News and notes from around town:
• UPDATE: A Lawrence-based business that markets sporting apparel and glassware is looking to expand into the East Hills Business Park, but is requesting a tax abatement to do so. Grandstand Sportswear and Glassware is seeking a 65 percent tax abatement to help it move from its current location near 31st and Haskell into the former Sauer-Danfoss building in the East Hills Business Park. Former KU basketball player and current basketball announcer Chris Piper owns the business, and he reports the company is going through a growth phase. The firm long has been in the sports apparel business, but lately has seen its glassware business growing. The company has a relationship with Free State Brewing Company, and has been able to tap into the craft brewing industry. Grandstand currently is located in the former Honeywell avionics plant at 2920 Haskell. But Piper says the business now is ready for a major expansion. The Sauer-Danfoss building — which previously was home to a manufacturer of hydrostatic transmissions — is more than 5 times larger than the 30,000 square feet space that Grandstand currently occupies. Piper is expecting that the expansion will create 11 new jobs in 2012, with an average salary of about $14 an hour, plus health benefits. Piper expects to invest more than $5 million into buying the building and making necessary repairs. Piper told commissioners in a letter that receiving a tax abatement would be “imperative” to finalizing the deal. Piper also is asking the city to consider paying for a lighting upgrade to the approximately 155,000 square-foot building. The facility currently has old lighting technology, and Piper is hoping to convert the building to a more energy-efficient system. A cost for that conversion hasn’t been identified yet. City commissioners will consider the project at their meeting this evening, but will not take any final action on it. Instead, the request will need to be forwarded to the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee. If the project wins approval by PIRC, city commissioners could be set to consider approval of the project at their Sept. 20 meeting.
• From a bay leaf to a sugar cube, it is downtown Lawrence evolution at work again. I’ve gotten word that the space that previously housed The Bay Leaf is being converted into a new type of kitchen specialty store that will be called Sweet!. Area businesswomen Susan Hess and Cindy Hopper currently operate Sweet! in Fairlawn Plaza Mall in Topeka, and are now ready to expand into downtown Lawrence. Hess said the store will offer many of the same items sold for years by The Bay Leaf, but Sweet! also will have a much heavier emphasis on baking and candy-making supplies.
“The baking stuff is just such a craze right now,” Hess said.
The store will offer a variety of baking and cake-decorating classes in the kitchen area that The Bay Leaf built. Hess said the fact the former Bay Leaf spot, 717 Mass., already was set up to serve as a kitchen store was a major reason why Sweet! decided to expand now. Hess said she hopes to have the store open by the week of Sept. 19.
• We reported last month that speculation was strong that a Kia new car dealership was looking to locate in Lawrence. Well, it looks like that rumor has some legs. We reported that we didn’t know the location other than it wasn’t in the Lawrence Auto Plaza, and it was rumored to be taking over an existing commercial location. Keep that in mind as you consider that Auto Exchange, a rather large used car dealership at 1225 E. 23rd St. closed late last week. Several sources have told me that the East 23rd Street location is where Kia has been looking to locate. I’ve also been told that the Kia dealership won’t be operated by the Briggs family, which has the Kia dealership in Topeka. Instead, I’m told, it will be operated by a Kansas City-area dealership. I’ve got a call into Shawnee Mission Kia to see if that dealership can shed any light on the subject. As for what happens to Auto Exchange, I’m still working on that. The company previously operated out of a small location at 33rd and Iowa streets, next to the Culver’s restaurant. That spot once again is vacant. Whether they plan to reopen there or just leave the Lawrence market all together, I do not know. The company also operates a used car dealership in Liberal. The folks at that location said all they knew was that Kia was taking over the Lawrence location, but was uncertain of Auto Exchange’s plans to re-open in Lawrence. I’ve got a call into the company’s owner, and will let you know what I hear.
• Both fans and haters of traffic-calming devices in Lawrence have reason to tune into tonight’s City Commission meeting. Commissioners are being asked to install traffic calming devices — things such as speed bumps or concrete islands and such — on Crossgate Drive just north of Clinton Parkway. City commissioners are scheduled to accept the recommendation as part of their consent agenda at tonight’s meeting. But accepting the recommendation doesn’t really mean much because the city admits upfront that it has no money in the budget to construct the project. But the location will get put on a list of traffic-calming projects to be completed at some point. As we reported in July, that list is getting pretty long. There are about 18 project on the list, and some have been sitting there since 2004. It looks like one neighborhood is getting tired of waiting. The University Place Neighborhood had a traffic-calming plan approved in 2004, but funding for much of the project has never materialized. But the city did install a temporary traffic-calming circle at 17th and Illinois streets as a make-shift solution until funding could be found. That temporary devices is still in place, and now some neighbors say it needs to go. City commissioners at their meeting tonight will hear arguments on both sides of the issue. Several neighbors say the temporary device is no longer effective, but that isn’t unanimous among all residents of the area. Also the city’s Traffic Safety Commission is recommending against removal of the device. This is the type of issue that has great potential for city commissioners to go round and round in circles about for a long time. So, if that’s your sort of thing, City Hall is your sort of place tonight.
Commissioners also will be approving one other traffic-calming project. The Traffic Safety Commission is recommending traffic calming devices for the area near 17th Terrace and New Hampshire streets. That project actually does have a good chance of being built soon because Dillons is being made to provide funding for the project as part of its rebuilding of its grocery store near 17th and Massachusetts streets. No word yet on exactly what type of traffic-calming devices will be used in the area. The Barker Neighborhood Association has asked for something that will discourage cut-through traffic from the new store. The area along 18th Street between New Hampshire and Barker already has been approved for a traffic-calming project. It also is likely to receive funding from Dillons.