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News and notes from around town:
• UPDATE: As we have been speculating, a new set of plans have emerged for the Ninth and New Hampshire hotel/apartment building. The city manager's office this afternoon received notice of a new set of plans that will reduce the height of the building proposed for the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. The city also received word that a development group led by Doug Compton and Mike Treanor have plans to propose a new multistory apartment building on the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire, where the offices of Black Hills Energy currently are located.
Here's a summary of what we know at the moment:
— The new design for the hotel/apartment building on the southeast corner largely will be reduced by one story on its western edge — the edge along New Hampshire Street — to four stories. The part of the building at the very corner of Ninth and New Hampshire, however, is proposed to be five stories tall to house a restaurant on the top floor. The letter to City Hall doesn't go into much detail, but my understanding is that the developers have been able to reduce the height of the building because they have removed most of the apartments units from the building. Now, the building is proposed largely to only have space for the hotel, ground floor retail (developers still hope for a grocery store), and the fifth-floor restaurant. I believe the hotel still will have around 80 rooms.
— In contrast, the building proposed for the northeast corner would be largely for apartments. Specific plans for the building weren't included in the letter, but it is my understanding the project will be about the same size as the Hobbs Taylor Lofts building near Eighth and New Hampshire. That would make it about 75 feet tall, or about six stories. Although not mentioned specifically in the letter, sources tell me this means that Black Hills Energy will be moving its administrative offices to space currently owned by Compton on N. Iowa Street. There has been speculation for weeks that Compton and Black Hills were working on a deal to swap properties. Compton would take over the Black Hills property at Ninth and Iowa, and Black Hills would receive Compton's extensive office complex that houses the headquarters for his First Management Inc. The swap would allow Compton to move First Management's headquarters into the second floor of the recently completed 901 building on the southwest corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. I'll check in shortly with Black Hills to try to get some official comment.
— The city's Historic Resources Commission is expected to review the new plans for the southeast corner at a special meeting on April 30.
— The development group will ask for several incentives to help build public infrastructure for the two new buildings. The letter indicates the group will seek both tax increment financing, and a transportation development district, which will allow for a special sales tax to be charged on the hotel rooms and other retail sales made in the two buildings.
• A little piece of O.J. Simpson — or at least his infamous murder trial — is stored right here in Lawrence. (No, unfortunately it is not the white Bronco.)
Instead, many of the electronic case records from the O.J. Simpson trial are managed by Lawrence-based Visual Data Software Corp. The company stores electronic records for companies and organizations across the world, including some for the Orange County, Calif., justice system.
Business has been so good, the company is undertaking a major expansion. (No, O.J. isn’t in more trouble. Well, maybe he is, but that’s not what is fueling the expansion.) Visual Data has leased 6,000 square feet of space in the former Tanger Factory Outlet Mall in North Lawrence to accommodate growth that has seen its employee total more than double in the past year.
Companies are flocking to the idea of no longer needing elaborate information technology divisions, but rather using the computer servers of companies such as Visual Data to store their important documents.
The idea is called cloud computing, I think, although our IT department can attest that I’m not exactly an expert on computer-related issues. (Chad, we’ve been over this before. Your IP address won’t include the word “street” in it.)
Anyway, life in the cloud means you can access your documents anywhere you have access to the Internet, and it is a whole heck of a lot easier than carrying three or four file cabinets around with you.
The result has been that companies, governments and other organizations are flocking to companies like Visual Data to set up and manage their systems. Visual Data has added more than a dozen employees in the last year, and now has 25 total.
Company founder and president Keith Mason is expecting to add another 20 to 30 employees within the next 12 months. The company has two growth-oriented projects. One is the launch of a new document management program called DWCloud, which will be geared to small and mid-sized businesses.
The second project is a call-center operation the company is testing. Visual Data landed a contract with a national chain of dental centers to manage its records. Now, Visual Data also is developing a call center that will allow the company to do scheduling of appointments, answer and make marketing calls, and handle other such tasks.
Mason founded Visual Data in 2006 after coming to the city to do some consulting work for what was then the Lawrence facility for NCS. While here, he met his future wife, and ultimately decided the lower overhead and friendly people would make for a good place to start his own company.
Allison Vance Moore of the Lawrence Colliers International office help broker the deal to land the company in the former mall, which is now called the I-70 Business Center. With each month, it is becoming clearer that the space has a much better future as an office park than it ever did as a mall. With the addition of Visual Data, the center is now more than 75 percent leased after going several years with a vacancy rate well above 50 percent. Check out the parking lot on any weekday, and it is clear the center has become a significant employment hub.
• From cloud computing to figuring out how to hover in the clouds. I’m telling you, the summer of 2013 is going to require a hover craft to navigate Lawrence streets — especially if you have any plans of traveling on Iowa Street. We already have reported the city will undertake a major rebuilding of Iowa Street on both sides of the 15th and Iowa intersection. The work will reduce the busy stretch of road to one lane in each direction for the entire summer of 2013.
Well, on Tuesday, city commissioners are set to add another Iowa Street project to the 2013 list. The city is planning to designate Iowa Street from 29th Street to the south city limits as the stretch of state or federal highway that will get repaved in the city in 2013. Iowa Street also serves as U.S. Highway 59.
Each year, the city receives about $200,000 in state funding to repave a section of highway within the city limits. This summer crews will repave Sixth Street — which is also U.S. Highway 40 — from Monterey Way to Iowa.
• Maybe a bunch of street performers eating fire can take our minds off of all of the traffic gridlock that's coming in a year or so.
Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday meeting are set to approve $2,000 in funding for the Lawrence Busker Festival, an annual summer event that brings street performers to Downtown Lawrence.
The $2,000 in funding is part of $7,200 worth of grants recommended by the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission. In addition to the Busker Fest, other projects recommended for funding include:
— $1,700 to fund an indigenous youth dance troupe at the Four Winds Native Center.
— $2,000 to fund an oral history quilt project at the Douglas County Senior Services Center.
— $500 to fund a family arts night program for guests of the Family Promise of Lawrence program, which serves homeless families and children.
— $1,000 to fund the JAMS summer benchmark session at VanGo Inc.
In case you are wondering — or in case you need to practice your fire-eating skills — I believe the Lawrence Busker Festival is set for Aug. 24-26 this year.