Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
District’s failure to release information about school board applicants is a disservice to the public
The way governments operate these days can be confusing. I sometimes think the scenes from Washington, D.C., are a how-to-video from Twitter on how to rule the world in 140 characters or less.
But hopefully local government isn’t that confusing. I’m less certain of that, though, when it comes to the Lawrence school district. The Journal-World is trying to report on what seems to be a fairly basic story: the process to fill Kristie Adair’s vacant seat on the school board.
As part of that process, we want residents of the district to know who has applied, a bit about their backgrounds and what they could offer the board. We also want as much of this information as possible before the March 6 filing deadline.
The reason for having the information before the deadline, we believed, was obvious: People need to know who has applied for the position so they can decide whether they too want to apply.
A secondary reason is the sooner the public can get the information, the better — especially in this instance. The deadline to file is March 6, and the school board has indicated it may fill the position by March 13. If members of the public want to provide some reasoned and thoughtful advice to the school board on the appointment choice, it would be helpful that they have the information as soon as possible.
A final reason falls under the category of common sense. Newspapers for generations have reported on candidates when they file for office. It is nonsensical to wait until after the filing deadline is passed and then publicly reveal who has filed.
But when we asked the school district for the names of applicants, that is what the J-W reporter was told would happen: They wouldn’t be released until after the deadline — sometime before the March 13 meeting, though.
Upon hearing this, I called Superintendent Kyle Hayden and told him I thought such a plan was a bad idea for all the reasons articulated above. He ultimately agreed to give us the names. We did get a list of names, but we initially received no contact information and no background information about the candidates.
We realized that all the applicants were asked to fill out an application form that had background information, contact information, and that even asked pertinent questions related to the applicant’s motives and qualifications to serve.
We thought this would be good information for the public to have, and we also thought it would be easy to obtain. Boy, were we wrong on that last point. The district has refused to give us the applications, although it did eventually release some contact information conditioned on the “permission” of the applicants.
I tell you, the Lawrence school district ought to offer a doctorate in stubbornness.
District officials reiterated that they would release the applications at some point after the filing deadline but before the March 13 meeting. I’m unsure of the rationale behind that decision. I put two calls into Hayden to discuss that decision but never got a call back. I did chat with Marcel Harmon, president of the school board. He said he wasn’t sure of the rationale either. He said the issue had never been discussed with the board. If he had to guess, he said, it was because the board didn’t want applicants seeing what other applicants had filled out on their applications. He thought it wouldn’t be fair to those who turned theirs in early.
That’s a weak argument. If that is a concern, applicants could have chosen to turn their forms in right before the deadline. The district’s decision to withhold the applications theoretically helps a handful of applicants but hurts many more members of the public by denying them timely access to information.
We’ve filed an open records request, and we’ll see how that turns out. In the meantime, we’re using Google and other sources to find contact information to reach out to applicants so we can provide the basic service of letting people know something about the people who want to represent them.
We will get our job done one way or another, with or without the applications. But I believe that the constituents of USD 497 need to understand the silliness that is going on here. Don’t get me wrong, the school district is a sympathetic bunch. It does incredibly important work. It faces funding challenges that are beyond the control of local officials. The women and men who do the hard work in the classrooms often are under appreciated.
But this silliness doesn’t have anything to do with that. It has to do with a public government upholding the contract it has with the public. I’ve long viewed it this way: A public government, like the school district, gets to tax the residents of the district. (The district’s budget is about $155 million.) The residents have to pay that tax regardless of whether they agree with how the district spends the money. There is no recourse. You pay your taxes regardless of your opinion, or else the system would fall apart. That is an awesome authority that the government has.
The other part of the contract — the part that people have died to defend — is that government takes on an equally awesome responsibility. Government must be as open as it possibly can be with the public. Now, I’m not an absolutist. I understand there is a balancing act that must occur at times. But even in those instances, every government should have the attitude of trying to figure out how it can release the information the public needs to see.
That attitude does not exist in the Lawrence public school district. If it did, we would have the applications. Unfortunately, that can-do attitude of openness is lacking in many governments. Like I said, we’ll overcome this silly application issue. That’s not what this is about. Instead, I believe we are living in a time where it is very dangerous to give government an inch on the issue of openness and transparency. Based on the letters to the editor I see about affairs in Washington, D.C., many of you seem to agree.
No amount of salsa stains on my tie can change this finding: Lawrence is below average when it comes to being culturally and ethnically diverse.
The folks at the financial website WalletHub have put together an interesting report on the most and least culturally diverse cities in America. The report looked at recent Census data for 501 of the largest cities in the country. It measured the amount of racial diversity, the amount of diversity in languages spoken and the amount of diversity in birthplaces of residents.
Lawrence ranked No. 303 in the report, putting it a bit below the national average. Lawrence also was slightly below average among Kansas communities, ranking sixth out of the 10 Kansas communities that were part of the report.
None of those numbers are necessarily a bad thing, but I do think some people may find them surprising. As a university community and a town that leans to the left politically, I think some people have this image of Lawrence as being a particularly diverse place. Those folks may be confusing a welcoming attitude and tolerance with actual diversity in terms of race and culture. In fact, university communities in general didn’t fare that well in the report.
Before I get into many of the numbers, a bit of explanation on the report is in order. In the past I’ve reported on statistics that show whites dominate Lawrence’s population. But that is not what this report is exactly measuring. It is trying to measure what community has the greatest mix of races and culture. So, Lawrence’s largely white population doesn’t score well in the report, but a community that largely has a black population wouldn’t score well either. Instead the authors are looking for which communities have the greatest mix of races, or the greatest mix of nationalities or the greatest mix of languages spoken. They use a a mathematical formula used in the business world to measure whether a market is competitive or monopolistic. (I don’t want to insult your intelligence, but for the one or two people who don’t already know this, that formula is called the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, which among other things is great at predicting whether you are a nerd or a wonk.)
With that out of the way, here’s a look at how Lawrence ranked compared with other Kansas communities:
• No. 63: Kansas City, Kan.
• No. 187: Wichita
• No. 262: Olathe
• No. 285: Topeka
• No. 296: Overland Park
• No. 303: Lawrence
• No. 323: Manhattan
• No. 339: Lenexa
• No. 375: Salina
• No. 377: Shawnee
As I mentioned, university communities were not standouts in this report. I didn’t find any major university communities near the top of the list. Austin, Texas, was No. 70, but it is so large of a city I’m not sure it really fits the definition of a university town anymore. Among some of the more traditional regional college communities: Iowa City was No. 260; Stillwater, Okla., No. 291; Norman, Okla., No. 300; Columbia, Mo., No. 336; Fort Collins, Colo., No. 342; and Ames, Iowa, No. 359.
The report also looks at some state numbers. The Kansas results may surprise some. Kansas is not a hotbed of diversity nationally, but by at least one measure it fares better than most of its neighbors.
The report looked at the percentage of foreign born population for each state. Kansas had the highest foreign born population of any state in the region, except for Colorado. Here’s a look:
• Colorado: 9.95 percent foreign born
• Kansas: 7.09 percent
• Nebraska: 6.85 percent
• Oklahoma: 6.14 percent
• Iowa: 4.78 percent
• Missouri: 4.1 percent
• North Dakota: 3.89 percent
• South Dakota: 3.28 percent
Those numbers suggest that some of the most culturally and racially diverse places in Kansas may be midsize communities that were just a bit too small to be ranked in this report. Go to towns like Emporia, Garden City, Liberal and others that are home to major meat-processing facilities, and you will find whites and a variety of ethnic groups living and working side by side.
What does all this mean? I’m not sure. Look at the Kansas list for example. Shawnee, at the bottom of the list, likely would not trade its problems for those of Kansas City, which is at the top of the list. But in today’s environment, race, ethnicity and diversity are likely going to get more discussion, so it is good to have some data to go with the debate.
A new cafe with a competitive twist in west Lawrence; an international airport 20 minutes from downtown Lawrence?
Whether you are a dungeon master or just a master of eating cookies, a west Lawrence business has made changes aimed at you.
Perhaps you remember in 2015 I wrote of a new business called The Rolling Gnome, a store that sells board games, card games and other types of nonelectronic entertainment. Well, the store at 3727 W. Sixth St. has made a change. It is now The Rolling Gnome Game Cafe.
The store has begun serving a variety of coffees by PT’s Roasting Company; plus, it has a pastry case with a heavy dose of cookies. The store still sells games, but it is trying to build business by being a place where people come and play games for free and partake in coffeehouse food and drink.
Currently, the longtime game Dungeons & Dragons is the most popular game that people come to the store to play on a regular basis. There is a regular “Adventure League” for D&D players on Sunday, which generally fills all eight tables of the store.
Holly Tompkins, a co-owner of the store, said the concept of game cafes are catching on in other cities, and she thinks it is something Lawrence will take to as well.
“It is a way for people to unplug from computers and cellphones and have some face-to-face interaction,” Tompkins said.
Meeting at a public place like a game cafe is more comfortable, often times, than going to someone’s house to play. You don’t have to worry about tidying up the house, baking the cookies, or perhaps your home is like mine and the Merlin the Wizard hat frequently gets tangled in the ceiling fan.
“We’ll be the host,” Tompkins said. “You just bring yourself.”
The store has a library of about 250 games that you can play for free at the store. Included in the list are strategy games, thematic games, party games, family games, role-playing games, miniature games, card games and something called Eurogames, which I’m guessing involves somebody playing a U.S. president while the rest of the people play Europeans who are alternately confused and quivering.
Tompkins said crowds of players have been good, with ages ranging from 11 to 60 and over. She said most people know each other before they come to the store, but she’s seeing more people who meet online and use the store as a place to come together and play.
Tompkins said the cafe hopes to become a gathering place for game players even when they aren’t playing a game. The cafe is hosting live entertainment a few nights per month. Right now the store is focusing on comedy routines from the Lawrence Improv Guild, but Tompkins said it hopes to expand into some live music.
For those of you who actually want to buy games to play at home, the store still does that business too. Tompkins said the store also is still offering a rental service where people can pay 10 percent of the price of a game and take it home for 24 hours. If they then want to buy the game, the 10 percent is applied to the price of the game.
In other news and notes from around town:
• One of the games some Lawrence residents have been known to play is KCI Procrastination. You know how it goes: See how long you can wait before you have to leave for the airport to catch your flight.
Just think how different that game would be if the Kansas City airport were only 20 minutes away from Lawrence. That day probably will never come, but it is worth noting that it is actually getting some discussion in Kansas City.
We’ve had an Associated Press article that talks about how Gov. Sam Brownback has people looking at the feasibility of a Johnson County airport, if Kansas City voters can’t agree on how to improve KCI. But that article didn’t have a lot of details. So a recent column by Steve Rose of The Kansas City Star caught my attention. Rose, a longtime journalist with deep contacts with Johnson County leaders, had a few more details about where a Johnson County airport could be located. One of the two prime spots is the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
For those of you unaware, that is just on the other side of the Johnson County/Douglas County line. It is thousands of acres, but the main entrance to the property is basically off Kansas Highway 10 at De Soto. You can get to De Soto from downtown Lawrence in about 20 minutes.
The other location mentioned in Rose’s column is the New Century Airfield near Gardner. That would perhaps be a little closer to Lawrence than KCI is, but not by a lot.
Now, I don’t profess to understand Kansas City politics (if you do, I think that entitles you to really strong medication), but I think the talk of a Johnson County airport is being used as a hedge against Kansas City voters not approving multimillion-dollar improvements to KCI.
Even the supporters of a Johnson County airport are acknowledging it is a long shot, but it is a long shot with stakes so high that it merits attention. Rose’s column said there are 60,000 jobs connected to the airport in one way or another. It could be a game changer for economic development in Douglas County. Being 20 minutes from an international airport — rather than the nearly 50 minutes today — could open up new types of economic development opportunities. It could especially affect the Douglas County community of Eudora. Eudora’s industrial park is less than a 10 minute drive from De Soto.
Of course, there could be negative impacts too. Airports are noisy by nature and attract a lot of traffic. I’m sure those would be concerns.
Again, it likely will be a moot point, but until that is certain, it is an issue Douglas County leaders should watch.
A whale of a mystery at a Lawrence construction site; $1 million expansion set for west Lawrence office building
I’ll leave it up to each of you to decide whether it is fitting on Presidents Day that I have information of a weird and confusing nature to pass along. A mysterious concrete whale has shown up at a Lawrence construction site. (That sentence would fit in a presidential tweet, and there would even be room for an important hashtag, like #RealWhopper.)
An alert reader sent me an email describing how he took his young son by the construction site that is near West Second Street and McDonald Drive, basically next door to the Hallmark Cards plant. He mainly just wanted to show his son earthmoving equipment and some big rocks, but was surprised to see in the pile of rubble, a big concrete whale.
This of course creates many questions: Was it part of a sign for an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet that I somehow did not know about? Can the whale play the post, grab a few rebounds and give Landen Lucas a quick breather now and then? Instead of a Trojan horse is this a Trojan whale, filled with America’s greatest threats, which are either Russians, journalists who report on Russians, or for reasons not entirely clear, Swedes?
In all seriousness, no one seems to know why the whale is there. I sent an email to Lawrence architect Paul Werner who is involved with the construction project. He said he’s not sure about the whale either. The pile of rubble the whale is sitting in appears to be fill dirt that was brought to the site from somewhere else. Likely the whale was part of a demolition of some other project in the area, and it just got scooped up with everything else.
Obviously, this isn’t too important, but I was getting questions from readers about what is under construction at West Second Street and McDonald Drive. Earthwork has started in front of the Comfort Inn and Suites hotel at the corner. So, here’s an update: The site will be home to a new climate-controlled storage facility. Companies that need secure storage will be able to rent space at the facility.
It is the second building project undertaken at the intersection by a group led by members of the Fritzel family. The first project is now complete: An industrial building that houses shop space for construction contractors. Ernie’s Mechanical is a tenant of the building, according to signs on the building.
Werner said construction on the storage facility is expected to begin any day. He didn’t have a lot of new details to share with me on the project, but I have a few from when we reported on the plans for the project back in September 2015. At that time, the plans called for a 14,000-square-foot climate-controlled storage building, an 11,000-square-foot storage building, and a 3,100-square-foot storage building. No word on whether all those buildings will be constructed at once, but look for significant construction to occur on the high-profile intersection (it is next to the Kansas Turnpike interchange) for quite awhile.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Again, in honor of Presidents Day, I have news of a federal project in Lawrence, sort of. Plans have been filed for an approximately $1 million expansion of the office building at 1217 Biltmore Drive in west Lawrence.
According to the plans, the building will become the new home for the Lawrence office of the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS currently has an office in Lawrence at 4821 Quail Crest Place in west Lawrence. But my understanding is the lease on the facility is set to expire, and the USGS has decided to move into the Biltmore Drive location once it is expanded.
I’ve got an email into a government spokeswoman (maybe I should have used Twitter) to find out more information about the project, such as whether it will mean any new jobs for the Lawrence office. The Lawrence office, I believe, serves as the Kansas Water Science Center for the USGS, and does laboratory work on water.
Indeed, much of the expansion at the Biltmore site is to accommodate a laboratory, according to the plans filed at City Hall.
If you are having a hard time picturing 1217 Biltmore, it is a bit north and west of the Wakarusa and Legends Drive intersection. It is next door to the Lawrence Gymnastics Academy. If I get more information on the project, I’ll let you know.
Chain clothing store to locate along south Iowa Street; a piece of retail history uncovered in downtown Lawrence
There’s a certain symmetry to the fact that a business that can sell you larger trousers is locating in a spot that used to house an all-you-can eat Chinese buffet. That’s the latest scenario on south Iowa Street, as Men’s Wearhouse has signed a deal to locate in the Pine Ridge Plaza shopping center near 33rd and Iowa streets.
I reported several months ago about speculation that Men’s Wearhouse was going to locate in the Pine Ridge Plaza center, but I struggled to get it confirmed. Now, I have that confirmation. A building permit and a sign permit that list Men’s Wearhouse have been filed at Lawrence City Hall.
The business will locate in the vacant spot just east of the Sport Clips barber shop and a couple of doors down from Jason’s Deli. The location for a short time housed an all-you-can eat Chinese and Asian food buffet.
Remodeling work has started on the building, so I would think a spring opening is a real possibility.
As for Men’s Wearhouse, surely you are familiar with it. The company is one of the largest retailers of men’s suits in the country. The chain became famous in the 1980s when its founder and pitchman, George Zimmer, would utter the catch phrase “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.” (To be fair, I think Doritos crumbs add a pop of color to an outfit, so I’m not sure how big of a risk George was taking with his guarantee.)
The entry of Men’s Wearhouse in the Lawrence market is likely to shake up the men’s clothing business. The store has expanded its offerings over the years. Of course, it still focuses on suits, sports coats, ties, dress pants and dress shirts, but it now also sells sweaters, Levi’s, shoes and many other accessories. The chain also is big into the tuxedo rental business. Tailoring services also are in the mix. According to the chain’s website, each store has its own tailors.
It also will be interesting to watch whether the entry of Men’s Wearhouse causes changes at another men’s clothing retailer in town: Jos. A. Bank, which has a store at Seventh and Vermont streets in downtown. Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Wearhouse are owned by the same parent company. I know the two companies do compete against each other in some larger markets, but is Lawrence of that size? Maybe there is a larger market for men’s dress wear than I’m thinking. All I know is I wear a tie five days a week, and Lawrence residents routinely ask me where my hearse is. In other words, Lawrence doesn’t have the reputation as a big suit and tie town.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Hold off on buying the extra large trousers for just a moment. I want to make sure you are not confused about a sign you may be seeing in downtown Lawrence. There is a sign along Massachusetts Street advertising Brinkman Bakery. But don’t get excited, unless you have a time machine.
The sign is at 816 Massachusetts, and it was uncovered as part of some renovation work on the vacant building. Lawrence resident Alan Terry, who recently bought the building, told me he decided to make some improvements to the front of the building by removing the old 1950s style awning. To his surprise, he found that some chip board had been covering up a leaded glass transom and the old bakery sign.
Terry said he’s getting quotes now to restore the old glass transom, and hopes it will be financially feasible to do so. As for the sign, he’s not sure what he will do with that. He is learning a bit about Brinkman Bakery.
I chatted briefly with the folks at the Watkins Museum of History, and a staff member here looked through some of our archives. The files indicate Brinkman Bakery dates back to 1915 when it moved from Tonganoxie to Lawrence. It opened shop at 933 Mass. but moved to 816 Mass. in 1917. It looks like the Brinkmans sold it in 1944 but it operated with Brinkman name until 1947. It eventually became Ford Bakery. Brinkman's specialty product seemed to be something called Jayhawk bread. No word on what made the bread Jayhawk bread, but based on what I know about Jayhawk merchandise today, it cost 20 percent more than regular bread.
Terry said he has found some old photos of the interior of the store through a collection at the Kansas Historical society. He plans to forward them to me, and I’ll share them when I get them.
As for the building, it used to house Fun & Games toy store several years ago. More recently it housed DoodleBugs, a secondhand store focusing on children’s items. Terry said he is close to signing a deal for a tenant — a nonrestaurant, specialty type of store. When that deal becomes final, I will get your more details.
I’m not overly familiar with the term “fashion forward.” Whenever people are discussing it with me, I swear they I always say I’m “fashion forlorn.” Regardless, there is a major new retailer opening in downtown Lawrence that is about fashion forward.
As I reported in November, the clothing chain Glik’s is opening at 717 Massachusetts St., the spot formerly occupied by Sweet. But now I have more information. The store is opening at noon today as part of a sneak peek event. Its grand opening is set for 10 a.m. Friday.
I also have a better understanding of what the store is about after talking with several of the managers and executives this morning. The place is all about clothing both for men and women, but also for juniors and those of us who are a bit older.
“Our junior side is definitely very fashion forward,” said Christy Haudrich, regional manager for Glik’s. “A lot of our product comes from L.A. There is a lot of fast fashion.”
For those of you not in the know, fast fashion refers to clothing that is based off the fashion trends on display at Fashion Week and other catwalk events. (At least that is my understanding after I learned the hard way that it does not mean I should dress head-to-toe in sprinter’s Spandex.)
The store, though, also has other lines of clothing that may appeal to the moms and dads of the house. The store carries both North Face and Patagonia clothing lines for men and women. Shoes and denim also are big categories for the store. And importantly, especially to people of a certain generation, the store carries Oakley sunglasses. A pair of Oakleys and a mullet, I believe, is the definition of fashion forward. At least when I sported the look, people always insisted I walk a block in front of them.
For those of you have forgotten what we’ve previously reported about Glik’s, here’s a reminder. The company is based in Granite City, Ill., and is family owned. The Glik family has owned the business for nearly 120 years.
The company has about 65 stores in 10 states, but it is relatively new to Kansas. It opened its first Kansas store in Hays just a few months ago. As the owners of the company were traveling to Hays, they stopped off in downtown Lawrence and made a quick decision that Glik’s needed to be in the Lawrence market.
“Probably the most exciting thing about Lawrence is we like to be in a unique shopping environment,” Jeff Glik, CEO of the company, told me in November. “If Massachusetts Street isn’t one of the most unique shopping environments in North America, I don’t know what is. The fact that you don’t have a mall, and the environment of Massachusetts Street really intrigued us.”
The addition of Glik’s to downtown may be noteworthy for one other reason too. I often hear people complain that there aren’t enough retailers who have late evening hours to accommodate the large dinner crowds in downtown. Glik’s plans to stay open until 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, said Lawrence resident Sara Scott, who has been hired as the store’s manager.
Glik’s, though, will be interesting to watch for other reasons. The downtown clothing market is going through a bit of a shakeup. As I previously reported, The Buckle, one of the larger clothing retailers in downtown, has announced plans to close its Lawrence store. Based on talk on the street, I’m keeping my eyes open for other changes on that front too.
North Lawrence has been known to have loud trains, cool motorcycles, and even the occasional misguided boat. (We only were stranded on the sandbar for a week.) Soon, the neighborhood also may have a hip truck — or more accurately, a hip food truck.
Zach Thompson, the former executive chef at downtown’s popular 715 restaurant, has filed plans with City Hall to open Dottie’s Food Truck just off of North Lawrence’s main drag. Thompson is seeking approval to permanently place a food truck in the parking lot at 912 N. Third St.
As for what Dottie’s — named after the nickname of his grandmother — will serve, Thompson isn't saying much. He said the main theme is that it will be local, it will be organic, and it will be food that people can easily eat on the go.
“It will be really well-crafted, seasonal organic food,” Thompson said. “Whatever that ends up being is what it will be. We’re going to play around with the market a little bit.”
Thompson, who was the executive chef at 715 for a little more than two years until leaving at the end 2016, said he’ll be buying Kansas beef, Kansas pork and locally grown produce. Thompson didn’t provide many specifics about the menu, but said there certainly will be sandwiches.
“I want to do a riff on a smoked beef something,” Thompson said. “It may not be barbecue, but it will be my tip of the hat to the barbecue scene of the midwest.”
If you are having a hard time picturing where the food truck will be located, it will be in the parking lot of Lawrence Vintage Cycle, the cool place that sells old Harleys and restores them. If you still don’t know where that is at, you need to find an excuse to wear leather chaps more often. Perhaps you know where the O’Reilly Auto Parts store is located. It just a bit north and east of that building, about a block off the main drag of North Second Street.
Thompson said the owner of the property is a partner in the food truck, and that was a key consideration in the location. Thompson noted Lawrence’s strict regulations regarding food trucks. Unlike in other communities, it is difficult for a food truck operator to set up business in a public parking space or other high-traffic location in town.
But Thompson said he’s also intrigued by the North Lawrence food scene. For years there has been Johnny’s Tavern, and more recently the Levee Cafe opened. But many of the other offerings in North Lawrence are just a handful of fast food chains.
“It is almost like the Wild West out here for food, because there are not a lot of people over here doing anything,” Thompson said. (The Wild West comment confused me. Can I wear my hat and chaps now? I was led to believe that was never again a possibility.)
Thompson also is excited about perhaps being able to do some things out of a food truck that are difficult to do in a restaurant. While at 715 he took pride in producing not just good food but stylized food. But the equation isn’t exactly a cheap one in downtown Lawrence. He said he chose the food truck route because he doesn’t want to have to contend with the ever increasing rents that restaurant locations command in Lawrence.
“We are about eating better,” Thompson said. “The whole thing about doing this food truck is hopefully I can offer these better products at a better price. Downtown you see a lot of high price points. I don’t think it has to be that way, if you can get yourself in the right environment.”
As for a timeline, Thompson hopes the food truck will be open in April. In addition to the food truck, the site will be modified a bit to provide a small outdoor seating area. But the major part of the project is building the food truck, which technically won’t be a truck. Thompson said he already has acquired a 1946 Spartan trailer that is being renovated to house the food operations.
In other news and notes:
• Perhaps this has caused you to wonder whether the Kansas Food Truck Festival once again will be held in the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence. It sure appears so. The event has filed for a permit to host the event on May 6 at the Warehouse Arts District near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets. The event’s website also confirms that date. Details on what food trucks are participating in this year’s event weren’t available on the website yet.
• While we are on the subject of events, it looks like a unique one that got started last year will be back for a second time around. A permit has been filed at City Hall to allow the Kansas Relays Pole Vault Competition to be held in the parking lot of the Salty Iguana restaurant on April 20. The Salty Iguana, of course, is at Sixth and Wakarusa in west Lawrence. Organizers converted a portion of the parking lot into a pole vault pit to host world class vaulters last year.
Look for more details about the event as the date gets closer. The pole vault event is kind of a spin off from the popular Downtown Lawrence shot put competition that also is held around Kansas Relays time. That has grown into a Lawrence tradition, and I’m sure will be back too on a separate day.
Whitewater group explains how $70 million Clinton Lake project would be funded; it involves help from the public and a new shopping center
During this Valentine’s Day season everything is expected to be sugarcoated — the food, the sentiments and the “explanation” about how the flat screen TV got broken during last night’s wild KU game. (I think it was Cupid’s arrow.) One guy who is not engaging in the sugarcoating ritual, though, is the leader of a group who wants to build a whitewater rafting facility at Clinton Lake State Park.
Yesterday I provided you an update on the project, and some takeaways from a conversation I had with the leader of the North Carolina-based U.S. National Whitewater Center. Yesterday’s conversation was about the environment. Today’s is about money. When it comes to that subject, the group is not sugarcoating the key point: The facility — which would have whitewater courses, zip lines, an amphitheater, restaurant, beer garden and other amenities — is expected to cost at least $70 million to build, and the U.S. National Whitewater Center doesn’t plan to pay much, if any, of that cost.
“We don’t want to pretend the project can do something it can’t do,” said Jeff Wise, CEO of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, which operates in Charlotte a manmade whitewater rafting course and adventure park that is similar to what is proposed for Clinton Lake. “We’re being honest that the project can only support so much capital expense.”
If this project is to get done, state and local officials are going to have to figure out how to finance its construction.
That sure sounds like it could be a deal-killer to a significant segment of the Lawrence population that is tired of giving incentives to private development companies. Wise seems to have two counterpoints to that argument. The first one is that the U.S. Whitewater Center really isn’t a development company. Technically, it is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. There are no shareholders, and people like Wise get paid a salary for their work but don’t own any part of the development.
The second point Wise makes is that the whitewater center doesn’t plan to ask the city, the county or the state for any guaranteed money. Based on the results in Charlotte, Wise is confident the facility will make more than enough to cover its operating expenses. Instead, the project envisions using STAR bonds to finance the construction.
Here is a simplified version of how STAR bonds work. A local government issues STAR bonds to pay for an economic development project. Bond buyers — think banks, investment funds, institutional investors — buy the bonds. The proceeds from the bond sale fund the construction of the center.
The whitewater center begins selling tickets, concessions, food and other items. It charges a sales tax. Instead of the state, city and county getting those sales tax dollars for their budgets, the sales tax proceeds instead are used to pay back the bond buyers.
Here is where this project has a twist. Wise concedes that the whitewater center won’t generate enough sales tax revenues to pay back the bond buyers. Instead, a second project is going to be needed to help generate enough sales tax revenue. The project will need the sales tax revenue from another shopping district to make the numbers work. Where would that shopping district be? Those details aren’t clear, or at least, haven’t been publicly announced.
But we can guess. The first guess is it likely won’t be at Clinton Lake State Park. I think it would be unlikely that you would find anybody willing to build a shopping center at the park.
Other locations in Lawrence are more likely. The Mercato development near Rock Chalk Park is zoned and ready for retail development. It, however, has set vacant for several years, as retailers have chosen to expand on south Iowa Street instead. But because of its zoning and shovel-ready nature, the Mercato development is one possible place to house the STAR bond district.
The other area that has been proposed for a shopping district is the property south of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange. City officials have rejected a rezoning request for that property, and the Charlotte-based development group that proposed it is now suing the city. Supposedly, though, there has been a significant number of big-box retailers interested in locating at that site. If approved, it could perhaps generate enough sales tax dollars to pay off the STAR bonds. But it is anybody’s guess whether city commissioners have any interest in reconsidering their previous denial of the shopping center.
Of course, a third possibility is there is another site out there to house a shopping center, and it hasn’t been publicly disclosed yet.
The last thing to figure out about STAR bonds is what happens if the project doesn’t work? Who pays off the bonds then? As the STAR bond law is currently written, governments are not required to provide a financial guarantee on the bond. If the project does not generate enough sales taxes to pay off the bonds, the people who bought the bonds are left holding the bag.
So, the city, county or state wouldn’t ever be liable for paying off the STAR bonds if the project failed. But that doesn’t mean there is no risk to government. The biggest risk is the loss of future of revenue. Lawrence likely needs its sales tax revenues to grow over the next couple of decades to adequately fund city government. One way it will grow is through new retail development. But if Lawrence’s largest new retail center is dedicated to paying for the whitewater project, it won’t be adding to the city’s coffers.
The counter argument, though, is the center and its estimated 700,000 visitors will pump money into other parts of the Lawrence economy, which we will all benefit from. The even larger argument is that the whitewater center will do something to transform Lawrence’s image. To hear Wise and state officials — who have been the catalyst for this project — the facility will help Lawrence gain a national reputation as a vibrant, outdoor-loving community. Would this facility help Lawrence become the Outdoor Capital of the Great Plains? Is that a brand that would create prosperity for the city?
The future of this project probably hinges on whether Lawrence leaders think such statements are sugarcoating or the real deal.
Plans for whitewater rafting facility at Clinton State Park still alive; developer talks about environmental issues of project
The great whitewater rafting debates I’ve been involved with generally center on which guy is responsible for carrying the cooler down the bank and to the canoe. (Inevitably, it also involves a debate about who is then responsible for jumping into the river to save the cooler — and possibly the guy.) But Lawrence may be gearing up for a different type of whitewater rafting debate.
If you remember, city and county officials in December were briefed on an ambitious proposal to build a man-made whitewater rafting course in a portion of Clinton Lake State Park. Leaders of the North Carolina-based U.S. National Whitewater Center made the proposal for the approximately $70 million project, but it was unclear how the project would get paid for. The North Carolina group, which operates a similar facility in Charlotte, has been upfront that it would need significant taxpayer help to make the project work.
Since December, there hasn’t been much news about the idea. But that doesn’t mean that leaders have given up on it. Instead, the group is entering a new phase. Now that the idea is public, the development group is seeking to build support with the public because it acknowledges that the idea hasn’t exactly taken off with Lawrence residents.
Jeff Wise, CEO of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, is spending about one week a month in Lawrence talking to community members and getting a better lay of the land. I chatted with him last week. Wise told me he has been a long-time whitewater rafting enthusiast. He previously was an attorney, but decided to focus his efforts on the whitewater cause after he realized being a litigator wasn’t as much fun as it looked on TV. We chatted about several issues, but the issue of how the development fit in environmentally was a big one.
Wise knows that his group still has some work to do to convince area residents that the project won’t sully the largely natural areas of Clinton Lake State Park. As a reminder, the project envisions the man-made whitewater course, zip lines, outdoor amphitheater, restaurant, beer garden and a conference center.
Wise anticipates that type of development will require a footprint of 30 to 40 acres. If you read some of the literature produced by the group, it comes off sounding like the project is closer to 1,500 acres. That is basically the entire size of Clinton Lake State Park. But Wise assured me the group is not thinking about 1,500 acres of development.
“Thirty to 40 acres is the footprint for development,” Wise said. “We don’t believe the rest of it should be developed. We think it should be open for people to get out and play. We want trails on it, and that is it.”
Water issues also have been raised. Wise told me that none of the water from Clinton Lake will be used to feed the whitewater course. He said a mix of municipal or rural water district water and well water is envisioned to keep the course fed. He also said none of the water from the course will drain back into the lake either. The main water issues, he said, will be traditional stormwater management issues, such as ensuring that runoff from parking lots and such are captured by stormwater detention areas instead of flowing into the lake.
Wise said the best proof of that is the whitewater center in Charlotte. It has about 80 acres of development, i.e. buildings, parking lots and other such items. But surrounding that development is open land. Not only is it open now, but Wise said the whitewater center has put “several hundred acres” of the surrounding property into conservation easements that ensure it will not be developed.
The one thing that is allowed to be developed is trails. He said the number of trails has grown from 9 miles to 35 miles, and the plan is to get to 50 miles of trails on the property in the near future. The trails are free for the public to use, although people who want to park nearby have to pay the $5 parking fee or buy a $40 annual parking pass.
If the project is built and meets Wise’s projections, it would bring about 700,000 people a year to the state park area. That alone makes some environmentalists nervous. But not Wise.
“By bringing more people out to the property, we’re creating the odds that more people will fall in love with the property,” Wise said. “Long term, that will be a good thing for the property.”
He also clearly thinks the project will be a good thing for the community as a whole. I think state officials believe so too. It became clear to me while talking to Wise that state officials with the Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism approached Wise about doing this project, rather than the other way around. Both Wise, and I believe, state officials think the whitewater project could be part of larger strategy to begin changing the image of Kansas.
Outdoor living and recreation is becoming a more prominent way to attract population. Kansas doesn’t have mountains or an ocean, so it may need to get more creative in how it keeps up with that trend.
“I’m blown away by what Lawrence is already doing,” Wise said. “Lawrence is in a great position to achieve a larger status in Kansas and the U.S. as a compelling place to be.”
Is whitewater rafting the vehicle to get us there?
The answer may lie in the money part of this equation. Wise and I talked about that too. More on that in tomorrow’s Town Talk.
Lawrence and Douglas County are the capital of higher education in Kansas, as evidenced by the presence of three universities, a campanile and several houses that make the bell tower sound like a quiet library. There is news, though, that Lawrence is losing one provider of higher education.
Pinnacle Career Institute has announced that it will close its Lawrence facility in July. Pinnacle is located in the Southern Hills Shopping Center at 23rd and Ousdahl. I reported yesterday how the owners of the center have filed plans to convert some of its space into a storage facility. Well, much of that space is where Pinnacle is currently located.
Rebecca Clothier, executive director of the Lawrence branch of Pinnacle, said the ownership of the educational company decided that it no longer made sense to locate two campuses in the Kansas City area and one in Lawrence. The Lawrence facility will close in July after current students finish their classwork.
“It is sad for us,” Clothier said. “I have been at this campus for quite awhile. Times are changing though with online education and flex education.”
Clothier said the Lawrence campus has about 100 students at any given time. According to its website, Pinnacle offers a variety of programs in medical, health and fitness, alternative energy and construction trades.
The pending closure will end a long history the company has had in Lawrence. The company has operated under the Pinnacle name since 2001, Clothier said. But previously the company operated in Lawrence as CTBI, which I think had been in operation in Lawrence since the 1980s.
23rd Street shopping center to downsize retail space; new report ranks Lawrence as one of the best cities for singles
I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation: You’re halfway through your weekly shopping trip and realize you should have rented the full-size semitrailer instead of the large U-Haul. Well, maybe one Lawrence shopping center is trying to address that common problem. It has filed plans to convert part of its retail space into storage units and to add several more in a portion of its parking lot.
Perhaps that is not the exact situation the Southern Hills Shopping Center is trying to address, but the shopping center at the corner of 23rd and Ousdahl indeed has filed plans to convert a significant portion of its space into self-storage units.
If you are having a hard time picturing it, the center is the one that houses King Buffet, Pizza Shuttle, The Salvation Army Store, Aaron’s and several other smaller businesses. But the shopping center also has some vacant space, and the Prairie Village-based group that owns the center plans to convert some of the vacant space in the eastern end of the center into climate-controlled storage space. About 30,000 square feet of space will be converted indoor, climate controlled storage space. A good portion of that space is where Pinnacle Career Institute is located currently. I did get confirmation that Pinnacle is leaving that space in July. I hope to have more to report on that soon.
The more noticeable change, though, is what would happen in the parking lot on the south side of the building, the side facing 24th Street. Plans call for much of the parking lot to be occupied by five new self-storage buildings totaling about 22,000 square feet. Technically, the plan calls the buildings “mini warehouses.” (I once labeled my garage a miniwarehouse as part of a plan to convince my wife to let me buy a forklift. It would have worked too, if the neighbors hadn’t filed that restraining order.)
The plans call for about 280 rental spaces in the miniwarehouses. No word yet on a timeline for the project. It must still win site plan approval from Lawrence City Hall. Lawrence’s BG Consultants has filed the plans. A representative with that company said a firm timeline for the project to begin had not been determined.
The property is owned by a group led by longtime Kansas City area developer Mark Ledom. No word yet on why the group is proposing the change to the center. The center, though, is near a high density neighborhood to the south that may have some self-storage needs. Plus, self storage seems to be a niche that is gaining some momentum. Plans also have been filed recently to expand the self-storage business that is near 31st and Ousdahl.
In other news and notes from around town:
• In a married household like mine, the pending arrival of Valentine’s Day means you’d better be planning something extra special. I know I’ve already got my reservation made at Netflix, and rumor has it that there may be nacho-flavored popcorn on this night of nights. If you are single, though, you may not give a flip about the day. You are free to get powdered artificial cheese on your couch any night of the week.
A new ranking suggests Lawrence may have a lot of folks who don’t give a flip. The financial website SmartAsset ranks Lawrence as the fifth best city in America to be single. The ranking measured factors such as marriage rates, median rents, bars per 100,000 people, entertainment establishments — think theaters, concert venues, bowling alleys, arcades, etc. — and the unemployment rate.
Lawrence ranked fairly high in all those categories but particularly high in the number of single people in the community. As a college community, Lawrence always has had a lower marriage rate than other communities, but it is even fairly low by university town standards. SmartAsset’s list of the Top 25 cities is crowded with college communities, but Lawrence still had a marriage rate well below the average.
Only 35 percent of the Lawrence population is married, according to the report, which used data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Of the 25 cities ranked, only five had lower marriage rates than Lawrence: Albany, N.Y., at 26 percent marriage rate; Buffalo, N.Y., 31 percent; Ames Iowa, 31 percent; Pittsburgh, 33 percent; and New Orleans, 33 percent.
Lawrence was fairly middle-of-the-pack in the other categories. One that was interesting, however, was bars per 100,000 residents. Lawrence has 32.8 bars per 100,000 people, according to Census figures. There were several communities with more than 50 per 100,000, but I was surprised that several major college communities on the list were significantly lower than Lawrence. Ames, home to Iowa State, had 25.5 per 100,000. Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas, had 17.3 per 100,000. And Columbia, Mo., home to the University of Missouri, had 17.1. (No word on whether their moonshine stills are counted in that figure.)
Make of that what you will. In the meantime, here’s a look at the top 10 best cities for singles:
Eau Claire, Wis.: Marriage rate 39 percent
Duluth, Minn.: Marriage rate 40 percent
Fargo, N.D.: Marriage rate 40 percent
Missoula, Mont.: Marriage rate 41 percent
(tie) Lawrence: Marriage rate 35 percent
(tie) Green Bay, Wis.: Marriage rate 44 percent
Madison, Wis. Marriage rate 37 percent
Oshkosh, Wis.: Marriage rate 36 percent
Portland, Maine: Marriage rate 40 percent
Asheville, N.C.: Marriage rate 42 percent
Perhaps the thing that jumped out at me also stands out to you: Wisconsin communities make up nearly half of the top 10. This, of course, makes sense. Wisconsin doesn't believe in powdered cheese, and in a married household, there is never a night where cheese sauce is allowed on the couch.
More details on gun range planned near Douglas County Jail; Lawrence to get national press as retirement destination
Maybe a gun range is a bit like a barber shop: Every city of a certain size will have at least one. Lawrence businessman Steve Robson has that philosophy anyway, and he says he has just the site for Lawrence’s indoor shooting facility.
Robson — who owns Ace Self Storage and Ace Bail Bonds — has filed plans to build a 12,000 square-foot indoor gun range and gun shop on property he owns near the Douglas County Jail.
“I think the city understands something like this is coming,” Robson said. “There is going to be a gun range in Lawrence, and what better place to have one than in a location where there aren’t really any houses or any schools?”
If some of this sounds familiar, it may be because I wrote about Robson floating the idea of a gun range in December. But at that time, he hadn’t taken any of the steps needed to actually start the project. Now he has.
Robson and Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects have filed a preliminary development plan to allow the facility to be built at 2350 Franklin Road. That is a vacant piece of ground just north of the Ace Bail Bonds office. The property is roughly a block away from the Douglas County Jail.
The other new piece of information since December is that it appears the city has limited options for denying the project, if it so chooses. I did get confirmation from a city official that Robson’s property has the correct zoning for a gun range. Now, the project must meet the various technical requirements related to site layout, parking, landscaping and other such details. But usually the best way to stop a project from being built is to argue that a piece of property isn’t properly zoned for such a use. Indoor gun ranges, though, are allowed in certain types of industrial zoning districts, and Robson’s property already has such a zoning designation.
But obviously the idea has the potential to get political. There is a large debate underway about whether concealed carry should be allowed on the KU campus, in government buildings and elsewhere. Robson hopes politics stays out of his project, but he said he thinks a gun range could appeal even to people who don’t support the concealed carry movement.
“I just think a gun range will make people safer,” Robson said. “I don’t think you ever are going to get guns away from people. Your next best bet is to make people safer with guns.”
Robson said he knows many people who own a gun but don’t have any place to ever shoot it. He said that is not a good situation.
“You need to have a place to get comfortable with a gun,” Robson said.
Robson also had a few more details about what the facility plans to offer. When I chatted with him in December he said the gun range would have 10 shooting lanes. Now, the plan calls for a dozen 25-yard shooting lanes. Plus, the range will be built to accommodate tactical shooting. That means a person would be able to walk up the range and shoot from side to side rather than simply standing at a bench and shooting straight down the range.
Robson also is planning to buy a $60,000 simulator. That is a device that includes a large video screen that will show various scenarios, such as someone robbing a home, and gives users a chance to test their skills in that situation. The user is equipped with a 9MM handgun that fires a laser rather than bullets.
In addition to the shooting lanes and simulator, the facility will offer a variety of classes, Robson said. Plus, about half the facility will be devoted to retail space, including the sale and rental of handguns, assault rifles, ammunition and accessories such as gun safes, scopes, holsters and other types of items
Planning commissioners are scheduled to hear the preliminary development plan in March. If approved, the plan then would go to the City Commission for approval. Robson hopes to be in a position to start construction on the facility in June.
Some of you may be remembering that there was a proposal for another indoor gun range. Lawrence businessman Rick Sells had confirmed plans for an indoor gun range in space at 23rd and Harper, in the building that used to house Bargain Depot. When I last chatted with Sells in December, he was still working to raise funds to get the venture started. I’ll let you know if I hear any more on that.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence is set to get some national press of a good kind. The city is featured as a “top retirement destination” in the upcoming issue of Where to Retire magazine. The March/April issue lists Lawrence among other destinations.
According to a press release from the magazine, the article touts KU’s basketball history, “pleasant downtown strolls,” an award-winning public library and “cultural bonanzas” such as Pulitzer-Prize winning speakers, NPR show tapings and musical concerts.
The magazine hits the newsstands on Feb. 14.
Plans moving ahead for North Lawrence concert, event venue; business owner opens spot for small businesses to meet for free
Maybe you are still recovering from your Super Bowl party. I know my arteries still burn from the wing sauce, my dog still regrets eating the leftover bacon cheese dip, and the Australian prime minister is still exasperated that whatever caused Lady Gaga to disappear can’t be used to end awkward phone calls. On the heels of all that, I have news that a new party spot is working to open in North Lawrence.
Back in April I reported that some preliminary plans had been filed for a new concert and event venue in North Lawrence called Northern Sands Venue. Local entrepreneur Michael Westheffer had plans to build the facility at the northwest corner of the Kansas Turnpike and North Third Street intersection.
Then, for several months, there wasn’t much news to report about the project. Well, it looks like it is moving forward again. A site plan has been filed at City Hall that would allow the project to begin construction.
The project proposes to do about $135,000 worth of renovations to the site, which previously housed warehouses and a surplus store that sold tools and other similar items. Plans call for new restrooms, new landscaping, a covered patio, parking improvements and interior renovations.
Don’t expect the center to host huge events, though. The plans filed by Lawrence-based Allen Belot Architects indicated that the indoor space will be about 5,000 square feet, and capacity for indoor events would be about 300 people. The property, though, is being arranged to host outdoor events too. But those also look like they won’t be Woodstock type of affairs. The facility is proposing to have only about 115 parking spaces.
I’ve got a message out to Westheffer to get an update on the project, such as a timeline for opening. When I chatted with Westheffer in April he told me music concerts would be the bread-and-butter of the facility. He’s had a few years of experience in the music production business, and he said the facility would seek to attract a variety of acts, including rock, country, bluegrass and other genres.
Back in April Westheffer said he hoped Northern Sands Venue would ultimately become something similar to Knuckleheads, which is an event venue in an industrial district near the Missouri River in Kansas City, Mo.
“We want to create a place that is not just your everyday place,” Westheffer said at the time. “We want a place where you can come eat some food, have a good time. We want to create a next-level environment.”
The facility will have a chance to draw some regional crowds. It will be just a couple hundred feet away from the turnpike exit in North Lawrence.
Westheffer said the facility would seek a liquor license.
I’ll let you know if I hear more from Westheffer about the project.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Office meetings aren’t quite as loud and as exciting as a music concert — except for that unfortunate time I downloaded the wrong PowerPoint presentation. But an eastern Lawrence business wants to do its part to make sure small businesses have a place to meet.
Dee Bisel, the longtime owner of Lawrence-based Minuteman Press, has opened a new meeting center called The Garage. The facility is next door to the Minuteman Press print shop at 1404 E. 24th St. Bisel is making the space available to small businesses free of charge to use for events such as training sessions, board meetings, referral groups and other such functions. She’s also open to hosting some nonprofit and charity groups, although she said business-to-business functions are primarily what she had in mind when she recently opened the space.
Bisel decided to offer the service after the space next door to her print shop became available for lease. She didn’t have a particular need for the space currently, but she thought she should secure it now for possible expansion in the future. In the meantime, she set it up with six moveable tables and 24 chairs.
“I admire how businesses like Sandbar, Crown Automotive and several banks have provided meeting rooms to the community,” Bisel said. “I just think that is a really nice service to offer, and we were in a position to do it, and I think there is a need for it on the east side of town.”
The meeting room is available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Interested businesses can call Bisel at Minuteman at 842-2656.
Maybe it was shoppers buying an extra large Thanksgiving turkey. Maybe it was voters buying post-election migraine medicine, or maybe it was prescient Atlanta Falcons fans buying choke collars. Whatever the case, Lawrence shoppers appeared to be big spenders during the early holiday shopping season, a new report from the state shows.
The city received its first sales tax check of 2017 from the Kansas Department of Revenue. Although the check is the city’s January distribution it actually measures sales that took place in November.
The report shows Lawrence sales tax collections were up 6.7 percent in November from the same period a year earlier. That was the best growth rate of any large retail community in the state.
The latest report continues a trend. Throughout 2016, Lawrence had the largest sales tax growth rate of any of the large retail communities in Kansas. Lawrence saw sales tax collections grow by about 5.5 percent in 2016.
This latest report only shows one month worth of activity, but it was an important month for retailers. The report captures sales made on the Black Friday shopping spree after Thanksgiving. Next month’s report will provide an indication of how sales went after Black Friday. Here’s a look at how Lawrence stacks up against other large retail communities:
— Lawrence: up 6.7 percent
— Topeka: up 4.7 percent
— Lenexa: up 3.5 percent
— Olathe: up 2.4 percent
— Manhattan: up 1 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 0.9 percent
— Johnson County: down 0.6 percent
— Overland Park: down 2.4 percent
— Kansas City: down 23.2 percent
No word on what is going on with Kansas City, Kan. Because it is just one month’s worth of data, I wouldn’t read too much into it. It could just be a reporting anomaly.
Lawrence’s numbers will be worth watching in 2017. Sales taxes are more important than ever for City Hall finances. Both the city and county are now operating under the state’s property tax lid, which means it is more difficult for those governments to raise property tax rates without holding an election. Any growth in sales tax revenues would help them avoid contemplating that type of property tax increase.
I promise, at some point I’ll quit writing about fried chicken restaurants. (The grease on my fingers will make it too difficult to type.) But more fried chicken restaurants keep opening in town, and the subject continues to be one I get asked about a lot. So, I have news on the opening date for Lawrence’s latest fried chicken restaurant, Zaxby’s.
Zaxby’s has announced that its grand opening will be Feb. 18. Although I left my Sherlock Holmes hat at home, a little bit of detective work indicates you can get some of Zaxby’s chicken well before that. When I was taking a photo of the new building, there was a sign taped to the drive-thru message board that said the store was opening at 10 a.m. Monday. My guess is the grand opening is Feb. 18, but the restaurant will have a soft opening on Monday.
If you have forgotten, Zaxby’s is located in the Bauer Farm development near Sixth and Wakarusa. Chicken fingers, chicken wings, chicken sandwiches, and an indiscriminate use of the letter ‘z’ are hallmarks of Zaxby’s menu. Chicken fingers are “fingerz,” salads are “zalads” and appetizers are “zappetizers.” The menu also includes about five dipping sauces ranging from marinara to its signature zak sauce. Also available are about 10 wing sauces ranging from mild to “insanely” hot.
• If you are keeping track at home, the Zaxby’s opening may be the end of the chicken rush for awhile. All the other chain restaurants that have announced plans for Lawrence already have opened. Those include: Chick-fil-A, Wing Stop, Popeyes, Raising Cane’s, and Slim Chickens, although Slim Chickens has filed plans for a second Lawrence location. As we have reported, that location would be along south Iowa Street where Barb Wire Steakhouse previously was located.
There is probably at least one more chicken restaurant development to keep an eye on. We reported in early January about plans for Wake the Dead: Chicken Whiskey, Donuts to open at 918 Massachusetts St. in the former location of Burger Fi.
Not long ago, though, the business’ Facebook page announced the location was changing to the spot above the tavern John Brown Underground on East Seventh Street. (Yes, across the street from my office.) Then, more recently, the business posted on Facebook again that it was back at 918 Massachusetts, but its name was changing to Harold's.
You may remember that Harold's was a small fried chicken restaurant in the gas station building near Sixth and Kasold in west Lawrence. As we’ve reported, Nick Wysong of Lawrence’s Ingredient restaurant, is one of the leaders of the group opening Wake the Dead. He also was the guy who opened Harold's. I haven’t talked with Wysong since the name change, but something caused him to drop the Wake the Dead theme.
What hasn’t changed, though, is the restaurant still will serve fried chicken, doughnuts and whiskey. The restaurant’s website has a menu now. It lists about 20 doughnut flavors, including some traditional maple-glazed ones, but also more unusual ones such as an Arnold Palmer, and Oreo explosion, pink champagne pistachio, and something called The Elvis.
Beyond doughnuts, the restaurant lists a handful of fried chicken dinners, chicken wings, a Louisiana catfish plate and about a half dozen dipping sauces, including country gravy. Sides seem to be fairly traditional with potatoes and gravy, mac-n-cheese, coleslaw, a few salad options, french fries and even chicken noodle soup among the options.
Yes, some of you who ate at the old Harold’s may remember the Grilled Glazer sandwich, which was a toasted maple glazed doughnut topped with fried chicken, cheese and a secret sauce. That too is on the menu, and so is hamburger version of that concoction.
Look for the restaurant to open soon, according to the latest info on the company’s Facebook page.
UPDATE: I talked to Wysong Friday afternoon, and he said he plans to begin frying chicken and doughnuts next week. He may even set aside a day to give free doughnuts away late in the week, he said. As for the name change, he said after the Journal-World ran the original article about Wake the Dead, he heard from a lot of people who said they really loved Harolds Fried Chicken. That feedback caused him to reconsider changing the name. It also sounds like the ownership group that had come together to create the Wake the Dead concept is no longer fully intact.
Final numbers in for city’s record-setting apartment building boom; a look at the $1 million-plus projects in Lawrence
We already have reported it has been a record-setting year for apartment construction. By the end of September Lawrence builders already had constructed more apartments than in any year in the city’s history. But perhaps you are asking: What ended up being the grand total of apartments built in Lawrence in 2016?
What? You hadn’t asked that question? Maybe this why I don’t get invited to dinner parties anymore. Regardless, the answer is 1,205 apartment units were built in the city last year. (And, for what it is worth, inauguration crowd estimators believe the number could be closer to 1 billion.) Lawrence didn’t just set a new record for apartment construction; it obliterated the old record. The previous high-water mark was 972 apartment units built in 1996.
Whether you think Lawrence needed that many new apartments, one thing not in dispute is apartment construction added a lot of dollars to the local economy in 2016. The highest dollar value project in the city last year was an a apartment complex — $26.4 million for The Links at Lawrence project just east of Rock Chalk Park. In case you have forgotten, that is the complex that will have apartment buildings built around a nine-hole private golf course.
In fact, the five largest construction projects in the city were all apartments — either the traditional kind or those focused on retirement living. This number also is interesting: $80.7 million. I looked at the 25 largest construction projects in the city in 2016, and added up the value of all the apartment projects on that list; $80.7 million is what I came up with. Another interesting number that comes from that: $1.2 million. Let’s assume $80.7 million is the fair market value of all the new apartments built in the city. Property in the Lawrence city limits pays property taxes at a rate of about 130 mills. That would mean local governments are collecting about $1.2 million in new taxes from the new apartment complexes.
But, hey, if you want big numbers, I’ve got lots of them to share. I’ve been touring Lawrence’s other building boom — fried chicken restaurants — and I just had a cholesterol test. Actually, I won’t share those numbers. Instead, here are some facts and figures from the 2016 year-end building permit report produced by Lawrence City Hall:
• The city issued permits for $220.8 million worth of building projects in 2016. That was nearly a record. It fell just short of the $227.8 million record that was set in 2015. There has never been a two-year period in Lawrence where there has been so much construction. And remember, none of these numbers includes huge amounts of construction underway on the KU campus. That construction is inspected by state officials, and thus does not show up in the city of Lawrence’s building permit totals.
Here’s a look at how 2016 stacked up to past years:
— 2016: $220.8 million
— 2015: $227.8 million
— 2014: $99.7 million
— 2013: $171.9 million
— 2012: $100.6 million
— 2011: $115.7 million
— 2010: $101.8 million
— 2009: $75.3 million
• There were a lot of building projects constructed on the public’s dime in 2016, but not quite as many as in 2015. The city issued permits for $25.6 million worth of publicly financed construction projects, ranging from city, county, school and Lawrence Memorial Hospital projects. That was down a bit from the $35.4 million total in 2015.
• Single-family and duplex construction had a better-than-average year but declined a bit from 2015 totals. The city issued permits for 171 single-family homes or duplexes. That was down from 239. The average since 2010, though, has been about 150 permits per year.
• The city’s building inspections department is setting records for the number of fees it is collecting. The city department collected $1.3 million in building permit inspection fees in 2016, up about $300,000 from the 2015 totals. Compared with 2009, when the community was still feeling the impacts of the recession, fee revenues are up about $735,000. In addition, builders will be paying higher fees in some cases in 2017. The city increased some of its fees on Jan. 1, primarily for multifamily and commercial construction projects.
• There were 26 construction projects valued at $1 million or more in Lawrence in 2016. I think we have written about all of them at one point or another. Here’s a look:
The Links at Lawrence apartments, 5400 Rock Chalk Drive: $26.4 million
Alvamar Apartments, 1575 Birdie Way: $14.4 million
West End Apartments, 5400 Overland Drive: $14.2 million
Village Cooperative, 5325 W. Sixth St.: $8.3 million
Bauer Farms apartments, 4541 Bauer Farms Drive: $6 million
Maple Street Pump Station, 547 Maple St.: $5.9 million
Pinckney Elementary School addition and renovations: $5.7 million
Bethel Estates of Lawrence, 2140 E. 25th Terrace: $5.5 million
800 New Hampshire apartment addition: $4 million
KU Tennis Facility, 6100 Rock Chalk Drive: $3.9 million
Clinton Water Treatment Plant improvements: $3.8 million
Sunflower Elementary School renovations: $3.3 million
Growing Smiles Dental office, 4320 W. Sixth Street: $2.8 million
Douglas County Fairgrounds Pavilion: $2.7 million
PetSmart, 4820 Bauer Farm Drive, $2.3 million
Retail center at 525 Wakarusa Drive (Spin pizza et. al): $2 million
Lawrence Paper Company addition, 2801 Lakeview Road: $1.8 million
Lawrence Beer Company brewery and apartments, 826 Pennsylvania St.: $1.7 million
Regal Cinema renovations, 3433 Iowa St.: $1.5 million
Clinton raw water pump station improvements, 1316 E. 902 Road: $1.5 million
M&M Office Supply building renovation, 623 Massachusetts: $1.4 million
Popeye’s Restaurant, 2540 Iowa: $1.3 million
Wakarusa Township Fire Station No. 1, 300 W. 31st St.: $1.1 million
Broken Arrow Elementary School renovations: $1 million
KU Golf Practice Facility at Alvamar, 1610 Birdie Way: $1 million
Mid America Credit Union, 550 Wakarusa Drive: $1 million.
Effects of KU’s construction boom soon may become a little more evident on downtown’s Massachusetts Street. No, construction crews still seem disinclined to let me take a bulldozer for a spin, but you should look for a new high-profile office of an engineering firm that is expanding, in part, because of all the work going on at KU.
Perhaps you have noticed construction work is underway on the old M&M Office Supply building at 623 Massachusetts. Well, part of that work is to accommodate a new office for Professional Engineering Consultants.
For a number of years, the company — which primarily goes by PEC — has had a Lawrence office at Sixth and Vermont streets in the building that houses the local accounting firm The McFadden Group. Jarrod Mann, principal and Lawrence office lead for PEC, told me the engineering firm was quickly outgrowing that space.
That led the company to sign a deal to lease the entire second floor of the old M&M Office Supply building.
“We’ve been having a lot of growth in our staff,” Mann said. “This will let us almost double the amount of square footage that we have available.”
PEC’s Lawrence office has grown from just a handful of employees since it entered the Lawrence market in 1999 to 18 employees currently. The new space easily will allow the firm to grow to 30 employees. Mann offered no timetable on when the company may see that type of growth, but he said business has been good.
The historic amount of construction underway at the University of Kansas campus has certainly played a role in the company’s growth. PEC is working on parts of the Central District construction projects, and the company has an on-call contract to do work for the university. Mann also cited several projects by hospitals in the region that have aided the company’s growth, and the Kansas Department of Transportation continues to be a good customer, despite the strained finances of the state.
The Lawrence office serves the greater northeast Kansas area, Mann said. The company is based in Wichita, but also has offices in Topeka, Pittsburg, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Fort Collins.
The company is an example of the type of firm that economic development leaders would be wise to keep an eye on. When I talk about Lawrence striving to be the “Creative Capital of the Great Plains,” this is an example of a company I’m talking about. Engineers, architects, software designers, marketing firms and other such businesses that rely on a large number of creative minds are attractive types of jobs. And Lawrence may be an attractive type of community for those types of workers, who often place a high value on quality-of-life factors.
The engineering industry also is a good example of where Lawrence may have something that Kansas City can’t offer. The Kansas City metro does not have an engineering school that can compete with KU’s. If you are an engineering firm that wants to be close to a pipeline of new talent, Lawrence may have some advantages over KC.
In talking with Mann, the other thing I noted is that companies are starting to notice a synergy in downtown Lawrence. Mann told me that when PEC started looking for new office space, it definitely wanted to stay in downtown Lawrence. The reason: Many of an engineering firm’s largest clients are architects, and downtown Lawrence has a lot of architects. Treanor, Gould Evans, Sabatini, and Paul Werner are all fairly large firms that are based in the downtown area.
Communities with successful economies usually find a synergy they can exploit to their advantage. Who knows, maybe this is one for Lawrence.
As for the PEC project, look for the company to move into its new offices sometime in May.
• PEC remodeling work is not the only thing going on with the M&M building. As we have reported, the facade of the building is getting a whole new look. The stucco, 1970s style largely will be gone, and more bricks and windows will take its place.
The big unanswered question, though, is what else may go into the building. PEC is taking the entire second floor, but the ground floor may be primed to bring in new retailers. In case you have forgotten, the building is unique in downtown because the building — which used to be a car dealership years ago — is set off of Massachusetts Street a few feet. That allows for private parking stalls at the front door of the building, rather than the metered parking spaces that dominate the rest of Massachusetts Street.
Allison Vance Moore with the Lawrence office of Colliers International is marketing the ground-floor space to retailers. She said the space could accommodate one larger retailer or two smaller ones, but she said she didn’t have any updates on potential tenants yet.
The confusing speed limit situation on the eastern edge of Lawrence, and whether it is set to change
Perhaps you are thinking the city of Lawrence has a secret plan to deal with the feared fiscal problems that await once a new property tax lid and other state budget woes filter down to City Hall. The plan: a speed trap on the section of 23rd Street just east of O’Connell Road.
If you have driven that stretch of 23rd Street, which turns into Kansas Highway 10 just east of town, you perhaps have noticed that it has a 45 mph speed limit, despite the road being designed much like a four-lane highway. You also may have noticed that if you actually drive 45 mph on that stretch of road, you will have an SUV in your backseat.
The stretch of street kind of has the feel of a potential speed trap, in part, because prior to the area becoming a construction zone for the South Lawrence Trafficway, the road had a speed limit of 55. It was assumed that once the construction work ended, which was late last year, the speed limit would be restored to 55. That didn’t happen, though. To make the situation odder, the westbound portion of the road — the section from the SLT to O’Connell Road — is 55 mph. So, if you are heading east out of town, the speed limit is 45. If you are heading west into town, it is 55.
To the city’s credit, though, police officers have not been running a speed trap along the stretch of street. Despite the fact it is very hard to find a vehicle that actually travels less than 45 mph on the street, I haven’t seen or heard of any signs of a large number of tickets being written in the area.
I have heard from several readers, though, questioning why the speed limit is so low.
Also to the city’s credit, I’ve been told it is working with the Kansas Department of Transportation to get the speed limit raised to 55. City Engineer David Cronin told me this morning that he made the request to KDOT a few weeks ago. He said KDOT officials told him they intend to change the speed limit, but he wasn’t given a timeline. It sounds like signs have to be ordered, and a time has to be scheduled for them to be installed. (It could be awhile. KDOT officials are very busy hiding their couches from the governor, who keeps going through the cushions looking for loose change.)
It is not clear why KDOT put the 45 mph signs up to begin with. Cronin said it wasn’t simply a mistake of construction crews forgetting to take down the construction speed limit signs. Cronin said the design plans for the road show that stretch being 45 mph. But Cronin said there aren’t any traffic standards or particular road conditions that would make a 55 mph speed limit unsafe.
“We feel like the signs need to be consistent with what people feel is the comfortable speed for that street,” Cronin said.
A long-held theory in traffic engineering is that speed limits should roughly be equal to the 85th percentile of vehicle speeds on the street. (That is why mathematicians and other people who understand percentiles always drive 120 mph.) The 85th percentile on that stretch of road definitely isn’t 45 mph.
At some point the stretch of street will be a full-fledged city street, and there won’t be a need to get KDOT’s permission to change the speed limits. The state is the controlling party on the road currently because it used to be Kansas Highway 10. The South Lawrence Traffiway is now Kansas Highway 10. At some point the state will transfer the old K-10 — basically all of 23rd Street — back to the city. But as we have reported, the city is currently negotiating with the state on maintenance work the state should conduct on the street before it is turned back over to the city. Cronin said those negotiations are still underway.
Shop that sells quick, healthy food coming to west Lawrence; update on Blue Moose Bar & Grill; Lawrence to be on Fox Business Network tonight
There is a new menu item coming to Lawrence called “Look Good Naked Smart Chicken.” No, the battle between the plethora of Lawrence fried chicken restaurants hasn’t devolved into a clothing-optional battle (never a good idea around a fryer). Instead, there is a new business coming to west Lawrence that says it makes ready-to-eat meals so healthy that you will like how you look in the mirror, even sans clothes.
The growing Omaha-based franchise Eat Fit Go has signed a deal to locate near Sixth and Wakarusa in the retail building that houses Spin Pizza, just east of Wal-Mart. Eat Fit Go isn’t really a restaurant, though. Instead, it is a shop where you can buy ready-to-eat meals that just need warmed up.
The business will have coolers full of ready-to-eat meals. You can buy one at a time or sign up for the store’s weekly meal plans where you can get several days' worth of food. Each meal has nutritional information on it, and instructions for reheating. If you are hungry at that moment, though, the store will have a few tables and a microwave.
David Baumann — who is opening the Lawrence location along with business partners Joel Jacobs and Jeff White — said that on any given day there will be about 40 different meals or food items to choose from. The menu currently has breakfast items like a southwest scramble, a steak and eggs dish and breakfast burritos. The lunch and dinner menu includes items like a chicken pesto pasta, chicken fried rice, enchiladas, jambalaya, beef tenderloin and potatoes, and several salads. Then there is the “naked” portion of the menu. The store sells a popular dish called Look Good Naked Smart Chicken and also a Look Good Naked Salmon dish, both of which feature something called roasted vegetables and a low number of calories.
Folks who are looking to eat healthy are obviously a big part of the business’ target market. The meals even have a barcode that can be scanned into the Weight Watchers app and other fitness programs. But Baumann thinks the market will be bigger than just healthy eaters.
“Our target market is pretty broad,” Baumann said. “Initially it is just busy people on the go. That can be the busy millennial or it can be the sports mom. We find there are a lot of young professionals who don’t really engage in cooking full meals very much. But we also find that the 50 and older crowd don’t cook as much either and don’t want to eat out every night. This is a healthy way and a portion-controlled way to eat.”
Baumann estimated most meals will cost between $6.75 to $9, depending on whether you get the small or large version. The menu includes some staples that are available week after week, but new items are rotated in about every quarter. All the meals are made off-site at a commercial kitchen supervised by a chef.
Baumann is part of the group that owns the franchise for Lawrence, Manhattan and Wichita. Allison Vance Moore, a broker with the Lawrence office of Colliers International, negotiated the deal to bring the company to the west Lawrence site. Baumann said Lawrence is his group’s focus currently, but plans to add locations in Manhattan and Wichita.
“We felt Lawrence was a great market,” Baumann said. “It is a progressive town. The university helps with that, and there is good growth with the number of young professionals living there.”
Baumann said he hopes to have the shop — which will employ about 20 people and is hiring now — open by the end of March.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Since we are in the neighborhood, I thought I would give you an update about plans for a Blue Moose Bar & Grill in west Lawrence. As we have reported, the Kansas City-based restaurant is slated to go in the same building as Eat Fit Go and Spin Pizza.
Several of you, however, have called worried that the restaurant had decided not to come to Lawrence after all. We reported that it was slated to open in October or November, and it clearly did not.
Well, be patient. It takes a long time to cook a moose (the antlers make the oven door hard to close). Actually, I always get confused: the moose isn’t on the menu but rather is the mascot. Regardless, it takes a fair amount of time to build a new Blue Moose Bar & Grill from scratch.
But Ed Nelson, who is the president of the Kansas City restaurant company KC Hopps, which is the parent company of Blue Moose, told me work is still underway and going well.
“It is going to be amazing,” Nelson said. “It is a real treat to have a brand new space to work with.”
The new construction, though, is just taking longer than expected. Nelson said he now expects the restaurant to open in late April or early May.
In case you have forgotten about the Blue Moose or have never been to one of its locations in Kansas City or Topeka, I described it last year as being “fancy but not full-on-fancy.” Yes, the restaurant does serve items such as chicken wings, hamburgers, pizza — the flatbread variety — and even fried pickles. But you’ll also find more upscale items such as a baked brie appetizer, several salmon and fish dishes, a couple of pasta offerings and a dish called lemon chicken saltimbocca.
• Look for Lawrence, and one of its newest attractions, to get some national television time tonight. The cable channel Fox Business Network will feature Lawrence as part of its program called Strange Inheritance.
A network spokeswoman alerted me that tonight’s episode will feature the story of Naismith’s original rules of basketball. The episode — called the “Basketball Magna Carta” — was partially shot in Lawrence and includes interviews with members of the James Naismith family. Of course, it also tells the tale of how KU alumnus David Booth ended up purchasing the rules and allowing them to be housed in a new building connected to Allen Fieldhouse.
The episode airs at 8 tonight, and of course, will be shown in reruns too. Fox Business is on channel 139 on the local cable system.
If you have done contortionist acts with a coat hanger in one hand and a radio dial in the other, you may be an AM radio listener. (If you're not, I'm really curious what you are doing.) Well, there’s news on that front. One of Lawrence’s AM stations is expanding over to the FM dial.
The parent company that owns Lawrence’s KLWN 1320 has confirmed that it is launching a new FM station that will simulcast all KLWN programming, including Jayhawk athletics and the Kansas City Royals.
Tim Robisch, general manager for Great Plains Media, said the new radio station will broadcast at 101.7 on the radio dial. The station actually is already on the air some, but its signal may be intermittent while technicians are tweaking signal strength and doing various other tests required by the FCC.
Beginning Tuesday morning, the station is expected to be fully operational. Robisch said the new station is big news for Great Plains, which in addition to KLWN 1320 also operates pop music station 105.9 KISS FM, and country music station 92.9 The Bull. KLWN is a news and sports talk radio station, with much of its morning and afternoon programing consisting of locally produced shows. Robisch said that will continue to be the case. The difference will be that people can now listen to it on an FM frequency, which is expected to producer greater audience both geographically and demographically.
“We know because of the technology that our signal now will get into Johnson County and Topeka, but we’re not going to change our focus on Douglas County,” Robisch said, although he thinks the change will be attractive to Lawrence commuters who work in Topeka or Kansas City. The station’s transmitter is attached to the KANU public radio tower on west campus.
Robisch is hoping the FM frequency will attract some listeners who are otherwise hard to reach on the AM dial.
“There are a lot of people under the age of 40 that may never tune into AM radio,” Robisch said. “This will give us a chance to reach them.”
In addition, AM radio continues to face signal challenges as tall buildings, Bluetooth connections and other issues can cause interruptions in the AM signal. KLWN took advantage of the federal AM Revitalization Act, which allows certain AM stations to purchase the frequency of an FM station to use as a simulcast channel for AM programming.
People who still like the AM experience, though, won’t have to change. KLWN programming will continue to be broadcast on the 1320 frequency. That means there now will be three Lawrence-based radio stations broadcasting KU sports — 1320, 105.9 and soon 101.7. Robisch said the Kansas City Royals also will be broadcast on the 101.7 frequency.
“But it also will include the high school football and basketball games that we do,” Robisch said. “I think people will really be excited about that.”