Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Bill Self and Scot Pollard team up to buy Mass. Street property; BBQ event coming to Rock Chalk Park
Well, here’s a property to keep an eye on, and a partnership that sets the mind to racing. Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self and former KU basketball star Scot Pollard have bought a Massachusetts Street commercial property.
Documents filed with the Kansas Secretary of State’s office confirm that Self and Pollard are the members of a corporation that bought the former Performance Tire and Wheel building at 1828 Massachusetts St. That’s right. We’re talking about south Mass. here. In case you left your map of former tire shops at home, the building is just north of Cottin’s Hardware or a couple doors south of Dillons.
No plans have been filed at City Hall yet that give any clues about how the duo plans to use the property. The rumor that Self bought the property has been floating around for quite awhile now. Indeed, the property was purchased some time ago, but until recently the only information I had was the name of the corporation that bought it. But in recent weeks the corporation had to file an annual report that listed its shareholders. Self and Pollard were the only ones listed as owning more than 5 percent of the company.
The most common speculation I've heard is about a restaurant going into the location. But I don’t have confirmation. I’m doubtful that Self is going to give up his clipboard for an apron, so any restaurant venture likely will involve someone else.
I’ve got a call into Ted McDonald, a Kansas City-area attorney listed on a lot of the paperwork for the project, but haven’t yet heard back.
But, of course, the idea of Bill Self lending his name to a venture is intriguing. For that matter, Pollard’s involvement is intriguing as well. Pollard is nothing if not intriguing, although it has been reported that he’s mellowed over the years. For those of you who have forgotten Pollard, think back to the KU basketball player who got attention for painting his fingernails, and then wore a Mohawk and muttonchops in the NBA.
The possibilities of a Scot Pollard-themed club are fun to think about. But the possibilities of a Bill Self-themed club — again, I don’t know that's going to happen — are even more fun. Ponder this for a second: The corporation Bill Self formed to buy this property is BS, LLC. How about the BS Club? Anyone interested in that? Referee blows a call. Rehash it at the BS Club. Iowa State fan has too much of a liquid corn product and charges our head coach. Mock him at the BS Club. KU football season . . . well, the BS Club may need an expansion.
Again, I don’t know what the future holds for the property. I’ll ask the good folks on our sports desk to reach out to Coach Self, and we’ll let you know if we hear more. (UPDATE: They got in touch with Self. He said he didn't have any comment at the moment.) It certainly could just be that Self and Pollard bought the property as a real estate investment.
If so, they may be finding that some real estate investments can be as much fun as a road trip to Ames. This property used to be an old gas station, and it had an underground storage tank that had to be removed. In fact, I think it had two underground storage tanks, which may have been a surprise, according to some people I have talked to. The latest paperwork filed at City Hall is for a demolition permit for one of the small buildings on the site. The permit application indicates the work is related to an underground storage tank remediation project.
In other news and notes from around town:
• For what it is worth, it looks like Scot Pollard may be building a new home out in the neighborhood where Bill Self lives. City commissioners a couple of weeks ago approved as part of their consent agenda a variance request for Pollard so that he could build at 4520 Bauer Brook Court, which is the upscale subdivision on the northern portions of Folks Road in northwest Lawrence. As has been the case with several of the houses in that subdivision, it has needed permission to install a septic tank, since the property has difficulty accessing a city sewer line.
• Well, if you haven’t gotten your spring shipment of Wet Wipes, you had better get busy. It is BBQ season, and there is a change coming to one of the larger barbecue events in Lawrence. The Sertoma Club of Lawrence is moving its annual barbecue competition to Rock Chalk Park, from Broken Arrow Park.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are set to approve a permit that will allow the competition to use one of the large parking lots at Rock Chalk Park on May 8-9. Plans call for 48 teams and about 400 members of the public to participate in the event. Teams will start cooking at 8 a.m. on Friday, May 8 and continue into May 9. The event will be open for the public to go out and sample barbecue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 9.
So, if you are planning ahead, you may want to be prepared to hunt for different parking spot if you are heading to the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park on that day. Depending on how long you stay and sample, you may also want to plan a little extra time on the treadmill too.
No word yet on whether the move to Rock Chalk Park is a permanent one for the event, or if perhaps the group is just trying out the venue given that there is so much construction work around Broken Arrow Park because of the South Lawrence Trafficway project.
Parks and Recreation has long list of projects that could be affected by police headquarters plan; weight room at Rock Chalk to close temporarily
Police and Parks and Recreation may soon converge. I know what you are thinking, but, no, I did not do that thing with a golf cart at Eagle Bend again. I’m talking about a plan to build a new police headquarters without a tax increase and how I soon expect the conversation to get much more intense about what type of cuts that may mean to the Parks and Recreation Department.
If you remember just prior to the City Commission election, commissioners briefly discussed the idea of a no-tax increase plan to build a new $26 million police headquarters. That plan had two main components: delay some road projects for a few years and fundamentally change how sales tax dollars are used to fund Parks and Recreation for the next 20 years or more.
Well, this week Parks and Recreation leaders met with the department’s advisory board, and a topic of discussion was how to address future maintenance needs if large amounts of the department’s current sales tax funding are diverted to the police project.
They didn’t come up with any easy answers. They did come up with a list though. Department leaders put together a list of about 40 projects that they believe are needed maintenance projects or needed enhancements to existing facilities that will be tough to fund.
The list is nothing new. There is a version of it every year. It also isn’t new that the department doesn’t have enough money to fund everything on the list. What’s new this year, though, is that some future sales tax funding that was going to become available to perhaps address some of those projects is in jeopardy of going to the the police project. The department’s maintenance budget currently is set at $500,000 a year in sales tax money. But city projections call for that amount to grow by 4 percent a year. If the no-tax police plan moves forward, the $500,000 would be frozen. The last I heard, City Hall hadn’t ordered inflation to freeze as well, so the $500,000 20 years from now will have a lot less buying power. How much less? Well, if you assume a 3 percent inflation rate, $500,000 today will have buying power of about $280,000 in 20 years. Even if you drop inflation to 2 percent, the buying power is about $335,000.
The other thing that has Parks and Recreation leaders worried is that they were expecting some new streams of funding to develop in future years that could be used for maintenance. Specifically, bond payments for the Community Health Building, Eagle Bend golf course and a few smaller park projects are scheduled to come off the books in 2016. Most of that money already has been spoken for to pay for the Rock Chalk Park project. But ‘most’ is the key word. There was a cushion of a few hundred thousand dollars in most years. Under the no-tax increase plan, that cushion goes to the police project.
So, expect advocates for parks and recreation to begin making some noise at City Hall in the near future.
“I hope the new commission has some understanding of how this works,” said Joe Caldwell, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. “You can’t just ignore the problem because these issues won’t get cheaper to fix, and they won’t just go away.”
But enough with all this talk. You all want to know about the list, I’m sure. Here we go: Top Ways to Draw Unwanted Attention on a Golf Cart: 1. Nitrous Oxide. 2 . . . Oh, that’s the not the list. You want to know about major parks and recreation projects. OK, here’s that one:
— $80,000 to replace playground equipment at Burcham Park. The equipment was removed to accommodate a project that worked on the nearby intake pipe for the adjacent Kaw Water Treatment Plant.
— $85,000 to add parking at the East Lawrence Recreation Center.
— $40,000 to restore the old stone wall at Clinton Park. The park and the wall date back to the founding of the city. “If we don’t do something with it, it will fall down,” said Mark Hecker, assistant director of Parks and Recreation.
— $45,000 to improve the pavement leading into the Youth Sports Complex in west Lawrence.
— $45,000 to improve the pavement leading into the Clinton Softball Complex in west Lawrence.
— $30,000 for various improvements on concrete trails around the city. Several of them have had settling issues that have created tripping hazards.
— $40,000 to replace the flooring in the Community Building. It has become so worn that it is slick, and larger issues also may need to be addressed. Moisture is coming through the basement floor in some places.
— $20,000 for large window shades for a portion of the Sports Pavilion Lawrence recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. During certain times, a bright glare is hampering game play on some courts.
— $50,000 to convert the playground surface at Holcom Park into an ADA compliant surface.
— $45,000 for exterior tuck pointing at the Community Building downtown.
— $20,000 to fix settled concrete at the Clinton Lake Softball Complex.
— $10,000 to paint a large fence at the Oak Hill Cemetery.
— $25,000 to remodel the women’s restroom at the Holcom Recreation Center.
— $25,000 for additional parking and fencing at the off-leash dog park at Clinton Lake.
— $35,000 to update the department’s master plan.
— $60,000 in pavement improvements to roads in city-owned cemeteries.
— $40,000 to address acoustical problems at Sports Pavilion Lawrence. Hecker said during tournament times, noise levels in the building make it difficult for employees at the front desk, for example, to take phone calls and answer questions. “It is a future concern, but it is a concern,” Hecker said.
— $20,000 to continue to install new curbless tree grates along Massachusetts Street.
— $18,000 to replace play features at the indoor aquatic center.
— $50,000 a year for at least the next five years to remove right-of-way trees that are expected to die as a result of Emerald Ash Borer disease. As we previously have reported, the department believes thousands of Ash trees across the community will die when the disease makes its way to Douglas County. It currently is in the Kansas City area.
— $20,000 to repair the concrete seating area at Hobbs Park. “We really ought to do something there if we’re going to allow the structure to stand, and it is a historic structure, so it will stand,” Hecker said.
— $20,000 for divider nets for the indoor turf field at Sports Pavilion Lawrence.
— $35,000 for better sealing windows at the Community Building downtown.
— $120,000 to install additional restrooms at the Youth Sports Complex.
— $20,000 for outdoor fitness equipment at South Park.
— $15,000 to replace burned out strands of lights and other aged decorations for the downtown holiday light display.
— $85,000 to make certain sidewalks at the Youth Sports Complex ADA accessible.
— $80,000 for parking lot repairs at the Holcom recreation center.
— $95,000 to replace the slide that has been removed at the Outdoor Aquatic Center. The center previously had two slides, but one had to be removed because it was worn out.
— $85,000 to replace worn playground equipment at South Park. In case you are ever in a position to win a trivia contest off of naming the busiest playground in the city, South Park is the answer, department leaders said. It gets daily use from St. John Catholic School, which is next door.
— $85,000 to make concrete repairs to the deck around the Outdoor Aquatic Center.
— $250,000 to replace a heating and air conditioning unit on the roof of the indoor Aquatic Center. Department officials have concern about how long the unit will continue to last. The units suck in a lot of chlorinated air from the pool, which leads to deterioration of the units.
— $350,000 to replace the lights at the Holcom baseball fields. The lights frequently burn out and are in need of maintenance, Hecker said.
— $250,000 to improve drainage and restroom problems at the shelter at Broken Arrow Park.
The largest item on the list is $900,000 to add a “crash area” onto the Indoor Aquatic Center. Again, no golf cart is involved here. A crash area is a spot where participants in swimming events can wait for their events to begin. During large swim meets, the area around the pool cannot safely accommodate all the people. Previously, the city has been able to use space at Free State High, which is connected to the aquatic center. But in recent years it has become more difficult to reserve Free State High space because the district often has other activities occurring at the same time.
One item that is not on the list, but could be, is the purchase of additional land for future parks. Historically, the department has tried to buy parkland about 20 years in advance of an area developing because that was the only way the city could afford to purchase the property. Such purchases haven’t happened in awhile, and likely wouldn’t under the current proposal. Hecker noted that currently the city doesn’t have any future parkland purchased west of the South Lawrence Trafficway, or south of 31st Streets.
The new City Commission hasn’t yet set a date to begin discussing police headquarters plans, but expect there to be some parks and recreation advocates around when they do.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of fixes, there will be one underway at the new Sports Pavilion Lawrence recreation center. The city is notifying users that the weight room at the recreation center will be closed from April 21 to April 27 while repairs are made to the floor. I don’t have details on what repairs are needed, but the release from the city noted that the work was being done under warranty. The track and cardio area will remain open during the repairs.
Potential deal to bring gigabit Internet service to Eudora may delay plans for Lawrence; city committee rejects plan to demolish East Lawrence Quonset hut
Forget keeping up with Kansas City. When it comes to widespread, super-fast gigabit Internet service, there are new signs that Lawrence is struggling to keep up with Baldwin City and Eudora. There is word out of Eudora that RG Fiber is close to signing an agreement to bring gigabit Internet service to that community, which also likely would delay any plans that RG Fiber has to bring the super-fast Internet service to Lawrence.
The Eudora City Commission on Monday had on its agenda a license agreement with Baldwin City-based RG Fiber. The commission didn’t yet approve the license agreement, but it is scheduled for a vote at a commission meeting later this month.
Mike Bosch, founder of RG Fiber, told me this morning that he is “very optimistic” an agreement will be reached with Eudora officials, and he hopes to announce details in the next several weeks about bringing gigabit service to homes and businesses in Eudora.
RG Fiber is the company that previously has announced a project to bring gigabit service — which is the same type of service Google Fiber is building in Kansas City — to Baldwin City and the Baker University campus.
As part of that project, Bosch planned to run fiber optic cable through Lawrence en route to Baldwin City. Bosch planned to use that fiber optic cable to also offer service in Lawrence. He had sought agreements with the city of Lawrence to lease some unused portions of city-owned fiber optic cable that would allow RG Fiber to begin offering gigabit service along major corridors in the city, such as Iowa, 23rd, Sixth and several other major streets.
In late January, Lawrence city commissioners met on the subject and appeared close to approving a fiber policy that would have allowed for a lease agreement to be entered into with RG Fiber. But then the fiber policy never did reappear on the City Commission’s agenda.
In the meantime, Bosch said discussions with the city of Eudora began to intensify. Bosch said he has found an alternative route to bring the needed fiber optic cable into Baldwin City. That route doesn’t involve Eudora, but he said he became interested in the Eudora market because he has investor capital that he needs to put to work.
As for what all this means for RG Fiber’s plans to offer service in Lawrence, Bosch said he’s still very much interested in the Lawrence market.
“But if the Eudora project goes through, we won’t have as much capital to build in Lawrence as we had hoped,” Bosch said.
Bosch said that likely could mean a delay for any project the company would undertake in Lawrence.
Bosch said the company, though, certainly is still interested in the Lawrence market. It could raise additional capital to expand in Lawrence, but Bosch said it was becoming difficult for RG Fiber to reserve capital for a Lawrence project without knowing when the city may act on RG’s request. Bosch said the process in Lawrence, thus far, has taken about a year longer than he anticipated.
Lawrence city commissioners met on Jan. 27 about a fiber policy that would have cleared a path for the city to sign a lease agreement with RG Fiber. The policy was recommended for approval by both the city’s own staff and also by a city-hired consultant. Commissioners, though, delayed a vote on the policy, but indicated it wanted to have the issue brought back up in the next several weeks.
Bosch said hasn’t received any substantive update from city officials on the fiber policy since that late January meeting.
“I really believe the elections and the questions surrounding the commission just overtook the fiber policy,” Bosch said. “It just never made it back to the agenda.”
Now, three new commissioners have taken seats on the five-member City Commission. Bosch said he hopes the new commission will consider approving the fiber policy soon.
“I really do still want to work with Lawrence,” Bosch said.
As for more details about the potential agreement with Eudora, Bosch said he didn’t want to comment on that agreement until it was finalized. I’ve put a call into the city administrator for Eudora, but haven’t yet heard back.
In terms of the Baldwin City project, the company has bought a building in downtown Baldwin City and has started to equip it for the project. Bosch said there have been some vendor delays, but the project is on track to begin hooking up customers this summer.
Bosch said RG is selling residential plans that offer 1 gigabit of service — both upload and download speeds — for $80 a month. If customers want to add a television package, the price is about $135 a month, depending on what package is selected, he said. Commercial gigabit accounts will start at $135 per month.
The Baldwin City project will include wiring all of Baker University’s campus — both its classrooms and its residence halls – with gigabit service. Bosch said he believes Baker will become the first campus in Kansas to be fully wired for gigabit service.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If there is anything sexier than super-fast Internet service these days, it is surely old Quonset huts. If you remember back in November, we reported that Black Hills Energy had filed plans with City Hall to demolish its Quonset hut maintenance building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets. You also may remember that some East Lawrence residents and the developer of the Poehler lofts building expressed concern about tearing down the old building.
Well, the city’s Historic Resources Commission agreed. It has voted against a plan that would allow for the removal of the building. Black Hills Energy, however, has filed an appeal of that decision. So, maybe it will be bib-overall night at City Hall soon because city commissioners are going to get to spend some time discussing Quonset huts. Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning, told me he expects the appeal to be brought to the City Commission for a final decision in the next couple of weeks.
Black Hills wants to remove the building as it prepares to sell the site. The natural gas company no longer uses the building for its maintenance crew. But others in the neighborhood have said the building represents a rare form of architecture that is worth preserving. Others have said the building could be turned into something cool that would fit in with the adjacent Warehouse Arts District.
McCullough said the Historic Resources Commission voted against the plan, in part, because the building sits in a conservation overlay district that calls for replacement plans to be presented before any buildings are demolished. McCullough said Black Hills has indicated it doesn’t plan to replace the building, but rather would turn the site into a gravel lot while it seeks a buyer.
I’ll let you know when I hear more details about when he issue will next arrive at City Hall.
Large apartment project near KU to set up office in downtown; new report shows T ridership grew in 2014
The idea of fancy and 935 Massachusetts Street long have gone together in my book. If you remember, 935 Mass is the former home of Jayhawk Spirit, and my wife once got a bedazzled Jayhawk T-shirt there that is so fancy I still have to wear a welding helmet to look at it. Well, soon, the location will be all about selling fancy apartments. The company that is building the $75 million multi-story luxury apartment building across from Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium has signed a deal to locate its rental office at 935 Mass.
HERE Kansas, LLC has filed plans at Lawrence City Hall to remodel the former T-shirt shop into a rental office for its apartment project. Jim Heffernan, a partner on the HERE project, said he expects to have the rental office open in the next few months. Heffernan said the amount of construction underway at the apartment site, just north of the Kansas Union and across the street from the football stadium, made it impossible to have a leasing office on location. So, downtown Lawrence seemed like the logical choice, he said.
Heffernan said the project is proceeding well. Plans call for the apartments to be ready to lease by July 2016. Heffernan said the project is a little more than halfway done with its pier work. He expects to start building vertically in the next month or so. If you haven’t driven by the site lately, go take a look. Heffernan said it shows how challenging the site is to redevelop. The site has about six stories of fall from its peak to its base. The project received significant financial incentives from the city, in part because of the difficulty of redeveloping the site.
As a reminder, the project will include 239 apartments. They’ll be a mix of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units, with a total of 624 new bedrooms. At it highest point, the project will be seven stories tall. Heffernan previously has described the project as an upscale apartment project that will include a lot of high-grade finishes, pools, garden areas and other amenities. The project will be the first in the area to use an automated parking garage. Residents will pull into the parking garage on site, deposit their vehicle in an elevator-like structure, and then exit the car. The automated garage then will lift the vehicle to the appropriate level and use a system of tracks and other devices to place the vehicle in the appropriate spot.
In addition, the project will include about 13,000 square feet of commercial space. Some restaurant uses certainly are anticipated for the project, but Heffernan said the project also is looking for some other uses that will benefit both students and the general neighborhood.
“We’re in some very preliminary discussion with people interested in the commercial space now that they can see the site a little better,” Heffernan said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The latest ridership numbers are in for Lawrence’s public transit system. A little more than 1.1 million rides were provided on the city-funded T bus system in 2014, according to a new report from City Hall. That’s an increase of 4.5 percent from 2013. It also continues a trend of increasing ridership since 2008, when the city began coordinating bus routes with the KU bus system. Since 2008, ridership has grown from about 400,000 rides.
The new numbers show the city’s NightLine bus service also is growing. The city in 2013 started a system where people could call ahead during daytime hours to schedule a bus to pick them up between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday. The system was designed to serve third shift workers and others who had regular needs for late-night bus service. The report found that the service provided 14,462 rides in its first full year of operation. Month-over-month numbers showed steady increases in ridership. For example, when the program began in June 2013, ridership for the month was about 600. In June 2014 it had grown to about 1,200.
The new report also highlights a couple of new programs that were launched in 2014. The system rolled out a new GPS program that allows transit passengers to send a text message to the system and find out exactly when their bus will arrive at a specific location. The city also in 2014 reached deals with Dillons and Hy-Vee stores to begin selling bus passes.
It will be interesting to watch the transit system in 2015. The big project facing the system is a new transit hub. Bus system leaders have proposed moving the transit hub — the place where buses congregate and transfers are often made — from downtown to a spot near 21st and Iowa streets.
But the political environment may be shifting. Incoming commissioners Stuart Boley and Matthew Herbert both expressed concerns during the campaign about that proposed location, saying they thought a hub should be at more of a destination location. That could mean other locations downtown would be considered, or perhaps some other commercial areas in other parts of the city. Currently, the hub is across the street from the library, but transit leaders have expressed concern about that location being cramped. They’ve liked the 21st and Iowa area because it is on ground already owned by the Kansas University Endowment Association, and it would allow the hub to be near the KU campus.
Get ready for a night of pomp, circumstance and free cookies at Lawrence City Hall. This year we may want to add popcorn to the list as well because Tuesday’s installation of new commissioners and an election of a mayor seem to have more drama than usual.
Normally, the election of a city commissioner to serve a one-year term as mayor has been pretty routine stuff. It is based on tradition — more on that in a moment — and tradition calls for Jeremy Farmer to become the next mayor of the city. Usually at this point in the process, everyone has agreed and all that is left is the formality of a vote.
But within the last several days, emails have been floating around from constituents urging that Farmer be bypassed for mayor and that the current mayor, Mike Amyx, be elected to serve another one-year term.
Bottom line, I think odds are good that Farmer will be the next mayor, but it is noteworthy that some commissioners have still yet to commit to that idea. I talked with both Commissioners-elect Stuart Boley and Leslie Soden. Both of them stopped short of saying they were ready to support Farmer for mayor.
“I think we just need to wait and see,” said Boley on Monday morning.
Soden said she also was still weighing that decision.
“Tradition is definitely important,” Soden said. “But with this election it seemed pretty clear that the city is looking for a new attitude from the City Commission. I don’t know. This one is a tough one to balance.”
Soden said she thinks the commission could go one of three ways for mayor: Farmer, Amyx or herself.
“I’m weighing all those options right now,” she said.
I think Farmer is still likely to become the next mayor because Monday morning Amyx threw his support behind Farmer. It was not clear that was going to be the case, but Amyx on Monday morning said he wanted to end any speculation about his intentions.
“Tradition has served us very well,” Amyx said. “Jeremy has worked hard over the last couple of years. He has been somebody who has been involved with a great number of things. He has put in his time as a commissioner and vice mayor and also during the election two years ago. He deserves to be in the position of mayor.”
As for Farmer, he said he’s ready to serve.
“It would be a privilege to be able to serve my community in that capacity,” Farmer said.
In terms of what has caused this unusual episode of ‘guess the next mayor,’ part of it is just the general discomfort voters showed with the current commission, evidenced by the fact both of the incumbents seeking re-election — Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm — failed in their bids. But Farmer said he understands that part of it is likely because he has irritated some constituents with a fairly aggressive style that sometimes has led to heated discussions with members of the public during City Commission meetings.
Farmer said he is working to change that demeanor.
“I’ve been trying to have a bigger ear than a bigger mouth,” Farmer said. “I want people to understand that I will be receptive. I’m going to be committed to transparency, openness and communication.”
In case you are confused about all this mayoral elections stuff, don’t feel bad. We did just have an election, so it is natural to think that the issue of mayor was settled through that process. But Lawrence, like many other cities, doesn’t directly elect a mayor. Instead, the five-member commission picks one of its own members to serve a one-year term as mayor.
An arm-wrestling tournament didn’t seem fair, so commissioners through the decades came up with a different type of tradition to pick a mayor. It basically goes like this: Whoever is vice mayor becomes mayor, and whoever was the top vote winner in the most recent election becomes vice mayor. Whoever was the second place vote winner in the election will be vice mayor the following year.
So, get out your scorecards and follow along. In 2013, Amyx was the top vote winner in the election. He became the vice mayor in April of 2013 and then became mayor in April 2014. Farmer was the second-place winner in the 2013 election, so he became vice mayor in April 2014 and is in line to become mayor on Tuesday. Soden was the top vote winner in last week’s election, so she is in line to become vice mayor on Tuesday and then mayor in April 2016. Boley was the second place winner last week and is in line to be vice mayor in April 2016 and then mayor in 2017. Matthew Herbert is the other new member elected on Tuesday. He finished third and receives only a two-year term and, by tradition, is not in the running for a mayoral spot.
Whew. Tradition can be tough to follow. But for the most part, city commissioners have followed this one. As near as anyone can remember, there have been two times in the past 30 some years that commissioners have deviated from the selection process. One time Nancy Shontz was bypassed and another time Mike Rundle was skipped.
We’ll see how this all goes on Tuesday. It does seem to have the potential to create a little tension among the commissioners, but perhaps not. The surest thing is that a new commission will be seated.
And yes, there will be some pomp and circumstance involved. There is a formal State of the City Address, a formal swearing in ceremony and, if tradition holds, a reception that includes free cookies for all.
That’s one tradition that I plan to hold onto — perhaps even with one in each hand.
Former Ramada Inn property at Sixth and Iowa to be razed for redevelopment; announcement expected soon on new tenant for BTBC
Keep your eyes open for a major change of scenery at Sixth and Iowa. Plans are in the works to demolish the former Ramada Inn building that sits just north and west of the busy intersection.
The building has not served as a Ramada for a long time, and housed a litany of other hotel chains in recent years. It recently closed, and a new ownership group plans to demolish the building in mid-May.
Lawrence-based Williams Management has bought the property from an East Coast bank. Adam Williams, leader of the development group, told me he doesn’t yet have specific plans for the nearly four-acre property. He is in discussions, though, with various groups. He said he became interested in the property because its commercial zoning allows for a number of uses. He said a new hotel is a possibility, as is an office building, retail development or even a gas station.
“We feel like we have a lot of options,” said Williams. “We really like the corner and the location.”
Williams — who is the developer who built the new Capital City Bank building and medical office building at Sixth and Folks Road — said the group had no interest in keeping the current building.
“It had become a tired hotel,” Williams said. “The property is in need of a change. I think the community will be glad to see it.”
Williams said an auction will be held May 3 to auction off the contents of the building, and then demolition is likely to begin a few weeks later. Williams said he hopes to have a more definitive plan about how to redevelop the property this summer.
“I don’t think it will be long until we identify what will happen with the property,” Williams said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re talking about properties at busy intersections to keep an eye on, it appears the Phoggy Dog at 2228 Iowa St. falls into that category. The longtime bar appears to be closed, although I’ve struggled to confirm that. I’ve had patrons email me that the establishment closed last week. I’ve tried to get in touch with the business operator, but have had no luck. I did go by the establishment last night and it was closed, although there weren’t any signs explaining whether there were plans to reopen. So take it for what it is worth.
For those of you not up on your current bar locations, the Phoggy Dog is in the shopping center on the northeast corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. For a long time the location was the home of King Arthur’s, which I’m pretty sure was a monarch in the 1990s who was almost entirely funded by proceeds from my ATM account.
Anyway, it is another prominent location that may be up for a change in scenery, although you would think another bar use is likely, given that the location is within walking distance of the Daisy Hill dormitories.
• I’m hearing there is going to be a positive announcement on the Lawrence economic development front. I believe a new tenant is going to be announced at the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on KU’s West Campus on Monday. My understanding is it may be a company looking to locate its headquarters here, and may be in the health field. Obviously, I’m still gathering information on this. I don’t have any word on how many employees the firm may employ, but the BTBC site is an incubator facility, so usually companies are on the smaller side with strong growth potential and good professional-level jobs. We should learn all the details on Monday.
Monday's announcement is not related to work that local economic development leaders have been doing to bring the first tenant to the new Lawrence VenturePark. But Larry McElwain, president and CEO of the chamber, told me that work is still continuing to go well. McElwain previously has said the community is in the running to land a large manufacturer that would occupy about 120 acres at the park and would employ about 125 people over the next five years. No word on when Lawrence may learn about the future of that project, but it sounds like it is a project whose leaders are still actively considering Lawrence.
Sales tax collections on the rise in early part of 2015; city sharpening pencil to build $50 million sewer plant on budget
While the forklift drivers are dutifully unloading all the clearance rack Easter candy at my house, there’s a new report out that shows Lawrence shoppers did a pretty good job of keeping the cash registers ringing during the Valentine’s Day period as well.
The latest sales tax report from the Kansas Department of Revenue shows taxable sales in Lawrence from the mid-February to mid-March period were up 4.2 percent compared with the same period a year ago. The year-to-date numbers for 2015 are even more impressive. Thus far, taxable sales — most of which are retail sales but also include sales taxes on items such as your utility bills — are up 5.6 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
The 5.6 percent growth rate puts Lawrence in the top half of the large retail centers in the state. Here’s a look at how other Kansas communities fared:
— Kansas City: up 6.4 percent — Lenexa: up 7.6 percent — Manhattan: up 3.4 percent — Overland Park: down 0.3 percent — Salina: up 5.6 percent — Sedgwick County: up 3.1 percent — Topeka: up 2.1 percent
It will be an interesting year to watch retail sales in Lawrence. There’s lots of activity on south Iowa Street. This year will be the first full year for Dick’s Sporting Goods in the market, PetSmart just recently opened its store next to Dick’s at 27th and Iowa streets. As we previously reported, Ulta Beauty and the Boot Barn also are scheduled to open later this year at the 27th and Iowa street shopping center. Then, just down the road, Menards will open the largest home improvement center in the city near 31st and Iowa. There are multiple pad sites available around that store, although there haven’t been signs yet that tenants have been found for those spaces. And there also is development out west. Sprouts is opening a new grocery store just north of the Sixth and Wakarsusa interchange.
All those stores have the potential to generate significant amounts of sales tax revenue, so it will be interesting to watch whether Lawrence’s sales tax totals over the next couple of years rise significantly. There’s certainly been a debate among some about whether the new stores will add new sales to the Lawrence market or whether it will just shift existing sales around. The numbers probably won’t be definitive. (That’s a way of saying we’ll probably continue to argue about that point.)
But thus far, retail sales in Lawrence are on an impressive run. In 2014, sales tax collections grew by 4.1 percent, which was the second fastest growth rate of the eight major cities that we track. That’s despite the fact that Lawrence continues to have per capita retail spending that is significantly less than other cities. In 2014, our per capita spending was $15,857. Fellow university community Manhattan had per capita spending of $19,236, or about 20 percent greater than Lawrence’s. Maybe Lawrence never will have per capita spending reach that level since we are so close to the major shopping areas in Kansas City.
But there certainly have been arguments that Lawrence can attract more outside-the-community shoppers from places such as Franklin County and Jefferson County who may find it more convenient to run into Lawrence than to deal with the larger crowds in Kansas City. If Lawrence could just increase its per capita spending — either through purchases made by Lawrence residents or by people outside the community coming here to shop — by 1 percent, it would add about $15 million in sales to the Lawrence economy. That $15 million in sales would add about $400,000 a year in new sales tax revenues to the city and county coffers.
If Lawrence somehow could grow its per capita spending levels to equal Manhattan’s, that would amount to about another $337 million a year in retail spending in the city. That would add about another $8.6 million to the sales tax coffers of the city and the county.
In other news and notes from around town:
• When it comes to big numbers, plans for a new sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River kind of take the cake at Lawrence City Hall. If you remember, bids for that project created a few too many big numbers last month. Commissioners rejected the bids after they came in about $5 million more than expected. Well, the project has been rebid, and the results have proved that the best way to get a project to come in closer to engineers' estimates is to . . . raise the engineers' estimates. Previously the sewer treatment plant had an engineers' estimate of $45.9 million. When the project was rebid, engineers increased the estimate to $51.3 million, largely because construction costs are on an upward trend right now.
New bids for the project did come in below the $51 million estimate, but are still above the $45 million to $46 million that city officials have budgeted for. Garney Construction submitted the low base bid at $47.15 million. Crossland Heavy Contractors was the only other bidder at $49.3 million.
City officials, though, are optimistic they’ll be able to make the new bid work. Unlike the last time the project was bid, the city asked for several bid alternates that will allow certain parts of the project to be deleted. By making some deletions, it appears the bulk of the project will be able to be constructed within that $45 million to $46 million range. That price range is important because anything above that would likely require sewer rate increases greater than those that already have been approved.
“The City Commission has made it clear that it wants to move ahead with this project, but it wants to move ahead within the already approved rate plan,” City Manager David Corliss said.
Staff members are looking at the possible deletions and are expected to make a recommendation to the commission in late April.
“But we have some good options now,” said Dave Wagner, the city’s director of utilities.
As far as what may be cut, some options are directly related to the technical sewage treatment operations of the plant, while others are related to office space, vehicle storage and other such ancillary functions.
City officials say the new plant is needed to help the city meet EPA treatment requirements and also to give the city the needed treatment capacity to grow in the coming decades.
Another urgent care medical clinic slated for Sixth Street; big announcements from Free State Festival; items of note from City Commission elections
If turkey-on-pita or that wonderfully catchy Spangles jingle was medicine for your body, you’re still out of luck in Lawrence. But soon you will be able to go see a doctor in the Sixth Street location that formerly housed the Spangles restaurant. (And, you can always ask the doctor to sing the jingle. You never know.)
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for MedExpress to locate in the former Spangles building at 3420 W. Sixth St. If you remember, the fast-food restaurant closed down in late 2013. MedExpress is a West Virgina-based walk-in health clinic that treats everything from broken bones, cuts and scrapes, colds and flus, and a host of other nonlife-threatening ailments.
According to its website, the walk-in clinics are open seven days a week from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. The company has locations in seven states, but it looks like the Lawrence clinic will be its first in Kansas.
It certainly won’t be the first to start the trend of walk-in health clinics coming to Lawrence. West Lawrence residents, I don’t know what you have been doing — but perhaps we can talk in private later — but doctors certainly have been interested in serving you lately. Just a couple of weeks ago we reported that another walk-in clinic company — XpressWellness Urgent Care — had filed plans to build near the corner of Sixth and Folks Road. That’s just a couple of blocks away from this site. Interestingly, Lawrence developer Doug Compton played a hand in both projects. XpressWellness is going into the Bauer Farm development that Compton is a part of, and the paperwork for MedExpress shows that Compton’s First Management now owns the Spangles building.
No word yet on when MedExpress plans to open. The site will undergo a significant renovation. For some reason, it appears the medical office will not be keeping all the 1950s diner-style neon that exists at the Spangles buildings. Plans call for most of the existing building to be demolished. A new structure that is about 2,000 square feet bigger will be built. All told, the clinic will be about 5,000 square feet.
In other news and notes from around town:
• This news is just in: For those of you who didn’t get enough funk in the recently completed election season, one of the masters of funk will be performing a live concert in Lawrence this summer as part of the Free State Festival. The Lawrence Arts Center announced this morning that George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic will be a headliner of the festival, which runs June 22-28.
Noted comedian Bobcat Goldthwait also will be in town for the festival. He’ll be screening a documentary that he directed about comedian Barry Crimmins. Look for more information about the complete festival lineup and more details about showtimes soon.
• My french fry habits alone put me much closer to Bill Clinton than George Clinton, so you should find it as no surprise that I’m better versed on politics than funk. Even though I suspect there are many of you sick of the political season, we should do a quick wrap-up of some items from last night’s City Commission elections. Here are some things I think we learned:
— It was an odd year for money in Lawrence politics. The top three vote winners in the election were the candidates who raised the least amount of money. Leslie Soden, the top vote-winner, raised just less than $7,000 for the entire campaign, according to the most recent filings. The top fundraiser, Stan Rasmussen, raised just more than $25,000. He finished fifth in the six candidate field. The second-highest fundraiser, Bob Schumm, finished sixth. Couple this with the fact that supporters of the police headquarters sales tax greatly outspent opponents in November but still lost. Perhaps the role of money is changing in local politics. Perhaps social media is making it easier to run grassroots campaigns. Perhaps we just caught voters in a particular mood. Likely, it is a bit of all three.
— Any money that even looks like it may have touched the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity or other such conservative causes is poison to the touch in Lawrence. That seems to be the most likely explanation for why Rasmussen fell from second-place in the March primary to fifth place in the general election. Rasmussen had to deal with a controversy in the final week of the campaign as some voters expressed concern about $4,500 in donations that he took — and then later returned — from a prominent southeast Kansas family involved in conservative political causes. Rasmussen tried to explain that the money from the Crossland family came to him because he was a classmate with the elder Crossland in Leadership Kansas, not because the two shared political philosophies. For what it is worth, several people have come forward and said Rasmussen really isn’t a conservative in the ilk of Crossland. But Lawrence voters, it appears, take no chances on that front.
— This may be the last April election we have. One of the items that got a bit of talk in political circles last night is whether the Kansas Legislature will approve a law that would move the city and school board elections to even numbered years in November. County Clerk Jamie Shew told me he thinks the bill has a real chance of approval. City and school elections would still be nonpartisan but they would be on the ballot with partisan races such as governor and presidential races. Now that the campaigning is done, I’m going to look at that bill more, and I’ll report back. The implication could be large though. For one, some members of the City Commission will have to have their terms adjusted, if elections move to even numbered years. The bigger implication, though, may be how it changes the voter mix in Lawrence. Generally, KU students don’t come out to vote in City Commission elections. Generally, they do for presidential elections. If there are City Commission names on the ballot, will they vote in that race as well? It has the potential to be a game-changer.
Farmer proposes monthly potluck dinner with city commissioners, other changes if he is elected mayor; study finds Kansas vehicle tax rates among the highest
Let’s be honest; we’ve all suspected for a while that the answer at Lawrence City Hall is more pea salad and fruit-infused Jell-O. No? Well, it might be. City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer says he plans to propose, if he is chosen to be mayor, a monthly community potluck with city commissioners as a way to open up lines of communication with residents.
In his weekly email update, Farmer says he plans to propose several changes to how City Commission meetings are structured, if he indeed is chosen by his fellow commissioners to be mayor later this month. Farmer currently is the vice mayor and, if tradition holds, he’ll be elected to serve a one-year term as mayor beginning at the April 14 meeting. The five-member City Commission each year chooses one of its members to serve as mayor.
Here’s a look at how Farmer envisions City Commission meetings:
— The first Tuesday of each month would continue to be business as usual: a 5:45 p.m. meeting at City Hall.
— The second Tuesday of each month would be a “City Commission community conversation” that would be held at various neighborhood locations. At 5:45 p.m. commissioners and members of the public would have a potluck dinner together. There would be time for conversation afterward as well.
“I think these meetings should be a place where we have a dialogue with people who show up about things that matter most to them,” Farmer wrote in his blog. “We get input, talk together about ideas, concerns, celebrate things that are happening in our community as elected officials.”
Farmer proposes that these gatherings would be taped and later broadcast. I’m not sure if the actual eating would be taped. If so, I’m predicting that me eating pea salad will become the next great reality television hit.
— The third Tuesday of each month would be business as usual: a 5:45 p.m. meeting at City Hall.
— The fourth Tuesday of each month would be a City Commission study session held at various locations around town. The main difference between a study session and City Commission meeting is that commissioners can’t take any binding votes at a study session. Normally a study session focuses on just one or two items. Commissioners hear reports from staff members and other people they believe have information to share, but public comment traditionally is not accepted. Farmer suggests these study sessions would be taped and later broadcast on the city’s cable channel.
We’ll see what comes of these ideas. Any changes to the City Commission meeting structure would have to be approved by the City Commission. The idea of changing the way the commission meets has come up before. For years, the concern has been that commissioners get caught up in doing the week-to-week routing of approvals and ordinary debates that happen during the course of a regular City Commission meeting, and they rarely find time to discuss the broader issues facing the city.
More recently, a concern expressed by some commissioners is that they haven’t done enough to bring the discussion to residents of the city. That has sparked the idea of having City Commission meetings at other locations. And perhaps that is what has sparked the food idea as well because — let’s face it — a standard City Commission meeting is probably not the most exciting game in town on a Tuesday night. But throw in some food . . . (Plus, if I’m required to bring a dish, you’ll want to show up just to see what I will put mayonnaise on. Miracle Whip on a pear . . . fantastic.)
In his latest email update, Farmer certainly addressed, in a fairly frank manner, how he thought he has fallen short in the category of connecting with residents.
“I have made decisions I can live with, and others which cause me great amounts of stress still,” Farmer wrote of his first two years on the commission. “I stumbled upon one of my campaign walk cards around the first of the year, and in it, contained a set of values. Those values, I can honestly say, I was not adhering to.
“One of the main ones was to tell you that your voice mattered. Don’t get me wrong, it always has. But I was doing a lot more talking and defending than I was listening, and for that, I am truly sorry.”
We’re set to have an interesting time at Lawrence City Hall. Voters will choose a new commission on Tuesday, that new commission will choose a new city manager in the coming months, and we soon may have a new mayor who has ideas that some will consider nontraditional.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I knew there was a reason my mayonnaise budget had been strained in recent months: automobile taxes. The folks at the financial website WalletHub have put out a new study that found Kansas has the third highest vehicle property taxes in the country.
The study found that the national average amount paid in vehicle property taxes for a person owning a new car — specifically the study used the top-selling 2015 Toyota Camry — was $423 for the year. But in Kansas, the average was $905. Only Virginia at $962 and Rhode Island at $1,133 paid more than Kansas motorists. It also is worth noting that only 27 of the state have a vehicle property tax, according to the WalletHub study.
In terms of how our neighbors fared, here’s a look:
— Colorado: $410
— Missouri: $595
— Nebraska: $340
— Oklahoma: No tax
The study also looked at average property taxes paid on real estate. Kansas also fared in the bottom half of that study. Kansans paid an average of $2,411 in real estate property taxes. That ranked 37th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The national average was $2,089. The study used Census data to come up with the averages. It appears it is looking only at property taxes paid on homes.
Here’s a look at how our neighbors fared in the real estate property tax category:
— Colorado: $1,089
— Missouri: $1,749
— Nebraska: $3,228
— Oklahoma: $1,499
Police PAC issues statement against Soden; Board of Realtors PAC gets nearly $15K from national organization; SLT concept plan could create major changes near Clinton Parkway
A sturdy seat belt may be a good item for Lawrence voters to have, because the twist and turns in the final days of the Lawrence City Commission campaign have been significant. The two most recent: the political arm of Lawrence police officers is squaring off with front-runner Leslie Soden, and approximately $15,000 in outside money recently has been injected into the City Commission race from a national Realtor group.
First, Lawrence police officers and their concerns about Soden, the top vote-winner in last month’s primary election. The Lawrence Police Officers’ Association Political Action Committee has issued a formal statement about why it doesn’t think Soden is suitable to serve as a city commissioner. The group said that as it was researching candidates to support, it found several social media messages on Twitter that raised concerns about her attitudes towards the police.
“If one were to view Ms. Soden’s social media activity, and her failure to tour existing police facilities to educate herself on one of the most discussed issues of this year’s campaign, it shows she is willing to make decisions not based on facts and vital information but upon uneducated and incorrect assertions,” the group said in its statement. “This demonstrates that she lacks the mature judgment needed by a Commissioner, and if elected to the City Commission it could be to the detriment to our community.”
This twist in the campaign should be interesting to watch because the social media messages in question likely are going to be viewed differently by different folks. First, it is important to note that none of the messages actually were written by Soden. They rather were all retweeted or favorited. (For those of you who confine your tweeting activity to bird shows, think of “retweeting” or “favoriting” sort of like forwarding an e-mail message, although, in this case, to multiple people at a time.)
There are some tweets that Soden forwarded or favorited that bring up questions of race relations between the police officers and the communities they serve. These tweets came in the aftermath of the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Here are a couple of examples:
— Soden retweeted an Aug. 17 message from Max Berger, an organizer with the Occupy movement, that read: “#Ferguson is the perfect storm of America’s problems: war equipment from Iraq used to suppress poor people angry about a racist murder.”
— On Sept. 19, Soden favorited a tweet by Jason Barr, a prolific Lawrence-area Twitter user. It read: “Cops arresting a guy with a huge assault rifle at Dillons on 6th. A (expletive) assault rifle. He was white . . . so they didn’t shoot him. #LFK”
Soden told me she can understand how some people may be concerned about the social media messages when “they are taken out of context.” She said she was very interested in the news of the day surrounding the Ferguson shooting and its aftermath. She said she thinks the discussion happening in the wake of the Ferguson shooting is very important for people involved in community leadership to pay attention to. She said she retweeted the messages because they showed the emotion of the debate. She said she doesn’t necessarily agree with all the sentiments expressed in the tweets.
“They were just retweets,” Soden said. “They weren’t my words. It showed a lot of emotion. There were a lot of emotional messages that people were sending out. It showed this is something people were experiencing very intensely.”
The police officers association in total included 40 tweets that it said were examples of messages that “demonstrate a lack of understanding of issues facing law enforcement and the communities they police.” If you want to look for yourself, you can see Soden’s full Twitter feed here. It is worth noting that about half-dozen of the messages cited by the police group were simply retweets from news organizations such as the Associated Press, NPR, CNN and LJWorld that were providing updates on the Ferguson situation.
Soden said she wants people to understand she thinks Lawrence police officers are doing a good job in serving the community.
“Any police officers I have encountered in Lawrence, I’ve had good interactions with them,” Soden said. “I think they do a great job. There are probably people in town who don’t agree with that, but my experience has been good.”
One issue the police officers association raised is that Soden hasn’t been on a tour of the current police facilities. She said that is correct. Soden said she’s attended several city presentations on the condition of police facilities, but hasn’t yet taken a tour. She said she’s already convinced that police facilities need to be upgraded and expanded. She expects a formal City Commission tour of the facilities will be one of the activities of the new commission.
Soden said she thinks this most recent statement by the police officers association is a sign of frustration.
“I understand that they are frustrated that they were not the top priority for past commissioners,” Soden said. “And I’m sure the failure of the sales tax in November was frustrating too. But for the past few months I have been telling anyone and everyone that public safety is my top priority. I really am looking forward to working on that issue.”
Soden, during her campaign, has been advocating for examining the entire “emergency services system,” which includes the police, the fire department, the hospital and the jail. She said such a review may lead to ways that the community can reduce the demand for police services.
All six candidates in the field have supported improvements for police facilities, but Soden has differentiated herself from several other candidates by saying she wants to study whether existing facilities could be upgraded or expanded before looking at $26 million plan to build an entirely new police headquarters.
“I agree that we have issues with our current facilities,” Soden said. “I don’t know why they are in the shape they are now. I totally think it needs to be a top priority. But to build a new facility so soon after the voters rejected that idea, I’m not sure.”
• On to Twist No. 2. The newly formed Lawrence Realtors Political Action Committee filed its required campaign finance report with the Douglas County Clerk’s office yesterday. It showed two contributions to the PAC: $300 from the Lawrence Board of Realtors and $14,645.49 from the National Association of Realtors based in Chicago.
If you remember last week, there was an uproar over outside campaign donations perhaps influencing local races. Given that, I wanted to check in on this donation, which to my memory is the largest single donation related to a Lawrence City Commission race.
Crystal Swearingen, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, told me this morning that members of the local board of Realtors periodically make donations to the national political action committee for the National Association of Realtors. One of the programs of the national PAC is to provide grant money to local boards of Realtors to use in local races. Swearingen said the local board this year decided it wanted to get more active in the Lawrence City Commission race, in part because the next commission is expected to deal with updates to Horizon 2020 and other planning documents that directly will impact the residential home industry.
Swearingen said the local PAC is using the money to send postcards and buy advertising to support the three candidates it has endorsed, Stan Rasmussen, Terry Riordan and Matthew Herbert.
“We just want to make sure people understand how these issues may impact property owners,” Swearingen said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• A little more than 100 people went to a public open house regarding concept plans to expand the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway to four-lanes. As we have reported previously, the project won’t be as simple as just adding two more lanes to the existing bypass.
The latest concept plans give an idea of how much could change along the western route of the road. Specifically, some new interchanges may be built, and there’s even talk of eliminating the existing Clinton Parkway interchange. Nothing is close to being set in stone. The state doesn’t have the money currently budgeted to build another two lanes, so any project is years away. But the Kansas Department of Transportation does hope to settle on a concept plan within the next year.
Here’s a look at some of the major ideas floated in the current draft version of the concept plan:
— Moving the existing Clinton Parkway interchange to the south. A map shows a location that would be just north and west of where Wakarusa Drive currently intersects with the SLT near the YSI sports complex. Planners do not like the at-grade intersection that exists at Wakarusa/27th Street near YSI. It has been dangerous. The concept plan notes that creating an interchange at the Wakarusa Drive location “would be challenging” due to several right-of-way issues. A new interchange to the north and west, however, could provide access to the YSI complex, if some new frontage roads are built. But that new interchange would mean the existing interchange for Clinton Parkway would be removed. KDOT planners have said they are open to that idea, in part, because the Clinton Parkway interchange currently is the least used on the SLT. Removing the interchange, however, may create new difficulties for people wanting to get to Clinton State Park.
— Changes to the roadway alignment near the existing Clinton Parkway interchange. If you remember, that is where the road takes a big curve. Planners say the arc of the curve would make it difficult for the road to safely have a 70 mph speed limit. The arc of the curve likely would need to be lessened, which would bring the road much closer to existing residential development or perhaps would require some houses to be relocated. Here’s a map that shows what they’re talking about.
— A new interchange where the SLT and Inverness Drive would intersect. The interchange would be south and east of the existing Wakarusa/27th Street intersection. It also could provide an alternative route to the YSI complex. If built, planners have said they would add an overpass for Wakarusa and the SLT.
— Changes where Kasold Drive intersects with the SLT. The concept plan says that intersection needs to be removed for safety reasons. The planners also have ruled out the idea of an interchange due to floodplain concerns and too little space between that location and the U.S. Highway 59 interchange. The concept plan notes an underpass that would allow Kasold to get across the SLT is a possibility.
– Major changes to the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. That’s the interchange that connects the SLT to the Kansas Turnpike. Planners want that interchange to be completely free-flowing, meaning motorists wouldn’t have to travel through any at-grade intersections. That design, though, will be tough to accomplish if access to North 1800 Road — also known as Farmers Turnpike — is allowed to remain at the interchange.
Planners are contemplating that a new Kansas Turnpike interchange could be built at Queens Road, just east of the current Lecompton interchange. The Queens Road interchange would allow motorists to have access to North 1800 Road. Once built access to North 1800 Road at the Lecompton interchange would be eliminated.
Another possibility is a new interchange at County Route 1029, which is a bit west of the existing Lecompton interchange. County Route 1029 leads directly into Lecompton. That new interchange also would allow access to North 1800 Road.
Here’s a map that goes over some of the ideas. As I said before, the project is years away, but the talk that is going on today could be very significant in shaping Lawrence’s transportation future. KDOT intends to have another public meeting this summer where it presents a revised version of the concept plans.
75th Anniversary of The Duke and 75,000 fans in Lawrence; police officers association endorses three for City Commission
Well, Pilgrim, cinch up your saddle, pull your hat down tight and mosey over to to the popcorn trough. There’s a new excuse for Lawrence residents to watch a John Wayne movie in the coming days. (As a bonus, we also can walk around saying words like pilgrim, sarsaparilla and boy-howdy without people looking at us odd. Why are you still looking at me odd?)
Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of John Wayne coming to Lawrence as part of the world premier of his 1940 motion picture "Dark Command." The movie wasn’t filmed in Lawrence — if you have ever watched it, you’ll get a kick out of the scenery around Lawrence — but the plot was based in Lawrence. The movie is loosely based on Quantrill’s Raid of the city. The villain and John Wayne’s nemesis in the film is a fellow by the name of William Cantrell.
To hear some people tell it, the 1940 event is one of the standout pre-war memories people have of Lawrence. A Journal-World staff writer reminisced on the event in a 1998 Journal-World article. It was estimated that more than 75,000 people turned out in downtown Lawrence for the festivities surrounding the world premiere. There was a parade that was estimated to be “more than two miles long as hundreds of local horse fanciers and motorcade fans” joined in the festivities. Both John Wayne and Gene Autry were in town for the event. Wayne was the star of the film. Autry was not in the film but was in town for the event. Roy Rogers, however, was in the movie, although he did not sing in the film. (Cantrell surely would have been brought to justice earlier if there had been more song and dance.)
The Eldridge Hotel hosted many of the film’s stars and had banners draped all over it, including one that read “Lawrence Welcomes Hollywood.”
It is an interesting piece of Lawrence history, and you can learn more about it at the Watkins Museum of History. The museum at 11th and Massachusetts will unveil an exhibit about the movie and the world premier event on April 18. However, the museum has a small display up now. On April 18, the museum will host three screenings of "Dark Command" at 10:30, 12:30 and 2:30.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The Lawrence City Commission race is really in the homestretch now, which means more groups and organizations are announcing their endorsement of candidates. The latest group is the Lawrence Police Officers Association Political Action Committee. It has endorsed candidates Stan Rasmussen, Matthew Herbert and Terry Riordan. That is the same trio of candidates that recently won the endorsement of the Lawrence Board of Realtors. It is always unclear how much these endorsements help a candidate, but two of these three certainly were left with some work to do after March’s primary election. Riordan finished fourth in the primary and Herbert finished fifth. Only the top three vote winners in the General Election will win a seat on the City Commission.
The General Election is on Tuesday.
• I’m getting lots of questions these days about the election and also a lot of questions about the future of City Manager David Corliss. As you may remember, we reported a couple of weeks ago, Corliss is a finalist for the town manager job in Castle Rock, Colo. That’s still the case. The town of about 50,000 people outside of Denver has not yet made an announcement. But I’m expecting one soon. I suspect we’ll have an answer on Corliss’ future before we have an answer on who the next city commissioners will be. I’ve received no definitive word on what will happen in Castle Rock, but just reading the tea leaves around City Hall, I think city commissioners are preparing as if they’ll soon be searching for a new city manager. But perhaps we’ll all be surprised. It should become much clearer soon.
Lawrence lands on more national lists; a bike repair station at City Hall; details on city’s latest affordable housing project
I am woefully behind on telling you how much other people like us. In short: Quite a lot. That’s my way of saying that Lawrence and some Lawrence businesses have landed on more national lists.
We’ll start in the world of restaurants. The travel website The Culture Trip has put together a list of the “10 Best Restaurants in Kansas.” Downtown Lawrence is home to four of the 10. This is a sign of one of two things: 1. Downtown Lawrence truly is the culinary capital of Kansas. 2. A Culture Trip editor had one too many Ad Astra Ales at Free State and never made it to any other city. (Raise your hand if that has happened to you.)
Regardless, Free State Brewery is on the list. The article also touts The Burger Stand, 715 Restaurant and Merchants Pub and Plate. Restaurants in Manhattan, Council Grove, Wichita, and Kansas City all made the list as well. The one that sounded the most interesting, though, was in Assaria, a town of about 400 people in Saline County. The Renaissance Cafe operates in the former Assaria High School. According to the article, tables are arranged on the old gym floor, and stocked bookshelves are a fixture of the restaurant. Hopefully, it still has a place to hang up heavily adorned letter jackets because this sounds like a place I need to visit.
In terms of Lawrence’s other ranking, the website CollegeRanker has Lawrence ranked as No. 2 on its 50 Best College Towns to Live in Forever. I suspect this also has something to do with Free State beer, although the article doesn’t own up to it. Instead, it lists Lawrence’s thriving music scene, and mentioned a 2007 ranking that listed The Replay Lounge as one of the top 25 bars in America. When you are talking about forever, it is very important to have a good bar nearby.
Manhattan also made the list at No. 26. I’m not really sure what criteria was used to rank these towns, but Lawrence finished one spot ahead of Ft. Collins, Colo., and one spot behind our arch rival . . . St. Augustine, Fla., home to Flagler College.
In other news and notes around town:
• If I were creating a list of the best places to get a flat tire on your bike in Lawrence (I know, there’s already an online list for that, but play along), Lawrence City Hall would be near the top of it. Why? Because the city has recently installed a bicycle repair station outside the east entrance.
In case you think I’m jesting, here's a picture.
The repair station has several hand tools secured via cables. Tightening a loose nut or making chain repairs, brake adjustments and that sort of thing can be done at the bike station. It also has an air pump, and despite it being located at City Hall, it does not dispense hot air. (Calm down, people. It’s all right. I’m sure politicians make good-natured jokes about journalists from time to time.)
The bike repair station is actually something to keep an eye on. There has been a lot of talk about making Lawrence more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. This bike station is meant as a pilot project. City staff members will monitor use and feedback from the bicycle community. If bikers find it useful, there may be others installed along frequent bike routes and trails.
• Another big topic in the city is affordable housing and attracting retirees. Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday night provided a boost to both efforts. As we reported, the city provided about $100,000 in incentives via fee rebates and some in-kind infrastructure work for Tenants to Homeowners’ Cedarwood Senior Cottages project at 2525 Cedarwood Ave. in south Lawrence.
Now that the project has the key city approval, Rebecca Buford, executive director of the not-for-profit Tenants to Homeowners, said she hopes the 14-unit townhome project will be ready for tenants this time next year. Dirt work already has begun on the site, which is behind the United Way building.
Buford also gave me some details about rent rates. Nine units will serve low-income seniors, and they’ll rent from $527 to $687 per month, depending on whether it is a one-bedroom or two-bedroom unit. Five units will be reserved for low-to-moderate income seniors, and they’ll rent for about $795 per month.
Buford estimates that the units — which have garages, front and back porches, fiber optic wiring, a community center and shared gardens — will rent for about $200 to $300 less than standard market rates in Lawrence.
Seniors will have to meet income guidelines to qualify. Buford said her organization is putting together an information packet for prospective tenants, but already she has a list of more than 50 people who are interested. If you want to be added to the list, call the Tenants to Homeowners office at 842-5494.
Buford said she hopes the Cedarwood Project will serve as template for Tenants to Homeowners to build other such senior, affordable housing in other neighborhoods.
“The demand for this type of housing is very strong,” Buford said.
New campaign finance reports in City Commission race; Rasmussen apologizes for accepting Crossland donations and returns funds; City Hall details projects to delay if police HQ moves ahead
It is donation season in the world of Lawrence politics. Voters may be looking for donations of earplugs. (We did, after all, just have two candidate forums within a span of 10 hours, a health forum last night and one with Downtown Lawrence Inc. this morning.) But candidates are seeking campaign donations, and the most recent report on how much they’ve raised is out.
In a nutshell, Stuart Boley, the third-place finisher in the primary election, was the top fundraiser in this most recent reporting period. Boley raised $8,011.95 between Feb. 20 and March 26. That’s more than $2,000 better than any of his competitors. If you remember, the top three vote winners in the April 7 election will receive a seat on the commission. So, Boley finished the primary right on the edge.
Here’s a summary of all the candidates’ fundraising activity. You can see their complete reports that list the names of individual donors and how much the candidates are spending on advertising and such at the Douglas County Clerk’s website.
• Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation to Boley were: Michael Wasikowski, an operations research analyst for U.S. government; Ellen Reid Gold, a retired professor; NE Kansas Building & Construction Trades Council; and Michael Wasikowski again. Individuals are allowed to give a maximum of $500 before the primary election and another $500 after the primary. Wasikowski’s donations met that requirement, according to the report filed by Boley’s campaign.
• Matthew Herbert, a Lawrence High teacher and owner of a property management company, raised $3,075. Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation were: Mike Wasikowski, an operations research analyst for U.S. government; and the Kansas Realtors PAC. Those of you who look at Herbert’s filing may notice a $150 donation from Oread LLC. To limit confusion, that company is not associated with The Oread hotel. Herbert has been critical of City Commission action to give tax breaks to hotel companies, including The Oread. Oread LLC is a company controlled by Lawrence developer and apartment complex owner Duane Schwada.
• Stan Rasmussen, an attorney for the U.S. Army, raised $5,310 during the period. Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation were: LBRE, LLC, a real estate organization; Anderson Family Trust; Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union #441; NE Kansas Building and Construction Trades Council; and the Kansas Realtors PAC. Rasmussen was in the news recently for his previous acceptance of about $4,500 in contributions from the Crossland family and its businesses, which are based in southeast Kansas and noted for support of conservative causes across the state. Rasmussen’s most recent report listed no contributions from that family. More on that below.
• Terry Riordan, a current city commissioner and a Lawrence physician, raised $6,063 during the period. However, $2,728 came from a loan from himself. Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation were: Kansas Realtors PAC.
• Bob Schumm, a current city commissioner and retired restaurant owner, raised $4,285 during the period. Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation were: William and Karla Fleming, an attorney in real estate development; Treanor Consulting, a local architecture and development firm; Flint Hills Development Group, a developer in the East Lawrence warehouse arts district; Sally Hare-Schriner, an arts educator; and Daniel Schriner, a builder/filmmaker.
• Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet sitting company, raised $2,765 during the reporting period. Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation were: Elaine St. James, a writer.
It is important to remember that this most recent report covers just one reporting period. There have been three periods during the campaign. When you add them all up, the fundraising race shakes out this way:
Riordan: $14,728, although he has given himself more than $3,000 in loans.
So, what does all that mean when it comes to who will win in the April 7 election? Well, perhaps not as much as it used to. If you remember, Soden was the 1st place finisher in the primary election, and she’s raised the least amount of money. Schumm, with more than $18,000 in campaign funds, finished sixth in the primary.
Now, as many stockbrokers from Leavenworth will tell you, past results aren’t a predictor of future performance, but the role money is playing in local elections does seem to be changing. My theory is that social media has made it easier to build successful grassroots campaigns, and a good grassroots campaign is still enough to get you elected in a relatively small town like Lawrence. I think the election that may go down as Exhibit 1 for that theory is the sales tax election for a new police headquarters. Supporters of that sales tax just crushed the opponents of the sales tax in terms of money raised and spent on the campaign. But the sales tax still failed at the polls.
Another number that I found interesting is that the amount of money flowing into local City Commission races is down from our high-water mark by quite a bit. By my memory, the 2007 election was kind of the zenith for campaign donations for City Commission races. I pulled up our old article on that race and found that Mike Dever during that campaign raised a whopping $35,610. Rob Chestnut was close behind at $33,978. Others raised a lot, too. That 2007 race attracted a little more than $128,000 in campaign donations to the six finalists. That’s compared to about $88,000 in this race.
One thing to keep an eye on, though, is political action committees that spend money on their own to get a candidate elected. Those dollars don’t show up in the candidates contributions. If a PAC donates directly to a candidate, that shows up on the candidate’s report. But if a PAC sends out a mailer asking voters to support a candidate, that doesn’t show up on a candidate’s report. Some of that has been going on. Thus far, the real estate community has been the most frequent mailer in the campaign, I believe.
But the relatively new local PAC Lawrence United has not been a big player yet in this election. Two years ago it was one of the bigger spenders on the campaign scene. But this time the group, which promotes a pro-growth agenda, has been quiet. The group reported that it received no donations during this most recent period, and that it only spent $99 on some campaign analytics. The group, however, still has more than $15,000 left over from the last election that it could spend in the final days of the campaign. No word on whether the group plans to become active in the closing days of the race.
In other news and notes around town:
• Rasmussen notified me this morning that he has sent refund checks to members of the Crossland family, which had donated about $4,500 to his city commission campaign. The contributions had caused some members of the public to raise concerns because the Crossland family is based outside of Lawrence and has been active in statewide politics and promoting conservative causes.
A Crossland-owned construction company also is bidder for the approximately $50 million wastewater treatment plant, which is a bid the next commission will award. Rasmussen said that fact particularly troubled him, and played a role in his decision to return the money. (The Crossland bid came after the family had made a donation to Rasmussen’s campaign, in case you are interested in the timing of it.)
Rasmussen released this statement about the matter:
“I have reflected on questions and concerns that have been raised about out of town campaign contributions I accepted from the Crossland family and some of their businesses. I take these concerns seriously.
"I'm sorry I accepted these funds. I am not an experienced politician. I have never before run for office. When the campaign began, I sent an e-mail to friends and associates from across the state asking for contributions to my campaign. I have received donations from a variety of people, and a total of $4,500 was received from a Leadership Kansas classmate of mine, several businesses he owns, and his family. These were some of the very first contributions I received, and at the time, I was appreciative and excited for the investment in my campaign. However, I was naive to not recognize the potential for concern in receiving a large sum of money from a single business interest. To compound this error in judgment, I have now learned that Crossland Construction was one of the bidders on the City’s new wastewater treatment project, and that troubles me greatly. While I do not feel that I've been inappropriately influenced by the contributions, I understand why people may question that. I can't just talk about transparency and trust. I must also act with integrity.
"This has been a good learning experience for me, and I am trying to do everything I can to make it right. On Monday morning, I contacted the Kansas Governmental Ethics Office for information on how to return the funds even though the checks were cashed and the money spent during the primary. Based on their advice, refund checks were mailed on Monday afternoon to Mr. Crossland, his family and his businesses.”
• There’s a new memo out of Lawrence City Hall that also may get some talk in the final days of the campaign. City Manager David Corliss has provided his most detailed explanation yet for how the city could build a new $26 million police headquarters building without raising property or sales taxes. As we have reported before, the crux of any such proposal would involve delaying several other projects. Now we have a list of projects that Corliss has identified for delay. Here’s a look:
— The rehabilitation of Fire Station No. 1 — the station located downtown — would be moved from 2015-16 to 2018-19;
— The reconstruction of Kasold Drive from Sixth Street to Bob Billings would be moved from 2016-17 to 2017-18;
— Construction of 19th Street from Harper to the new VenturePark would be moved from 2016 to 2017;
—The reconstruction of Wakarusa Drive from Inverness/Legends to Sixth Street would be moved from 2016-17 to 2018;
— City funding to rebuild Queens Road in West Lawrence would be moved from 2017 to 2019;
— Reconstruction of portions of East 23rd Street would be moved from 2018-19 to 2019-20
— Reconstruction of Kasold from Clinton Parkway to the entrance of Hy-Vee would be moved from 2018 to 2020.
— Plans to find space to combine the city’s building inspections department and the planning office into a central “one-stop shop” location would be delayed until at least 2021.
One project that doesn’t get delayed is plans to rebuild portions of Ninth Street as part of a program to create an arts corridor in East Lawrence. Corliss said the project could use infrastructure sales tax money approved by voters in 2008, but that will require scrapping plans to rebuild Wakarusa Drive from Research Parkway to Clinton Parkway.
The other big change that would be required in the city’s budget is that money that was to be set aside for Parks and Recreation maintenance projects and some operating funds would be shifted to the police headquarters project. Corliss has said the department would have enough money to do routine maintenance of its facilities, but he is warning that more significant maintenance projects wouldn’t have an identified funding source. He also told commissioners it would severely hamper the city’s ability to add new parks for the next 20 years.
“Very little funding would be available for any significant capital improvement projects for Parks and Recreation for the 20-year term of the debt,” the memo states. “This would include both new park additions, new recreation facilities, and major maintenance of existing facilities.”
City staff members released the memo late Monday. City commissioners are scheduled to discuss it at their meeting this evening. Corliss has said there are other scenarios that would include other projects that could be delayed, but there are "a number of consequences that much be analyzed with each option."
New numbers out on Lawrence job growth; City Commission to consider $100K in incentives for affordable housing project
Usually in Lawrence, talk of a streak involves KU basketball, or that unfortunate incident that has you doing community service. But there is another streak we ought to talk about: Lawrence’s winning streak when it comes to jobs.
The latest federal report is out, and the Lawrence metro area in 2014 posted job gains every single month. The new numbers show that job totals in Lawrence were up for January 2015, as well. In fact, I did a little digging to figure out when the last month was that Lawrence saw a dip in jobs. The numbers show it was all the way back in Sept. 2013. That’s 16 straight months of year-over-year job growth.
If you remember, we have reported a few times over the last year about some job numbers that have looked good for Lawrence. There was a time when a report came out that said the Lawrence metro area had the highest job growth rate of any metro in the country in August 2014. (The number ultimately got revised downward, and that is why I have an only half-finished bust of the Chamber CEO in my living room.)
But the numbers have been impressive nonetheless. All these numbers, by the way, are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and its monthly Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment report. When I say Lawrence had job growth in a month, I mean that it had more jobs in that month than it did in the same month a year ago. Here’s a look at our year-over-year job growth rate by percentage in 2014:
— January: 1.4 percent
— February: 2.7 percent
— March: 3.1 percent
— April: 4.6 percent
— May: 4.0 percent
— June: 5.4 percent
— July: 7.1 percent
— August: 4.6 percent
— September: 2.2 percent
— October: 3.9 percent
— November: 1.3 percent
— December: 1.5 percent
Usually in Lawrence, the question of “What did you do last summer?” will cause you to worry greatly about your kids becoming college-age. But in 2014, it appears the answer was that a lot of people got a job. It looks like Lawrence’s job growth resurgence peaked in July.
It also is worth nothing that in most of the months of 2014, Lawrence posted the largest job growth rate of any city in Kansas. (Note: The BLS counts Kansas City as a Missouri metro area, so Lawrence was competing against Manhattan, Topeka and Wichita.)
The latest report gives us our first peek at 2015. So far, so good. The report shows there were 51,300 jobs located in Douglas County in January. That’s up from 49,800 in January 2014. That’s a 3 percent growth rate, which is better than several other regional communities. Here’s a look at the preliminary numbers:
— Kansas City: up 3.2 percent
— Manhattan: up 1.7 percent
— Topeka: up 1.7 percent
— Wichita: up 0.9 percent
— Ames, Iowa: up 4.9 percent
— Columbia, Mo.: up 1.7 percent
— Joplin, Mo.: up 2.0 percent
— St. Joseph: up 0.3 percent
Now, it is not all Champagne and roses yet when it comes to Lawrence job numbers. First, we don’t know much about these new jobs. Are they full time, good-paying jobs, or have we just seen an increase in part-time jobs in the service sector? At this point, it would just be a guess. On the job front, the two largest developments over the last year have been Hallmark Cards growing the workforce total at its Lawrence production plant, and General Dynamics adding significant numbers of people to its call center in East Hills Business Park.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Lawrence really has been stagnant on the job growth front for quite awhile. In other words, we’ve got a lot of time to make up for. I did an article in November, where I looked at our job growth performance over the last 10 years. I found that Douglas County’s job growth rate was negative 1.1 percent. During that same time period Johnson County had job growth of 10.6 percent, Riley County 15.6 percent, Wyandotte County 10.8 percent, and Sedgwick County 1.3 percent. The only metro area with negative job growth — other than Douglas County — was Shawnee County. It had negative job growth of 1 percent, which was a bit better than’ Douglas County’s showing.
But as each month passes, those numbers become a little more dated. A new narrative may be forming, and we all may soon have a new story to tell about a streak.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Both incentives and affordable housing have been a buzzword topics on the City Commission election trail. On Tuesday night, it will be a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment at the City Commission meeting. (Your peanut butter got into my chocolate, or maybe it was the other way around.) Regardless, what I’m trying to say is that affordable housing and incentives are wrapped up in a single issue.
City commissioners will consider approving about $100,000 worth of incentives for a Tenants to Homeowners project that will provide affordable housing to people 55 and older. As we’ve previously reported, Tenants to Homeowners has plans to build the Cedarwood Senior Cottages project at 125 Cedarwood Ave., which is behind the United Way building in south Lawrence. The $2.1 million project is expected to have 14 affordably priced town homes for seniors, along with some other amenities.
But leaders of the project say it needs some help in meeting all the costs related to city-required infrastructure and permit fees. In total, the project is asking for $101,975 worth of city assistance. About $61,000 would come in the form of city rebates of utility “impact fees” and meter installation fees. The rest includes some city assistance with sidewalk construction, storm water work, and fire hydrant installation.
City staff members are recommending approval of the incentive request. Money for the incentives would come from the city’s Community Development Block Grant funds, utility funds, and the city’s storm water fund.
Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
Work to begin soon on new river trail near downtown; home sales fall in February; Board of Realtors endorses three for City Hall
I already have a guitar and a straw hat — and really, how hard can a gondola be to make? — so it looks like things are finally falling into place for my secondary career as the Crooner of the Kaw. I’ll start practicing, but in the meantime there is news about Lawrence getting its own version of a river walk.
No, it won’t be as elaborate as the famed river walk in San Antonio, but construction is set to begin soon on a new riverside trail just north of downtown. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are set to approve a nearly $108,000 bid to build a new trail running along the south bank of the Kansas River connecting Constant Park and Burcham Park.
In case you absent-mindedly left your Lawrence parks guide on your bedside table, Constant Park is the piece of green space just north of Sixth and Kentucky streets. Burcham Park is the long park in Pinckney neighborhood that runs all the way down to Second and Indiana streets.
There already is a make-shift trail that runs through the woods along the river, but plans call for this new trail to be highly improved. Parts of the trail will be concrete, while others portions will be crushed asphalt. When completed, it is expected to be appropriate for both walkers and bikers. The trail will connect with one in the Sandra Shaw Park, the new park near Second and Maine streets on the site of the former VFW property.
As we previously have reported, the Sunflower Foundation is providing about $50,000 in grant money for the project. The city will use sales tax dollars to pay for the rest. Lawrence-based R.D. Johnson Excavation submitted the low bid. In what is becoming a bit of a concerning trend, the city project only attracted two bidders.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department hasn’t released a timeline for the project, but usually work begins shortly after a bid is awarded. So, look for construction along the river this summer. It will be interesting to see how the trail becomes a part of downtown. Obviously, it won’t be a full-fledged riverwalk lined with shops and such. But there have been leaders who talk about making the river a larger part of Lawrence’s attractions. We’ll see if this trail ends up being opening to do that.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe you are like me and are looking for a new house with a gondola workshop. (My wife says a soundproof guitar room also would be nice.) Well, apparently not many were on the Lawrence market in February. The latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows Lawrence home sales in February were down nearly 12 percent compared to February 2014.
But local real estate agents had a strong January, so year-to-date numbers are still up about 3 percent. January and February aren’t really make-or-break months for the local real estate market. But we are entering a critical period. April, May and June are really big months for the industry, so we’ll see whether the housing market can regain some momentum. The market wasn’t bad last year, but it was down slightly from 2013 totals.
Other statistics from the latest report:
— The median number of days on market for a home is 64 thus far in 2015. That’s down from 84 during the same time period a year ago.
— The number of contracts written thus far in 2015 is up nearly 25 percent. Contracts written don’t show up as sales until the deal is finalized, but that number may be a good sign for sale numbers.
— The number of homes on the market is down to 324. That’s down about 6 percent from a year ago.
— Builders closely watch the number of newly-constructed homes that sell. Thus far, that segment of the market hasn’t gained much momentum. Six new homes have sold year-to-date, which is the same number as had been sold at this point in 2014. The new home market is looking for a bounce-back year. Sales of newly-constructed homes fell by 19 percent in 2014.
• My message to you about these last 10 days or so before election day is the same as I give my gondola passengers: Buckle up. The number of political flyers in your mailboxes and advertisements on your web pages will increase quite a bit as candidates sprint to the finish line.
You’ll also start hearing about political endorsements. The Lawrence Board of Realtors has gotten that process started. It has announced that it is endorsing Stan Rasmussen, Matthew Herbert, and incumbent Terry Riordan in this year’s election.
How much endorsements help or hurt candidates in Lawrence races has been an open question. The Realtor group has been running ads on behalf of the candidates, and my understanding is has sent some postcards out as well.
As far as other endorsements, I try to pass on the endorsements I hear of from legitimate groups. So, if your group is legitimate, and you’ve made an endorsement in the City Commission race, send me your information, and I’ll make mention of it.
In terms of how this race is shaping up, it is always a bit of guesswork. As a reminder, Leslie Soden finished first in the primary, Ramussen was second, Stuart Boley third, Riordan fourth, Herbert fifth and incumbent Bob Schumm was sixth. Only three will win seats.
History is on the side of Soden and is against Schumm. In my 20 years of covering city elections, I recall only one first-place finisher in a primary failing to win a seat in the general election. I don’t remember any sixth-place finisher in the primary winning a seat in the general election. Schumm, however, does have more name recognition than most sixth-place finishers. There have been plenty of examples of No. 4 finishers moving into a top 3 spot, and few examples of No. 5 doing that as well. So, it is a real race. We’ll see how many folks show up at the polls, and how many twists and turns the candidates offer between now and April 7.
The auto business in Lawrence is booming, and its latest expansion is set for 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue. Lawrence-based Auto Exchange has filed plans to open a new dealership at the intersection.
Auto Exchange has reached a deal to take over the northwest corner of the intersection, the spot that previously housed the Hertz rental car business. Matt Heidrich, managing partner for the business, said the company plans to keep its existing location at 33rd and Iowa streets open as well. He hopes to have the new location at 23rd and Haskell open in 60 to 90 days.
“Our No. 1 problem has been keeping enough inventory,” Heidrich said. “The additional location will allow us to really expand our inventory.”
The deal represents a return to 23rd Street for Auto Exchange. It previously operated at the location down the street that now houses the Lawrence Kia dealership. The new location will be significantly smaller than that spot, but Heidrich said smaller locations are a part of Auto Exchange’s business strategy. The smaller locations allow for significantly lower overhead costs, he said.
“We figured out that bigger isn’t always better,” Heidrich said.
The strategy also works well with the company’s online strategy. Heidrich said the Internet has caused major changes in the dealership industry. He said about 90 percent of his dealership’s business is done online.
“The Internet has increased our business exponentially” he said.
Look for some construction to occur at the 23rd and Haskell site. Plans call for a remodel of the existing building, and the addition of a car wash bay to the site.
In case you are wondering about Hertz, it has moved to 845 Iowa St. It is now located inside The Selection auto dealership.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I know when I go to buy a new car, I always check my bank account first (assuming my wife has told me which bank the money’s at.) Well, there’s a new report out that shows how Kansans did in 2014 when it comes to incomes.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its per capita income numbers for each state in 2014. It wasn’t a great year for Kansas. Per capita income grew in the state — as it did every state — but Kansas’ growth rate was in the bottom quintile. (‘Quintile’ is left over from the days when I had enough money to buy a fancy word dictionary. Otherwise, I would just say the bottom fifth.)
Kansas’ per capita income grew by 2.9 percent in 2014. That’s compared to the national average of 3.9 percent. But a lot of Kansas’ neighbors are keeping us company in terms of lower-than-average income growth. The report notes that states that depend a lot on agriculture suffered some in 2014, especially if they didn’t have large amounts of oil and gas revenues to help their economies.
Here’s a look at the per capita incomes and growth rates for the seven states that make up the Plains Region:
— Iowa: $45,115, up 1.3 percent
— Kansas: $45,546, up 2.9 percent
— Minnesota: $48,711, up 3.2 percent
— Missouri: $41,613, up 2.7 percent
— Nebraska: $47,073, up 0.5 percent
— North Dakota: $54,951, up 5.6 percent
— South Dakota: $46,345, up 1.7 percent
As for our two neighboring states that aren’t included in that list: Colorado has per capita income of $48,730, which grew by 5.6 percent in 2014; Oklahoma checks in at $43,138, and grew at 3.8 percent last year.
In case you are wondering, the fastest growing incomes were: 1. Alaska; 2. Oregon; 3. Colorado; 4. North Dakota; 5. Texas.
In case you missed Wednesday's post: Work planned for Iowa Street this summer; roundabout for Bob Billings?
A pending addition to the east Lawrence skyline; loads of downtown events set for approval; update on Rock Chalk audit
Eastern Lawrence’s skyline is set to get a new addition. Plans have been filed by Ottawa Co-op to expand its grain facility near 19th Street and Moodie Road.
Plans call for an approximately 75-foot-tall grain storage bin to be installed adjacent to the existing grain elevator, increasing the grain storage available by about 200,000 bushels.
“There’s just a need because there is so much grain being produced in the area,” said Clark Wenger, general manager for the Ottawa Co-op.
The grain elevator — which is just a bit south and west of the 19th and Haskell intersection — has been serving area farmers for decades. If you thought the continued urbanization of Douglas County was someday going to make that facility obsolete, think again. Wenger said crop production in Douglas County has remained strong, and the facility is an important part of Ottawa Co-op’s future plans.
“It has been a really good facility for us,” Wenger said.
The co-op has a few technical approvals to win from Lawrence City Hall, but Wenger hopes to have the new grain bin in production by late August, which means it could be used for the fall harvest of corn and soybeans. Once completed, the entire Ottawa Co-op facility is expected to have the capacity to store about 600,000 bushels of grain.
The co-op also will continue to operate grain elevators in North Lawrence and Midland Junction in Douglas County.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Whatever are we going to do with the five tons of BBQ chicken wings that I’m sure we all ordered for a Jayhawk Final Four party? Don’t fret (unless you are out of wet wipes). I’m sure we’ll come up with a plan. This is the season where lots and lots of parties are being planned. And since the best parties in town, apparently, take place in a city street, city commissioners have several permits to approve. Here’s a look at the party permits just on tonight’s City Commission agenda alone:
— The Lawrence Busker Fest is set for May 29-31. Yes, you have less time than you thought to practice your sword swallowing routine. (Who needs practice? I’ve always thought it is a gut-feel type of thing.) Traditionally, the Busker Fest — a celebration of street performance art — has been held in August. But the festival has decided to move to May and combine its efforts with the annual Art Tougeau parade, which features some really funky cars that have had artistic touches added to them. Commissioners are set to approve some street closures for the 900 block of New Hampshire and the 100 block of East Eighth Street to accommodate the events. Commissioners also will consider approving a permit to allow alcohol consumption in designated areas of the city right-of-way as part of the events.
— The Free State Festival, a celebration of film, music and other arts, is planned for June 22-28. Most of the events will be downtown. The event would include closing a portion of the 900 block of New Hampshire Street, in front of the Lawrence Arts Center, for various outdoor music and street party events. The festival is requesting the necessary approvals to sell alcohol at the festival as well. The event also plans to have outdoor screenings of movies on at least four nights of the festival. Those screenings will take place in the green space just south of the Arts Center building.
— Bicycle racing will return to Lawrence. The Tour de Lawrence is scheduled for June 26-28. Two of the three races are again scheduled to take place downtown. The City Commission will consider approval of permits allowing a street sprint on Vermont Street from Seventh to Eighth streets. A downtown racecourse also will be used on Sunday, June 28, requiring the closure of several streets — including large sections of Massachusetts Street — during that day. You can see a map here. The big change with this event, however, is that the Saturday race is moving from the Kansas University campus to Haskell Indian Nations University. The race will be entirely on the Haskell campus and won’t impact city streets. If you are marking your calendars, you will notice that the Tour of Lawrence and the Free State Festival are happening at the same time. So, look for a busy time in late June.
— The Rev it Up Hot Rod Hullaballoo car show is set to return to downtown Lawrence Sept. 26. Organizers hope to close Massachusetts Street between 11th and 13th streets to accommodate the cars and other activities. Just like in past years, the festivities also will extend into adjacent South Park.
• Here’s an issue to think about: Should the city’s $50 million sewer plant project south of the Wakarusa River include about $1 million for public art? It is a question that may get some discussion. Richard Renner, the organizer of the Lawrence Busker Fest, has submitted a letter to city officials asking them to better utilize the city’s existing 2 Percent for Art program.
For decades, the city has had an ordinance that says up to 2 percent of the cost of city building projects should be devoted to public art. It doesn’t require that such expenditures occur, but it encourages it. If you have noticed the artwork in front of some Lawrence fire stations, that is an example of the program in action. More recently it also was used to fund public art in the library.
Renner, however, said the art should be required to be part of the actual building project. Instead, the city should consider using 2 Percent for Art money to help fund art festivals and other such events that bring a lot of people to town and showcase art in interesting ways.
Renner specifically mentions the upcoming sewage treatment plant project. It is not likely that would be the greatest place for art, since it is not expected that the public will go there frequently. But 2 percent of that project could fund a lot of public art. The project is expected to be in the $45 million to $50 million range. This discussion has come up before, and city officials often have said the ordinance is well meaning, but on really large projects it becomes difficult to carve out 2 percent of a project’s budget for public art. But the effort to make art a larger part of the city’s tourism and economic development efforts is more robust now. We’ll see what city officials do this time around.
• Here’s a follow up on yesterday’s item about the Rock Chalk Park audit. We noted that the revised Rock Chalk Park audit came up with a total outstanding payment due from the city that was different from what the original audit report recommended. The new version of the audit report calls for the city to pay about $67,000 more than what the previous version had recommended. The new payment amount due from the city is about $1.09 million.
City Manager David Corliss has now put out his own memo saying he agrees with the new calculations. In fact, he pointed out the $1.09 million due is the amount his staff calculated back in December. So, the original audit report simply was in error on the key detail of how much money was left to be paid on the project. Corliss’ memo indicates that the auditing firm included some change orders that the city had approved for the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. Those change orders were not intended to count towards the city’s $22.5 million cap on total Rock Chalk Park payments. But in the first version of the audit report, they were mistakenly applied to the cap total.
Commissioners will discuss the latest version of the audit, and Corliss is recommending that the commission approve the final $1.09 million payment on the project.
Rock Chalk Park audit, incentives for Peaslee Center, Eldridge Hotel tax break set to be decided by city commissioners
There’s nothing like a long City Commission meeting to take your mind off a season-ending Jayhawk loss, although both occasionally will cause you to stand up and yell, “I need some more !*&#!!$!! cheese dip.” Regardless, here’s a look at a long list of items city commissioners are set to deal with on Tuesday.
• Rock Chalk Park audit: If you remember from earlier this month, there were questions raised about the accuracy of portions of the audit conducted on the infrastructure costs at Rock Chalk Park. Well, the city-hired auditor — McDonald & Associates Inc. — has indeed revised its audit report, and acknowledged that some methods related to calculating concrete weren’t the best.
But, one finding of the revised report is probably different than what city commissioners hoped for: Version 2.0 of the audit says the city actually owes more money on the infrastructure project than what Version 1.0 had determined. The new report says the city still has an outstanding balance of $1,092,971 compared to $1,025,649 that was determined in the first report. In other words, the city — according to the auditor’s calculations —owes about $67,000 more to KU Endowment, which in turn will pay Bliss Sports II, which was the private contractor that received the no-bid contract to build roads, parking lots, sewer lines and other infrastructure at the site.
I’m still sorting through the new report, but it appears the second report has removed about $67,000 worth of payments that the first report said had already been made by the city. In Version 1.0 of the audit report, the auditors found that the city paid $10,550,630 for the city’s recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. But Version 2.0 credited the city with $10,500,000 in recreation center costs. The $10,500,000 cost is consistent with the bid the city received for the recreation center. But in Version 1.0 of the report, the auditors said there were city accounting records that showed $10,550,630 had actually been paid for the recreation center. The amount paid for the recreation center is important because the city has a $22.5 million cap on how much it must pay for total Rock Chalk Park expenses. Every dollar paid for the recreation center reduces by a dollar the amount the city must pay for the infrastructure.
The two versions of the audit report also disagree on how much the city should be credited for architecture fees for the recreation center. Version 1.0 of the report says $941,408, based off of city accounting records. Version 2.0 says $925,000.
Honestly, I’m still checking on why the amounts are different. I think it is because upon further review it was found that some of the amounts listed in Version 1.0 report were found to be payments that were outside the scope of the development agreement, and thus shouldn’t be used to reduce the city’s payment cap. I’ll keep checking on that. I don’t believe any of it, though, is related to the original question that sparked Version 2.0 of this report — the analysis of concrete batch tickets. On that point, the auditors said they once thought looking at concrete batch delivery tickets would be a feasible way of verifying that the amount of concrete used on the job was roughly matching the amount of concrete city inspectors were noting in their reports. But Version 2.0 of the report has since determined that “reliance on the delivery tickets quantities was very likely unreliable, but this in no way impacted the other testing and examinations that we performed.”
In other words, the concrete delivery ticket information included in Version 1.0 of the audit report shouldn’t be relied on, but auditors are still confident in their main finding that the city is being appropriately charged for the project.
Commissioners are scheduled to review the new findings at their Tuesday meeting and also may agree to make the final payment on the infrastructure project.
• Peaslee Technical Training Center. Here is an economic development project that has gone much smoother at City Hall. The Peaslee Center hopes to open later this year and begin teaching skilled trades such as construction, manufacturing technology and automotive repair. The joint venture between the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County, and the city and the county has been well received because training center is expected to help the community retain and attract employers who need skilled labor.
The center will enter a little bit of different territory on Tuesday. It will ask for some financial incentives to help renovate the building that will house the school. That building is the former Honeywell building just north of 31st and Haskell. The project is seeking the following:
— About a $64,000 rebate on property taxes paid for the building in 2014. The $64,000 represents the amount of taxes owed on the portion of the building that will be used by the technical training center. There’s also a manufacturer that uses a portion of the building — Hiper Technology — and it will continue to pay property taxes for its portion of the building.
— A $500,000 grant from the city to help renovation costs of the building. The estimated renovation budget is $1.2 million. Leaders of the technical center also are asking the Douglas County commission to provide a $500,000 grant. The Economic Development Corporation is prepared to provide a $200,000 grant. The EDC previously has invested about $1 million into purchasing the building.
— A loan of up to $150,000 to complete renovations of a portion of the building that will be used to house the Lawrence Workforce Center. Leaders of the technical center submitted a proposal for the Workforce Center to relocate from south Iowa Street to the site of the technical center because they believe students of the school will benefit by being close to the workforce center. The County Commission also will be asked to support a loan of up to $150,000 for the renovation costs. Leaders with the technical center are proposing a 10-year loan that will include an interest rate that is 1 percent higher than the “idled funds rate,” which basically just means the interest rate the city could earn on a savings account.
— Request for industrial revenue bonds, which would allow the project to receive an exemption from paying sales tax on any of the construction materials bought for the renovations.
• Eldridge Hotel tax incentive. City commissioners will consider finalizing a tax incentive for an expansion of The Eldridge Hotel. Last month, city commissioners gave preliminary approval for an incentive that will rebate 95 percent of the new property taxes on the expansion for 15 years through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act.
The County Commission, however, approved a lesser incentive. It approved an 85 percent property tax rebate for 15 years. After the meeting, a representative with the hotel group said the lesser incentive likely would work for the project. The school board approved a 95 percent, 15-year tax rebate for the project.
Commissioners on Tuesday need to formalize their action. It is not required that the city, county and school board all offer the same incentive amount. Commissioners, though, will have to decide whether they want to offer a larger incentive than the county has offered.
• While it is not on the agenda, one of the bigger items to keep an eye on this week at City Hall is any news out of Castle Rock, Colo. As we reported Friday, City Manager David Corliss is a finalist for the town manager job in that community. No word yet on when an announcement will be made, but all the candidates were publicly introduced to the Castle Rock community. Usually that is done near the end of a hiring process, but we’ll see.
Lawrence city commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
It is time to keep an eye on a possible leadership change at Lawrence City Hall. It has been confirmed that Lawrence City Manager David Corliss is a finalist for the town manager job of Castle Rock, Colorado.
The town of about 50,000 people outside Denver hosted Corliss and two other finalists for the position on Wednesday, according to information on the Castle Rock city website. Interviews continued yesterday. No word yet on when Castle Rock expects to make an announcement on the hire.
Corliss is a long time staff member of Lawrence City Hall. He was hired as the city manager in September 2006, but has worked at City Hall in various capacities since 1990.
I got in touch with him this morning, and he issued the following statement:
“Lawrence has no greater supporter than me,” Corliss told me via e-mail. “Lawrence has been absolutely wonderful to me and my family and it would be very difficult to leave after 30 years. I was invited to consider this opportunity to assist a rapidly growing community. I turned it down, but was asked to reconsider after the search was extended. Sarah (his wife) and I took some time off over spring break, visited her family which lives in Colorado, and participated as a candidate for the position.”
We’ll keep an eye on this and see where it leads.
Urgent care medical facility slated for Sixth and Folks Road; KDOT wants feedback on possible SLT expansion; leaders launch survey on pedestrian issues
It won’t be a full-fledged emergency room, but a deal has been struck to bring a major new medical provider to West Lawrence. Oklahoma-based XpressWellness Urgent Care has signed a deal to build at Sixth and Folks Road.
Plans call for a nearly 4,300-square-foot building at the northwest corner of the intersection. The property is in front of the Meadowlark Estates retirement community, and is in the growing Bauer Farms development.
XpressWellness, which operates eight centers in Oklahoma, provides walk-in care for a variety conditions that people sometimes turn to an emergency room for. Those include minor fractures, flu symptoms, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, bite or puncture wounds and some work-related injuries. Urgent care centers have become a significant trend in the health care industry as emergency rooms and traditional doctors offices have become busier.
“We try to make the wait as short as possible,” said Don Rose, an executive with HammerWilliams Co., which is part of the team developing the wellness centers. “We’re seeing Kansas has not quite caught up to the urgent care trend like several other states have. We see several possibilities in Kansas.”
The Lawrence location will be the company’s first in Kansas, but Rose said it is exploring sites in three other Kansas cities.
The center will be open seven days a week. According to information on its website, normal hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-7 p.m. on Sunday. Appointments aren’t required, although the centers offer an online check-in service that allows you to reserve your space in line and be notified a few minutes before a medical professional is ready to see you.
Rose said each center is overseen by a medical doctor, and the facilities also use nurse practitioners and other licensed medical professionals to provide care.
As for a timeline, expect construction to begin this summer. The zoning for the site is largely in place, but the project does still need some approvals from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. The project is expected to have a hearing in May, and construction would begin thereafter.
The project continues a trend of new medical facilities in the northwest part of the city. As we reported last week, Topeka ENT has signed a deal to open an ear, nose and throat practice at the southwest corner of Sixth and Folks Road. We’ve also previously reported that Lawrence physician Stephanie Suber has opened Family Centered Medicine in a new building just east of the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa.
I’m also keeping my eye out for at least one other health care-related development near the Sixth and Folks Road intersection. A vacant piece of ground just east of the Central Bank of the Midwest branch there has sold. I’m hearing word of a specialty dentist office, but I haven’t yet seen plans filed. I’ll check in with the players and report back.
“We definitely think it is a great corner for the business,” Rose said. “And we’re planning on making this our showcase facility. It will be the nicest clinic we have built to date.”
Here’s a look at the proposed design for the corner.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re talking about west side development, the granddaddy of West Lawrence projects could be an expansion of the South Lawrence Trafficway. As we’ve previously reported, the Kansas Department of Transportation is working on a concept plan to expand the existing SLT to four lanes west of Iowa Street. The portion of the SLT east of Iowa Street that is currently under construction will be four lanes when it opens in 2016.
KDOT doesn’t have money to build the four lanes west of Iowa, but it has identified the expansion as a definite need, and it hopes to have a plan in place to take advantage of any funding that becomes available in future years.
With that in mind, KDOT is seeking comments from the public. KDOT will host an open house from 5-7 p.m. March 31 at Southwest Middle School, 2511 Inverness Drive. The open house is a come-and-go type of affair where people can see a few displays about the concept plan and ask questions of KDOT officials.
• Pedestrians shouldn’t feel left out of the fun, though. In the business world, I hear the phrase frequently that “people vote with their feet.” I don’t know about that. I got a nasty paper cut on my big toe during the primary, so I don’t advise it. Regardless, local officials want pedestrians to vote, sort of, on a variety of issues.
Officials with the Lawrence-Douglas County planning office are urging pedestrians to take an online survey as leaders work to develop a Regional Pedestrian Plan. You can find a link to the survey here. The deadline to participate in the survey is April 25. I just took the survey, and it takes about 10 minutes. It asks you a variety of questions about what type of sidewalk improvements, crosswalk improvements and other such issues are important to you. (Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really need to use some Lysol wipes on my computer keyboard.)
One last thing though. If you really like to talk about pedestrian issues, there is a Safe Routes for All Town Hall Forum scheduled from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence.