Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2012

Town Talk: UPDATE: Neighbors won’t appeal Ninth and N.H. project; Plans for Ten Thousand Villages to open downtown store on track; CVB seeking new director

August 23, 2012, 9:27 a.m. Updated August 23, 2012, 4:53 p.m.


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.


joes_donuts 5 years, 9 months ago

“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.”

Maybe if we had some decent hotel rooms in town, this wouldn't happen. When the Holidome is in the top 5 options for hotel rooms, there is a problem...

Bassetlover 5 years, 9 months ago

We do have decent hotels. The Oread and The Eldridge for starters.

budwhysir 5 years, 9 months ago

Joe Im confused, are you saying most of our retail revenue in Lawrence is obtained by those traveling from out of town for KU events? I am not sure we have enough good businesses in Lawrence to attract enough shoppers to stay the weekend at new hotels.... I

joes_donuts 5 years, 9 months ago

Yes, our downtown retail revenue is greatly affected by the events happening at KU. I know, I have business interests downtown. And it is not just KU sporting events but all events up at the University. How often do you shop downtown?

There are very few stores downtown anymore that cater to daily needs, besides restaurants and bars. Specialty shops are only that, specialties that you visit once a year. For out of town visitors, probably 90% of them spend their extra time walking around downtown (what else are they going to do in Lawrence).

And if we had more decent hotels, we could stop some of those people from staying in KC or the Legends area.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 9 months ago

Chad, you do a great job keeping us up to date with businesses coming and going. However, sometimes you report things that don't materialize with no follow up. I recall maybe a year ago a report about a furniture rental store moving into the old Blockbuster building. Then nothing. I saw the sign indicating a blues bar going into the old Bambino's across from the new Dillon's. That sign is now gone. Any chance we can get more follow-up when plans change.

Still, overall you do a great job. I even like the personal touches. If I were a teacher, you'd get a solid A-.

d_prowess 5 years, 9 months ago

I would give Chad an A+ though for connecting with his readers through these comments. Chad and Matt Tait should give a seminar to the other reporters at the LJW about how great/beneficial it is to be an active participant with their stories when posted online. It makes me gravitate to reading their stories before any others.

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 9 months ago

Thanks to both of you. I appreciate that. I do believe the Chicago/Blues place is still going to open. He had told me it would be late August, and one thing I've learned is it always takes longer to open a place than the owner thinks it is going to take. As for the Blockbuster building, I did provide a brief update a month or so ago. The update is the deal for Rent A Center to move in there has obviously fallen apart. I will try to provide more frequent updates. There is always a line to walk between providing an update versus people thinking I'm just trying to pump up a business by frequently mentioning them, which I try to avoid. Thanks.

TruthSayer 5 years, 9 months ago

From what I understand, the blues club is slated to open up August 31st. They will be one of the 7 venues hosting the Mid by Midwest music showcase taking place that weekend.

Catalano 5 years, 9 months ago

Yes, update on the Chicago restaurant project!

TruthSayer 5 years, 9 months ago

The (w)rec center is a scam! In the middle of nowhere, no infrastructure, no hotels. Just Fritzels wanting to dump cow pasture on the city.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 9 months ago

They should raise that guest tax to help taxpayers recoup some of the corporate welfare that's subsidizing the new hotels-- but the tax increase should not be levied against guests staying at hotels that aren't getting tax subsidies.

readit 5 years, 9 months ago

What's going on at the old Old Navy store? Looks like some remodeling going on there today.

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 9 months ago

It is a Ross Department Store. Here is what we had about it back in April.

TruthSayer 5 years, 9 months ago

If Lawrence wants to attract tourism and conventions then they need to get developers to stop building apartments and strip malls and start building them parks and family oriented recreational environments. Lawrence used to have Putt-Put, go cart tracks, water slides and even a giant slide (over 40 years ago). Of course that was back in the day when Lawrence was a family oriented town and not a college student oriented city. Most convention goers want to go to a destination where they can take their family along. Why do you think Disney has such a bang up convention business?

MarcoPogo 5 years, 9 months ago

When did Lawrence have a water slide? There was Wet Willy's out by Perry but that's the only one I can think of.

msezdsit 5 years, 9 months ago

"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."

Sounds like a tough sell in downtown Lawrence. The farther away from mainstream you get the tougher the sell. Just ask Wyldewood Cellars, although they were somewhat mainstream.

Great news that we will have a new hotel in downtown so the other hotels around town will have to share their business. My guess is the the hotel in the Riverfront mall will take the brunt of that hit. Makes you wonder, Dolph owns that hotel and his buddies are going to provide competition for him.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

The Legends is a tax dollar moneyhole that is NOT working for the taxpayers. It is loaded with tax incentives that line the pockets of developers yet bypass the taxpayers cookie jars. Yes there is plenty of opportunity to pay higher sales taxes at some of the Legends consumer opportunities that reward developers aka guaranteed profit margin.

Enjoy the Tax Dollar Heaven


joes_donuts 5 years, 9 months ago

Wrong and wrong. You only tell half the story. Property taxes and sales taxes are only a part of the taxes collected at the Legends. Ask the Wyandotte Police department if they have seen a benefit. Ask the schools. Look at the difference in the taxes Wyandotte is now getting from before and after the Legends. Everyone of them will say they have benefited.

Now, did they steal some of that business from other communities in KC (and Lawrence), yes. But are we going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves and not try to get some back or improve? I hope not...

deec 5 years, 9 months ago

What other taxes are there? Wyco doesn't get FICA, and there's no city income tax.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

Maybe it's time to alter how final decisions are made at city hall? How about a Local Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Perhaps it's time to create an active group of taxpayers to design an ordinance that places more final decisions in the hands of the voters. Yes a Local Taxpayers Bill of Rights for we the people who pay the bills.

For any group of politicians to believe that voters blindly trust politicians with their tax dollars is not real and hasn't been for at least 50 years. It would not matter who the commissioners are and would certainly be no different if I were a city commissioner or if anyone else were a city commissioner.

Let’s place the voting taxpayers aka the largest group of stakeholders in Lawrence,Kansas in the position of deciding how they would like to have tax dollars spent. A Local Taxpayers Bill of Rights would be appropriate.

Taxpayers want more opportunity to approve tax incentives and projects such as the the monster field house tax dollar boon doggle.

Taxpayers want more opportunity to approve projects that involve tax dollars across the board. After all we taxpayers are the source for corporate welfare. Why shouldn't we have the opportunity to decide how reckless or how fiscally responsible our tax dollars should be expended?

Put this question on the upcoming ballot. Let's vote in a Local Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 9 months ago

We voted for the SLT and you've been in hissy fit about that ever since.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 9 months ago

Who else got mentally sidetracked after reading "Neighbors won’t appeal"?

roosmom 5 years, 9 months ago

When visiting a 10,000 Villages store in CO, I thought one would do really well in Lawrence. I'm glad they will be coming downtown.

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