News and notes from around town:
• Indeed, Lawrence is where the rubber meets the road for one new company in town.
It appears Ohio-based K&M Tire has purchased a long vacant building in the East Hills Business Park with plans of opening a tire warehouse in the facility.
K&M Tire has announced it has purchased the former Progress Vanguard building at 3801 Greenway Circle. The company hopes to have the warehouse, which will have a little more than 80,000 square feet of space, up and running by early August. (A warehouse in East Hills. Maybe K&M’s crystal ball is telling them something about the future of the South Lawrence Trafficway.)
K&M is a wholesale tire dealer, meaning it makes sales and deliveries to retail tire dealers across the Midwest. The company currently operates 12 warehouses in 10 states. It plans to service both the Kansas and Missouri area with the Lawrence warehouse.
As far as new jobs go, the project will create a handful initially but will grow as the business grows. The company plans to hire three full-time delivery drivers and a sales representative who will be based in the Lawrence office. The company already has named Brian Christiansen as the warehouse manager.
So, if you get a new set of tires in the future, you may be helping the Lawrence economy in more ways than one. It looks like the company supplies most major brands, including Goodyear, Bridgestone, Cooper, Michelin, Uniroyal and about 13 others.
The project also provides a bit of a boost to the East Hills Business Park. K&M’s new building — which I believe it purchased — had been empty for about three years. Eco devo leaders, I’m sure, are thrilled to have the business filled with a company with growth potential. But I’m sure they’re also rooting for growth. At the current levels, K&M will add about five jobs to the business park. When Progress Vanguard, which did work for the railroad industry, closed down, it had about 55 employees.
The next big thing to keep an eye on in East Hills will be changes to come at the Vangent complex. As we reported in April, Vangent is shuttering one of its two buildings in East Hills as it moves its federal student loan call center out of Lawrence. It will operate its other call center contracts out of its second building in East Hills — the building nearer Noria Road.
I haven’t heard any news lately about the status of that project, or, more importantly, any good speculation about users who may be interested in taking over that fairly large call center space. But I’ll check around because that very well could be the next significant announcement to happen out at East Hills Business Park.
• While we are on the subject of tires, here is a question for you: How are young kids and tires alike? They both go round and round and round. Unfortunately, unlike a tire, my kids never seem to wear out.
Well, there’s a new business in downtown Lawrence that aims to help you wear your kids out. (At least that is how I plan to use it.) Laugh Out Loud recently has opened its doors at 1000 Mass., in the former Sports Dome location.
The business, as we reported back in February, is a children’s fun zone. The 6,000 square-foot facility currently has a multistory climbing/play structure, complete with those tubes that allow you to envision your kids as gerbils; a rock climbing wall, which fortunately doesn’t have any loose rocks for your children to throw; a thing called a jump pillow, which, unlike a backyard trampoline, doesn’t look like a pending trip to the emergency room; and a fun floor, which is a type of electronic mat that allows kids to make all types of noises as they walk across it. It was set to make piano noises while I was there. (Maybe that is the problem with the quality of piano music at my house. The kids need to play it with their feet.)
The center also has lower tech play areas, such as a puppet stage, a dress-up area (no, I did not partake), a dance room complete with black lights, and an art room. The business also has a food court area that serves pizza, paninis and other menu items, including healthy choices like carrots instead of chips. (Mothers and their carrots. Maybe a dad wants a bag of chips every once in awhile.)
Business owners Christie and Charles Peterson started Laugh Out Loud after owning their own company that specialized in building rock climbing walls and zip lines across the country. But the amount of travel involved with that business caused them to look for an option closer to home.
“We’re local parents and we knew of a lot of playgroups and friends who were traveling to Kansas City for this type of experience,” said Christie Peterson. “It started out as a joke with mommies’ group that we should start one of these businesses in Lawrence.”
Peterson said Lawrence isn’t the typical size for a children’s fun center, but she said by locating the business in downtown it has the potential to become more of a regional draw. She said that particularly could be the case as other kid-related activities expand in the area.
“We have the Lawrence Arts Center, Sunflower Ceramics, The Toy Store, South Park, all in this general area,” Peterson said. “I feel like it really could become known as a kids block.”
The business is using a rate structure that encourages people to come to the center and also explore downtown Lawrence. The center charges a daily rate of $7.50 for children 2 to 15. One parent/guardian for each child gets in free. Additional adults are $2. But the $7.50 admission is good for the whole day. But you don’t have to stay in the center for eight hours straight. Instead, you and your child can go walk around downtown, see some of the sights and then come back in for another round of play.
Plus, I almost forgot to mention a very important point. Adults can play on most of the equipment too. So, if you aren’t successful in wearing your kids out, maybe you can wear yourself out to the point that — for the sake of your health — you have no choice but to turn the kids over to your spouse when you return home.
• As far as I know, the proposed regional recreation center in northwest Lawrence won’t have a puppet stage or a dress-up area (although the project is still fluid.)
I don’t expect those elements will get much discussion at today’s City Commission budget study session, but it could be an interesting day for both the recreation center proposal and a proposal to build a new police headquarters building for the Police Department.
We reported yesterday about several new funding scenarios that have emerged to build a new $24 million to $30 million police headquarters facility and to add 46 new positions to the Police Department. All of them involved new sales taxes, and some of them involved using a portion of the city’s share of the countywide 1 percent sales tax.
But there was one scenario that wasn’t prepared. That scenario involves using all of the uncommitted money from the city’s portion of the countywide sales tax to pay for Police Department improvements. City Manager David Corliss didn’t prepare that scenario. Instead, all the scenarios his office prepared reserved $24 million worth of the sales tax — $1.2 million a year for 20 years — to pay for a regional recreation facility, even though that project has not yet been approved.
Corliss said he didn’t calculate a scenario that used all the available sales tax dollars for police because commissioners haven’t asked him to do so. Indeed, a majority of commissioners seem pretty committed to the recreation center idea.
But I think there are people curious to know whether the current 1 cent countywide sales tax has enough heft in it to fund the Police Department needs.
As I look at the numbers, it appears the answer is yes, if we’re willing to wait a few years. By 2017, the city will have paid off the debt for both the Eagle Bend Golf Course and the Community Health Building. Combine that freed-up money with the $1.2 million a year the city is eyeing for the Recreation Center, and the city would have about $2.5 million a year to put toward a police project.
My calculations on this are rough, but I believe $2.5 million a year would allow the city to take out enough bonds to fund a $33 million police headquarters facility. The current estimate for a headquarters building is $24 million to $30 million.
If city officials settled on the $24 million version, it looks like the sales tax would even have some money left over to help pay for new police positions.
Of course, that kind of leaves the recreation center idea out in the cold. It also could be construed as breaking a political promise. Many voters believe the countywide 1 cent sales tax was sold to voters on the premise that a good portion of it would be used for recreation purposes. I would agree with that assessment, but, as we have pointed out, the sales tax can legally be used for any governmental purpose.
And, even if you use the sales tax money for police, that doesn’t have to kill the recreation center idea. The city believes it can pull this recreation center project off as long it can deliver $24 million to the private partners in this project, namely Thomas Fritzel and his company.
If that’s the case, you could add a 1 percent sales tax to the city for just two years and generate a little more than $26 million, based on current sales tax trends. Or you could do a 0.5 percent sales tax for around four years. Of course, that would mean the public would have to vote on the recreation center project. No new sales tax can be added without a vote of the people.
I’m sure there are complicating factors to all of this, but I’m also sure that before voters approve any new tax, they’re going to want to know all reasonable scenarios have been explored.
We’ll see if city commissioners bring any of this up today at their 4 p.m. budget study session.