News and notes from around town:
• First it was books that took a hit when Borders announced it was closing its Lawrence store. Now, it is movies. Officials with the Blockbuster video store chain have announced they’re closing their Lawrence store at 1516 W. 23rd St. Store closing signs are now up in the windows, and a manager told me she expects the store to close its doors for good in about four weeks. She declined further comment, and an attempt to reach a district manager for Blockbuster wasn’t immediately successful. The company, though, will keep its store at 4651 W. Sixth St. open.
The fact that a Blockbuster store is closing is not exactly a big plot twist. The company has filed for bankruptcy, and previously has announced that it plans to close 110 underperforming stores by the end of this month. Some creditors, though, have been arguing that Blockbuster’s finances are in such poor shape that it ought to abandon its plans to reorganize and instead liquidate its assets. Blockbuster is still seeking to reorganize, but this article indicates an auction date has been set for the company in early April. So, while the company says its West Sixth Street store will remain open, it looks like a situation worth watching.
In case you are keeping track, that’s two national retailers in the last couple of months that have announced they are closing underperforming stores across the country, and both times underperforming stores were found in Lawrence. I’m not too familiar with what levels of business Blockbuster did at its 23rd Street store, but the fact Lawrence’s Borders was considered an underpeformer was troubling to me. Just from observation, Borders seemed to do fairly good business — at least by Lawrence standards. But that could be a key qualifier there. How do Lawrence standards compare to national standards? What I’m trying to say here is that I can think of several national retailers in Lawrence that seem to do less business than Borders did. If national retailers continue to trim store totals, how hard will Lawrence end up getting hit?
UPDATE: I got in touch with an operations manager for the local Blockbuster franchise, and he said the store likely will remain open four to eight weeks. He said all the merchandise in the store will be sold, and that the location will be offering discounts. He also told me to look for a new tenant in the space relatively soon. Unlike some other Blockbuster locations, this one wasn't leased. Instead, the franchise company owned the real estate, and that factored into the company's decision to liquidate the store, said Ryan Wasinger, director of operations for the Blockbuster franchise. Wasinger said the site has drawn strong interest from three to four prospects over the last several months. He declined to comment on who may be going into the site.
"I don't foresee it sitting vacant for very long," Wasinger said. "That is one of the reasons we decided to liquidate the store. We feel like it is about as good as it gets location-wise in Lawrence."
• The area around the Farmers Turnpike continues to become more about the turnpike and less about the farmers. The city has received another request to annex and rezone property to allow industrial development near the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. Property owner Steven Rothwell has filed applications with the city to annex 69 acres into the city and rezone it from agricultural property to general industrial property. The sites — 933, 939 and 943 N. 1800 Road — are in between two pieces of property that the city has done island annexations and rezonings for recently. The city in the past couple of years has annexed and rezoned about 155 acres immediately north of the Lecompton interchange, and then more recently annexed and rezoned about 55 acres near the intersection of the Farmers Turnpike and Queens Road. All the sites have frontage along Interstate 70 or else are just a stone’s throw from the turnpike interchange. Property owners in the area — which include longtime developers Duane and Steve Schawda — have argued the area is a prime spot for distribution centers and other businesses that need good access to one of the key interstates in the country. Thus far, the annexations and rezonings haven’t had much trouble winning approval from planning commissioners or city commissioners. But a group of neighbors in the area have fought the proposals both at City Hall and through the courts.
That doesn’t appear likely to change anytime soon. The neighborhood group — the Scenic Riverway Community Association — has filed another lawsuit against the city within the last week. The lawsuit is challenging the city’s rezoning of the 55 acres near the Farmers Turnpike and Queens Road extended intersection. Attorney Ronald Schneider said the suit alleges the rezoning is unreasonable and illegal. As we previously reported, the neighborhood group also has taken action in Douglas County District Court to appeal the Douglas County Commission’s decision to allow the city to annex the property.
Those cases are in addition to lawsuits related to the 155 acres just north of the interchange. The neighbors have lost two rulings in Douglas County District Court, but the cases remain alive on appeal to the Kansas Court of Appeals. That appeal likely will stretch out for several more months.
The lawsuits aren’t much of a surprise. The neighbors during their last trip to City Hall indicated a lawsuit was likely if the city wasn’t willing to compromise some on the zoning issue. The neighbors said they could live with the area being annexed and rezoned, but not to such a heavy industrial zoning category. Instead, they asked the city to rezone the area to a lighter industrial zoning category. City commissioners and the property owner — in this case, a group led by the Schwadas — weren’t interested.
• In a previous Town Talk, the question came up about how much the city and the county had spent defending themselves in these annexation and rezoning lawsuits. I now have some numbers to report. The city has spent $59,384 since 2008 defending the annexation and rezoning of the 155-acre site. The county has spent about $20,500 on the lawsuit related to the annexation. Both those totals continue to grow as the case continues on appeal. The totals also will start growing as litigation costs mount for the new lawsuits.
Of course, there’s no word on how much the neighbors are spending on the cases, but the group is not without resources or knowledge of how business works. One of the plaintiffs in the cases is Jim Haines, the former CEO of Westar Energy who now lives in a beautiful historic home along the Farmers Turnpike.
• According to a reader of Town Talk, area renters should be on the lookout for a Craig’s List scam. Kris Devlin, a local real estate agent, said someone is running a bogus listing on the website under her name advertising a house for rent. The listing instructs people to send an email with several pieces of personal information if they are interested in the house. It also gives them the option of sending money through Western Union to “get the deal of a lifetime.” Devlin said as soon as she learned about the ad, she flagged it and it has been removed from the site. But she said she has received “numerous” phone calls from people who said they sent their information to the email address. No word of whether anybody actually sent money.