Archive for Friday, September 21, 2012

Town Talk: Rumors of AT&T Wireless and Chipotle headed to new S. Iowa building; new group forms to discuss diversity of City Hall leadership; open house set for proposed West Lawrence interchange

September 21, 2012


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News and notes from around town:

• Take this in the spirit that it is offered: The spirit of scuttlebutt. But apparently employees at the Lawrence AT&T; Wireless stores are beginning to tell customers that AT&T; is opening a new store on South Iowa Street in what will be a newly constructed building.

That would seem to indicate that AT&T; is going to be one of the tenants of a new building that is planned for the corner of the Wal-Mart parking lot near 33rd and Iowa streets. As we previously have reported, plans have been approved for that new retail building. It has space for at least one other tenant. The word on the street continues to be that Chipotle Mexican restaurant also will go into the location.

All of this is unconfirmed, so take it for whatever you think it is worth. Attempts to reach AT&T; Wireless officials for comment haven’t yet been successful. (One time my cell phone actually cut out while I was calling the store. No, I don’t have AT&T.;)

Folks should start noticing some changes in the area near Wal-Mart, though. In fact, my wife (who, imagine this, just happened to be in the South Iowa shopping district recently) told me it looks like dirt work for the new building has begun.

It is just one of a few changes happening on South Iowa. The biggest project is a bit unseen at the moment. But Ross Dress for Less is plowing ahead on its plans to open in the former Old Navy location. I’m still trying to get a Ross official to give me an estimated opening date for the store. (Coming soon, according to the sign.) I can tell you that the company has pulled a building permit to do approximately $800,000 worth of remodeling work to convert the former Old Navy location into a Ross Dress for Less. So, dress for less, yes. Construct for less, not so much so.

I also continue to hear rumors that a sporting goods retailer and a home improvement retailer are interested in Lawrence. (At this point, I would guess Dick’s and Menards.) But I’ve also heard that they are more interested in being near South Iowa Street than they are in northwest Lawrence. That’s a problem for the city because it doesn’t have any sites zoned or planned for new big box stores along South Iowa Street.

It is sometimes forgotten, but there is vacant ground immediately south of the South Lawrence Trafficway. In other words, between the SLT and the Wakarusa River. The pressure to develop that site is going to be pretty intense as the U.S. 59 project is completed and the final leg of the SLT is constructed. I’m not sure how much of it is outside of the floodplain right now, and I’m also not sure what type of approvals would be needed to bring fill into the site to make it more developable.

The bigger question, probably, is whether city commissioners will entertain the idea. I have heard a couple of commissioners be pretty insistent that new big box development was going to be directed to the intersection of Sixth Street and the SLT.

As the city and KU contemplate building a new sports complex near the intersection, that particularly has been the case. That’s also why commissioners had been considering a zoning request to add another 200,000 square feet of retail zoning to the intersection — so that both big box stores and the needed commercial amenities for a sports complex could be accommodated.

But now commissioners are no longer considering that additional retail zoning. Will plans for the big box stores go away? Or, does the city now believe a sports complex doesn’t need that much complimentary retail (hotels, restaurants and such) after all?

City commissioners are scheduled to discuss the zoning issue at their Tuesday evening meeting.

• While were on the subjects of the recreation center and gossip, there may be an upcoming event right up your alley. A new group called Madre Lawrence is hosting a public forum at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., to discuss questions surrounding the proposed recreation center.

I believe the event is going to be a bit informal. I’m not sure city officials have been invited to give a formal presentation at the gathering. Instead, I think Madre Lawrence organizers want to have a free-flowing conversation about what people think of the possibility of a $24 million recreation center on the edge of town.

The event will be interesting enough, but even more so is the formation of this new group. The name — Madre Lawrence — is a bit of a play off of the new group called Cadre Lawrence that has recently formed and become more active at City Hall. We recently wrote about that group and its efforts to get residents more informed and engaged with what’s going on at City Hall.

Madre Lawrence has the same basic goal, but it also aims to highlight another issue — that most of the people who are involved at City Hall are men.

“I think we have a serious problem with diversity at City Hall,” said Leslie Soden, a leader of Madre Lawrence. “The city commissioners, as much as I love those guys, are pretty solidly from one demographic.”

Soden also said it also is a bit disconcerting that most of the department heads at City Hall are men. Indeed, more than 50 percent are men, but there are numerous, powerful female staff members at City Hall. Both of the assistant city managers are female, the city attorney — who oversees all of the city’s legal department — is a female, the staff members most responsible for reorganizing the city’s trash system are females, the city’s budget director is female, and I could go on.

But what I think we all can agree is not up for debate is that none of the current five city commissioners is female. Sue Hack, who left the commission in 2009, is the last female to have served on the commission.

In the approximately 20 years that I’ve covered the commission, I’m almost certain there has never been a female majority. I’m not sure that during that time period there have been two female commissioners even serving at the same time. Somewhere in the debris pile I call a file cabinet, I have a list of city commissioners through the decades. I’ll try to provide a list of all the female commissioners here later today.

The situation at the Douglas County Commission has been much the same. Until Nancy Thellman was elected about four years ago, I don’t think there had been a female commissioner on that three-member board for about two decades. The Lawrence school board has been the only local government body that has had pretty steady female representation.

On the flip side, females don’t run for either the city or commissions at the rate males do. I can't remember where a majority of candidates in either of those races has been female.

Although Madre Lawrence organizers didn’t mention it, I have noted in the past that there has definitely been a dearth of minority candidates for the City Commission. In the city’s 158-year history, there has never been a black mayor. I don’t recall there ever being a black or Latino candidate ever run for City Commission during the last 20 years.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what issues Madre Lawrence raises in the future. Soden, as president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, has been very active in City Hall business, most recently opposing development plans at Ninth and New Hampshire. I also believe Candice Davis, a longtime leader in the Oread neighborhood is active in the group.

• Somebody told me the reason women aren’t on the Lawrence City Commission is very simple: They’re too smart to run for that position. Well, we’ll see if they are smart enough to stay away from an issue that involves the never-ending South Lawrence Trafficway.

Actually, this upcoming event may not be too painful. City and state leaders are set to host an open house to discuss plans for a forthcoming interchange at Bob Billings Parkway and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The event is slated from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday at the Langston Hughes Elementary School Multipurpose Room, 1101 George Williams Way.

The Kansas Department of Transportation surprised a few people in April by announcing it had found $17 million in its comprehensive transportation plan to fund a long-talked-about interchange at Bob Billings and the SLT in West Lawrence.

At the time, KDOT leaders said they still would need $2 million either from the city or the county to add community amenities such as bike lanes, an enhanced aesthetic design and such things. I’m not sure the $2 million has been committed by either group yet, so we’ll check in and see what the latest is on that.

But the project is very real. My understanding is there are survey flags out there, and the state has been in discussions to buy the necessary property from land owners.


itsalwayssunnyinlarry 5 years, 7 months ago

so two new stores that are already have a couple lawrence locations? is there really that much demand?

alex_delaney 5 years, 7 months ago

It seems like large international companies like these would do their homework before they start throwing money around at Lawrence, KS. If there wasn't demand I doubt they would provide the supply.

Lawrence is a small city that attracts shoppers from Jefferson, Shawnee, and Riley counties as well as our almost 100,000 citizen population. I'm sure the demand is there.

Hoots 5 years, 7 months ago

Tell that to CVS. They've built two stores here that no one seems to shop at. It seems that Wal-Greens is kicking the crap out of them. The people that run these international companies aren't as smart as you seem to think.

Hoots 5 years, 7 months ago

Oh, my favorite is the new Natural Foods on 23rd. They didn't do their research either. They didn't look into the fact Wild Oats got owned by The Merc years ago. They don't even understand their target audience here. The tree huggers buy things from people they like and know...not from some chain BS store. That location will be for sale in the not so distant future. I'm not a tree hugger but I get it. I'd rather spend money with my friends as well. The Natural Grocer people didn't do any research. DumbA$$es.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

Well, I like NG a lot.

It offers virtually all of the products I used to buy at the Merc, and at lower prices, with good customer service as well.

I hope you're wrong, and that they succeed.

As far as not doing any research, I think you're wrong - their product selection is clearly modeled fairly closely to much of the Merc's.

whatever95 5 years, 7 months ago

What about all those empty retail spaces by Home Depot & Best Buy?

alex_delaney 5 years, 7 months ago

Not that either Chad or Leslie Soden suggested that the lack of diversity is a racial issue as much as about gender, I would like to remind readers that Lawrence isn't that diverse to begin with. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Lawrence's demographics are as follows: 82.0% White, 4.7% African American, 3.1% Native American, 4.5% Asian, 0.1Pacific Islander, 1.5% from other races, and 4.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.7% of the population. So of the 18% of non-Whites, how many are interested/qualified enough to run a successful campaign, much less even of age? Lawrence is split almost 50/50 male to female, and here I would have to agree that women are just too smart to put up with regular weekly meetings, abuse from the general public on the LJWorld comment section, and constant complaining from their constituency all for $9,000 per year.

There is no conspiracy there, just life being true to the numbers. Maybe Leslie will run for commissioner when she's done with her Leadership Lawrence class this year.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

"Maybe Leslie will run for commissioner when she's done with her Leadership Lawrence class this year."


alex_delaney 5 years, 7 months ago

Huh what bozo? You didn't know Leslie Soden is in this year's class?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

No, I didn't know that. Fine with me if she is, but given that Leadership Lawrence has no listing of who is in the upcoming class, I don't know who else is included, either.

alex_delaney 5 years, 7 months ago

The reception was Tuesday so they didn't announce it publicly until then. I'm sure you could call Darlene (Class of 2012) at the Chamber and she'd happily tell you.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Since you appear to be on a first name basis with Darlene, I'll take your word for it.

Windemere 5 years, 7 months ago

Let's get Dick's here, that would be wonderful. Understand why they'd want to be on S Iowa, but maybe Schwada can get them to come to his NE corner of 6th and K10.

Also -- what is going in behind Famous Dave's on 6th -- anyone know?

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 7 months ago

I don't have the names of the tenants yet, but we previously have reported that a bank, a martial arts business and a coffee shop are slated to go into that multi-tenant building. When I get specific names, I'll report them. Thanks, Chad.

lawrencechick 5 years, 7 months ago

Why can't they fill the empty retail space in front of Home Depot? It's a nice building and it has been empty for years.

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 7 months ago

Supposedly, part of it does have to do with some no-compete provisions that were placed on that building when Best Buy and Home Depot agreed to locate at the site. For example, I've been told that businesses that sell products similar to those sold at Best Buy — like wireless phones — would have a difficult time leasing space in those locations. Here's a story we did all the way back in 2008 on the issue.

blindrabbit 5 years, 7 months ago

Be careful of using Sue Hack's name here, we don't need another Decephra (or Deceptera) bought, share holder owning, sitting Commissioner approver..

LogicMan 5 years, 7 months ago

Dick's Sporting Goods could do well in the old Sears location.

Menard's would be a great addition, but needs much more space if similarly sized to their new store in west Topeka.

I was hoping for something more interesting in front of Walmart. Any interest, for elsewhere, from Red Lobster/Olive Garden (in front of Home Depot?), Golden Corral, etc.?

blindrabbit 5 years, 7 months ago

Know it will not happen, but a Trader Joes, I like The Merc, but cannot afford the inflated prices, Joes might provide the needed competition!

bad_dog 5 years, 7 months ago

Try Natural Grocers on 23rd. Many of their prices are lower than the Merc.

I love Trader Joe's too, but do they want another Kansas location where they can't sell Two Buck Chuck?

Hoots 5 years, 7 months ago

My Pop said the same thing about the vitamins. He didn't get it either. He said it was a GNC with yogurt.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

The membership fee is $75. The discount on "members days" is ten percent. As soon as you've purchased $750 worth (over however long it takes you to do that) you've got your fee back. There is also the rebate that comes once a year based on annual purchases. For a regular shopper, I'd guess the average is about $10. There are also occasional member-only discounts on select items, and reduced fees on classes.

The main reason to buy a membership is to support the coop, since they use these fees for various parts of their operation, including upgrades and expansions. But you'll get that money back within a relatively short period of time if you shop there often enough.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

I find virtually all of the bulk food items I used to buy at the Merc at NG, as well as things like tempeh, tofu, etc.

Membership in the Merc used to be a much better deal, before they changed the way it works.

Once a month, there are huge lines now on membership days - it's just not worth it for me. When they changed the membership rules, I left the membership and got my money back.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

30,000 of the number 100,000 population are part timers also known as students. This 30,000 is gone probably about 120 days out of the year.

Recently I believe I heard the number of approximately 68,000 population. Of course some of those are children. Maybe none are full time shoppers because that requires employment.

Romney is killing 190 jobs. Brownback has killed a few hundred with more to come and some of those lost jobs are in Lawrence. I think a Lawrence workforce needs $35.00 per hour in order to live and shop in Lawrence.

I still say that Lawrence will not support two major home improvement stores. The retail dollar pie has been shrinking for a few years now. All new stores best do their own evaluation of Lawrence and take some time doing it. There are a lot of empty rooftops in this town.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

Thirty five dollars an hour to live here! Hire me Merrill. Hire me. Or if not me, then hire anyone you choose.

But, then, I suspect you've never created a job in your life. Or you wouldn't even mention something as silly as $35/hr.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

He may not be that far off, given the costs of living in Lawrence these days.

That's why we have a lot of commuters now, and many fewer people who both live and work here.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 7 months ago

The student population in Lawrence is probably actually lower than 30,000. I believe that covers all KU campuses.

kuguardgrl13 5 years, 7 months ago

Although I guess when you include Haskell students who aren't local and Baker students who come up to Lawrence to shop, it may be 30,000.

Hoots 5 years, 7 months ago

In the words of Lewis Black. The Democrats are the party of no ideas and the Republicans are the party of bad ideas. When they work together the Republican comes up with a bad idea and the Democrat says I can make it worse. Black also says our two party system is a bowl of crap looking at itself in the mirror. Keep drinking the Koolaid Merrill. Reverend James "Jim" Jones has a nice place for you to vacation at in Guyana. I hope you like grape Koolaid.

blindrabbit 5 years, 7 months ago

bad_dog: Agree, I still buy Two Bucks in Santa Fe, need no excuse to go there (Santa Fe that is) at $2.99, but now KCMo.. One time drove back from Cali.with 14 cases of/at $1.99, was scared I would get caught for sales tax issues. And I'm no alky. I'll have to try Natural Grocers again.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

Keep your eyes open for additional sales taxes at new stores. No one likes shoppers to know these things.

By The Associated Press Nebraska Furniture owes tax bill

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Nebraska Furniture Mart, one of the most frequented businesses in The Legends center, is battling the Unified Government of Wyandotte County over the company's refusal to pay $6 million in property taxes.

The Unified Government says Nebraska Furniture Mart is hurting the county by not paying its bill. The government notes that Nebraska Furniture Mart used more than $65 million in public subsidies to help build its large store and warehouse in western Kansas City, Kan., near the Kansas Speedway.

Bob Batt, a vice president for the company, responded Tuesday that the company has not paid its property taxes for two years because the county's appraisals of the store and warehouse were far too high.

The company has appealed the value of the building every year since 2003.


Not very considerate of local taxpayers who somehow will be forced to make up the difference.

repete66211 5 years, 7 months ago

At the very beginning people were saying, "Once the abatement runs its course they're going to pull out." It'll happen.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

Lawrence,Kansas is doing the same thing as below. Which can eat up any savings quite easily.

Kansas City sales tax rates can vary even in the same shopping area What you need to know when paying sales tax

KANSAS CITY, Kansas - On the heels of customers being overcharged for sales tax at the Kansas Sampler

in Lawrence, Kansas, an NBC Action News viewer called in and thought he was having the same problem with Nebraska Furniture Mart.

The viewer saw that he was charged 9.025 percent for sales tax on his purchase. We did our own digging and found the Wyandotte County sales tax rate is set at 8.925 percent and has been that way since July 2010.

It sounds like viewer was overcharged, but in fact he was charged the correct sales tax rate. We discovered there are actually three different sales tax rates in the Village West shopping district.

According to Wyandotte County Unified Government public information officer Edwin Birch, the sales tax rates range from 8.925 percent to 9.525 percent.

Read more:

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

Special Sales Tax For The Legends =========== City commissioners have heard multiple complaints from the public about the special taxes not being transparent enough, but commissioners said they’re not sure Lawrence shoppers understand they’re being hit with special taxes when they shop at many places in Kansas City.

“When you look at the list of places that have these (special taxes), they are a lot of the same places we’re losing sales to,” Cromwell said.

Among the locations that shoppers will pay a special tax — they vary in their amount but can be up to 2 percent. Who is included?

In Kansas City, Kan., at numerous locations around the Kansas Speedway and as part of the Village West and Legends developments.

In Leawood at various locations along Nall Avenue and 119th Street.

In Lenexa at various locations along Quivira Road.

In Olathe at various locations along South Renner Road, 119th Street, Blackbob Road, and at locations near the Great Mall of the Great Plains.

In Overland Park along parts of Metcalf Avenue, West 135th Street, West 95th Street and along Quivira Road near the Oak Park Mall.

A change in state law requiring all special taxing districts to post signs alerting shoppers to the higher tax would help level the playing field, Cromwell said. But such a change might be tough to come by.

Legislation was introduced last session, said Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, that would have required every retailer — regardless of whether they were in a special taxing district — to post a sign stating their sales tax rate. Holland, who supported the legislation, said the bill had momentum in the Senate but struggled in the House.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

There's plenty of unhappiness with the high property taxes that Wyandotte County residents have to pay to prop up those developments.

Steve Jacob 5 years, 7 months ago

Interesting the city want's development west when business want to go south. Maybe business see more customers coming from Baldwin/Ottawa, where they have less opinions then people traveling on 1-70. And property/rent might be cheaper.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Inadvertently posted in the wrong place. See post above.

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