Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
A look at what a downtown grocery store would look like and details of a new lawsuit aiming to stop it
Lawrence residents can now get a glimpse of what a downtown grocery store may look like, but it also is becoming clearer what the legal fight to stop the project may look like too.
As we have reported several times, a local development group has strong interest in converting the former Borders bookstore site into a multistory building that would house a grocery store on the ground floor. The development group, led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, have now released renderings of what the building would look like. It would be three stories tall, with a grocery store on the ground floor and 82 apartments on the upper floors, including some that are set aside for low-to-moderate income tenants. A parking garage would be built below ground. The footprint of the building would be about 43,000 square feet, which is twice as large a footprint as the old bookstore building currently on the site.
That larger footprint is a factor in another new development with the project: A lawsuit has been filed by two condo owners in the adjacent Hobbs Taylor Loft building. Condo owners Brian Russell and Brent Flanders have filed a lawsuit alleging that the development group is trying to do an “end run” around a set of covenants that limit the footprint of any building on the property to approximately 20,000 square feet. The lawsuit also contends the covenants prohibit a traditional grocery store from being built on the property.
Look for the lawsuit to spark a spirited fight.
Bill Fleming, an attorney for the development group, said the lawsuit has little to no merit and the development group will fight it and prevail. He also added another detail.
“They (the plaintiffs) also have taken the position that if we pay them twice what their condo units are worth, they would go away,” Fleming said.
Brian Russell and Brent Flanders are the plaintiffs in the suit. Russell also is the attorney in the suit. He too minced no words.
“The arrogance of these guys is just stunning,” Russell said of the development group.
He said Fleming’s characterization of what has been proposed is inaccurate. But he said he and Flanders are worried about a decline in property values if the grocery store project goes forward. He said the project would dramatically change the character of the block. He said the project would replace a fairly low volume retail site with a very high-volume retailer, plus it would add low-income apartments next door to the upscale condo development.
“We are just trying to protect our rights, and I hope people understand that even if they want a grocery store in downtown,” Russell said.
It doesn’t appear that the issue in the case will be whether the covenants limit the size of the building or prohibit a grocery store. Instead, it appears the disagreement centers on who can change the covenants. Russell argues that changes to the covenants must be approved by every condo owner in the building. There are a little more than 30 residential condo owners, plus other commercial condo owners, Russell said. The development group is expected to argue that a company by the name of 8th and New Hampshire LLC, which is led by Lawrence businessman Stephen Craig, has the ability to change the covenants. 8th and New Hampshire, LLC is the successor company to the group that originally developed the Hobbs Taylor Lofts.
That legal argument has not yet been settled. The lawsuit seeks an injunction stopping the project from moving forward. The development group has not yet filed its answer to the lawsuit.
Fleming said the development group has been holding meetings with residents of Hobbs Taylor, and has begun to make some changes to the development plans based upon their feedback. For example, he said residents were concerned about grocery carts being strewn about the neighborhood. As a result, the development has committed to using high-tech grocery carts that won’t allow the user to take them outside the building. Other modifications have related to parking plans, screening, lighting and methods to reduce noise from the development.
“I think we are going to get a green light from the residents to move forward, and then we’ll make an application with the city,” Fleming said.
The project would require multiple city approvals, and it is expected that the development will seek economic development incentives from the city.
As for the grocery store itself, we have reported that a Price Chopper is a likely candidate to operate the store. That is appearing more likely. Fleming confirmed that Barry Queen of Kansas City’s Queen’s Price Choppers has been speaking to the Hobbs Taylor group about how a grocery store at the site would operate. The plans also show that a drive-thru pharmacy would be part of the project.
We’ll keep you updated as the lawsuit moves through the process and also if the project makes any development filings with the city.
• Everybody have a good weekend and start preparing for the holiday season. I’ll be out at the 24th annual Gingerbread Auction for Big Brothers Big Sisters tonight at Abe & Jake’s Landing. If you remember, last year I made a gingerbread house — well, technically a gingerbread lean-to. This year I am a judge. I can’t wait. Those houses are going to taste so good. I assume that is how this works.
Downtown convenience store set to close; where Kansas ranks on list of states most likely to lose college graduates
There soon will be one less convenience in downtown Lawrence. No, you can still get a cup of coffee every 12 feet, and if you like a beverage that is colder with more suds, that’s available about every six feet. But if you are just looking for a bag of chips or a pack of gum, the idea of a downtown convenience store has taken a hit.
The Sandbar sub shop and convenience store is closing its location at Eighth and New Hampshire streets perhaps as early as next week, owner and operator Peach Madl said. Sandbar recently became the food vendor for several facilities of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department, including the sports pavilion at Rock Chalk Park and the indoor aquatic center. Madl said that contract is keeping her crew plenty busy, and she’s decided to close the downtown store.
The decision means one less sandwich shop in downtown, but more significantly it marks the end of an interesting experiment in downtown. The business was meant to serve as a downtown convenience store where you could pick up items like candy, corn nuts, aspirin, corn nuts, chips, bottles of pop, corn nuts, beef jerky and, of course, corn nuts.
“The convenience store concept has not been a strong point of the business,” Madl said.
The idea had some fanfare when it opened. A convenience store was touted as the type of business that would be useful in an area that is trying to add more living units. But, for whatever reason, the idea did not take off with residents and others. Madl speculated that the business may have come just a bit too early in the development of downtown as a living area. Or, it may be that the concept wasn’t quite right, she said.
“Downtown might be a little more upscale than we are,” Madl said.
Sandbar shares space with the downtown location of Peoples Bank. The bank will remain in the building, Madl said. Sandbar actually has the lease for the entire building, and Madl said a search for a tenant to fill the Sandbar portion of the building has begun.
It also is worth noting that the idea of corn nuts at 10 a.m. is not entirely dead in downtown. Just a couple of doors down from Sandbar’s location at Eighth and New Hampshire is Tobacco Bazaar, 14 E. Eighth Street. It primarily is a tobacco shop, but it also is marketing itself as a small convenience store. It has chips, drinks, frozen sandwiches, some basic medicines and even some dairy products. Owner Raju Ahmed said the majority of his business still comes from the tobacco side of the business, but said he still is optimistic about the convenience store concept.
“It is growing a little bit,” Ahmed said. “We have a loyal group of customers, mainly people who work in downtown.”
As for Sandbar, it will continue to operate its sandwich shop inside the Zarco convenience store on 23rd Street, Madl said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don’t know if corn nut availability has anything to do with it, but Kansas isn’t doing a very good job of keeping or attracting young college graduates. At least that was the upshot of a recent article in The New York Times. You can read the full article, but the most interesting part was the map that is below.
It shows from 2000 to 2015 which states have seen a net increase in college graduates under the age of 40 and which states have seen a decline. Kansas is in the category that has declined, which fits with what we have generally been hearing about the “brain drain” over the years.
But I thought I would pass along this graphic because it is interesting to see how we stack up with others. We are performing better than places like the Dakotas and Iowa. We are performing worse than almost any state along a coast. But what is surprising is that we are performing worse than state’s like Oklahoma, Arkansas and Wyoming.
What does Oklahoma have that we don’t?
Discussion of more signs for Kasold-SLT intersection on tap; thoughts of a Crossgate Drive interchange for the SLT
Perhaps there is a yin and yang involved with the South Lawrence Trafficway. As arguments die down with the opening of the long-debated eastern leg of the trafficway, new ones rise on the western leg of the trafficway. Lawrence’s world is not in balance if we don’t argue about a road.
I do have a couple of updates on debates that are brewing on the western portion of the the SLT, which is the part of the road west of Iowa Street: A county official has confirmed a meeting has been set with KDOT officials to discuss ways to improve safety at the Kasold/SLT intersection; and a Douglas County resident has begun pitching a new multimillion dollar plan to improve the safety of the road.
First, the meeting: Douglas County Public Works Director Keith Browning confirmed that a meeting between county officials and Kansas Department of Transportation officials has been set to discuss how to improve the safety of the intersection of the SLT and what is commonly called Kasold Drive, although it actually is county road East 1200, but it aligns with Kasold.
The intersection was the site of a multivehicle, injury accident last week. Although it is just one accident, tensions are raised around the intersection. There is a fear more are to come because the accident occurred shortly after the intersection was configured to become a right-in, right-out only intersection. It also occurred shortly after traffic volumes increased significantly because of the opening of the east leg of the SLT.
Residents of southern Douglas County have contended that the intersection is a vital link to the western part of Lawrence. Some have argued that a traffic signal should be put at the intersection. Browning worked to douse those hopes when I talked with him. He said the upcoming discussion with KDOT — which he said would happen “very soon” — won’t be to discuss a traffic signal. Instead it will discuss adding more signs to make it clearer that the intersection is right-in and right-out.
Browning said more signs could be useful, but he stopped short of saying the intersection is confusing without them. The intersection is marked with double yellow lines, which are illegal to cross, and the configuration of the intersection naturally makes it difficult to go straight across the SLT. (Anybody doing so would have to first turn right and then turn back to the left in order to cross.)
Browning’s main message is if you are thinking of trying to cross the SLT — technically Kansas Highway 10 — at Kasold, don’t do it.
“It is hard for me to imagine that people think crossing K-10 at Kasold is now a safe alternative,” Browning said. “I can’t comprehend that.”
But, additional signs making that clear would not hurt anything. KDOT has placed a large, temporary electronic sign just north of the intersection alerting motorists that only right turns are allowed at the intersection.
What type of permanent signs may be put in place is one question. The bigger question, though, is how many wrecks will it take at the intersection before KDOT goes back to its original thinking, which was that the intersection should be closed entirely?
That brings me to the second update: an idea for a new multimillion dollar interchange that would make the Kasold intersection unnecessary. The idea is being floated by Lawrence businessman Frank Male. He is the owner of a landscape company that has a facility just south of the Kasold and SLT intersection.
Male also is active in county politics, and he indicated to me that he is going try to start lobbying support for a new plan that he hopes could be implemented in a few years. The idea essentially is a Crossgate Drive interchange for the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Crossgate is the next major street west of Kasold Drive. Male is proposing that Crossgate Drive be extended southward to connect with the SLT. Instead of connecting with an intersection, Crossgate would connect to an interchange with on and off ramps. South of the SLT, a new road would be built to connect Crossgate to the existing county route of East 1150. The East 1150 road already has a bridge across the Wakarusa River and already connects with County Route 458.
The debate here is probably not whether another interchange is needed for the South Lawrence Trafficway but where it ought to be. Douglas County officials, as we have reported, already have begun planning for the day when there would be an interchange at Wakarusa Drive, near the entrance to the Youth Sports Complex. It also would extend to the south to connect to County Route 458. The county already has put the project on its long range capital improvement plan. It estimates it would cost about $8 million just to build the local roads. KDOT would be responsible for building the actual interchange, and that easily could be more than $10 million.
Male’s lobbying efforts likely will be to get the county — and to a degree, the city because it likely will be asked to share in the cost — to consider Crossgate Drive. Male said the big selling point for a Crossgate alignment is that it could use the existing Wakarusa River bridge on East 1150. The Wakarusa alignment would require a new bridge in order to connect to County Route 458.
Male may have his work cut out for him to get the county to change its mind. Browning said the point about the bridge is a valid one, but he said the wide floodplain near a Crossgate alignment may make building a road more difficult and expensive there. Plus, he said Wakarusa Drive just seems like a more natural fit as a western entrance into Lawrence. It puts the interchange closer to the entrance to the Youth Sports Complex, which is a major generator of traffic during certain times of the year. Under Male’s plan, a frontage road would be built from the Crossgate interchange to the sports complex.
Whatever the case, don’t expect an interchange to emerge anytime soon. Browning said the environmental study required for KDOT to undertake a project of this nature likely would take about three years. Then there is the question of where KDOT would get the money to build the project. Then there is the question of whether the city of Lawrence would contribute any money to help pay for the local portion of the project.
All of that could lead to several more debates.
It may be the oldest new store to ever locate in downtown Lawrence. A clothing store that has been owned by the same family for the last 119 years has signed a deal to locate along Massachusetts Street.
Glik’s — a store that bills itself with the tagline of “hot fashions, preppy clothing and your denim destination” — has signed a deal to locate in the spot formerly occupied by the baking store Sweet at 717 Massachusetts St.
“Our best foot forward really is fashion,” said Jeff Glik, president and CEO of the company that is based in Granite City, Ill. “We are the first with fashion. That is really what has made us.”
The store carries men’s and women’s clothing, and major categories include outerwear, jeans, knits, woven items, dresses, footwear and other apparel. Top brands include Silver Jeans, The North Face, Yeti, Simply Southern, Flying Monkey Jeans, Alex and Ani and others.
Glik’s got its start in 1897 when Jeff Glik’s great grandfather opened a department store in downtown St. Louis. The company’s first expansion came when Jeff’s grandfather opened a store in Madison, Ill. Jeff’s father, Joe Glik, began to expand the business even more when he took over ownership, expanding in Missouri, Illinois and the upper Midwest. Jeff Glik now runs the company with his brother Jim, and their father remains active at 90 years old and frequently hits the road to visit stores. The company now has about 65 stores in 10 states. It only recently has come to Kansas, though.
The company recently opened a store in Hays. Jeff Glik, Joe Glik and other family members travel to each ribbon-cutting for a new store. The family flew into Kansas City and started its drive to Hays, but first stopped in Lawrence. By the time they left Lawrence later that day, they had a deal to locate in the former Sweet space, which is owned by longtime businessman Bob Schumm.
“We fell in love with your town,” Jeff Glik said. “I mean triple somersaults over that town. We struck a deal in 30 minutes.”
Glik said downtown Lawrence is the type of shopping district the store loves to be in.
“Probably the most exciting thing about Lawrence is we like to be in a unique shopping environment,” Glik said. “If Massachusetts Street isn’t one of the most unique shopping environments in North America, I don’t know what is. The fact that you don’t have a mall, and the environment of Massachusetts Street really intrigued us.”
Glik’s will compete with several apparel retailers in downtown. (It, however, won’t be the oldest. Downtown Lawrence icon Weaver’s Department Store has been in business since 1857.) Glik said the store will fit in well with other downtown retailers and won’t be a “me too store,” but rather will bring new products and merchandise to help broaden the appeal of downtown. He said the store will be involved in the local community in significant ways, including joining the local chamber, the downtown Lawrence association and partnering on community events. Glik said that is a business strategy he learned at a young age sitting around the dinner table listening to his father and grandfather talk about the retail business.
“The secret sauce is we were raised in the retail business,” Glik said. “We have a passion for it, and we cultivate that passion in all our associates. My earliest memories are of working in the store during Christmas season. I tell people that if I were a doctor and my dad started teaching me at 5 years old how to be a doctor, I’d probably be pretty good at it. That is how it is for us but with retail.”
Glik said the company will do some renovation work to the interior of the approximately 2,800 square-foot store. He said he hopes the Lawrence store will open in the spring of 2017. He said the store likely will employ about a dozen people.
Restaurant files plans to become first in downtown to have rooftop dining; popular KC restaurant closes its Lawrence location
I won’t even tell you how I got assigned rooftop dining-for-one this Thanksgiving. (I will say I thought it was well understood that certain rules of civility were temporarily suspended when only one scoop of potatoes remained.) Rooftop dining, however, isn’t always a banishment, but rather is big business for many downtowns. A Lawrence restaurant has filed plans with City Hall in hopes of bringing the concept here.
The folks at Ramen Bowls have filed plans to add rooftop dining to their building at 125 E. 10th St. If all goes according to plan, the restaurant hopes by spring to have a dining area to accommodate around 40 people, and a full bar area. The idea was sparked by a need to expand but a desire to stay in its current location, said co-owner Shantel Grace.
“We thought, what do they do in other cities?” Grace said. “They just go up.”
Indeed many downtowns do allow rooftop dining. I know I once spent a good part of a football weekend atop a Boulder, Colo., bar and restaurant. I even came to an unmistakable conclusion: Boulder is more beautiful during basketball season.
The idea of rooftop dining has come up before in Lawrence, but it has never made its way out of City Hall. We will see whether city officials give their approval to this plan, but it looks like it has a chance.
Longtime Lawrence businessman and developer Jeff Shmalberg is the driving force behind the idea. Shmalberg, who is the landlord for Ramen Bowls, was one of the key developers who got the ball rolling years ago on the idea of a TIF district to build a parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street, which eventually helped spur the dense development that has happened recently in the block.
Shmalberg said rooftop dining just seems to make sense in Lawrence, given that expanding the footprint of downtown outward is never easy.
“I think a lot of people are excited about it,” Shmalberg said. “That is why we have to do it right because other people will want to do this too. I think it would be amazing. There are so many rooftops that have an amazing view, but you have to do it safely. You have to do it structurally sound. You have to do it right.”
Indeed, this project will be closely watched. If Ramen Bowls is allowed to have rooftop dining, many other restaurants will follow suit. Look at sidewalk dining as an example of the proliferation that could come. Eventually, the city probably will have to decide whether it wants to limit rooftop seating areas only to restaurants or whether it should be open for bars too.
I didn’t get into that issue, but I did trade messages with Lynne Braddock Zollner, the historic preservation planner who is reviewing the rooftop request. She did not raise many red flags with the application, but also noted that the request must still be reviewed by the city’s Historic Resources Commission. Zollner said some key elements to the request are that the dining area would be setback from the edge of the building considerably and the profile of the dining area would be low. Both of those are important because those factors will limit the visibility of the dining area from the street. Historic preservationists likely will balk at the idea of rooftop dining, if it significantly changes the look of downtown buildings.
Shmalberg said Lawrence-based architect Lance Adams has been working on the design plans for months, and also has been working closely with the Lawrence fire department on other safety considerations. The project will involve much more than just putting some tables and chairs on the roof. New stairways that can serve as fire exits will be required, and new steel beams will be put in place to carry the additional load, rather than relying on the roof to do so. In addition, the roof will be plumbed for a bathroom and, importantly, the bar area.
Grace said having the full bar on the roof will be a selling point for customers. She and her husband, Tim, hope to convert the rooftop area into a space that has a bit of a Hawaiian feel, similar to some of the classier establishments they were familiar with when they lived on the islands.
“Tiki drinks and cocktails. Rum will be a part of what we do,” Grace said, although she said the restaurant won’t try to create a stereotypical tiki bar atmosphere. “But our vision is a space that is very connected to Hawaii.”
Hawaiian sunshine may be tough to come by year-around, though. Grace said figuring out how to make the rooftop usable as much as possible is requiring a lot of thought. She said plans call for part of the dining area to be under cover. She said heating devices also can be used to help on cold days. She said really hot and windy Kansas summer days may be the greater challenge. Figuring out how to deal with those seasonal issues probably will determine how prevalent rooftop dining becomes in downtown Lawrence. Compared with sidewalk dining, adding a rooftop space is going to cost a restaurant a lot more money. Grace, though, thinks people will be surprised at what they find once they are allowed on the rooftops.
“It is really beautiful up there,” she said. “You can see Mount Oread and all the red rooftops on campus. I think people are going to love it.”
In case you are not familiar with Ramen Bowls, the restaurant has been open for just more than three years. As you probably already have determined, it serves a different class of Ramen than the 33 cent packages of dried noodles you can buy from area grocery stores. The restaurant makes its own miso and tonkotsu broth each morning. In addition to the Ramen, the menu also includes homemade egg rolls, wontons, dumplings and sautéed soybeans.
“We’re thrilled with how business has been,” Grace said. “We just need more space.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• If your holiday dining plans included crayfish in Lawrence, you may want to rethink — or else get your net and start staking out your spot along the Kaw. The New Orleans style restaurant Jazz has closed its Lawrence location.
According to a sign on the door, the Jazz restaurant at 1012 Massachusetts St. is permanently closed. Jazz is a longtime Kansas City restaurant, featuring a variety of seafood and Creole dishes, plus live music. Its slogan is “Let the good times roll,” which normally is a pretty good attitude for a Lawrence establishment because if there is one thing the university crowd knows how to do, it is roll.
But, for whatever reason, the restaurant didn’t work out in Lawrence. The business had been open only a year before its closing this week. Jazz’s two other restaurants in Kansas City — including the one in The Legends shopping center near the Kansas Speedway — remain open, according to the sign in the door.
Jazz had occupied the downtown building that formerly housed Buffalo Wild Wings. That is a larger than average building for downtown, so it will be interesting to watch what comes in to take its place. If I hear any more on the subject, I’ll let you know.
I once tried to buy my wife a new house for Christmas, but I ran out of wrapping paper and called the whole thing off. Well, if you are in the market for a holiday home purchase this year, you will need more than a large supply of gift wrap. You’ll also need more money, as prices have taken a significant jump in 2016, according to a new report.
The latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows the Lawrence market continues to be defined by a shortage of homes for sale, which is resulting in an increase in prices for those properties on the market.
The board’s latest report, which tracks activity through October, shows the median selling price for Lawrence homes is now $177,700, which is up nearly 6 percent from the $168,000 mark of a year ago.
A figure from the Douglas County Appraiser’s office is more striking, and shows some types of homes have seen more than a 6 percent increase. In his October report, the Douglas County appraiser notes that through August, the average selling price for a three-bedroom, two-bath house with 1300 to 1800 square feet of space is now $184,987. That’s up from $168,295 during the same period a year ago, which is an increase of nearly 10 percent.
Numbers from the Board of Realtors suggest a shortage of homes on the market is contributing to the upward pricing pressure. The number of active listings on the market in October stood at 275, down from 317 during the same period a year ago, and down from 373 in October 2014. Local real estate leaders are now expecting such inventory shortages to continue throughout 2017, board president Carl Cline said in the most recent report.
The low supply of homes on the market has caused the market to struggle to meet past sales totals. For the year, home sales total 1,048, which is down by just less than 1 percent compared with the same period in 2015. A bright spot, however, has been the sale of newly constructed homes. Real estate agents have sold 79 newly constructed homes, which is an increase of 8.2 percent. If that trend continues, this would be the second straight year that the sales of newly constructed homes have increased.
Whether those numbers will spur an increase in new home construction in Lawrence, however, is still an open question. The report includes one figure that suggests not: The Lawrence market still has 53 unsold newly constructed homes on the market. With sales averaging a little less than eight per month, that is still more than a six-month supply of homes.
But the report also includes a figure that is heading in the right direction for home builders: The price difference between a new home and an existing home is shrinking. One theory holds that as the price difference between a newly constructed home and an existing home shrinks, buyers will start favoring newly constructed homes. That difference in price has started to occur in the Lawrence market. The median price of existing homes has increased by 5.8 percent in 2016, while the price for new homes has increased by just 1.8 percent. For the year, the median price spread between new and existing homes is about $137,000, which is down from about $141,000 in 2015. The spread also is probably a bit inflated, as the median price for existing homes is brought down by smaller older two-bedroom homes, while most new homes are considerably larger. But whether that spread has dwindled enough to cause builders to pick up their pace of new construction is uncertain.
Here’s a look at some other real estate statistics from Lawrence and the region:
• Lawrence home sales for the month of October were basically unchanged from a year ago. For the month 81 homes were sold compared with 83 in October 2015.
• While the total number of homes sold in Lawrence is down by 0.8 percent for the year, the total dollar value of all real estate sold — due to higher prices — is up 4.9 percent to $223.2 million.
• The median number of days a home sits on the market before it is sold is now down to 18. That’s down from 24 at the same point in 2015 and down from 33 in 2014.
• The real estate market looks a bit different just outside of the Lawrence city limits. The Lawrence Board of Realtors also puts together a report that shows total for Douglas County home sales outside of the Lawrence city limits. Year-to-date numbers show 201 sales have closed, an increase of about 14 percent over the same time period a year ago. Prices are on the rise too, with the median price checking in at $183,000, which is up 7.7 percent for the year.
• The Kansas City metro real estate market is mixed. According to the October report of the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors, the total number of homes sold in the Kansas City region is up 5.3 percent to just under 33,000 for the year. Median selling prices are up about 6 percent. However, the upturn isn’t uniform throughout the KC region. Johnson County, for instance, has seen home sales increase only by about 0.2 percent for the year. Median sales prices are up about 6.5 percent.
Town Talk will be off for the next couple of days. Here’s wishing all of you a happy and safe Thanksgiving.
From dominoes to origami, new Lawrence business plans to teach it all; gasoline really cheap locally, new report finds
I have known many masters of dollar bill origami. Wait. I’m now told “origami” is not a French word for “to make disappear.” In that case, I know nothing about dollar bill origami. But there is a new business in Lawrence that will teach me lots about that topic, plus many others.
Lawrence resident Katie Winter has started a new venture called The Lawrence Laboratory. It aims to figure out what area residents are interested in and then teach it to them quickly and for not much money.
“I think we ought to do something to make learning a bit easier for people these days,” Winter said.
So, if you want to learn about dollar bill origami — apparently it involves folding dollar bills into neat shapes — you can sign up for an upcoming class at The Lawrence Laboratory. Other examples on the laboratory’s roster include calligraphy, holiday postcard making, embroidery, a class on essential oils, how to play dominoes three ways and something called “Cocktail Mixer & Drinking Vinegar.” (Perhaps “vinegar” is also a French word I don’t know the meaning of.)
Winter said each class will only take one evening, and prices are generally about $10 to $20 per person, plus materials, when needed.
“The tag line is informal and accessible classes with low cost and low commitment,” Winter said. “It is meant to be fun. The teachers come from the community. Anybody is welcome to teach. You don’t have to be connected with any sort of organization.”
Most classes will be held in the community room of the Peoples bank and Sandbar Subs location at Eighth and New Hampshire streets. Winter, who is part of the family that owns Peoples bank, has returned to Lawrence after having moved away for about 15 years. She worked in New Mexico, New York and Seattle doing education advocacy and other nonprofit work.
Winter said the The Lawrence Laboratory isn’t a true nonprofit, but it also isn’t meant to be a traditional business either. Winter said the venture doesn’t have much of a revenue model at the moment, since the class fees basically just cover expenses, including paying the community instructors a bit for their time.
“My baby is 18 months old, and I knew I always wanted to come back to Lawrence,” Winter said of her decision to start the business. “I’m really interested in learning things, and hopefully other people are too and will bring their friends. There are some models for this idea around the country. I think this could be a growing trend.”
People can see what classes are being offered by logging onto thelawrencelab.com. They also can makes suggestions for future classes. Winter said she has heard a lot of interest in classes related to home and garden, food and drink, construction and mechanics, and wellness. The website also allows people to sign up to be an instructor for a class.
Winter said the next phase for the venture is to begin partnering with community organizations. She said with that idea The Lawrence Laboratory could begin hosting classes for various organizations or using their facilities to host larger classes.
“I really want to see if people are interested in having The Lawrence Laboratory become a hub of learning in Lawrence,” Winter said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• One thing I’ve learned over the years is that Thanksgiving can be a time when you go through a lot of gasoline. Pulling the trailer full of mashed potatoes to grandma’s house can really put a dent in the fuel mileage.
Maybe you are going to do some traveling as well, so here’s a look at some news on gasoline prices. The biggest news is that gasoline prices in Lawrence aren’t nearly what they used to be. Yes, gasoline prices have fallen nearly everywhere in the past year, but Lawrence has seen the largest one-year decline of any Kansas community, according to one recent report.
AAA Kansas tracks the average price per gallon in 10 Kansas communities, plus the statewide average. Based on prices from Monday, Lawrence had seen a 7 percent drop in gasoline prices since the same time a year ago. That compares with a 2 percent drop in the statewide average and a 2 percent increase in the national average. On Monday, the Lawrence average was $1.81 per gallon compared with the statewide average of $1.90 and the national average of $2.14.
Yet, I still hear somewhat frequently from readers about how gasoline prices are out of whack in Lawrence. Well, here is a number that will cause those folks to have cranberry sauce come out their ears: Lawrence has the eighth lowest average gasoline price of any city in the country, according to the folks at AAA.
But the readers who complain about gasoline prices aren’t without some basis. Frequently, they point to gasoline prices in Topeka, or along the turnpike on the way to Topeka, or in small towns between here and Topeka. Well, the same report does show that Topeka does have an extraordinarily odd gasoline market right now. For some reason, Topeka has the fourth lowest average price of any city in the country, according to AAA.
Odds are, though, you will do pretty well anywhere you buy gasoline in Kansas. The study says Kansas has the fourth lowest average gasoline price of any state in the country. But wait, before filling up for the trip to Aunt Bessie’s, you may want to consider whether she lives in Missouri. There are probably several good reasons to know whether Aunt Bessie lives in Missouri, and only one of them involves opossum for Thanksgiving dinner. The other one is that Missouri has the lowest average price of any state in the country — $1.85 per gallon — as of Monday’s AAA report. Oklahoma was at the second lowest at about $1.90 per gallon. Colorado and Nebraska both were significantly higher at about $2.07 per gallon.
The report notes that Kansas’ statewide average for the Thanksgiving holiday is at lowest point since 2008, when the price per gallon was $1.81. The report also notes that gas prices for the Thanksgiving travel were $3.21 back in 2012.
But maybe you are going to stay closer to home. If so, here’s a look at gasoline prices, based on Monday’s price, for the 10 Kansas communities tracked by AAA.
— Emporia: $1.86, down 5 percent from a year ago.
— Garden City: $1.94, down 3 percent from a year ago.
— Hays: $2.01, down 6 percent from a year ago.
— Kansas City, Kan.: $1.89, 2 percent from a year ago.
— Lawrence: $1.81, down 7 percent from a year ago.
— Manhattan: $1.95, down 2 percent from a year ago.
— Pittsburg: $1.87, down 2 percent from a year ago.
— Salina: $1.83, down 6 percent from a year ago.
— Topeka: $1.77, down 6 percent from a year ago.
— Wichita: $1.89, up 1 percent from a year ago.
The numbers above really do show that there has been a significant change in Lawrence gasoline prices over the last year. At this time last year, Lawrence was a penny above the statewide average. Now it is 9 cents below the statewide average. Last year it had the fourth highest average price of the 10 cities on the list. This year it has the second lowest average price. What has happened? I don’t know. Perhaps impacts from Topeka’s extraordinarily low prices are starting to bleed into Lawrence. Maybe it is something else.
Something is causing downward pressure on gas prices, and not just in Lawrence. One of the more eye-opening statistics from the AAA report was this: The average price per gallon in Kansas has dropped for 41 consecutive days.
You know what that means? I can afford a bigger wagon.
For some people, turkey makes them sleepy. For me, it makes me forgetful — as in I forget to breathe in between bites. I don’t know what makes you forgetful, but evidently it is something because I’ve had several requests to remind people about a couple of 23rd Street projects that we’ve already reported on.
So, here we go. Question No. 1 is: What’s happening to the building that used to house Dunn Brothers Coffee at 1618 W. 23rd St.? The answer: It is set to become a Potbelly’s. I know what you are thinking. Lots of us are set to become Potbelly, but this is in reference to an actual restaurant chain.
As we reported in June, Potbelly Sandwich Shop filed plans to locate in the former coffee house, which is just a bit east of 23rd and Ousdahl. The restaurant serves a large menu of toasted sandwiches ranging from a traditional roast beef to a less traditional chicken Mediterranean with hummus, artichoke hearts, feta cheese and several other ingredients.
Desserts also are a big deal at the restaurant. Perhaps this will spark your memory of when we wrote about the restaurant in June: I briefly hyperventilated while reporting that the restaurant serves a milkshake that comes with a straw that has actual cookies on it. (What can I say? I get very excited about innovation.)
As for the Potbelly in its name, that comes from the fact each restaurant has a potbelly stove in it. I believe that harkens back to the restaurant’s beginnings, which were in a Chicago antique store.
No official word on when the Lawrence restaurant will open, but construction work is now well underway. I would guess an early 2017 opening is likely. I’ll try to let you know if I hear an official date.
• Question No 2 is: What are they building next to QuikTrip at 23rd and Haskell? Unfortunately, it is not an addition for a giant Slurpee machine. (Everybody, calm down. I do know that only 7-Eleven sells the actual Slurpee brand. The 1000-foot restraining order requires me to know this.) Instead, a new tunnel car wash is being built next to QuikTrip.
Back in September we reported that plans had been filed at this location for the latest in a bevy of high-tech car washes coming to the city. Well, construction work has begun on a 5,000 square-foot, 150-foot long automated tunnel car wash on the site. The plans also call for 32 stalls equipped with vacuum cleaners.
An Illinois-based firm, Peak Inc., is the developer of the project. Look for other tunnel car washes to pop up elsewhere in the city. Construction equipment has been delivered to the site near Ninth and Iowa streets. As we have reported, the locally owned Zarco convenience store/fuel center company plans to tear down the old Sandbar sub shop and replace it with a tunnel car wash. Zarco also plans to install a 150-foot tunnel car wash at the Zarco station at 1500 E. 23rd St. Yes, that is just up the street from the tunnel car wash being built next to QuikTrip.
Forget everything else that is going on in the news. 2017 is most likely to be the year of tunnel car washes.
Here I was worried about my physique, but apparently it was just my wallet that had gotten fatter. New numbers out from the federal government suggest several wallets got fatter in 2015 as Douglas County had one of the best income growth rates in the state.
In particular it looks like it was a big year for small business in Douglas County in 2015, as incomes for business owners particularly soared. But before you call the yacht broker, know that the figures also show, that while Douglas County incomes grew, they are still about $8,500 behind the average Kansas income.
The latest numbers came from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and measured all types of income that Douglas County residents receive. That means everything from wages to business profits to rental income to Social Security payments.
Here is a look at some of the key numbers:
— Per capita income in Douglas County checked in at $38,686. That’s up 4.9 percent from 2014 levels. The 4.9 percent growth rate was the 12th fastest growth rate of the 105 counties in Kansas.
— Douglas County’s per capita income continues to lag well behind the statewide average. In 2015, Kansas average per capita income was $47,161. That was up 1.2 percent from 2014 totals. Douglas County’s per capita income of $38,686 ranks No. 76 out of the 105 Kansas Counties. Some of that has to do with the number of university students in the community, who earn very little and push the per capita numbers down. Indeed, Riley County, the other university-oriented community ranks No. 77 in the state with a per capita income of $38,499.
— Douglas County incomes are catching up to the state somewhat. Douglas County’s growth rate of 4.9 percent was much better than the statewide growth rate of 1.7 percent.
— It paid to be a small business owner in Douglas County in 2015. The BEA numbers show that properties of nonfarm businesses saw their income increase by 21.8 percent. It, however, was not a good year to be a farmer. Farm proprietors’ income declined by 30.4 percent in 2015.
— Douglas County wage and salary workers at businesses saw their income increase by an average of 4.3 percent in 2015, according to the data.
— That data shows that the number of jobs in Douglas County grew by 1.6 percent in 2015. The number of proprietors — people who owned a business or partnership — was up 2.9 percent.
Here’s a look at how some of Douglas County’s key statistics compare with other counties in the region.
— Douglas: $38,686 per capita income, up 4.9 percent; 1.6 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.9 percent.
— Franklin: $37,872 per capita income, up 3.5 percent; 1.4 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 1.9 percent.
— Jefferson: $39,884 per capita income, up 1.8 percent; 0.6 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 1.6 percent
— Johnson: $65,050 per capita income, up 5.5 percent; 2.2 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.7 percent
— Leavenworth: $39,477 per capita income, up 4.3 percent; 0.1 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.3 percent.
— Riley: $38,499 per capita income, up 2.6 percent: 1.0 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.6 percent.
— Shawnee: $43,216 per capita income, up 3.2 percent; 0.4 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.5 percent
— Sedgwick: $50,448 per capita income, up 1.4 percent; 1.5 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.4 percent.
So, the news was fairly positive for Douglas County. The news was a bit more mixed for the state of Kansas. Here is a quick comparison of how Kansas performed against other states in the region.
— Kansas: $47,161 per capita income, up 1.7 percent
— Colorado: $50,899 per capita income, up 2.3 percent
— Iowa: $45,902 per capita income, up 3.3 percent
— Missouri: $42,300 per capita income, up 2.9 percent
— Nebraska: $48,544 per capita income, up 0.5 percent
— Oklahoma: $45,573 per capita income, up 1.0 percent
Rock Chalk Park project mentioned in city allegations against Oread hotel taxing district; Uber gets new competitor in Lawrence
An old name has popped up in the city’s new lawsuit alleging a fraudulent tax scheme related to The Oread hotel. The name: Rock Chalk Park.
If you haven’t already, read LJWorld reporter Rochelle Valverde’s excellent account of what’s included in the city’s lawsuit against Thomas Fritzel and his entity Oread Wholesale. I also spent some time going over the many pages of documents released by the city yesterday. Among those was a new audit report produced on the city’s behalf, and that audit had a brief reference to Rock Chalk Park work.
In a nutshell, the Rock Chalk Park reference created questions about whether a Fritzel-led entity had improperly charged the city sales tax for construction materials used at Rock Chalk Park. When I asked the city about it, the city attorney said there was little she could say about the matter currently.
I’ll give you more details in a moment, but as a reminder, Thomas Fritzel — a defendant in this new lawsuit — was at the center of a controversial public-private partnership with the city and the University of Kansas to build the Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence. The previous city commission and administration paid a Fritzel-led firm more than $20 million as part of the partnership, which included about a $12 million no-bid contract that was given to Fritzel’s construction company.
The audit report released Wednesday included an exhibit that listed transactions that the city alleges were improperly credit to The Oread hotel’s special taxing districts. The exhibit listed three deliveries that were made to Rock Chalk Park addresses. One of the deliveries was noted as “concrete products,” while the exhibit didn’t list what the other two deliveries involved.
What we don’t know currently is whether those Rock Chalk Park deliveries had a sales tax charge attached to them. That’s a key question because it seems clear that construction products used at Rock Chalk Park were exempt from sales tax. If sales tax were charged, it would create a question of whether the city was paying more for construction materials than it should have.
To be clear, the audit report doesn’t tell us whether that was the case. But it did cause me to have the question, so I asked it of the city. City Attorney Toni Wheeler did confirm that sales tax should not be charged on construction materials used at Rock Chalk Park. But when I asked whether sales taxes were charged on the Rock Chalk Park items, or whether the city had any concern that it was improperly charged a sales tax as part of the construction project, Wheeler said she was unable to comment on those matters due to the pending litigation.
The city has the invoices. They were included as Exhibit No. 2 of the recent audit. However, the city removed that exhibit from the audit report before it was released to the public. I asked if the city could make the invoices available for review, and Wheeler declined.
Again, it is too early to know what to make of this. But given the questions of the financial accounting of the Rock Chalk Park project, it seemed like an issue worth noting.
I guess one thing that the lawsuit has made clear is that Oread Wholesale — the company the city is now accusing of defrauding the city — was involved to some degree in the Rock Chalk Park project. Worth watching.
In other news and notes from around town:
• In some people’s books, Lawrence has just become hipper. If you remember, there were people who said Lawrence’s hipness factor got a boost back in April 2015 when Uber announced it would bring its ride-sharing service to Lawrence. Well, now there is news that Uber’s main competitor also has started service in Lawrence.
The ride-sharing company Lyft has announced that it is launching service in Lawrence and Kansas City at noon today. Lyft operates much like Uber. You use a digital app to schedule a ride with a Lyft driver who uses his or her own car — as opposed to an official taxi — to pick you up and deliver you to your location.
Lyft’s service territory includes all of Lawrence, south to the Gardner area, north to the Lansing area, and all of the KC metro that is on the Kansas side of the state line. Lyft noted that it will not provide service into Missouri.
As for rates, thus far Lyft and Uber seem to be pretty comparable. Both companies have rate estimators on their websites. A trip from 31st and Iowa to Sixth and Massachusetts in downtown Lawrence was estimated at $7 to $10 on Uber’s site. It was estimated at $9 on Lyft’s.
Presidential vote totals serve as a reminder of how much Lawrence differs from the rest of Douglas County; see how each precinct voted and turnout rates
It doesn’t exactly take Sherlock Holmes and his goofy hat to uncover evidence that Lawrence is quite a bit different than the rest of Kansas. (Don’t even bring Sherlock’s pipe up in Lawrence, unless you want to get onto an entirely different conversation.) The recent presidential election results were the latest exhibit of how different Lawrence is, with Clinton winning big in Lawrence and Trump winning nearly everywhere else in Kansas.
But what sometimes doesn’t get much attention is just how different Lawrence is than the rest of Douglas County. An analysis of last week’s presidential returns shows that the national trend of an urban-rural split among Clinton and Trump was in full force in Douglas County too.
Here’s one set of figures to drive that home: The largest vote percentage Trump received in any Lawrence precinct (technically any Lawrence precinct with at least 100 ballots) was 35.2 percent in precinct No. 49, which is the area in west Lawrence around the Corpus Christi Church. In the precincts outside the Lawrence city limits, the lowest vote percentage Trump received was 41.7 percent in Precinct 67, which is the area along U.S. Highway 59 that generally includes the Pleasant Grove area south of Wells Overlook Road.
In other words, Trump’s worst area in Douglas County was significantly better than his best area inside the Lawrence city limits.
To see all of this at a glance, take a look at the handy map that LJWorld.com online editor Nick Gerik produced. It shows Lawrence, even in its own county, is pretty much a sea of blue in an ocean of red. There were a couple of rural precincts that Clinton won, but the majority went to Trump, and Eudora, Baldwin City and Lecompton all went to Trump as well.
(Note: All these totals came from the unofficial vote count done on Tuesday night. The county has since added about 1,200 provisional ballots, but the totals in any one precinct didn't materially.)
Here’s a look at some numbers:
• Are you wondering where the Democratic strongholds are in Lawrence? These five precincts would be a good place to start. Clinton received her highest percentages from these precincts. (Again, a precinct had to have at least 100 ballots cast for me to consider it.)
— Precinct 40, which votes at Trinity Lutheran Church at 1245 New Hampshire Street: 83.3 percent Clinton
— Precinct 9, which votes at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland: 82.5 percent
— Precinct 39, which votes at New York Elementary School in East Lawrence: 82.1 percent
— Precinct 2, which votes at the Lawrence Public Library in downtown: 81.3 percent
— Precinct 3, which votes at the Carnegie Building in downtown: 79.9 percent
• Perhaps you want to take a vacation to Trump Country. You won’t have to travel far. Trump received his highest percentages from these five precincts. The numbers in parenthesis identifies the particular portion of the precinct. Rural precincts are larger in geographic area, so the county tracks votes there a bit differently.
— Precinct 59 (H54), which votes at Marion Township Hall in southwest Douglas County: 61.6 percent for Trump.
— Precinct 67 (S19 H54), which votes at Willow Springs Township Hall just west of Highway 59 west of Baldwin City: 59 percent.
— Precinct 53 (H10), which votes at Eudora Township Fire Station, which is in the southern part of Eudora: 58 percent
— Precinct 57 (S19), which votes at Lecompton City Hall: 55.4 percent
— Precinct 53 (H42), which also votes at the Eudora Township Fire Station in south Eudora: 53.6 percent.
• I don’t know if there is a crown that goes with it, or perhaps just a voluminous head of hair, but Eudora may be the king of Trump Country in Douglas County. Eudora-based precincts had two of the top five, but the other precincts in Eudora also voted for Trump. In fact, Precinct 50, which votes at the Eudora Church of Christ in west Eudora had the actual highest number of Trump votes of any precinct in the county at 549. Its percentage for Trump was 51.5 percent, which kept it just out of the top five in that category. Interestingly, Precinct 50 also had the highest number of people who voted for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, 81 or 7.6 percent.
• While we are speaking of Libertarians, it is worth noting that the precinct that had the highest percentage of voters casting a ballot for the Libertarian candidate was Precinct 10. Where is Precinct 10? That’s the precinct that votes on the KU campus, and includes many of the student housing facilities on campus. It had 9.1 percent of its votes go toward Johnson. Trump won 11.1 percent and Clinton won 75.5 percent. However, only 208 people voted in the precinct, a turnout of about 22 percent.
• While we are speaking of voter turnout, here is a look at the top five and bottom five precincts in regards to voter turnout. As a reminder, the average turnout countywide was 61 percent. (Again, for the results below, I’m only counting precincts with at least 100 ballots cast.) And here is a map that shows voter turnout at a glance.
The top 5:
— Precinct 59 (H45), which votes at Marion Township in southwest Douglas County: 79.55 percent. (If you remember, that also is the precinct that voted most heavily for Trump. Turnout would suggest his supporters were enthusiastic there.)
— Precinct 51, which votes at Clinton Township Hall in western Douglas County: 76.95 percent
— Precinct 44 (H44), which votes at Lawrence Heights Christian Church on Peterson Road in northern Lawrence: 76.84 percent
— Precinct 66 (S19 H10), which votes at the First Church of the Nazarene in the part of rural Douglas County south of Lawrence: 76 percent
— Precinct 53 H10, which votes at the Eudora Township Fire Station in south Eudora: 75.81 percent.
The bottom 5:
— Precinct 10, which votes on the KU campus: 21.96 percent
— Precinct 7, which votes at the Carnegie Building in downtown Lawrence: 28.96 percent
— Precinct 25, which votes at Central United Methodist Church near 15th and Massachusetts: 31.49 percent
— Precinct 8, which votes at Trinity Lutheran Church at 1245 New Hampshire: 34.64 percent.
— Precinct 30 S3, which votes at Schwegler Elementary: 35.35 percent
So, what does it mean that four of the five top turnout precincts were based outside of the Lawrence city limits and all five of the bottom precincts in terms of turnout were based in Lawrence? Well, some of it may be a technicality. Lawrence has a much more transient population — due to students — than rural Douglas County. When those students leave Lawrence, they sometimes still show up on the voter registration rolls, even though they no longer live here. That deflates the turnout numbers.
But, that may not be all of the story. It very well could be that Douglas County fit the national narrative that there were more people — especially those in rural areas — who were enthused about Trump than people initially thought. Turnout rates of more than 70 percent in those precincts show some genuine enthusiasm, or at least a strong desire to vote against Clinton.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of this is that it is worth remembering Douglas County isn’t homogeneous. There are parts of the county that aren’t that much different than the rest of Kansas. If Lawrence and Douglas County ever get serious about consolidating government services, that’s an issue that probably will loom large. You don’t have travel far from the Lawrence city limits to get a different view of the world, and what role government ought to play in it.
A look at cameras tracking the comings and goings of Lawrence motorists; study shows how much the average Lawrence consumer should spend on Christmas
Today’s column is spurred by a reader question. A reader saw something that looked odd along the new South Lawrence Trafficway, and no, it wasn’t my F150 continuously missing my exit on the eastern terminus of the road. (Have you learned by now that when heading east on 23rd Street you must be in the left lane in order to keep heading toward Kansas City? The right lane puts you on the westbound SLT, and causes people in the vehicle to say bad things about you and something about how even a monkey would have learned it on the fourth try.)
But what the reader was questioning is less conspicuous. There is an odd-shaped camera atop one of the traffic signal poles at the SLT and Iowa Street interchange. There are cameras atop many traffic signals in Lawrence. They help with the timing of the lights and also allow the city to monitor road conditions and such.
This camera, though, looked different, and the reader suspected it was a license plate scanner, which is a device that captures the license plate information of every vehicle that passes by and stores the data for use by law enforcement. The readers, for instance, can send police an almost instantaneous alert when a vehicle with a flagged license plate passes by a camera.
I checked with the Lawrence Police Department, and indeed the camera is a license plate reader. While the camera is new, the idea of the Lawrence Police Department using license plate scanners is not, I was told. The department began using the license plate readers in 2009. The recent installation at the SLT interchange is the seventh license plate reader the department has installed in the city. Information from the police department also indicates that some police vehicles are equipped with the scanners. (I’ve asked for an estimate of how many police vehicles have the technology, and will pass it along when I receive information.) UPDATE: Although the department has written procedures for how vehicle-mounted license plate readers could be used, the department doesn't yet have any vehicle mounted scanners, a police spokeswoman said.
License plate readers have gotten some national media attention over the years. The Washington Post wrote an article in 2011 that noted many law enforcement agencies didn’t have any formal policies on how to use the information that was collected or how long the information should be kept. That’s not the case in Lawrence, though. The department has a three-page policy that spells out how the technology should be used by the department. Among the rules are:
— Data should not be kept for a period of more than 60 days, unless it is “has become, or it is reasonable to believe it will become, evidence in a criminal action.” In those cases the data is downloaded onto a portable device and booked as evidence.
— All data is stored on a password-protected server that records each time someone accesses the system.
— Department members are allowed to access the data only for official and legitimate law enforcement business.
— The data is not available to the general public as it may contain confidential criminal case information.
You can see the full policy here. It is worth noting that I’m uncertain whether the policy has been in place the entire time the department has had the technology. The policy is undated. I’ve asked for clarification on that point. UPDATE: Indeed, the Lawrence Police Department was a bit late in adopting a policy. A police department spokeswoman confirmed the policy was not adopted until June 2016. It is unclear what guidelines the department had in place for the camera's use prior to the policy.
Nationally, among groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the license plate reader technology has created privacy concerns related to police departments having so much access to the travel patterns of innocent individuals.
Sgt. Amy Rhoads, a public affairs officer for the Lawrence Police Department, said the department is mindful of the balancing act between privacy and using the technology to solve crimes. She said the technology primarily is used in conjunction with felony investigations, but also could be utilized for purposes of identifying stolen vehicles, stolen license plates, missing persons, and suspect identification.
“We have used ALPR technology as a tool to apprehend serious criminals who have committed major crime in our city,” Rhoads said. “The ALPR technology is restricted to legitimate law enforcement usage and can help increase the reach of major investigations, helping to enhance public safety.”
One thing you may be wondering about in terms of usage is whether the cameras could be used to capture the license plates of motorists who run a red light. Some states have technology where you get a ticket in the mail for running a red light or some other type of offense. License plate readers are used as part of those type of systems, but such tickets aren’t issued in Lawrence or elsewhere in Kansas. My understanding is that Kansas doesn’t have a state law that allows for such red light cameras.
As we have reported, though, license plate readers are used in Lawrence to issue other types of tickets. Last year the University of Kansas began using license plate reader technology to issue parking tickets on campus.
As we have reported, the city of Lawrence is set to hire a firm to begin studying the parking system in downtown Lawrence and around the university. It will be interesting to see if license plate reader technology is part of the solution. I know I’ve been in cities where instead of paying a meter in front of my car, I’ve paid at a digital kiosk which required me to enter my license plate. I assume license plate readers are then used to quickly check for any vehicles in a parking lot that haven’t paid.
Such use probably will require some discussions about how governments store and use the data. A recent article in The Atlantic magazine, though, raised the question of whether the real issue may be how private companies are using the license plate readers. The article noted one private company has a database of more than 4.2 billion sightings, and it is growing at a rate of 120 million data points a month. The private company, Vigilant, sells its database to law enforcement or private companies that may have a use for the data.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is that time of year where lists are made and they are checked twice. I don’t know if it is a sign that we have been naughty, but a new study suggests that the average Lawrence consumer should spend less on Christmas gifts than consumers in many other cities.
The folks at the financial website WalletHub have put out a list that shows what average consumers in various cities should spend on the holidays based upon debt, expense and income data for each community.
The good news is that we all may know some folks in Shawnee. The Johnson County community had the ninth highest holiday budget of the 570 cities that were studied. The average consumer in Shawnee could spend $1,843 for the holidays without feeling much of a pinch.
How about it Lawrence? $563. That ranked Lawrence No. 340 on the list 570 cities. A holiday budget of $563 sounds about right — if you are only purchasing egg nog for the holidays.
Obviously, you should make of this report what you choose. I pass it along because it is an interesting way to look at debt, expense and income levels of various communities. The report relies on Census data, but WalletHub also has a relationship with the financial services firm TransUnion, which has credit data on scores of individuals.
So, here’s a look at how some regional communities fared.
— No. 9: Shawnee: $1,843
— No. 37: Overland Park: $1,388
— No. 107: Olathe: $923
— No. 142: Lee’s Summit, Mo.: $853
— No. 171: Ames, Iowa: $774
— No. 181: Independence, Mo.: $755
— No. 303: Boulder, Colo.: $592
— No. 304: Kansas City, Mo.: $591
— No. 333: Iowa City: $569
— No. 340: Lawrence: $563
— No. 342: Wichita: $562
— No. 356: St. Joseph, Mo.: $550
— No. 379: Columbia, Mo.: $532
— No. 389: Topeka: $527
The results are calculated by looking at average incomes, ages, debt-to-income ratios, monthly income to monthly expenses ratios, and savings to monthly expenses ratios. As I said before, make of it what you will. I encourage you to spend as much as you want. But, to be safe, I plan to kiss up to the Shawnee folks.
If this isn’t a textbook definition of synergy, I don’t know what is: A national chain has filed plans to open an all-you-can-eat style restaurant just a couple of doors down from the Planet Fitness workout facility on south Iowa Street.
HuHot Mongolian Grill has filed plans to locate at 25th and Iowa streets in a portion of the space previously occupied by Tuesday Morning. If you are not familiar with HuHot, it has about 50 restaurants across the U.S., including in Topeka, Wichita, and Manhattan.
The concept is similar to other Mongolian grills where you select raw meat, vegetables and noodles, go to a sauce bar to pour a few ladles of liquid on your ingredients. and then you take those selections to a grill staffed by a stir-fry chef. You then watch the stir-fry chef chop and stir while you do dumbbell curls to prepare yourself to carry your plate back to your table. (Well, maybe that last part is optional.)
HuHot, however, does have a lot of ingredients to choose from. According to its menu, meat and seafood selections include: beef, chicken, halibut, salmon, calamari, swordfish, hot sausage, mahi-mahi, pork, shrimp and tilapia. The menu also includes about four different varieties of noodles and rice and about 25 different vegetables ranging from traditional Asian stir fry ingredients, such as bamboo shoots and bean sprouts, to less traditional ones, such as jalapeños, black beans, and potatoes.
The sauces are where things can get really interesting because it allows you to mix and match, kind of like when you were a kid at the self-serve soda fountain. The sauce bar includes about 25 sauces including several ginger, black Thai peanut, garlic varieties, teriyaki, sesame, soy, sweet chili, and a few that lead me to believe they may not be appropriate for my stir fry dish, but may be useful in thinning my eyebrows. Those include Khan’s Revenge, Five Village Fire Szechuan, and Burn Your Village BBQ.
As I believe I have mentioned, the stir fry bar is all-you-can-eat. You pay one price — ranging from $10 to about $15, depending on when you dine — and refill as many times as you would like.
HuHot will take about 5,000 square feet — or roughly half — of the former Tuesday Morning space. If you have forgotten where Tuesday Morning was located, the space is just south of the Office Depot store. Office Depot is just south of the new Planet Fitness.
In addition, plans have been filed with the city to prepare another part of the 25th and Iowa shopping center for an additional tenant. The development group has filed plans to subdivide the approximately 24,000 square feet of space that is vacant just north of the Planet Fitness facility. Plans call for the space to be divided into an approximately 14,000 square foot retail space and a 9,000 square foot retail location. UPDATE: I talked with Christian Ablah with Classic Real Estate — the group that is marketing the development — today, and he said the splitting of the 24,000 square feet space is still preliminary. He said there may be a user that wants to take that entire location, but no deal has yet been reached. In addition, there will be about a 6,000 square foot space on the back side of the building. All told, the building — which previously was occupied largely by Office Depot and the former Discovery Furniture — will be able to house up to six tenants. No word yet on which businesses the development group may land.
If somehow the group could land something like an Elastic Waist Bands R Us store, that would take the synergy levels to even greater heights.
I’ve had this article on my list to do for nearly 25 years. No, I’m not quite that big of a procrastinator. I’m talking about an article detailing how much time the completed South Lawrence Trafficway would save motorists once it was completed.
I bought the stopwatch shortly after I wrote my very first article as a Douglas County journalist in 1992. It was about how the South Lawrence Trafficway project was in its final phases. Turns out, I was just a bit off. It seems I also could have saved the money on the stopwatch and used my sundial instead to measure the project.
That is all history, however, as the long-debated and long-litigated eastern leg of the trafficway opened to motorists this week. So, I spent some time driving it on Thursday — with the stopwatch on my phone. (You needed a really long cord to pull that off in 1992.) Here’s what I found.
• Rock Chalk Express? The SLT project is estimated to have about a $3.7 billion economic impact on the region in the years to come. I’m guessing a good part of that is additional health care spending by pickup basketball players who now will play more because they have a quicker route to the multitude of courts at the Sports Pavilion at Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence.
In all seriousness, one of the concerns some have expressed about Rock Chalk Park is that it is a long ways away from certain parts of the city. The SLT project should help in some regards. But how much?
Here’s what I did: I started in the Prairie Park neighborhood in southeast Lawrence. Specifically, I was near the corner of E. 26th Terrace and Bishop Street because I know for a fact that there is a resident near there who is a pickup brick layer . . . I mean basketball player. (Don’t worry, such insults won’t cause him to pass me the ball any less.)
I would take two routes: One via the trafficway, and another route assuming that the SLT had never been built. That part is important because it means I stayed off the new section of 31st Street between Haskell and O’Connell because all indications were that project wasn’t going to happen without the SLT.
The route I took through the city was O’Connell Road to 23rd Street, which turns into Clinton Parkway, then Wakarusa Drive to Sixth Street, and then George Williams Way to Rock Chalk Park. That drive took 25 minutes and 45 seconds midday Thursday.
Then I took the SLT route. I again took O’Connell Road to 23rd Street, but this time I turned east and got on the new SLT interchange that is just basically right around the corner from the Prairie Park neighborhood. I could have taken the new 31st Street west over to the Haskell Avenue/SLT interchange as well. But the philosophy in the Lawhorn house is the quicker you can get to 70 miles per hour, the quicker you will get there. (Warning: That philosophy at times has made getting auto insurance difficult.) So, I got on the SLT as soon as I could, and stayed on it until the Sixth Street interchange, and then took Sixth to George Williams to Rock Chalk Park. The time was 19 minutes and 18 seconds. So, a savings of about six and a half minutes. Just think of what you could do if you get to the Sports Pavilion about six minutes earlier. My buddy could put up about 3,000 shots and ruin at least five basketballs.
• From end to end. A big reason Kansas Department of Transportation officials stuck with the SLT project through more than 20 years of delay is because they believed the state was in need of a better route for motorists traveling between Johnson County and Topeka. Interstate 70 doesn’t go through Johnson County, and some of the connecting routes to I-70 in the metro area can get pretty congested. The SLT provides that link between Kansas Highway 10 — the major east-west route into Johnson County — and I-70.
So, I wanted to time how long it would take to go from the western end of the trafficway to the eastern end, and then how long it would take to go from the same two points by using Lawrence city streets instead.
For this exercise, I also pretended I was a semi-truck driver, which means I stuck to truck routes through the city. (It also was a good excuse to make lots of air horn noises, and say phrases like “keep the bugs off your glass and the bears off your . . . bumper.”) I mainly did it, though, because truck traffic is expected to be a major beneficiary of the new road.
I started at the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike, which is the western terminus for the SLT. For the non-SLT route, I took Interstate 70 to the West Lawrence interchange, then took McDonald Drive to Iowa Street, and Iowa Street to 23rd Street and stayed on 23rd until I got outside the city limits. Time: 21 minutes and 45 seconds.
The SLT route is simple enough: I started at the same Lecompton interchange and took the SLT to its eastern terminus just outside the Lawrence city limits. Time: 14 minutes and 10 second. That’s a difference of about seven and a half minutes. Perhaps some people expected it would have been a bit more of a time savings, but you have to remember that the old route did include a good stretch of 75-mile-per-hour roadway — the turnpike section between the Lecompton interchange and the West Lawrence interchange. By avoiding that stretch of interstate, you are not really saving any time. Your time savings comes by avoiding the Lawrence city streets. Whether the time savings is enough to justify the expense and trouble of the road probably will be debated. But it seems clear that trucking companies would be foolish not to use the SLT. Saving more than seven minutes and a lesser toll will be big selling points to the trucking companies.
• Shopper savings. I wanted to see how much time it would save somebody coming from east of Lawrence to get to the shopping district on South Iowa Street. This one was difficult because all Lawhorn vehicles have made the trip down 23rd Street over to Haskell and then to 31st Street and then to Ousdahl so many times that it was difficult to get the truck to take a different route.
But I managed, and here are the results. I started at the Davenport Winery and Orchard which is right near K-10 and County Route 1057. It was just an easy place to start from. My ending location was the Wal-Mart parking lot. For the non-SLT route, I took the route described above. Time: 13 minutes and 20 seconds.
The SLT route was simply starting at Davenport and taking the trafficway to the Iowa Street interchange, and then turning off of Iowa Street into the Wal-Mart parking lot. One note here: There is an odd change in speed limits between the Haskell interchange and the Iowa Street interchange. The speed limit for westbound traffic drops from 70 miles per hour to 65 miles per hour. The reason is because it is a transition zone. Remember, the SLT west of Iowa Street is still two lanes. Imagine how many out-of-town motorists are going to wonder why that road was built that way. Don’t worry, though, the eastern leg of the SLT is still a real time saver. This is maybe the key statistic of the whole trafficway. You can drive from Iowa Street to east of the city limits in four minutes by taking the trafficway. But, how much time did I save on the trip to Wal-Mart? The total time was seven minutes. In this particular case that is about a 50 percent reduction in total trip time. That’s a scary thought for my wallet. In all, the time savings was about six and a half minutes.
If you’ve noticed, that has pretty much been the savings each time. The SLT: The seven-minute trafficway. Or the 25-year trafficway. Take your pick. Probably the bigger quandary will be figuring out whether the time savings and other benefits of the road have been worth the cost and trouble. I’ll leave that to others to figure out.
But don’t plan on doing so during your commute. You may not have the time.
New location for downtown arts store; Lawrence takes high ranking for college graduates; a look at the accuracy of the J-W election poll
Following Tuesday’s late night of election watching, I suspect many of our lists of “essential goods” includes toothpicks to keep eyelids open, earplugs to drown out the commentators, and I’m sure there is a third item, but it likely varies by party. I don’t believe the downtown store with the name Essential Goods carries any of that, but the store is soon going to become easier to find.
Essential Goods, which for the past couple of years has been in the basement beneath the Phoenix Gallery, is moving to 933 Massachusetts St., which is right next door to Au Marche.
“It is just time,” owner Molly Crook said. “I’m so grateful the business has grown to this point. I’ll have windows and will see the weather and won’t have to take Vitamin D supplements anymore.”
In terms of what Essential Goods carries, it is an eclectic mix of art and household items, with an emphasis on works from people who are from the local area or at least the state. Items include bath and body products, prints, ceramics, stationery, housewares, coffee, salts, herbs, sauces and jewelry. (I don’t want to have the debate again about whether jewelry is essential. I also don’t want my front door key to stop working either.)
Crook said the store started out four years ago carrying 35 artists that were all either local or from Kansas. Today, the store has about 165 artists, and about 80 percent of them still meet the local or Kansas provision.
Crook said consumers continue to be more interested in buying items that are locally made. She credited fellow downtown stores like Made, the Phoenix Gallery and Wonder Fair for helping to promote that retailing model in Lawrence. Crook said that she believes downtown Lawrence is close to becoming an area destination for shoppers who want that type of product. The move to ground floor space should help Essential Goods add to that reputation and grow its own business, Crook said.
“People want goods that are made with somebody’s hands, and made the right way, instead of how some companies may be paying people to make them overseas,” Crook said. “It is an idea that is really flourishing. And all of us in downtown have slightly different niches, and we all truly want each other to succeed.”
Essential Goods is expected to be open in its new location by next week at the latest.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Another day, another list. Lawrence is ranked as the 12th best city in the country for new college graduates, according to the financial website ValuePenguin.
The website ranked 382 metro areas based on factors related to jobs, lifestyle and affordability, using data primarily from the U.S. Census Bureau. While Lawrence ranked No. 12 overall, it actually ranked No. 9 in the lifestyle ranking, which looked at factors such as commute times, number of arts and entertainment businesses, transit costs and other factors. Lawrence ranked No. 31 in the jobs category, although it is important to note that category didn’t look at how quickly jobs are growing in the metro area. Rather it looked at unemployment rates for 20- to 24-year-olds, education levels, and the earnings difference between those with a college degree and those without. Lawrence ranked No. 356 in the affordability category, which looks at median rent rates, the number of full-time and part-time employees without health insurance, and a couple of different unemployment rate statistics.
The affordability ranking catches your attention, but it is worth noting many of the university communities on the list also were ranked high in that category. As I’ve noted frequently, the affordability issue is a complex one.
Here’s a look at how some other area communities ranked on the best places for new college graduates
— No. 7: Columbia, Mo.
— No. 11: Iowa City
— No 13: Boulder, Colo.
— No. 26: Ames, Iowa
— No. 29: Manhattan
— No. 30: Fort Collins, Colo.
— No. 93: Kansas City
— No. 118: Wichita
— No. 157 Topeka
• Here’s one last number item for you, and be forewarned, it also involves the election. You may remember that earlier in the month, we reported on an internet poll the Journal-World conducted with Google Surveys. The poll found 62.7 percent of registered voters planned to vote for Clinton while 19.8 percent planned to vote for Trump.
I told you at the time that I would compare the results of our poll with that of the actual election results in Douglas County. I’m interested in determining whether this internet polling method actually works. As a reminder, the Google Survey poll is much different from a standard internet poll that allows people to vote when they want to vote and as many times as they want to vote. Instead, Google uses a program that randomly samples a portion of the approximately 35,000 daily users of the LJWorld.com website. Users have no ability to choose whether they are asked to participate in the poll or not. The survey is presented when people click on an article, and they are asked to complete the survey before they view the article. And yes, we know some of you just quickly click on an answer to get to the article. Google factors that into its analysis by red-flagging the answers that were given very quickly.
So, how did it turn out? Well, the poll ended up being very accurate at predicting support for Clinton. The poll registered 62.7 percent support for Clinton in Douglas County, while Douglas County election results stand at 62.3 percent for Clinton. Our poll was less accurate at predicting support for Trump. It had Trump at 19.8 percent, while Douglas County election results stand at 29.6 percent. Part of the difference is that about 11 percent of our poll respondents said they were going to vote for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. In reality about 8 percent did. The bigger difference is we gave people the chance in our poll to say they were voting for none of the above, and that was the response of 6.4 percent of our poll respondents. On the actual ballot, there isn’t that option, other than a write-in vote or to simply skip that part of the ballot. If I am reading the Douglas County numbers correctly, about 1,500 people did cast a ballot but did not vote for president. That pencils out to about 3 percent of all the voters who essentially voted for none of the above.
We also polled whom people expected to vote for on the U.S. Senate race. Again, our results weren’t bad. Our poll found 62.8 percent planned to vote for Democrat Patrick Wiesner. He ended up winning 60.1 percent of the vote. Sen. Jerry Moran had 26.3 percent in our poll and ended up with 35 percent. The difference again ended up being more people in the poll supporting a Libertarian or none of the above than what actually happened in reality.
So, it looks like the poll was pretty accurate in predicting Democratic support but was about 10 percentage points off in predicting Republican support. If I had it to do over again, I probably wouldn’t give people the option of voting for none of the above. That makes interpreting these results a bit confusing.
In summary, not a perfect poll, but I know of several pollsters right now who would trade me.
Update on judicial retention as Johnson County votes still being counted; Politico report mentions Brownback as possible Trump cabinet member; some numbers to ponder
Surely the talk of the town today will be about last night’s election, so Town Talk will stay on that theme as well. After all, there are a few loose ends to tie up. Here’s a look at some of what we know and also some of what we don’t:
• As of about 6:45 a.m., votes in Johnson County still were not fully counted. However, it appears voters in that large, affluent county won’t change the outcome of the retention races on the Kansas Supreme Court.
When you went to bed — or wherever you went about 2 a.m. — all Kansas Supreme Court justices were winning their elections to be retained. The caveat, though, was that a minority of votes had been counted in Johnson County. According to the secretary of state’s office, about 62 percent of the precincts in Johnson County now have been tallied. Every Supreme Court justice is winning a majority in Johnson County — i.e., voters there are voting to retain the justices.
On the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, along with Justices Carol Beier, Dan Biles and Marla Luckert, were all targets of massive negative ad campaigns, ostensibly because of their decisions in several death penalty cases, including a 2013 decision to vacate the death sentences of murderers Jonathan and Reginald Carr. A group called Kansans for Justice, which was founded by victims of the Carr brothers, spent more than $633,000 on television ads alone, according to figures from the Brennan Center for Justice. But other conservative groups were involved in direct mail campaigns as well, including the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life and the Kansas State Rifle Association.
Here’s a look at the statewide totals, as reported by the Kansas secretary of state’s website:
— Beier: Yes to retain, 56 percent (584,629 votes); No, 44 percent (458,358)
— Biles: Yes, 55 percent (574,739); No, 45 percent (462,232)
— Nuss: Yes, 55 percent (571,379); No, (464,111)
— Luckert: Yes, 56 percent (578,150); No, (456,454)
— Stegall, who was not targeted by the above-mentioned groups: Yes, 71 percent (733,502); No, (301,109)
The same groups as mentioned above also targeted Kansas Court of Appeals judges. All those judges currently are ahead — again with only Johnson County totals outstanding — with yes votes ranging from 73 percent to 59 percent. The partial returns from Johnson County show voters there were largely voting to retain.
It appears the effort to remove justices and judges from Kansas courts has failed. That will be very important in state politics as the Kansas Supreme Court issues rulings about school finance.
• We will be watching today whether Kansas politics gets disrupted by Trump's victory. Gov. Sam Brownback has been named by Politico as a potential contender to be Trump’s secretary of agriculture. Brownback by no means would be a lock for the job, but he has served as an adviser to Trump on some issues this campaign.
We also will be watching to see if Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has a spot in a Trump administration. His name was not part of the Politico article, but Kobach was an early and staunch supporter of Trump and advised him on immigration issues.
• We’ll have more updates coming. Some of them will show up here, but we’ll also be producing full articles on a number of topics. Statehouse Bureau Chief Peter Hancock will be sorting out whether a moderate Republican/Democrat coalition has formed in the Kansas Legislature, and we’ll have more reaction from Douglas County’s residents to Trump’s win, and whatever else develops on what will probably be an active day full of people operating on less than optimal sleep levels.
What could go wrong with that?
• Early on Tuesday, we alerted you to a few numbers to watch in the election related to turnout and vote totals. Here’s a few updates on those numbers:
— Despite setting a record for advance voting, Douglas County did not set any turnout records. Come to find out, Douglas County voters may have just been more eager to get their voting over with than anything else. Douglas County turnout was a respectable 61.1 percent, according to unofficial totals from the Douglas County Clerk’s office. That’s down slightly from 61.7 percent in the 2012 presidential election. It is down several percentage points from the high-water mark of 64.6 percent in the 2008 election. Do you remember that night when a spontaneous parade broke out on Massachusetts Street after Obama’s victory was announced?
— Republican candidates generally aren’t too popular in very blue Douglas County. Donald Trump, however, was particularly unpopular. Trump received 29.6 percent of the vote in Douglas County. That’s notably less than other Republican candidates in recent presidential elections. In 2012, Romney received 35.9 percent of the vote in Douglas County; in 2008 McCain won 33.4 percent; and in 2004, Bush won 41 percent.
A key point, though, is that Hillary Clinton wasn’t the candidate to take advantage of it. Despite Trump’s weakness, Clinton only polled slightly better than Obama in 2012, when he won 60.3 percent of the vote in Douglas County. She fell short of Obama’s 64.1 percent total in 2008. She did outpoll Kerry, who won 57 percent of Douglas County ballots in 2004.
The big difference in the vote totals came with the third-party candidates. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein won 7.8 percent of the vote in Douglas County. That was a far higher total for third-party candidates than in recent elections. In 2012, third-party candidates captured 3.7 percent of the vote in Douglas County. In 2008 it was 2.4 percent, and it was 1.8 percent in 2004. Many folks couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Trump, but quite a few couldn’t see their way to Clinton either.
• Trump was not the only Republican seeing some weakness in Kansas. U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran didn’t poll as well in Kansas or Douglas County as he did six years ago. The Republican saw his level of support in Douglas County drop from 45.3 percent in 2010 to 35.2 percent in 2016. Statewide, his vote totals dropped from 70 percent in 2010 to 62 percent in 2016. But Moran was never in any jeopardy of losing the race. Despite those headwinds, the Democrats weren’t able to field a candidate who could get within 25 points of Moran.
• Certainly Clinton’s loss and the the failure of Democrats to take control of the U.S. Senate will cause the Democratic Party on a national level to have some conversations about strategy. It will be interesting to see what type of conversations Kansas Democrats have. Did anybody else notice this number from a report earlier this month? The J-W’s Statehouse Bureau Chief Peter Hancock reported on voter registration numbers for the state.
Hancock reported that Kansas Democrats have gained only 3,088 registered voters in the last four years. Kansas Republicans have gained about 15,000 registered voters in that time. But more striking is that the Libertarian Party gained 4,111 new registered voters in the time period. The Kansas Democratic Party is growing more slowly than the competition, despite being in an environment where one of the least popular governors in the nation is a Republican and is from Kansas.
What type of conversation will that create among Democrats?
On this most American of days, an update on new restaurants serving the most American of foods: pizza and burritos
This was discouraging. I asked my 13-year old son last night how he thought the election would go. His answer: Bad — somebody is going to win. Of all the things this election will impact, I wonder if apathy levels of a future generation of voters are among them. Oh well, at least I have local news about two of the most American of foods: pizza and burritos.
Spin! Pizza has announced it will open the doors of its new west Lawrence location on Monday. (Is it appropriate I have news of a restaurant called Spin! on election day?) We have reported on the restaurant several times. It will open in a new commercial building just east of the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa. It will be next door to another new establishment, the Blue Moose Bar & Grill.
Spin! got its start in Kansas City, and the menu was developed by Michael Smith, a James Beard award winning chef. Pizza, of course, is the featured item of the menu, but it also includes antipasti (not to be confused with antipasta, which is a position that is sure to hurt you in every poll), fresh soups, sandwiches and some Green Party creation called “salads.” The dessert menu also features something called creamy “piccolo” gelato, which is my second favorite kind of gelato. (Creamy tuba gelato is my favorite.) In case you are curious, I think piccolo refers to the 4 oz serving size.
As for the pizza, it is Neapolitan style, which means a thin crust. The restaurant, however, isn’t thin on toppings to put atop the crust. In addition to all your standard pizza toppings, the menu also includes items like shrimp scampi, goat cheese, arugula, glazed pecans, pesto, and even fig marmalade, for when you get that craving.
Lawrence’s Spin! will be owned by area businessman Brent Boles. He has decided to have the restaurant participate in a program called Token for your Kindness. The program involves giving elementary school teachers and coaches tokens that they can then give out to students who they see are doing something kind. Each token can be redeemed for a mini pizza and gelato.
“We have made it our mission to help generate kindness in Lawrence,” Boles said in a release. “With this in mind, we decided to start in our classrooms and on the playing field/court.”
• I also have burrito news. Qdoba opened its Lawrence restaurant on Monday. As we have reported, the restaurant is located just west of 23rd and Ousdahl in the spot that formerly housed a Kwik Shop.
It is the only Lawrence restaurant for the chain, although it once briefly operated in downtown Lawrence. Remember where? It is where Ingredient is now located, which of course, serves thin crusts pizza, sandwiches, salads and soups. (The food universe works in mysterious ways — and, in the process, usually ruins three of my ties a week with pizza sauce or salsa.)
As for Qdoba, I assume most of you already are familiar with the chain. It is similar to Chipoltle, but has a broader menu. In addition to the Mexican wraps and bowls, it also has tacos, nachos, quesdillas, and soups and salads served in crispy bowls you can eat.
I know one type of veterinary clinic expansion I would like to see: Some type of serum that teaches my dog that the box of Pop-Tarts on the kitchen table is mine. (I tried to electrify the box, but, come to find out, he’s more resistant to the shock than I am.) I don’t think that is what is going on, but I do have news of one of Lawrence’s oldest vet clinics expanding.
Perhaps you have noticed that work is underway at the Bradley Animal Hospital at 935 E. 23rd St. The business is expanding its animal hospital space by about 30 percent — or about 800 square feet — Dr. John Bradley told me.
Among the changes on tap are a doubling of the size of the intensive care unit and treatment area, a dedicated dental suite featuring digital dental radiography, and new equipment including a CO2 surgical laser, digital enoscopy and cystoscopy. (I’m not sure what all of that is, but I assume some of it will detect traces of cherry Pop-Tarts.)
Feline fans also are getting something out of this expansion. Bradley said the clinic’s “cat ward” is being remodeled. It will feature sound reduction walls and a larger “cat-run” area with vertical perches for lounging. The area will continue to be completely separated from the dog area.
The clinic also is making an upgrade to its fire detection system, which is an issue that has been in the news as fires have damaged a pet store and a boarding facility in the last year or so, resulting in animal deaths. Bradley said his facility has had monitoring for the last 10 years, but he’s using the renovations as a chance to upgrade the sensors, which will send alerts directly to Lawrence-Douglas County Fire-Medical.
If you remember, city commissioners in 2015 had discussions about requiring fire sprinkler systems for all animal hospitals or overnight boarding facilities, but commissioners balked at the idea after hearing concerns from veterinarians and others about the cost of retroactively installing sprinkler systems.
The exterior of the clinic, which is just a bit west of 23rd and Haskell, also will get a facelift and a new design, Bradley said.
The renovation comes at a good time. The business plans to celebrate a bit in 2017. It will celebrate its 60th anniversary in Lawrence. Bradley recalled that his parents moved to Lawrence in 1957 and purchased 1.5 acres on the eastern outskirts of town. The business operated out of a white wood-frame farm house until the existing building was constructed in 1965. Bradley came back to Lawrence 1991 to run the family business, after his dad — Dr. William “Bill” Bradley — retired.
“Business has been good,” John Bradley said of the practice, which focuses on dogs, cats and other small animals. “We have been here 60 years, and Lawrence has been really good to us in that time. This will let us stay here for a long time.”
I know in my household that the word “affordable” is one that can have varying definitions. For example, unlike some, I do not consider a 5 percent off coupon to the Coach store to be a de facto definition of the word. The extra large value bag of Doritos? No brainer. It says ‘value’ right on the bag. My struggles with the definition, though, are probably less important than the struggles city commissioners may soon have.
City Commissioner Matthew Herbert recently had an interesting post on his Facebook account about the issue of affordable housing. Herbert was the lone vote against a 50 percent tax rebate for a brewery/apartment project in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. The project included a provision that two of the 14 new apartment units would be set aside as qualified affordable housing units with a monthly rent of $840 a month.
The gist of Herbert’s post was: Since when is $840 a month the definition of affordable for a one-bedroom apartment? Herbert, who is a public school teacher, also owns a rental business. Herbert notes that he has apartment units all over the city, including just a couple of blocks from the East Lawrence site. He said none of his properties rent for $840 for a single bedroom.
“In fact, 100 percent of my properties are half that cost or less,” Herbert said in his post. “I don’t do that to the save the world. I do that because that is the market rate.”
Now, my understanding is Herbert is more in the house rental business than the apartment rental business, so rental rates might not quite be apples to apples, so take that for whatever you think it is worth.
However, there is a housing organization that does track rental rates for apartment units in the county. The Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority lists 2016 fair market rent rates. The fair market rate for a 1-bedroom unit is $639, which also includes utilities.
So, Herbert may have a point. Why is an apartment that is about $200 above the fair market rent rate in the community considered affordable? One answer could be that because the other units in the East Lawrence project are expected to rent for $1,000 to $1,200 per month. That indeed would make the $840 unit a good deal; however, a good deal and affordable are not synonyms. I can point you to a closet full of purses and a lien on my house held by Coach to illustrate that point.
With the word “affordable” there is always the question: Affordable to whom? Different answers to that question may be what’s going on here. I talked briefly with Shannon Oury, executive director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority. She sits on the city’s affordable housing task force, which recommended approval of the East Lawrence project.
She said the units could be considered affordable because it allowed someone who makes 60 percent of Douglas County’s median income to live in the apartment and not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Technically, it takes a household of two people in order to do that. The median income for a single person household isn’t quite great enough to stay below the 30 percent threshold.
A key part of this though is that the person makes 60 percent of Douglas County’s median income. That is not the typical person that you think of as being part of an affordable housing program. At the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, the majority of their clients make 30 percent or less of the median income. In other words, these two units are for households that make about twice as much as the typical client at the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority.
“You can kind of see that we are talking about two different groups here,” Oury said.
Maybe that group of 60 percent earners also are facing an affordable housing issue. There does seem to be less evidence of that, though. Oury’s organization can point to a substantial waiting list of people at the 30 percent and below level who are seeking housing. A key question seems to be: What is the evidence that 60 percent earners are having difficulty finding an average one-bedroom apartment that rents for about $640 a month, or $750 a month, for that matter? Census data from 2014 estimated that nearly 40 percent of all rental units in Lawrence — that’s one bedrooms to four bedrooms and beyond — rent for $750 or less.
Maybe one bedroom units priced below $840 a month are in really tight supply, but near as I can tell, there is no report out there that estimates vacancy rates for that type of apartment.
This seems to be another reminder of just how complicated of an issue city officials are wading into with affordable housing.
Now, whether this means the city shouldn’t provide a tax rebate to the East Lawrence project is a different question. Hopefully the affordable housing component wasn’t too large of a factor in the city’s vote. After all, we’re talking about two units in a town that has about 40,000 housing units. You would have to do 20 of these projects a year for 10 consecutive years to even get to 1 percent of the city’s housing units. Presumably more than 1 percent of the city’s population is facing affordable housing problems.
Hopefully, city commissioners approved the incentives because they think the project will create good economic activity in an area that needs it, and that the project wouldn’t have happened without the incentive. If the the project results in a couple of rent-reduced apartments, then that’s icing on the cake.
What would be dangerous, though, is if commissioners are approving these projects thinking they are making a significant dent in Lawrence’s affordable housing issue. Both the number of units and their rent rates may suggest otherwise.
Budding business may cause school board member to leave board early; a six-mile traffic backup; chamber elects new leaders
A budding business may cause Lawrence school board member Kris Adair to end her term on the board early, Adair has told me. Some of Adair’s comments also may spark some discussion about what Lawrence does or doesn’t do to keep budding technology companies.
As we have reported, Adair and her husband, Joshua Montgomery, are founders of the artificial intelligence company Mycroft, which is working to create a device that allows consumers to do a variety of tasks on the internet through voice-activated commands.
As we reported in October, MyCroft won a $50,000 grant as part of the LaunchKC technology competition. As part of that grant award, it also received free office space in the Crossroads District in Kansas City, Mo.
On top of that, the Kansas City-based technology website Startland recently has reported that Mycroft has opened an office in Silicon Valley, and “senior Mycroft leadership” will work out of that California office.
Adair certainly qualifies as senior leadership of the company, so that begged the question of whether she would be staying in Lawrence and completing her school board term, which expires at the end of 2017.
Adair did confirm to me that her husband, Montgomery, is working in Silicon Valley full time. She said she could not yet say with any certainty whether she would move to California before the end of her term.
“There have been no definite decisions made,” Adair said. “It really is going to depend on how things go for him.”
Adair added that she hopes she’ll be able to finish out the term.
“It has been something that has brought me a great amount of pleasure,” Adair said of serving on the school board. “I’m hoping that we will not have to move until my term is up.”
The Silicon Valley office is primarily focusing on raising venture capital and establishing business relationships with Silicon Valley’s famed tech industry. So, Adair is rooting for those efforts to go well too, which may lead to a move before her term is up.
“It all depends on how things go with Mycroft, and right now it is going better than we really anticipated.”
Either way, Adair expects there will be more travel back and forth to California. Adair’s duties with Mycroft already have created some concerns about her ability to fulfill school board responsibilities. In March, then-school board president Vanessa Sanburn suggested Adair consider resigning from the board, unless she could start attending board meetings more regularly. That suggestion followed an announcement by Adair that she would be taking “a less active role” with the board through May, and after she had been absent from various board engagements, including the final stages of the board’s search for a new superintendent.
Adair had said that her decreased level of attendance earlier in the year was related to a 90-day business accelerator program that she was participating in as part of her Mycroft duties. She told me this week her attendance at recent school board meetings has become more regular.
So, we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out as it relates to Adair’s school board term. What seems clear, though, is Mycroft’s presence in Lawrence is coming to an end, and Montgomery and Adair’s presence seems set to.
Adair said that there are no plans to keep any part of the Mycroft operations in Lawrence.
“There is nothing really for Mycroft in Lawrence anymore,” Adair said. “We are a high-tech startup and Kansas City, Mo. really has a tremendous startup program.”
Adair continued: “We think Kansas City, Mo. is really focusing on the high tech sector that is going to be the future. Lawrence just seems to be focusing on smaller projects like apartments and hotels. That may be where a small community like this can focus.”
But Adair made it clear she thinks Lawrence can do more on its economic development front. She said the type of programs offered in Kansas City that have been helpful to Mycroft have included the LaunchKC grant program and free office space, a mentorship program at University of Missouri-Kansas City, and venture capital and other assistance from the quasi public-private Missouri Technology Corporation.
“I think Lawrence focuses more on tax abatements for economic development and less on how spending in other ways could help the community,” Adair said. “I think it is just a difference of opinion on whether you think a tax incentive is going to bring in more economic development or a grant program is going to be more beneficial.”
While Lawrence doesn’t have anything quite like the grant program being used in Kansas City, economic development leaders have made some major efforts to attract technology startups. The city, the county, the chamber, the university and the state have created partnerships to invest $20 million to build and then expand the Bioscience and Technology Incubator on KU’s West Campus. It has had good luck in attracting both startup companies and well-established companies — like Garmin — who want to be on or near the KU campus.
So, there probably will be some difference of opinion about whether Lawrence is doing enough in that regard, but certainly Adair isn’t the only one urging the community to think more creatively in the incentives it provides and the programs it offers. It is always a conversation worth keeping an ear open for.
Adair also said two other changes are likely to occur as Mycroft moves its business out of Lawrence. Adair and Montgomery are founders of Wicked Broadband, which previously was known as Lawrence Freenet. Adair confirmed the company is seeking to sell the business, although no deal is imminent. The business provides broadband service primarily to apartment complexes, fraternity and sorority houses, businesses and some residential subscribers. It has been in the news a lot over the years, primarily over disputes about whether the city should provide it grants, or low interest loans or other such assistance to expand its services in the community.
“I like to explain it this way: It is like having a child in a sense,” Adair said. “Wicked has been around for 11 years now. We feel like it is time to send it off to college.”
Adair also said it was likely that she and Montgomery would shut down the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship that they operate in office space near Ninth and Iowa streets. The center was designed to offer low-cost office space and maker space services to startups and small companies. Adair said the center has stopped taking new members for the space.
“I see that project probably folding in the future,” Adair said.
As for Mycroft, it will be interesting to watch how that company develops. Its device is similar to devices offered by Amazon, Microsoft and others. It allows you to use voice commands and the internet to turn off lights at your home, start a coffee maker, search for answers online and a number of other tasks that are part of this new technology called the Internet-of-Things. So, Mycroft will face major competition in becoming a player in the space, but it has received some early funding, in part, because it uses an open-hardware and open-source system that allows software developers from around the world to build features that can be added onto Mycroft’s functionality.
In other news and notes from around town:
• More of an observation than anything else, but it will be interesting to watch how the new South Lawrence Trafficway function on KU basketball game nights. In particular, the east end of the road where you can exit K-10 and enter 23rd Street will be worth watching.
Last night I noticed traffic at about 6:30 p.m. — a half hour before the tipoff of last night’s KU game — was backed up from approximately Noria Road to just west of the main Eudora exit on K-10. That is about six miles that traffic was backed up on the westbound lanes. That is largely due to a long section of road being one lane due to the SLT construction. But, as several people have noted, even after the road is completed, exiting K-10 and entering 23rd Street will have to funnel down to one lane for a significant stretch.
Those of you who drive the road now know what I’m talking about. The portion of road that goes under the new bridge where Noria Road used to intersect with K-10 is one lane and doesn’t become two lanes again until about East Hills Business Park entrance. I’m guessing the one-lane stretch is a little less than a mile in length.
That stretch probably won’t create a 6-mile backup every KU basketball game, but it probably will create some back up. However, people may quickly adjust their routes to get to the fieldhouse. Instead of taking 23rd Street, motorists may find it easier to take the South Lawrence Trafficway all the way to Iowa Street and Iowa Street to the either 19th or 15th streets, which both lead to the fieldhouse.
I keep talking to people who say traffic patterns in Lawrence are going to undergo their largest changes in years once the SLT opens and people learn how to use it. As a reminder, the ribbon cutting for the road is Friday, although it won’t immediately open for traffic. A full opening is expected by Thanksgiving.
• The Lawrence chamber of commerce has announced its board members for the upcoming year. Here’s a look at the leadership positions:
— Chair: Jason Edmonds, Edmonds Duncan Registered Investment Advisors;
— Incoming Chair: Michele Hammann, SS&C Solutions;
— Treasurer: Joe Caldwell, Bartlett & West engineers
— Past Chair: Cal Karlin, Barber Emerson attorneys
— Government and Community Affairs: Beth Easter, Intrust Bank
— Communications: Kristin Eldridge, Snap Promotions
— Operations: Kirsten Flory, Colliers International
— Joint Economic Development Council: Rick Hird, Petefish, Immel, Heeb & Hird attorneys
— Leadership Lawrence: Tom Karasek, CEK Insurance
— Economic Development: Mike Orozco, US Bank
— Membership: Crystal Swearingen, McGrew Real Estate