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News and notes from around town:
• UPDATE: A start-up company that works to make painkillers have fewer side effects has signed a deal to locate in Kansas University’s biosciences incubator. Mencuro Therapeutics Inc. has agreed to move into the Bioscience and Technology Business Center Expansion Facility near Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. The company uses research developed by KU researcher Tom Prisinzano and Laura Bohn, a neuroscientist at The Scripps Research Institute in Florida. That pair teamed up with colleagues Robert Karr and Randy Weiss to launch the company earlier this year. The start-up is hiring one full-time biologist immediately and plans to hire additional scientists within the next year.
The company’s focus is on how to make painkillers similar to morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone, but without the harsh side effects.
“We’re trying to take the strongest, most potent painkillers and eliminate the side effects so they’re more like Advil or Tylenol,” Prisinzano said.
Mencuro becomes the 11th tenant for the 14-month old incubator system. The incubator houses nine tenants at its main facility on West Campus and two at its expansion facility at Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive. The incubator is a partnership between KU, the city, the county, the chamber, the local bioscience authority and the state bioscience authority. The strong amount of tenant activity has led to expansion plans for the incubator. The city has put $500,000 in its 2012 budget to kickstart an effort to build more space on West Campus. The project likely will take $7 million to $8 million to complete.
• I’ve heard many times that this is the point where the rubber meets the road. But I’m not sure I’ve ever heard now is the time for the rubber to meet the dam. Lawrence city commissioners will be told just that at their meeting on Tuesday. In the coming weeks, city commissioners will have to decide whether to spend about $425,000 to replace the old plywood “flashboards” atop the Bowersock Dam on the Kansas River with a new high-tech, inflatable rubber dam. The leaders with Bowersock Mills & Power Co. are ready to pay for most of the project, which is expected to total about $1.3 million. But they’re seeking some help from the city because Lawrence has an agreement to maintain the dam, which helps ensure there is a deep enough pool of water in the Kaw to enable the city’s water plant to operate properly.
Bowersock leaders say this rubber dam will help with that. The current system of plywood flashboards basically adds height to the 100-plus year old dam. But the problem is the flashboards have to be manually raised, meaning someone has to walk out onto the dam to do the job. There are many times that the flashboards don’t get lowered or raised at the right time because the river conditions are too dangerous to send a worker out on the dam.
The proposed rubber dam system would include four or five inflatable bladders that are protected by some sort of durable canvas. (If I could only count the times I wish I had four or five inflatable bladders.) The bladders could be inflated or deflated remotely from a computer system at Bowerock’s power plant. I’m guessing the system may change the look of the dam too. The current flashboard system allows a constant flow of water through the gaps between each plywood flashboard. That creates kind of a cascading effect. I think the new system would eliminate a lot of that “flow-through.”
Bowersock leaders say now is the time to do the project. Bowersock currently is building a new hydroelectric power plant on the north end of the dam. That means construction crews already are on site, which will make it cheaper to do the project. The city is being asked for $425,000, but technically only about $130,000 is for the rubber dam. The rest is for repairs to the face of the dam. The city did major repairs to the dam in 2010, but it did not repair the southern end of the dam. Bowersock said now is the most cost-effective time to do those repairs because construction crews already will be on site, and the city can utilize a coffer dam that will be built as part of the Bowersock power plant project.
What isn’t ideal, though, is the city doesn’t have the money in its budget to do the project. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are not expected to make any decision on the project. Instead, they’ll formally receive the request and ask staff to come up with a recommendation.
• You may have started to notice some new looking signs in the Lawrence real estate market. The national franchise of Keller Williams has entered the Lawrence market, and it is looking to do so in a big way. The company has taken over the office space at 545 Columbia Drive that formerly housed Re-Max real estate (more on that in a moment.) The new agency is operated by Keller Williams Diamond Partners, which is a big player in the Olathe market with about 230 agents over there. The company is working on building up big numbers in Lawrence too. It currently has about 20 agents, and operating principal Larry Kueser told me the long-term goal is to have about 100 agents.
“We’ll have many more folks in the community,” Kueser said.
Kueser said his company decided to expand into the Lawrence market because business had been going so well in Olathe. The company has been operating in Olathe for six years, and he said their business has been growing by 6 to 7 percent even as the national real estate industry contracts.
“We just feel like we have something good going,” Kueser said. “Whether it be pricing the house right, staging it right, or using the technology the right way, we feel like we have a good strategy.”
• Keller Williams took over the Re-Max office space off of West Sixth Street, but Re-Max continues to operate in the market. The local franchise has been bought by longtime Lawrence real estate agent Larry Northrop. Members of the Edmondson and Arensberg families had the Re-Max agency in Lawrence for about 20 years, but recently decided to get out of the business. Northrop said the idea of owning his own agency appealed to him, and he thought it was important to keep the Re-Max brand name in Lawrence.
“I think a lot of agents are understanding the need to brand themselves with a national company to have the technology and the referral networks that the national companies can offer,” Northrop said.
Northrop has set up office space at 1420 Wakarusa in the Commerce Title building. Currently the agency consists of Northrop and local agent Bill Bowers, but Northrop said he plans to add more agents in the near future.
The business will host an open house and ribbon cutting at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at its offices at 1420 Wakarusa Drive.