News and notes from around town:
• A half-year is in the books for Lawrence builders, and new numbers are out that show the industry is still a bit like a bent nail — it is still getting some work done but it is not looking very pretty in the process. Through June, builders have started 59 single-family or duplex homes in the city. That is down from 2010 totals, when 75 new projects were started. But the numbers are up from 2009 (39 projects) and 2008 (49 projects.) The bad news is that all of those years have been considered dismal in Lawrence building circles. Builders — and to a certain degree, the city’s economy —had become accustomed to building more than 300 homes a year. So, it looks like the building industry isn’t at rock bottom levels anymore, but now the question has become: Are these lower numbers the new normal? For the Lawrence economy, a lot rides on the answer.
There has been one type of construction, though, that has picked up in the city. Construction of apartment units is having a pretty good year. Through June, the city has issued permits for 126 apartment units. That’s up from 83 during the same time period of 2010.
Plus, there have been some good-sized projects started in Lawrence, and unlike in past years, many of them have been started by the private sector rather than government. Here’s a list of the 10 largest building permits issued to this point in 2011:
- Bowersock north bank power plant: $11.3 million
- Comfort Inn & Suites, 150 N. Iowa: $3.3 million. (Next to the Hallmark plant.)
- Wastewater treatment plant improvements, 1408 E. Eighth Street: $3.1 million.
- Crossgate Casitas apartments, 2451 Crossgate Drive: $2.1 million
- Hy-Vee renovation, 3405 Clinton Parkway: $2 million
- Northwind Apartments, 200 N. Mich.: $1.3 million.
- Single-family dwelling, 1716 Lake Alavamar Drive: $1.1 million (See, not everyone is broke.)
- PKV Dental Offices, 530 Folks Road: $1 million.
- LMH information technology/business health remodel, 325 Maine: $867,834.
- Plastikon Industries remodel, 3780 Greenway Circle: $800,000.
In total, the city has issued permits for $49.8 million worth of projects. That’s up from $47.6 million during the same period last year. So, we’re on pace for about $100 million worth of projects in 2011. What’s that? You want another list. Well, here’s a list that shows how that $100 million pace compares to the number of new projects started in past years.
- 2006: $171.4 million
- 2001: $152.2 million
- 2003: $150.5 million
- 2008: $146.4 million
- 2002: $141.5 million
- 2005: $131.2 million
- 2004: $117.7 million
- 2007: $104.4 million
- 2010: $101.8 million
- 2009: $75.3 million
In case your Rainman-like math abilities have failed you, the 10-year average is about $130 million. If this year’s total comes in at about $100 million, that would represent about a 30 percent decline in business for builders. Tough, but not nearly as tough as the 55 percent drop the industry experienced in 2009.
I’m still waiting for numbers that show real estate sales totals for the first half of 2011. When I get those, I’ll pass them along.
• There’s a new type of clothing store in Downtown Lawrence. Obsessions has opened in the spot at 937 Mass. The store, according to its owners, carries both men’s and women’s clothing. Shoppers won’t notice it, but what makes it different is how the store gets its merchandise. The clothes actually come from other retailers throughout the region. Other retailers rent space in the store to sell their merchandise. It is not a flea market because all the clothes are new, and it is not exactly a consignment shop either. Instead, it is a way for retailers who want to have a presence in Lawrence to come to the city without having to go to the expense of starting a new store in town. The concept has taken hold in some parts of Kansas City, I’ve been told. As for shoppers, I suppose the advantage is you get to see the styles of several different stores in one location.
• Have you been to the city’s Martin Park? It is 19 acres of wilderness near Peterson Road and Folks Road. The William H. Martin family donated the property to the city back in 1963. The city had maintained a few trails and an area for Cub Scout camping, but over the years the park had become an area for folks to get their party badge, if you know what I mean. So, the city had closed some parking areas of the park and allowed the trails to close up. A few years ago, the city had to go in and bulldoze a makeshift BMX track that had sprung up without permission. But now the park may be getting some new life. As the city has grown closer to the park, leaders with Parks and Recreation believe it will now get more consistent and appropriate use. The city this summer plans to make some parking lot improvements, and this fall to open up some new trails. The area, though, won’t become a traditional park with playground equipment and other such amenities. The Martin family didn’t want that type of park when it donated the property. But parks and recreation leaders said it is a great place to see some nature just minutes from the city.
• While we’re on the subject of parks and recreation, expect some new field lights at the city’s Youth Sports Complex in West Lawrence. The lights are courtesy of Kansas University Athletics, which I’m told purchased the two baseball fields that were part of the former Sport-2-Sport complex. KU has its tennis facility out at the former Sport-2-Sport location, and the two fields are in that same area. The lights no longer were needed for those fields because they will be bulldozed in early August, parks and rec leaders said. The fields are right next to the Lake Alavamar Dam, which is scheduled to receive some major construction work. That work was going to make use of the fields, which have been unused for quite awhile now, problematic.
• One last parks and rec item, and I’m warning you, don’t get your golfing knickers all in a bunch over this one. I’m mainly just passing it along because I found it funny, and an example of how necessity really can be the mother of innovation. At a recent parks and rec advisory board meeting, the idea of nighttime golfing at the city-owned Eagle Bend course came up. The course, as we have previously reported, has seen a decline in revenue as the economy has dipped, and now as the heat has increased. One board member mentioned she had played in a night-time golf tournament in another community. They used glow-in-the-dark balls. As you can imagine, it creates a different type of golfing experience, but also a cooler one in terms of temperature. The idea didn’t gain any real traction at the meeting, but it did cause some pondering. Like, how popular would that be with college students, especially if the course sold beer like it normally does? And then that thought immediately led to this one: Would we have to put bumpers on the golf carts?