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Archive for Friday, April 13, 2012

Town Talk: New owner takes over Z’s Divine Espresso; city pondering $2.5 million project to improve road for possible rec center; black-footed ferrets and Earth Day

April 13, 2012

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News and notes from around town:

• Gather around young ‘ens, and let me tell you about the old days. All the way back until April of 2000, if you wanted to have gourmet coffee, (brace yourself) you had to get out of your car to get it. That’s right. There were no drive-thru coffee shops in Lawrence. Just fast food chains that sold something labeled as coffee, not that fancy stuff that will make your eyelids twitch for a good hour or two after a $7 shot of it.

April of 2000 is when Z’s Divine Espresso brought Lawrence into the gourmet coffee drive-thru era with its store at 1800 E. 23rd St.

Well, there is now change a brewing in that business. Founder Mark Zwahl has sold the business — including the downtown store — to Baldwin City resident Sherry Bowden.

Bowden recently took over operations, and told me much of the business will remain the same.

“We’ll still be organic and green and all the good things like that will continue,” said Bowden, who worked for 20 years in the food and vending business in the Kansas City area.

As for Zwahl, he said he plans to “decompress” for awhile. (How long does it take to get 12 years of espresso caffeine out of your system?) He recently did begin work in the volunteer position of center director for the Kansas City/Heartland Community of the Mankind Project, an area men’s self-improvement and social group. He also said he plans to begin doing consulting work for businesses that want to create a “value-driven” organization rather than one that is just based on profits.

But Zwahl said he will be watching the local coffee scene with interest. He thinks many coffee shops are going to have to make major adjustments to compete in the future.

“I think the industry is holding up, but the big change was when McDonald’s decided to enter the coffee business in a big way,” Zwahl said.

As the likes of McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and even Dairy Queen have started to sell specialty coffee drinks, Zwahl said traditional coffee shops better start coming up with a new sales strategy. Selling the sophistication of a double mocha may not work as well in the future.

“It is not really gourmet if there is one on every corner,” Zwahl said. “I think to survive, the coffee shops are going to have to get into the food business a lot more, and I didn’t want to become a restaurateur.”

Beats me. I don’t drink coffee and neither does my wife. I thank my lucky stars for that each day. If my insurance agent thought there was a chance my wife would be driving while ingesting the caffeine of an espresso, he surely would cancel our coverage.

• You may need a jolt from a double espresso, cappuccino, frappe, whipped, shaken-not-stirred, something or another to keep up with the pace that this youth fieldhouse/recreation center proposal is moving at.

City commissioners at their Tuesday meeting are scheduled to apply for a state grant that would help pay for $2.5 million worth of roadwork that is necessary to create safe access to the proposed site on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

The grant application should start to give folks an idea of how significant an undertaking this fieldhouse/recreation center project will be. The $2.5 million project the city is considering represents improvements that have to be made on roads leading to the site. In other words, the $2.5 million won’t make any improvements to the site itself. All those improvements will come at a later time with an additional price tag.

Specifically, the city is seeking a grant to widen Sixth Street (which is also U.S. Highway 40) just west of the SLT interchange. The project would widen Sixth Street to four lanes for about a quarter mile west of the interchange. That’s about where the entrance to the First United Methodist Church is located. The church is on the south side of the highway, and the entrance to the new center would on the north side of the highway.

In addition to widening the road and adding turn lanes, the project also would involve chopping seven to eight feet off of the hill, which would greatly improve the sight distance at the intersection.

The city is applying for a Geometric Improvement Grant through the Kansas Department of Transportation. The grant would pay up to $900,000 of the project. The city would be responsible for paying for the remaining $1.6 million, or whatever the final price tag ends up being.

Applying for this grant doesn’t commit the city to anything yet, but it gets the city pretty close to making a commitment. It would be embarrassing for the city to apply for a highly competitive grant only to turn it down later.

This project is moving at an extremely fast pace for City Hall business, yet not once have the private developers — namely members of the Schwada family and Thomas Fritzel — ever made a public presentation about what their vision is for the project. Also, there has never been any type of public announcement about how much money the private sector is expected to bring to this public-private partnership. It will be interesting to see if that soon changes.

• I admit it. I have no transition in my bag of writing tricks to get us to the topic of a black-footed ferret. But indeed there is a black footed ferret to talk about today. The city’s Prairie Park Nature Center is now home to the extremely rare animal.

The city received a six-year old black footed ferret named Harlem within the last week. It has been estimated that there are less than 1,000 black-footed ferrets in the wild, and a few decades ago they were thought to be extinct.

Harlem is not on public display yet, but rather is getting acclimated to her new surroundings. Plans call for a public unveiling of her habitat and display area at 2 p.m. on April 22 at the Prairie Park Nature Center, 2730 Harper.

The city received the ferret from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Wellington, Colo.

My understanding is the ferret’s new home in the center will be right next to the prairie dog exhibit. That’s interesting because a black-footed ferret’s primary food source are prairie dogs.

“They can see each other but they won’t be able to get at each other,” Roger Steinbrock with Lawrence Parks and Recreation told me.

Sounds like a cartoon in the making.

• In case you have forgotten, April 22 is also Earth Day. But here in Lawrence you don’t have to wait until Earth Day to actually celebrate Earth Day. On Saturday, the city will host an Earth Day celebration from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in South Park.

To kick off the event, KU Environs will have parade at 11 a.m. on Massachusetts Street from Seventh Street to South Park. At South Park, about 60 exhibitors will be on hand, including live music, food vendors and a host of informational booths on how to live a more-environmentally-friendly life.

There is no charge to attend the event.

Comments

toe 2 years ago

The rec center is a critical project to drive residential development west of the interchange. This in turn will drive the commercial development around the interchange. There is great optimism the bypass will be completed and when it is, the area around the rec center and the interchange will be golden for investors, developers, and the city.

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oneeye_wilbur 2 years ago

Why does the city lie? Pondering means that they are doing it. Do the commissioners think the public is really stupid?

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thuja 2 years ago

La Prima Tazza has the best tasting coffee and espresso in town. The others aren't even close.
Surrender to your dark master!

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Richard Heckler 2 years ago

My estimates are by the time taxpayers get the always ongoing bill for PLAY will be around $70,000,000(million). USD 497 has already spent $20 million on PLAY and yes school offiicals acknowledged publicly that the USD 497 spending was phase one of PLAY.

Why not put this spending to a vote?

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Richard Heckler 2 years ago

The rec center tax dollar money hole project is underway while voters are once again left out of the decision. This is one more pork barrel project for the real estate industry. Bonnie Lowe - http://www2.ljworld.com/chats/2006/nov/28/bonnie_lowe/

No public money on the table as yet so I say don't get to excited. Unfortunately this is the way Lawrence operates. Talking up a project without knowing the full cost which is reckless IMO.

Sooner or later these investors want to put it in the taxpayers tax dollar liability debt bundle so like I said a new tax dollar money hole to go with the other PLAY project money hole aka USD 497 athletic/sports project.

How do taxpayers feel about this? http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2007/may/should_city_spend_20_million_or_more_play_project/

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cummingshawk 2 years ago

Private funds? Please, the public has deep enough pockets to protect the folks interested in running the rec center, owned by the city, to allow them the chance to eke out a small profit from citywide taxes paying for the project. Before the management contract is awarded, there will probably have to be a guaranteed return to entice bidding on this hazy undeveloped concept.

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Flap Doodle 2 years ago

Prairie dogs on toast, yummy!

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StirrrThePot 2 years ago

I love Z's, Perfect Day is my favorite brew. We go there every two weeks to get that stuff in beans. Glad to see it is not going away, I hope it doesn't for a long, long time. "Perfect Day" is exactly that...

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agrabass 2 years ago

...don't forget Java Break. Cartoons 24/7, comfy seating, nooks & crannies to study in, & Fruity Pebbles on the menu! Always a great cup o' joe! Also, confused re:"unfriendly staff" comment at Z's. Spent time at both locations over the last 7 years & never witnessed it . You get back whatever you put out. Just sayin'.

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Adrienne Sanders 2 years ago

Isn't it going to cause a lot of stress for the ferret and prairie dogs to constantly be in sight of each other? Seems like it would.

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Ragingbear 2 years ago

I guess that Z's has gone downhill since '09 when I used to be a regular there. The service was top notch and their coffee was a dream in a cup that would wake you up, slap you about the head,face,neck and shoulders and then make you ask for more. I used to like it there because most of the other coffee shops downtown would have a pompous and arrogant demeanor about them. Henry's had good coffee but would constantly play freeform jazz (which sounded like a baby elephant being horribly violated by a trombone) or a 12 hour marathon of the same exact song (rolly polly fish heads). The Pig was cramped and filled with people that talked way to loud. They offered free coffee to people that got an AIDS test once. But you couldn't drink it there, it had to be to go. Amy's was alright for coffee, but too many homeless there would drag the place down. As for Starbucks...well, we just don't talk about them. Step 1 is to steal underpants and step 3 is profit.

I hope that the new owner helps Z's grow into it's full potential.

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deec 2 years ago

And the public subsidies for the private development begin.

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consumer1 2 years ago

As for "Z's" Please hire some friendly staff there to help your customer's.

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Steven Gaudreau 2 years ago

Not having turning lanes into the church on hwy 40 is dangerous now. The county should never have approved cars stopping on a highway, turning left in front of a blind hill while inattentive drivers are slamming on their brakes and going off the should to the right as to avoid running into the stopped car. I have witnessed it several times over the years. I hope they widen 40 all the way to Stull turn off.

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Acey 2 years ago

"That’s interesting because a black-footed ferret’s primary food source are prairie dogs."

A ferret's primary food source IS prairie dogs.
OR Prairie dogs ARE a black-footed ferret's primary food.

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