Archive for Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Town Talk: Coffee, martial arts, bank slated for proposed development in N.W. Lawrence; speculation on the Olive Garden that has never materialized; chamber being sent message to stay out of retail

May 9, 2012


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News and notes from around Lawrence and Douglas County:

• What do you get when you put a coffee shop next to a martial arts studio next to a bank? (In my case, it might be a nightmare — a well-funded, over-caffeinated spouse with hands that are a deadly weapon.) The simpler answer is perhaps northwest Lawrence’s newest retail development.

Plans have been filed at City Hall to rezone about 2.4 acres at the southeast corner of Sixth and Congressional streets to allow for a mixed-use retail building.

The property currently is a mix of vacant ground and an out-of-the-way parking lot for the Famous Dave’s restaurant and other businesses at the shopping center at Sixth and Wakarusa.

Lawrence-based Williams Management is proposing to build a 10,000-square-foot building on the site that could house up to four businesses. Matthew Gough, a Lawrence attorney representing the company, said the management group has been in discussion with several local businesses that are either looking to relocate or expand.

He said the anticipated uses include a neighborhood coffee shop with a drive-through, a local bank branch with a drive through, a martial arts studio (a drive-through there would be an interesting concept but is not planned) and a fourth retail site that doesn’t yet have a user identified.

Currently, the property is zoned for office uses, which would allow the bank but wouldn’t allow for the other users. Gough said he hopes the project will be considered by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in June, and he is working to arrange a meeting with neighbors in the area.

The neighbors in the area are many of the same who fought against the Wal-Mart on the northeast corner of Sixth and Congressional. This project, being on the south side of Sixth, is closer to their houses. But, of course, it's much smaller, too.

It will be interesting to see what their reactions are to the project. Gough is stressing that he doesn’t believe this project will open the floodgates for large amounts of new commercial development along the western reaches of Sixth Street He’s characterizing the project as an effort to find a suitable use for a piece of property that has been underutilized for a significant period of time, while also providing some neighborhood type of services.

This project should be a good opportunity for city leaders to review how that intersection of Sixth and Congressional is functioning. Concerns about traffic and congestion were near the top of the list for neighbors who fought the Wal-Mart project. Limiting the amount of retail development at that intersection was one of the compromises that allowed Wal-Mart to move forward. Granted, the Wal-Mart site isn’t yet fully developed, since there are still a few lots set aside for restaurant uses or other smaller retailers. But I haven’t heard many concerns about traffic at the intersection. It will be interesting to see if city commissioner take this as an opportunity to say that the intersection can handle more retail development than originally envisioned.

Who knows, maybe this will just be a warm-up. I still suspect that if Lawrence ever has another big-box proposal — think Lowe’s — that the site across the street from this location will be heavily considered. But no, I don’t have any new information that Lowe’s has started looking at Lawrence again.

• Speaking of national chains that may not currently be looking at Lawrence, Olive Garden may now be on that list. If you remember, Olive Garden was interested in a site at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets where the old Mazzio’s Pizza place used to be.

The Kansas City-area development group that was working to bring the restaurant to town said the project needed some incentives to work. At one point a special taxing district was discussed, and ultimately the group proposed a neighborhood revitalization district that would have provided a property tax rebate for the project.

Such incentives, though, were taking a beating in the public following the last city commission election, where they became a major campaign topic for then-candidate, now Mayor Bob Schumm.

So, no incentives were granted for the project, but in a twist, the Kansas City-area development group filed plans at City Hall that would have allowed the project to move ahead without incentives.

That was back in September when those plans were filed. The next step in the process would have been for developers to file a site plan to allow for a building permit, but that has never happened.

Gough is the attorney who represents the Kansas City area development group, and he said he had no news to report on the project. This next part is all just chatter, so it may be as useful as a three-day old breadstick, but folks in the development community tell me Olive Garden no longer has the Lawrence project on the drawing board. Whether they are open to looking at another location in Lawrence, I don’t know. But it appears the committee that makes site decisions for the restaurant chain never could pull the trigger on the 27th and Iowa site.

Maybe the incentives were important after all.

• Even though it hasn’t gotten built, the Olive Garden project has been an important one for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. That project more than any other, perhaps, brought to a head the debate over whether the chamber ought to be involved in attracting new retail development to the community.

The chamber worked both publicly and privately to try to broker deals related to incentives for both the Olive Garden and a previous Lowe’s proposal.

Well, it seems that debate has been settled on a couple of fronts. In February, the chamber had a consulting firm come in to conduct interviews with several key stakeholder both inside and outside the chamber’s membership. The goal was to find out what perceptions were out there about the chamber.

Eileen Hawley, the chamber’s director of communications, went over the results with me recently, and she said the retail issues definitely were a topic with the folks who were interviewed.

“We found the Lowe’s and Olive Garden positions were really unpopular positions with several people we talked with,” Hawley said.

To add on to that, Mayor Bob Schumm has been making it a point recently to say he does not think the chamber should be involved in recruiting retail to the community.

“The charge here is for the chamber to stay out of retail,” Schumm, who is a downtown restaurant owner, told me recently when talking about the chamber’s new economic development focus. “That’s really important. When the chamber becomes involved in the retail function or these special taxing districts, it gets completely muddy.”

It definitely did with the Olive Garden project when several local restaurant owners who were chamber members questioned why they should support an organization that was working to bring in not only a national competitor but also one that would benefit from a development that would receive a tax break.

But this talk of the chamber staying out of retail development entirely is a bit of a shift. In much of 2010 and 2011, the city convened a Retail Task Force to try to figure out how to make Lawrence a more attractive retail market. The city appointed the CEO of the chamber to serve on the task force.

At that time, there was much concern about Lawrence’s shrinking retail pull factor — a number that measures how well a community is keeping its owns residents and how well it is pulling in shoppers from outside the community. There also was much concern about vacancies in Downtown Lawrence.

The city’s retail pull factor is still weaker than it was years ago, and while vacancies in Downtown Lawrence have improved, there are still several high profile ones. (Think of the former Borders building and the former Maurices location, to name just two.)

So what does this new direction mean? Does it mean that the city won’t have any coordinated effort to try attract retailers or improve the retail market? Or does it just mean that the city’s largest business organization won’t have any role in it?

By the way, those stakeholder interviews the chamber conducted also are having an impact on this proposal for a new economic development structure. I’ll have more on what those interviews had to say about the chamber’s efforts on economic development in the near future.


matthew2600 6 years ago

Glad the Olive Garden thing fell apart, Paisano's is in the exact same area and is way better. And not that they would be competing but we have Genovese which Johnson County/Topeka/the rest of the Olive Garden-eating country does not have.

MarcoPogo 6 years ago

Having Olive Garden in the area might have forced Paisano's to actually step up their game. So much for that idea.

jafs 6 years ago

I've been quite disappointed with Paisano's the last few times I went there with my wife.

The food, service, and prices were all bad.

And, we used to like going there quite a bit.

Olive Garden, interestingly, has been consistently decent on all counts - I'd be glad for an OG in town.

Of course, I don't want them to get any tax breaks to come here.

oliveoyl 6 years ago

^ Completely agree. Paisano's quality has dropped significantly over the years and is overpriced. We used to patron it a lot...not anymore. Kitchen Nightmares worthy? ;)

somedude20 6 years ago

Paisano's suckssssss! How do you screw up a meatball hoagie, ask Pukesano's. How do you ruin pasta, again, ask Putridsano's. Good god, how do you make breadsticks taste like Bea Arthur's backside, ask Poopsano's. I am not a huge fan of OG but Paisano's makes the OG seem like 50 star cuisine

bornherelongago 6 years ago

Olive Garden dropping out comes as no surprise. They are owned by the same group that owns Red Lobster, among others. If the Lawrence numbers don't add up, Darden turns a deaf ear. They've done the same thing with Red Lobster three or four times according to one knowledgeable commercial real estate guy that I've spoken to about it. He says Lawrence's population and buying power aren't high enough to make us a "must have" site. So I guess the people who have to have it will go out of town to get it.

Hooligan_016 6 years ago

Fazoli's > Olive Garden, who wants to help me start a franchise location?

Jennifer Alexander 6 years ago

Maybe I am just a moron, but can someone please tell me WHY there is so much new commercial development going on in Lawrence when we already have several vacant buildings. Both big and small. They are stand alone buildings and in shopping centers. I just don't understand why you need to build build build when we have lots of empty space already.

And on the Olive Garden note, I live in the 27th and Iowa area and I was excited to have them here. For one, Piasanos would have had to provide better service, etc. And secondly, and perhaps most importantly, that corner is UGLY. Something needs to be done with it. It is an eye-sore for the city.

hujiko 6 years ago

You contradict yourself when you say that we need to use existing retail space instead of building new developments like you suggest at 27th and Iowa. It's a street corner, not a decommissioned nuclear reactor.

12th and Oread, now THAT is an eyesore.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years ago

The Lawrence Chamber, as with most Chambers of Commerce is just a good ole boys club. They are very poor at extending their hand to new businesses but are very quick to accept donations. The term "Pay to play" comes to mind when I think about these groups.

optimist 6 years ago

Get real. You don't have the slightest idea of what you are talking about. They are a member organization like any other member organization. There is no big secret here. This makes you sound like a paranoid conspiracy loon.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years ago

No you have no idea... it is a good ole boys club that is very narrow in its membership and there is a huge club that is conjoined at the sphinter with the DLA and city commission.

gatekeeper 6 years ago

If Hack is associated with it, then it's a good ole boys club. Just look at her records with everything she's involved in.

scaramouchepart2 6 years ago

Target exists along with over a million sq. ft. of commercial.

optimist 6 years ago

This is a very valid concern for the Chamber. While the role of the chamber with regard to retail should be to provide support to any business interested in moving to the area they should not be in the business of advocating for businesses that will directly compete economically with existing members and more importantly advocate for incentives and benefits not available to all of its membership. The Chamber should focus its energy on brining in companies that employee people locally to provide products and services outside the area. That way they are only competing for local workers rather than local dollars. If we spread local dollars too thin everyone loses. I hope the Chamber takes this under advisement.

Jonathan Fox 6 years ago

As long as Lawrence restricts real development (e.g. Small Home Depot, no Dick's) people will continue to just drive to KC/Topeka to their big box stores, along with spending there money at the Red Lobster/Olive Garden's in those areas.

As much as I wish people were willing to use their purchasing power at small businesses of Lawrence. (e.g. Cottin's hardware, Francis Sporting Goods, etc...) because the small businesses are going to bring the most jobs, revenue, and taxes to Lawrence and not to corporate greed thousands of miles away.

notyourmom 6 years ago

But, I can drive to Jo Co in January and get my daughter a bathing suit for $20 at Dicks, when the cheapest starts at $60 at Francis all year.If I wanted to I could spend another $40 in OG, and have had a nice day out with the fam. Lawrence won't be able to compete until it realizes it's competing.

Amy Bartle 6 years ago

As far as the proposed development at 6th and Congressional, we already have a coffee shop at 6th and Wakarusa - locally owned J&S. And then there's a Starbucks inside Dillons. There's ATA - a martial arts place over at 6th and Waka too. and like JChristine says there are several vacant commercial properties around town.

MarcoPogo 6 years ago

So let the new place fail miserably. It gives Border Bandido another name to add to their list of Lawrence eateries that they have outlasted.

Carol Bowen 6 years ago

Economic development should focus on jobs and revenue. Retail is a function of supply and demand. If we increase the number of good paying jobs, the demand for retail will happen. Retail does not offer good paying jobs. Focus on non-retail is business would be more productive. (Lowe's is not just retail. It would be a worthwhile addition to our jobs market and revenue.)

Patriot2 6 years ago

My only wish is "Readers Digest" reads this article!

scaramouchepart2 6 years ago

Lowe's is just retail. Lowes would not by itself be able to function as a primary job since it is services the community already here and it would spread local dollars thinner since it does not provide product out and money in. Competes with Home Depot, West lakes, Cottins, Orchlein, even Target, Wal-Mart, and others.

scaramouchepart2 6 years ago

Blue Only answered hear- me. Lowes is retail and not primary.

Carol Bowen 6 years ago

Scaramouch, whether or not Lowes is retail is debatable. I'll give you that. My thought was that Lowes' jobs pay more than minimum wage. Most retail pays poorly.

softsun 6 years ago

Wilbur has it right, without transparent governance the proposed Joint Committee form of economic development becomes another pot of money to be handed out and the process assures recipients of funding are chosen as winners. Who might they be? Downtown renewal, developers, east Lawrence, each with supporters. History tells us much of the money goes to those closest to the trough. The proposed 1/2 cent sales tax will give "the Committee" another $5 million a year to give away, That additional sales tax will be a hard sell in Lawrence. Perhaps a NO SALE now that urban planners, neighborhoods and others have an eye on sloppy governance and are insisting the Chamber Board perform their legal duties of Care, Loyalty and Obedience. When will they discontinue their elitist "worst practices" march of riding rough shod over the taxpayers who pay over half their budget?. When will county and city administrators pay closer attention to the money they are giving the Chamber - City and County pay more for the Chamber than the members pay in their own dues! Thanks again for your info hear_me.

geekin_topekan 6 years ago

We need incentives for Jack in the Box!

nativeson 6 years ago

Focus of primary jobs. Everyone can agree we need primary jobs, and the community stakeholders will support it by and large. Choose your battles.

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