Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”

Lawrence Memorial Hospital to get a new name; hospital has revenues exceed expenses by $18 million in 2017

Get ready for Lawrence Memorial Hospital to begin calling itself by a new name: LMH Health.

The hospital’s board of trustees on Wednesday morning approved changing the brand name of the hospital. The board followed a recommendation from its marketing professionals and an advisory group that said the Lawrence Memorial Hospital brand name does not communicate that the organization has health care practices that stretch far beyond the hospital building itself.

Janice Early, LMH’s vice president of marketing and communication, said many hospital companies have started dropping the word “hospital” from their names.

“That migration away from the word ‘hospital’ really began in our area aroud 2012 because hospitals have expanded beyond the hospital’s walls,” Early said.

LMH does about 75 percent of its business through outpatient services. While some of those outpatient services are performed at the hospital campus at Second and Maine streets, much of it is done in clinics and doctor’s offices spread all over Lawrence, and sometimes in other communities such as Baldwin City, Eudora or Tongaonoxie. For that reason, Early said, group members recommended the hospital’s brand name shouldn’t emphasize Lawrence but rather the initials LMH.

“Whether you are brand new to town or not, it doesn’t take people very long to start calling us LMH,” Early said. “That is what most people call us.”

Still, Early said the group did not take lightly the idea of moving away from the Lawrence Memorial Hospital name, noting that it had called itself by the name for almost 100 years.

Technically, the hospital company’s legal name will remain Lawrence Memorial Hospital because LMH’s attorney said it would be too large of a task to change all the contracts and other legal documents that refer to Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

But everywhere else, expect to see the new LMH Health name later this year, which will mean a boon for sign companies, letterhead printers and other such companies.

Board members approved the new name and accompanying logo with one objection. Board member Mike Wildgen, a former Lawrence city manager, voted against the name change, but not because it lacked the name Lawrence. (Technically, the nonprofit hospital is owned by the city of Lawrence.) Wildgen opposed the name change because he didn’t like the chartreuse color that is used as part of the logo. You can see a picture of the new logo below.

LMH Health logo

LMH Health logo

As for when the name change will happen, that is a bit uncertain. Early said it likely would be in June or July when the hospital breaks ground on its approximately $90 million outpatient medical building near Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence. Early said LMH wanted to incorporate the name change in the celebration that is planned for the groundbreaking.

There is news on the LMH West project. Hospital leaders previously had said they planned to break ground on June 1. But delays in getting the project approved by Lawrence City Hall has pushed a groundbreaking into late June or even into July.

Karen Shumate, LMH’s chief operating officer, told trustees that the hospital and the city’s planning staff were disagreeing over projected traffic levels the new 200,000 square-foot medical facility would produce. The city is contending traffic levels will be higher than what the hospital has submitted as part of a traffic study.

“The city is having trouble accepting our numbers,” Shumate said. “Our numbers are accurate. We are at a bit of an impasse on that point.”

The issue caused the project to not be considered as part of the April meeting of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. The hospital now hopes the project will be approved at the May meeting of the Planning Commission, which would put the project on track for a June or July groundbreaking.

As a reminder, the building is proposed to be LMH’s largest outpatient medical center. It would include space for OrthoKansas, the Lawrence Surgery Center, multiple doctor’s offices, a retail pharmacy, the LMH Breast Center and several other specialty medical providers.

Part of the space would be leased to medical companies that aren’t affiliated with LMH. Board members briefly discussed the possibility that the 200,000 square-foot project could be expanded by about 40,000 square feet, if early efforts show that the available space is leasing quickly. No decision was made on the idea of expanding the project, which would come with an estimated price tag of about $5 million.

The hospital did learn that it has received a strong bond rating as part of its process for financing the LMH West project. Standard & Poor’s gave the hospital an A rating with a stable outlook, which is one of the higher ratings the company offers. It puts LMH in about the top 15 percent of hospitals rated by Standard & Poor’s, according to information provided by the hospital’s bond adviser.

LMH trustees also received a report from LMH's auditing firm. The hospital was given a clean financial audit with no major deficiencies. The audit also confirmed what the hospital previously had reported: 2017 was a strong financial year for LMH.

The audit found LMH had revenues over expenses of $18 million, making it one of the better years on record for the hospital. In 2017, LMH had revenues over expenses of $16.5 million. As a nonprofit, LMH doesn’t book a profit but rather re-invests excess revenues back into the business.

The audit also found that LMH’s cash position also was positive in 2017. LMH finished the year with about $43 million in cash and cash equivalents, up from about $39 million at the beginning of the year. LMH in 2016 had seen its cash position drop significantly as it retired large amounts of debt. LMH at the end of 2017 had about $7.7 million in debt as it prepares to issue up to $77 million in bonds to finance the LMH West project.

Reply 6 comments from Mike Riner Mark Kostner David Klamet Dorothyhoytreed Matt Beat

Lawrence doesn’t fare well in ranking of best places for new businesses; numbers show a historic low for Kansas economy

I would think Lawrence is one of the best small cities in America to start a business. After all, even an April snow shoveling business has a chance at success, as we’ve learned recently. But in a new report on the subject, Lawrence doesn’t rank well.

The financial website WalletHub has released its 2018 list of the Best Small Cities to Start a Business. Lawrence ranked No. 653 out of 1,261 cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000. So, middle of the pack overall, but Lawrence’s ranking was the second lowest in Kansas.

Here’s a look at the Kansas communities that are ranked:

— Dodge City: No. 132

— Salina: No. 208

— Hutchinson: No. 252

— Manhattan: No. 254

— Garden City: No. 401

— Lenexa: No. 494

— Shawnee: No. 597

— Lawrence: No. 653

— Leawood: No. 968

The good news for Lawrence is it may not be on this list next year. Population growth is pushing it above the 100,000 mark. There are several high-ranking communities on this list that have no worries about that. Dodge City is the best small community in the state to start a business, according to this list, but population growth has struggled there. It has added about 500 people since the 2010 census, or about 2 percent, which is actually better than I thought it would be. It is better than some other places that rank high on the list. Hutchinson — which according to this list is in the top 20 percent of all small cities in the country for starting a business — has seen a population decline of about 400 people since the census.

So, everybody will have to make what they will of the list. In some ways it is counter-intuitive. Communities that have lower median wages and higher unemployment (thus an available labor pool) fare better in some parts of this ranking. Towns like Lawrence, though, should fare well in categories such as education levels and access to higher education.

As you can tell, I have some doubts about the outcomes of this report. But, it is worth noting, but probably not worth worrying too much about. What would be most interesting is why Lawrence and Manhattan rank so differently. In many reports that rely on demographics and other types of community statistics, Lawrence and Manhattan show up as pretty similar.

The report does provide some breakdown of the rankings. Each community was scored in three broad areas:

— Business environment: This category used statistics related to average length of work week, average commute times, growth rate in small business numbers, startups per capita, average growth of business revenues, and industry variety. Lawrence ranked No. 968 out of 1,261. Manhattan was 892, and the best in the state was Dodge City at No. 66.

— Access to Resources: This category used statistics related to small business loans per capita, job openings versus the unemployment rate, access to quality higher education, education levels of the workforce, growth in working-age population, and total job growth figures. Lawrence ranked No. 308 out of 1,261. Manhattan was No. 26 in the country and was the highest-ranked in the state, although Leawood also had an impressive ranking of No. 81.

— Business Costs: This category used statistics related to commercial lease rates, median incomes, corporate taxes and cost of living. Lawrence ranked No. 580 out of 1,261. Manhattan was No. 532. Hutchinson was best in the state at No. 400. Notably, Leawood was near the bottom in the entire country at 1,211. Remember, high incomes don’t cause you to score well in this report. Also, remember that person who just passed you in the Mercedes is from Leawood.

While I wouldn’t spend much time worrying about any of these rankings, I did stumble across some interesting state statistics while I was trying to get more information about some of these WalletHub numbers.

In short, they show that last summer was a historic low point for the Kansas economy in at least one key regard.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a quarterly report related to the number of business establishments that open and close in the state. The most recent report is for June 2017. The report shows that during the second quarter of 2017, there were 18,692 job losses caused by Kansas business establishments that closed. It shows there were 10,204 jobs created by new establishments that opened.

So, the masters of the Kansas economy definitely had their finger on the minus key. But more noteworthy is the 18,692 job losses due to closings was the highest quarterly total since the third quarter of 2002. In other words, not even during the last recession did so many Kansans lose their jobs due to business closings.

But wait, there is more. The 10,204 jobs created by new establishments was the lowest number since at least 1992, which is as far back as the database went for me. A few months were very close to that number, but none actually were that low.

The business environment at a glance didn’t seem that bad in Lawrence last summer, but for the state as a whole, it apparently was feeling a double whammy.

Reply 2 comments from Lesblevins Mark Kostner Tc2587

West Lawrence private school files plans for significant expansion

Bishop Seabury Academy has filed plans to fill in the swimming pool on its Lawrence campus. The rest of us shouldn’t do anything drastic like selling our Speedos or stop using hip phrases from “Baywatch.” None of this is a sign that summer is canceled. Rather, the school is planning a significant building expansion.

The private school has filed plans with Lawrence City Hall that eventually would allow it to add up to 30,000 square feet of new buildings at its campus at 4120 Clinton Parkway in west Lawrence. If you have forgotten, that is the former location of the Alvamar Country Club’s tennis and swimming facility. That helps explain why a private prep school has an outdoor swimming pool.

Even though Bishop Seabury has been at the location since 2003, Alvamar has continued to use the swimming pool and outdoor tennis courts for its members. But as Alvamar has transformed into the Jayhawk Club, that has changed. The Jayhawk Club includes an expansive outdoor pool at its main clubhouse area.

Bishop Seabury is jumping at the chance to cover the old pool area with a mix of new classrooms, office space and a large commons area. Jennifer Godar, development director for Bishop Seabury, said crowding is becoming a problem in the school.

“We have outgrown the space that we have,” Godar said. “The biggest challenge we have is several teachers sharing classrooms. That gets difficult.”

The school, which serves sixth through 12th grades, has about 205 students currently, Godar said. The plans filed with the city are based on accommodating about 250 students. But the big caveat with that number is timing. The plans filed with City Hall reflect a long-term vision for the campus. In other words, not everything shown on the plans would be included in a phase-one construction project, Godar said.

Below is an image of the site plan filed with City Hall. The area in the center of the site plan is where most of the phase-one work is shown, Godar said. The area in dark gray represents a new exterior entry, including a significant concrete plaza area. The part of the plan just north and west of the gray area — it is shown in darker lines — is the proposed classroom and commons area space that would be constructed in the first phase. If you look closely, you can see another wing of future classrooms just to the west of that area. Those classrooms aren’t planned to be built as part of the first phase.

A proposed site plan for Bishop Seabury's campus in west Lawrence. Plans by SK Design Group, courtesy city of Lawrence.

A proposed site plan for Bishop Seabury's campus in west Lawrence. Plans by SK Design Group, courtesy city of Lawrence. by Chad Lawhorn

When the phase-one project may begin is a bit uncertain, Godar said. As a private school, Bishop Seabury must still raise the money. Godar didn’t provide a dollar estimate on how much the school thinks it will need to raise.

The project also must receive city approval. The property’s zoning and use requires the project to receive a special use permit from the Lawrence City Commission. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will first hear the request for the special use permit. It is scheduled to do so at its April 23 meeting.

A few other details about the proposed project: In addition to removing the swimming pool, the project also will remove the six outdoor tennis courts that have been used by Alvamar members. Current plans call for that area to become green space. The project also will allow Bishop Seabury to discontinue the use of temporary classrooms that have been set up outside the main building for nearly five years, Godar said.

Bishop Seabury has seen consistent growth in its enrollment since it opened in 1997. The school has classroom sizes of about 15 students per teacher, which has been a selling point for the school but also has put pressure on space, Godar said.

“We are very fortunate to have great schools in Lawrence, both public and private,” Godar said. “But it is nice to have the option for families that believe their students will flourish better in smaller classes.”

A proposed site plan for Bishop Seabury's campus in west Lawrence. Plans by SK Design Group, courtesy city of Lawrence.

A proposed site plan for Bishop Seabury's campus in west Lawrence. Plans by SK Design Group, courtesy city of Lawrence. by Chad Lawhorn


Two of downtown’s older retailers close, but will reopen as part of new ‘mashup’ concept store

When I think of spectators in downtown Lawrence, I’m unfortunately reminded of the day that I thought spandex on Mass. Street was a good fashion choice. Far more of you probably think of the longtime downtown women’s clothing store, Spectator’s. Well, there have been big changes at Spectator’s and its sister store, Hobbs.

After 37 years in business, Spectator’s has closed. It vacated its space at 710 Massachusetts Street earlier this month. But don’t worry, the shop will live on in spirit. The store’s concept and style will be part of a new — as yet, unnamed — store that will open at 700 Massachusetts Street. That’s the former location of Hobbs.

Yes, Hobbs also is changing. Hobbs and Spectators are both owned by the Swanson family. Longtime downtown retailer Mark Swanson said the time is right to do something different with the two stores. While they haven’t settled on a name for the new place, Swanson said it will be a “life of style store.”

But there will be plenty of recognizable aspects of both stores in the new venture. Swanson said the new store will utilize the same buyers.

“We’re not deserting our customers,” said Kathy Swanson. “They are too valuable to us.”

The space that formerly housed Hobbs at 700 Massachusetts Street.

The space that formerly housed Hobbs at 700 Massachusetts Street. by Chad Lawhorn

If you are not familiar, Spectator’s described itself as a women’s clothing boutique that leaned toward the luxurious, unique and European. Hobbs was probably best described as a store that was hard to describe. Mark said the store definitely was eclectic. Merchandise included quite a few prints and wall hangings, but often funky, like the one that has a slightly inappropriate depiction of what Superman would do with his X-ray vision. The store also has a lot of gift items, unique gift wrap, and especially during the holiday season, quite a few toys. Swanson said plans do include expanding the greeting card line that Hobbs has been offering.

“We’re going to do a mashup of the two stores,” Mark said.

So, I’m guessing a European, wearing very nice women’s clothing and sporting a Beatles "Yellow Submarine" watch. (Or maybe an Elvis “Jailhouse Rock” writing pen. Both are available, according to Hobbs’ website.) Or maybe not.

“We’re going to carry whatever trips our trigger,” Mark said.

Regardless, it should be interesting to see what the new store is all about. The location is open for business now, but is not fully remodeled into its new form. The Swansons hope to have everything in place by the end of April.

The changes also are notable for historical reasons. Spectator’s opened in 1981, which makes it one of the older retailers in downtown Lawrence. Hobbs opened in 1997, which puts it pretty high on the list as well.

Mark said family members — the store is run by Mark, Kathy and their daughters Alex and Shauna — just decided it was time to change.

“We’ve always realized that retail is constant change,” Mark said. “If you aren’t willing to change in this environment, it is going to be a difficult environment.”

Even with a willingness to change, downtown retail can be a tough market. Mark, though, said he sees some signs of improvement as there are people who are finding some disadvantages to online shopping.

“I think the retail market is loosening up a little bit,” Mark said. “But it has been very tight. There is no denying that. It is not swinging back, yet, but it is inching back.”

Reply 1 comment from Richard Heckler

A look at the college basketball indictment — and questions about what KU does next

Fortunately, my specialty on pickup basketball teams is reading the federal indictments. Indeed, I did spend time late Tuesday reading the federal indictment that brings the FBI investigation into college basketball to KU’s doorstep. Here are a few things to watch and wonder about in the coming weeks.

Are KU coaches and officials in the clear? Certainly, KU has fared better in this indictment than some other schools. Importantly, the indictment does not make any allegations against KU coaches or KU officials. That’s not the case with Louisville, Miami and North Carolina State, which also are listed in the indictment.

But many KU fans and some media outlets may be over generous in claiming the indictment sends a signal that KU is in the clear on this issue. An oft-quoted sentence from the indictment is: "The payments described herein were designed to be concealed, including from the NCAA and officials at the University of Kansas, in order for the scheme to succeed and for the student ­athletes to receive athletic scholarships from the University of Kansas.”

That sentence is not the federal prosecutors' way of communicating that they have determined no one at KU knew of this scheme. If you don’t believe me, read the portion of the indictments for Louisville, Miami and North Carolina State. The exact same sentence — except with their schools’ names — are used in the indictment. That’s despite the fact that prosecutors are alleging coaches at those schools knew of illegal payments.

I’m not a legal expert, but I believe that sentence is just boilerplate language to say the accused acted with nefarious intent, in a conspiratorial way and certainly wanted to keep the scheme concealed from some officials. That’s quite different from saying they’ve determined no one at KU had knowledge.

Of course, none of this is to say that KU officials did have knowledge, but events in Washington have taught us that federal investigations are an evolving beast.

Will KU launch its own investigation into recruiting practices at the university? That’s a question I have in to university officials. Some schools have launched an investigation. Notably USC did so earlier this year when media reports surfaced alleging that an agent was paying players at that school. Conceivably an investigation — or review, if that makes you feel better — could have value even if KU coaches and administrators did nothing wrong. It is probably better to know now rather than later whether there are other problems. Some potential topics an investigator could look at: Did other members on the team know or have reason to believe a teammate had been paid?; have any other KU players been associated with the AAU team that allegedly was used to funnel money to one of the players?; and is KU using best practices in vetting the amateur status of its potential recruits?

A University of Kansas basketball player wears an adidas practice jersey in this file photo from March 2016.

A University of Kansas basketball player wears an adidas practice jersey in this file photo from March 2016.

Will KU commit to not signing its multimillion dollar contract extension with Adidas until after the federal investigation is complete? I’ve also asked that question of university officials. The deal was announced in September but hasn’t been signed. I suppose you could look at this scandal as not involving Adidas itself but rather a rogue employee who was submitting false invoices to Adidas to pay the families of players. In that scenario, Adidas would be a victim. However, it is interesting to note that Adidas is not listed as a victim in the indictment. Why is that? Could it be that federal investigators haven’t yet determined what other Adidas executives knew about the scheme? I don’t know. But can KU sign its extension with Adidas — valued at $191 million over 14 years — if there is any question about whether Adidas was complicit in this scheme? For what it is worth, it didn’t stop the University of Washington. It announced a 10-year $119 million deal with Adidas yesterday.

What’s on the tapes? A careful reading of the indictment sends a message that federal officials have recorded phone conversations that involve discussions of a KU player. The indictment includes verbatim quotes from a phone conversation between an Adidas executive and an Adidas consultant talking about needing to make “another $20,000 payment” to the guardian of a player who later enrolled at KU. The indictment doesn’t go into detail about what else was said in that conversation, but you can bet the feds know. How many tapes are there? Are there other references to Kansas? No one knows but the feds. That’s the thing about indictments: They aren’t tell-alls. The feds will tell you what they want you to know, when they want you to know it. Until then, the rest of us are left to watch and wonder.

Reply 16 comments from David Reynolds John Brazelton Aaron McGrogor Randall Allen Pius Waldman Tracy Rogers Daniel Kennamore Harlan Hobbs

After closing south Iowa store, Payless says it will open new store in west Lawrence

My 15-year old son constantly reminds me I don’t know anything about shoes. Apparently a quality shoe no longer needs five pounds of cowhide leather, rappers have replaced basketball players as experts in shoe technology, and it is a prudent “investment” to take out a home equity loan to buy a couple pairs from Adidas or Nike. But I do know this about shoes: The struggling retail chain Payless ShoeSource plans to return to the Lawrence market.

No, that probably won't make me any hipper with my son. (Using the word "hipper" also doesn't help.)

In case you have forgotten, Payless quickly closed its lone Lawrence store at 3231 Iowa St. in late December. We have since reported that closure was to make way for a new tenant, the mattress retailer Sleep Number.

At the time, store employees said they believed Payless would reopen in another location, but you couldn’t help but be dubious about that claim. Since 2016, the company — which is based in Topeka — has closed about 900 stores, and is less than a year removed from bankruptcy.

But it does now appear that Payless will open a new store in Lawrence. A company spokeswoman has confirmed the company plans to open a store in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. It hopes to open during the first week of May.

The area of Bob Billings and Wakarusa isn’t exactly the spot you think of for chain retailers to locate in Lawrence. South Iowa or Sixth Street are the more common locations. But I’ve also heard speculation that the new Payless store will be testing a new concept for the retailer. That might be part of the site selection decision. A spokeswoman, though, didn’t give me any information on whether this new store was slated to be a concept store for the company.

“The new location has access to nearly 20,000 cars per day on Wakarusa Drive and provides a convenient shopping experience with easy access to the store,” Sally Burk, vice president of human resources for Payless, told me via email.

The shopping center at Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive may house a Payless shoe store.

The shopping center at Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive may house a Payless shoe store. by Chad Lawhorn

She also noted that Payless wasn’t looking to close its south Iowa Street store, but had to do so because the landlord wanted to put a new tenant in the space. She said Payless was eager to get back in the Lawrence market, where it has had a store for decades. The south Iowa store had been open since 1997.

I’m not sure exactly where Payless will locate at the intersection. The main retail shopping center at Bob Billings and Wakarusa is the one on the southeast corner of the intersection. It is the one that houses Jefferson’s West, Pawsh Wash, Keys of Joy and several other businesses. While the shopping center has several restaurants and service providers, it doesn’t really have a true retailer with a store that you shop and browse. So, Payless would be something new for the center.

I drove through the center today and didn’t see any obvious signs of a pending shoe store (such as Kanye West hanging around outside). I’ll let you know if I hear more.

The bigger picture, however, probably involves watching the future of Payless as a company. Because its corporate headquarters is located in eastern Topeka, there are a fair number of corporate employees who live in Lawrence.

Reportedly, the company is seeking to sell its Topeka headquarters, and the company has said it is evaluating its corporate structure. That evaluation involved laying off about 170 employees in November.


A look at the big building under construction at VenturePark in eastern Lawrence

Motorists in eastern Lawrence have noticed the bulldozers and the dump trucks, and soon will start asking what new company is going into the VenturePark business center near 23rd and O’Connell. The answer: We don’t know yet.

We’ve been reporting for months that Kansas City-based VanTrust Real Estate plans to construct a large industrial building on the property in hopes of attracting a tenant. But those have just been plans. And, as I remind my wife whenever I start talking about a home-improvement project, it is just talk until I rent a bulldozer.

Well, the bulldozers are out on the site, preparing the property for an approximately 153,000-square-foot building. But in terms of a new business that is ready to go into the building, that search is still underway. The building is a “spec” building, meaning it is being built before a tenant has been found, with the hope that a ready-to-move-into building will help attract tenants.

“We are very excited,” said Marilyn Bittenbender, a senior vice president with Colliers International, which is marketing the property. “We’re hopeful it will be a job generator and really help grow our economy.”

Bittenbender has been a leading broker of industrial development deals in Lawrence for well over 20 years, and she said VanTrust’s decision to build the spec building in Lawrence is one of the more significant developments in recent memory.

“We really haven’t had an opportunity like this in a couple of decades,” she said.

A rendering of a proposed industrial building at VenturePark.

A rendering of a proposed industrial building at VenturePark. by Chad Lawhorn

As for the building, here are a few details:

— It is estimated to be a $7 million construction project, according to the plans filed at Lawrence City Hall. Construction is expected to last until late October or early November, Bittenbender said.

— The building has been designed to serve as either manufacturing space or warehouse space. But it is not going to be a giant building the likes of what's being constructed near the intermodal rail facility at Gardner/Edgerton. The really big distribution centers — think about Amazon — aren’t going to choose Lawrence over the intermodal facility, Bittenbender said. But Bittenbender said the market for smaller to mid-size manufacturers who want a space that can house both production and warehousing is strong. However, she also noted it would be “helpful” if the country doesn’t find itself in a full-blown trade war in the coming months.

— The building has been designed to be subdivided to house up to four tenants. Plus, it will have room for about 335 parking spaces, which will give the project enough spaces to appeal to a number of users. Manufacturers usually need quite a bit more parking than warehouse companies, for instance.

— The excavation work will ready the property for a potential second building that could be constructed at the site. Plans for the second building are more preliminary, but they show the property could house another 185,000-square-foot building. The first building will be right at the northeast corner of O’Connell Road and East 23rd Street. The second building would be just east of that site.

VanTrust is getting a significant amount of financial incentives from City Hall for the project. The project received both a property tax abatement and free land to move forward with the project. City officials also expedited the review and approval process for the project. City leaders have become aggressive to get a tenant at Lawrence VenturePark, which is the site of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant. The business park opened more than three years ago but is still seeking its first tenant.

The community thought it had landed a commitment from Menards to build a warehouse and manufacturing facility for trusses, landscape blocks and other materials. But Menards put that project on hold before construction ever began, and the company has given the city no indication of when, or whether, it will restart the Lawrence development.

Lawrence has had varying degrees of luck with industrial spec buildings in the past. Some have filled up quickly, while others have sat vacant for years. However, this is the first one to be constructed since the completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway, which makes it easier for business to get to Interstate 70.

Past City Hall leaders told a story of how one site selector ended his Lawrence visit in the middle of a tour when he learned that his company’s trucks would have to go down 23rd Street in order to get to I-70.

“The trafficway is a game changer in trying to attract these types of companies,” Bittenbender said. “I think we are in a stronger place than ever. I think we are on the cusp of an opportunity.”

Reply 1 comment from Laura Engels

Looking at numbers to try to figure out how much money and liquor flow into Lawrence during a Final Four

Some of the strongest memories I have of KU’s past two Final Four appearances involve a Patton-like army of beer trucks invading downtown Lawrence. I was doing daytime journalism on both national championship game days in 2012 and 2008 and still remember the caravan of beer trucks downtown getting all the bars stocked for the evening game.

We’ll see what memories are made this time. An early contender: realizing I’m no longer hip enough to understand why a large number of people are standing in line for a band called Panic! at the Disco. In case you were wondering, that is why a line of people stretched around the block outside The Bottleneck in downtown Lawrence today. (If they want to see panic at a disco, tell my wife to let me wear my open collar disco shirt.)

I’m guessing the beer trucks, though, also will be a Final Four memory again. Liquor is big business all year in Lawrence, but it becomes even bigger during the Final Four. I’ve spent some time crunching numbers to try to give you an idea of some of the financial impacts a Final Four appearance has on Lawrence.

First, let’s look at the liquor side of things. I looked at figures from the state’s liquor enforcement tax. To be fair, I’m not an expert in this tax. In fact, I only like one of the three words. But the numbers from 2012 and 2008 — the last two times the Jayhawks were in the Final Four — do provide some evidence of the bump in liquor sales. This tax is charged to people who buy liquor at a liquor store, or bars and restaurants that buy it wholesale.

In 2008, the big bump came in March. It showed that there was a 22 percent increase in liquor enforcement tax collection in March 2008 compared with March 2007. The more fun number, though, is the total increase in sales. The numbers suggest liquor sales in Douglas County increased by $581,200 in that one month. But remember, only a portion of that amount represents retail sales. A good amount of it represents wholesale purchases made by bars and restaurants. So the actual retail value of all the additional liquor sold in that month would be significantly higher.

Fast forward to 2012, and the big bump in tax collections showed up in April, when liquor enforcement tax collections jumped by about 17 percent. That equated to about $617,000 in additional sales, with the same caveat that a good portion of that amount is wholesale purchases.

Those two months both produced about $50,000 in additional tax collections. You might think that is a nice bump in revenue for the city, which will cause some state tax collector to laugh at you. You silly person, the state does not share liquor enforcement tax revenue with cities. It keeps all of that.

However, there are other types of taxes that the city does benefit from during the Final Four. There is another type of liquor tax called a drink tax that bars and restaurants serve on liquor that you buy at their establishments. The city does get a share of that money.

The other tax, of course, is the general sales tax. That catches lots of items, including the Final Four T-shirts you buy, the semitrailer of Doritos, the 15 new big-screen televisions and other entirely reasonable supplies needed for a Final Four party.

Those numbers historically haven’t soared as much as you might think. In 2008, sales tax collections during the prime Final Four period actually were flat to slightly down. In 2012, there was a decent increase of about 5.5 percent during the Final Four period.

But there is also some evidence that even when spending does go up for the Final Four, consumers maybe pull back a little bit later in the year. For instance, the 2012 Final Four bump didn’t result in a big increase for the year. City collections were up 5.2 percent for the entire year. That is a really good sales tax year, but there have been plenty of years when sales tax collections in Lawrence have increased by 5 percent or more even when we are not in a Final Four. In 2008, sales tax collections for the year were up 3.8 percent.

The bottom line is that it takes a lot of T-shirt sales and party trays to move the sales tax needle in a big way in Lawrence.

Now, enough of that talk. I have to start unloading the Doritos truck. Have fun and be safe this weekend.

Reply 2 comments from Thomas Bryce Jr. Richard_shea

An update on the plans for a Casey’s store on Sixth Street; Lawrence drink business shut down by the state

Even though baseball season is upon us (yeah, I hadn’t noticed either), it is not Casey at the Bat that I have on my mind. I want to know when Casey’s breakfast pizza is going to be on my dashboard. It has been almost seven months since Casey’s General Store filed plans to build its first Lawrence store, but still no work is underway.

I talked with the city planner who is reviewing the project, though, and she assured me it is still an active development project. City Planner Sandra Day said she had just recently talked to an architect with Casey’s who was making changes to the proposed site plan in an effort to resolve some access issues with the property.

If you have forgotten, Casey’s filed plans in September to build one of its gas station/convenience stores at 1703 W. Sixth St., which is the site of the College Motel. The store also would occupy the property just to the west, which used to house Action Automotive.

If you don’t know what a Casey’s General Store is, you likely have better cholesterol levels than I do, but are woefully ill-prepared to talk about the quality of various convenience store pizzas. Casey’s is a national convenience store chain that also is one of the largest sellers of pizza in America, including a breakfast pizza that features egg, cheese, bacon and other goodness.

The Iowa-based company has about 2,000 stores, and most of them are in small communities. The company’s original strategy was to locate in towns of 5,000 or fewer people, but it since has modified that approach.

This would be the company’s first store in Lawrence, although it kind of has the town surrounded. There are Casey’s locations in Eudora, De Soto, Tonganoxie, McLouth, Perry, Ottawa, and several on the outskirts of Topeka.

All the stores sell gasoline, pizza, doughnuts, lots of grab-and-go food and the other convenience store basics. The question remains, when will they start selling them in the Lawrence market? I didn’t get a good answer on any timeline for the project.

What I was told was figuring out how to safely get cars in and out of the site was the major sticking point with the project. The site will need at least one driveway off of Sixth Street and one driveway off of Wisconsin Street. The Sixth Street driveway would be pretty close to the intersection of Sixth and Wisconsin, which can create concerns for traffic planners. Whether the driveway would require some access restrictions — such as making it a right-in only driveway — is among the topics under consideration, I’ve been told.

Plus, I think part of the conversation also could include whether Wisconsin Street needs a traffic signal. That could be a major expense, and probably is worth watching.

The other piece of interesting Casey’s news is that I think the company has interest in at least a second store for Lawrence. I’ve now heard from multiple sources that Casey’s was very interested in building a store near the southwest corner of 23rd and O’Connell streets in eastern Lawrence.

The company never filed actual plans with City Hall on that project, but I think access issues again were a potential concern. I’m not sure the company is still considering that site, based on what I’ve heard. But certainly there is quite bit of additional vacant commercial ground near that intersection, if the company is interested.

In other news and notes from around town:

• If juice and smoothies are more your thing, there’s bad news on that front. The longtime Lawrence business Juice Stop has been shut down by the state of Kansas. The reason is unpaid taxes.

The Kansas Department of Revenue has confirmed it seized the assets of the business earlier this week. The department contends the business owes nearly $50,800 in back sales taxes. It has filed tax warrants in both Douglas and Johnson counties as part of the case. The action is against the store owner Juice Stop Mo Kan LLC, according to the department.

The Juice Stop at 812 Massachusetts Street after a state seizure of assets.

The Juice Stop at 812 Massachusetts Street after a state seizure of assets. by Chad Lawhorn

The business has three locations in Lawrence — 812 Massachusetts St., 3514 Clinton Parkway, and 4821 W. Sixth St. — and all of them are closed as part of the seizure, department of revenue spokeswoman Rachel Whitten said.

I’ve reached out for comment from a manager of Juice Stop but haven’t yet heard back. Whitten told me the seizure process is still at the stage where the business could negotiate a settlement with the state and continue operating. However, she couldn’t provide me any information on whether such talks are underway.

Absent some type of settlement, the state eventually will sell the assets of the business in an effort to pay off the back taxes.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long the back taxes had been accumulating, but Whitten said the department views seizures of businesses as a last resort.

“The department makes every effort to work with the owners so the business doesn’t have to be shut down,” Whitten said.

I’ll let you know if I hear more about the future of the business, or any new tenants for the spaces.

Reply 4 comments from Clara Westphal Jonathan Becker Jake Davis Brett McCabe

Plans filed to build new neighborhood north of Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence

Living next to a recreation center would be great. I could exercise by osmosis. I don’t know if that is what is driving it, but plans for a major new housing development north of Rock Chalk Park have been filed.

Lawrence businessman Michael Garber has filed plans to build an approximately 230-home single-family neighborhood just north of Rock Chalk Park, which houses the city’s Sports Pavilion recreation center and the University of Kansas’ track and field, softball, soccer and tennis facilities.

Currently, most of the property Garber is seeking to develop is not in the Lawrence city limits. He’s filed a request to annex about 97 acres into the city limits. If some of this sounds familiar it is because Garber, who owns a property management business in Lawrence, has made similar annexation requests to the city before. But the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission has balked at expanding the city limits northward.

The property does have an interesting element: It is in the Perry-Lecompton school district. That means you could possibly have a home there, see Free State High or Langston Hughes Elementary from your porch, but your kids wouldn’t be able to attend those schools. Instead, they would go to schools in Lecompton or Perry, which are about 15 minutes or 10 miles northwest of the site.

Parents in the neighborhood could ask the Lawrence district to accept their students as transfers. But past administrators have said that is unlikely because it creates a tough financial situation for the district. The Lawrence district doesn't get to collect taxes on development that occurs in the Perry-Lecompton district.

The plan now is to design the neighborhood to appeal to “empty nesters and retirees who are looking to downsize,” according to documents filed with City Hall. That means homes likely would be about 1,400 square feet and would be below a price of $200,000, in today’s dollars.

Below is a conceptual layout of the neighborhood.

A proposed concept plan for a new housing development north of Rock Chalk Park. Courtesy: City of Lawrence

A proposed concept plan for a new housing development north of Rock Chalk Park. Courtesy: City of Lawrence by Chad Lawhorn

The project will require some significant infrastructure improvements. A city sewer line already goes through the area, but East 902 Road, largely a gravel road today, would need to be converted into a city street. A city waterline would be added at the same time. Those infrastructure improvements are expected to cost $4.5 million to $5.5 million, according to the plans. The developers propose forming a benefit district, which is a system where the city finances the project but property owners in the area pay for it through special assessments on their property tax bills. Sometimes the city at large chips in to pay a portion of the expenses, but not always. Whether the city at large would pay for any of the road could be a sticking point with this City Commission.

As I noted, the city previously has balked at annexing this property and opening the door for major development in the area. David Hamby, and engineer with BG Consultants who is working on the project, said a couple of things have changed since that time. Lawrence Memorial Hospital has announced plans to build a $93 million outpatient medial building on property adjacent to Rock Chalk Park. Hamby said the facility — which will have multiple doctors offices, therapy services and other medical providers — would be an attractive amenity, especially for folks in the retiree market.

The other factor at play, Hamby said, is the city’s affordable housing issue. He contends that part of what is driving up housing prices in Lawrence is a lack of available housing lots in new subdivisions. While those new subdivisions aren’t always the place where affordable housing gets built, a lack of building lots in the city ultimately drives up housing prices across all sectors of the market.

Certainly, the project may face some pushback with that argument. Opponents of “greenfield development” on the edge of town often point to available lots within the city limits. Hamby acknowledged there are undeveloped lots in the city, but often they aren’t available in the quantity that allows builders to take advantage of economies of scale. Plus, he said getting the approvals for infill residential development has proved to be difficult too.

“Neighbors don’t like to have something they see as green space be developed,” Hamby said. “And there are very few large places in town left to develop.”

One other argument that could come into play: If city commissioners want to see more retail development in the already-approved Mercato development south of Rock Chalk Park, more houses in the area likely would help.

The project ultimately will need approvals from both the Planning Commission and the City Commission before it can move forward. Hamby also said, if the project does proceed, it will move ahead in phases. He said it could take a decade for the entire 230 homes to be built and occupied.

“It would develop regularly and consistently, but it won’t be like ‘boom,’ everything is there,” he said.

One part of the project that could get started sooner is a self storage unit facility that is slated for about 11 acres of property. That part of the project previously received a conditional use permit to be developed as a county project. However, Garber is seeking to have that development site also annexed into the city limits and zoned for light industrial uses, which would accommodate a self-storage business.

Motorists on the adjacent South Lawrence Trafficway likely have noticed the construction of a retaining wall north of Rock Chalk Park. That is part of the self-storage project, Hamby said. I don’t have a lot of other details about how large the self-storage business would be, but Hamby said it would be geared toward residential users rather than small warehouse space for businesses.

Reply 15 comments from Richard Heckler Nkuzextreme Bevthrower Gregdivilbiss Steve Jacob Clark Coan Brett McCabe

New report shows 2017 Kansas incomes didn’t keep up with inflation, were among the slowest growing in the U.S.

We can’t all be Lawrence sports bar owners or Final Four T-shirt salesmen. The world would run out of money. Well, a new report suggests the rest of the world has largely avoided giving its money to Kansas. Personal income growth in Kansas was among the slowest in the U.S. in 2017, according to the federal numbers.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has calculated personal income figures for each state. Those figures measure basically the total amount of money — whether it be wages, dividends, Social Security checks — that individuals received for 2017. Personal income in Kansas in 2017 grew by 1.0 percent. In other words, it was significantly less than the approximately 2.5 percent rate of inflation.

Kansas was a definite laggard in the income area. Nationally, personal income grew by 3.1 percent in 2017. Only North Dakota, Iowa and Alaska had personal income growth rates that were lower than Kansas’.

Here’s a look at how Kansas compared to the other states in the BEA’s Plains region:

— Iowa: up 0.3 percent

— Kansas: up 1.0 percent

— Minnesota: up 3.0 percent

— Nebraska: up 1.4 percent

— North Dakota: down 0.3 percent

— South Dakota: up 1.4 percent

— Plains region average: up 1.7 percent

The Plains region doesn’t include a couple of our neighbors, so here’s their numbers: Colorado: up 4.1 percent and Oklahoma up 2.0 percent.

The other piece of information that is interesting is the per capita income figures. Those are a bit more of a mixed bag for Kansas. The report shows we continue to be ahead of some of our neighbors, but we certainly aren’t in the top tier.

— Kansas: $47,603 per capita

— Colorado: $53,504 per capita

— Iowa: $45,996 per capita

— Minnesota: $53,043 per capita

— Missouri: $43,661 per capita

— Nebraska: $50,395 per capita

— North Dakota: $54,643 per capita

— Oklahoma: $43,449 per capita

— South Dakota: $48,281 per capita

The reason behind the decline in Kansas is no secret. The amount of income farmers and ranchers are receiving continues to drop as commodity prices remain in a rut. Nationally, farm earnings decreased 6.6 percent for the year. That marked the fourth consecutive annual decrease in farm earnings. So, everyone is in that boat, but it hits Kansas particularly hard because agriculture is a bigger part of the Kansas economy than in most other states. In some ways, this report is a measurement of how well Kansas has diversified its economy. It shows that we continue to heavily rely on the agricultural sector.

To put in perspective how much low crop prices are hurting the Kansas economy, the BEA estimates that farm earnings fell by $900 million in 2017. The only states that saw larger dollar losses in the farm sector were California (an example of a state with a huge agriculture industry but also several other huge industries to offset it), Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa.

But perhaps more interesting is to look at what else fell in Kansas. There were several sectors of the economy that saw declines in Kansas despite those industries posting increases nationally. It is one thing when you decline when everybody else does, but it is another when you run counter to the trend. Those industries in Kansas included:

— Construction: down $32 million in earnings

— Durable goods manufacturing: down $117 million in earnings

— Retail trade: down $20 million in earnings

— Information technology: down $135 million in earnings

— Military: down $14 million in earnings

— State and local government: down $77 million in earnings

With numbers like those, I think it is clear what Kansas’ economic strategy must become: Buy a Final Four T-shirt and wear it to a sports bar.

Reply 2 comments from Michael Kort Mendicant

Discount tool retailer has plans for local store; signs of new life at former Hobby Lobby site; a Missouri billionaire stakes a Lawrence claim

Either I love tools or just break a lot of things because I always carry in my front pocket a Leatherman multitool that ensures I have at least 10 tools with me at all times. If you too are that type of a person, you might be interested to know that Harbor Freight is now saying it will open a store in Lawrence. The rest of you probably are wondering what is Harbor Freight, and why do I insist upon showing you my tiny pocket scissors?

Harbor Freight is a discount tool retailer with about 850 stores across the country. It has stores in Topeka and the Kansas City metro, but it now is advertising online for people to work in a soon-to-open Lawrence store.

“Harbor Freight Tools is coming to Lawrence, KS! Now hiring for a store manager and assistant store managers,” the job listing on indeed.com reads.

Beyond that, I don’t have a lot of information, so take this for what you think it is worth. I have a message into the corporate office of Harbor Freight to try to get some additional information, such as where the store would be and a timeline for opening. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

As for what Harbor Freight offers, the store sells power tools, hand tools, woodworking tools, mechanic tools, lawn and garden tools, safety gear and quite a bit more. The store definitely is in the discount market with lots of coupons and discount brands. In some ways, it is a more tool-centric version of the old Bargain Depot that used to operate near 23rd and Harper. That building is vacant and is looking for a tenant, so I suppose it is possible that Harbor Freight may go there. But I also think there is another possible location.

Plans have been filed for a new tenant to go into a portion of the former Hobby Lobby building at 23rd and Ousdahl. I honestly have no inside information about where Harbor Freight may be locating, but it is worth noting that the plans for the former Hobby Lobby building call for a 16,000 square-foot tenant. That is in the right ball park for a Harbor Freight store, and the company certainly has used the strategy of locating in older buildings that used to house big box retailers. For instance, its store in Topeka is in a part of a former Kmart store, I believe.

The plans filed for the former Hobby Lobby space don’t list the name of the tenant, but I’ve got a call into the Wichita-based development group that owns the building. I’ll let you know if I hear more.

Regardless of whether Harbor Freight is slated for the space, the fact there already are redevelopments signs for the old Hobby Lobby is promising. It shows that some national retailers are pretty interested in the Lawrence market. It did not take long for the former J.C. Penney building on south Iowa Street to redevelop. It is home to the new Hobby Lobby and Five Below, both of which are open. The remaining space will be filled with a HomeGoods store. Before you ask, no, I don’t have a date for its opening. I’ve checked with the company, but a grand opening date hasn’t been released.

I had thought that the old Hobby Lobby site may take some time to redevelop but that was mainly because the old Hastings site across the street has been empty for quite awhile. Well, there's news on that site that slipped by me.

Several months ago, a group controlled by Columbia, Mo., billionaire Stan Kroenke bought the former Hastings site on the northeast corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. He is an owner of the Los Angeles Rams, the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche, and the soccer club Arsenal in the English Premier League. He is a pretty rich guy on his own, but he also happened to marry a daughter of one of the co-founders of Walmart. (My heavens, he probably has a 20-tool Leatherman.)

In addition to the sports teams, Kroenke owns a lot of suburban shopping centers across the U.S. His purchase in Lawrence wasn't just for the old Hastings building, but also included the attached building with Cork & Barrel Liquor and Cici’s Pizza.

What plans does Kroenke have for the property? Believe it or not, Missouri billionaires don’t share their plans with a guy who perhaps has made some jokes about Missouri artwork involving a 1980s Camaro, cement blocks and a front yard.

But Kroenke definitely does have lots of connections with all types of retailers. At least one real estate agent I know has mentioned that Kroenke does a lot of business with Whole Foods, which has been rumored to be interested in the market.

But it also is probably worth noting that Kroenke also is involved in the hotel business, and having a hotel just south of the University of Kansas campus isn’t a dumb idea. Hopefully it wouldn’t have a black and gold color scheme. Kroenke is one of the largest University of Missouri donors.

Who knows what, if anything, he may have planned for the site? I certainly don’t, but it does make it a more interesting property to keep an eye on.

Reply 17 comments from Crystal Patterson Richard Heckler John Middleton Bob Smith Michael Dennis Dorothyhoytreed Michael Kort Radar Callaway Rosemary Morris Richard_shea and 2 others

Longtime downtown restaurant expands by opening a food truck

A Mad Greek on wheels may sound like a dangerous thing at first, but likely the only danger will be to your waistline. The longtime downtown Lawrence restaurant The Mad Greek has expanded by opening a food truck.

“We have wanted to expand for awhile now,” said Deb Tagtalianidis, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Theo. “We have a lot of great customers from outside Lawrence, and they are always telling us we should open a restaurant in Topeka or Kansas City. We think the best way to do that right now is with a food truck.”

But don’t worry, Lawrence diners. You’ll get plenty of opportunities to check out the truck too. The truck already has signed up to be part of Lawrence’s Kansas Food Truck Festival on May 5, and it will make its local debut at a grand opening event for Evening Shade Farms Soap house on March 30 in North Lawrence.

The Mad Greek's new food truck. Courtesy: The Mad Greek.

The Mad Greek's new food truck. Courtesy: The Mad Greek. by Chad Lawhorn

As for what you will find when you visit the truck, expect lots of Greek food that is well-suited to eat from your palm. That didn’t require much modification of many of The Mad Greek’s most popular menu items. Of course, a staple of the food truck menu will be the gyro sandwich, which is a mix of beef and lamb ground together and served on pita bread with a tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce.

If you like the gyro sandwich, then you may particularly like the gyro fries, which Deb said is a food-truck only item. Those are french fries topped with feta cheese and gyro meat. Sounds good but messy (although not as messy as me trying to accurately pronounce “gyro.”) Speaking of words that I mispronounce, the menu also features spanakopita and souvlaki. Spanakopita is a vegetarian dish that includes spinach and feta cheese wrapped in buttered phyllo dough. Souvlaki is a dish that features marinated, charbroiled pork loin that can be served either on a kabob or as a sandwich.

The food truck menu also will include falafel sandwiches, the restaurant’s signature spicy feta cheese dip and, of course, humus and pita chips, among other items.

A big part of the truck idea is to create some new awareness about The Mad Greek’s brick and mortar restaurant at 907 Massachusetts St. The restaurant bills itself as a Greek restaurant that really has its roots in Greece. The food truck seeks to remind people that the owners have a real Greek connection. The food truck has large graphics of family photos taken in Greece.

Theo, Deb’s husband and the chef at the restaurant, grew up in Greece, and actually operated a restaurant there with his cousin before moving to America.

“My husband is Greek, so we really do feel like we’re helping bring the flavor of Greece to downtown Lawrence,” Deb said.

The family bought The Mad Greek four years ago from another Greek family, the Kritos, who founded the restaurant. That founding happened 30 years ago, which makes this a big year for the restaurant.

Deb said the restaurant is planning several celebrations for later in the year — the actual anniversary is in October — and the business will use its new food truck to help spread the word.

“We are excited to get out there and meet more people,” Deb said. “We want them to try the restaurant through the food truck and then have them come try the brick-and-mortar restaurant. We love exposing people to Greek food.”

Courtesy: The Mad Greek

Courtesy: The Mad Greek by Chad Lawhorn

Reply 4 comments from Marianne  Reed Sally Helm Chad Lawhorn Dorothyhoytreed

A look at where Kansas ranks on a whole lot of different taxes

So, we need $2 billion more for public schools in Kansas. Junior classes across the state are going to have to increase the prices on their Yankee Candle fundraisers by 10 percent to cover that much of a gap. Absent that, I’m guessing taxes may be involved. With that in mind, I thought I would pass along a couple of tax ranking reports.

The folks at the financial website WalletHub have a couple of new reports that probably won’t make Kansas taxpayers feel too good. While WalletHub does some stupid reports, these two seem to be based on some reliable governments statistics about tax rates and incomes.

The first report found that Kansas has the 12th highest tax rate of any state in the country, when you factor in income taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, vehicle taxes and real estate taxes. Typical Kansans pay 12.42 percent of their income in state and local taxes. That ranked Kansas No. 40 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Here’s a look at how other states in our region ranked:

— Colorado: No. 13, 9.27 percent

— Oklahoma: No. 25, 10.75 percent

— Missouri: No. 30, 11.28 percent

— Kansas: No. 40, 12.42 percent

— Iowa: No. 44, 12.92 percent

— Nebraska: No. 49, 13.83 percent

— National average: 10.78 percent

WalletHub also created a modified ranking that takes into account the cost of living in each state. I guess the thinking is, low tax rates in some states may be negated somewhat by a high cost of living. I’ll let you figure out the logic of it. Regardless, Kansas moves closer to the middle of the pack in that ranking, but is still on the wrong side of the average. Those rankings Colorado, No. 13; Oklahoma, No. 15; Missouri, No. 22; Kansas, No. 28; Iowa, No. 32; and Nebraska, No. 39.

I know you are wondering: Alaska had the lowest tax rate; Illinois had the highest. When adjusted for cost of living, Delaware had the lowest tax rate, and Hawaii had the highest.

Perhaps more interesting is the breakdown the report provides on the different types of taxes in each state. Here’s a look:

— Real estate: The owner of a $184,700 home in Kansas would pay, on average, $2,580 in state and local real estate taxes. Out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., Kansas ranks 37th, with 1 being the state with the lowest amount of taxes. Other states: Colorado, $1,058, No. 7; Oklahoma, $1,683, No. 24; Missouri, $1,842, No. 26; Iowa, $2,762, No. 38; Nebraska, $3,371, No. 45.

— Vehicle property tax rate: The owner of a $24,000 vehicle in Kansas would pay, on average, $495 in state and local property taxes. That ranks No. 43. Other states: Oklahoma, $0, No. 1; Iowa, $240, No. 30; Nebraska, $383, No. 36; Colorado, $428, No. 40; Missouri, $600, No. 46.

— Income tax: A taxpayer with a household income of $55,754 would pay, on average, $994 in income taxes in Kansas. That ranks No. 15 in the country. Other states: Oklahoma, $1,360, No. 23; Nebraska, $1,410, No. 24; Colorado, $1,414, No. 25; Missouri, $1,625, No. 31; Iowa, $1,691, No. 34.

— Sales and gas taxes: A household that earns at the median amount and spends at the median amount would pay $2,855 in sales and gas taxes in Kansas during a year. That ranks No. 40. Other states: Colorado, $2,269, No. 24; Iowa, $2,509, No. 31; Missouri, $2,224, No. 22; Nebraska, $2,548, No. 32; Oklahoma, $2,994, No. 42.

Make of those numbers what you will. They do highlight pretty well what Kansas’ previous tax strategy was: Try to become a state that taxes income at a low rate. The Legislature last year, however, backed away from that strategy some, so next year’s report may look a bit different for Kansas. Unless, lawmakers make some downward adjustment on sales taxes, Kansas’ ranking probably will rise.

Plus, that little $2 billion issue may have something to say about our ranking as well.

• The second report from WalletHub looks at how federal tax dollars are spent in Kansas. WalletHub ranks Kansas as the second least dependent state on federal money. Some folks may wear that as a badge of honor in that we aren’t relying on other people’s money. Other folks may see it as we’re not getting our fair share of federal services for the federal tax dollars we pay. I’ll let you all figure that out.

As for the findings of the report, Kansas ranked No. 49 on the list of Most Federally Dependent States. Or in other words, the second least dependent state on the feds. Here’s how other states in the region ranked:

— Missouri: No. 16

— Oklahoma: No. 20

— Iowa: No. 29

— Nebraska: No. 40

— Colorado: No. 44

— Kansas: No. 49

In case you are wondering, New Mexico is the most dependent state, while Delaware is the least dependent, according to the report.

The report basically looks at all federal funding a state receives — everything from welfare programs to federal research dollars — and divides it by the amount of IRS collections in the state. The report also looks at the number of federal jobs in a state and what percentage of a state’s budget is composed of federal dollars.

On that last measurement, Kansas ranked No. 47 in terms of percentage of its state budget coming from federal dollars. Only Hawaii, Virginia and North Dakota had a smaller percentage of federal dollars.

Reply 3 comments from Jon Bierig Steve Jacob Joe Blackford II

Lawrence sales tax collections off to slow start in 2018; chain retailer with downtown location files for bankruptcy

My family jump-started the Branson, Mo., economy last week by traveling to Silver Dollar City and its new roller coaster, the Time Traveler. (Note: It is called Time Traveler because by the time you are finished standing in line, you are in a new century.) Thus far, Lawrence is still waiting for something to jump start its economy in 2018, according to the latest sales tax reports.

The city now has received its sales tax distributions for January and February, and Lawrence isn’t doing as well as several other area communities. That is a reversal of the trend of the last couple of years, when Lawrence was near the top of the pack in terms of sales tax growth.

Through February, Lawrence’s sales tax collections actually are down by 0.5 percent year-to-date compared with the same time period a year ago. It is still early in the year, so not too much should be made of the decline. Plus, the early results have been pretty inconsistent. January sales tax collections — which, due to the lag time in reporting, actually represented sales made in December — were up by 4.1 percent compared with January 2016. So, that may be a sign that local retailers had a pretty decent Christmas shopping season. But February’s sales tax collections were down by 4.4 percent compared with a year ago. Thus far, sales tax collections have been a bit like that roller coaster. (Note: While intense, the Time Traveler is not the scariest attraction in Branson. That is still the Tanger Factory Outlet Mall.)

Perhaps more interesting is that Lawrence is getting off to a slower start to 2018 than many other area communities. Of the 10 large retail communities I track, six of them posted increases in sales tax collections compared with a year ago. Lawrence was part of the group of laggards, which is a departure of the trend from the past couple of years. Here’s a look:

— Kansas City, Kan.: up 37.2 percent

— Olathe: up 4.6 percent

— Lenexa: up 3.5 percent

— Overland Park: up 2 percent

— Shawnee: up 1.7 percent

— Saline County (Salina): up 1 percent

— Lawrence: down 0.5 percent

— Sedgwick County (Wichita): down 0.9 percent

—Topeka: down 1.7 percent

— Riley County (Manhattan): down 5.1 percent

Sales tax collections are important for a couple of reasons. One, they provide a glimpse at the health of the local retail industry. But sales taxes also have become a critical part of the City of Lawrence’s budget. The city is counting on sales and use taxes to generate $40.2 million worth of revenue for the 2018 budget. Even with sales tax collections being down a bit from last year, the city is still on pace to meet its budget for 2018.

But it is still early, and if February’s collections mark the beginning of a new trend, the city will find itself in a hole.

In other news and notes from around town:

• I guess I should tell you to keep an ear open for news about Claire’s, but be warned that the company tends to pierce any ear it gets hold of. Claire’s is the national chain that sells jewelry geared to the teen market and bills itself as the leading supplier of ear-piercing services in the U.S. The company has a store at 647 Massachusetts St. in Lawrence.

Claire’s on Monday announced that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. However, if you are to believe the most recent statements from company officials, the Lawrence store shouldn’t be at any risk of closing.

The company said via a release that it has reached agreements with several of its major lenders to restructure its debt. The company said its operations have been improving and are profitable. However, it was saddled with large amounts of debt left over from a previous private equity buyout.

The company plans to eliminate about $1.9 billion in debt as part of the bankruptcy process. It plans to emerge from bankruptcy in September.

Reply 4 comments from Richard Heckler Steve Jacob

Downtown restaurant closes, but new concept with big outdoor area set to take its place

Fans of one of downtown Lawrence’s fancier restaurants may be temporarily disappointed by the news coming from The Eldridge Hotel, but fans of people-watching on Massachusetts Street are getting a boost. The Eldridge has closed its upscale restaurant Ten, but plans call for a new eatery that will include likely the largest outdoor dining area in downtown.

Eldridge general manager Nancy Longhurst told me the hotel management has decided to close Ten restaurant and turn it into a “completely new concept.” Longhurst wasn’t ready to provide any details about the new concept, such as what its menu would include or how the vibe would be different from Ten, which featured steaks, pasta, seafood and a contemporary American menu.

But Longhurst did confirm that the hotel plans to turn the empty lot immediately south of the hotel into a large outdoor dining area. But don’t expect just rows of tables and chairs. Instead, plans call for a heavy amount of landscaping and other amenities.

“It will be like a park,” Longhurst said. “There won’t be like a big structure there or anything.”

The vacant lot between 715 Restaurant, left, and the Eldridge Hotel, right, is shown Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016.

The vacant lot between 715 Restaurant, left, and the Eldridge Hotel, right, is shown Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. by Nick Gerik

The hotel’s kitchen is being enlarged so that it can serve the needs of both the restaurant and the new outdoor space, she said. The outdoor menu will feature some lighter fare, including salads and sandwiches, plus patrons will be able to enjoy a variety of wine, beers and cocktails.

Longhurst, who also is a manager for The Oread hotel, said she thinks the new outdoor area will be a hit in downtown.

“I’ve definitely learned being at The Oread with all of its terraces, people love to be outside,” she said. “This downtown area with fresh air, music and being right on Mass, I think it is going to be a great package deal.”

The project has been in the works for awhile. We reported in December 2016 that the hotel and Lawrence architect Paul Werner filed a plan with City Hall that would have allowed for about 20 outdoor tables for the area. I’m not sure those are exactly the plans The Eldridge plans to follow this time. Longhurst said she wasn’t sure how many people the outdoor area would be able to accommodate, and I haven’t yet seen new plans filed at City Hall for the space.

Expect the project to move quickly. Longhurst said the plan is to have the restaurant open by graduation season, which is late May.

In addition to the restaurant, the work also will extend into The Jayhawker bar and the lobby of the hotel. However, Longhurst said both of those areas are going to just be “refreshed” rather than receive a complete makeover.

As for the decision to end the run of Ten restaurant, Longhurst said the eatery was going on 13 years old and management was looking to take the space in a different direction.

“It will be wonderful,” Longhurst said of the plans.

In other news and notes from around town:

While we are mentioning hotels, it does appear that the Country Inn & Suites has opened for business in the last few days. The hotel on the eastern edge of Lawrence — it is just west of 23rd and O’Connell Road where Don’s Steakhouse used to be — has put out the “Now Open” sign. The new facility adds 89 rooms to Lawrence’s hotel inventory. The hotel is part of the Radisson chain of hotels. In addition to including all the normal amenities of a modern hotel, this one also includes an indoor pool area. It will be worth keeping an eye on the area next to the hotel. It has been approved for restaurant use, but work on that part of the project hasn’t begun, and, the last I heard, a restaurant hadn’t yet been found for the site. The same ownership group that has that property also owns the former Knights of Columbus building just to the east of the hotel. So, there is the possibility for significant redevelopment in the area.

Country Inn & Suites is the first of three hotels that are scheduled to open in Lawrence. A Tru by Hilton hotel is under construction north of Sixth and Wakarusa streets, and a Best Western Plus is being built near Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence.

One bit of housekeeping. Town Talk will be off the rest of the week, while I take care of some other business. I’m not at liberty to divulge too much, but I will note that Wednesday, 3.14.18, is Pi Day. Perhaps I will be active that day, although I promise you it won’t involve solving any equations. (Unless we are finally recognizing the math involved in getting two dips of ice cream stacked on a single pie a la mode.) See you next week.

Reply 6 comments from Bob Smith Raerae Steve Jacob Andy Craig Ron Holzwarth Ophelia_shorn

Plans filed for new apartment complex north of Memorial Stadium

There were plenty of times in college when I couldn’t find my car, and that was well before the trend of student apartment complexes with underground parking garages. In case you are wondering, that does appear to be a new trend in Lawrence. Plans have been filed for a new apartment complex north of the KU campus that will use underground parking to help increase the number of apartments that can be built on the site.

Plans have been filed to demolish the Hawker Apartments at 10th and Missouri streets, and replace them with three new apartment buildings that each will have underground parking garages.

I think a development group led by Thomas Fritzel is building the property. His group owns the current Hawker Apartments, and while the City Hall application is a little unclear on who the developer is, the new project is dubbed Hawker II Apartments and is being designed by Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects, which does a lot of work for Fritzel’s groups.

The plans propose that three new buildings be constructed at 1011 Missouri St. The four-story buildings would house a total of 56 apartments that would contain 216 bedrooms. That’s quite a bit larger than what is currently on the site. The current complex checks in at 32 apartments with 72 bedrooms, according to the plans.

Renderings of the proposed Hawker II apartments at 10th and Missouri streets. Courtesy: City of Lawrence/Paul Werner Architects

Renderings of the proposed Hawker II apartments at 10th and Missouri streets. Courtesy: City of Lawrence/Paul Werner Architects by Chad Lawhorn

The key to the greater density is underground parking. Each building would have a two-level parking garage beneath it. The plans call for 211 underground parking spaces and only 25 above-ground spaces.

It is interesting to watch projects like this. Sometimes changing the density on a residential property sparks complaints from neighbors. That may not be the case here, as the neighborhood is already dominated by student housing. But it happens elsewhere, and it can be problematic for City Hall. A fairly consistent message that has come out of City Hall is that we need to do infill projects, and we need to look for opportunities to increase density. It follows the idea that Lawrence wants to be more urban than suburban, and we want to limit sprawl. In some regards, that means underground parking and more apartments. However, rank-and-file residents haven’t always bought into the concept.

Again, this project may not have much of an issue. The zoning for the property is already in place. The project just needs to win site plan approvals from the planning department.

The project is also noteworthy because it involves underground parking garages but the developer isn’t yet asking for any financial incentives. That wasn’t the case with the big HERE apartment project across from Memorial Stadium, and it hasn’t been the case with downtown projects that use underground garages. Underground projects in downtown typically receive tax rebates, and city commissioners have been told the projects aren’t feasible unless they get those rebates.

Developing downtown versus next to the university can be different, but it will be interesting to watch whether the calculations on underground parking and its feasibility begin to change. I believe this will be at least the third time that a Fritzel group has used underground parking as part of an apartment project without seeking city incentives.

As for other details on the project, I’ve got a call into Lawrence architect Paul Werner for information about the projected timeline and other such information. I’ll pass it along when I get it.

Proposed layout of Hawker II apartment complex at 10th and Missouri streets. Courtesy: City of Lawrence/Paul Werner Architects

Proposed layout of Hawker II apartment complex at 10th and Missouri streets. Courtesy: City of Lawrence/Paul Werner Architects by Chad Lawhorn


Ottawa movie theater, owned by Lawrence businesswoman, now listed in the Guinness Book of World Records

Forget Hollywood. If you want to see movie history you need to go to Ottawa, the Franklin County town of about 12,000 people south of Lawrence.

The Plaza Cinema in downtown Ottawa has been named the oldest movie theater in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. The theater opened in May of 1907 and continues to show movies today.

“We’ve been doing movies longer than Hollywood has been making them,” Rita “Peach” Madl, an owner of the theater, said.

Peach Madl, owner of The Plaza Cinema in downtown Ottawa, is pictured outside the theater at 209 S. Main St. on Wednesday, March 7, 2018.

Peach Madl, owner of The Plaza Cinema in downtown Ottawa, is pictured outside the theater at 209 S. Main St. on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. by Nick Krug

Madl — who is a familiar face in Lawrence because she was a founder of the popular downtown bar The Sandbar, among other business ventures — has been trying to prove to Guinness since 2013 that the movie theater is a world record holder.

Guinness recognizes several movie theater categories, and the one the Ottawa theater sits atop is Oldest Purpose Built Cinema that is in Operation. In other words, other theater companies may be older, but there’s not one that has been operating in the same building for so many years.

“Most of the time you think if you don’t change, you lose,” Madl said. “We’re hoping that we have a chance to win because we haven’t changed.”

The Plaza theater shown in 1947 as the St. Patrick's Day parade travels in front of the business. Courtesy: Franklin County Historical Society/Plaza Theater

The Plaza theater shown in 1947 as the St. Patrick's Day parade travels in front of the business. Courtesy: Franklin County Historical Society/Plaza Theater by Chad Lawhorn

Madl is hopeful the recognition from Guinness will draw tourists to the theater. Later this month, she plans to begin offering historical tours of the theater. Those will include a showing of an old-time movie. Madl has a collection of both silent movies and some of the first “talkie” movies that were shown. In addition, she’s collected a good amount of memorabilia that also will be on display, plus a short documentary about the early movie “The Great Train Robbery.”

Some of the items on display will be old advertisements and newspaper clippings that Madl found while doing research on the theater’s history. Madl said she kept track of her time, and determined she had spent 378 hours researching the theater to convince Guinness. She also hired a professional writer to help with the research and the application.

“It was great fun, though,” Madl said. “It was almost like looking for treasure in the bottom of the ocean.”

Since taking ownership of Ottawa's The Plaza Cinema in 2006, owner Peach Madl has added a museum, which houses clothing, props and other pieces of authentic movie memorabilia.

Since taking ownership of Ottawa's The Plaza Cinema in 2006, owner Peach Madl has added a museum, which houses clothing, props and other pieces of authentic movie memorabilia. by Nick Krug

Ultimately, Guinness determined that the Ottawa theater beat out a Denmark theater building that opened in August 1908. The Ottawa theater originally opened as The Bijou and later was called The Yale and The Crystal before it became The Plaza in 1935.

Madl found that when the cinema opened, tickets cost 5 cents and usually included two moving pictures and an “illustrated song” performed by a live singer. Many of the early movies were made in France and distributed through a Kansas City company. Titles of some of the early offerings included “Bad Mother,” “Pay Day Target,” “Nihilist’s Revenge,” “Blind Man’s Dog,” “Rival Brothers” and “Horse of Another Color.”

A circa 1915 photo shows a sign for The Crystal Theatre at 211 South Main Street in Ottawa. Courtesy: Franklin County Historical Society/Plaza Theater

A circa 1915 photo shows a sign for The Crystal Theatre at 211 South Main Street in Ottawa. Courtesy: Franklin County Historical Society/Plaza Theater by Chad Lawhorn

Perhaps the most surprising find from her research was a 1910 advertisement touting a movie with audio. That’s significant because the first feature length talking motion picture is generally considered to be “The Jazz Singer” in 1927. But theaters previously were making efforts to synchronize audio and video well before then. Madl is guessing that is what the Ottawa theater was up to in 1910.

“But probably not very successfully, because we never saw any more ads for it,” she said.

Madl bought the theater in 2006, when it appeared that it was on the verge of closure. Her background was in the bar and restaurant business. She was operating a business in downtown Ottawa at the time and felt that it would be a shame for the community to lose its only theater.

“It was something I was supposed to do,” Madl now says of buying the theater. “I don’t know why, but it was. We have been through some tough times with it, though.”

The larger of two theaters at Ottawa's The Plaza Cinema is pictured on Wednesday, March 7, 2018.

The larger of two theaters at Ottawa's The Plaza Cinema is pictured on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. by Nick Krug

The theater, which still shows new releases, only has two screens. Madl said it is difficult for a theater to be profitable unless it is part of a larger multiscreen complex. She said it is hard to believe that the business has survived for so long that it is now part of a world record.

“We have something that you can’t see anywhere else, and it is about in the last place you would expect it,” she said. “What a fun kick in the pants for a small town like this.”

The lobby at The Plaza Cinema, 209 S. Main St. in downtown Ottawa, is pictured Wednesday, March 7, 2018.

The lobby at The Plaza Cinema, 209 S. Main St. in downtown Ottawa, is pictured Wednesday, March 7, 2018. by Nick Krug

Reply 7 comments from Dorothyhoytreed Sarah St. John Joe Blackford II Louis Kannen Annedornberger Bob Smith

Lawrence once again has a Hallmark Gold Crown store, thanks to unique partnership

I know what the gold crown signifies when talking about a Hallmark Gold Crown store. It reminds me that I’ll need to melt one down to pay for all the Hallmark Christmas ornaments that will make their way to my house. For the last several years, buying those types of Hallmark specialty items has required a trip out of town. That’s now changed.

Hallmark and Westlake Ace Hardware have partnered to open a Gold Crown Hallmark store. The new shop is inside the Westlake Ace Hardware store at 23rd and Louisiana streets.

Lawrence becomes one of the first stores in the country to use the “store within a store” concept with Hallmark.

“They did a couple of test stores, and then Lawrence was one of the first stores chosen,” said Sean Christensen, manager of the store in the Malls Shopping Center. “The test stores did well, and with Hallmark having their manufacturing plant in Lawrence, it makes a lot of sense for us to have one.”

Indeed, Lawrence is a big Hallmark town, which made it odd that Lawrence has been without a Hallmark store for several years. The Hallmark production facility near the Kansas Turnpike and McDonald Drive produces essentially every Hallmark branded card in North America. If Lawrence tourism officials ever wanted to brand the community as the Christmas Capital of America, we could make the case. Think about it: How many millions of people receive a Christmas card that comes from Lawrence?

Rod’s Hallmark, I believe, was the last Hallmark Gold Crown store in Lawrence. It stopped serving as a Hallmark store in 2011 and closed sometime after that. Everyone, of course, is familiar with Hallmark’s cards. You can buy them at grocery stores, discount retailers and plenty of other places around town. But if you are not familiar with a Gold Crown store, then you evidently don’t have a Christmas tree full of Winnie the Pooh ornaments. You don’t know what you are missing. They move, and when you pull a string he says something hilarious about not being able to find his honey. (Every year, I offer to “help” him find his honey, but I’m not really allowed to touch any of the ornaments.)

Lawrence resident Stacy Riggins looks through the Hallmark display within the Westlake Ace Hardware store at The Malls shopping center at 23rd and Louisiana streets, Wednesday, March 7, 2018.

Lawrence resident Stacy Riggins looks through the Hallmark display within the Westlake Ace Hardware store at The Malls shopping center at 23rd and Louisiana streets, Wednesday, March 7, 2018. by Nick Krug

Gold Crown stores sell those ornaments, plus gift wrapping, a larger selection of cards, stuffed animals, figurines and several other types of collectibles, including lots of Disney, Peanuts and Precious Moments items.

Yes, those types of items now will be available in a hardware store. It is kind of brilliant because if I ever buy a Precious Moments item at the hardware store, I absolutely will buy a 36-inch chainsaw, a power nailer and a case of drill bits to ensure testosterone levels stay in balance.

All kidding aside, it is an adjustment for the hardware business.

“It is a big learning curve,” said Christensen, who just got back from Hallmark’s corporate headquarters where he learned about many product offerings.

But Christensen said he’s excited about the new offerings.

“We think it is a great idea because it brings added variety to our customers,” Christensen said. Plus, if it helps people spend their dollars locally, that is a benefit too, he said.

As for the details about the store within a store, the Hallmark selections are front and center. They are in the area right as you walk into the store, where a selection of tools previously were located. But don’t worry, tool fans, Christensen said the addition of the Hallmark store hasn’t caused Westlake to reduce its inventory in other areas. Instead, the store just moved some departments around.

Work began to remodel the location a few weeks ago. The store is celebrating the opening of the Hallmark shop with an open house and refreshments (a pot of honey would be appropriate) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Reply 3 comments from Russell Fryberger Steve Jacob Notreallyhere

City manager speaks about hurdles facing the idea of downtown conference center; developers say they’re still committed to project

I think we’ve established that we know something about conference championships in this town. (I know to work it into the first 10 words of a conversation with a Kansas State fan.) But do we know anything about conference centers, like the one that is being proposed for downtown Lawrence? At the moment, I’ve learned enough about that idea to say it has some major hurdles to clear at City Hall.

On Friday, I shared with you some of my takeaways from a conversation I had with City Manager Tom Markus about the prospects for a downtown grocery store. That conversation also included some discussion about a conference center/hotel project proposed for the former Journal-World printing plant at Sixth and Massachusetts and Sixth and New Hampshire streets. I think some takeaways from that part of the conversation also are worth sharing, so here they are:

• Unlike the grocery store project, Markus left little doubt that he’s skeptical of a conference center in downtown Lawrence. He expressed concern that the city may be too late to the idea and that the regional market may soon have more of these conference centers than it can support.

“They can be like casinos,” he said. “I remember when casinos were being developed and everyone got on the bandwagon. When you are first in, that is a good thing. But sometimes when you are the last one in, it is not.”

He said while Lawrence likely would see a bump in business in the early going because the conference center would be “the shiny new bobble on the street,” he is concerned about its longer-term prospects.

“In the long run you have to figure out who is paying for it and who is owning it,” Markus said.

• The cost to public taxpayers is the driving concern on this project. If a conference center were to be developed with all private funds, that likely wouldn’t cause any heartburn. Although we didn’t get into a lot of detail in our conversation, the idea of some tax rebates to help the project also may not be a deal-killer. However, in other communities, cities have found themselves involved in the operation of conference centers. Sometimes they are the actual owner of the facility, while other times they serve as the financial backstop, or in other words, they cover any operating shortfall. It is clear those type of issues create a lot of concern for Markus.

“The numbers can be pretty discouraging on those type of deals,” Markus said.

Markus’ views are formed, in part, by watching some of his colleagues in the city-manager profession deal with these issues. He said he once watched a neighboring community run a conference center, and he told himself that if he ever landed in a situation where he was asked to consider such a project that he was going to be “pretty skeptical” about it.

I think that would probably sum up where he is today on the idea of a downtown conference center.

“That is running its own course,” he said of the project in general. “We don’t have as frequent meetings about that anymore. I think (the development group) is trying to refine what it is looking at, as are we.”

• While it will be up to the City Commission — not the city manager — to decide whether Lawrence should become involved with a conference center, commissioners do pay Markus for his advice. So, it would seem the conference center development group has its work cut out for it.

But Bill Fleming, who is an attorney for the development group — which is led by Lawrence businessmen Mike Treanor and Doug Compton — said the project is still very much an active one.

The biggest indication of that is the group has a contract to purchase the former Journal-World printing plant from the Simons family, the former owners of the newspaper. (To be clear, the Journal-World does not own any of the property, and the newspaper is not involved in the pending sale.) Fleming said the development group is expected to take over ownership of the property later this spring.

“We are very committed to that project,” Fleming said.

Fleming also said the development group is aware of some of the concerns Markus has expressed. He said the development group would be working to create a proposal that addresses many of those concerns.

“The issue that Mr. Markus has is how much risk and how much financial exposure does the city of Lawrence have on a project like this?” Fleming said. “There are a lot of examples where cities have said, ‘We’re going to be in the conference business.’ Some of those have probably worked out OK, but others, as you can imagine, have been disasters.

“We’re realistic to know that whatever project we come up with there will have to be very little to no risk to the city from an operational standpoint.”

Developers presented plans for the redevelopment of the old Lawrence Journal-World production facility at the City Commission's work session, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017.

Developers presented plans for the redevelopment of the old Lawrence Journal-World production facility at the City Commission's work session, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. by Nick Krug

A map of the corner of Sixth and Massachusetts streets shows first-floor plans for redevelopment of the site of the former Journal-World production facility.

A map of the corner of Sixth and Massachusetts streets shows first-floor plans for redevelopment of the site of the former Journal-World production facility.

Related story

• Dec. 12, 2017 — Lawrence City Commission to continue discussion of downtown conference center

Reply 11 comments from Richard Heckler Steve Jacob Ophelia_shorn Dorothyhoytreed Miles Nease Bob Smith Eugeneck Jimknight Brett McCabe Cathy Tarr