News and notes from around town:
• UPDATE: I just got confirmation from Lawrence attorney Ron Schneider that his clients who have opposed plans for a multi-story hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire, won't file a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court trying to stop the project.
The Lawrence City Commission earlier this year allowed the project to move forward despite a rejection of the plans from the city's Historic Resources Commission. At that time neighbors had said they were considering whether to appeal that decision to district court.
But Schneider told me this afternoon that he and his clients have been in discussions with the development group — which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — and have decided to not file an appeal.
That essentially should be the last legal hurdle for the project, which proposed to build a multi-story hotel and retail building on the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire.
Schneider told me that Compton and his development group have agreed to a deal that will monitor the properties of Schneider's clients for any damage before during or immediately after construction of the hotel. The deal spells out how any damages would be handled. The deal, however, does not make any modifications to the design of the hotel/retail building.
"The resolution we have come to with Doug Compton and his companies protect my clients' interests, and Doug Compton and his companies have been very accommodating," Schneider said.
Schneider, though, said his clients still wish that the multi-story project were not proceeding.
"But the reality is the project is going forward as approved," Schneider said. "We could spend a lot of time and money appealing, but we do not know if we would be successful."
• Back in April we reported the unique, not-for-profit retailer Ten Thousand Villages was set to open a store in Downtown Lawrence. I’ve been getting a few questions lately if that is still the case.
Indeed it is. I’m expecting an announcement soon from the folks at Ten Thousand Villages to confirm which spot along Massachusetts Street they’ve chosen.
Word around town is that a couple of locations are the leading contenders. There is the space at 815 Mass., which used to be the formal wear shop next to Marks Jewelers. Allison Vance Moore, a broker with Lawrence’s Colliers International, has confirmed to me she has a lease pending on that spot. Also, I saw workers in there Wednesday tearing out Sheetrock and doing other demo work.
The second spot is 835 Mass. Those of you who are connoisseurs of Elderberry wine are probably saying to yourselves, “That’s where Wyldewood Cellars is.”
You are correct, Elderberry lovers. And I will say something to you that no one every says to me: You should have drunk more.
An employee of the store, along with other sources, has confirmed that Wyldewood Cellars is going out of business in Lawrence. The store’s last day is slated to be around Oct. 31. UPDATE: John Brewer, an owner of Wyldewood Cellars recently called me and gave me more information. He said a closure of the downtown store may well be what happens, but he is holding out hope that it may not come to that. He said the store's future kind of depends on the future ownership of the building.
Moore confirmed to me she has a contract pending on the entire building, which used to house Winfield House before it moved to its new location in the 600 block of Mass. In other words, a new owner is on tap for the building, and it looks like a new business to lease the building may follow. If that happens, Brewer said Wyldewood will have to make a change. Brewer said he isn't sure whether the store would try to find another location in Lawrence. If the store does stay in Lawrence, it may well look outside of downtown, he said.
"It seems like the way Downtown Lawrence does its parking is a problem," Brewer said.
He said he'll also have to factor in whether it makes more sense to run a Lawrence store or to take advantage of a new state law that allows wineries to now sell product at festivals. He said he participated in a recent festival in De Soto and sold more wine in one day than he typically sells in a week at the Lawrence store.
"There's a lot of issues for us to think about," Brewer said.
As for Ten Thousand Villages, if you have forgotten, the store will carry items grown or produced by artisans from small villages around the world. The shop will be heavy on items such as coffee, chocolate, home decor, art and other similar products.
The company has more than 350 stores across the country that all have a mission of promoting fair trade, which is the concept of selling products at a price that ensures the people who make or grow the products are a paid a fair wage and have safe working conditions.
The stores are unique because they are all not-for-profit. (Unfortunately there are lots of retailers who fall into the not-for-profit category these days, but Ten Thousand Villages actually does it by design.) A non-profit board runs each store. The store in Overland Park has done so well, that the board there agreed to use some of its excess earnings to provide seed money to get the new Lawrence store up and running.
When I get a more formal update about the Lawrence store, I’ll pass it along.
• Ten Thousand Villages is exciting, but 10,000 conventions would be great too. (Well, maybe not that many. If convention-goers found our Elderberry wine stash, things might get too crazy.)
But the point is, more conventions in Lawrence would be a good thing, and it appears there is going to be a renewed emphasis placed on that at the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Ads are currently being run to recruit a new director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau. The new person will take over for Susan Henderson who has been a part of the convention and visitors bureau staff for more than a decade.
Fred Conboy — the new leader of Destination Management Inc., which is the management group for both the CVB and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area — said Henderson decided to cut back on her work scheduled to spend more time with family and such.
“At first I wouldn’t accept the resignation,” Conboy said. “We’re sorry to lose someone as experienced as Susan. She’s been on the staff for 11 years. But this gives us a chance to reset and look at our goals.”
Conboy said he hopes to fill the position with someone who can be very active on the front lines of convention sales. Conboy said Lawrence has a good reputation as a market for day-trip visitors, but he said his office needs to help create more overnight visitors, who pay the transient guest taxes that are a major funding stream for tourism-related initiatives.
Conboy will take applications for the position through the end of the month, and hopes to have the spot filled within 30 days. He said the new leader will need to be someone who can really evaluate the current meeting room and hotel space the city has to offer, and match that with the appropriate type of conventions and events.
The position also will need to recognize just how competitive the convention market has become in this part of the state.
“Kansas City continues to build destination properties for meetings and conventions,” Conboy said. “And the Legends area has become increasingly attractive for some visitors to stay overnight, even if they primarily are visiting Lawrence. I heard there were several families in town for commencement who stayed at the Legends. The tough competition in the area is really the No. 1 issue for us to address.”
Henderson’s last day is Friday. Conboy said she will continue to do some consulting work for the CVB on a part-time basis.