News and notes from around town:
• If you drive near the Lecompton interchange of the Kansas Turnpike, you won’t see work underway on a new warehouse for Berry Plastics. The project has had the necessary approval from county commissioners for months now, but the project still has been in a bit of a holding pattern. But I’ve checked in with several folks working on the deal, and they say the project is heading down the right track. Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug told me that the project is now trying to work out the final details with the rural water district that will serve the site. Weinaug said the major issues with the rural water district already have been resolved, and what are left are issues that he’s confident can be worked out. The county already has agreed to pay for the extension of the waterline — probably about $150,000 once the project is bid — as part of a package of incentives offered to the company.
I’ve also heard from other sources that the project has been a little more complicated than expected because of it ownership situation. It is my understanding that the massive building that Berry will occupy ultimately will be owned by another entity, in particular a major New York hedge fund. It is not uncommon for an investment firm to hold the real estate for another company, but I’ve heard that has created some logistical questions about financing the project upfront.
Bottomline, the lack of hammer and nails at the site doesn’t seem to be a sign that the project is in any sort of trouble.
• There have been some changes, though, going on in the world of Berry Plastics, which with about 900 employees is Lawrence’s largest manufacturing company. The parent company of Berry — Apollo Global Management, a New York investment firm — has gone public. The company on March 30 offered 29.8 million shares to the public at a price of $19 a share. The stock is being traded on the New York Stock Exchange. According to an article in the Evansville (Ind.) Courier Press — where Berry has its headquarters — it wasn’t clear what impact Apollo’s public status would have on Berry. Locally, though, it does mean that if you’re bullish on Berry’s future, you now have a way to get a piece of the action.
• Residents in the rural area south of Lawrence may once again have a way to quickly get a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread or a convenience store corn dog. Officials with Lawrence-based Zarco convenience stores have filed paper work to rezone a site along the new U.S. Highway 59 for a convenience store. Zarco had long operated a convenience store on the west side of the highway, between Pleasant Grove and the Baldwin Junction. But the store was closed as part of the U.S. 59 construction project. Plans call for the new store to be near the same location, although on the other side of Highway 59. The rezoning application is for property on the east side of the new Highway 59 and just north of North 650 Road, which also is County Route 460. I wasn’t able to get in touch with Zarco leader Scott Zaremba, but when I do, I’ll pass along more details.
It also looks like Zarco plans to make some changes to its store on East 23rd Street. The company has filed a plan with City Hall to add a drive-through lane to the store. As we previously reported, Zarco was testing out the drive-through concept at its location on West Sixth Street. The drive-through serves the Sandbar Sub Shop that is located inside the Zarco store, but also is set up so customers can order anything from inside the store to go — from washer fluid to a pack of gum. When Zarco made the changes on Sixth Street, the company had to discontinue its car wash bay at the location. But on 23rd Street, there is enough room for both the car wash and drive-through, according to the plans.
•UPDATE: Since we first published this note this morning, the date of the Bert Nash Event has been changed. According to the city's Web site, it is now on Sunday, Oct. 9, which might go a long way in alleviating some of the commission's concerns about closing the street.
I think we’re about to enter an interesting time for the future of big events locating in Downtown Lawrence, especially on Massachusetts Street. This week commissioners balked at the idea of allowing a non-profit car show to close down for a Saturday the portion of Massachusetts Street that runs through South Park. At this week’s commission meeting, organizers of the Bert Nash Dash and Bash are asking for the 600 block of Massachusetts Street to be closed from noon until midnight on Saturday, Oct. 29. Commissioner Mike Amyx and Bob Schumm — both owners of Mass. Street businesses — expressed the most concern about the car show request, saying that closing a portion of Mass. can impact the business of traditional retailers significantly. The other three commissioners said they wanted to hear more about those concerns because they believed downtown events would boost the business of retailers by bringing more people to the downtown area, even if traffic is inconvenienced. Technically, commissioners didn’t deny the car show request. Instead they asked organizers to try to find another downtown location or consider moving the show to a Sunday. It will be interesting to see what commissioners do with the Bert Nash request.