News and notes from around town:
• Thursday afternoon, I was in a room with commercial real estate agents, architects, retailers, a host of developer types — and an open bar. So yeah, I heard a few tidbits Thursday. One of the items creating buzz at the commercial real estate event hosted by Colliers International was the future of the Sears building on South Iowa Street. The most interesting comment I heard came from Allison Vance Moore, who is a broker in Lawrence’s Colliers office, and she does a lot of work in the retail sector.
“I think we’ll see some possible repositioning of players,” Moore said. “Not necessarily new faces, but repositioning of the current tenant mix.”
I couldn’t get Moore to say whether that means we should look for Old Navy to go into that spot. It seems that could be one possibility, though. If that happens, surely there will be room for a couple of other tenants. The Sears building is about 85,000 square feet. Old Navy’s current location is about 20,000 square feet. I still got the strong impression that Ross — a chain of discount department stores — is likely to take the Old Navy spot. If Old Navy moves over to Sears, that likely would be viewed as a net gain for the city. Lawrence gets a new retailer in Ross; Old Navy takes over a space that was underperforming; and there likely would still be room for a couple of other retailers to move in next to Old Navy.
If Moore is talking about someone other than Old Navy, well, that will be interesting to watch. That would create a vacancy somewhere else in Lawrence, and the domino game would begin anew.
I also heard the name Dick’s Sporting Goods mentioned in Lawrence. The city had a Dick’s years ago at 23rd and Iowa where Hastings is currently located. Looking around on the Internet, it appears most Dick’s Sporting Goods Stores are around 40,000 to 50,000 square feet.
I also occasionally hear something about a hardware-type of use at the building. I’m not sure what that would mean, but there is a consensus that the building is way too small for a Menards home improvement center. In fact, I hear differing reports about Menards. Some say the company has some interest. Others say that’s overblown.
The thing I left surest about (other than open bars are a fantastic interviewing technique) is that there is a lot of interest in the Sears building from somebody or perhaps multiple somebodies. It seems unlikely that the building is going to sit empty for an extended period of time.
• Construction work appears to be underway on the former Stone Creek Restaurant site at 3801 W. Sixth St. But if you’re hoping for some new swank restaurant to move into the space, put your bib away. (A bib is a sign of a swank spot, isn’t it?) Instead, all signs are pointing to the 4,200-square-foot building becoming an insurance office. As we previously reported, a group led by Travis Oliver, president of Douglas County Insurance and Financial Services, has purchased the building. The company currently has its offices at 2706 S. Iowa St.
• Perhaps the city and the county right now are wishing they had insurance to replace out-dated technology. The city is spending more than $1 million in 2012 to replace radios for their public works, fire and police fleets. The radios are becoming obsolete because of new federal regulations regarding the use of radio spectrum. Well, the radio fun is just beginning.
It now appears that the city and county’s Emergency Communications Center — the place that answers the phone when you call 911 — has about $7 million worth of equipment upgrades that need to be made in the next couple of years to meet new federal technology standards.
County Administrator Craig Weinaug has sent a letter to the city asking it to consider providing $4.62 million to the project. The city and the county jointly operate the dispatch center. An agreement calls for the city to pay 66 percent of the operating costs and the county to pay 34 percent of the operating costs. But the agreement doesn’t spell out how the costs of large capital projects — such as this technology upgrade — should be split.
Weinaug said because of the amount of time it will take to plan this upgrade, the city and the county need to reach an agreement on how to fund it within the “next few months.”
Keep an eye on this issue. How costs are shared between the city and the county on several joint operations has been a point of contention with some in Lawrence City Hall for a number of years. It will be interesting to see if this project brings the issue to a head.
Regardless, it will be a ticklish financial situation. The general rule of thumb is that the city can issue about $5 million in new debt in a year without having to increase the city’s property tax rate. If one project takes up $4.6 million of it, that will create a squeeze.
• I’ve already written about this a couple of weeks ago, but potbellied pigs will be making an appearance at Lawrence City Hall on Tuesday. Commissioners will consider changing the animal code to allow the pets, after a local resident discovered that his beloved potbellied pig was not actually legal in the Lawrence city limits. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday. It ought to be fun. All we’ll be missing is an open bar.