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News and notes from around town:
• From art to the art of a sandwich — that appears to be the direction the building at 919 Mass. is heading. For years, the 919 building was home to The Phoenix Gallery, before it moved into the 800 block of Massachusetts.
Now plans have been filed at City Hall to convert the vacant building into a restaurant. I haven’t been able to get an official word on what eatery will take over the spot — so take this for what’s it worth — but word on the street is that PepperJax Grill is set to move into the space. PepperJax has had a restaurant at 947 N.H. for several years, but it has not been a real big secret that the restaurant would like to get onto Massachusetts Street. I’ll let you know if I get some official word.
But indeed changes are on tap for the building. The building has some wooden siding on its facade. Plans filed at City Hall call for that siding to come off so the original brick can be exposed and a new awning can be added.
UPDATE: I did get the confirmation I was looking for that PepperJax is indeed moving into the space at 919. Allison Vance Moore of Lawrence's Colliers International office has brokered a deal for the space, and tells me PepperJax is excited about the move. I'm working to get in touch with a contact at PepperJax to get more information about the company's timeline and such.
• We can now close the book on holiday sales in Lawrence, and the latest numbers show it wasn’t a bad year. The city recently received its sales tax check from the state for January.
The January check largely represents sales that were made in December, so the report provides a good glimpse at how the critical holiday sales month played out in the city.
The new report shows the city collected $2.42 million in sales taxes for the period, up about 5.6 percent from the same period a year ago. In total, the increase amounts to an extra $128,000 in the city’s coffers. This also marks the fifth month in a row that the city’s sales tax collections have increased, compared to the same time period a year ago.
To look at it another way, the numbers indicate $111.8 million in retail sales occurred in Lawrence during the critical December/early January sales period. In non-inflation adjusted dollars, that’s the highest retail sales total for the period since 2009, when retailers posted $114.1 million in sales.
But, of course, inflation does exist. When you adjust the numbers for inflation, the results are still fairly positive. The 2012 mark is tied for the fifth highest total since 2002. Here’s a look at inflation-adjusted retail sales in Lawrence:
- 2012: $111.8 million
- 2011: $105.2 million
- 2010: $102.1 million
- 2009: $119.6 million
- 2008: $112.4 million
- 2007: $107.0 million
- 2006: $112.9 million
- 2005: $111.8 million
- 2004: $105.0 million
- 2003: $105.2 million
- 2002: $115.6 million
All in all, it looks like a surprisingly good report for Lawrence retailers. The same can’t be said of my credit card.
• Speaking of surprising, here is news that is not. The Lawrence-based architecture firm of Gould Evans is set to become the official architect for the city’s idea of a new West Lawrence recreation center.
City commissioners will consider approving a $55,000 contract with Gould Evans, which calls for the firm to produce a “conceptual design, construction estimates and provide site selection services” for the project. It is no surprise that Gould Evans won out over four other finalists — including local firms Treanor Architects and Sabatini & Associates. Gould Evans — which also is doing the library design — had been working with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department for quite some time on some preliminary ideas for the project.
One of the first orders of business for Gould Evans will be to evaluate potential sites for the center — which the city has taken to calling the Lawrence Activity and Wellness Center. Gould Evans and the city previously has been working with the idea that the center would be built on city-owned ground just north of the Walmart at Sixth and Wakarusa. That’s still a possible site, but as we’ve previously reported there has been an offer by a group led by Schwada family to donate property on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The development group argues the Sixth and SLT site might give the center a better chance to grow into a regional facility for youth tournaments and sporting events.
The commission also is set to approve a $16,500 contract with Jeffrey Byrne & Associates of Kansas City to study the feasibility of creating a public fundraising campaign to help finance the center, which likely would have a price tag of about $15 million.
Even if city commissioners approve these two contracts, they still will have to decide whether to formally move ahead with the recreation center idea. Commissioners previously have said they want to see another set of cost estimates and have a better feel for how much potential there is to raise private funds before they fully commit to the idea.