Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Keeping an eye on the possibility of a new west Lawrence grocery store; building project slated for west Lawrence business park
As a man with a 13-year old son who eats his meals not by the plate but rather by the pallet, I’m always keeping my eyes open for word of new grocery stores. Last week I provided an update on the latest efforts to land a store in downtown Lawrence, but that’s not the only place to keep an eye on. West Lawrence may be a dark horse contender for a new store too.
The area near the new Bob Billings Parkway and the South Lawrence Trafficway interchange has some of the more interesting development possibilities in the city. As we reported long ago, the northeast quadrant of that interchange has about 15 acres of property that is zoned for commercial and retail use. A grocery store certainly is high on the list of users the local development group is seeking. I don’t want to create false expectations — no deal is imminent — but the site is starting to draw interest.
“We have had a lot of conversations with grocers,” said Tim Herndon, a representative of the development group, and a longtime Lawrence land planning professional who is now working with Kansas City-based Wallace Engineering. “The time is just not quite right.”
But that may be changing. The interchange has only been open for a few months, and retailers are just now starting to see the new traffic counts that travel by the site each day.
“Everybody is still waiting to see what the traffic really will be,” Herndon said. “But they are beginning to understand that we now have an interchange connected to the front door of KU via parkway.”
With the opening of the interchange, city and KU leaders are planning on Bob Billings Parkway becoming the key gateway to the KU campus for travelers coming from the west.
In addition to grocery stores, Herndon said hotel operators also have been very interested in the property. Again, no deal is imminent, but the property is drawing good interest, and could really take off depending on how the City Commission deals with one issue. Commissioners in the coming months will be asked to decide whether to allow new apartment development on the west side of the SLT. That project potentially could add 2,000 apartment units to the area over several years, although I’m hearing some talk the proposal may shrink some in size. Regardless, adding a thousand or more living units next door to the commercial area, plus the possibility for more as other areas west of the trafficway develop, would get the attention of even more retailers. Whether the project can win the support of city commissioners, though, is uncertain.
“Needless to say, that project would be fabulous for our project,” Herndon said. “But everything takes time.”
The project Herndon is working on — which is dubbed Langston Heights and is being led by members of Lawrence’s Raney family — also has a residential component that is well underway. It also is interesting because it is bucking a bit of a longtime trend. In recent years, residential construction in Lawrence has been skewed toward apartments and townhomes/duplexes. There are some of those uses at Langston Heights, but the development has taken the unusual step of downzoning some property to accommodate single-family development.
Herndon has filed plans to have about five acres that already are approved for townhouse/duplex construction downzoned to allow for single-family construction. The change will remove 28 duplex units from the project and replace them with 17 single-family homes.
“It has been a surprise to me that that the single-family market has outpaced the town home market far and away,” Herndon said. “It is the first time I have been involved in a master plan to downzone duplex zoning to single-family housing.”
Some of the single-family lots in Langston Heights — although not all of them — are using a relatively new zoning category that allows for a 5,000 square-foot lot rather than the more traditional 7,000 square-foot lot. Herndon said that’s been popular with builders. The smaller lot comes at a more affordable price, and buyers haven’t been concerned about having less space.
“The fact is you can put as big of a house on the smaller lot,” Herndon said. “The significant difference is you just have less lawn to maintain. It is a sign of the times that some people are looking for that.”
Herndon said construction is about 80 percent complete on the first phase of the project, which is 30 acres of residential development. He said utilities are now being installed for the second and final phase, which is another 15 acres of residential development.
In other news and notes:
• While I was talking with Herndon, I also learned details of one other west Lawrence development. Look for Lawrence-based Rainbow International of NE Kansas to build a new office and shop building on a vacant lot in the 1300 block of Research Park Drive.
Rainbow is a company that specializes in restoring properties that have been damaged by water, fire, mold or other such hazards. It has space along Wakarusa Drive currently, but Herndon said the company has outgrown the location.
A tentative deal has been reached for Rainbow to build a new facility just southeast of the intersection of Legends Drive and Research Park Drive. The property is basically behind Neu Physical Therapy.
The deal does need city approval, though. The property currently is zoned for an industrial business park use. In order for Rainbow to have the shop component of their business, the property needs to be rezoned to a light industrial zoning category, which allows for a broader range of industrial uses. Herndon has filed plans for the rezoning at City Hall, and also has agreed to limit some of the types of industrial uses that could be located on the property in the future.
• I’m sitting in a bath of Gatorade, and I suggest you do the same. It is good preparation for tomorrow’s Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale. Get ready for thousands of shoppers to be in the downtown area from sunup to sundown. Come see me with your questions, comments or story tips at a Journal-World booth near Eighth and Massachusetts. I’ll be there from about 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
I’ll be the guy with the Gatorade-colored tie.
Despite concerns to the contrary, Lawrence is still a city of the arts. These days, the newest creation from artists are arrows — available for free if you promise to shoot them at City Manager Tom Markus’ proposed 2017 budget. Or, perhaps, Markus would tell you they seem to be aimed a bit more at the architect than the document.
City commissioners tonight will take another important step in crafting the 2017 budget. Tonight is the night they essentially have to figure out whether they are going to raise property taxes to support the budget. Markus has presented a recommended budget that keeps property taxes steady, but makes several cuts, including eliminating the city’s director of arts and culture and reducing some funding for the Lawrence Arts Center.
This is the most contentious budget process we have had in several years. Normally a debate over whether to put a stop sign at the corner of Po and Dunk draws more public comment than the nearly $200 million budget the city approves. This year, though, commissioners have gotten what they say they always want: A public that cares about the budget.
I spent some time on Monday talking with Markus — who is going through his first Lawrence budget process but is a veteran at crafting budgets for other cities — and I’ve also been spending time reading the document. Here are a few observations:
• City Commissioner Matthew Herbert got his hand slapped for saying he thought this budget was putting us on a path to becoming Topeka. It certainly wasn’t a great strategy on Herbert’s part for creating neighborly relations. (He has since apologized.) But I guess I will say something similar: This budget debate is starting to sound like the kind they have in the statehouse in Topeka. It is clear that there are some people who don’t like Marcus’ idea of cutting some arts funding. That’s perfectly fine. It may not be a good decision.
What happens in Topeka when you don’t like an idea somebody has proposed is this.
Step 1: Compare the proposer of the idea to someone who is unpopular. In Topeka, that is usually President Barack Obama. In Lawrence, it works much better to compare the person to Gov. Sam Brownback. Read social media or some of the comments city commissioners are receiving, and you’ll see some arts supporters are comparing Markus to Brownback.
Step 2: Tell people if they support this idea, they can’t be considered a true (fill in the blank here.) In Topeka the blank is usually filled in with conservative. There are certain things you can’t say and still be considered a conservative, we are told. In Lawrence, it is a bit more complicated, but what I’m hearing in this debate is that you can’t propose a cut to the arts and claim to understand “Lawrence values.” To be fair not everyone who has opposed the budget cuts has used these tactics, but there has been more of it than normal in Lawrence. There have been social media chains circulating asking people to ask commissioners to fire Markus.
I guess I would point out a couple of things. These proposed cuts to the city budget are predicated on Markus’ strong belief that the city should not dip into its reserve funds to balance the budget. A reticence to dip into reserve funds has not been a hallmark of the Brownback administration. And on the subject of “Lawrence values,” there is no doubt than an appreciation for the arts is among them. But I think the overriding value in Lawrence is tolerance and an openness to beliefs different than your own.
Again, this isn’t meant to say that people shouldn’t oppose the proposed cuts to the arts or anything else. The recommendation may not be a good one. But it seems like the opposition could be argued in a way that sounds less like those we so often criticize in Topeka.
I believe Markus is holding up fine from some of the personal criticism he is receiving for this budget proposal, but he did say something interesting in my interview with him: “I do have a mantra of attacking the issue and not the person.”
But Marcus has been in this game long enough to know that doesn’t always happen.
“It is fine to focus on me,” Markus said. “I’m the one making the recommendations.”
• It will be interesting to see if city commissioners start taking some of the heat soon. A large reason Markus’ recommended budget is crafted in this manner is because of a directive from the city commission. The arts funding and other cuts could be reversed if commissioners are willing to raise the property tax rate. I asked Markus why he didn’t propose that. The answer was simple: “The commission has expressed a strong desire not to have a tax increase. That has been my motivation.” Markus said he understands why the commission doesn’t want to have a tax increase. But I didn’t sense that Markus thinks the community will fall off a cliff if a moderate tax increase is implemented. I think he is worried, though, if the city decides to forego a tax increase, forego the cuts, and instead just dip into its reserve funds.
“The state has put itself in fiscal peril, it seems to me,” Markus said. “My concern is what else might happen. We are supporting a lot of issues and people in this community. They’re depending on us to be able to make good on the things we say we can fund. A healthy fund balance helps ensure we can do that.”
• The numbers, especially as they relate to arts funding, are pretty interesting. Some of the opponents of the arts cuts have made it sound like the city is completely defunding the arts. That’s not the case. It is true that the director of arts and culture position would be eliminated. Those responsibilities would have to be absorbed by other city staff members or the director of the Lawrence Arts Center — Markus said both options are feasible — or those duties simply won’t get done. When the position was created several years ago, arts leaders were ecstatic because it was seen as a sign that Lawrence was elevating itself to a different level as an arts community. The position has some symbolic value, and that is making this debate an emotional one as well.
The arts center also is proposed to receive a cut in funding. It would lose $55,000 in funding, and some have characterized that as a slashing of 50 percent of the Arts Center’s city funding. That’s not accurate. It is a loss of 50 percent of one line item of the Arts Center’s city funding. Specifically, it is the line item for general maintenance of the facility. Other line items, such as the $30,000 the city provides for scholarships for kids to attend Arts Center programming was not cut. Neither was the line item to pay for utilities and other service contracts that the Arts Center has. The city also is not making any changes to the more than $230,000 a year it spends to retire the debt on the building that houses the Arts Center in downtown Lawrence. (Arts Center officials remind there also was a multimillion dollar private fundraising campaign that helped construct the building too.)
In terms of how much funding the Arts Center will receive under Markus’ recommended budget, it totals just more than $445,000. The $55,000 cut amounts to about an 11 percent reduction compared to 2016 totals. None of these totals include city funding for the Free State Festival, which is likely to receive city grant money again in 2017.
How much money various outside agencies receive from the city historically has been a hot potato. Recently, the Arts Center has fared better than some. For instance, in the proposed 2017 budget the new Peaslee Center vocational school is set to receive about $150,000, the Lawrence Humane Society about $360,000, and the Lawrence Community Shelter about $200,000.
• In my conversation with Markus, I heard two things about the future that caught my attention: Markus thinks more cuts to the City Hall workforce are likely, and he thinks the community needs to adjust its thoughts on economic development.
On the employee front, Markus said he’s implemented a plan where every position that becomes vacant at City Hall now must come to him for a review of whether the position can be reshaped, reduced or eliminated. He noted personnel costs are the city’s biggest expense.
“We have to take a hard look at that,” said Markus, who said cutting positions through attrition is much more preferable than cutting filled positions.
On the economic development front, Markus noted the city’s growing dependence on sales tax as a revenue source. He said that should cause the city to think carefully about its economic development strategies.
“I think our attitude about economic development will have to change,” Markus said. “I know there is a vocal group of people in town that won’t like me saying that.”
He went on to say: “I don’t like incentives but they are part of the environment. I don’t want to pay a dollar more than we have to in incentives. But, in my view, compared to other places, Lawrence has been fairly fiscally conservative in how they use them.”
Lawrence has a city manager who is not afraid to speak his mind. It likely also will have an arrow factory that remains pretty busy.
It is the time of year at city halls, county courthouses and other seats of local government where one of two items usually gets thrown: Sofa cushions get tossed in search of loose change, or rotten tomatoes get hurled at those who instead choose to find their money by raising taxes.
It also is the time of year where residents ask the natural question of: Are taxes too high here?
It is a question that may come up at Lawrence City Hall soon. City commissioners haven’t yet proposed a property tax increase, but they may as they continue to receive pushback from some residents on a series of proposed cuts that includes reduced funding for the arts and the elimination of several City Hall positions. County commissioners already are considering a recommended budget that would increase property taxes by a little more than 2 mills.
So, back to the question: Are taxes too high here? For some, the default answer is always yes. But for others, they like to pause and consider a community’s quality of life, its amenities, and how it stacks up against the taxes of other cities.
About every two years or so, I try to check in on what taxes look like in other Kansas communities, using property tax data from the League of Kansas Municipalities, sales tax information from the Kansas Department of Revenue, and housing and income statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. I examined numbers for the 15 Kansas communities that have a population of at least 25,000 people or more. They are: Dodge City, Garden City, Hutchinson, Kansas City, Lawrence, Leavenworth, Leawood, Lenexa, Manhattan, Olathe, Overland Park, Salina, Shawnee, Topeka and Wichita.
I don’t know about yours, but my abacus is lubed and ready to go, so let’s take a look at the numbers.
Property tax rate
This is a look at the total property tax mill levy for communities. That means city, county, school district and other agencies such as fire districts, cemetery boards, and other similar entities that exist in some communities. Indeed, out of the 15 communities reviewed, Lawrence has one of the lower property tax rates. This is the one category Lawrence probably will feel the best about.
Highest: Dodge City, 186.606 mills
Lowest: Overland Park, 115.206 mills
Median: 133.202 mills
Lawrence: 131.054 mills, 9th highest out of 15
Property tax rates and housing values
A lot of times when politicians talk about property taxes, the mill levy gets all the attention. But that is kind of like me budgeting for a home improvement project without factoring in the emergency room costs.
With property taxes, the hidden costs come from the value of your home. Property taxes are charged by the mill, which means $1 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation of your home. To explain it any further would require more oil for the abacus, but what’s important to understand is that you are charged based on the value of your home.
These 15 Kansas communities have dramatically different home values. I used the median home values listed for each community by the American Community survey. They ranged from a high of about $388,000 in Leawood to a low of about $88,000 in Kansas City. Lawrence checked in at just under $178,000, which was seventh highest on the list.
What I did next is apply the mill levy in each community to the median home value. That gives you an idea of what a person who owns an average home in that community pays in property taxes. Lawrence doesn’t fare quite as well in this category, but is still pretty middle-of-the-pack.
Highest: Leawood, $5,748 in property taxes
Lowest: Wichita, $1,660 in property taxes
Median: $1,948 in property taxes
Lawrence: $2,681 in property taxes. 7th highest out of 15.
As I noted earlier, I’ve crunched these same numbers before. The last time was in 2014. It is interesting to note that Lawrence was 7th highest on the list back then too, but the amount of tax a person pays on an average home has increased. The property tax bill on an average home in Lawrence has increased by $113 in the two-year period, or a little more than 4 percent.
Just like this time around, Wichita had the lowest property tax bill in 2014, and it must be serious about keeping that standing. The property tax bill on an average home in Wichita decreased by $24. Not surprisingly, the affluent Johnson County community of Leawood had the highest property tax bill in 2014 too, but it evidently has worked at keeping tax bills steady. The bill for an average home in Leawood has increased by $3 in the last two years.
The income equation
In case you are wondering how many plasma banks there are in Leawood to help a fellow pay nearly $6,000 a year in property taxes, let me explain something important: The average Leawood resident earns a lot more than the average Lawrence resident. Just like housing values, the average income in each community varies widely.
What I do here is use a Census number that measures the median earnings for a full-time, year-round worker in each community. (Technically, it is a male worker. Data that combines earnings for females and males were a little tougher to get a hold of for each community.)
I used this number because more ordinary numbers, like per capita income, catch a lot of college students in Lawrence who don’t have much income because they are being supported by their parents or living off student loans. I think the more ordinary numbers artificially deflate Lawrence’s income totals, so I use this figure for full-time workers to try to account for that.
One last caveat: This method really is just a way to rank the communities. It isn’t meant to show how much of the average household’s paycheck goes toward property taxes. I recognize many households have dual incomes. For the purpose of this ranking exercise, I’m only using a single income from the average male worker. So, while the percentages may not be as meaningful as I would like, I believe the ranking of the communities is meaningful.
For Lawrence, the results may be particularly meaningful. We don’t fare too well, but this category does give us a chance to utter a phrase that we often enjoy: At least we’re not Manhattan.
Highest: Manhattan, 7.2 percent of income toward property taxes
Lowest: Wichita: 2.65 percent of income toward property taxes
Median: 4.51 percent of income toward property taxes
Lawrence: 5.78 percent, 2nd highest of 15.
Lawrence and Manhattan probably share some of the same problems in this category. The demand for rental housing in a college community pushes up the overall price of houses. Unless your economy becomes loaded with high-tech jobs connected to the university, home prices often can get ahead of incomes. Lawrence, thus far, hasn’t seen that type of income growth. Its median earnings were squarely in the middle of the pack at about $46,000, or 7th on the list of 15.
Sales tax rates
For some of us, we easily spend more in sales taxes in a year than we do in property taxes. So, if you are trying to figure out whether taxes are too high in a place, it pays to look at the sales tax rates too.
Since I last crunched these numbers in 2014, Lawrence voters rejected a proposed sales tax for a new police headquarters building. That rejection kept Lawrence in the middle of the pack — actually, slightly below the average — when it comes to sales tax rates. (Note: Many of these communities have special taxing rates that apply to only certain districts of town. However, I factored those out and just looked at the standard sales tax rate for the entire community.)
Lowest: Wichita, 7.5 percent
Highest: Leavenworth, 9.5 percent
Median: 9.1 percent
Lawrence: 9.05 percent, 9th highest
The whole ball of wax
This last category is my effort to try to tie property taxes, home values, incomes and sales taxes all together to create an overall picture of local taxes in a community. I tried various methods, but the one that I’ve settled on is this: I have a list that ranks the communities based on how much an average homeowner pays in property taxes compared to their incomes. I also have a list that ranks communities based on their total sales tax rates. To my way of thinking, if a community ranks well on both lists, it probably is a lower-tax community. If a community ranks poorly on both lists, that is probably a higher-tax community.
So, I have given each community points based on where they ranked on each list. The higher the point total, the lower the tax burden. Here’s an example: Lawrence had the second highest property taxes paid compared to its income, so it gets two points. Wichita had the lowest out of 15 in terms of property taxes compared to income, so it gets 15 points.
Here’s how the communities came out after combining the two lists, ranked from lowest tax communities to highest.
Wichita: 30 points
Garden City: 26 points
Overland Park: 22 points
Salina: 21 points
Leawood: 19 points
Hutchinson: 17.5 points
Topeka: 17 points
Leavenworth: 15 points
Manhattan: 13 points
Lenexa: 11.5 points
T.11. Lawrence: 11 points
T. 11. Kansas City: 11 points
Thirteenth. Shawnee: 10 points
Fourteenth. Olathe: 9 points
Fifthteenth. Dodge City: 7 points
Compared to two years ago, Lawrence has improved slightly in the overall rankings. There were 16 communities I ranked in 2014 (Junction City dipped below 25,000, so I removed it from this year’s study). In 2014, Lawrence was tied for 13th place. This year it is tied for 11th. Like this year, Wichita was the low-tax leader in 2014. Dodge City also was near the bottom of the list in 2014.
As for communities that have changed significantly in the last two years, Garden City moved up from No. 6 to 2 on the list, while Olathe went from tied for ninth in 2014 to No. 14 this year.
So what does it all mean? Should people move from Olathe to Garden City? That certainly could be an interesting sociology experiment. What do these numbers tell us about whether taxes are too high in Lawrence?
As you may have guessed, I’m not going to answer that question. There is a difference between price and value. Everyone has to figure out for themselves whether what they are paying for in Lawrence is a good value.
I suggest you start figuring it out. It appears city and county commissioners may need the help this year.
A look at the city’s gravel road that runs by millions of dollars in new homes; work begins on west Lawrence apartment project
Every queen hides something, and west Lawrence’s queen is no different. Whoa, whoa, before you start dishing on that soccer mom with the bedazzled sweatshirt, know that I’m talking about Queens Road. It is time for an update on that area of the world, as a major apartment complex has started construction along the road, at the same time that city commissioners are considering backing away from one of their commitments to the growing area.
So, what’s Queens Road hiding? Well, to the passerby on Sixth Street, Queens Road — which is the second road west of Wakarusa Drive — looks decent enough. The portion that connects with Sixth Street is paved and looks about like most other city streets that are in fair condition. But drive just a short two-tenths of a mile to the north, over the hill, and you see that Queens Road is actually a mishmash of broken asphalt, gravel and ruts that may appeal to Bubbas on ATVs, but not to many other drivers.
Here’s a look at some portions of the road.
As you can see, there is some building underway right next to Queens Road. That’s part of a 172-unit apartment complex named West End Apartments being developed by local businessman Tim Stultz. We had reported that plans had been filed for that complex, but now construction is well underway. (I’ll provide you more of an update on that project in just a moment.)
Just a bit farther to the north is the site for a long talked about apartment development that will be built around a small nine-hole golf course. The city has approved plans for approximately 600 apartment units in the first phase of the development and about 400 in the second phase. The development stretches from Queens Road to George Williams Way, just east of Rock Chalk Park. Most of the development will be concentrated along the end of the property closest to Queens Road. The project has been on the drawing board for years, but it sure looks like it actually is going to happen this time. There are pallets of pipe sitting on the property, which I assume are for the project.
What may not move ahead, however, is the reconstruction of Queens Road. The city tentatively has about $1.75 million in its capital improvement budget to pay for its share of the reconstruction costs of Queens Road (developers would pay a share as well). But now the city is contemplating pulling that funding from the budget and transferring it over to the much-debated proposal to rebuild a portion of East Ninth Street into an arts corridor. City officials have said that could delay Queens Road reconstruction all the way to 2019 or beyond.
Stultz, the developer of the West End apartment complex, said that doesn’t seem fair.
“Improving that road has been talked about for at least five years,” Stultz said. “To cut it out now would be pretty ridiculous. The road is in terrible shape. It is a washboard. It needs constant improvement. We keep hearing that next year will be the year.”
I’ll leave it to others to determine what is fair, but it certainly is an interesting situation. One point to remember is that developers are ready to pay for a large portion of the road. Developers on the west side of Queens Road have signed agreements not to protest a benefit district to pay for the road. A special assessment would be added to their property tax bills to pay for about half the road’s estimated cost, which is about $3.5 million.
Even more interesting is that technically the city has it set up in a way that it wouldn’t have to use any general tax dollars to pay for the construction of the road. Developers on the east side of Queens Road also signed agreements not to protest the creation of a benefit district. The east side of the road already is heavily developed with a single-family neighborhood. Those agreements not to protest run with the land, so the people who bought those homes agreed to not protest a benefit district too.
The city could assess the entire $3.5 million worth of costs to all the surrounding property/home owners, and add a special assessment onto their property tax bills. I wrote about that possibility all the way back in 2009, and the article highlighted that many of the single-family homeowners weren’t aware of that their homes could be subject to such a special assessment. Subsequently, City Hall leaders took the position that the city at-large would pick up the costs for the homeowners. The developers on the west side of the road would still be expected to pay special assessments, but the unwitting homeowners would be spared the special assessment.
Seven years later, that’s still where the situation stands. Queens Road has been planned to be reconstructed several times, but it has always gotten pushed off the planning list for one reason or another.
All that history is noteworthy, but the current situation is what likely will cause some to scratch their heads. Look at those photos of Queens Road again. With just the two projects mentioned above, the city has signed off on approximately $100 million worth of new development that will take access off Queens Road.
Now, it is important to note that there are other access points that serve this area too. People who live in these new developments could drive another quarter-mile to the west and use Stoneridge Drive, which is a good city street. So, the world won’t stop spinning if Queens Road isn’t improved, but it is likely to create questions about the city’s development process. How is it that the city approves $100 million worth of construction along what is essentially a poorly maintained gravel road, developers have agreed to pay their share of the reconstruction costs, and yet the city isn’t able to complete the project in a timely manner?
Obviously the East Ninth Street arts corridor project comes with potential benefits too. I’m not trying to gloss over those, nor am I suggesting the only choice is Queens Road or East Ninth. But it could end up that way, and if the city has brand new development right next to a road that is poor even by middle-of-nowhere, farm-road standards, it will send a message to others who may be thinking of investing in Lawrence.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Now for the update on the apartment project. Plans for the West End Apartments call for 172 apartments, with about half of them being one-bedroom units and half being two-bedroom units. All of the apartments will come with a one-car garage, Stultz said.
All of the apartments will be “garden-style” units that allow residents to walk up to their front doors rather than having entrance inside a larger apartment building.
Stultz has developed apartment projects in Lawrence for years, and he said demand for new apartments continues to be strong. He said much of the demand is coming from people who previously would be looking to own homes, but instead are delaying or foregoing that option.
“We keep filling all of our nicer apartments,” Stultz said. “We have waiting lists. It seems like a good time to keep going with this “move up” trend in apartments. We have very few students in our apartments these days. That market is being met by others.”
Stultz said he hopes to have all the apartments finished by August 2017, but said some may be available as early as May 2017.
Lawrence ranked as a top city in the Midwest; reggae festival coming to downtown; Herbert issues apology for Topeka comments
Finally, a political platform that I could get enthusiastic about: More breweries and more wineries. That seems to have been the winning combination for a community that recently beat Lawrence in a contest to be named the Midwest’s Greatest Town.
If you remember, we reported in January that Lawrence was one of 12 finalists in Midwest Living’s Greatest Town contest. The voting has wrapped up, and the winner was announced in the most recent edition of Midwest Living. The good news is that Lawrence is getting some national attention as one of the more attractive towns in the midwest. But perhaps there was a voter registration mix-up at the secretary of state’s office or something, because Lawrence got beat in the voting by Traverse City, Michigan.
The editors of Midwest Living raved about Traverse City’s six microbreweries and a wine trail that takes you to 26 different wineries. Lawrence could probably compete in that arena. To be fair, the editors also went on about paddle boarding opportunities on Traverse City’s Boardman River, but hey, if an editor with Midwest Living wants to paddle board on the Kaw, we could arrange that. (Guaranteed winning strategy: Leave him on a sandbar until we’re named No. 1.)
The magazine, which is on newsstands now, does say lots of nice things about Lawrence too. It highlights our culture and sporting events that are connected to KU, but it also touts Massachusetts Street.
“But along downtown’s Mass Street, things skew into a bit of an inland Portlandia,” the editors wrote, referring to the television program of the same name, I assume. “Mass Street Soda hosts craft root beer tastings. Free State Brewing was doing craft beer before everyone thought it was cool. Cats lounge in shops selling used vinyl (Love Garden Sounds) and used books (The Dusty Bookshelf.)”
I don’t know much about the television series Portlandia, but I gather it has a strong focus on merchant cats that drink root beer. Regardless, here’s a look at the 12 finalists, which Midwest Living is touting as great summer vacation spots. (Note, other than Traverse City, the ranking wasn’t revealed for any of the others. Also, all communities had to be no larger than 100,000 people in population.)
— Traverse City, Michigan
— Branson, Missouri
— Columbus, Indiana
— Decorah, Iowa
— Galena, Illinois
— Rapid City, South Dakota
— Bayfield, Wisconsin
— Medora, North Dakota
— Nebraska City, Nebraska
— Put-in-Bay, Ohio
— Duluth, Minnesota
In other news and notes from around town
• I bet a little of the medicine that Bob Marley used to dispense would have moved us up that list. Well, on second thought, maybe not. (It may have produced a really odd issue of Midwest Living, to be honest.) Regardless, I’ve gotten word that a plan is in place to make Downtown Lawrence a focal point for Marley and reggae music.
Plans have been filed at City Hall for a one-day concert event to take place on a downtown sidewalk and an adjacent vacant lot. The event is set to be billed as Live on Mass presents Lawrence Reggae Fest.
Longtime concert promoter and Lawrence businessman Mike Logan is organizing the festival. The headliner for the event is scheduled to be The Wailers, a band that features two of the original members of Bob Marley’s band. The event is scheduled for the evening of Aug. 19, a Friday.
The event is seeking City Hall approval to do something a little bit different. Instead of closing off a portion of Massachusetts Street like some events do, Logan is seeking to instead close off a large portion of a Massachusetts Street sidewalk. Plans call for the sidewalk on the east side of Massachusetts Street to be closed from 11th Street to in front of Logan’s establishment, The Granada, at 1020 Massachusetts. The actual concert — which will be free but will ask attendees to donate a can of food for the food bank Just Food — will take place in the parking lot just south of the Granada building. The sidewalk will be used as an overflow area, a place for booths, a beer garden and other such uses.
• We might not make many lists of best neighbors currently, especially if the voting is done by those in Topeka. As we have reported in the last couple of days, City Commissioner Matthew Herbert made some comments as part of the city’s budget discussions that took some shots at Topeka and its arts efforts.
Well, Herbert late last night issued an apology on his Facebook page for those comments. That apology reads, in part: “I want to apologize for my comments that were offensive to the city of Topeka. The comments were made out of frustration for a series of budget cuts aimed at the arts that I felt sadly mirror many similar cuts made in Topeka at the state legislative level. My ‘anger’ with Topeka on this topic is with the legislature which convenes in Topeka, not with the private citizens and artists of Topeka.
“I’m hopeful that my overall message isn’t lost in articles that focus on on the one controversial statement; I stand behind the ultimate message which was that many people choose to live in Lawrence because of the artistic and culturally diverse strong environment it offers.”
Herbert went on to write: “In expressing my desire to see Lawrence stick to (its) culturally vibrant roots, I didn’t need to degrade anyone else’s city. That was a very poor choice and for that I am truly sorry.”
Trust me, I’m familiar with the idea of supersizing at the grocery store. There’s a reason my house has cereal boxes that can double as walk-in closets. But soon, downtown Lawrence and its neighbors in East Lawrence may have to figure out what they think of supersizing the grocery store.
The idea of a downtown grocery store at Seventh and New Hampshire streets at the site of the former Borders bookstore is still very much alive, the proposed developers tell me. But the idea is growing. The development group now wants to build a 40,000 square-foot grocery store instead of the 20,000 square-foot store that had been contemplated.
That will require tearing down the former Borders bookstore site — previously it would have been remodeled — and developers want the new building to be three stories tall. The two extra stories will be used to house about 80 apartments. The entire project will have a large underground parking garage, which necessitates the demolition of the existing building.
Bill Fleming, an attorney for the development group that is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, said several factors are leading to the push for a larger store. The biggest one, though, is simply competition.
“This will be a much more sustainable project for the community,” Fleming said. “There's a reason there aren’t many 20,000 square-foot grocery stores anymore. They have a hard time competing against the larger grocery stores.”
Even at 40,000 square feet, this project wouldn’t be one of the larger grocery stores in town. Fleming estimated it would be comparable to the Dillons store near 19th and Massachusetts.
As for who will be running this store, if it comes to be, that is still one of the more interesting questions out there. Fleming said the developers haven’t made a decision between the two previously announced grocery companies: Lawrence-based Checkers and Queen’s Price Chopper out of Kansas City .
Checkers was first to the scene on this project, but certainly Price Chopper has become a real possibility. I know the Price Chopper folks have talked about the benefit of a larger store. Fleming said he’s heard from them about the efficiencies that a larger store creates. Generally, a store that doubles in size does significantly more than double the revenue.
The project has other questions, though, before it can move forward. Fleming said the development group is having conversations with the owners of the condominiums in the Hobbs Taylor Lofts. There are covenant issues related to the former Borders property that would make it difficult to build a traditional grocery store on the site. Those covenants were put in place, in large part, to protect the adjacent Hobbs Taylor Lofts development. Fleming said the development group is actively engaged in conversations with Hobbs Taylor Lofts, and said that issue hasn’t yet been resolved.
“We’re listening to their concerns,” Fleming said.
It also will be interesting to watch what the reaction is to tearing down the old Borders building. The Borders building isn’t a historic one. It was built in the 1990s. But it replaced an older building, and there was a nasty fight about whether that building should be demolished to make way for the Borders building. Part of the compromise that was reached is that a couple of the walls of the original building remained. Fleming and I didn’t get into details about how they plan to construct this new three-story building, but that will be an issue to watch. Donald Trump’s wall may not be the only one that gets discussion this fall.
Tearing the building down, though, appears unavoidable, if the project is to move forward as now proposed. Fleming said the underground parking garage is a key to the entire deal. He said grocery stores demand a lot of parking before they commit to a project. The project easily could require 200 spaces or more.
“It is hard to do that without digging a hole,” Fleming said. And, he added, it is hard to dig a hole, if the building remains.
Watching the reaction of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association also will be interesting. Fleming said the developers have begun discussions with that group. He said he thought the discussions have gone well, thus far.
But this project is still in the early stages. No development plans have been filed yet, so there are probably more twists and turns to come. Although I didn’t delve into the topic with Fleming, I suspect this project will request a significant amount of incentives from the city. The city currently is debating how or whether it should offer incentives, especially for projects that include apartments. Fleming told me he anticipates the developers would seek to set aside about 15 percent of the apartments for an affordable housing program. Whether that will be an acceptable number to the city also will be worth watching.
Warm up the forklift to fetch the supersize popcorn because there will be many things worth watching on this project. The project has the chance to be fascinating because it is the rare one that has caused downtown developers and East Lawrence residents to both say the same things at times: Both groups essentially have ached to have a downtown grocery store for a number of years. Both think that it can be pretty positive to the health of downtown and the adjacent neighborhoods.
But now we are getting down to the details, and you know what they say about those. Of all the art forms that Lawrence is proud of, it will be interesting to see if the art of compromise is among them.
Signs that a large chain fabric store is coming to town; Kansas community has best Main Street in USA, and it is not Lawrence
There’s a lot I don’t understand about fabric or sewing. I have no idea why a stitch in time saves nine or how the heck the needle got in the haystack. And don’t even get me started about why the only thing my wife will sew me is a ski mask. Regardless, I do have speculation to share about a new chain fabric store coming to town.
When I reported in April that Hancock Fabric would be closing its Lawrence store near 27th and Iowa streets, I told you I would pass along any information about a possible replacement for the fabric and sewing store. Well, I still haven’t heard any official word on a replacement for the store, but the folks at Hancock Fabrics are telling customers that the large chain of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores is coming to the Lawrence market.
When I inquired at the Hancock store, an employee there freely told me that Jo-Ann has told store employees that the company has made a decision to locate in Lawrence, but hasn’t yet finalized a specific location for the store. The employee told me the company has said Hancock’s current location in the shopping center at the northwest corner of 27th and Iowa streets is a strong possibility, but the store site may not be as large as Jo-Ann would like.
I put a call into a spokeswoman with Jo-Ann’s corporate headquarters but have not yet heard back. So, at the moment, this should be categorized as unconfirmed but widely circulating speculation. There could be any number of reasons that Jo-Ann wants the community to believe it will be locating in Lawrence, but it also would make sense that the retailer plans to come to town.
The Ohio-based chain describes itself as the “largest specialty retailer of fabrics and crafts.” It has about 850 stores in 49 states, and already operates in the Topeka and Kansas City markets. If Jo-Ann does come to Lawrence, it may end up being a larger store than what Hancock offered. Company data on several business websites reported that the small-format stores for Jo-Ann average about 15,000 square feet, and its large format stores are closer to 35,000 square feet. Hancock averaged about 13,000 square feet, and I’m not sure the Lawrence store checks in with that much space.
According to its website, Jo-Ann stores seem to have an inventory that stretches quite a bit beyond sewing and fabrics. The site lists scrapbooking supplies, painting supplies, jewelry making items, baking accessories and several other categories.
As for Hancock Fabrics, the Lawrence store is still open. Store employees said they haven’t been given a date for the store to close, but they expect it to be soon. A message on the store’s phone estimated the store would close in mid-July. Inventory is now being reduced by 50 percent to 80 percent, according to the message.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe the light poles in downtown Emporia are made of Twinkies. Emporia is the home of the Twinkie production plant — “Twinkie Town” would be a good moniker — so perhaps that is what is garnering downtown Emporia national attention these days. Whatever the case, a USA Today publication has named downtown Emporia as the “Best Main Street in the USA.”
The USA Today site 10best.com chose Emporia as one of 20 finalists, and then the website conducted four weeks of voting among readers of the website to determine the winner. The award was announced a couple of weeks ago.
I’ve had a few Lawrence readers bring it to my attention recently because they were miffed that Lawrence didn’t make the list. One important note is that Lawrence folks never had the chance to vote for our Massachusetts Street because it didn’t make the list of 20 finalists this year. The website asked two experts — one from the National Main Street Center and another from the American Planning Association — to compile the list of 20 finalists. For whatever reason, Lawrence didn’t make the list this year.
Take comfort, though. Lawrence’s downtown has won many awards, sometimes from these same organizations. In 2010, downtown Lawrence was named one of the 10 best streets in the nation by the American Planning Association.
As for Emporia, it is only about an hour-and-a-half drive, so you can check out that downtown for yourself. The website touts how Commercial Street in Emporia is home to an old Granada Theatre that hosts concerts and events and how the downtown has become a gathering place for large events like the Dirty Kanza Bicycle Race.
In case you are wondering, here’s the complete top 10:
No. 1: Emporia
No. 2: Howell, Mich.
No. 3: McMinnville, Ore.
No. 4: Staunton, Va.
No. 5: Ogden, Utah
No. 6: Franklin, Tenn.
No. 7: Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
No. 8: Eureka Springs, Ark.
No. 9. Bath, Maine
No. 10: Georgetown, Texas
Car dealership files plans to build along Sixth Street; Lawrence High and KU alumnus to be inducted into a worldwide hall of fame
Nothing said “eclectic Lawrence” quite like the limo service at Sixth and Colorado streets, which is right next door to the Lawrence Feed & Farm Supply store. In between the two is a tiny, red A-frame office building that is smaller than most of the limos. Well, say goodbye to that scene. One of Sixth Street’s more undeveloped lots is about to get a makeover.
Plans have been filed at City Hall to tear down the little cabin-like building as part of an auto dealership project that will locate on the site at 1716 W. Sixth St.
Longtime auto executive Scott Teenor will be the owner of the new dealership, which will sell only used cars.
“We’ll be able to have 40 to 45 used cars and trucks over there,” Teenor said. “I already have a sales force lined up. We’re hoping to do great things over there.”
Some of you may remember that the site for many years housed a used car dealership, Vantuyl Motors. I don’t know if that dealership was the one who built the little cabin on the property, but it certainly used it for a long time.
Teenor’s development calls for a significant upgrade. The plans call for the construction of a building that will house an indoor showroom and a service area. Lawrence architect Allen Belot is designing the project. In addition to the new building, he said the entire site — which currently is pretty much a gravel lot — will be required to be brought up to city codes with paved parking, landscaping and other such features.
“It is going to be a great improvement for that lot,” Belot said.
Teenor is a former general manager for the Briggs Auto Group, and also has worked at other Lawrence dealerships. He said the new dealership, which simply will be named Sixth Street Auto, will focus on vehicles selling between $5,000 and $20,000. Teenor said the used car market currently is a hot part of the auto market.
“It will get even better for the consumer in the next two or three years,” he said. “There are more rental or program cars out there than ever before, and those come back on the market as used cars.”
Teenor also is in the motorcycle market. He owns Lawrence Motorsports, which sells used motorcycles, ATVs and other vehicles at 1610 W. 23rd St. He said he will continue to operate that business as well.
As for the Sixth Street project, Teenor said he plans to break ground on the development in the next two to three weeks and hopes to be open by early next year.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don’t know that Lawrence High and KU graduate Alan Mulally ever sold cars from a triangular-shaped building. (I wonder if it would cause car salesmen to get to the point quicker?) Regardless, Mulally has done pretty well for himself in the industry.
In case you have forgotten, Mulally is the former president and CEO of Ford Motor Company. Now, Mulally is set to be inducted in the Automotive Hall of Fame. The trade publication Crain Automotive News reports that Mulally has been selected to be inducted into the hall, which is in Detroit. The induction ceremony is set for July 21.
Mulally, who grew up in Lawrence in the 1960s and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from KU, is largely credited with saving Ford Motor Company when the other two members of the Big Three automakers had to take government bailouts last decade.
Prior to arriving at Ford, Mulally was a top executive with Boeing. The Crain article reports that Mulally has moved back to Seattle — “with a Ford Taurus and more than $300 million in compensation as souvenirs of eight Michigan winters.” Mulally retired in 2014.
Mulally declined an offer to remain on Ford’s board of directors, but he has joined the board of directors of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., and Carbon 3D, a Silicon Valley 3D printing company, Crain reports.
“I have found a new love in Google,” Mulally told Seattle University students in October, Crain reports. “I’m a Googler now.”
Mulally has made several trips to Lawrence in recent years, including to the university and for a fundraiser for Lawrence public schools. Lawrence leaders talk about the need to create a network of successful KU alumni who could lend their talents in helping Lawrence and the university prosper. Certainly, Mulally would be near the top of such a list.
Grocery store adding full-service restaurant, bar; state fares poorly in income report, but Lawrence shows some positive signs
Grocery shopping may really get dangerous. What shall only be referred to as an “unfortunate Dorito incident” ( I still note there was no sign limiting how many bags a fellow could purchase, and my banker signed off on the line of credit) has pretty much barred me from doing the grocery shopping in my house. But soon I’ll be able to tag along and have a steak dinner and some adult beverages in a local grocery store while my wife takes care of the shopping.
As we’ve briefly mentioned in the past, the Hy-Vee grocery chain has been adding something called Hy-Vee Market Grilles to select stores. Several in the Kansas City area have them, and now work has begun to add one to the Hy-Vee store on Clinton Parkway.
The concept behind a Hy-Vee Market Grille is simple enough: It is a sit-down restaurant — complete with a bar — inside the grocery store. The walk-up food counters — think Chinese, Italian, sandwich stations — will remain at the Hy-Vee for people who want that type of walk-up dining service. But the Hy-Vee Grille will be for customers who want an actual waiter or waitress to serve them at a table. And, unlike at the walk-up counters, each meal ordered in the Hy-Vee Grille will be custom made. In other words, the restaurant won’t just take an entrée item out of the hot food case at the walk-up counter.
“It is going to be another place to come for a date night or another place to go and watch the big game,” said Jason Draves, store operations manager. “It is going to be a full restaurant.”
If having a sit-down restaurant in a grocery store seems a bit unusual to you, remember that a grocery may have one built-in advantage in the restaurant business: A grocery store always has a large variety of food on stock. That allows the Hy-Vee Grille to have a pretty broad menu.
I don’t have specifics on the Lawrence menu, but looking at online menus for Hy-Vee Market Grilles across the country is interesting. They feature salads, Asian dishes, pizzas, seafood, Italian dishes, sushi, and plenty of American sandwiches and other such dishes. And the menu features three different cuts of steak, a pork chop entree and even a shepherd's pie dish.
Draves said the Lawrence location also will have a full bar. The company’s website advertises that the bars in other Hy-Vee Market Grilles stock 65 craft beers, an extensive wine list and also serve cocktails.
“They can have a Bloody Mary with their breakfast, if they want,” Draves said.
The website also touts that many of the locations have omelet stations and brunch buffets during select times.
As for the logistics of the work underway at the Clinton Parkway Hy-Vee, the grille will be located in the southwest corner of the building where the food court seating area was located. A new casual seating area will be added near where the westernmost entrance of the store is currently located. A new entrance to the store will be built, Draves said.
Draves estimated work likely will take at least three months to complete. Construction crews began work last week.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence residents should be feeling a little bit better than the state as a whole this morning, and I don’t think it has anything to do with Bloody Marys for breakfast.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on Thursday released data that shows personal income in Kansas grew at the second slowest rate in the country. The one piece of consolation is that the figures are for 2014 — it takes the government quite awhile to compile personal income numbers — so perhaps the situation has improved since then. Regardless, 2014 was not a good year for many Kansas bank accounts.
Personal income — which is everything from paychecks to rental income to Social Security benefits and everything in between — grew by only 0.5 percent in 2014. The growth rate is adjusted to account for inflation. So, the way to read this is that after inflation, people’s incomes increased by about a half-percent in Kansas in 2014. That trailed only South Dakota, which grew at 0.4 percent.
But as I mentioned, Lawrence bucked the state trend. After inflation, Lawrence saw per capita income grow by 1.8 percent in 2014. That was tied for the top mark of any metro area in the state. Here’s a look at the other metro areas and their growth rates:
— Kansas City, Mo.-Kan: 1.8 percent
— Manhattan: 1.5 percent
— Topeka: 0.6 percent
— Wichita: 0.6 Percent
It is worth noting that every Kansas metro area posted better numbers in 2014 than in 2013. Lawrence grew by only 0.8 percent in 2013, and Wichita, Manhattan and Kansas City all posted decreases in personal income after adjusting for inflation in 2013.
Now, there is a piece of disheartening news for Lawrence. While our growth rate was better than some, the actual amount of dollars earned by Lawrence residents is still at the bottom of all metro areas in the state. I don’t generally think per capita income is the best way to measure the true earnings in Lawrence. College communities usually get dinged in the calculation because a good portion of our population are college students who aren't really trying to earn a living yet. Here’s a look at the dollar amounts:
— Lawrence: $35,146
— Manhattan: $38,333
— Topeka: $41,734
— Kansas City: $45,613
— Wichita: $45,807
Like I said, college towns don’t fare well in this measurement, but Manhattan obviously is a major college community, and it has per capita income of 9 percent more than Lawrence’s. Here’s a look at some other university communities in the greater region.
— Lawrence: $35,146
— Ames, Iowa: $38,035
— Bloomington, Ind.: $31,784
— Columbia, Mo.: $40,949
— Greeley, Colo.: $35,266
— Iowa City: $43,096
— Waco: $34,709
It has been the case for quite some time, but fathom this: People in Columbia, Mo., generally have incomes 16 percent higher than those of us in Lawrence. You would think they would be able to buy a basketball team with all that money.
In all seriousness, figuring out why Lawrence’s per capita income is lower than several of these other college communities is an important question for the community.
Commissioner begins politicking for Just Food funding; a look at amounts that nonprofits receive from city and how those are falling
Some people say the art of politics is compromise. I’ve heard others contend the true art is figuring out a good way to ask for money. If so, Lawrence City Hall is full of art these days. It is budget season, and among the groups seeking city funds are the community’s social service agencies. If history is any guide, they won’t be overly successful.
Even though the total amount of money the city gives to social service agencies is a relatively small portion of the city’s overall budget, it gets outsized attention. The funding requests are full of good causes, and the social service agencies have boards full of community leaders who know how to twist the arms of city commissioners.
If you have been on Facebook recently, you perhaps have noticed that City Commissioner Matthew Herbert has taken to politicking for a particular social service agency. Herbert has lent his support and his Facebook page to getting city funding for Just Food, the food bank that has seen a whole host of financial problems since its former director — and Lawrence’s former mayor — Jeremy Farmer allegedly improperly paid himself and failed to remit payroll taxes for the nonprofit organization. (Note: The taxes are paid up now.)
Just Food hasn’t received city funding in the past, but it looks like a good bet that the food bank will receive city dollars in 2017. The city’s Social Services Advisory Board is recommending $5,000 in funding for Just Food. Herbert, however, thinks that is too little. He cites statistics that contend the number of people the food bank is serving during its peak months has more than doubled since 2014. Just Food has asked for about $27,000, which primarily would be used to pay utility costs for the food bank facility, which operates a lot of energy-intensive coolers and freezers.
“An organization that feeds nearly 10,000 people in our community each month being told that $5,000 per year is an appropriate funding from the city,” Herbert writes. “Times are very tight this budget season, and there will be some budgetary choices made that keep me up at night, no doubt. It is my hope, and will be my vote, that we do a little better here.”
So, keep an eye on that one. It may turn into a Picasso or it may be judged a velvet Elvis over the mantel, which I’ve been told in no uncertain terms is not art.
But a more interesting discussion to follow would be one about what role City Hall should play in funding social service agencies in the community. I’m not sure that discussion will happen. Usually, commissioners get pretty focused on the individual funding requests and don’t spend much time on the bigger-picture issue.
Perhaps that is why social service funding levels are falling at City Hall. That may surprise some folks. Lawrence is thought of as a pretty socially conscious community. But I’ve watched the amount of money the city sets aside in its budget for social service agencies consistently fall over the years. Now, there is a caveat. (There is always a caveat, just like there’s always a two-for-one sale on velvet Elvises at any respectable flea market.) The city has provided some special funding, like a loan to the Lawrence Community Shelter and other such groups. That money becomes kind of hard to track year to year. What I’m focusing on is the process the city has used for decades, where it asks nonprofit groups to apply for city funds that are paid either through general property taxes or the city’s share of the statewide liquor tax.
In 2007, the city’s general fund budget — that’s the portion paid for through general taxes — included a little more than $640,000 for social service agencies. In the proposed 2017 budget, there’s $515,000 in general fund dollars for social service agencies. That’s a drop of about 20 percent for the decade, or about 2 percent per year.
Now, it should be noted, that liquor has come to the rescue, at least partially. The city has a fund called the Special Alcohol Fund. So do many houses in the Oread neighborhood, but the city’s is different. This one is named as such because it receives its funding from the city’s share of the special state tax charged on liquor. Funding from that source has increased — albeit slightly — in the last decade. Funding levels proposed for the 2017 budget are $666,000, up from about $642,000 in 2007.
When you add the two sources together, social service agencies have seen their funding levels fall by about $100,000 over the decade. When you factor in inflation, the cut is greater.
But has that been a bad move by the city? That depends on whom you talk to. I’ve heard arguments that perhaps the city should focus less on funding individual agencies and focus more on funding initiatives that can change the underlying issues that create some of the underlying societal problems that the agencies are trying to address. In other words, raise income levels so we’ll have less poverty in the community. The city would argue it is trying to do some of that, but it is easier said than done.
On the other side of the coin, I hear arguments that the city needs to provide more social service funding. You can talk about the big picture all you want, but somebody still needs to feed and house the less fortunate. Folks on that side of the argument point out that charitable giving hasn’t exactly picked up the slack. Here’s an interesting statistic on that front: According to old news articles, the United Way fundraising campaign in 2006-2007 brought in $1.63 million. In 2015-2016, it brought in $1.5 million.
For those of you interested more in the here and now, here is a look at proposed funding levels for agencies in the city’s 2017 budget. City commissioners are expected to finalize the amounts in the coming weeks.
From the city’s general fund:
— Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center: $143,970 vs. $153,208 in 2016
— Big Brothers Big Sisters: $17,637 vs. $17,580
— Boys and Girls Club: $115,978 vs. $119,328
— Communities in Schools: $2,290 vs. $2,280
— Douglas County CASA: $21,520 vs. $22,780
— Douglas County Dental Clinic: $15,000 vs. $15,000
— Health Care Access: $23,331 vs. $24,410
— Heartland Medical Clinic: $31,167 vs. $30,000
— Housing and Credit Counseling: $15,650 vs. $15,580
— Just Food: $5,000 vs. $0
— Lawrence Community Food Alliance: $5,748 vs. $6,830
— Salvation Army bus pass program: $2,375 vs. $0
— Salvation Army Pathway to Hope program: $5,083 vs. $0
— Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center: $8,200 vs. $8,200
— Shelter Inc.: $28,575 vs. $29,150
— Success by 6 Coalition: $25,033 vs. $25,050
— Willow Domestic Violence work clothes program: $2,500 vs. $3,640
— Willow Domestic Violence outreach program: $5,500 vs. $5,470
— Van Go. Inc.: $29,460 vs. $31,890
— Warm Hearts: $4,480 vs. $5,470
From the city’s special alcohol fund:
— Ballard Community Services: $16,702 vs. $13,210
— Bert Nash WRAP program: $321,815 vs. $325,000
— Big Brothers Big Sisters: $9,570 vs. $8,710
— Boys and Girls Club: $98,732 vs. $95,710
— DCCCA First Step program: $37,180 vs. $37,180
— DCCCA outpatient program: $93,524 vs. $93,534
— Health Care Access: $6,946 vs. $0
— Hearthstone: $7,000 vs. $7,500
— Heartland Community Health Center: $30,000 vs. $30,000
— Van Go Inc.: $26,273 vs. $26,273
— Willow Domestic Violence Center: $18,618 vs. $17,710
New private elementary school with unique name, curriculum to open in eastern Lawrence; longtime heating and cooling company sells to new owner
We’ve all heard of the School of Hard Knocks, and yesterday I’m sure several of us were reacquainted with the School of Short Fuses. (Perhaps you even went to its graduate academy: The Institute of Glue-on Eyebrows.) But you don’t hear a lot these days about The School of Love. Well, there is indeed a new school with that name opening up in Lawrence, but before you get the wrong idea, it is for elementary students.
A new business called The Lawrence School of Love has signed a deal to locate in the former home of the Sunshine Acres Montessori School at 2141 Maple Lane in eastern Lawrence. As the name suggests, the school will have a curriculum that is focused not just on academics but also on emotions.
“We teach through love, not through rewards and punishments,” said Angela Piperidou, the founder and director of the school. “We focus on how we treat the kids and how they treat others. You treat others the way you want to be treated. We want them to carry that idea with them through their whole lives.”
Plans call for the school to serve kindergarten and first-grade students this year and to add one or two grades per year in the future, Piperidou said. Piperidou operated the school this past year, but it was based in Tonganoxie. She and her husband live in Tonganoxie, where he is a teacher in the public school system.
Piperidou also has some experience as a teacher, but it primarily has been in Cyprus. Piperidou came to Lawrence about 25 years ago and received multiple degrees — philosophy, psychology, communications, a master's degree in clinical social work — from Kansas University. She went back to Cyprus about 10 years ago, and returned to Lawrence in 2012, she said.
Piperidou said she decided to start the new school, in part, because she has seen too many young children unhappy at school.
“There are kids crying because they don’t want to go to school,” Piperdou said.
She said her school — which is a private, for-profit venture — hopes to change that by having a curriculum that incorporates a lot of outdoor time and many lessons that use real-life experiences instead of books. The school also will emphasize yoga and other such exercises that help students channel their emotions, she said.
The new school will follow the same calendar as the Lawrence public school system. Piperidou said she is uncertain how large classes will be, but she said small class sizes are part of the school’s strategy. Tuition for the school ranges from $550 to $650 a month, she said.
Our K-12 education reporter Rochelle Valverde has learned a preschool also is opening in the same building at 2141 Maple Lane. She caught up with the operator of that school. Here is her report:
The building will also house a Montessori preschool program, Mindful Montessori. The preschool and The School of Love operate independently of one another, but do have some aspects in common.
“We are separate programs but our paradigms are very similar,” said Samantha Hewitt, the founder and director of the preschool. “We’re both very invested in children having healthy, good food in their bodies and in incorporating mindfulness into our daily practice.”
Hewitt said curriculum for the preschool students will also focus on outdoor learning and play, and students from both schools will help with a garden on the grounds. The preschool will also offer an organic meal plan that includes some of the garden’s produce.
The preschool program will serve children ages two and a half to six years old, with much of the curriculum based in mindfulness, Hewitt said. For example, elements of the daily curriculum will include yoga, meditation and positive behavioral support. At the same time, it also strives to be personal.
“Our curriculum is designed to meet the needs of any and every child, so we find ways to adapt literally every child to the classroom regardless of their needs,” Hewitt said.
Hewitt has about 10 years experience working in Montessori settings, including Sunshine Acres and Raintree Montessori schools. She began the preschool one year ago as an in-home daycare, but the program will be a licensed childcare center once it is housed in the new facility next month.
Mindful Montessori will have two classrooms of about 20 children, each with a Montessori-certified lead teacher. Tuition will be $725 per month, and like The School of Love, the preschool is private and for-profit. But Hewitt said she is in the process of creating a nonprofit that would help provide tuition assistance.
“We’re really trying to find a way to make this particular Montessori program available for the masses and for all incomes essentially,” she said.
The preschool has about 25 students enrolled so far, and will open on Aug. 8.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As we were reminded again last night, there are lots of reasons to utter the phrase “hotter than a firecracker.” But one of the traditional reasons has been when your AC quits on a hot summer day. Well, I’ve gotten word that a longtime Lawrence company that is in the heating and cooling business is going through a major change.
Lawrence-based Harris Heating & Cooling has been bought by Kansas City-based United Heating, Cooling & Plumbing Inc.
Harris has been operating in Lawrence since 1989. In a press release, Harris owner and founder Rob Harris said he had been looking for an opportunity to expand the company’s offerings and wanted to sell to a firm that shared his values. Harris will take a senior management position with United and will remain active in day-to-day operations of the company, according to the press release.
The press release indicated that Harris will keep its Lawrence operations on East 11th Street and that Harris will operate as a division of United. The press release also stated that all employees of Harris have been offered positions with the new company.
“Harris is an extremely strong company with a solid customer base and bright future,” said Gayla Eckholt, chief operating officer of United. “We are honored to join forces with them and look forward to bringing deeper resources and increased service capacity to the Lawrence community.”
I’ve always assumed the Kansas Jayhawk has a really nice bird house — I can only imagine the size of the worm cellar — somewhere in west Lawrence. Good thing because I think even the Jayhawk may have a hard time buying a home in the Lawrence market today. The Lawrence housing market is as tight as it has been in recent memory, and the low inventories are starting to result in reduced home sales.
Homes sales in May fell 16 percent compared with the same period a year ago, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Real estate agents insist the slowdown is not due to a lack of buyers. Homes that are up for sale are moving quickly. Year-to-date, the median number of days a home sits on the market before it sells is down to 22 days compared with an already-low 34 days last year. For homes that sold in May, sales came at an even quicker pace. The average number of days on the market was just 11 days for existing homes.
Instead, real estate agents say the market is being slowed by a smaller-than-normal inventory of homes on the market. In May, the number of homes on the market dropped to 260, down from 349 in 2015 and 451 in 2014. The Lawrence market is now estimated to have a supply of homes for sale to cover 1.8 months of activity. When a market is well balanced between buyers and sellers, a market generally has four to six months worth of homes on the market.
“Our peak selling months of May, June and July will feel the impact of such low inventory levels,” Carl Cline, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors said in a release. “We went into June with a 1.8 month’s supply of homes on the market, which is the lowest absorption rate we’ve had in Lawrence in a long, long, long time.”
The low supply of homes is having a predictable impact on selling prices. Average selling prices are on the rise. Year-to-date, the median selling price for a Lawrence home is now $170,000, which is up 4.6 percent from the same period a year ago.
A big question going forward is whether this market will spur Lawrence homebuilders to really accelerate their pace of new home construction. Indeed new construction is going on both on the east and west sides of the community — the Oregon Trail addition is being constructed near Rock Chalk Park, Langston Heights is near Langston Hughes Elementary school in west Lawrence, and a new single-family neighborhood is under construction off of O’Connell Road in eastern Lawrence. But Lawrence homebuilders are still showing a good deal of caution before jumping back into the rapid pace of building from years ago.
May’s numbers will give builders something to think about. During the month, sales of newly constructed homes totaled 13, which was more than double May 2015’s total. For the year, newly constructed home sales total 35, which is about a 60 percent increase from a year ago.
The next couple of months likely will tell the tale for the Lawrence real estate industry in 2016. June and July traditionally are busy months. The industry will need to make up some ground if it hopes to post sales growth for the year.
Thus far, overall home sales in Lawrence total 449, down 3.6 percent from a year ago. Total dollar value of homes sold is at $91.4 million, which is down about 1 percent from a year ago. It is worth noting that both those numbers are better than 2014 figures, but I think real estate agents are becoming concerned about the tightening market.
Regardless, have a happy Fourth of July. Town Talk will be off on Monday, but I plan to return on Tuesday.
A look at the $200 million debate that is coming to west Lawrence; Schumm seeks to reverse denial of downtown condo project
Surely it has to be one of the nicer tractor paths in all of Douglas County. If you haven’t used the new Bob Billings Parkway and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange in west Lawrence, give it a try sometime. Be sure to go on the west side of the trafficway. You’ll find a brand new city-style street — I’m talking two, wide paved lanes, plus room for bike lanes, plus sidewalks on both sides of the street — that stretches a half mile west of the trafficway. Currently, corn fields and pastures line it.
Soon enough, the stretch of road will be the subject of about a $200 million debate.
As we have reported, plans have been filed at City Hall that would add about 2,000 new apartments and about 600 new single-family homes on about 160 acres of property southwest of the new interchange. The development would happen over the course of several years, but will require City Hall approvals. That certainly looks like it could be a tricky approval process. Doing a little math indicates that project is probably about $200 million worth of new development for the city. More on that in a moment, but first a reminder of why this is likely to create debate.
As we reported in May, one city commissioner balked before the process really even got started. Commissioner Leslie Soden voted against even accepting the project’s application for annexation. Typically, commissioners routinely accept such applications, which then allows the annexation request to be heard by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, which in turn makes a recommendation to the City Commission. The City Commission makes the final decision on whether the property should be annexed into the city.
The other four commissioners agreed to accept the application, so the project is moving forward and is awaiting a hearing date before the Planning Commission. But Soden’s vote against the project at such an early stage certainly signals that this project will face several hurdles. That’s probably fair enough. The project is large, and by crossing the SLT, it essentially will open up a new frontier for development.
But I found Soden’s reason for voting against the application interesting. She cited costs as her main concern. “We’re talking about reducing services, so the idea of expanding them . . . I feel like the City Commission has goals and priorities, and I’d rather be working on those,” she said at the time.
I caught up with Soden this week to learn more about her thinking. When I asked her about what type of costs she was concerned about, she said she primarily was referring to extension of streets, utilities, other infrastructure, and the annual costs to provide city services like police and fire protection to the area.
The costs to provide services like police and fire protection are real costs for the city to consider. But the cost to extend infrastructure is more complicated. I asked Soden what her understanding was of which infrastructure costs were paid for by the city versus which ones were paid for by developers. She said she’s still trying to learn more about that subject.
“I’m certainly curious about that,” Soden said.
Granted, it is not a well understood subject, but as the city faces tight budgets at a time when developers appear eager to undertake some large projects in the community, it seems like a topic that should get some discussion. Simply put, the city has a lot of ability to make developers pay a lot of the costs associated with new infrastructure for a project. Whether city officials take advantage of that ability can sometimes be a political thing, but there is a policy on the books that allows the city to pass those costs along.
It is called Administrative Policy No. 52. Here are some highlights:
— Developers pay the entire cost of all streets and curbs that are under 31 feet wide. Unless a new thoroughfare is needed to serve a larger area, typical city streets are under 31 feet. The city can provide financing for the projects through a special benefit district, which basically allows the developers to pay for the costs through a special assessment added to their property tax bills.
— In newly developing areas, the total costs of all sidewalks are borne by the developers or property owners benefiting from the sidewalks.
— Underground storm sewers, if needed, are the responsibility of the developer. Those costs aren’t eligible for financing through special benefit districts.
— Costs for new sanitary sewer lines are the responsibility of the developers or property owners who benefit from the new sewer service. Relief sewer lines, which are lines built to reduce the stress on existing sewer lines, are the responsibility of the city.
— Water line construction is done under the supervision of the city, but developers or property owners benefiting from the water service pay for the cost to extend the line. “All local water distribution mains and appurtenances will be normally constructed by the city with full estimated payment to be made in advance of construction by the property owner, developer, or others desiring the distribution main installations,” the policy states. If the city determines that a water main needs to be larger than 12 inches, the city will pay for the extra costs to make the line larger, under the theory that the larger line is providing increased service to other areas of town.
— In addition, the development policy allows the city to charge several other types of fees to cover lesser costs associated with infrastructure. They include a “subdivision sign fee” to cover the cost of street and road signs, a “sanitary sewer post-construction fee” that recoups the city’s cost to do a video inspection of the line, and a traffic signal escrow fee to cover costs related to future traffic signals that may be needed as part of the development.
Don’t get me wrong, though, there are absolutely costs that the city at-large pays when development occurs. I’m sure some of them are infrastructure-related, because it is tough to come up with a fee that covers every conceivable cost.
But there are also revenues that are generated by a new development. It seems those also should be part of the discussion. When Soden made her vote against accepting the application, I don’t think the city had been presented with any revenue projections for the project.
I was curious about how much new revenue this project would produce for local tax coffers. That’s where the $200 million figure comes into play.
Through the Douglas County Appraiser’s office, I got property valuations for a couple of large, relatively new apartment complexes in Lawrence. The two I chose were The Connection, the 324-unit apartment complex at 31st and Ousdahl, and the 192-unit The Reserve on West 31st Street. The Connection is valued at $30.8 million and The Reserve comes in at $17.1 million. In other words, they are valued at about $85,000 to $95,000 per apartment. Extrapolate that out to 2,000 units, and you have a project that is valued at between $180 million to $190 million. In reality it probably would be higher because this would be brand new construction. And, we haven’t even factored in the single-family homes at this point. To put a $190 million project in perspective, this one 160-acre project would grow the city’s entire tax base by about 2.5 percent.
Based on the current mill levy of 130.992 mills, a $190 million residential project would pay $2.8 million in property taxes per year. This may surprise some, but apartment complexes occupy several of the spots on the top 10 list of largest property tax payers in the county. (Yes, I am searching for an updated list to share with you.)
To be clear, the city would not get all of those new tax dollars. The school district — and the state’s education fund — and the county also would get significant pieces of those new tax dollars. Based on current tax rates, the city would get about $688,000 in new property taxes each year. That, of course, assumes the project doesn’t receive any tax rebates or other incentives. Thus far the development group hasn’t sought any.
Will this project create more than $600,000 worth of new costs per year for the city? If so, what are they? I don’t know the answer to either question. But if Soden’s early opposition is any indication, the community may be gearing up for a debate that was common back in the 1990s and 2000s: Does residential development pay for itself?
That was a really divisive debate back in the day, and like many Lawrence debates, it never really was settled to the satisfaction of both sides. This proposed apartment project is important for several reasons: its size, its location, what it says about the future of Lawrence’s housing stock. But how the debate proceeds also may be the best indicator yet of what value this commission places on new development.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of development, it looks like former City Commissioner Bob Schumm does intend to make one more effort to win approval for his proposed condo/retail/office project in the 800 block of Vermont Street.
If you remember, a majority of city commissioners earlier this month refused to accept an application for an 85 percent tax rebate request for Schumm’s approximately $9 million project.
But I’ve now received a letter that Schumm has sent to city officials asking for reconsideration. The letter states that Schumm has had positive discussions with Lawrence-based Tenants to Homeowners about how one of the project’s 11 condo units could be put “up for sale at a price that would allow it to qualify as an affordable living unit.”
City officials recently have said they are more likely to look favorably on incentive requests for residential projects, if the projects contain some element aimed at addressing affordable housing. Whether making one unit an affordable housing unit will be enough to sway the City Commission’s mind is unclear.
I talked with Schumm briefly this morning. He said he’s now comfortable putting one of the units in the Lawrence Community Housing Trust program after learning more about how it could work within a condo structure.
“I don’t know what the city will do,” Schumm said of the request. “But I think we can show there is a lot of public good with this project.”
Auto dealer confirms expansion plans on south Iowa Street; new population numbers show Douglas County is definitely getting older
The south Iowa Street car dealers have figured it out. With a plethora of new drive-thru chicken restaurants opening along the corridor, it obviously is easier for me to buy a new vehicle than clear my cab of the hot sauce, chicken buckets and the industrial-strength barrel of degreaser. Indeed, I’m telling you to keep your eyes open for another auto dealership expansion along south Iowa.
For weeks, I’ve been reporting that Briggs Auto has been laying the groundwork for an expansion at the corner of 28th Terrace and Iowa Street, which formerly was home to Jane Bateman Interiors before it moved to 27th and Iowa and to Breathe Oxygen Supply, which is leaving the spot for a new location near Sixth and Congressional Drive.
Exactly what that expansion involves, though, has been tough to figure out. Well, Russell Briggs, owner of the Manhattan-based Briggs Auto Group, has now told me that it will be a major new showroom for his Chrysler dealership.
The building along Iowa Street will undergo an approximately $300,000 facelift to house a used car showroom for certified pre-owned Chrysler vehicles.
This is just the latest in a line of expansion projects Briggs has undertaken in the Lawrence Auto Plaza near 31st and Iowa. Briggs has rebuilt both the Nissan and Subaru dealerships in the Auto Plaza, and as part of that project he moved the Chrysler dealership too. Previously, the Chrysler dealership had high visibility from Iowa Street, but Briggs converted that spot into the Nissan dealership, and the Chrysler dealership was moved farther off of Iowa Street.
The latest project will make the Chrysler brand visible from Iowa Street again. But Briggs said the new car dealership for Chrysler will remain where it is, 2300 W. 29th Terrace. The new location will focus on used vehicles. Briggs said that is the part of the car industry that is the hottest right now. Briggs estimated that his dealership sells about three used cars for every new car sold.
The decision to expand at all, also was a fairly easy one. Briggs said the auto industry has been on an upswing as the country has come out of the recession. During the height of the recession, new auto sales nationally dipped to about 9.5 million units. Last year they had climbed to more than 17 million, which put them ahead of pre-recession levels, Briggs said. Those are sales of new vehicles, which may flatten some, but now the industry is betting on a surge of used car sales.
“We were fortunate to have these buildings come up for sale when they did,” Briggs said. “We have 13 acres over there (in the Auto Plaza), but we never have enough room.”
The new showroom will have indoor space for about 30 cars, Briggs estimated, and will have access to two parking lots for outdoor display space.
The project is the latest of several major renovations to car dealers along south Iowa Street. Virtually every dealership on the corridor has undergone some renovations recently, with the most recent and largest being a complete remodel of Dale Willey’s Chevrolet dealership, which included an entirely new used car showroom in the space that previously housed Payless Furniture.
Briggs said once his Chrysler project is completed in the next several months, he does hope to complete a couple of other smaller projects that involve adding display space for vehicles along the interior roadways that serve the Auto Plaza. That will require some city approvals and the vacating of some right-of-way. But Briggs said he doesn’t have any other large-scale expansions planned at the moment.
“Basically, all we have left to do is sell some cars,” Briggs said. “I think we have done a lot to really create an auto mall atmosphere. It is bigger than it used to be.”
It will be interesting to watch the area in the future. The area just south of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Iowa Street interchange could be one that also could add more auto dealerships to the south Iowa corridor. That property, of course, has been proposed to serve as a major retail area for the likes of Academy Sports, Old Navy and other big box retailers. The city has rejected those plans, and as we have reported, the development group has filed a lawsuit appealing that rejection. There is not much new to report on that lawsuit currently, but it still is an active case.
If the city prevails in the lawsuit, though, you may see pressure mount to develop the area for additional auto dealerships. The city’s long range planning document for the area calls for auto-related retail, which certainly includes auto dealerships. Whether the city would fight that type of development is unclear, but we might find out. I’ve certainly heard over the years that there are dealerships that have been interested in the property. Laird Noller Ford and the Lawrence Kia dealership both have their locations along 23rd Street. Whether either of those dealerships are looking to get to south Iowa Street will be something to keep an eye on.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Over the weekend I reported on some recently released Census demographics showing the racial makeup of Douglas County. At the time I told you I also would have some new statistics to report on the age of Douglas County’s population.
Well, here’s the summary: The youngest and the oldest of us are growing at good rates in Douglas County, but many of the age groups that make up the working-age portions of the population have been sluggish or outright declined in the past five years.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers, which are for 2015:
— Douglas County’s population zero to 19 years old is up 3.7 percent from 2010. There are now just fewer than 30,000 people in that age group. Our growth rate is better than the two other counties compared against us. In Johnson County, the growth rate for the very young was up 2.2 percent. In Riley County, it actually fell by 3 percent. One interesting note, the population of children zero to 5 years old fell in both Douglas and Johnson counties and was basically unchanged in Riley. Probably lots of explanations for that, including the recession, changes in family structure and perhaps a shortage of Barry White albums.
— If you have ever wondered where all the KU students go after they graduate, apparently, they move to Johnson County. Douglas County’s population of 20- to 24-year-olds is just under 22,000. The age group has grown 1.1 percent since 2010. But that is nothing compared with Johnson County. The 20- to 24-year-old age group has grown by 21.5 percent in Johnson County. Riley County is more similar to Douglas County, although it seems to be doing a bit better at retaining those students. The age group has grown by 3.2 percent in Riley County, which, of course, is home to Kansas State University. One interesting note: In Douglas County the number of males in the 20 to 24 age group outnumber females by 3 percent. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions there.
— If you have ever wondered what happens when all the college graduates move to Johnson County and become spooked by the youth league soccer games and minivans, well, at least some of them seem to move back to Lawrence. The age group of 25- to 39-year-olds now stands at about 25,000 in Douglas County. That’s up 5.2 percent from 2010. That’s better than the 2.3 percent growth rate in Johnson County. But perhaps there is something magnetic about the smell of a veterinary barn because people seem to be flocking back to Manhattan. The 25 to 39 age group has grown by 14.7 percent. All joking aside, it seems important to understand why that is happening in Manhattan but not to the same degree in Lawrence.
— As a 44-year old man, I’m a bit worried by this one. Aliens or something may be sucking up 40- to 59-year-olds. That age group didn’t grow much in any of the three counties. In Douglas County, that population now stands at about 24,000. That is down 1.5 percent from 2010. In Johnson County, the population only grew 0.7 percent, and in Riley County it was down 0.9 percent. Theoretically, this age group includes some of the highest earners in a community, so growth there could be beneficial.
— Everybody has heard the trend about the graying of America. That’s certainly happening in all three communities, but Douglas County is leading the way with the fastest growth rate of the over-60 population. The over-60 crowd now accounts for a little more than 18,000 people in Douglas County. That’s up 25.1 percent from 2010. In Johnson County that age group grew 23.6 percent, and in Riley County it increased 18.8 percent. One interesting note there: Hang in there, guys. In Douglas County, in the 85 and older age group, females outnumber males 67 percent to 33 percent.
My scorecard and I have long thought the “mini” in minigolf has been a misnomer. (You’re telling me you’ve never taken a score of 12 strokes and three stitches on the windmill hole?) Regardless, the idea of putt-putt golf in Lawrence is one that has long intrigued but has been elusive. A local business, though, is now testing the market.
Epic Family Fun Center in the Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana has added indoor minigolf to its offerings. I should caution you, though; it is a bit rudimentary. The only open clown’s mouth will be that of your playing partner, and I felt mildly ridiculous with my eye patch and parrot because there is no pirates’ cove either. Instead, the course is a portable one like you would find at school carnivals and other such functions.
But the course does have a full 18 holes, and it allows you to test your putting skills.
“It is a lot more difficult than it looks,” said Travis Jacobsen, an owner of the fun center.
Perhaps just as importantly, it is allowing the owners of Epic to test the market’s appetite for minigolf.
“We did have minigolf in in our initial plans, but then we decided we didn’t have the funding to do it right away,” Jacobsen said.
He said Epic recently looked at building a full-scale miniature golf course on a vacant lot next to their building in the The Malls Shopping Center. But he said he quickly learned that the city was going to require some zoning changes for the shopping center, and it appeared that was going to make the project more complex than what Epic was looking to undertake.
Instead, the company decided to go with the temporary indoor course. The course is located in a party room area of the business, which means that the course is only open Monday through Thursday. The party rooms are still used for birthday parties and such Friday through Sunday.
Rates are $4.25 for adults, $3.50 for kids 5 through 12, and $2 for kids 4 and under.
Jacobsen said that depending on demand, the company may revive ideas of building a full scale miniature golf course. Jacobsen said the company envisions an expansion of the fun center business in the next few years, and he said that would be a time when the addition of minigolf could be undertaken.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Just like sometimes I forget to write down a stroke on my scorecard, some of you have forgotten what is going into the location that used to house a Kwik Shop a bit east of 23rd and Iowa. As we have reported, it will be Qdoba Mexican Grill.
I do have a bit of an update on that project. As you can see by driving by the site, construction work is well underway. Now, new plans have been filed at City Hall that show the building will have a bit of a funky element to it.
City officials have approved multiple “works of art” to be permanently installed on the new Qdoba building at 1714 W. 23rd St. One side the building will have three art panels — two 55 square-foot panels and one 110 square-foot panel — while both the east and west walls of the building will have an approximately 80 square-foot panel. In addition, there will be a sixth piece of art that won’t really be an art panel, but rather will be a large graphic applied to the inside of one of the windows. Some of the art will be visible from 23rd Street, but I think most of it is designed to be seen by people using the store’s drive-thru.
What will the art be of? Perhaps that super large burrito you dream about? Or perhaps they could just hang up my white shirt after I tackle a meal that involves both green and red chili sauce. It kind of looks like modern art.
No, the plans don’t call for that. I’ll do my best to describe the art, and then you can look at renderings below to see how well I did. One large window piece involves a portrait of what looks like a mean cat, and a man who is perhaps defending himself by throwing his hip at the cat. Another panel involves three hands with palms facing out, a mermaid and other imagery. The others, well, just look for yourself. There’s a reason why they say a picture is worth a thousand words.
UPDATE: I am hearing some word from people knowledgeable about the project that the Qdoba likely will open by October.
No need to cover the furniture or get out the full body smock, but I am planning on painting by numbers. There are new Census numbers out that paint a picture of Douglas County’s diversity. Or perhaps better put, Douglas County’s lack of racial diversity.
It has been the case for a long time that Lawrence doesn’t have a lot of racial diversity, but the new estimates from the Census Bureau — which are for 2015 — do show racial minorities in the county are growing. Let’s take a look at some key findings.
• When it comes to minority racial populations, Asians are now at the top of the list in Douglas County. In other words, the Asian population is now larger than the black or American Indian population, which historically have been two of the larger minority populations in Lawrence.
That wasn’t the case in the 2010 census. Black members of the community stood at about 4,500 while Asians numbered about 4,100. But in the five years since, the Asian community has grown by nearly 35 percent. Numbers of black residents also are growing significantly, by about 20 percent.
Lawrence long has had a larger than normal American Indian community, in part, due to Haskell Indian Nations University, but those numbers are shrinking. From 2010 to 2015, the American Indian population declined by 865 people, a drop of about 27 percent.
• Numbers of some minority groups may be growing, but they still aren’t very large in Douglas County. Asians make up 4.7 percent of Douglas County’s population. That’s up from 3.7 percent in 2010. Blacks make up 4.6, compared to 4 percent in 2010, and American Indians dropped a tenth of a point to 2.7 percent of the Douglas County population.
• Black residents are less prevalent in Douglas County than any of the other five large Kansas counties. Here’s a look at some comparisons:
— Black population: Douglas: 4.6 percent of population; Johnson: 5 percent; Riley: 7 percent; Shawnee: 8.8 percent; Sedgwick: 9.5 percent; Wyandotte: 24 percent.
— Asian population: Douglas: 4.7 percent of population; Shawnee: 1.4 percent Wyandotte: 4.1 percent; Sedgwick: 4.5 percent; Johnson: 4.7 percent; Riley: 4.8 percent.
— American Indian: Douglas: 2.7 percent of population; Shawnee: 1.4 percent; Wyandotte: 1.3 percent; Sedgwick 1.3 percent; Johnson 0.4 percent.
• Hispanics are not considered a race, but rather that is a term used to identify a person’s heritage. In other words, you can be black and be Hispanic, you can be white and be Hispanic and so forth. Hispanics are less prevalent in Douglas County than any of the other five large counties in Kansas. Here’s a look:
— Douglas: 6 percent of total population
— Johnson: 7.4 percent of total population
— Riley: 8.3 percent of total population
— Shawnee: 11.9 percent of total population
— Sedgwick: 14.1 percent of total population
— Wyandotte: 27.7 percent of total population
But the trend may be changing in Lawrence. Douglas County had the second highest growth rate in Hispanic population of any of the six big counties. Keep in mind that Douglas County’s Hispanic population is small — about 7,100 people — so it is always easier to have a higher growth rate when you are trying to grow a small number. But, still, it is worth noting. Here’s a look:
— Douglas: 25.7 percent growth rate since 2010
— Riley: 35 percent growth rate since 2010
— Sedgwick: 11.7 percent growth rate since 2010
— Johnson: 10.9 percent growth rate since 2010
— Shawnee: 10.4 percent growth rate since 2010
— Wyandotte: 8.7 percent growth rate since 2010
As I mentioned earlier, none of these numbers is particularly surprising for people who follow Douglas County demographics. (It is a hobby I took up when watching growing grass became too exhilarating.) Douglas County long has been lacking in some racial diversity — at least by urban county standards. There are certainly many rural Kansas counties far less diverse. Cheyenne County, for instance, has four black residents, according to the Census Bureau, out of about 2,600 total residents. Several other Kansas counties count their minority populations in single digits.
Douglas County’s numbers stand out most in terms of the relatively small black community. It is important to note that I’m not drawing any conclusions about the reasons behind Lawrence’s racial make-up. I’m not qualified to do that, and racial issues can be very tough to discuss. But it is worth noting that Lawrence once was a very important community for black Americans during and following the Civil War. For whatever reason, that doesn’t seem to have stuck.
I report the Census numbers every few years because it is important to understand our community, and it seems like the numbers could produce some meaningful conversations.
Speaking of numbers, the Census Bureau also has released a lot of data on the age of Douglas County’s population. I’m going through that data too, but I’ll save it for later this week. I’m being threatened with the full-body smock if I spout any more statistics today.
March 2015 fire ultimately causes downtown restaurant to close its doors; downtown beer venture closed as well
Even when I take a quick break from the office to stroll down Massachusetts Street, I get salsa on my tie. That’s how many Mexican restaurants there are in downtown. Sandwich crumbs in my whiskers? Absolutely. Sandwich shops are everywhere. There’s almost no shortage of any food type in downtown, except one: barbecue. Downtown’s lone barbecue restaurant has closed.
Bigg’s on Mass has closed its doors at 719 Massachusetts St. for good, owner Doug Holiday told me. Although I think you can get some barbecue dishes at a few locations downtown, Bigg’s was the only truly BBQ-based restaurant in downtown, I believe. I don’t know about you, but that makes me nervous. In Kansas, where I sometimes think cattle outnumber people, I consider BBQ restaurants self-defense.
But more seriously, the closing does have a sad element to it. Bigg’s faced challenges almost from the beginning. In March 2015 — just four months after the restaurant opened — a fire in the smoker portion of the kitchen caused major damage to Bigg’s, to the Ladybird Diner next door and to other adjacent offices. Bigg’s ended up being closed for 11 months.
“It was just hard to recover from that,” Holiday said. “The burden had just become too much. The insurance company really didn’t compensate me the way I thought it should.”
But he said the downtown closing won’t affect his other two restaurants in Lawrence — the original location at 2429 Iowa St., and Burgers by Biggs near Sixth and Wakarusa. Holiday said the downtown location was its own separate corporation.
Holiday, who closed the downtown restaurant on Thursday, said he’ll now focus on the remaining two restaurants, where he plans to add a few menu items, and boost the company’s catering business.
No word yet on any new business that may occupy the prime Massachusetts Street space, which previously housed Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse for many years.
In other news and notes from around town:
• One thing there definitely is not a shortage of in downtown Lawrence is beer. But it is beginning to look like one of the businesses that specializes in craft beers has closed down. Ted’s Taphouse at 1004 Massachusetts St. announced earlier this month that it was “temporarily closed for mental repairs.” But now there is a "for lease" sign in the window of the business.
The restaurant was in a space that has long been occupied by the Nguyen family, who has operated a variety of establishments in the location near 10th and Massachusetts. Angler’s Seafood House and Wild Pho are a couple of the more recent ones, and The Orient was a longtime tenant of the space.
Owner Ted Nguyen’s mother had been in the downtown restaurant business continuously in one establishment or another since 1981, I reported in an earlier article. She retired in late 2014, and now it appears we’ll need to wait and see whether that downtown restaurant family has ended for good.
It looks like the restaurant was changing all the way up until the end. At some point, the restaurant had converted the front part of the building into a video arcade. No word on its future.
Another brewery planned for East Lawrence; new gallery and small scale retail also proposed as part of project
As if that beer can replica of the Egyptian pyramids in your garage wasn’t enough, there is now another sign that Lawrence is going crazy over beer. Plans have been filed for a new East Lawrence microbrewery that essentially would be next door to another microbrewery that is in the planning stages.
Look for the historic Standard Oil property at Ninth and Pennsylvania streets to be transformed into an area that houses a microbrewery and restaurant that is attached to gallery space and an arts-oriented retail shop. Plans have been filed at City Hall for an approximately 2,200 square-foot modern building to be constructed in between the old brick Standard Oil buildings that used to serve as a bulk oil and gasoline distribution site in the early and mid 1900s.
Scott Trettel of Lawrence-based Trettel Design Build Inc. has owned the property for about five years, and primarily bought it to house the offices of his design firm and construction company.
“I’ve realized that the social dynamic of that property seems to be changing,” said Trettel, who will continue to keep his offices in the site's main building.
The property is part of the Warehouse Arts District. At the opposite end of the block from the Standard Oil site is the popular Cider Gallery. In between the two sites, plans have been filed for a brewery and restaurant to occupy the ground floor of one of the other old industrial buildings — a former poultry processing facility — and apartments would be built above the brewery space. Other former industrial buildings in the district already are filling up with office users, and plans for a new bistro/bar on the northern end of Pennsylvania Street are progressing.
Trettel, who plans to be the owner and operator of the microbrewery and the gallery space, said the idea of having two breweries in the same block doesn’t concern him.
“Bringing a general energy of revitalization to that area will be great for Lawrence,” Trettel said. “If you look at Lawrence’s size and the number of breweries it has, I think Lawrence can handle it without becoming an over-saturated market.”
The two East Lawrence breweries are in addition to plans for a brewery operation along east 23rd Street. As we have reported, a Kansas City area businessman plans to convert the old Lawrence Lumber location at 706 E. 23rd St. into a brewery and food truck hub. (And those are in addition to my buddy’s microbrewery in his basement, which we will begin partaking in again once the federal officials remove the biohazard tape.)
Of course, there are breweries in place today. Henry T’s brews some of its own beer under the brand name Yankee Tank Brewing, and the two largest breweries in the city are 23rd Street Brewery and Free State Brewing Company, which is the company that got the whole craft brewing movement going in Kansas and is highly regarded nationally in the industry.
That sure seems like a lot of breweries in Lawrence, but perhaps the town is about to cross a threshold where it becomes a craft brewery destination. Already downtown Lawrence becomes a destination for craft beer aficionados each spring with the Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition.
As for the type of brewery that Trettel plans to operate, he said it will be relatively small. He doesn’t plan to have an operation that sells beer at multiple locations, but rather wants to brew just enough beer to serve the restaurant’s needs. The brewery, though, should be a sight to see. Trettel is designing the project so the beer making process is highly visible to restaurant patrons. The smaller of the two existing buildings on the site will be used as part of the brewery operations. It will house a grain mill and grain pump that will feed grain into the main brewery area, which will be housed in a new addition onto the small building. The new addition and the grain mill will be visible to restaurant patrons.
The layout of the site also is expected to create two large courtyards for the restaurant. The southern courtyard along Ninth Street will have lots of room for outdoor dining, while the northern courtyard will be more secluded and is expected to have bocce courts and other such features, Trettel said.
In terms of food and other details about the restaurant, Trettel — who grew up working in a restaurant and has designed several of them — wasn’t yet ready to divulge much on that front. It does sound like he has a chef on board and is far along in the creation of a menu.
“It will not be bar food,” Trettel said. “It will be a very clean, healthy, local menu, uniquely prepared by a master chef.”
The project still has to win some approvals, though, before it becomes reality. First up will be design approval from the Historic Resources Commission. Trettel said he’s emphasizing that he’s not making major changes to the two existing buildings on the site, and the new addition will be done within historic guidelines. His construction and design firm does extensive work with historic properties.
Here’s a look at some of the proposed changes, courtesy Trettel and the packet of information he has submitted to City Hall. First a look at the overall site. Note that the new 2,200 square-foot expansion features a green roof.
Next, a view of the project from Ninth Street.
Here’s a view from Pennsylvania Street.
And finally, here’s a view from inside, showing some of the brewery equipment in the background.
If the project wins all approvals in a timely fashion, Trettel hopes to begin construction on the project in the fall.
If my house is any indication, job numbers have to improve this summer. (There’s the crew of workers filling the Gatorade stations throughout the house, and, of course, the security team that ensures I’m not allowed to turn down the thermostat.) But positive job numbers weren’t the case for Lawrence and Kansas during the month of May.
Let’s take a look at a mishmash of recently released job data.
• It wouldn’t be fair to say that Kansas is part of the Dirty Dozen. There were not a dozen states during the month of May that saw job declines, according to new federal data. But there were seven states that saw job losses compared with May 2015, and Kansas was one of them. So, maybe we’re part of the Sleepy Seven, or I’ll let you come up with your own nickname. Here’s a look at the seven:
— North Dakota: 16,600 jobs lost; 3.6 percent decline
— Wyoming: 9,500 jobs lost; 3.2 percent decline
— Louisiana: 19,600 jobs lost; 0.9 percent decline
— Alaska: 2,000 jobs lost; 0.5 percent decline
— Kansas: 5,000 jobs lost; 0.3 percent decline
— Maine: 900 jobs lost; 0.1 percent decline
— Oklahoma: 500 jobs lost; 0.03 percent decline
There is good news, though. The governor rightly notes that the unemployment rate in the state has declined. In May it stood at 3.7 percent, which is down from 4.3 percent in May 2015. So, how you view these numbers probably depends on what you are most interested in: job growth or the number of people on unemployment rolls.
Here’s a look at how we stack up in both areas, compared with other states in our region. While our unemployment rate is below the national average of 4.7 percent, Kansas’ rate is just middle of the pack when compared with our neighbors. Job losses in May, however, were the greatest of any state in the region.
— Kansas: 5,000 job loss; 0.3 percent decline; 3.7 percent unemployment rate
— Missouri: 20,300 job gains; 0.7 percent increase; 4.0 percent unemployment rate
— Iowa: 18,600 job gains; 1.1 percent increase; 3.4 percent unemployment rate
— Oklahoma: 500 jobs lost; 0.03 percent decline; 4.8 percent unemployment rate
— Nebraska: 14,600 jobs gained; 1.4 percent increase; 2.8 percent unemployment rate
— Colorado: 62,500 jobs gained; 2.4 percent increase; 3.6 percent unemployment rate
Granted, this is just a one-month snapshot, but it was particularly poor month for construction firms in Kansas. Construction jobs fell by 4,000, compared with May 2015 totals. That’s a drop of 6.5 percent. That was the industry with the greatest number of job losses in May. The mining industry — think oil and gas — had the largest percentage decline. It lost 1,200 jobs or about 14 percent. In terms of industries that saw some growth, the leisure and hospitality industry grew by 1,400 jobs, or 1 percent. The financial services industry also added about 900 jobs, for about a 1.1 percent growth rate.
• Let’s shift gears to Lawrence job numbers. Like the state, Lawrence’s unemployment rate is low and is falling. It checked in at 3.2 percent in May, down from 3.8 percent in May 2015. But also like the state, Lawrence’s job totals did not grow during the month. Total jobs in Lawrence and Douglas County fell by 100 from a year ago, a drop of 0.2 percent. The reason the unemployment rate fell at the same time jobs were falling is because the labor force — the number of people actively looking for work — also declined during the year. Here’s a look at how Lawrence compares with the other metro areas in the state:
— Lawrence: 100 job losses; 0.2 percent decline; 3.2 percent unemployment rate
— Manhattan: 1,800 job gains; 4.1 percent increase; 2.9 percent unemployment rate
— Topeka: 1,200 job losses; 1.1 percent decline; 3.7 percent unemployment rate
— Wichita: 3,700 job gains; 1.2 percent increase; 4.1 percent unemployment rate
— Kansas City: 3,100 job gains; 0.7 percent increase; 3.4 percent unemployment rate
As is the case every month, there were winners and losers on the Lawrence job front. Here are the Lawrence industries that lost jobs in May, compared with the same period a year ago:
— Goods-producing/manufacturing: 200 job losses; 3.6 percent decline
— Trade, transportation and utilities: 200 job loses; 2.5 percent decline
— Education and Health Services: 200 job losses; 3.4 percent decline
Here’s a look at the industries that gained jobs during the period:
— Professional and business services: 100 job gains; 2 percent increase
— Leisure and hospitality; 200 job gains; 2.9 percent increase
— Government; 300 job gains; 1.8 percent increase
In case you are wondering why Lawrence is lagging behind Manhattan so significantly, there is one simple answer: government jobs. Manhattan added 1,800 government jobs during the last 12-month period, an increase of 1.8 percent. Those government jobs pretty much accounted for all of Manhattan’s job growth.
New study shows Douglas County second least affordable in state; see which city has average mortgage payment of $217 a month
Maybe you have heard that Lawrence is one of the least affordable Kansas communities in which to buy a home. Maybe you have the empty Ramen noodle packages to prove the point. Well, a new study has come out that reaches much the same conclusion, but this one also tells you where you’ll need to move to get the most affordable home in Kansas.
Pack the bags for... Parsons.
A new study by the financial website SmartAsset ranked Douglas County as the second-least-affordable county in Kansas, bettering only Riley County, home to Manhattan. The study looks at home prices, insurance costs, closing costs and other similar factors, and then compares that to the median income in the community.
The study found that the cheap living in Kansas is to the south. The five most affordable communities all were in the southern part of the state. Parsons topped the list, but just how cheap can you live in Parsons?
The website calculated the monthly mortgage payment in Parsons is $217. In Douglas County, it is $702. When you factor in the median income in Parsons, a homeowner there spends a little less than 7 percent of his/her income on a mortgage. In Douglas County, the average homeowner spends about 16 percent. In Riley County, it is all the way up to 18 percent. (And remember, this is gross income. If we were actually talking about take-home pay, the percentage would be significantly higher.)
Here’s a look at the top 5 most affordable communities in the state, according to SmartAsset:
• No. 1: Parsons; avg. monthly mortgage: $217; median income: $37,948
• No. 2: Chanute; avg. monthly mortgage: $251; median income: $41,476
• No. 3: Ulysses; avg. monthly mortgage: $361; median income: $53,393
• No. 4: Mulvane; avg. monthly mortgage: $481; median income: $71,031
• No. 5: Independence; avg. monthly mortgage: $246; median income: $39,050
I can’t help but notice that your Samsonite is still empty, and you still have your cookbook copy of "Bologna: A Slice of (Processed) Heaven." Yes, Labette County, home of Parsons, does have an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, compared with Douglas County’s 3.2 percent. And it is true that Allen Fieldhouse in Parsons is just a house owned by a wheat farmer named Allen.
So, perhaps you want to take a closer look at Douglas County to see what type of value you are getting. (Note: The study ranked the top 10 most affordable cities in the state, but thereafter only provided data on the county level. Thus, I don’t have statistics just for Lawrence.) Here’s a look at how Douglas County’s average mortgage payments and incomes stack up to some other large counties in the state.
• Douglas: avg. monthly mortgage: $702; median income: $50,732; 16.6 percent of income
• Johnson: avg. monthly mortgage: $817; median income: $75,017; 13 percent of income
• Wyandotte: avg. monthly mortgage: $353; median income: $39,326; 10.7 percent of income
• Shawnee: avg. monthly mortgage: $463; median income: $49,695; 11.1 percent of income
• Riley: avg. monthly mortgage: $668; median income: $44,522; 18 percent of income
• Sedgwick: avg. monthly mortgage: $486; median income: $50,326; 11.5 percent of income
One interesting part of this study, though, is it also goes beyond just mortgage costs. It also provides data on average closing costs, home insurance costs, and property taxes. Here’s how Douglas County stacks up in those categories:
• Johnson County: Avg. annual property taxes: $2,843
• Douglas County: Avg. annual property taxes: $2,494
• Riley: Avg. annual property taxes: $2,410
• Shawnee: Avg. annual property taxes: $1,933
• Wyandotte County: Avg. annual property taxes: $1,732
• Sedgwick: Avg. annual property taxes: $1,685
Now, closings costs:
• Johnson: Avg. closing costs: $3,542
• Douglas: Avg. closing costs: $3,348
• Riley: Avg. closing costs: $3,321
• Sedgwick: Avg. closing costs: $3,116
• Shawnee: Avg. closing costs: $3,083
• Wyandotte: Avg. closing costs: $2,591
Now, home insurance costs:
• Johnson: Avg. annual home insurance premium: $2,009
• Douglas: Avg. annual home insurance premium: $1,715
• Riley: Avg. annual home insurance premium: $1,654
• Sedgwick: Avg. annual home insurance premium: $1,186
• Shawnee: Avg. annual home insurance premium: $1,136
• Wyandotte: Avg. annual home insurance premium: $865
The study used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Bankrate, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and various government websites. You can see the complete study here, and check out any Kansas county via an interactive map.