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UPDATE II: The Lawrence Arts Center is looking to create a new outdoor gallery, exhibition and performance space, and is seeking a little more than $1 million in city funding to make the project happen.
That's the gist of what city officials announced today at a brief gathering at the Lawrence Arts Center. Here are the key points of the proposal:
— The city is close to finalizing a "right of first refusal" that would put the city in position to purchase the Salvation Army building at 946 N.H. A deal hasn't yet been struck, but the city believes it can purchase the site for about $1 million. But the deal is contingent upon the Salvation Army raising enough money to move its operations to a site it purchased years ago along Haskell Avenue between 15th and 19th streets. Salvation Army officials weren't at the city's announcement, but Mayor Bob Schumm said his understanding is the Salvation Army will need to raise about $4 million. Schumm stressed the new Salvation Army facility would not include a traditional homeless shelter, but it likely would include some transitional housing for folks exiting homelessness.
— Once purchased, the Salvation Army building would be razed and the site would become greenspace. The adjacent Lawrence Arts Center could then use the approximately 18,000-square-foot site to host outdoor art exhibits, films, children's programming and other community events.
— Eventually, the Lawrence Arts Center would undertake a $3 million campaign to build a small building on the site and provide other amenities. But the site still would remain largely open.
— It appears, however, the entire deal is contingent upon two other large downtown projects winning city approval. One is the proposed multi-story hotel/retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. The second is a multi-story apartment and office building proposed for the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. The two projects — both are proposed by a group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — would play key roles in funding the $1 million acquisition.
Schumm said the city is proposing to create a new tax increment financing district that would encompass those two buildings. The TIF district would capture property and sales tax revenue generated from the projects and place it in a special fund. The fund would be used to pay for a host of site improvements, including the $1 million purchase of the building.
The TIF, however, would fund much more than that. As proposed, the TIF would fund private parking garages for both the hotel and the apartment buildings. The TIF money also likely would fund some smaller infrastructure improvements related to the projects, Schumm said.
— Timing of the entire Arts Center project is a bit uncertain. Schumm estimated it would likely take a couple of years at a minimum, given that the Salvation Army will need time to conduct its own fundraising. Work on the two major buildings, however, is expected to progress much faster. The city is expected to hear an appeal at is June 26 meeting of the Historic Resources Commission's rejection of the design of the proposed hotel/retail building.
UPDATE: City officials, it appears, are poised to announce they are working toward purchasing the Salvation Army building at 946 N.H. Sources tell the Journal-World the purchase ultimately will facilitate an expansion of the Lawrence Arts Center.
Other details about the project weren't immediately available, including plans for the Salvation Army in Lawrence. Mayor Bob Schumm confirmed to me the city soon will make an announcement about the Salvation Army building. He said it was a bit more complicated than the city simply buying the building, but that would be "the long-term effect." We'll report more details when we get them.
• I’ve been getting lots of questions in the last few weeks about the status of plans for Minsky’s pizza to open in Downtown Lawrence. Well, I can report it is now open.
The longtime Kansas City pizzeria opened its doors last night. If you remember, the restaurant took over the former Pizza Hut location at 934 Mass.
Look for the restaurant to make a bigger splash in the next couple of weeks when it has a formal grand opening. I’ll also be keeping my eyes open for the evolution of the place. Co-owner Kenny Kantner told me the restaurant is exploring plans to offer a Saturday and Sunday morning breakfast menu with — get this — a Bloody Mary bar. My understanding is the restaurant would dole out the appropriate amount of alcohol and then patrons would finish concocting the drink themselves. (Let the celery vs. pickle debate begin.)
The restaurant also has filed an application at City Hall to add sidewalk dining to its location. Expect that to be in place by the time students return to town.
But in the meantime, the restaurant will work to get locals familiar with the pizzeria’s style. The menu includes more than 15 specialty pizzas, ranging from Spicy Thai to Pollo Patate di Petto (Try saying that after going through the Bloody Mary bar.)
The menu also includes several pasta dishes, hot sandwiches, a gluten-free menu and a multitude of salads including a Mediterranean one called Tabbouleh. (Fortunately, I’ll never have to figure out how to pronounce that because as I’ve told my doctor many times, a Bloody Mary is just a salad in a glass.)
• I previously reported Lawrence residents should prepare for an increase in water and sewer rates. Now, there is a new report out that gives a clue about how large those increases may be.
The city’s water and wastewater plan is recommending a 4 percent increase for both water and sewer rates in 2013. The city is couching this as an increase that will amount to about an extra $3 per year for the average residential customer. But, of course, the amount of water people use varies greatly, so if you water your lawn much, I would suspect your bill will go up more than $3 for a year.
Staff members note several other area communities are contemplating even larger rate increases. Manhattan, for example, is contemplating a 15 percent sewer rate increase and a 7 percent water rate increase.
The water and wastewater master plans, though, don’t just deal with rates. Perhaps the biggest news out of the plan is a major shift in direction on the long-talked about sewer treatment plant proposed for south of the Wakarusa River.
In 2007, a city was planning for a new sewer treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River that could treat 7 million gallons of sewage per day. The plant in 2007 was estimated to cost $88 million. It was expected to allow the city to grow to 150,000 in population.
The city started down the road on this project, buying several hundred acres just south of where O’Connell Road dead ends at the Wakarusa River. But at about that time, the economy began to slow and the U.S. Census Bureau kept producing estimates showing the city’s population was not growing nearly as fast as it used to.
Well, the new wastewater master plan seems to take notice of the changing conditions. The new plan recommends a much smaller treatment plant — one that could treat 2 million gallons of sewage a day. It would cost $54.7 million in 2012 dollars. Importantly, the consultants are now recommending the city only needs a plant to serve a population of 120,000 people, which they think won’t be reached until 2030. The study says the new plant should be operational by 2018.
It will be interesting to see how city commissioners react to this. On the one hand, some commissioners still may be wary about committing to a more than $50 million project during this economy. After all, if commissioners would have followed the advice of the last master plan, it seems clear they would have made a colossal mistake that would have saddled city ratepayers with large bills for years to come. (Note: The engineering firm that prepared this master plan is different from the one that prepared the last one.)
On the other hand, I wonder if some commissioners will be reluctant to admit just how much Lawrence’s growth prospects have declined. To now say that Lawrence’s growth potential has shrunk by 30,000 people in just a few years may be tough for some city leaders to accept.
But based on the Census data, some could argue the city is still being overly optimistic about population growth. According to the 2010 Census, the city had 87,643 people in 2010. For the decade of the 2000s — a pretty good decade for the economy, all in all — the city grew by 9.4 percent, or an average of 0.94 percent per year.
If you assume the city can maintain that same level of growth for the next two decades, the city will have a population of about 105,000 people — not 125,000 people. If the city builds a $54 million sewer plant and has 20,000 fewer people to help pay for it than they expected, that probably will create some unpleasant rate discussions.
There may be no tougher job at City Hall than trying to figure out when to build a new sewer plant. It is a job where a crystal ball would be mighty handy. Do you assume Lawrence will grow faster than it has over the last decade? Do you assume that the greatest recession since the Great Depression will slow growth for years to come? They’re big questions. But if city commissioners decide to move forward with a $54 million sewer plant, that seemingly would be the biggest bet yet that Lawrence soon will regain its mojo.
• A new regional sports complex in northwest Lawrence is one of the projects city leaders believe can recapture that mojo. (Pardon me, I’ve apparently turned into Austin Powers.) Well, the city’s water and wastewater master plans start to answer some questions about that facility too.
In particular, the plans provide some estimates on how much it will cost the city to extend water and sewer service to the proposed site at the northwest corner of Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The plan estimates it will cost $1.4 million to extend water service to the site and $988,000 to extend sewer service to the site.
The current proposal calls for the city to accept a 50-acre donation of land from a development group led by Duane and Steve Schwada. As part of that donation, the city would agree to pay for the water and sewer extension to the site. The city also would agree to extend roads to the site. By extending the water and sewer to the 50-acre site, however, that also would bring service to approximately 100 other acres that are still owned by the Schwadas and are proposed for commercial development once the recreation complex is established.
I talked with City Manager David Corliss, and he said cost estimates are still subject to change. The entire project still seems to be fluid, but I expect city commissioners to start having some serious public discussions about the project in the next few weeks.