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News and notes from around town:
• It looks like the idea of converting the old Santa Fe railway station in East Lawrence into a transit hub is fading away. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will receive a recommendation from their transit administrator that includes abandoning further planning to convert the train station at Seventh and New Jersey streets into a hub for the city’s T bus system.
Such a recommendation was a bit predictable, given that the small site of the depot created a host of logistical problems for pulling buses into and out of the site. But the problem hit a larger snag when several neighbors in the area objected to the idea of a large amount of buses traveling through their neighborhood on a regular basis.
To top it off, it sounds like the city didn’t get very far in its discussion with Burlington Northern Santa Fe — the owner of the depot — about taking over some office space currently used by the railroad. The city, it appears, wants to move its transit offices from the city parking garage at Ninth and New Hampshire to a new transit hub.
Abandoning the idea of using the train station as a transit hub won’t end the discussion about the future of the Santa Fe Depot, which is a 1950s-era building that preservationists desperately want to see preserved. But it does raise the question of whether the city can feasibly buy the building and rehabilitate it.
The idea of using the building for the bus system really came about because the city thought it might be a good way to get some federal funds to rehabilitate the structure. The city has been reluctant to purchase the building from Burlington Northern Santa Fe because the city doesn’t want to take on the costs of restoring the building, unless it can get some sort of grant or other source of outside funding. But winning a grant for the project will be difficult because the city doesn’t own the building. The railroad is willing to sell the building — but not the ground — for a nominal amount.
So, it will be interesting to see if city commissioners continue to work on solving this chicken-or-the egg-type of problem or whether they begin to wave a white flag on this project that has stretched out for several years now. The latter certainly would disappoint a group of residents who have formed Depot Redux, an active group that does some maintenance and cleaning of the facility on its own dime and is the chief advocate for preserving the unique building.
• The future of the Santa Fe building won’t be the only interesting question, though.
City officials really do want a transit station somewhere. They need a location for riders to get out of the elements while they wait for a bus, and it would be nice to have restroom facilities available for both riders and bus drivers.
In the past, one unwritten rule about the city’s bus system is that is should be downtown-centric. Well, the city transit staff is now asking for $40,000 to hire a consultant to study possible transit hub locations. The request specifically mentions sites outside the downtown area should be studied that “may more appropriately match passenger ridership patterns and demands.”
Certainly sites downtown also will be studied, but it appears transit leaders don’t feel too confident about their ability to stay near the area of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. As you know, a new hotel/retail building is proposed for that intersection. But I’m not sure that use precludes a transit hub from being in the block. It seems the city has many of the items it already needs for a transit hub located in the block. The city owns a major building in the block — the parking garage. I assume the parking garage is plumbed for bathrooms since there are two city offices — the transit offices and parking/animal control — already on the ground floor of the building. The area even has a handy-dandy mid-block, pedestrian-activated stop light to make crossing the street easy. It would seem some type of lobby area would need to be created somewhere on the ground floor of the parking garage to accommodate riders.
On the flip side, there is the question of whether city leaders want this rapidly developing area of downtown to be lined with large buses. Another question for another day.
• What there is no question about, is Lawrence loves its cheap meat and it loves putting it on a grill to char away. Right? That sounds like Lawrence, doesn’t it?
Well, it ought to because Lawrence has been named the seventh-best city in all of America for “Affordable Summer Cookouts.” No, I didn’t just make that title up, although since I’m a member of the media, it appears I have the power to grant titles these days.
Instead, Kiplinger, the financial and investing-oriented publication, has bestowed that honor on Lawrence. Its Web site currently touts Lawrence as a college town known for “its lively art scene and, you guessed it, beef barbecue.” It notes how we like our barbecue “slathered in the state’s signature thick, sticky, tomato-based sauce.”
The article lists Centennial Park as a great grilling spot, and reports that the odds of a sunny summer day in Lawrence are 68.3 percent. (Is anybody else rooting for the 31.7 percent right now?)
But apparently what pushed Lawrence over the top is our access to cheap barbecue supplies. The article notes the cost of “cookout staples” is 10.1 percent below average. (What? Bourbon, blow torches and burn cream costs 10 percent more in other markets?) Particularly attractive, according to the article, is that ground beef costs nearly 18 percent below the national average.
I know you are wondering what cities actually could be more affordable when it comes to cookouts than Lawrence, so you can click here to see the complete list. But I’ll tell you about the No. 1 spot. It is McAllen, Texas. In fact, four of the 10 cities were in Texas. In McAllen, the cost of cookout staples is 11.6 percent below the national average. But hold on to your Stetson, soda prices in McAllen run 15 percent below the national average.
One of McAllen’s specialties, according to the article is beef barbacoa, shredded meat traditionally made from a slow-cooked cow’s head. (I can’t imagine why that cut of beef is cheap.)
So, you guessed it. I’m going to save some money this weekend. I’ll pack the kids and wife up and we’ll drive the 1,012 miles to McAllen Texas, and we’re going to get us some of that cheap soda.
Now, where did I put my cow’s head pot?