Archive for Friday, June 22, 2012

Town Talk: Rumblings that Freebirds Burritos coming to downtown; city finally set to hear appeal of 9th and N.H. project; new report estimate $11.8 M in incentives for project

June 22, 2012


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News and notes from around town:

• Maybe Jayhawks will naturally gravitate to a restaurant called Freebirds.

I’m hearing rumblings that we may soon find out. There is talk in various business circles around town that Freebirds World Burrito is finalizing a deal to take over the former Maurices location at 739 Mass.

I haven’t gotten confirmation on the deal, so take it for whatever you think it is worth. But my understanding is a deal is in the works for the entire Maurices space to be leased, but Freebirds would only occupy a portion of it. That would mean the Maurices building, which has one of the larger storefronts on Massachusetts Street would be divided into smaller spaces.

Freebirds is a growing national burrito/Mexican restaurant chain. According to the company’s website, the chain got started by a couple of “ex-hippies” in Santa Barbara, Calif., and then expanded into College Station Texas, where it became popular with Texas A&M students.

I’ve heard the place described as a sort of organic version of Chipotle. (I’ve never been, so I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure my chances of getting hired as a marketing genius for Chipotle are fading.)

Freebirds’ website does tout that it uses hormone-free, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. The restaurant offers up steak, chicken, and pork versions of burritos and tacos. It looks like they also offer up nachos and salads, and a dessert specialty they call “pot brownies.” Maybe this group really has researched the local market. (They swear they are legal. The restaurant serves them in a black pot. I’m sure that’s the only thing the ex-hippy founders are trying to imply.)

Freebirds appears to be on a pretty rapid growth curve. The company has six new restaurants scheduled to open between now and the end of the August. That includes a new store in Mission, which will be the company’s first in Kansas.

It will be interesting to see what other businesses may land in the remodeled Maurices building. That large building has set vacant since the summer of 2009. I’m sure there are several folks pleased the space is being filled, but I can’t help think that some retailers are disappointed that there apparently wasn’t a retail group sufficiently interested in taking a large floorplate in downtown Lawrence.

When I hear of a formal announcement about the Freebirds project, I’ll let you know.

• Well, it will be interesting to see if Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting gets messier than a refried bean burrito. It has the potential.

City commissioners at their weekly meeting are scheduled to finally hear an appeal related to a controversial multi-story hotel/retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. If you remember, the city’s Historic Resources Commission has rejected the project because it believes the building is too tall to co-exist with the historic neighborhood immediately east of the site. But a simple three-vote majority of the City Commission will allow the project to move forward.

Here’s a reminder of some of the details:

— The city’s planning staff is now recommending approval of the project. That wasn’t always the case. A previous plan did not get a positive recommendation from the planning staff. But this new plan essentially has shrunk by about one story in height, which was a key factor in winning favor from the planning staff.

— As for height, the building has varying heights. It has been described as being largely a five-story building as you get closer to New Hampshire Street and a four-story building as you get closer to the neighbors on the east. In terms of specifics, the building will be 63 feet at the corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Along the alley, which is adjacent to the neighborhood, the building will be 40 feet tall. I believe another portion of the building, the part that abuts the Lawrence Arts Center will be 44 feet tall.

— The project is proposed to have 90 hotel rooms that would be part of a TownePlace Marriott extended stay hotel. The project also would include a restaurant on the fifth floor and retail space on the ground floor. In total, the building would be 121,908 square feet.

— What commissioners will be asked to decide is whether there is a “feasible and prudent alternative” to the project. If they find there is a “feasible and prudent alternative” to the project, then legally, they are not supposed to allow the project to move forward.

What does state law mean by a “feasible and prudent alternative?” Well, I’ve heard people say this is one of the great flaws in our historic resources process. City commissioners are asked to make rulings on projects based on a phrase that is extremely broad. So, in short, I don’t have a definition for you. Of course state law defines the phrase but it essentially defines it by replacing the phrase feasible and prudent with the phrase “sensible and realistic.” Gee, thanks for clearing that up.

Anyway, there will be arguments about that. Already neighbors are starting to present their own plans to city commissioners as evidence that there is a “feasible and prudent” alternative. The most detailed one seems to be from Town Peterson, who lives behind the proposed site. He’s put some numbers together arguing for a three-story 30,000-square-foot building that would have apartments, offices and retail space.

The gist of his argument seems to be that there are feasible and prudent alternatives, if the developers drop the idea of building an expensive underground parking garage on the site. It is true that the downtown zoning does not require the developers to provide any off-street parking for their projects. But whether a bank would loan money on a multimillion-dollar apartment and retail project that offers no place for tenants or customers to park, is probably another question. The 901 Building across the street was built without its own parking, but it also has a direct connection to the city-owned parking garage. See how fun it is to determine “feasible and prudent.”

As I’ve said before, I think the project has an inside track to approval. I say that because Mayor Bob Schumm and Commissioner Mike Dever seemed to spend a lot of time negotiating with the development group — led by Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — to reduce the height of the building. It would be surprising if those two spent all that time negotiating a deal only to not vote for the project in the end.

But anything can happen on a Tuesday night, especially when the room is full of angry neighbors.

• The fun with this Ninth and New Hampshire project likely will stretch on for weeks. Commissioners on Tuesday just will be deciding the historic resources issues related to the project.

But they also will be moving the process forward to decide whether city financial incentives should be offered to the project.

The development group has asked for Tax Increment Financing and a special 1 percent sales tax district to help pay for this project and for a proposed 7-story apartment/office building on the northeast corner of the intersection.

Well, there is a new report out on that subject. Unlike the previous reports, this one gives a fuller accounting of how much money the project will need in terms of city incentives.

The total — according to a report commissioned by the city — is $11,821,644.

All the money would come from one of three sources:

— Property taxes charged to the new development on the sites. The city, county and school district all would give up their share of new property taxes created by the development for the next 20 years. They would continue to receive the property taxes they are currently paid on the property taxes.

— New sales taxes generated by the new development. Any new sales taxes over and above what is already generated on the sites would be part of the incentive pool for approximately the next 20 years.

— A special 1 percent sales tax would be charged on all goods sold at the hotel/retail project. The special 1 percent sales tax would not apply to the seven-story building proposed for the northeast corner. Proceeds from the special 1 percent sales tax would be part of the incentive pool for the next 20 years.

All the incentive money would be used to pay for the two underground, private parking garages that would be built as part of the projects and other infrastructure-related improvements such as street lights, sidewalks and similar items.

The $11.8 million amount, however, also includes the interest expense the development group would incur for financing those improvements. The city wants the development group to finance the projects rather than issuing bonds in the city’s name to pay for the improvements. That provides the city protection against the project failing. If the developer finances the improvements, they are only reimbursed as long as the project produces the tax revenues that have been estimated. If the project fails and the tax revenues aren’t produced, the city would not have any obligation to pay for the improvements. If they city issued bonds, it would have an obligation to pay for the improvements, even if the project failed.

The development group has not objected to the “pay-as-you-go” proposal, but it does want to be reimbursed for its interest costs.

Commissioners will receive the report at their Tuesday meeting, but aren’t expected to make any decisions about financial incentives for the project until mid-July.


ilikeshinythings 1 year, 9 months ago

That's great news about Freebirds. Used to eat at the ones in College Station and Austin on a regular basis. When I tried Chipotle, I always thought of a poor man's version of Freebirds.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 9 months ago

9th and New Hampshire

Lawrence lacks proper development controls. The absence of proper controls prevents the City from reviewing major projects and allows developers to dictate the pace of growth. This is a mistake.

The problems with the 9th and New Hampshire proposal are a text book example of failed planning.

Pertinent information regarding the aforementioned: 1. Quick history 2. The process going forward 3. How did Lawrence get into this problem? 4. What should be done about this problem? 5. What should the development controls include?

What makes city officials believe Lawrence taxpayers support these nonsense tax incentives that empty our wallets and increase our taxes?

What makes City officials believe Lawrence taxpayers can afford these nonsense tax incentives that empty our wallets and increase our taxes?


pti3 1 year, 9 months ago

Different topic, in St Louis this week the militaryis rinning a test involving rolling armored tanks through some St Louis neighborhoods. They say 'don't be alarmed' and no video please.


JHawker 1 year, 9 months ago

  1. We don't need yet another mexican-themed restaurant in Lawrence, let alone downtown. If this space is going to be utilized for a restaurant rather than retail (which is preferred) why not invest in a space more original? How about an authentic German restaurant in Lawrence? Lawrence has such an international flair, and many Europeans reside here.

  2. We don't need to build another hotel/retail space. We need to fill the currently empty retail spaces on Massachusetts. Why don't the owners of the already existing apartment buildings in the area and the Arts Center take a share in that vacant lot and spruce it up, creating a beautiful and peaceful green space for the community and all those apartment residents. It would be a draw for the apartments, to have a green space so close by and a benefit to downtown as well. Plant some trees, people could sponsor some benches (and trees), perhaps a nice fountain. Movies could be projected against the Arts Center during the summer for people to enjoy - which would be another draw of revenue to downtown. A green space/park doesn't bring a lot of revenue directly, but would be a valuable investment to guests downtown as well as nearby residents. I think Compton should consider such an investment as an investment into the existing buildings, etc. What good are so many buildings/apartments when there is no green space nearby?


g_rock 1 year, 9 months ago

All new Lawrence Mexican places please take note:


you will make millions. from me alone!


Flap Doodle 1 year, 9 months ago

Would Freebirds have amateur MMA in the parking lot like Burrito King offers?


irvan moore 1 year, 9 months ago

the problem isn't doug, it's the city commission


KansasLiberal 1 year, 9 months ago

Everyone keeps ignoring the obvious question--does downtown need a 3rd hotel? Lawrence hotels have trouble keeping occupancy rates above 50%, so why should the city give tax incentives for another hotel to be built? Not to mention that Lawrence has plenty of apartments.


Budgets_Smudgets 1 year, 9 months ago

$12,000,000 in public incentives?

Just say no.


cozborn 1 year, 9 months ago

private parking with public money?


Liberal 1 year, 9 months ago

As far as I know Chipotle is organic using hormone free beef and chicken.

Cut and Paste from Chipotle website...

It means serving the very best sustainably raised food possible with an eye to great taste, great nutrition and great value.

It means that we support and sustain family farmers who respect the land and the animals in their care.

It means that whenever possible we use meat from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones.
And it means that we source organic and local produce when practical. And that we use dairy from cows raised without the use of synthetic hormones.

Food With Integrity is a journey that started more than a decade ago and one that will never end.


Elaine Elliott 1 year, 9 months ago

Do not build that building. That seems so logical after all the breaks it's going to need to succeed. At the expense of everyone else Doug Compton makes more money? That is nonsensical.


1 year, 9 months ago

I'd sure like to see a major grocery store further into east Lawrence than right on Mass. One in east of Harper would be great.

I also visited a Fazoli's in Kansas City over the weekend. I think that vacant lot at 27th and Iowa would be a great place for one of those!


bornherelongago 1 year, 9 months ago

No one on this blog gets it. The taxpayers are not paying anything to Compton. The development group will pay the same taxes that are being paid on it right now for the next 20 years. The difference is; Lawrence will have a new hotel, some new retail and maybe some new office in downtown Lawrence. That's what we want to continue to do, right? Bring people downtown to support the businesses down there.


rockchalk1977 1 year, 9 months ago

As predictable as the sunrise, the "progressives" continue to whine about progress and choice. Do you hear Pavlov's bell ringing? Serial bloggers reach into their archives for the same mindless drivel. Just another summer afternoon in Liberal-ville USA.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

There's no way that any project that needs that much in public subsidies can be considered "prudent and feasible."


irvan moore 1 year, 9 months ago

i hope they put another mexican restaurant in the rest of the space left by maurices. this town needs more junk food places


Richard Heckler 1 year, 9 months ago

Hotel type jobs are low wage no question about it.

How do local so called tax dollar "incentives" empty our local wallets and increase our local taxes? Developers say they can't make a profit without them..... don't build. Developers say they wont build without them.....don't build. Elected officials they won't build without giving away tax dollars...... so what.

Budget Busters and Entitlements Let’s talk entitlements. These websites will astound you by revealing local big dollar entitlements that never reach mainstream news or everyday conversation. These taxes never reach our local cookie jars either. This is known as DUPED!

Johnston then boggled the crowd with a blunt assertion: "We pay billions of dollars in taxes that never get to the government." Much of the sales tax we pay at big box stores and shopping centers are diverted to the large companies or developers that own the stores.

It's just one of the many swindles these chains and developers have learned to perpetrate against city and county governments. This is so effective that the Cabela family, which owns a chain of big-box sporting goods stores, receives 137% of its profits from taxpayer subsidies. If they couldn't work this scam, they wouldn't be in business at all.

* Other entitlements Johnston noted:

Richard Heckler 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm all for infill. Infill is all about making use of existing resources as opposed to be swindled into adding more and more miles of new infrastructure which adds more and more dollars to the community tax bills.

Using the word "infill" as a means to strong arm we taxpayers out of our hard earned tax dollars does not impress me.

We taxpayers are without a doubt the largest group of stakeholders in the county/city.

Why are we denied the right to vote on tax dollar give aways? We stakeholders own these tax dollars. Would any of our elected officials run their private business the way they manage OUR tax dollars? I say they would not.


la_jayhawk 1 year, 9 months ago

I have wanted Freebirds here for many years - an incredible place that should do well here.


classclown 1 year, 9 months ago

The restaurant offers up steak, chicken, and pork versions of burritos and tacos. It looks like they also offer up nachos and salads, and a dessert specialty they call “pot brownies.” Maybe this group really has researched the local market.




Erinn Barroso 1 year, 9 months ago

I've been to Freebirds. I prefer Chipotle, but Freebirds gives you more rice choices and burrito size choices, which is nice.


rumor_man 1 year, 9 months ago

Pot brownies? Is that like "Hooters" referring to "Owls" instead of a part of womens anatomy?


Andini 1 year, 9 months ago

Finally. The 700 block was really needing it's own exclusive burrito restaurant.


KansasLiberal 1 year, 9 months ago

Not only is the 9th and NH hotel a bad idea, Compton wants almost $12 million from taxpayers to go straight to his wallet? Downtown doesn't need a third hotel, so the city needs to say no to this project.


Scott Morgan 1 year, 9 months ago

Great, we needed another Latin themed restaurant. Now one living in Lawrence has less than a one block walk or waddle to satisfy the South of the Border urge.


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