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News and notes from around town:
• It is a bit early to pop the cork on the sparkling wine (who can afford the French stuff these days) but there are signs that the city’s home building industry is starting to rebound.
City officials issued permits for 14 single-family or duplex living units in February. That was the highest February mark in the last five years. In total, the city issued permits for $7.73 million worth of projects, which was the highest total since $9.14 million in 2008.
Now, granted, none of the last five years has been particularly good for the home building industry in Lawrence. But the industry hit a new low in 2011, so builders are looking for a reason for optimism.
Actually, most folks who follow the Lawrence economy are looking for a reason to be optimistic about home building and home sales. I follow several economic numbers, and quite a few are heading in positive direction for Lawrence. Unemployment is down and retail sales are up. But home building and home sales have been the exception, and in Lawrence that is a big exception. Home building and real estate have been major components of Lawrence’s economy for a long time. How large they will be in the future is one of the great unanswered questions of the moment.
Anyway, here’s a look at some other numbers from the city’s February building permit report:
— For the first two months of the year, the city has issued permits for $10.5 million worth of projects. That’s up from $7.01 million in the two-month period in 2011. It also is the highest total since the city issued permits for $12.25 million worth of permits in Jan-Feb of 2008.
— Total building permits — everything from new houses to new commercial buildings to hot water heater installations — are at 313 for the two-month period. That’s the highest total of the last five years.
— The highest valued project of the month — and for the year thus far — was a $1.9 million permit for an expansion at the Del Monte dog food plant 727 N. Iowa. I reported in early February that an expansion was in the works. My questions about the project were referred to a Del Monte spokeswoman, but I never did have any luck in figuring out what the expansion involved. It must be a Homeland Security project involving Kibbles ’n Bits. No, just kidding. I’ve heard that the expansion will accommodate some new equipment to make the packaging for Kibbles ’n Bits dog food more environmentally friendly. Regardless, the expansion will add about 3,000 square feet onto the 250,000-square-foot plant.
— The second largest project of the month also is notable. Briggs Auto Group pulled a permit for a $1.2 million showroom at 2300 W. 29th Terrace, which is the current site of Briggs Nissan. My understanding, though, is the new showroom will be for the Briggs’ Chrysler/Dodge/Ram/Jeep dealership. The Nissan dealership is scheduled to go where the Chrysler dealership is located today, which means Nissan will have a more prominent frontage along Iowa Street.
• It still appears that Kansas University is seriously interested in a partnership with the city that would allow the university to build a new track and field facility at a proposed northwest Lawrence recreation/youth fieldhouse facility.
But another athletic partnership with the city appears to be on the ropes. As we reported several months ago, the city and KU were in discussions about the city renovating some existing KU tennis courts along Naismith Drive. The idea was that the city could resurface the lots and install some new lights, if the university would agree to allow the city’s Parks and Recreation department to promote the courts for public use.
Parks and Recreation leaders have been searching for lighted tennis courts ever since renovations at Lawrence High School removed eight lighted tennis courts from the mix. Avid tennis players — especially those who like to play in leagues after work — have been clamoring for the lighted courts to be replaced.
But neighbors to LHS have objected to adding more exterior lights to the LHS property. Some parks and recreation leaders had hoped the KU deal might make everyone happy, but now Parks and Recreation leader Ernie Shaw said KU officials have told him they have several planning projects underway that prevent the university from making a long-term commitment to the tennis courts at the moment.
That has caused Parks and Recreation leaders to once again look at lighting the courts at Lawrence High. The city has received a report from an engineering consultant who concludes the city can install the lights and keep the amount of light that leaks onto neighboring properties within the levels that are allowed by city code.
But there is certainly a catch. The new light design would cost $80,000 to $100,000 more than what the city had budgeted to light the courts. Perhaps just as important is that it will cost city commissioners some political hide. It is hard to see how neighbors of the tennis courts are going to merrily agree to any new lighting proposal for the courts.
I expect the issue will make its way to the City Commission in the next several weeks.
• An early Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of you. The 25th edition of the Lawrence St. Patrick’s Day parade will be at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Per usual, the parade will start at South Park and end at the Flamingo Club in North Lawrence. (A family-friendly version of the Flamingo Club, I might add.)
This little piece of information doesn’t have anything specifically to do with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, but it is an interesting piece of Lawrence Irish history that may become important at City Hall in the near future.
An alert reader of Town Talk forwarded me a couple of old Journal-World articles about the property at 1106 R.I. St. — which has been in the news lately because of its collection of old Packards in the yard. If you remember, the city in mid-May will consider tearing down the old house and the other dilapidated structures at 11th and Rhode Island streets.
Well, if they do, apparently a piece of Irish history will go with it. According to a 1964 Journal-World article, the property on the southeast corner of 11th and Rhode Island streets was home to one of the more renowned Irish men of Lawrence. Rhody B. Delahunty came to Lawrence from Ireland in the 1860s, and built a house at that corner in 1868. I haven’t done extensive research to know whether the house that is there today is indeed still that original 1868 home, but that seems likely. The 1964 article refers to the current home on that property being the 1868 home. It appears obvious the home on the lot today was not built after 1964.
Delahunty evidently was well known in Lawrence because he ran a “dray wagon” in front of the Merchants National Bank building in downtown, according to a November 1919 article in the Journal-World. According to my friend Mr. Inter Net, a dray wagon was just a name for a heavy wagon that carried everything from coal to produce from point to point. Apparently Rhody expanded the business into the storage realm, which may explain some of the many old outbuildings on the property as well.
Rhody’s son Tom Delahunty stayed in Lawrence and continued on with the trucking business. He became known in his own right by driving around a 1919 Diamond -T moving truck. According to Tom Delahunty, “it was the first big truck here in Lawrence.”
In addition to being used to haul heavy items, the truck also became known as a vehicle that families could rent to be transported to funerals. It had special removable seats to accommodate such uses, according to the J-W article.
That truck, I suspect, is not sitting in the weeds of the current property. The 1964 article indicated it was to be auctioned off later that year.
It is amazing what an article about some old cars in the weeds will turn up. Again, thanks to the Town Talk reader for passing the information along.