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News and notes from around town:
• If you think North Lawrence’s retail and entertainment scene is largely the venerable Johnny’s Tavern and that bird-watching supply store near North Ninth and Walnut Street (at least it seems to advertise itself as some sort of bird club), then you haven’t been to the area’s burgeoning antiques district.
The area near North Seventh and Locust streets has been gaining a reputation as an antique hotspot for awhile. Well, it now has a new entrant onto the scene. A longtime interior designer has opened Tooter and Tillaye’s at 644 Locust.
The store has everything from antique furniture to silverware, jewelry, chimes, old books and other curios.
“We try to have a lot of different and unique things,” said owner Dana Niemack.
That goes for the store name too. The store is named after Niemack’s great-grandmother Tillaye and grandmother Tooter. Yes, Tooter was a nickname.
“From the age of three, her siblings just always called her Tooter,” Niemack said.
(I didn’t investigate any further. I’m just trying to get my head around a grandma Tooter. It’s hard. I wonder if the smells of your grandma’s kitchen would be some of the best memories of your childhood.)
Niemack has spent about 25 years as a professional interior designer. For most of those years she was based in Osage County and worked a lot in the Topeka market. She said her design style always has been about combining the old with the new, so opening an antique shop made sense.
Locating in North Lawrence also made some sense. The area near Seventh and Locust now has four antique shops — the former downtown store My Father’s Daughter, Amy’s Attic, and LSM Interiors and Antiques also are located at the corner. The shops also are unique in that they mainly are open only on Fridays and Saturdays.
In addition, Eagle’s Rest Natural Home store also is at the corner. It is not an antique shop (it also is open more regular business hours) but rather is the group that took over the former Blue Heron furniture store business.
Lawrence in general has quite a few antique places now. Niemack said consumers are turning to antiques again, and often are finding the quality vs. value equation makes older furniture more affordable than some of the newer stuff.
“I think antiques are back on the upswing,” Niemack said. “People appreciate the quality. There is more character to them, and people are tired of the big box store stuff.”
The wife and I went and checked out all the places last weekend. My wife, being the trendsetter she is, liked several of the older pieces but it was a new piece of furniture that caught her eye. I’m tempted to describe it in great detail here, so that someone may be beat her to the store. (Yes, that would be underhanded, but I’m in survival mode here. In a one-month period, she has had a birthday, a wedding anniversary and now the coup de grace, Girl Scout cookie season. You’ve heard how the country is heading towards a “fiscal cliff.” In my house, we’re heading towards a “cookie cliff.” I’ve been on that bus before, and I can guarantee you that it has no brakes.)
• The buildings near North Seventh and Locust streets kind have a mini-Downtown Lawrence feel to them. My understanding is local businessman Jon Davis is largely responsible for rehabilitating the area.
Davis is also a partner in the group that wants to revamp the area around Johnny’s Tavern and the Kansas River levee. If you remember that group has proposed creating a boardwalk along the levee, rebuilding a new Johnny’s and having several shops along the boardwalk, with a dream scenario of a movie theater locating in the development as well.
The developers said from the beginning the project would take awhile to come together, but lately there hasn’t been much sign of activity.
Well, I can report that the project isn’t dead. I haven’t received any specific updates from the developers recently, but they have exercised a contract option with the city that indicates the group is still plowing ahead with the plans.
Back in 2008, the group signed a purchase agreement with the city to obtain a bit of vacant land adjacent to the river levee. The contract, however, came with a long due diligence period before the group actually had to close on the deal. Recently, the group notified the city that it does indeed want to exercise another 12-month extension to continue due diligence on the project. The new extension gives the group until October of 2013 to decide whether to pull the trigger on the deal.
This next year may be critical in determining whether the river redevelopment project has any legs to it. I believe this most recent extension marks the last extension available to the group under the current purchase contract. So, a decision time may be nearing.
What I have long heard from the development group is that they won’t build the project on speculation. In other words, the economy needs to improve enough that some significant retailers are ready to sign leases for the project.
• There may be one redevelopment that folks in North Lawrence are hoping for even more than the riverfront idea. That would be the redevelopment of the troubled mobile home park at 827 Walnut St.
If you remember, the city went into the trailer park and basically shut the park down after finding gross violations of the city’s code. When I say gross, I mean gross on a couple of levels. The city found some trailer units discharging sewer straight to the ground, which had left pools that children were congregating around.
In total, the city issued 13 search warrants as part of an investigation of environmental and property maintenance code violations.
The city action made it so that no one could live at the property, but it left a question about what was to become of the mess. Currently, most of the trailers continue to sit at the park in a bad state of disrepair.
Well, city officials recently have confirmed that talks are underway by a private developer to purchase the park and convert the area into single-family homes. Brian Jimenez, the codes enforcement manager with the city, said local contractor Mark Bowden is in discussions with the California owner of the park. I believe the situation is still fluid, so there is no guarantee of a deal. City officials, though, have told me they want to give the deal a chance to go through before they start ordering a massive cleanup of the property. Such a cleanup likely will be expensive. The city can always try to recoup those expenses by placing a special assessment onto the property tax bill of the real estate, but that doesn’t always result in a quick recouping of funds.
• And finally, a brief update on an item we mentioned earlier in the week. Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioners met last night and dealt a blow to the idea of more retail development occurring at the controversial intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The Planning Commission on a 4-3 vote rejected a request to rezone 146 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth and the SLT to allow retail development.
Just a few weeks ago, the planning commission approved the request on a 7-1 vote. But that was when planning commissioners thought the site was going to be home to a proposed sports complex with the city and KU. That proposal has since moved to the east side of the SLT, and as a result, city commissioners asked the Planning Commission to reconsider its previous vote.
The owners of the property, which is a group led by Lawrence businessmen Duane and Steve Schwada, argued the property should still be rezoned to retail, and have said that if it isn’t the proposed sports complex likely is going to lack the necessary hotels, restaurants and other amenities that normally nearby such a development.
Wednesday night’s Planning Commission vote doesn’t end the discussion. The Planning Commission is merely an advisory board. City commissioners will have the final say on the zoning issue.
But if city commissioners also reject the zoning, it will create a question of what the property should be zoned as. The city has to figure that out because it took the somewhat unusual step of annexing the property into the city limits before it was certain of what its zoning would be. There probably will be some more interesting discussions about this one, and perhaps another close vote.