News and notes from around town:
• This is unconfirmed, so take this for whatever you think it is worth, but it is my understanding that the search for a new Lawrence Chamber of Commerce president and CEO is honing in on three candidates.
I believe several chamber officials and their consulting firm will host candidates and their families on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week.
The three candidates receiving strong consideration, I’ve been told, have experience either in the No. 1 or No. 2 positions of a chamber of commerce organization. But the field is varied in several ways.
One candidate is a longtime chamber CEO in a neighboring state, in a city roughly the size of Lawrence but with a fairly rich industrial heritage. His chamber organization has received a 5-star accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and he’s been an active leader of the community’s economic development efforts. (Lawrence doesn’t have a starred accreditation rating, in case you are wondering.)
Another candidate previously was a longtime senior vice president in a Missouri chamber of commerce in a city quite a bit larger than Lawrence. But in a twist that would be interesting to see how it is received in Lawrence, the fellow has been employed by the University of Missouri for about two years in a position that is now falling victim to budget cuts. For 15 years prior to that, he was a well-regarded senior vice president of economic development for his Missouri community, which has a pretty broad industrial and commercial economy.
The third candidate is a bit more non-traditional. He’s been in the chamber industry for less than five years. He’s currently the president of a chamber of commerce in a neighboring state in a community that is about a quarter the size of Lawrence. Additionally, the chamber in that community is not responsible for leading the area’s economic development efforts. Instead, the chamber is more of a traditional business advocacy organization. But the candidate is credited with creating a dramatic turnaround of the chamber’s operations. Prior to getting into the chamber industry, the candidate owned and operated a small business for more than a decade.
None of the three has any particular connection to Lawrence. There were three Lawrence residents — all of whom are pretty well-connected in local government and business arenas — who were interviewed for the job. Whether any of them remain in the mix seems less certain. At one point, chamber leaders talked about how finding someone with “Douglas County DNA” would be an important consideration in their search. The chamber has had three successive CEOs from outside the area who have had relatively short tenures.
I’m not sure what, if any, groups Lawrence chamber officials will take the finalists to on their upcoming visits. But I assume they’ll have a sit down with some elected officials, since public funding currently represents a large percentage of the chamber’s revenue stream.
• Maybe there will be a duel with shish kabobs at high noon. (No, not for the chamber interviews.) I’m talking about the hibachi restaurant scene, which is getting more competitive in Lawrence. As we reported several months ago, the Hibachi Grill opened in the Pine Ridge Plaza shopping center near 31st and Iowa streets.
Around that time, King Buffet, 1601 W. 23rd St., shut down for renovations. King Buffet has now re-opened, and an employee there tells me the major addition is a hibachi grill with a wide selection of seafood, vegetables and other grilling items. The restaurant also has added a sushi bar, and has kept its all you can eat buffet.
• After a trip to an all-you-can-eat buffet, perhaps a walk in a park is in order. If your park of choice is Deerfield Park in northern Lawrence, it may soon have a new look.
The folks in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department are close to settling on a new master plan for the park. Department officials recently held a neighborhood meeting about possible park improvements, and officials had expected the public to be interested in the idea of a new shelter house and restrooms.
But instead, the participants of the meeting were more interested in a new basketball court and improvements to the small skate park that is in the area.
So Parks and Recreation officials have shifted gears and are now looking at about $30,000 worth of improvements to the skate park area. The city already has hired a Maine-based skatepark design firm to do work on the city’s main skate park in Centennial Park. At Tuesday’s city commission meeting, commissioners will consider approving a contract with the company to do work at Deerfield as well.
Mark Hecker, parks superintendent for the city, told me the Deerfield skate park will be designed to be more friendly for younger and less advanced skaters.
The city has a budget of $150,000 for Deerfield Park improvements. Part of the money will be used to build a new outdoor basketball court. It will be in the spot where a combination basketball/tennis court previously was. That court recently was removed because its surface had badly deteriorated.
Hecker said interest in adding a tennis court to the park wasn’t real high with the group, but he said a practice tennis wall may be included.
Hecker also hopes there will be enough money left over to at least get started on building a multi-purpose trail in the park. The master plan calls for a looped trail in the large open space area of the park.
The department hopes to get to work on some of the skatepark and basketball court improvements in early summer.