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News and notes from around town:
• After more than a week off to celebrate the holidays, I can assure you that the egg and the nog are not created equal. But speaking of holidays, maybe the Lawrence City Commission made a New Year’s resolution when it comes to a long-lingering request at Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
Back in November 2010, Doug Compton’s development group asked for a host of incentives for a new seven-story apartment/office building at the southwest corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. For those of you have a compass like my wife’s, (it has only three directions — right, left and toward the mall) that’s the building that is already largely constructed at Ninth and New Hampshire. In other words, it has taken the city about as long to get around to hearing the incentive request as it has taken to construct the entire building.
But commissioners are set to decide the issue at their 6:35 p.m. meeting today. City Hall staff members are recommending commissioners approve $280,000 in cash payments to the development group to compensate it for several public improvements — new sidewalks, stormwater improvements and the like — made as part of the project. Compton’s group originally had wanted all of the money in the first two years, but staff members are now recommending the money be paid out over 10 years, beginning in 2013.
The developers have argued that the project deserves the $280,000, in part, because it is included in an already-approved Tax Increment Financing district. That district — which was created back in 2000 — allows the city to basically keep all the new property taxes generated on the site. In other words, the city gets to keep the county and school district’s share of new property taxes in the district for the next several years. The district was created so new tax dollars generated by development in the district could be earmarked to pay for public improvements in the district. The big one was the nearly $8 million public parking garage that was built in the 900 block of New Hampshire back in 2000.
The TIF district plan contemplates reimbursing developers for public infrastructure costs, like the ones being asked for reimbursement by Compton. But the TIF plan also contemplated that the district would be fully developed by 2005. That didn’t come close to happening, and the lack of development in the district has thrown a monkey wrench into the financial projections for the district. The new property and sales taxes expected to be generated in the district haven’t materialized, and that has meant the city’s taxpayers have been left to pay for the nearly $8 million parking garage.
The development group said it understands the district hasn’t worked the way it was originally envisioned, but it notes that it wasn’t the original developer of the district either. In other words, don’t hold the past challenges of the district against the group that is now trying to produce the development that the district needs.
Based on current tax rates, it is estimated the new seven-story apartment/office building will generate about $265,000 a year in new property taxes for the city. If you want to boil this down to real simple terms, commissioners are being asked to decide whether to take a little more than a year’s worth of those new taxes and reimburse the developer for making some public improvements in the district. If commissioners decide against that, they’ll use the $280,000 to pay down the debt on the already-constructed city parking garage.
The city manager is recommending that the development be allowed to buy 65 parking passes to be used in the adjacent garage. This is quite a bit different from what the developers had asked for originally. Back in 2010, the development group had sought to have 65 reserved spaces in the parking garage. The group proposed that the spaces be provided free of charge for the first two years and at a reduced rate for the following 13 years.
The idea of reserving public parking spaces for downtown projects, though, has received a chilly reception. What’s being proposed by the city manager is that the development be allowed to purchase traditional parking passes, which entitle someone to a space if there is one available. The city manager is recommending that the development pay full price for the parking passes.
Because the seven-story apartment/office project has traditional downtown commercial zoning, it is not required to provide any off-street parking spaces.
If the city grants the incentives, the city manager is recommending that a formal agreement be signed by both the city and the developers. That agreement will require, among other things, that before the city makes its annual reimbursement payment that the developer be current on all property taxes due for the project.
One other issue that may come up at tonight’s meeting is why the city would offer an incentive to a project that already is well underway. People normally think of an incentive as a way to get a somebody to do a project.
The development group had already pulled a building permit in October 2010 — a month before it even asked for the incentives. But the developers have argued that they don’t really see their $280,000 request as an incentive as much as they believe it is the city following through on a previously approved deal. The TIF district plan, they argue, calls for certain public improvements to be eligible for reimbursement, so they didn’t feel the need to hold up the project while the $280,000 request went through the process.
All I know is that after writing all this, my head hurts. Of course, it could still be the nog.
• Before I left for the holiday, I started a new Town Talk feature — a weekly look at property sales recorded in the county. Here’s the second installment. Click here to see the complete list of property sales recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds for the week ending Dec. 26.
Based on the filings, it looks like we should keep an eye on the old Stone Creek restaurant building at 3801 W. Sixth St. That property was sold by Osage Federal Bank to Oliver Investment Group, LLC, which is led by Lawrence businessman Travis Oliver, who I believe is the owner of Douglas County Insurance and Financial Services. No word yet on if there is a specific project in mind for the location.
Also of note is that prime Kaw Valley ag ground continues to be a hot commodity. The Roger Pine Family completed another sale of its ag ground near the Lawrence Municipal Airport. The listings indicate that members of the Dobski family, which own the local McDonald’s franchise, bought about 79 acres from the Pine family.
• While I was gone, it looks like Lawrence’s retail scene took another body blow. Sears announced it will close its Lawrence store. That’s in addition to Old Navy’s plans to close its South Iowa Street store, and strong speculation that American Eagle Outfitters will close its downtown location.
But fear not shoppers, Lawrence did gain one new business while I was away. Burger King has opened its newest restaurant on West Sixth Street. The store is in front of Free State High at the northeast corner of Sixth Street and Champion Lane.
Just down the street near Sixth and Wakarusa there is a sign that a new tenant is on the way for the commercial building next to CVS. A Great Clips hair salon is currently under construction next to the Orange Leaf frozen yogurt store. But it looks like developers are still trying to find a tenant for the former SmashBurger spot, which is in that same retail building.