Archive for Friday, June 29, 2012

Town Talk: Homebuilding activity slows in May; Rent-A-Center expanding at Malls site; a new arts position at City Hall and other topics to watch as city releases recommended 2013 budget

June 29, 2012


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News and notes from around town:

• Over the last few days we have reported how May was a good month for retail sales and for home sales in Lawrence. Well, a new report out of City Hall suggests it wasn’t such a good month for homebuilding.

Lawrence builders took out just 10 permits for single-family homes and duplexes in May, according to the city’s monthly building permits report. That was down from 16 in May 2011. But more significant is: The slow May pushed the year-to-date totals below last year’s levels. Through the first five months of this year, the city has issued 49 permits for single-family or duplex homes. That’s down from 51 for the same time period a year ago.

In case you had forgotten, 2011 was a brutal year for the Lawrence homebuilding industry. For the first time on record — dating back at least to 1956 — the city issued fewer than 100 permits for single-family homes. So, local builders certainly were hoping to improve upon those numbers in 2012.

And they still might. Both 2009 and 2008 numbers were worse than this at the May mark — 31 and 35 permits respectively — but those years then went on to have stronger second halves. Numbers put out by the Lawrence Board of Realtors indicate new homes sales are gaining momentum, which could spur some stronger building activity for the late summer and fall.

One category that likely won’t produce any worries of a shortfall is apartments. No multi-family permits were issued in May. But for the year, the city has issued permits for 306 new apartment units. That’s the highest total in at least the last five years. It seems almost certain that more are on the way. I don’t believe any of 306 permits currently issued are for the redevelopment of the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village near 31st Street and Ousdahl Road. Once that project starts, another 200 to 300 permits should be going through the system. I believe that will put us within striking distance of a new record for apartment construction in a single year, which I believe is somewhere north of 600 units. I think we were in that range both in the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, but I can’t put my fingers on those numbers currently. I’ll find them and we’ll see how good my memory is.

• If your memory is good, perhaps you recall we reported back in July 2011 that Rent-A-Center filed plans at City Hall to move into the former Blockbuster video building at 1516 W. 23rd St. As that building has continued to sit vacant for the last year, it has become pretty obvious that deal fell apart.

Now, there are even clearer signs. Rent-A-Center has filed a building permit for expansion work at its existing store at 711 W. 23rd St. I haven’t been out there to see how far along work is on the project, but the company filed the permit in May.

Other business related building permits filed in May included:

— A nearly $55,000 office remodel for Kaw Valley Hearing at 1520 Wakarusa Drive.

— A $30,000 remodeling project for Wagmore Canine Enrichment at 1411 W. 23rd St.

— A nearly $163,000 addition for an electrical pump room for Berry Plastic’s manufacturing facility at 2330 Packer Road. On the Berry Plastics front, I do hear the company is getting close to moving into its new distribution and printing facility along the Kansas Turnpike northwest of Lawrence. When that happens, it will open up significant space in the manufacturing facility on Packer Road. Economic development officials hope that will lead to Berry increasing its production work in Lawrence in the future.

• When it comes to economic development, there are all types of hopes in Lawrence. One is that the arts scene will become a larger player on the eco devo front.

The idea got a boost on Tuesday when city commissioners unanimously approved $500,000 in property tax rebates to help convert an old apple cider factory at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets in East Lawrence into an art gallery/event space.

Tuesday night got so busy with the marathon discussion regarding the Ninth and New Hampshire hotel issue that I didn’t have much of a chance to update you on the East Lawrence project. (Although I did tweet it that night. Follow me at clawhorn_ljw.)

Soon, city commissioners will get the chance to take the idea of arts as an economic development driver one step further. The city’s Lawrence Cultural Art Commission is seeking $60,000 in the 2013 city budget to add a new City Hall employee who would act as an arts coordinator.

City commissioners have talked about many issues thus far for the 2013 budget, but adding a new arts position to the City Hall staff has not been one of them. It may have an uphill battle to win funding this year.

We should get a read on the idea and several other budget topics this afternoon. City Manager David Corliss is scheduled to release his 2013 recommended budget later today. Once I see it, I’ll provide you an update.

But based the discussions I’ve heard at city budgets sessions, I’m expecting Corliss will recommend a slight mill levy increase to add about three police officers and some new equipment that will allow city crews to do more maintenance on pavement markings on city streets. I’m guessing the mill levy increase will be less than 1 mill, but you never know. Maybe Dave Corliss will be as unpredictable as John Roberts.

Unlike Roberts, though, Corliss only makes recommendations. City commissioners will get the recommended budget today, study it tirelessly I’m sure during the July 4 holiday, and then will use it as a base for creating the final 2013 budget. They’re scheduled to approve the final budget in early August.


patkindle 5 years, 11 months ago

this is the era of taking care of others nice to see some out of work starving artist has an in law with some pull

The city’s Lawrence Cultural Art Commission is seeking $60,000 in the 2013 city budget to add a new City Hall employee who would act as an arts coordinator. !

overthemoon 5 years, 11 months ago

You'd be surprised at the people backing this...all sorts including business owners, KU faculty, retired folks, and some very successful artists who want to help those coming up in the field.

Travis Alexander 5 years, 11 months ago

60k a year for an "Arts Coordinator". Seems like good pay for that job.... geez

overthemoon 5 years, 11 months ago

You know that the costs of employment that must be budgeted are greater than the salary, right? This is probably a 30K position.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 11 months ago

Hey, Jack. Apparently, you have an answer to every question, a solution to every problem. And you certainly feel like the current local leaders haven't a clue. Why don't you run for elected office? Choose from city commissioner up to president of the U.S. Put your ideas out there in a public forum, have them debated, and let the public decide.

Jean Robart 5 years, 11 months ago

Please don't encourage him. He's insufferable now.

Travis Alexander 5 years, 11 months ago

Whats going to happen to all the older apartments?

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 11 months ago

Yes, criminals and poor people are synonymous. Maybe people on Social Security can move in after their homes have been foreclosed.

overthemoon 5 years, 11 months ago

The arts are a large economic driver in Lawrence. Coordinating all of the various groups, venues and events for maximum economic and social benefit will enhance one of our strongest resources. You may not participate in or appreciate art of any kind, but that doesn't mean its value should be ignored!

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 11 months ago

You have got to be kidding. Most of the "Arts" folks I see are beating on a pickle bucket on Mass street, or trying to sell some pile of junk they got out of a dumpster and tied together somehow to the city for $40,000. Most of these people have no money. How can they be a large economic driver to anyone other than the honk for help guy?

overthemoon 5 years, 11 months ago

You aren't seeing much of what Lawrence has to offer. We can't have a vibrant community if we develop plans according to the lowest common denominator.

somebodynew 5 years, 11 months ago

You may be absolutely correct about arts being an economic driver in Lawrence (not sure large, but.....), and so then the "Art Community" and lovers can get together and get their own coordinator. Just why should it be a City expense. I do participate and appreciate the arts, and would contribute if the community wanted their own person. I see no reason to add to the City personnel costs for this. And as someone else said, $60,000 is just the start of what that position would cost.

Sorry, there are greater needs right now.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

This bunch has spent more than every previous City Commission combined. $60k falls out of Cromwell's pocket when he sits on his sofa.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

and don't forget to add in benefits, that $60k per year is more likely going to cost $100k. To do what? Come on, this is getting asinine.

overthemoon 5 years, 11 months ago

The budget is for 60K, including benefits and costs to the city for employment expenses. The salary would be less than that.

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 11 months ago

Just to be clear, the $60,000 budget request does include benefits. O.K., continue on. Thanks, Chad

somebodynew 5 years, 11 months ago

Jack - I wish that were true about Cromwell's pocket. Then he could just pay for this c**p out of his pocket. I am sure the "compromise" will be that the 'retirement coordinator' and 'art coordinator' jobs be combined - - but then they would want to pay that person $100,000.

We can't find the money for things we actually Need, just why do they think we can afford this (filtered)????

pizzapete 5 years, 11 months ago

What exactly would an arts coordinator do? What are the job responsibilities? At $60,000 a year, I think I'd like to apply for that job.

Would $60,000 a year be enough to rent out the Masonic Temple as a public art gallery and display area for local artists?

Noweigh 5 years, 11 months ago

Arts Coordinator? $60,000 a year during these economic times? With so many other urgent, real priorities. Only in Lawrence. Would love to see the job description, the accountability standards and what "victory" looks like for this position. Amazing.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

There is nothing more perfect for the economically irresponsible, rental loving city of Lawrence than the biggest Rent-A-Center in 6 states. Come get your $8,000 plasma tv and $4000 couch!

Lathrup 5 years, 11 months ago

Heck, I'll coordinate all kinds of art and stuff for ONLY $50,000.00 a year. Save a bit so we can get another traffic circle!

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