Archive for Thursday, September 15, 2011

Town Talk: Signs that Olive Garden may still be interested in South Iowa site; Jos. A. Bank to open Sept. 30; city maintains high credit rating

September 15, 2011

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News and notes from around town:

• Are those breadsticks I smell? I’m not sure, but there are signs that plans for an Olive Garden at 27th and Iowa streets may be re-emerging. We reported in July that several sources had told us that a plan to locate an Olive Garden at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets may move forward even without a package of proposed property tax rebates. Now, we can report that officials with Kansas City-based MD Management have filed plans for a rezoning and a preliminary plat at the intersection. The filings would be among the first steps needed for an Olive Garden to locate on the site, but the plans don’t mention any specific tenants. If you remember, MD Management previously had asked for tax rebates as part of the Neighborhood Revitalization Act to make the site more financially feasible for Olive Garden and other tenants. (The development will include two smaller buildings for other restaurants or retailers that have not been identified.) The city’s Public Incentives Review Committee recommended denial of the request. Technically, the incentive proposal never has had a hearing by the Lawrence City Commission, but the PIRC denial kind of put the writing on the wall. Both Mayor Aron Cromwell and City Commissioner Bob Schumm are on PIRC, and both voted against the incentives — saying they would create an unlevel playing field for other restaurants and that they were uncertain how much new money the restaurant would bring into the community. Either Cromwell or Schumm would have to change their minds on the subject for the incentive proposal to have a chance at the City Commission level. That’s because City Commissioner Mike Amyx has said he won’t vote on the issue, because his mother owns property in that area that would be bought by the development group if the deal moves forward. There are no signs that either Cromwell or Schumm have changed their minds about the property tax rebates. Instead, what sources told me in July is that the development group was looking at applying for some federal tax credits that could help make the project pencil out. A local attorney for the development group did not return a phone call seeking comment late Wednesday afternoon. The rezoning and plat are scheduled to be heard by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in November.

• One project we don’t have to keep guessing about anymore is Jos. A. Bank’s entry into Downtown Lawrence. The menswear retailer has installed its signs proclaiming that a Jos. A. Bank factory store will open at the northwest corner of the intersection at the former Talbots location. Jos. A. Bank plans to open on Sept. 30. I got that piece of information from the highest levels within Jos. A. Bank. After weeks of telling you about Jos. A. Bank, a company official recently put me in contact with the president and CEO of the entire retail chain, Neal Black. He told me that the company has had its sights on Lawrence for a number of years, but always determined that the community was too small for a traditional Jos. A. Bank store. That’s still true, he said. But the company believes its factory stores may work in smaller markets. It is testing the concept in Lawrence and few other smaller markets. Black said that unlike the traditional Jos. A. Bank locations, the factory stores won’t use the strategy of putting certain items on sale to attract customers. Instead, the factory stores use an everyday low price type of strategy. The factory stores do carry some close-out items from Jos. A. Bank’s traditional stores, but he said the majority of merchandise at the site will be a special line of clothing made for the factory stores. Black said that line is made with the same quality as the company’s standard line, but often uses less “luxurious fabrics.”

But don’t kid yourself, there’s luxury to be had. As I mentioned the last time I wrote about the store, its factory locations have been advertising a blue seersucker suit for less than $120. If that doesn’t say luxury, I don’t know what does. And yes, I did chicken out. I went in with a plan of asking the president of the company what type of tie would go well with blue seersucker. Instead, I asked him how business has been holding up through the recession. He said sales have been strong and the company may be picking up market share as a result of the downturn.

“We’re offering a lot for the dollar and that is why we are winning right now,” Black said.

In fact, the company has had a hard time finding enough available space in outlet malls to locate their factory stores. That’s, in part, why the company is pursuing the strategy of placing factory stores in areas like Downtown Lawrence. Black believes the store has a chance to become a destination type of retailer for Downtown Lawrence.

“It will have a full assortment of menswear products,” Black said. “We tell people everything from formal wear to underwear.”

• Every time you turn around these days, you’re hearing how now is a great time to buy a house with interest rates often in the high 3 percent range. If that is so, what would you think if interest rates were below 2 percent? Well, they are, if you are the city of Lawrence. The city earlier this week completed its latest bond and note sale to fund projects — everything from library design to street work — that has been previously approved. The city received an interest rate of about 1.9 percent on $4.2 million worth of bonds that have a 12-year term. The city received an interest rate of 0.39 percent on about $14 million worth of short-term notes. (Think of them like construction financing. It is money to get a project started and then once costs are more firmly established, the debt is converted into a longer-term loan.) Ed Mullins, the city’s finance director, said he doesn’t remember ever receiving rates any lower than these in his more than two decades in the business. It will be interesting to see if the low cots of borrowing is brought up as reason why the city ought to pursue a new recreation center in West Lawrence.

• One of the reasons the city was able to get the rates that it did is because Moody’s, the Wall Street ratings agency, recently re-affirmed the city’s credit rating. The city continues to have an Aa1 rating, which is the second-highest bond rating a community can achieve. Representatives from Moody’s toured the city, in addition to scouring its books. City Manager David Corliss said the city’s fund balances — basically its version of a savings account — was highlighted as a reason the community maintained its high bond rating. The city’s general fund balance account — which stands at about $12 million — has become a topic of discussion as city commissioners have considered dipping into it to fund projects that they have not been able to fit into the budget without raising taxes. Corliss has urged caution on that front.

As part of its recent borrowing, the city also has taken a look at its total debt. The city has several guidelines on how much debt it can comfortably issue. At the moment it is below all of those guidelines, but there are a couple that are close to being met or exceeded. In particular, one guideline suggest that the city not allow its general obligation debt levels to rise above $1,100 for every man, woman and child in the city. So where are we at now? With this latest round of borrowing, every man, woman and child is now responsible for $1,015 worth of debt. (This is kind of like the news I get from my wife after she returns home from the mall.) Based on the latest population numbers from the Census, every $1 million in debt adds about $11.40 to that per capita total. So with the magic of math, that means the city could add another $7.4 million to its debt total and still stay within the guidelines.

But that brings up a question. The city has committed to an $18 million expansion at the Lawrence Public Library. That will be funded with general obligation debt. Now, the city is paying off debt all the time, so the numbers are a moving target. But I’m not sure the city will pay off so much debt that it will be able to add that $18 million onto its total and still stay below this self-imposed guideline. It is something I will try to find out more about and let you know. Now, if I can just muster up the courage to ask my wife about what new debt she has planned.

Comments

GUMnNUTS 3 years, 9 months ago

Are those breadsticks I smell?

No Chad those are not breadsticks you smell, they are hotdog buns with garlic salt.

CreatureComforts 3 years, 9 months ago

No no no no no...you keep forgetting. The fantastic taste buds in Lawrence think Olive Garden is world class cuisine!

Steve Jacob 3 years, 9 months ago

Some people just dislike chains. People do go to KC/Topeka for this place so it is great news it might be in coming. And OG bread sticks are far better then Pasano's.

MarcoPogo 3 years, 9 months ago

People also drive to Topeka for the seafood delicacies at Red Lobster.

Scott Morgan 3 years, 9 months ago

Name a better Italian resturante in Lawrence Mi Amigo.

somebodynew 3 years, 9 months ago

Well, Paisano's has gone down in quality a little, but still beats OG. One that many do not think of is The Basil Leaf on 6th Street. Great food and a lot of it. Wish they would move into a real restaurant setting.

jafs 3 years, 9 months ago

Teller's.

Genovese.

715 - and I'm not aware of any hours/strangeness there.

Bambino's is at least as good, if not better.

Don't get me wrong - I like OG sometimes as well.

chzypoof1 3 years, 9 months ago

It's not great, but Paisanos is 1000% better than Olive crappies. Disgusting frozen food with stale breadsticks. Maybe we could get a Red Crapster as a package deal!!!

Scott Morgan 3 years, 9 months ago

My family has tried Paisanos twice and do not rank it highly. 715 and correct me if wrong was/is closed, or had some sort of strange hours recently.

A failing in Lawrence, or as I nickname them McHippy Fish Shanty and Candle Shop types. Everybody raves, but they do not last long. Always something wrong, chef gone, babysitting problems, A/C out, heard them all.

You should have mentioned Bambinos on Waki. Still settling into the menu, but not bad. Outstanding interior comfy seating.

kufan1146 3 years, 9 months ago

My roommate worked the bar at 715 last night. Definitely not closed or having weird hours.

jafs 3 years, 9 months ago

My wife and I used to go to Paisano's regularly, and loved it.

But we've had some bad experiences recently, both with the food and the service, and the prices are too high given the decline in quality.

OG has been consistently good enough, and priced at a reasonable level, when we've gone there while traveling.

somebodynew 3 years, 9 months ago

Gee, you think maybe someone will learn (between this and Lowe's) that you don't have to just cave in and give everyone who comes along exactly what they ask for ??? Things can still get done.

ljwhirled 3 years, 9 months ago

Too bad our President hasn't learned this lesson yet. It would be nice to see him stand up for us.

thepianoman 3 years, 9 months ago

Chad, can you find out when P-King is slated to re-open? It's killing me! The owner has done a poor job keeping customers informed! I'm counting on you Chad. You duh man.

Mike Hatch 3 years, 9 months ago

Yes, please! I tried calling them last night, hoping they were open. First time, busy signal. 2nd try, it just kept ringing with no answer.

Jean Robart 3 years, 9 months ago

ate twice at Peking Taste--a mistake both times. Not impressed. Gave them a second chance. Won't give them a third.

CreatureComforts 3 years, 9 months ago

I, for one, don't get the Chinese buffet craze. Yeah, I know, you can order regular menu items at P.T. but...Chinese + buffet = mediocre beyond belief.

jafs 3 years, 9 months ago

Jin Shan seems quite good, and very reasonably priced.

The attraction of the buffet for me is the variety and the value for money.

In fact, I'd be very happy if most of the kinds of food I like were offered at restaurants with buffets - we love the Mad Greek, Aladdin's, India Palace buffets.

ksjayhawk74 3 years, 9 months ago

It's confusing that Doug Compton will be having tax abatements for 3 different properties at the same time, paying 5%-10% of the actual taxes to begin with (not to mention tax payers paying for a new sprinkler system in the dilapidated Masonic Temple) and the Olive Garden can't get one. I would think that the Olive Garden would be more likely to get a tax abatement based on the fact that they will be adding more long term jobs than an apartment building or hotel will add.

Of course I don't see why the people that are most able to pay taxes get the biggest breaks from said taxes... But what do I know?

ljwhirled 3 years, 9 months ago

"Of course I don't see why the people that are most able to pay taxes get the biggest breaks from said taxes... But what do I know?"

It is called spending through the tax code. They get away with it because it is on the revenue side of the books.

If they had to take the money in first and then justify the expenditure before cutting the developer a check the entire community would be up in arms.

This is just a sneaky way to spend money. Every government does it and it almost always benefits the wealthy, not the middle class.

Sigmund 3 years, 9 months ago

"Both Mayor Aron Cromwell and City Commissioner Bob Schumm are on PIRC, and both voted against the incentives — saying they would create an unlevel playing field for other restaurants and that they were uncertain how much new money the restaurant would bring into the community."

But apparently providing Bob Schumm's Buffalo Bob's, Tellers, and The Masonic Temple with brand new fire sprinklers does not create a "slanted" playing field? Just to make things "level" lets offer Olive Garden the same deal Bob Schumm and Doug Compton gets, fair is fair and we want things "level" for everyone, right?

Did Chad bother to ask the other Commissioners why they do favor the incentives, or doesn't that fit his current narrative? Did Chad bother to ask Bob Schumm how his Buffalo Bob's or Teller's free fire sprinklers create a level playing field with Free State, India Palace, the Mediterranean Cafe, or the dozens of other restaurants in Lawrence, or would that not be fair.

chootspa 3 years, 9 months ago

Giving downtown businesses incentives to upgrade their sprinklers and not burn all their neighboring businesses down is not some sort of unleveled playing field situation.

jafs 3 years, 9 months ago

Providing sprinklers to downtown businesses that other businesses are required to provide for themselves certainly slants the playing field.

The other businesses have to spend their own money on them.

chootspa 3 years, 9 months ago

The other businesses are building new and not retrofitting old, so there's less cost associated with it. If they had an existing building outside of downtown, it probably was already up to code with a functioning sprinkler system.

jafs 3 years, 9 months ago

So?

When a business has to spend their own money on sprinklers, they are competing at a disadvantage with businesses that get the sprinklers installed for free.

Why should taxpayers take on the costs of providing sprinklers for downtown businesses? Or, to put it another way, why not provide them for all businesses, if we think we should?

BigAl 3 years, 9 months ago

What a bunch of classless snobs we have. I don't recall anyone saying that Olive Garden or Red Lobster was "world class cuisine." There are a lot of people out there that enjoy both Olive Garden and Red Lobster for what they are. Just because a few nimrods think they know it all doesn't mean they do. I highly doubt if these clowns would know "world class cuisine" if they were on top of it.

3 years, 9 months ago

As much as I like Paisanos, I do have to agree with this.

People can still enjoy OG and RL for what they are.

chootspa 3 years, 9 months ago

Dunno about you, but I've actually had world class cuisine, or at least cuisine in other parts of the world. It didn't come frozen on a truck the previous morning. Just sayin.

I'm not saying that OG doesn't have a tasty little carb fest, but I'm glad our city isn't giving the developers tax incentives to bring yet another chain to town.

MarcoPogo 3 years, 9 months ago

I didn't say that Red Lobster was "world class cuisine" nor did I say a bad thing about it...except that it is in Topeka. If you're going to act high and mighty, you can at least respond to what was actually posted.

MarcoPogo 3 years, 9 months ago

And by the way, Cheddar Bay Biscuits are indeed delicacies.

Sigmund 3 years, 9 months ago

In total, the City Commission approved incentives package for the Masonic Temple and Doug Compton will be worth about $330,000 (not including the free fire sprinklers) over 10 years. The project, though, is expected to produce about $660,000 in new revenue for local governments over the next 15 years. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2011/sep...

How exactly is that $660,000 in new revenues to be generated, through sales tax revenues? That would only take $7,500,000 dollars in sales over 15 years to accomplish, which is only $500,000 in sales a year generating only $45,000 in sales taxes every year. I am quite sure that your average McDonald's does that every month, let alone an Olive Garden. But the Olive Garden won't spend lots of ad dollars with LJWorld like Doug Compton will and the Olive Garden will take business away from downtown Lawrence hurting all those in City Government who own property downtown.

No soup for you!

Sigmund 3 years, 9 months ago

BigAl (anonymous) says… "What a bunch of classless snobs we have. I don't recall anyone saying that Olive Garden or Red Lobster was "world class cuisine."

Have you eaten at Teller's or Buffalo Bob's lately? Neither are world class cuisine, but Bob Schumm does pile those greasy fries "high to the sky!" And just in case there is a a grease fire, he has some nice new tax payer funded fire sprinklers to handle it. It is good to know that Buffalo bob Schumm favors a "level playing field" when it comes to competing restaurants, be a shame if anyone but himself or his downtown cronies got any special favors.

Sigmund 3 years, 9 months ago

blue73harley (anonymous) says… "To think he would not protect downtown (and especially his own businesses) at taxpayer expense would be an idiotic assumption given his past record on the city commission."

True enough. What do you think the odds are that Chad Lawhorn and the LJWorld will do a series of articles detailing all the special favors the Commission gives it downtown cronies, or the hurdles placed in front of their competitors? You know sort of like a "reporter" instead of a series of PR releases. Maybe the LJWorld editorial board will denounce downtown crony capitalism at taxpayer expense in a series of scathing editorials and name names? About the same odds they will write a article criticizing all the special favors given to Doug Compton the owner of Gage Management who also happens to be a major advertiser in their paper?

Sigmund 3 years, 9 months ago

My apologies to Gage Management, Doug Compton is the owner of Consolidated Properties.

Clinton Laing 3 years, 9 months ago

I am sorry, but the corner mentioned as the likely site for O.G. is the last place we need yet another Italian restairant. But it seems the commenters would rather focus on the differences in the quality of the food in various restaurants than why the h*ll we need one on that particular corner. I do not get you people.

jafs 3 years, 9 months ago

Whether or not OG would be a good bet for that site should be up to them, don't you think?

If there are enough people who like to go there, they'll succeed. If not, they won't.

I would advocate against any tax breaks or incentives though, and let them compete without those.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 9 months ago

Why should any company no matter who or what be given a "leg up" over competitors? Not on my dime thank you.

Developers and cars are very expensive budget items. They in turn buy very expensive commissioners who support very expensive requests put forth by developers. Now we have tons of new development which is not paying back the community aka no economic growth. Something went wrong.

Higher taxes and user fees are financing the new wealth for the real estate industry. This is not economic growth. This is you and me paying for what should be paying for itself

Joe Berns 3 years, 9 months ago

Might not be "world class", but I've dined at Bartolotta in Vegas before. http://www.wynnlasvegas.com/dining/bartolotta

It was really good, but for the price, OG is pretty good also.

Scott Morgan 3 years, 9 months ago

My apologies to 715 regarding having strange hours. I have heard the food is excellent there and look forward to slurping some pasta there soon.

NY152 3 years, 9 months ago

I do not care for 715. I think they have horrible food.

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