proposes locating in an area that is currently zoned for their kind of project?

jafs 6 years, 11 months ago

According to another story on this subject, there's a site about a mile west on 6th street from this location that's zoned for it.

kantubek 6 years, 11 months ago

"rebuild bricks streets as brick"

"he agrees that a policy should developed."

plz fix


kshiker 6 years, 11 months ago

This better get approved. That piece of land is clearly appropriate for big box retail.

Elaine Elliott 6 years, 11 months ago

Can we just concede and say that 6th and Wakarusa is going to turn into Overland Park, Lenexa, or any other town full of strip malls and corporate super stores?

Elaine Elliott 6 years, 11 months ago

I preferred it when it was trees and grass, not Taco Bell and WalMart. But, I mean if someone has to build out there it might as well be Lowe's or some other super store that will cripple small business owners. Lowe's needs the money.

kantubek 6 years, 11 months ago

I'm with cheeseburger.

I'd much rather see another area (albeit smaller/more contained) like the South Iowa defacto mall on West Sixth, than more empty houses, duplexes, apartments, and condominiums. There is no shortage of available housing out west, but there definitely are some holes in the commercial side of things.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 11 months ago

If they would lower rents they wouldn't sit empty. This city isn't short on housing, it's short on affordable housing.

LadyJ 6 years, 11 months ago

Hmm, if Lowe's could incorporate some sort of indoor track in the plans, and maybe put a few exercise machines around the store, and perhaps a small basketball court in the parking lot in the plans then we wouldn't need to build a rec center for West Lawrence. When they have the how-to clinics, they could also have and exercise class or two. The West Lawrence residents would probably heartily support building a Lowe's then.

LogicMan 6 years, 11 months ago

Get outside and build something! That's a true workout, in place of a fake one in a stinky, germy gym.

Bob Forer 6 years, 11 months ago

As long as Lowe's is not looking for a government handout, I have no problem with the project. They sell quality products--better than Home Depot--and the added competition will probably drive down prices, at least until one forces the other out of business.

WilburM 6 years, 11 months ago

Maybe the City Commission actually knew what they were doing in denying the previous Lowe's request. This is where the store should have been built all along. somehow, Lowe's is managing. Amazing.

somebodynew 6 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, WilburM, I agree. Kudos to the CC for standing their ground and not bowing down to bail out a developer. This is where it should be located and, at least in this instance, the CC did the right thing, so, thank you.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

West Lawrence developers anxious to sell their real estate keep pushing Lowe's at the expense of putting Home Depot out of business = no net gain in jobs or tax revenue but a net gain in empty retail buildings = drag on taxpayers.

After taxpayers were forced to lay out $2million just for street design to meet Home Depot demands.

pizzapete 6 years, 11 months ago

Who is the developer that's pushing for Lowes? Just wondering.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 11 months ago

"Schools, parks, recreation programs, and libraries are starved. Almost always, these city councils would be far better served putting the money in upgrades to local Main Street businesses, rather than financing the competitor that will kill them."

David Cay Johnston then boggled the crowd with a blunt assertion: "We pay billions of dollars in taxes that never get to the government." Much of the sales tax we pay at big box stores and shopping centers is diverted to the large companies that own the stores or the developers.

It's just one of the many swindles these chains have learned to perpetrate against city and county governments.

This is so effective that the Cabela family, which owns a chain of big-box sporting goods stores, receives 137% of its profits from taxpayer subsidies. If they couldn't work this scam, they wouldn't be in business at all.

The heart of the wealth transfer is tax increment financing (TIF). Store owners come to town leaders and offer to build a new store that, they promise, will "create jobs." In exchange, the city gives them the land, builds the store to their specifications, and finances it all with tax-free municipal bonds (which are usually held by associates of the store owners).

To cap it all, the store keeps the sales tax generated in the store to pay off the bond holders. If the store is built on government land, it's also exempt from paying any property taxes.

Why do city governments take such a blatantly bad deal? Many of them are struggling, and believe that a new big box store will bring in shoppers from all over—shoppers who will stick around and shop in their town. It never works out that way. Under stiff competition the small shops go out of business, taking the town's tax base with them.

Schools, parks, recreation programs, and libraries are starved. Almost always, these city councils would be far better served putting the money in upgrades to local Main Street businesses, rather than financing the competitor that will kill them."

David Cay Johnston - 20 years with the New York times assigned to tax dollar issues. And a registered republican from the old school.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 11 months ago

You are forgetting that attribution thing again in your rush to repeat these lies, merrill.

7texdude 6 years, 11 months ago

I'm just curious, but how many people work at Home Depot and the other smaller hardware stores? Lowe's will probably crush them and they could go under. I really don't care about Lowe's or Home Depot, but how does 50 new jobs at Lowe's make a larger local workforce when other businesses lose those same jobs?

Is the new Lowe's bigger in size than Home Depot, too? If so, then why do new businesses get sweeter deals than the current ones? That doesn't make much sense to me. I understand the nature of business (the strong survive), but don't understand the logic of how a new business will be great for Lawrence when an older one fails.Someone please explain.

droppinplates 6 years, 11 months ago

Home Depot is not going to go under if a Lowes is built. To think so is rediculous.

LogicMan 6 years, 11 months ago

Maybe HD will look to expand their store to compete better? Best Buy, or more of the trailer park, would be where they would look. Or what's to their north, to make the store deeper?

Flap Doodle 6 years, 11 months ago

If Lowe's agrees not to sell planet-killing internal combustion lawn mowers, I will welcome them with open arms.

Kookamooka 6 years, 11 months ago

There is NOTHING worse than being the guy who woos the companies into a town that rejects them flatly.

Ironically, the one thing that could instantly improve Lawrence is a Children's Museum or other entertainment venue for families off of I-70 in North Lawrence. Tourism. Utilize the brilliant artistic minds that grow in Lawrence like weeds. Weeds because they are under appreciated and devalued.

How about a Stan Herd designed Golf Course with crop art bunkers and a artists designed Mini-Golf course with moving sculptures for extra challenge! OR a tree house hotel on the banks of the Kaw. Develop the river for rafting and canoeing or a sightseeing boat/restaurant for events. There are beautiful water spots in Lawrence, we just don't have access to them.

Build it and they will come. Unfortunately, all we know how to finance in this town is MULTI FAMILY housing units that don't get rented. ENOUGH!

Rae Hudspeth 6 years, 11 months ago

Speaking as a resident who has spent more of her tax dollars at the Shawnee Lowe's than she cares to admit, I'll be GLAD to have a Lowe's in town. I'll still pick up a few things at Home Depot when I'm down that area, same as before, and the odd bits from Ernst Hardware downtown. I'm pretty sure I'm not in the minority here. A competitive market is a healthy market for town revenue.

Now, if we can just get some reasonable alternatives for Internet providers....!

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