Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
A grand opening of a new chain retailer on south Iowa Street is going to be worth 10 grand for a Lawrence nonprofit.
HomeGoods, the national home decor chain, is set to open its store in Lawrence this weekend, and as part of the grand opening celebration it plans to donate $10,000 to Family Promise, according to the executive director of the Lawrence-based nonprofit that helps homeless families.
“That is a game-changer for us,” said Dana Ortiz, executive director of Family Promise of Lawrence. “We’re pretty excited about it.”
I know it sets my mind to racing. Is that what you find in the couch cushions of a HomeGoods sofa? And I thought finding the occasional Jolly Rancher in my sofa was exciting. (I do wish they were wrapped, though.)
All joking aside, Ortiz said the donation will be very helpful to Family Promise’s temporary housing program. Family Promise is probably best known for working with area congregations to use churches to house homeless families for a week at a time. But the nonprofit also operates a network of houses throughout Lawrence that are used as longer-term temporary housing for homeless families. Family Promise has rent and utility expenses at those homes, and Ortiz said the HomeGoods donation would go a long way in helping meet those obligations.
HomeGoods frequently makes a donation to a nonprofit entity as part of its grand opening celebrations across the country, said Dawn Hayden, store manager for the Lawrence store. She said the company gives local managers and team members a lot of input into what organization should be chosen. She said the Family Promise program really caught her attention.
"We are all about making a house a home, and we want to do what we can to make that happen for people who are part of this organization," Hayden said.
As for the HomeGoods store, the new retailer is a pretty big deal for the south Iowa Street corridor. It is taking the remaining 22,000 square feet of vacant space that was in the former J.C. Penney building at 3311 Iowa St. The closing of the Penney’s store last year created concern, but it didn’t take long for a new crop of retailers to remodel and fill the building. HomeGoods is the last to open in the refurbished space. Also in the building is 5 Below — a discount chain that sells items geared to the teen and kids market — and Hobby Lobby, which moved from 23rd Street.
That large building is still vacant, although I’ve previously reported a plan has been filed to subdivide the building, which usually is a sign that a tenant is near. There has been some speculation that Harbor Freight, a discount tool retailer will take part of the space. The company continues to advertise for employees for a store opening in Lawrence, but it hasn't yet revealed a location.
At HomeGoods, you won’t necessarily find tools, but you’ll find plenty of things that can result in some projects around the house. The store, which is a sister store to TJ Maxx and Marshalls, bills itself as the “leading off-price home decor store." That means it sells discounted items in a number of departments, including furniture, rugs, lighting, decorative accessories, kitchen and dining, bedding, bath, pet accessories, storage, outdoor and several others.
HomeGoods will have its grand opening at 8 a.m. Sunday, at 3311 Iowa St. The store will be the seventh in the Kansas City area for the company. Nationally, the retailer has about 650 stores. The company estimates the store will employ a mix of 65 full- and part-time employees.
Out with fancy Mexican food and in with something called a Midwest kitchen and bar. Downtown Lawrence’s Port Fonda has announced it soon will close, and a restaurant that puts its own twist on classic comfort food will open in its place.
The Mexican restaurant Port Fonda will close at the end of the month, and the new concept Lark å Fare will open in early August, said Lawrence resident Kyle Bennett, who will be the general manager of the new restaurant.
As mentioned, Lark å Fare bills itself as a Midwest kitchen and bar. I get in trouble every time I try to make my Midwest kitchen into a bar (you spill one can of Pabst into the biscuits and gravy, and they never let you live it down), but Bennett said he thinks Lawrence residents are going to be excited about the concept.
“The idea is to take food that is down-home and comfort-stye food, but prepare it with a chef focus and inspiration,” said Bennett, who has lived in Lawrence the past seven years but worked at KC establishments such as Bluestem and The Monarch Cocktail Bar and Lounge.
Bennett didn’t provide much detail about the menu of the new restaurant, but said you can expect dishes like meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, an occasional steak special and local cheeses and charcuterie.
“And we’ll definitely do a fried chicken on the menu,” Bennett said. “The goal is to make it the best fried chicken in Lawrence. They way you do that is by having a trained chef executing it every day.”
Bennett’s background is in cocktails, and he said the restaurant would strive to have one of the top-ranked cocktail menus in the city.
As for the name, Lark å Fare, Bennett said it is a play on the state bird of Kansas, which is the meadowlark. (As a Midwesterner, my thought on the fancy-looking “a” is that it sure would cost a lot to buy that vowel on the Wheel of Fortune.) Expect the restaurant to have that Kansas and prairie-type of theme to it, Bennett said.
Menu pricing is expected to be midrange, Bennett said. He said a portion of the menu would be devoted to small plates under $10, while the restaurant will have a sandwich and burger menu that will be between $10 and $13 for most dishes. More composed entrees will be in the $15 to $25 range, he estimated.
“We understand that we are opening a pretty big restaurant, so we need to have food that is easy to understand, easily accessible, and we just need to make it excellent,” Bennett said.
The restaurant space — it shares the ground floor with the Marriott hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire — is fairly large. That ended up being a challenge for Port Fonda, which came to Lawrence in 2015 as a highly celebrated restaurant from Kansas City’s Westport district.
The closing of the Lawrence Port Fonda won’t affect the original restaurant in Kansas City. Bennett said some of the partners in the Lawrence Port Fonda restaurant would remain with Lark å Fare, but the founders of the KC Port Fonda won’t be involved in the new Lawrence venture.
Lawrence became a town that has a lot of Mexican restaurants, but it has fewer comfort-food restaurants. Bennett said that was part of the thinking with the change of concepts. But as a food lover, he said he was disappointed to see Port Fonda go.
“I love great food,” Bennett said. “I think it is a little unfortunate that there is a preconceived notion that Mexican food needs to be cheap and quick. I think that was a bit of a challenge for Port Fonda in the Lawrence community.”
Bennett said small-scale remodeling work is expected to begin next month on the Port Fonda space to accommodate the early August opening of Lark å Fare.
The Slow Ride Roadhouse is on the road to recovery after tragedy. The North Lawrence bar and restaurant has reopened following the death of its owner and operator.
Jesse del Campo Jr., 56, was killed in a two-vehicle motorcycle accident on July 16, 2017, between Lawrence and Eudora. After his death, Slow Ride closed its doors, but members of the del Campo family reopened the business in recent weeks.
Megan Morris, who was part of the original crew when del Campo opened the bar and restaurant in 2005, is serving as manager of the establishment.
“It took a lot of work for the family to open it back up,” Morris said of the business, at 1350 North Third St. “They’ve been really dedicated to it. And Jesse’s friends have all been here to help get it open.”
Over the years, Slow Ride had become a bit more than just a bar and restaurant in North Lawrence. It also had become the place to go to get a peek at the area’s biker culture. The bar attracted a lot of motorcycle riders, and Morris said that community had missed having a Lawrence hangout.
“The motorcycle community is coming back to us,” Morris said. “They want to make us part of their rides. I hear every day how much people missed us.”
But, don’t worry, there is no need to don the leathers or have a love of motorcycles to go to Slow Ride. A love of comfort food in a bar-like setting will suffice. The del Campo family is one of the oldest restaurant families in Lawrence, operating La Tropicana Mexican restaurant in North Lawrence. So, Slow Ride will always have plenty of Mexican dishes on the menu.
Morris said the restaurant offers a lot of specials, and one of its more popular ones is a “homemade pork burrito as big as your face.” That special usually is offered on Friday. Thursday is usually the day for Indian tacos, which feature fry bread and a whole lot of meat and toppings. The regular menu includes quite a few varieties of quesadillas, nachos and hamburgers.
The establishment serves both lunch and dinner, with hours from 11 a.m. to midnight. But, for the time being, the bar and restaurant is only open Thursday through Sundays.
“We are still trying to get back into the groove of things,” Morris said.
That includes figuring out how to run the place without its founder and life of the party. Morris, though, said the place always would have some of Jesse’s spirit.
“We have a really nice memorial for Jesse,” Morris said. “And we light a candle for him every morning.”
Downtown business steps up to organize new July 4 celebration, with promise of larger fireworks show
As someone who has thrown a few parties, Mike Logan, owner of The Granada, knows that increasing the fireworks budget is never a bad plan. The Granada owner indeed has taken over as the organizer of the community’s Independence Day celebration, and he’s promising a larger fireworks show.
Logan said the budget for the fireworks show is being increased to $12,000, up from $8,000 a year ago.
“They’ll be bigger, and they are going to go higher,” Logan said. “We are trying to incrementally increase the budget.”
Logan only became involved with the Independence Day event in May, after it became clear that previous organizers weren’t going to be able to commit the time to pull off a July 4 event. So, in comes The Granada, which is a longtime bar, dance club and concert venue at 1020 Massachusetts St.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to go to a dance club to celebrate Independence Day. The Lawrence Fourth of July celebration will take place from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on July 4 at Burcham Park along the banks of the Kansas River.
There will be no admission charge to enter, although there will be multiple vendors selling food, beer and other items. The event also will feature several music acts, buskers, a DJ, and a large kids zone with a bouncy house and other inflatable attractions. A shuttle service from the library parking garage near Seventh and Vermont streets will take people to Burcham Park, which is better known for its great views of the river than its ample parking. The park also is a short walk from downtown, via a city of Lawrence path that starts in Constant Park at Sixth and Kentucky streets.
Other details for the event are still being worked out and will be announced on the event’s website, LawrenceGoFourth.com.
Right now, Logan is just trying to get more corporate sponsors to ensure the event will be first class. Ranjbar Orthodontics has signed up to be the presenting sponsor, which has helped to make the fireworks show larger.
Free State Brewery also has signed up to be the beer sponsor, and several food trucks and restaurants have agreed to participate, including Drasko’s; G’s Jamaican Cuisine, Mad Greek, Mr. Bacon BBQ; La Parrilla, Torched Goodness and others.
The July 4 event (July 5, if it rains) will cap a wild one-week period for Logan and The Granada. The business is putting on three major events in six days. The Granada once again has received city permission to shut down the portion of Massachusetts Street in front of The Granada to host a pair of outdoor concerts. On June 29 the “Live on Mass” concert series will feature The Wailers, a reggae band made up of the remaining members of Bob Marley’s old group. The Wailers drew about 7,000 people to downtown last year as part of the concert series.
On July 3, another Live on Mass event will feature Split Lip Rayfield, the Wichita-based bluegrass and alt-country band.
Logan is hoping plenty of people will decide to make a midweek vacation (July 4 is on a Wednesday this year) to take in the concert and stay an extra day for the fireworks. Creating events, especially during Lawrence’s slower summer season, is becoming a bigger part of The Granada’s business plan.
“This is what we want to do outside our four walls,” Logan said. “We want to build these destination events that people will travel to. We want events that cause people to tell folks to come to Lawrence.”
The July 4 event is still evolving into that type of event, Logan said. He said he believes there have been four organizers for the event in the last seven years. Logan said he hopes to bring some continuity to the event.
“The Granada got really involved with the Free State Festival a few years ago, and that helped us see the value of producing major events in urban spaces,” Logan said. “We want to build on energy like that.”
Long term, Logan said he hopes May through October becomes known as outdoor event season in Lawrence. He thinks Lawrence could ultimately support about 10 significant events, with maybe even a multiday event at some point.
But Logan cited another reason that he decided to jump in on the Independence Day event.
“I’m a Lawrence kid, and I grew up riding my bike to go watch the fireworks show,” Logan said. “It was great.”
Another specialty retail store set to close in downtown, and another owner laments changes on Mass. Street
I can attest that making olive oil is perhaps one of the most difficult processes on Earth. Every time I try, it comes out as a martini. Despite that, a downtown Lawrence store that sells high-grade olive oil is closing its doors, and its owner says changes to downtown have a lot to do with the closing.
Extra Virgin has been open for six years at 937 Massachusetts St., selling imported olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Owner Debbie Briggs said the store would be closing in the coming weeks as she sold off inventory.
“Every year, we have gone down in sales,” Briggs said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with what we are selling. I think Mass. Street, with the parking problems and the amount of rents, just doesn’t make it conducive to making a profit.”
When the store opened in 2012, it was a different type of business for downtown. While downtown had a couple of specialty food retailers, it didn’t have one that focused primarily on just two products, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. That makes Extra Virgin a niche store, but one that makes good sense, Briggs said. America is becoming more of a nation of foodies, and people are also becoming more health-conscious about the ingredients they use in their foods. Both of those trends play well with Extra Virgin.
“I really believe in my product,” Briggs said. “There is a real problem with what is available in the supermarket. Much of it is not what it says it is, and what is left is probably not very fresh.”
Briggs ships her extra virgin olive oil in from across the globe, switching from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere as the seasons change to ensure freshness, she said.
Whether a decline in the popularity of olive oil or a decline in the downtown business environment is the driving force behind Extra Virgin’s woes is a matter of opinion. But it is becoming clearer that there is a fair amount of vacant storefront space on Massachusetts Street. The former Buffalo Wild Wings, the former Buckle, and the former Ingredient restaurant are all large, high-profile locations that have been vacant for awhile now. The list of smaller vacant storefronts is longer.
Briggs said she thought some of the decisions by Lawrence City Hall during her store’s six-year tenure had been unhelpful. She cited the decision to raise the fine for overtime parking at the Massachusetts Street meters and the decision to close Massachusetts Street to vehicle traffic during the Final Four as examples of City Hall leaders not understanding the impact their decisions have on small businesses.
But Briggs also said there were factors beyond government decisions that are putting pressure on downtown.
“I think part of it is people are buying on the internet, but part of it is people on the west side of town don’t shop in downtown,” Briggs said.
The idea that west side residents don’t frequently shop in downtown is a sentiment I have heard other business owners express. It is impossible for me to put any numbers behind that. Sales tax data, for instance, doesn’t get that specific, but store owners certainly have enough data from credit cards and check transactions to know. It would be interesting to get a more definitive answer to that question.
The other perception you hear frequently from downtown business owners is that rents are too high, especially for small retail shops. Briggs said she’s been very appreciative of her landlord, and she didn’t want to criticize rent rates. But she also said that something is going on in the market that seems to favor bars and restaurants over retailers.
“If we keep going the way we are going, downtown is going to be all restaurants and bars,” Briggs said. “Mass. Street is a gem. We have to do something to beef up and help downtown and encourage retail stores to come in.”
Briggs, who operates the store with her son Nathan, said she hasn’t set a definite closing date for the store, but will wait to see how quickly inventory is reduced as part of the going-out-of-business sale. She also said she’s waiting to make a decision on whether to reopen the store elsewhere.
“We will make a decision about whether to reopen, but it won’t be in Lawrence,” she said.
The ‘average’ Lawrence home is now selling for $35,000 more than it did just a year ago, according to new report
We’ve got our first look at home sales statistics that include Lawrence’s busy spring home-buying season, and they show that home prices are soaring at a rate not often seen in the city.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors has released statistics for home sales through April, and they show the median selling price for a home in Lawrence is up by nearly 20 percent compared with the same four-month period a year ago.
The median selling price in Lawrence thus far in 2018 is $212,500, up from $177,250 during the same period a year ago. Rising home prices aren’t new to Lawrence. Last year people began labeling the Lawrence market as a hot one because home prices were up by about 6 percent. But now, that growth rate has more than tripled.
To put it in perspective, a person looking to buy an average Lawrence home — whatever that is — should expect to pay an extra $35,250 for that home. To put that in further perspective, a 30-year mortgage at 4.25 percent interest on a $177,250 home is $872. On a $212,500 home, the same mortgage would cost $1,045 a month.
Now, these are averages, meaning not every home in Lawrence has seen this type of increase. Chris Earl, supervising broker and co-owner of Stephens Real Estate, said homeowners should remember that point. He said a fair amount of the price increase is driven by the fact that there are very few homes that are being sold in the $150,000 and below price range. That’s not necessarily because those homes don’t exist. Rather because of low interest rates, there are many first-time homebuyers who are choosing to skip the “starter home” and make their first home a $200,000-plus home that traditionally has been one or two levels above a starter home.
But even with that caveat, Earl acknowledged the rising home prices are eye-opening.
“I don’t think this is sustainable long term,” Earl said. “Eventually, the price will outpace people’s ability to pay.”
Gary Nuzum, a vice president with McGrew Real Estate and another long-time observer of the Lawrence market, agreed that Lawrence is in an interesting time.
"You're right that we haven't seen anything like that in quite awhile," Nuzum said, noting the price increases are most prevalent in the $125,000 to $275,000 price range. "We would like to see the market change a bit. We would like to see more inventory, but the people who are in their existing homes don't want to leave very bad."
If this type of increase in average selling prices does last an entire year, though, it will be interesting to watch how the county appraiser sets property tax values on homes in Lawrence. The law requires the appraiser to set property tax values at a rate that equals what the house supposedly would sell for if it were placed on the market. Last year’s hot market produced some significant increases in property tax values, and it sure seems that the market this year may be even hotter. For folks worried about a big jump in property tax values, there are still several months before those values are set.
Another thing to watch is whether this hot market will cause builders to start constructing a lot more new homes. An imbalance in supply and demand is the major driver of price growth in the Lawrence market. In April, 192 homes were on the market. That’s down from 228 in April 2017 and 250 in April 2016. More telling is how long a home stays on the market before it sells. In April, the average was eight days.
That type of demand traditionally has caused builders to start building more homes. There has not been a boom in new single-family home construction in Lawrence, though. Earl said that is because many of the new homes, especially on the west side of Lawrence, are above $350,000. Homes at that price point are moving much more slowly. Builders likely could do well by building more homes in the $225,000 to $250,000 price range, but the cost of land in west Lawrence makes it difficult to find places to do that. Some east side developments — the new neighborhood southeast of 23rd and O’Connell is an example — have done well. That development is adding a second phase to meet demand, Earl said. But there are fewer pieces of ground that are development-ready on the eastern side of town, although there are signs that developers are looking harder at the possibilities. New houses are being built on property between Louisiana Street and the Menards home improvement center, for example.
Henry Wertin, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors and an agent with Lawrence-based McGrew Real Estate, said he thinks there is a chance home-building activity may increase in the near term.
“Home ownership continues to be a huge part of the American dream, and with builders becoming more aware of the inventory shortage and buyers being more eager than ever, there continues to be an overall optimism in the air,” Wertin said in a release.
Indeed, there probably are several reasons to be optimistic in the real estate industry right now. Home sales year to date aren’t up a lot. Thus far in 2018, they are up 2.1 percent compared with the same period a year ago. But sales in April grew by more than 4 percent, meaning the market is showing some signs of momentum.
But the bigger number is that even though home sale totals haven’t soared, the total dollar value of homes sold in Lawrence has. Through April, the Board of Realtors reports there has been $83.2 million worth of homes sold in the city. That’s up from $68.3 million a year ago.
For an industry that makes its money off a commission, those numbers are great. But unless wages also dramatically grow in Lawrence, the rising price of housing is likely to pressure other parts of the local economy. It is a situation that bears watching.
The discount grocery store chain Aldi has announced its new Lawrence store will open later this month.
Just yesterday I told you that I was getting lots of questions from area residents about when the new store that is under construction near 31st and Iowa street would open. Well, Aldi officials must have heard you: They now have announced that the store will hold its grand opening at 8:30 a.m. on June 28.
In January, Aldi demolished its existing store at 3025 Iowa St. and began building a new store on the same site. Plans filed at City Hall show the new store will be about 20 percent larger — or an additional 3,000 square feet — than the old store.
Aldi officials haven’t detailed what the new space will be used for, but in a press release the company does say the new store will have an increased focus on fresh food, produce, dairy and baked goods.
Other reports lead me to believe that the new Aldi store might have its own in-store bakery. The trade journal FoodDive earlier this year reported that Aldi began testing a store design that features an in-store bakery. It talked about a bakery that had a “self-service selection of rolls, pretzels, donuts and more.”
The report also said the in-store bakery seemed designed to “entice customers from c-stores and quick-service restaurants who are in search of a speedy breakfast or meal add-on.”
I’ve asked a spokesperson for the company whether the store will have an in-store bakery, but haven’t heard back yet. UPDATE 3:45 p.m: Bad news for bakery fans. While a spokeswoman said the store will have an increased emphasis on baked goods, it won't have an in-store bakery.
The FoodDive report also said Aldi’s new design also really highlights organic produce by putting it right near the front entrance.
For those of you not familiar with Aldi, it has a little more than 1,700 stores in the U.S. It also has some unique strategies for holding down costs. It features a “streamlined selection” of most products, meaning instead of finding dozens of different brands you’ll usually find only a couple that are priced on opposite ends of the price scale.
The cost-saving method that threw me for a loop the first time is that you have to deposit a quarter to get a grocery cart. You get your quarter back if you return the cart to its container. I think that is the purpose of the deposit, or else store employees simply enjoy watching my Incredible Hulk routine as I try to pry the cart from the clutches of the quarter machine.
The store also is known for sporadically selling items you wouldn’t expect to find at a grocery store. The company calls them Aldi Finds, and a press release notes those could be a swimming pool during the summer or a chainsaw during the winter. (A chainsaw? I apologize to my dinner guests. I guess it wasn’t a steak knife.)
We’ll see soon enough what finds are at the Lawrence store. The new store will have hours from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. As for the grand opening celebration, that is scheduled to include giving away gift cards to the first 100 customers and a sweepstakes that gives people a chance to win a year’s supply of Aldi produce.
A few news and notes from around town:
• There are certainly days I’ve surveyed my lawn and thought a bulldozer would work better than a lawnmower too. But, since this is in writing, I’m going to contend I’ve never acted on that feeling. The need to do some major cleanup, though, is behind a large excavation project happening along 31st Street.
Several readers have been asking what is going on just west of Cottonwood Inc. at 2801 W. 31st St. The property is large and vacant, and in the last few weeks it has been the site of a lot of earth-moving equipment. When you see that sort of thing in Lawrence, you immediately think of another apartment complex or something like that.
But there have been no plans filed for such a project, and there apparently won’t be. The property is owned by the Lawrence-based nonprofit DCCCA, which provides substance-abuse treatment and other services. But the site isn’t being cleared to make way for a new substance-abuse treatment center either, said Jenn Hethcoat, director of communication for DCCCA.
Instead, Hethcoat said, the extensive work is just part of an effort to clean up the property so it can be better maintained. A long-vacant farmhouse sat on part of the property. Hethcoat said DCCCA leaders determined it had become unsafe and needed to be torn down. While hiring an excavation crew to remove the house, DCCCA decided to do some other drainage and evacuation.
“It needed to be cleaned up so we can maintain it and so we know what is going on with the property,” Hethcoat said.
The property had a good amount of brush and other cover, which had created some concern that there was illegal camping taking place on the site.
“That may have been suspected,” Hethcoat said.
DCCCA has owned the property — which actually stretches all the way to the South Lawrence Trafficway — for several years. Part of the property is adjacent to the DCCCA First Step at Lakeview, which is a former nursing home that has been converted into a residential treatment center for women.
Hethcoat, though, said the excavation work isn’t a sign that facility will soon expand.
• The large amount of dirt work that is part of an apartment complex is the project underway behind the south Iowa Street Walmart. We reported late last year that plans had been filed for The Collegiate of Lawrence, but several of you have forgotten that and keep asking what all the activity is about.
The Collegiate will be one of the largest student apartment complexes in the city. The plans call for 784 bedrooms spread out among 98 buildings on 27 acres. The site is just east of Walmart but stretches south all the way to the South Lawrence Trafficway, where the work is quite visible.
Trinitas Ventures of Lafayette, Ind., is the developer of the project. It has student apartment complexes in many college towns across the country. It will be awhile before the complex opens, but expect to see the company become more visible in town soon.
The company has filed plans to create a model apartment, plus offices for Trinitas, near the KU campus. The company is working to locate in space above the new McLain’s Market, which took over the space at 1420 Crescent Road that used to house the Jayhawk Bookstore. In case you had forgotten about McLain’s, we wrote about it last year. It is a sister store to the popular McLain’s Bakery in the Waldo district of Kansas City. It serves a variety of pastries, breakfast and lunch items. It has completely remade the old bookstore space, including a large and internet-connected study area.
• People are asking what the new building is where Taco John’s used to be at 23rd Street and Ousdahl Road. We reported in December that plans had been filed for a new Sprint Wireless store to be constructed at the site. I don’t believe there has been any change in plans with that, but I’ve asked city officials for an update.
The one thing that has changed since the December report is that Sprint and T-Mobile are in serious merger talks. Interestingly, there is a T-Mobile store right across the street from the proposed Sprint store. I’m guessing that is a sign that the new corporate headquarters for the combined company will be at 23rd and Ousdahl. Or maybe not. But it will be interesting to watch whether both buildings remain phone stores.
• People also are asking when the Aldi grocery store will reopen near 31st and Iowa streets. I’ve asked, but the company hasn’t yet given me a date. I’ll ask around in some other ways and pass along any information I get.
Finding me after a plate of waffles is easy. Follow the sticky trail to the couch and I’ll likely be in nap mode with my syrupy whiskers stuck to the vinyl slip cover. But finding a plate full of waffles from the sporadic restaurant The Waffle Iron can be difficult. The restaurant has been in pop-up mode for about two years, but it now has a deal for a kind of permanent space.
Sam Donnell, owner of The Waffle Iron, said he has struck a deal to locate in the former Hank Charcuterie spot at 1900 Massachusetts. Yes, Hank has closed as of May 20. The last plans I’d heard, via the KC magazine Pitch, is that chef Vaughn Good was planning to open a restaurant called Fox and Pearl in Kansas City’s Westside Neighborhood.
Donnell has been a good customer of Hank Charcuterie over the years, and he struck a deal with Good to take over the space at least through the summer. Donnell said The Waffle Iron is set to open on June 9 and will be open on Saturdays and Sundays every weekend through July.
“I think they are still trying to figure out what to do with the space, sell it or lease it or whatever,” Donnell said. “They said this might be fun, and I agreed.”
I’ve written about The Waffle Iron a couple of times in the past. It got its start serving upscale waffles on the weekends at Decade coffee shop in East Lawrence in 2015. The waffles were popular enough that Donnell felt he had outgrown the coffee shop space, and later that year worked out a deal to go in the upper floor space above John Brown Underground (the space now occupied by Wake the Dead).
For whatever reason, that deal didn’t last long. By March 2016 the restaurant had lost it lease, and since that point Donnell said The Waffle Iron has been a bit nomadic. It operated as a pop-up restaurant in a couple of Kansas City and Overland Park coffee shops and occasionally served at PT’s Coffee in Lawrence and the Caribbean restaurant and bar Lucia in downtown Lawrence.
But now The Waffle Iron won’t have to share space with anyone, and Donnell said he’s looking forward to it.
“I’m also looking forward to having a bit more of a kitchen so I can broaden the menu a little bit,” Donnell said.
As far as the food goes, continue to look for waffles to be the dominant fare. Donnell said he’s still finalizing menu details, but in the past he has made three types of waffles: yeast, gluten-free and buttermilk. He then has offered all types of toppings, including your traditional fruit type of toppings, plus more elaborate offerings like lavender honey, jasmine whipped cream, toasted coconut meringue and a concoction that involves brown sugar, maple syrup and bacon butter. He also offers an eggs Benedict dish using waffles.
But with a bigger kitchen, he plans to have some down-home breakfast offerings that would cause “your grandpa to come in and be really happy.” (My grandpa ate a thing of shredded wheat approximately the size of a hay bale, but I get the sentiment.)
“I’ve got the foo-foo thing down, and now I want to try to round out the menu,” Donnell said. “I want to see what a more well-rounded Waffle Iron menu will look like.”
Expect hours for the new eatery to be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
From teaching history to selling comic books, longtime Free State teacher opens shop in west Lawrence
Former Free State high school history teacher Jason Springer is fond of saying that comic book characters are the modern equivalent of Greek mythology. I’m still unclear on whether that means I should wear my toga to a comic book shop. Regardless, Springer has opened a new west Lawrence shop that caters to collectors and other hard-core comic fans.
“I decided to go after a dream,” Springer said of his decision to give up an 11-year career as a history and social studies teacher at Free State to open Chops Comics in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Kasold Drive.
Springer was able to purchase a single collection of comic books with more than 13,000 titles from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. He has since added business partner Todd Soden, and they have added newer titles and are now also becoming a shop for newly released comics.
“We are a traditional comic book store,” Springer said.
But if you haven’t picked up a comic book in awhile, you may have to adjust your definition of traditional. Yes, there are still plenty of Batman, Spiderman and Superman tales, but the comic book industry has gone in some new directions, including science fiction and even some historical fiction. And then there are the new takes on the old classics. You may remember Archie and Jughead and that 1940s and ‘50s gang that hung out at the diner in Riverdale. Well, that crew now has a horror series, which among other things explains why Jughead has such an insatiable appetite. (I don’t know. I’m afraid to find out.)
Don’t worry, there are still some diner scenes.
“There is probably a vampire there, though,” Soden said.
(Fun trivia: One of the Archie Horror titles — "Vampironica" — is drawn and written by Lawrence resident Greg Smallwood and his sister, Megan Smallwood. The title is from the Archie character Veronica, who is a teenage shopaholic who now has fangs.)
Chops is open to anyone who wants to buy some comics — prices range from 25 cents to $2,600 — but the store does a lot of its business with dealers who then travel the comic book convention circuit reselling the books.
“We have the buyers,” Soden said. “We know a lot of buyers.”
That means the store is always looking to buy private collections. Springer said he’ll even make house calls.
“I’ll go to people’s houses and load them up,” Springer said. “If they don’t want the hassle of moving them, we’ll come and do it.”
Springer said the comic book market is pretty good in Lawrence. He thinks Chops will set itself apart from other shops by remaining almost exclusively focused on comics rather than venturing into board games and other similar products. (The store’s only noncomic line of merchandise is a figurine series called Gundam.)
Springer and Soden said there are plenty of adults in Lawrence drawn to comic books, as well as a fair number of college students. They see signs of the kid market picking back up, too.
“We get a lot of parents or grandparents who are desperate to get their kids to read, and they come see us,” Soden said.
Maybe it is a slight exaggeration to say that I would walk through a steel wall for a breakfast of biscuits and gravy and hashbrowns. But it is no exaggeration to say that plenty of people are ready to walk around a large steel box to get their breakfast at Lawrence’s Perkins.
The store suffered a fire on March 12, and for months there have been large, boxcar-sized, steel construction containers in front of the restaurant’s front door. That’s no deterrent for people who think there’s biscuits and gravy on the other side of the steel.
“Those big boxes, they just walk past them and come in and ask if we are serving breakfast yet,” said Dan Esmond, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Cheri. “It doesn’t faze them.”
The restaurant, of course, isn’t open yet. But Esmond does have a projected opening date: the week of June 25.
The restaurant, which is at the corner 23rd Street and Ousdahl, basically will have a completely new interior when the work is done. Esmond said that wasn’t always the plan because the initial thought was that the March fire wouldn’t require a complete refurbishment. After all, restaurant staff didn’t even see the fire. Esmond said the staff became aware as motorists on 23rd Street began calling about smoke coming from the roof.
An exhaust fan in the kitchen became stuck and overheated to the point that it started to melt metal. That left such a heavy concentration of smoke in the attic that Esmond was told major work was going to have to be done to ensure the building wouldn’t have a smoke smell.
The work basically required taking everything down to the studs, and Esmond decided he might as well install new kitchen equipment as well. He estimates that renovations costs will finish between $500,000 to $600,000.
“At some point we decided if we are going to have to do all this, let’s go all out,” Esmond said. “It basically will be a brand new store when we open.”
The menu, though, will be the same favorites people have come to expect. Esmond — who used to be an executive vice president for Perkins before he bought the Lawrence and Topeka stores in 1995 — understands what people are looking for. The restaurant has a heavy emphasis on traditional breakfast items, a bakery with lots of pies and other menu items that he calls “mid-America food.”
When it reopens, the restaurant will continue to be a 24-hour operation, making it one of the few full-service restaurants in Lawrence to be continuously open.
Upon reopening, the restaurant also will have an anniversary to celebrate. Perkins has been open for 40 years in Lawrence, which makes it one of the older restaurants still operating in the city.
“It is the perfect restaurant model for the type of community we have in Lawrence,” Esmond said.
College students — everybody from people looking to study throughout the night to those looking for food after the bars close — frequent the restaurant. At one point, the Lawrence Perkins was the top late-night restaurant in the entire Perkins chain, said Esmond, although he said that business has changed some now that many fast-food restaurants are open late.
But as Lawrence’s population has aged and more retirees have moved to the community, that part of the restaurant’s business has thrived, he said.
Esmond said he’s just eager to start serving again. Recovering from the fire has taken longer than he expected. The fire has been full of unexpected twists and turns. The first one was that the alarm system didn’t work properly. That allowed more damage to happen than it would have otherwise, but Esmond said it also has really slowed down the rehabilitation. That’s because the insurance company and the alarm company had to have quite a bit of discussion to figure out whether the alarm company was going to be liable for some of the damages.
“Everybody wanted their experts to come to look it over and talk it over, and that really delayed things,” Esmond said.
But that debate has now been resolved. Construction is still underway, but Esmond is optimistic the restaurant will hit its opening date of the week of June 25.
He said he has to because too many people keep asking him when the restaurant will reopen.
“They are jonesing for this place,” he said.
New report provides glimpse of how much money KU basketball tourney success pumped into local economy
Crimson and blue body paint isn’t cheap. (Well, you can buy cheap body paint, but it doesn’t pencil out after you pay the sandblaster to get it off.) The point being, celebrating KU basketball and March Madness involves spending some money, and the latest report shows the city of Lawrence’s tax coffers once again reaped the rewards.
The city of Lawrence recently received its May sales tax check from the state of Kansas. Due to lag times in reporting, that May check represented lots of sales that happened in March. That, of course, is the magical month where in Lawrence college basketball tournaments have a slightly stronger pull than gravity.
The latest state report suggests that KU’s run to the Final Four caused spending levels to soar even more. (How could they not? My household actually bought a name-brand brownie mix to take to a party. That’s not cheap.) The report shows that sales tax collections in Lawrence increased by 7.4 percent compared with the same month in 2017. That equates to about an extra $10 million in sales — generating about $150,000 in extra taxes — that happened in the Lawrence economy during the one-month period.
Keep in mind that none of this is exact. There is no way of knowing how much KU’s basketball success pumped into the Lawrence economy, and due to some of the lag times in sales tax reporting, it is hard to use the reports to match up sales totals to specific events. But clearly it had some impact. Just think how much more spending there would have been if KU had made it to the championship game. (We probably would have bought the eggs and other ingredients to actually make the brownie mix for that party.)
Even without that championship boost, the coffers at City Hall are still grateful. Lawrence’s sales tax collections needed a boost. Prior to the city receiving its May sales tax check, sales tax collections were up by less than 1 percent for the year to date. Following the May check, Lawrence sales tax collections are up 2.2 percent for the year to date.
That showing gives Lawrence a better chance of meeting its budget projections for 2018. But there is still some reason for concern on that front. Unlike the past few years, Lawrence’s sales tax growth is not outpacing that of other large retail communities. For whatever reason, Lawrence has been a bit of a laggard, except for this most recent month. What happens the rest of the year will be worth watching. The next sales tax report that comes out in late June may be particularly pivotal. That’s because City Hall leaders will be deep into crafting a recommended budget for 2019. If they believe sales tax revenues are tepid, that historically has resulted in upward pressure on property tax rates.
It will be interesting to see what City Hall leaders make of the current sales tax trend. Thus far in 2018, Lawrence hasn’t had two consecutive months of sales tax growth, but that also means it hasn’t had two consecutive months of sales tax declines. It has been a roller coaster, and the May report continued that trend.
Here’s a look at sales tax totals year to date for some of the larger retail markets in the state:
— Lenexa: up 17.2 percent
— Overland Park: up 5.5 percent
— Kansas City, Kan.: up 3.8 percent
— Olathe: up 3.8 percent
— Shawnee: up 2.6 percent
— Lawrence: up 2.2 percent
— Salina up: 1.9 percent
— Topeka: up 1.7 percent
— Sedgwick County (Wichita): up 1.4 percent
— Riley County (Manhattan): down less than 0.1 percent
••• As I mentioned last week, the Journal-World has teamed up with the University of Kansas School of Journalism on a research project. A team of professors and students at the journalism school received an Innovation in Journalism Education Grant from the Online News Association. The grant work will look at a variety of data issues, and part of the grant work is finding ways to reach out to the community about issues related to economic data.
To that end, the students and researchers have developed a survey that they hope readers of Town Talk will take. You can find the survey at this link.
So long, Sears.
Lawrence lost its full-line Sears department store back in 2011, but it soon was replaced with a Sears Hometown store near 23rd and Iowa streets. But that venture is also set to come to an end. An employee of the store confirmed a going-out-of-business sale has begun at the store, 2329 Iowa St.
A sales associate of the store said employees had been told the last selling date for the store is scheduled to be June 24.
The closing will mark the end of a Lawrence retailer that has stretched across multiple generations. The closing also will serve as another reminder of how much the world of retail has changed. The Sears closing follows the closing of Lawrence’s J.C. Penney store last year. For decades, Sears and J.C. Penney were the largest retailers in America, and it would have been hard for Lawrence residents of a certain generation ever to imagine the town not having either of the stores. Think of a future Lawrence without a Walmart or a Target.
Lawrence’s Sears Hometown store is significantly smaller than the full-line store that previously operated in the city. The store primarily carries appliances, tools, and lawn and garden equipment.
The Sears Hometown stores are operated as part of a franchise rather than as a company-owned store. Company-owned, full-line Sears stores, however, also have been facing closures. The parent company of Sears — which also owns Kmart — announced in 2017 plans to close more than 300 Sears and Kmart stores. Last month, there were national media reports that a handful of other Sears stores had been slated for closure.
While the loss of Lawrence’s Sears Hometown store will be mourned by some, local leaders are probably more concerned about the health of the Sears parent company. As noted, it owns the Kmart chain of stores. Lawrence is home to one of Kmart’s larger distribution centers. Questions have arisen about whether Sears and Kmart can continue to operate in the future, as the retailers deal with large amounts of debt and increasing competition from online retailers.
The stakes for Lawrence are high. In addition to occupying one of the largest industrial buildings in all of Douglas County — it is the one right at the west Lawrence interchange of the Kansas Turnpike — the Kmart distribution center also employs about 320 people, according to figures from local economic development officials.
As for the Sears Hometown store, the going-out-of-business sale already has begun. A store employee said pretty much all merchandise has been reduced by at least 30 percent, and some merchandise already is at a 50 percent discount.
New Census numbers show Lawrence is growing at strong rate, but we’re still not a 100K population town, despite City Hall’s assertion
And I feel bad when I misplace my car keys. (Really bad when I misplace the entire car, but legally, I’m not supposed to talk about that anymore.) Just think, though, about losing track of 5,000 Lawrence residents. That is not exactly what has happened in Lawrence, but there is a 5,000-person difference of opinion about how large the city is these days.
Back in February, we reported city planners declared Lawrence had topped the 100,000 population mark for the first time, according the city’s annual population estimates. But the latest population estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t agree.
The recently released 2017 population estimate from the Census Bureau puts Lawrence’s population at 96,892. That’s compared to the city’s population estimate of 102,002. The Census Bureau estimates Lawrence’s population grew at a rate of 1.6 percent from July 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017. The city estimates the city’s population grew by about 2.5 percent over a 12-month period.
The city and the Census Bureau have had dueling sets of estimates before.
In the past, the city has contended its housing count totals show that there are more people in the city than the Census Bureau has estimated. The city even contended the 2010 Census — which is not an estimate but an actual count — also was off.
It will take someone with a bigger abacus than mine to get to the bottom of that. The world won’t stop turning either way, but the numbers do have some importance. The growth rate, in particular, is important. A community that is growing at 2.5 percent per year is going to have needs for new infrastructure much more quickly than one growing at 1.6 percent, for instance.
Businesses sometimes use population numbers to determine whether they’ll consider expanding into a community. Some retailers, for instance, may not go into a community less than 100,000. In that regard, the Census Bureau’s numbers are likely to carry more weight than the city-produced estimate.
While we can’t crow about being a 100,000-population city (I’ve always been confused when to crow), the Census numbers still were pretty positive for Lawrence.
Of major cities in the state, Lawrence had the fastest growth rate. That used to be the case for many years in the 1990s and part of the early 2000s. But then population growth tapered off. A rate of 1.6 percent still isn’t as high as the 2 percent numbers we often posted, but it is quite a bit faster than the years when we were posting rates of less than a half-percent.
Here’s a look at population figures for some of the larger cities in the region:
— Lawrence: 96,892. Up 1.6 percent
— Kansas City, Mo.: 488,943, up 1.4 percent
— Olathe: 137,472, up 1.3 percent
— Overland Park: 191,278, up 1.2 percent
— Lenexa: 53,553, up 1.2 percent
— Kansas City, Kan.: 152,938, up 0.5 percent
— Shawnee: 65,513, up 0.4 percent
— Leavenworth: 36,210, up 0.3 percent
— Leawood: 34,659, up 0.2 percent
— Wichita: 390,591, up 0.1 percent
— Manhattan: 54,832, up 0.1 percent
— Topeka: 126,587, down 0.1 percent
— Salina: 46,994, down 0.6 percent
— Hutchinson: 40,772, down 0.8 percent
— Dodge City: 27,720, down 0.3 percent
While I haven’t included it on the list of big cities in the state, one area community that is growing faster than Lawrence isn’t that far away. Gardner — in southern Johnson County near the large intermodal rail facility — continues to grow at a strong pace. The Census Bureau estimates Gardner’s population increased by 2.3 percent, and now stands at 21,583 people.
There’s also one small town nearby that is putting up bigger growth numbers than Lawrence. Tonganoxie grew by 2.5 percent and now is at 5,444 residents. Growth in some of the other small communities near Lawrence, however, was hard to find. Here’s a look at some area towns:
— Baldwin City: 4,644, down 0.8 percent
— Eudora: 6,329, down 1.2 percent
— Tonganoxie: 5,444, up 2.5 percent
— Ottawa: 12,342, up 0.5 percent
— Oskaloosa: 1,065, unchanged
— Lecompton: 647, down 1.0 percent (7 people)
— Perry: 906, up 0.6 percent (up 6 people)
On the last two, I should note that Lecompton’s 1 percent decline in population amounted to seven people leaving town. Perry’s 0.6 percent increase in population amounted to six people coming to the community.
Here’s what I’m thinking: Six people crossed the Kansas River from Lecompton into Perry, and one guy — I can sympathize — is standing on the bridge between the two towns trying to remember where he parked his car.
Plan falls through for local group to purchase former Journal-World printing plant, develop downtown conference center
A plan for a local development group to buy the former Journal-World printing plant at the northern entrance to downtown and eventually win city approval to build a conference center and hotel has been dealt a setback.
The development group led by Lawrence businessmen Mike Treanor and Doug Compton unexpectedly backed out of the deal just prior to it becoming finalized earlier this month.
The property, which stretches from Sixth and Massachusetts streets to Sixth and New Hampshire and also includes property on the east side of New Hampshire Street, is back on the market. That may allow out-of-town developers who specialize in conference and convention centers to become involved, or it might lead to developers who are interested in developing something different at the site.
The property is owned by the Simons family, the former owners of the Journal-World. Dan Simons said prospects for redevelopment of the site remain strong.
“With this property, you really have the largest, single ability to redevelop in downtown Lawrence in the city’s history,” Simons said.
The property does have lots of frontage on Massachusetts Street and generally is one of the first properties you see as you enter downtown from the north. It will be an important piece of property to watch. If re-development doesn’t occur at the site, downtown Lawrence will find itself with two major pieces of properties — one at its north end and another at its south end — occupied by either vacant or nearly vacant industrial buildings. The other is the former Allen Press property near 11th and Massachusetts streets that has been largely vacant for more than a decade. (Full disclosure: The Journal-World is not involved in the redevelopment deal. Its offices are in a building just south of the proposed redevelopment site.)
The Simons family thought it had a deal with a group led by Treanor, one of the top architects in town, and Compton, one of the largest commercial property owners in the city. Simons said the family is still open to doing a deal with that group, but said the proposed deal is dead.
“We had a great group that was put together, but at the last second they encountered some situations and couldn’t close on the project, so we are on the market again,” Simons said.
Bill Fleming, an attorney for the Treanor and Compton group, didn’t specify what led to the decision to back out of the deal. However, he said the timing wasn’t quite right, and said that City Hall leaders still have some work to do on what they want to see in the way of future development in downtown, noting that work is underway on a downtown master plan and parking plan.
“It will be hard to do something sooner rather than later until those processes are complete,” Fleming said. “But I still believe a conference center would be great for downtown Lawrence, whether it is by us or someone else.”
Fleming said the Treanor and Compton group may be interested in becoming involved with the property again at a later time.
The Treanor and Compton group did finalize a purchase from the Simons family of the former Reuter Organ buildings that are on the east side of New Hampshire street. Fleming said plans haven’t been finalized for how those buildings could be redeveloped.
I’ve certainly heard talk of upper-story condos with perhaps retail or restaurant on the ground floor of the larger, older stone building that used to house Reuter’s production plant. There is a smaller red brick building that housed Reuter offices as well. That has been leased office space in the not too distant past.
That will be an interesting project to watch, but the stakes are higher with the former printing plant property. Look for whoever purchases the site to be thinking big. The Treanor proposal included what would have been the tallest building in downtown — a 12-story condo and apartment building — plus both underground parking and new parking garages. Because the Simons own property on the east side of New Hampshire Street that is adjacent to a city-owned parking lot, there has been discussion that the city parking lots also could be redeveloped as part of the project.
Getting city approval for any of this, however, was still uncertain, at best. City Manager Tom Markus has publicly expressed concern about the city getting involved in subsidizing the operation of a conference center. However, the development group believed it could operate the conference center without a subsidy, but the development of the property would require incentives like tax increment financing and other tax breaks. Simons said his read of the political situation is that some on the commission have shown support while others have been lukewarm.
But the dynamics could change with an out-of-town group that brings a different plan and different set of experiences.
“There are out-of-town developers who specialize in conference centers, and we definitely have heard from them,” said Doug Brown, the broker with McGrew Commercial who is listing the property. “That might end up being a better fit.”
Think of the type of businesses that may want to locate next to one of the larger apartment complex areas in Lawrence. (Back in my day, that would have been a paper plate store and some type of service that warned me of when my mother was going to drop by.) Whatever the case, be on the lookout for a variety of small businesses popping up at Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive.
A sign has emerged at the vacant property at the southeast corner of the intersection announcing that the Stone Hawk Square retail center will be built on the property. We reported on plans being filed for the center all the way back in late 2015. The project has been slow to get going, but work is now underway to attract tenants.
“We feel like local restaurants, local coffee houses, hairdressers, liquor stores, that type of thing,” Doug Brown, a broker with McGrew Commercial, said of possible tenants. “It can be a nice little neighborhood center.”
The site is right next to several apartment complexes that easily have more than 1,000 units, and there are more apartment units — plus single family homes — not far away. Brown said the developed neighborhood should be a strong selling point for the property.
“The high number of residential units already around the property is a big plus,” Brown said. “It is sitting directly next to a lot of them. There is a pretty good built-in customer base.”
But neighbors shouldn’t worry about the property attracting national, fast food, drive-thru chains. That was a concern neighbors expressed back in 2015 and 2016 when the project was going through the City Hall approval process. But as the development group said then, Brown is again saying that the site isn’t the type to attract the restaurants like Burger King, McDonald’s or Taco Bell.
“Not at all,” Brown said of the prospects of a big fast food chain locating on the site. “It is more suited to local and small businesses. I don’t see a national, unless it is something like an Orange Leaf (a frozen yogurt chain) or something like that. I don’t see a national drive-thru here. It is not their type of site.”
The approved plans, though, do include at least one building that can have a drive-thru. Brown said that could be used for anything from a bank to a coffee shop that wants to offer drive-thru service.
As for other details of the plans, which were designed by Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects, I’m still looking to confirm a couple of details. Back in late 2015, the plans showed five buildings on the site. I believe the plans today are largely the same, but I’m looking to confirm.
One of the buildings, which is zoned to house either retail or office uses, is about 14,000 square feet, and could be divided easily enough to house five or six businesses. Another is about 8,000 square feet, which could be divided to house three or four businesses. The plans also showed three other buildings that were designed to accommodate restaurants or perhaps a bank.
At the moment, no tenants have been signed to the project. If I get more information, I’ll pass it along.
Latest report shows Lawrence residents saw their incomes grow, but city still has less money than surrounding communities
I usually measure personal income levels by checking my pantry to see whether we have one jar of peanut butter or two. (When the market is way up, we also have bread.) The federal government, though has a more precise but less tasty way of measuring income.
A new report shows incomes levels grew relatively well in Lawrence in 2016, but the town continues to be not nearly as wealthy as some other college communities.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis recently released its personal income figures for every state and metro area. Unfortunately, the numbers are for 2016, which is the most recent year available. The best way to think of these numbers is that the government is measuring the amount of wealth held by individuals. The report measures everything from wages to Social Security payments to rental income received by individuals. It doesn’t measure income received and kept by businesses.
The report found that Lawrence in 2016 saw per capita personal income — after adjusted for inflation — grow by 0.7 percent. That was in contrast to what per capita income levels did statewide. Kansas saw a drop of 0.6 percent for the year. But Lawrence’s per capita income level continues to be lower than many other metro areas in the region. Here’s a look at how Lawrence compares:
— Lawrence: $38,593, up 0.7 percent
— Kansas (statewide): $47,221, down 0.6 percent
— Wichita: $47,694, down 0.8 percent
— Kansas City, Kan./Mo.: $47,011, down 0.5 percent
— Topeka: $44,541, up 2.0 percent
— Manhattan: $41,168, up 2.3 percent
— St. Joseph, Mo.: $38,093, up 2.3 percent
— Joplin, Mo.: $37,453, down 0.6 percent
That list shows Lawrence dodged some trouble in 2016 by managing to see income levels grow, when several other nearby communities saw a decline, once adjusted for inflation. But Lawrence continues to have incomes levels that are much less than our neighbors. Per capita income is almost 18 percent less than in Kansas City, and about 13 percent less than Topeka’s. A lot of that has to do with Lawrence being a college community. College students often are at a point in their lives where they don't produce much income. Their low incomes push down the per capita numbers.
But there are several college communities that have higher income levels than Lawrence. Perhaps that is a sign that they have been able to diversify their economies more than we have, or they have figured out a better way to capitalize off of the university’s presence, such spin-off companies from university research or other methods. I don’t know the answer, but it is clear there are couple of different types of college communities: Those that have incomes that look a lot like ours, and others that have figured out how to break through that college-level ceiling. Here’s a look at college community income levels, again, adjusted for inflation.
— Fayetteville, Ark.: $56,525, down 1.5 percent
— Boulder, Colo.: $53,101, up 0.7 percent
— Iowa City: $45,100, up 0.3 percent
— Columbia, Mo.: $42,966, up 0.9 percent
— Fort Collins, Colo.: $41,954, up 0.6 percent
— Manhattan: $41,168, up 2.3 percent
— Morgantown, W.V.: $38,691, down 2.3 percent
— Lawrence: $38,593, up 0.7 percent
— Ames, Iowa: $38,093, down 0.8 percent
— Waco, Texas: $37,405, up 0.6 percent
— Bloomington, Ind.: $35,772, up 3.8 percent
As I mentioned, I don’t know the reasons behind some of the income differences between those college communities. But I’m interested in hearing what you think. I’m interested, in part, because the Journal-World has teamed up with University of Kansas School of Journalism on a research project. A team of professors and students at the journalism school received an Innovation in Journalism Education Grant from the Online News Association. The grant work will look at a variety of data issues, and part of the grant work is finding ways to reach out to the community about issues related to economic data.
So, here are a couple of questions for you, and I hope you will consider sharing your answers with me and the KU research team.
— What strategies would you like the community to use in raising income levels?
— What factors do you believe are keeping income levels comparatively low in Lawrence?
If you are comfortable with the public seeing your answers, just post them in the comment section below. If you want to just share them with the researchers and me, email them to me at email@example.com. Just put “Income Questions” in the subject line so that I’ll be sure to see your responses.
Looking at what may be next now that voters have rejected new sales tax for jail, mental health improvements
It has been almost a week since the countywide sales tax election was rejected by voters 53 percent to 47 percent. I figure that is long enough for the aspirin and the throat lozenge to have kicked in. (It was the type of campaign where both sides could benefit from those medicines.) So, let’s look at some of the issues that remain.
— The county probably needs to buy itself some time, and it likely can do that with temporary jail units. Just like how school districts buy themselves some time with portable classrooms, there are similar types of structures available for jails. As we reported in November, the county has already been investigating the possibilities. The county needs no voter approval to do this, and the spending isn’t subject to the state’s property tax debt lid, as long as the county leases the temporary units. The county, though, may not need to raise property taxes much to do this. Instead it could use a good portion of the approximately $1.5 million it spends annually to house inmates in other county jails to pay for the temporary units.
— With some time bought, the county can figure out another referendum question to ask voters, perhaps as soon as November. If the idea of another election sounds odd, it shouldn’t. Elections — particularly referendums — are how governments and their constituents negotiate. Probably the simplest thing for the county to do is put another sales tax referendum on the ballot. Keep the mental health proposal in place because it was clearly popular with the electorate. Instead of a $44 million jail expansion, though, propose a $22 million jail expansion. Use the difference to lower the county’s property tax mill levy. The county only has to convince a little more than 6 percent of the voters to change their votes. This might do it. Yes, jail proponents would have to hold their noses because they would believe they’re not doing enough to fix the jail. Jail No folks would have to hold their noses because they would believe the county isn’t doing enough to reduce incarceration rates. That’s how compromise works: There is a lot of nose holding.
— Probably the clearest thing to emerge from the election is that a sizable number of voters are ready to give the county a new annual revenue stream of about $10 million. That’s about how much the half-cent sales tax would generate each year. But, those voters are interested in the money being used on mental health a lot more than on jails. Human nature being what it is, expect the county to figure out how to take advantage of $10 million worth of generosity, one way or another. Even if new sales tax revenues can only be used for mental health, once you defined “mental health,” there is a lot of spending in the county’s property tax-funded budget that could be shifted over to the new sales tax revenue stream. That would take pressure off the county’s budget in general, which could be helpful as the county seeks another solution on the jail. It certainly would be less painful than the county simply forgoing the new revenue and cutting $5 million to $10 million of existing spending out of the county budget. A few fiscal conservatives would applaud that approach, but that’s not the dominant political philosophy in Douglas County. If you start cutting existing services, it likely will produce a lot of political losers.
— Speaking of politics, the political dynamic is going to change. Now that Mike Gaughan has said he won’t run for re-election, expect to start seeing candidates emerge to fill his seat. How many candidates do you think are going to run a campaign that says “I’m going to cut your social services to pay for a jail expansion"? I’m guessing not very many. Candidates likely are going to be motivated to find a different solution. While just one of the three County Commission seats is up for election, don’t discount what a change in the dynamic might produce.
— If the county does put another referendum on the ballot, it will be interesting to see if it changes its political tactics. The county went across the grain in a few regards. Voters seem to like choices, but the county used a strategy that tried to make voters think they had very few, i.e., you are not voting on whether to expand the jail, only how to pay for it. That turned a lot of people off. So too did the decision to not put a dollar figure in the actual ballot language. The county wanted to give itself flexibility in how much debt it could issue, so it left a specific dollar figure out of the election question. That is an example of really pedaling uphill at a time when the public is already distrustful of government.
— Some people who want more mental health and less jail may be tempted to put their faith in the Justice Matters group to force a solution upon the county. That could be risky. Justice Matters spent a lot of time saying there is a better way, but then when it unveiled its plan that included a petition to force the county to have an election to raise property taxes to pay for mental health, the group had failed to recognize that voters can’t raise property taxes in November and start collecting them in January 2019. The new revenues wouldn't become available until about 2020. Based on what I’ve heard, that cost Justice Matters some credibility with some voters. I don’t think the county is viewing the most recent election results as a sign that Justice Matters gained some sort of mandate.
New curio shop opens on south Massachusetts Street with everything from collectibles to shrunken heads
Maybe the sequel to “Driving Miss Daisy” will take place in Lawrence with my F150. A new vintage shop on south Massachusetts Street could make it possible.
Yes, this needs more explanation. A new antique and curio store called Whizzbang has opened at 1828 Massachusetts St., right next door to Cottin’s Hardware. Sitting outside Whizzbang’s front door on most days is an approximately 3-foot-tall doll named Daisy. Indeed, she has a driving history.
“We got her from an estate sale,” said Gretchen Wilson, one of the owners of Whizzbang. “The grandmother required the grandfather to take Daisy in the car with him whenever the grandmother couldn’t ride with him.”
Beats me. I’m hoping an explanation is part of the plot to the sequel, although somebody else may beat me to the punch. Daisy is for sale along with everything from antique furniture to old tools to an almost endless number of curios.
Wilson, though, may have a hard time parting with Daisy. She calls her the store mascot and said she has plans to turn the prim and proper doll into a “hippie chick.” Yes, it is that type of store.
“I sold the hamburger phone, so that is gone,” Wilson said when asked for examples of some of the store’s more unique items. “Oh, but we still do have a shrunken head.”
Wilson said the shop — which is in the space that previously housed Performance Tire & Wheel — is a “crossbreed between vintage, retro and rusty crusty.”
Wilson is one of five co-owners — with Matt Woodward, Davy Byrne, Catherine Burgos and Mitch Rorabaugh — who scour estate sales, storage locker auctions and other such events looking for unique items. Not all the items are funky. Wilson noted the store had a blue-ribbon quilt as part of its inventory, a 1950’s style diner booth, clothing wall hangings and a good amount of memorabilia and other items that collectors covet.
The business had space near the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, but needed to find new space. The visibility of a Massachusetts Street location was appealing. Some of you may remember that the old tire and wheel shop had a pair of famous owners. KU basketball coach Bill Self and former KU and NBA player Scot Pollard led a group that owned the building. Whatever plans the duo had for the building apparently have changed because the property has been sold to a Topeka group, and Wilson said, as far she knows, neither Self nor Pollard has any involvement in the building.
Regardless, Wilson said business has been good at the new location, which is only open noon to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and sometimes on Sunday. She said the owners have long believed Lawrence residents are interested in a shop that has a funkier vibe than a traditional antique shop or mall.
“I think it is just a more intimate, unique selection than what you’ll find at an (antique) mall,” Wilson said. “Lawrence is a great town for it. We’ve had a lot of support, especially from this neighborhood.”
See renderings for LMH’s nearly $100M west Lawrence project, complete with rooftop terrace and amphitheater
One of the larger projects ever for west Lawrence is starting to come together. Board members for Lawrence Memorial Hospital on Wednesday approved a new set of designs for a nearly $100 million medical outpatient building near Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence.
“We wanted something that was sophisticated but not ostentatious, something striking but not weird,” LMH President and CEO Russ Johnson told the board. “We think the community will be really proud of this building, but they won’t think that the hospital threw crazy money at this building and are wasting our dollars.”
I could break out my highly technical architectural terms — like shiny, glassy and pointy — but it would be easier if you just look at the renderings, which were put together by Lenexa-based Pulse Design Group.
As a reminder, the building will be near the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. If you are familiar with the new KU Tennis Center at Rock Chalk Park, it will be on the opposite side of the street and a bit west of the Tennis Center.
A few things stand out from the renderings. Several of the renderings show people on the roof of the building. Don’t become alarmed. They are supposed to be there. The design includes a rooftop terrace.
One rendering shows what looks to be people who are either stretching or perhaps re-creating scenes from "The Karate Kid." Either way there will be will be room to sit and watch. The area is a combination amphitheater and therapy garden.
LMH officials told the board that the topography of the land was going to require a retaining wall for the area. Instead of a traditional retaining wall, architects suggested a stair-step approach that allows for amphitheater-type of seating. The area can be used for a variety of presentations and gatherings, hospital leaders said.
As for the therapy garden, think about all those exercises that physical therapists have you go through when you are rehabilitating a hip or a knee or some other type of injury. Physical therapy will be a big part of the services offered at the new medical center. Hospital leaders believe some patients will appreciate the opportunity to do some of the exercises outside on nice days. (Ok, but tell the guy in the back row of the amphitheater to avert his gaze while I’m doing Downward Dog.)
Importantly, though, the therapy garden will be open to everyone, including employees and the general public. It will include a walking path that likely will have some fitness challenge stations along its way. The path also will be connected to the broader trail system the city has built as part of the Rock Chalk Park Development.
The hospital, though, still needs to get city approval for the entire project. The development has a key hearing at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on May 23. Planning commissioners are being asked to approve the plat for the project. The city’s planning staff is recommending approval of the plat, now that some issues related to traffic counts for the area have been resolved. Previously there was debate about how much traffic the medical office building would create. The city and LMH still don’t agree on the numbers, but the city engineer has said he’s confident the center won’t generate enough traffic that the adjacent street network needs to be improved, according to a city memo on the topic.
The hospital hopes to break ground on the project in June or July, which would put it on track to open in 2020.
As we’ve reported, the medical office building is slated to include:
• An enlarged Lawrence Surgery Center to conduct outpatient surgery procedures.
• An “orthopedic center of excellence” that will be run by the staff of OrthoKansas, which has been purchased by LMH.
• An expanded LMH Breast Center, including new clinical space.
• An LMH Therapy practice, which will focus on sports rehabilitation services.
• Doctor’s offices for the Internal Medicine Group.
• Doctor’s offices for the Mt. Oread Family Practice group.
• Office for Plastic Surgery Specialists of Lawrence.
• Medical office space that LMH will lease to a variety of specialty physicians.
• A retail pharmacy that will be operated by a third party. LMH hasn’t yet announced a partner for the pharmacy.
• A food court and rooftop garden to accommodate the more than 1,000 patients and staff who are expected to be on the site daily.
The new facility won’t offer any inpatient services that would require an overnight stay. All inpatient services will continue to be done at LMH’s hospital at Third and Maine streets.