Advertisement

Archive for Saturday, April 27, 2013

Simons’ Saturday Column: Menards again reveals city’s stunted retail thinking

April 27, 2013

Advertisement

Here we go again.

Menards, a large home improvement company, wants to build a 190,000-square-foot store on West 31st Street, just east of the Home Depot store.

As soon as Menards officials announced their plans to enter the Lawrence market, the usual debate opened up about what stores should be allowed to build in Lawrence, where they should be located, whether the city was prepared to accommodate the store, whether the store would pose too much competition for other retailers, whether the salaries of employees would meet Lawrence’s requirements, whether a store (particularly one located on the south edge, or any edge, of town) would have a negative impact on the almost-sacred downtown Lawrence area and many other questions that raised concerns about allowing a new large business to enter the Lawrence market.

It’s happened time and time again in recent years, and Menards officials are likely to get the same cold shoulder other retailers have experienced.

The Menards situation comes at a time when sales and sales tax figures indicate Lawrence is not setting the retail world on fire. There also is a concern about the number of retail dollars being lost to the nearby Legends shopping area and stores in Johnson County and Topeka.

It’s interesting that various Lawrence officials claim to know far more about retailing than officials associated with highly successful national companies. Our local experts, with no cash on the line, seem to know more about the feasibility of a store in Lawrence than those who are making the costly investments. It would seem those staking their own money and careers on a project would have far more concern about the success of a store than Lawrence’s Monday morning quarterbacks, who base their rejections and analysis on their own negative reasoning.

Maybe one way to generate more retail sales and make Lawrence an even more attractive place to work, live, play and retire would be to have a wider selection of stores offering a wider variety of products at competitive prices.

In past years, the major argument used to refuse a Menards, or similar store, in the South Iowa Street area would have been to say it would hurt downtown Lawrence. Now, however, there are city commissioners, city officials and, apparently, planning officials who once fought hard to oppose such efforts but now are encouraging retailers and others to locate their businesses near the Rock Chalk Park development at the far northwest corner of the city.

Retail developments surrounding Rock Chalk Park are sure to drain sales from downtown Lawrence.

Some time, some way, Lawrence needs to get its act together on how the city is to expand its retail environment. Will city officials acknowledge that currently there isn’t the space “downtown” to handle current and future retail demands? Or maybe it would be wise to figure out a way to make downtown Lawrence more accommodating to some large retail operations.

The area currently is dominated by restaurants and bars, and it is unlikely the downtown “footprint” — bordered by the Kansas River on the north, South Park on the south and the Old West Lawrence and East Lawrence neighborhoods on the west and east — ever will be allowed to expand unless there is new thinking in City Hall.

There is no simple answer, but the city’s policies in recent years have been guided by questionable vision, questionable expertise, selfish business interests or political motives and have not presented a welcoming, enticing or favorable climate to encourage new industry, new retail and new residents.

Complacency or an attitude of “we don’t need to be cooperative with developers or competitive with other cities” has handicapped and stunted Lawrence’s growth.

Maybe the current Menards situation will open some eyes at City Hall and on the City Commission.

Comments

Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 8 months ago

I don't often agree with Dolph C. Simons, Jr., but today I completely agree with what he has to say.

The town needs businesses of all types, and Lawrence's workforce needs the jobs. They can't be all high tech jobs. I work next to Google in Mountain View, California, and you wouldn't believe the kind of work force they hire - not only in high tech, but in cleaning all the buildings, the chefs and their kitchens, and the many other kinds of work which they inspire. And it is truly bike-friendly, which is not true of Lawrence.

The problem is that the tax proceeds of Google often don't flow back to the source. Not only does Lawrence need the high tech kind of work force (which it can do - and I will write more on that feature in a blog in the coming weeks) - but Lawrence also needs a highly functional community college and vocational school. And this should not be looked down upon - it should provide excitement, not the present small, dull setting. People are needed to take care of all kinds of things - from cars to knitting, and it should be for all ages. It should be an exciting place to go to and to be at.

It could make use of online classes, as well as instructors of all kinds. The present campus does not in any way inspire this vision.

And in my opinion - the sports complex which has been approved and the library should have been made smaller, with different branches, so that members from the entire community could take part. The sports complex as approved, in particular, carries a price tag which is unacceptable in today's economy.

There are many ways in which Lawrence needs to be more friendly with businesses. And this doesn't suggest changing the great things about Lawrence - the friendly downtown, for example. And there is no need for "gutting" anything- the town can build on what it already has, with the kind of friendly environment people need to be able to live in and visit Lawrence.

LogicMan 1 year, 8 months ago

Can Menard's be fast-tracked by the City Commision? That is, not wait for the planning commissars report.

Stop_the_Madness 1 year, 8 months ago

Menard's will provide more jobs and tax dollars than the Gaslight Mobile Home Park.

smileydog 1 year, 8 months ago

lawrence leadership in a nutshell: say yes to marijuana, say no to the corporate pigs, man

clear thinking......obviously

grimpeur 1 year, 8 months ago

To the author: what were the other examples referred to by the phrase, "time and time again in recent years?"

Lowe's? They picked an inappropriate location. They knew it, the landowner knew it, and the developer knew it. So that was not the city's fault.

American Eagle? They picked an inappropriate location. Same deal.

So answer the question: which denied applications--other than Lowe's and American Eagle--would you offer as examples of the "questionable vision" of "various Lawrence officials;" to which officials are you referring; and would you care to directly address their specific reasons for denial?

Now Menard's? I think the Gaslight location would be OK as long as that is the last big development east of Iowa in the wetlands corridor. But not everyone feels that way. Clearly, many feel that no further development should be encouraged east of Iowa between Dg, Co. 458 and 31st. St.

On the other hand, despite the delays and expense caused by various Lawrence entities (who remain unnamed and whose justifications for the 32nd St. re-alignment remain hidden), the push for re-alignment may be precisely to encourage more development in that corridor. Who could have seen that coming?

ljwhirled 1 year, 8 months ago

"Vacant lot next to the the Chinese place."

You mean the Olive Garden that wanted tax incentives to build an Italiano restaurant right down the street from a local Italian restaurant?

Yeah, no. If they wanted to build it they could have built it, but not with our tax dollars.

chootspa 1 year, 8 months ago

Nice straw man. No growth or development of any kind? I highly doubt it.

Cindy Yulich 1 year, 8 months ago

The difficulty had by Payless Cashways and Sears conversion of the old Walmart location on Iowa come to mind.

Armstrong 1 year, 8 months ago

So is it stupid or crooked ? One has to wonder. Two reasons come to mind as to why business would be denied the opportunity to locate in a town. 1. A complete lack of understanding business equals revenue or 2. No kickback no permit.

chootspa 1 year, 8 months ago

They can locate in town. Just not in that spot. They want to have it rezoned. That's what's being denied.

jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

Individual businesses may indeed make some sort of informed decisions about whether or not to locate in a town, and in a specific area.

Even if they're right that it would be good for them to do so, that doesn't mean it would be good for anybody else, or for the town as a whole.

That's why we need elected officials to keep their eye on the bigger picture.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 8 months ago

"That's why we need elected officials to keep their eye on the bigger picture."

That bigger picture to include things like whether or not a store should locate in a specific area, a rec. center, tax abatements, etc. Things like that?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 8 months ago

So while you may disagree with a decision that the city commission makes, you're in agreement that by virtue of them looking at the bigger picture, they're in a better position to make those difficult decisions? Interesting.

jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

No.

I never said they were in a better position than I am to look at the bigger picture - I'm pretty good at that.

I said they were in a better position than an individual business, because an individual business isn't looking at that picture - for example when Menard's decides whether or not they want to locate here, they're only looking at whether or not they think they'll be able to make a profit here.

Government is, in theory, looking at the bigger picture, and trying to decide what's best for the whole town.

John Hamm 1 year, 8 months ago

This place, Lawrence, is dead as a viable business community. New business unfriendly - unless trendy or research oriented. You don't want jobs for upper-lower class or even middle-class. I just returned, for a very short while, from a trip to Texas you silly people should go down there for a few days to see what them nasty businesses can accomplish.

jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

The many problems in Texas have been well documented.

I wouldn't want to live there.

Armstrong 1 year, 8 months ago

You need to get out more often. Larryville is an textbook example of what not to do.

jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

Well, let's see - I was born and raised in NYC, lived in Chicago for about 10 years, and have lived in a variety of other towns as well.

I think I've been out enough to form an educated opinion.

And, as I said, I wouldn't want to live in Texas.

chootspa 1 year, 8 months ago

I could live in Austin, if I had the right job offer. But it would be with some reservations, because the state supports in TX really are crap. Austin is doing their best to work around the issues.

jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

Yes, I've heard good things about Austin, but as you say, it's still in TX.

Keith 1 year, 8 months ago

I think I saw something on the news about the results of the unregulated business climate in Texas. Something big and loud, and deadly.

chootspa 1 year, 8 months ago

A higher unemployment rate than Lawrence? More uninsured workers? Worse schools? Exploding fertilizer plants right next to schools and nursing homes?

yourworstnightmare 1 year, 8 months ago

I hope Menard's opens here. I want to see this guy in their commercials in our market.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 8 months ago

I too rarely agree with Dolph, but he is right on with this one.

Lawrence has been hostile to new development for as long as I can remember. A never-ending parade of city commission dolts has assured that this wil continue. Hardly anyone bothers to vote in city elections and a very small group of highly agenda-prone persons manage to pack the city commission with idiots.

wizzlewuzzle 1 year, 8 months ago

I don't agree with you on this. Olathe and Topeka are perfect examples of what happens when developers go unchecked. In Topeka; Lowes, Home Depot, and Menards are all about a mile away from each other. While on the east side of town development is going backwards. There are pockets of the city where it is just abandoned building after abandoned building. Olathe is the same way. Everything is so spread out it takes forever to get anywhere. Revitalization of areas is a much better way of developing a city.

Grégoire Guillaume 1 year, 8 months ago

If you want a Springfield Mo go move there!!! Keep Lawrence as a mecca of anti-stupidity that runs wild in the rest of the state. Why not let the Koch brothers put a fertilizer plant in your back yard.

Armstrong 1 year, 8 months ago

Keep Lawrence as a mecca of anti-stupidity - oxymoron

buffalo63 1 year, 8 months ago

I would love to have Menard's next to Home Depot. Could have a visit from the NASCAR # 27 Menard's car. Also give some competition to Home Depot. Bought whole house carpet from HD and their contractors installed it wrong. Since they were independents, got no satisfaction from HD. They couldn't even tell who they were. We continually find what we need at Menard's. (In Topeka)!

Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 months ago

With expanded dumb growth comes more crime and higher cost of living. Nobody moves to Lawrence hoping it will grow into what they left behind. The only SOLID industry Lawrence has failed to develop is the higher education industry. Lawrence is 25 years behind in bringing on on Vo-Tech campus. Students are good money for Lawrence.

"Maybe one way to generate more retail sales and make Lawrence an even more attractive place to work, live, play and retire would be to have a wider selection of stores offering a wider variety of products at competitive prices."

Nonsense. This as always is about selling real estate not improving the quality of life or making sensible market decisions. Lawrence,Kansas is a small town with only so many retail dollars available simple as that just like any other market. Saturated markets are business unfriendly.

The economy sucks because of the GOP in Washington D.C. and the GOP in Kansas. And those two GOP sponsored home loan scams were not too bright as millions upon millions upon millions of unemployed document.

People have moved to Lawrence for years knowing there are not shopping centers on every corner which is quite pleasing frankly. Who needs that? People also moved here realizing if what cannot be found in Lawrence can be found in KCMO/JOCO metro which is fine and dandy. Lawrence can never replace the KCMO metro.

The writer has likely lived here for decades without a shopping center on every corner and has yet to move.

The message ; Quit thinking Lawrence can be the KCMO/JOCO metro and get real. The only SOLID industry Lawrence has failed to develop is the education industry. Retail is not a solid industry especially when developed under the illusion Lawrence can be the KCMO metro.

Menard's wants to move in next door believing Menard's can put Home Depot out of business.

James Minor 1 year, 8 months ago

Dolph Simons articles sometimes make me question his thinking. But today's article is correct in all respects. Lawrence is in need for retail growth and jobs. Unfortunately, the Lawrence City Commission is inept in understanding the needs for Lawrence and the problems our community is facing. Just think we just elected these bozo's and we have to deal with their limited knowledge for the next two years. Lawrence needs to make a note on the commission's decision and when they come up for election ---- don't vote for any of them!!!

Catalano 1 year, 8 months ago

Um, this hasn't even reached the city commission yet. The Planning Commission is going to vote on it next month. Chances are, it will reach the CC with a positive recommendation. Don't be so quick to sell a new CC down the river when they've only had one freaking meeting since the election.

jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

Why would that take "guts"?

Seems to me that if one disagrees, it takes more guts to do that than to go along with the other folks.

thelonious 1 year, 8 months ago

Well, let's just put a new Mendards AND a new Lowes AND maybe a new Sutherlands just for good measure right there next to Home Depot and let them duke it out - yessir, comeptition and all that, and when the dust settles, we'll have three large empty shell buildings on 31st east of Iowa where we can warehouse all of the homeless unemployed who were let go from the three loser stores...is that what you want?

Dan Blomgren 1 year, 8 months ago

Government get the hell out of the way! Let our economy run on its principles of unrestricted fair competition. I'm sure Menard's spent a ton of money on feasibility studies ensuring they could survive against Home Depot right next door before spending the money to build a 190,0000 sq ft store, and employing 250 people. The city seems more concerned about limiting commercial development saying the population isn't big enough to support it than they are concerned about growing the size of the city so that we can support it! With that type of thinking this city will never grow!

jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

"Unrestricted fair competition" is a bit of an oxymoron.

Without some restrictions, competition isn't likely to be fair.

Government is the only entity capable, in theory, of looking at the bigger picture. Menard's just cares about making a profit - if they do that by putting Home Depot out of business, they're happy. Whether or not that would be a net gain to the city is a different question.

And, of course, bigger isn't always better either.

jafs 1 year, 8 months ago

!!!???!!!

Missing the point nicely there, aren't you?

I'll repeat - the point is that an individual business is only concerned with their own success - a town/city has other concerns, broader ones.

jhawk1998 1 year, 8 months ago

Here, here! I agree. I am still upset that Lawrence rejected Whole foods and I will be shopping there in Topeka instead of close to home.

workinghard 1 year, 8 months ago

Note to commissioners-take today's Menard ad and go to Home Depot and find those items at those prices. Go ahead, see what happens.

paisley 1 year, 8 months ago

I agree with Dolph on this also! This City is loosing it's appeal to many folks and businesses to boot. Wake up Lawrence! I stayed because it was a nice town...35 years ago. Not so much any more.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.