Archive for Friday, March 4, 2011

Town Talk: What census numbers may mean to the building industry; Comfort Inn construction begins; Teller’s sold to general manager

March 4, 2011


News and notes from around town:

• Well, I admit I’m a bit of census geek. For a guy who had to travel to the ends of the earth to find a “university” that would pass him in college algebra, I actually do like numbers. I found Thursday’s release of census data to be interesting, and I haven’t even yet begun to go through all of it.

The population totals have provided plenty of food for thought. Basically what Thursday’s release showed is that Lawrence and Douglas County for the last decade grew at about 1 percent per year instead of the 2 percent per year that has been more common in the previous two decades.

Some people may be saying "so what?" What’s 1 percent between friends, right? Perhaps, but I can tell you one group that will care a lot: the building and real estate industry. If 1 percent a year is the “new normal” when it comes to local growth, that’s a major hit to their business.

Look at it this way: Lawrence has a 2010 population of 87,643 people. If it grows at 1 percent per year, the city’s population will be 106,836 people in 20 years. If it grows at 2 percent per year, the city’s population will be 130,232 people in 20 years. That’s a difference of 23,291 people. Our average household size has been about 2.35 people per household. Do the math and that means we’re talking about a difference — over the 20 year period — of about 9,900 homes between 1 percent growth or 2 percent growth. That is a lot of homes and apartments that will go unbuilt each year.

If this is the new reality, that will be a major change for one of Lawrence’s largest industries.

• The census numbers also are kind of fun because they allow us to see how well our crystal ball works. The city’s long-range planning is governed by a document called Horizon 2020. It was drafted during the go-go 1990s. The document includes three sets of growth projections for Lawrence: a low, a medium and a high. The new census numbers now put Lawrence below the low projection, although just by a bit. The low projection estimated Lawrence would have 88,961 people in 2010, or about 1.5 percent more than what the census says we have. So, we’re actually in the ballpark, but I covered the Horizon 2020 process in the 1990s and I can tell you not many people were betting on the low scenario.

Where the projections are more interesting is for the outlying communities of Eudora and Baldwin City. The document assumed those towns would continue to grow much like they had for the past 30 years. They haven’t. The plan projected Baldwin City to have a 2010 population of 3,621. Instead, it has a population of 4,515, or a difference of about 24 percent. In Eudora the 2010 projection called for 4,775 people. Instead, it has a population of 6,136 people, or a difference of 28 percent.

• I’ve gotten some calls about what new project is happening just south of the Hallmark Cards production plant. As we’ve previously reported a Comfort Inn hotel is being built on the property. Construction work on the project began this week. I’m checking in with developers on an estimated timeline for completion of the approximately 65-room hotel.

• Perhaps you had heard speculation that the longtime downtown restaurant Teller’s, 746 Mass., was on the ropes. Well, the restaurant has recently sold, and its new owner said it is on a much firmer foundation now.

General manager Tom Wilson recently formed a group to buy the restaurant.

“We are back on track now,” Wilson told me. “When I got here the restaurant was trending down about 30 percent and now we’re up 12 percent. We’ve almost had a 45 percent swing.”

As we previously reported, Wilson joined Teller’s as its general manager last year, and brought in a new chef from the Denver area. He’s also shaken up the menu.

“Our menu previously was 80 percent Italian,” Wilson said. “Now it is about 15 percent Italian.”

The restaurant has adopted a “World Cuisine” philosophy that has several ethnic dishes along with some American favorites. More menu changes are on the way. Wilson said new twists to the menu will be introduced on Monday, including the addition of lobster.

Wilson has had a 20-year management career in the restaurant industry, largely with the chain that owns Macaroni Grill. But Wilson said he’s committed to keeping Teller’s an independent operation.

“My goal has just been to stabilize it with a little corporate knowledge in a noncorporate environment,” Wilson said.


jhawkinsf 7 years, 1 month ago

Just my opinion, but I'd be happy if Lawrence grows at a very slow pace. Let Kansas City, Olathe, or whatever grow. Let Lawrence be a mix of locals, commuters using Lawrence and a bedroom community and have those affiliated with the university. Bigger is better (not).

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

Careful, there. You might get yourself labeled as a dreaded "progressive."

7 years, 1 month ago

Agreed. Of course, I am one of those 7,545 that moved to Lawrence during the decade. So, you know, take it with a grain of salt.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

Will the new Teller's owners do better at paying its bills than the former owners?

jafs 7 years, 1 month ago

Hope so.

I like Tom Wilson a lot, and I think he's a very good manager, from my experiences with him.

CHKNLTL 7 years, 1 month ago

Lawrence grew more slowly relative to other DG county towns because of the huge difference in real estate costs. Both buying a home and renting. Even if a student can keep a full time job earning minimum wage, that's only around $1000 a month. Take out $700 for rent add other bills, boom, you're broke. Or you have 3 roomies.... Why would people want to move here to go broke on cheaply built holes in Lawrence? They don't. And I don't care about the real estate contractors not having enough work. Those people created an artificial demand for building based on stupid reports like Horizon 2020 just to fulfill their own need to line their pockets. Most of the people I see building houses appear to be the type of workers that will send all their earnings out of the country anyway.

Munsoned 7 years, 1 month ago

Everything is right on until.......Um...... the racial profiling part.

Jay Riner 7 years, 1 month ago

Maybe what CHKNLTL meant was, sending their earnings to offshore accounts, like Dave Freeman.

somedude20 7 years, 1 month ago

"Most of the people I see building houses appear to be the type of workers that will send all their earnings out of the country anyway"

By chance are you related to Connie O’Brien as you both seem to have a super power that allows you to look at a person and know what country they come from and if they are illegal?

CHKNLTL 7 years, 1 month ago

I forgot to mention the now completely exorbitant rates of property taxes charged in Lawrence. Thanks a lot you bookworms!

Richard Heckler 7 years, 1 month ago

There is a buyers market in the KCMO metro with about 10,000 homes on the market.

Foreclosures continue as we speak with no end in sight.

About 60% of JOCO property values declined for the 3rd consecutive year...

Does Lawrence have artificial property values aka false?

gl0ck0wn3r 7 years, 1 month ago

"About 60% of JOCO property values declined for the 3rd consecutive year..."

Evidence? You clearly haven't bought a property in JOCO recently.

jmadison 7 years, 1 month ago

Somehow that $700,000 property tax increase instituted by the county commission has to be funded. Nothing better than artificially high assessments.

08Champs 7 years, 1 month ago


You had me on how difficult it is for younger people to pay rent in town due to lower wages and higher rent. But what do you mean by:

"And I don't care about the real estate contractors not having enough work."


"Most of the people I see building houses appear to be the type of workers that will send all their earnings out of the country anyway."

Do you mean you can tell just by looking at the people working on the construction of a house that they are illegal immigrants and arent' spending their money in Lawrence? That's pretty bad...

I have a number of construction types in the family, and work has been hit or miss because building is down, period. Related to that, there are appraisers, inspectors, title company employees, loan officers, etc. that have had a bad couple of years. Regardless of whether they look like they're "from here" or not, they are still unemployed or underemployed due to the housing market.

roadwarrior 7 years, 1 month ago

I believe he was speaking in terms of economics, not prejudice. If you want a strong property tax base to support education funding, you have a choice between hiring a worker who owns property or one who rents an apt with 4 other members of the work crew. It just depends on where you want to funnel your dollars. There is an economic impact. Historically, legal mexican americans hire their illegal bretheren, it's profitable. They pay low wages. I've been told it's $ 50.00 a day, per man. The business owner claims all income as their own. Small business breaks lower that earned income, reducing revenues for social security, income tax, obliterates payroll tax and workers compensation. Revenue from income we count on for our State and Federal budgets. The one legal worker gets back all the social security benefits earned by his workers. When you own property and pay taxes in Douglas County, you cannot afford to work for $ 50.00 a day. What do you think happens next ?

CHKNLTL 7 years, 1 month ago

i take it you've also been to Boardwalk before they were closed down. 4 to a room by 5 apartments, then piling into 3 work trucks owned by their boss. These guys weren't happy about that or their pay wages. thank you roadwarrior...i am talking about objective economics. a good economy must cycle all its spending and earning within itself to remain stable. outsourcing has been undermining us for years, and then derivatives were developed, eating away at the other end of the tight rope. maybe uncle sam will leave us enough rope to hang ourselves with when the market crashes for real.

KU_cynic 7 years, 1 month ago

Welcome to the "new normal", Lawrence.

The drivers of economic growth in this town are population growth, new jobs, and rising incomes. The major employers are mostly on the government teat, which is running dry -- KU, USD 497, the city itself. Enrollment at KU is likely to drop, in fact. There appears to be little prospect for any new major employers to locate in Lawrence, and many small businesses are downsizing or closing down. Single-family housing got a little overbuilt over the past decade, and multi-family dwellings really soared, both phenomena dampening home price momentum.

Government entities better scale their revenue and spending aspirations accordingly.

thinkagain 7 years, 1 month ago

I love the census! And it took me four dropped classes of Algebra before I finally passed, with an A even.

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