News and notes from around town:
• If you want to charge a special sales tax in Lawrence, you’re going to have to prove you’re pretty special, and you’re going to have to agree to post a fairly blunt sign. That’s the nutshell summary of changes that the city commission will consider making to its policy that governs when a development can charge a special sales tax through a Community Improvement District. The CIDs became the hot issue during the last campaign, as top-vote winner Bob Schumm struck a chord with voters by labeling them sneaky taxes. Well, these proposed changes attempt to address some of those concerns. Here’s a look at what’s on the table.
- Any establishment that charges a special sales tax would be required to “prominently” display a sign at each public entrance that reads “Community Improvement District sales tax of X percent collected here.” The sign must be at least 8.5 inches by 11 inches in size. The sign requirement also will apply to Transportation Development Districts, which are a different type of special taxing districts. Of the two special taxing districts that currently exist in Lawrence — the Bauer Farm development at Sixth and Wakarusa and The Oread hotel near KU — both are TDDs. The city originally believed it could make this sign requirement retroactive and require both of those developments to post the signs. But now the city’s legal staff advises the city does not have the authority to do that. The developments, however, could voluntarily choose to post the signs, city staff notes. Schumm previously had proposed that developments that charge the tax have some sort of sign that is visible from the road, so shoppers don’t find out about the tax after they already have walked all the way to the front door of a business. But city staff members are recommending against that idea. They say it would detract from the city’s sign code, which places a strong emphasis on “minimizing exterior sign clutter.”
- Applicants who want a special tax will have to provide the city with a “but for” analysis that shows the development could not proceed but for the help of a special tax. That analysis will have to include some detailed financial data that would give the city’s economic development planner enough information to make a judgment about whether a bank would be likely to make a loan for the project absent the special taxing authority.
- The policy still contains broad language that says any development wanting to use a CID must show it is unique or that it captures new sales or that it promotes tourism or that it adds exceptional infrastructure to the city. It is the type of language that attorneys get paid by the hour to argue over. But what’s different is that under the old policy the applicant must prove it meets at least one of the criteria. Now, it must prove it meets at least three of the four criteria.
Commissioners will consider making the changes at their Tuesday evening meeting. It will be interesting to watch in the coming months if this new policy changes the environment around special taxing districts. Right now, I get the feeling that any special taxing district request — whether it be for an Olive Garden, whether it be for a Lowe’s, whether it be for something else we don’t know of — is political poison with at least the majority of commissioners at City Hall. Maybe signs that alerts shoppers to what they’re paying will soften that. Maybe it won’t. I suspect we will get to find out. I think we will see some requests in the future. For example, I wouldn’t be surprised to see something requested with the proposed hotel at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
• One area that doesn’t have a special taxing district, but is seeing new development anyway is the shopping center at 19th and Haskell. Over the last several months, we’ve reported several new businesses opening up in the center (a production center for veggie burgers, a catering business and something called A Very Serious Comedy Office, and yes, I’m still trying to figure out what that is. I think it is a place where area comedy writers get together and work on and test new material.) Now, add a furniture store to the list.
Savers Outlet Furniture has opened up at 1910 Haskell. Owner Bobby Lane for a short time operated the business in space at Sixth and Michigan Streets next to the Conoco gas station. But he moved into his new space to expand the size of the operation. The business sells both new and used furniture. Lane said he definitely has a strong emphasis on the college market, but really is trying to appeal to anybody who is on a budget.
“If you have a lot of money and want to spend $5,000 for a couch, we’re not the place for you,” Lane said. “We can do a whole house of furniture for $3,000.”’
(Or you could just be like my wife. If she found out she couldn’t spend $5,000 on a couch, she wouldn’t leave. She would just buy five of them. She’s a problem-solver that way.)
The business is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and by appointment on Sunday.
• File this information away in the category of it might be worth what you’re paying for it. But I hear that the 19th and Haskell shopping center may become the home of a health clinic/doctor’s office. At least that’s the information that is floating around the center. It may make sense. I’m trying to think of how many doctor’s offices are located east of Massachusetts Street. Plus, I think all types of businesses may be looking at the center a little differently now that it has become the hub for the K-10 commuter bus that travels from Lawrence to Johnson County each weekday. That bus seems very popular. When I drove the parking lot of the center one recent morning, there were nearly five full rows of cars, and a large number of people waiting on the sidewalk for the bus to arrive. I’ll let you know if I hear anything more about a new East Lawrence doctor’s office.
• One last note for the 19th and Haskell area. There is one other new sign in the shopping center. It reads “El Perro or The Dog.” No, it is not a Mexican veterinarian. It is the old Crosstown Tavern. That’s right, your chance for adventure at the Crosstown Tavern has come and gone. (Don’t worry, I’m sure some of you have a permanent record of your adventures there.) A former Marine, Mike Hernandez, has bought the business from the previous owners, I was told by the bar’s manager. But the business’ basic concept remains the same. It will operate as a neighborhood tavern, although it is doing a little bit of food. It has started a taco night on Fridays.