Archive for Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Town Talk: UPDATE: City seeking to buy Salvation Army building; Minsky’s opens downtown; city proposing 4 percent hike in water, sewer rates; city estimates $2.4 M needed for rec center infrastructure

June 13, 2012, 11:07 a.m. Updated June 13, 2012, 2:45 p.m.


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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.


Les Blevins 1 year, 10 months ago

Lawrence leadership never misses a chance to tax and spend the people's money on their pet projects yet because I've proposed a money saving and tax base expansion project that would create more jobs they won't give me the time of day. And I can't help but wonder if the city commission realizes that south park is a better place to display art and it's already paid for and it's less than a block and a half south of the site they want to purchase to display art.


sowhatnow 1 year, 10 months ago

Here's what troubles me: Every time a government or not-for-profit expands, they increase the minimum $$ required to keep themselves going. When the city buys the Salvation Army site, or the Haskell Recycling site, or whatever, it costs whatever it costs PLUS what it costs year after year to maintain it. Same with the Arts Center. Same with the Humane Society, etc. etc.

I'm a fiscally conservative liberal, and it pains me to watch the city government grow when the population remains essentially the same.


parrothead8 1 year, 10 months ago

I'd like to meet what the city considers an "average residential customer," because I don't know anybody who would pay only "an extra $3 per year" if "a 4 percent increase for both water and sewer rates" took effect. there anybody out there who pays $75 a year for water and sewer combined? I'd like to know, because 4% of $75 is $3, so that would make you the "average residential customer."


FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 10 months ago

Eating 'Pizza' gives me a 'food baby'. It makes my belly 'poochy'. I do not eat pizza for that reason. It's a choice of mine.


scaramouchepart2 1 year, 10 months ago

2.4 mil for infrastructure for the new Rec Center. Does Chad really believe this one? The costs start at 14 mil and then whatever the city can con KDOT into paying. Not included are the monies for improvements to Hwy 40 and if you look at the land the amount of money to make the land usable will be very costly. The city is selling very hard if they want us to believe in a paltry 2.4 mil for the rec center.


lucyjj 1 year, 10 months ago

I worked at the downtown Pizza Hut for 10 years from 1976 to 1986. The restaurant opened at the time when the Mass St. Deli was closing for renovation. The lack of competition in the 900 block of Mass at the time along with the the fact that there was only one other restaurant in town at the time with a salad bar (Cornucopia) made Pizza Hut downtown a very popular place, especially since we had a lunch buffet and also a fruit/pudding bar. Lots of good people worked there through the years. It was once one of the busiest Pizza Huts in the nation. That was then. We made our dough fresh every day. Minsky's tried Lawrence once over near 23rd and Iowa either in the late 70s or early 80s. They didn't stay long back then. Maybe they'll do better now in a new location. I wish them success downtown.


irvan moore 1 year, 10 months ago

notice how the commission is moving more of the homeless problem into neighborhoods to get them out of downtown


blindrabbit 1 year, 10 months ago

cheeseburger: Have you ever considered a move to Salina, Topeka, Great Bend, Hutch. or any other Kansas city that matches you interest in "The Arts". I'm sure you would enjoy the boredom they all have in common.


JackMcKee 1 year, 10 months ago

One thing you'll never want for in Lawrence, Kansas: Pizza and Mexican food.


cheeseburger 1 year, 10 months ago

Purchase the SA building to expand the arts center? You gotta be kidding me!
This town just can't seem to spend enough on art to satisfy itself.


Cant_have_it_both_ways 1 year, 10 months ago

The increase in water rates might just be so they have the money to purchase 23,000 trash bins they are gonna stick up our collective arses. Sounds like the old switcheroonie to me. Instead of being truthful about the costs for all the new trash trucks and the logistics required to support it, they in turn tell us they need more money for the water.


dncinnanc 1 year, 10 months ago

Minski's is a chain in the same sense that Johnny's is a chain. They are keeping it local, and are no where near the scale of Pizza Hut when it comes to what is (or isn't) actually made in-house.


somedude20 1 year, 10 months ago

Oh City Of Lawrence, it takes some beach balls to raise the water rates while you are delivering a sub-par (and potentially harmful), product yet getting paid as if it were Cristal.

Lets put it this way, Burrito King isn't going to charge Hereford House prices while their product tastes like Burrito King.

Yes, Minsky's...lookin forward as I have see your commercials for 10 years but have never eaten it. Also, PaPa K's pizza is WORLDS WORLDS WORLDS better, also like it was a decade ago, check em out


LadyJ 1 year, 10 months ago

But,'ll get 50 cents off your bill for you trash can.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 10 months ago

A few years of asking city commissions to perform a Cost of Community Services study fell on deaf ears. The reason concerned citizens were requesting such is because such would have provided data on which growth is paying back and which is not. After which our community could have developed direction that was in the best interest of all citizens aka the community.

Remember refusing a Cost of Community Service Study has taken place under the guidance of our Chamber of Commerce/real estate community who have had absolute control for more than least two decades of the city and planning commissions.

Grab your Wallets! Developers and cars are very expensive budget items.

Lawrence should adopt a policy of "cooling off" the pace of development. This is not a moratoriam. How about a conscious effort to redirect growth to existing city resources and retail districts = fiscally responsible to taxpayers and friendly to existing business?


irvan moore 1 year, 10 months ago

if the city buys out the salvation army it will create a need for even more money for the homeless shelter


Richard Heckler 1 year, 10 months ago

The new water treatment plant should be paid for by the real estate industry. No one else needs it.

Why the increase in rates? in addition to other increases of recent times? How much have these rates increased over the past 20 years?

The 50 acre donation is only 25 acres of usable property. This project will pull business away not only from downtown but also from 6th west of Kasold to beyond Wakrusa. Economic Displacement is unfriendly to current business and taxpayers.

Why not pick a site with infrastructure in place and save taxpayers millions of $$$$?

Simply because real estate development has slowed to a snails pace is no reason to bail out the Schwadas.


CWGOKU 1 year, 10 months ago

Gotta raise the rates to pay for the algae they dump Into the water system


Acey 1 year, 10 months ago

Come ON, Chad. You can Google!

"Tabbouleh (Arabic: تبولة‎ tabūlah; also tabouleh or tab(b)ouli) is a Levantine Arab salad traditionally made of bulgur [whole wheat, coarselyground], tomato, and finely chopped parsley and mint, often including onion and garlic, seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice and salt."

It is delicious!


JackMcKee 1 year, 10 months ago

What's the cause of the much higher than inflation increase in sewer and water rates?


Hooligan_016 1 year, 10 months ago

Minsky's sounds like a much better fit for downtown rather than Pizza Hut!


hipper_than_hip 1 year, 10 months ago

What a deal for Schwada! They trade 50 acres of pasture for $2.4M in water & sewer that will serve their 100 acres of commerical that adjacent to it. That puts the value of the donated 50 acres at $48k/acre which seems steep for property in that area. Plus they get free roads to serve their 100 acres of commercial. Figure $500k for the roads, and this pushes the value of the donation to around $60k/acre.


Ira Rott 1 year, 10 months ago

Just went by there, Minsky's is only open for dinner hours for the time being (open at 4PM). They didn't give me a time frame when that would change.


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