Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”

Lawrence retail sales numbers up for fifth straight month; church buys former Lawrence Community Theater building

Lawrence retail sales numbers are up for their fifth straight month, according to a new report from City Hall. The reason? Perhaps shoppers were stocking up for this very day.

Surely you know what today is. It is National High Five Day, and that means you better have stocked up on hand sanitizer. If you work at an elementary school — as my wife does — where approximately umpteen students and staff members vomited yesterday, you doubly want to stock up on hand sanitizer. Consequently, my wife soaked in a vat of it for several hours, and now leaves a gooey trail behind her, much like an eel. (I mean that in the most endearing way, dear.)

So, maybe that is why retail sales were up for this most recent period, or maybe there is a less logical explanation. Regardless, the latest report — which measures taxable sales from mid-January to mid-February — were up 0.4 percent compared to the same period a year ago. I never said they were up a lot, but it lends credence to my theory. Hand sanitizer comes in really small bottles. (Don't feel bad if you didn't see that. I'm widely considered an amateur economist.)

Thus far in 2014, Lawrence's retail sales totals are up 1.6 percent for the year. On most days that wouldn't be anything to give a high-five about, but . . . actually, the number is pretty good compared to what's happening in some other large retail centers in the state. Places like Topeka, Overland Park and Olathe have gotten off to slower starts in 2014. Here's a look at the sales tax growth or decline in some of the larger markets in the state:

— Dodge City: down 6 percent

— Emporia: up 3.4 percent

— Garden City: down 0.4 percent

— Hays: down 26.9 percent

— Hutchinson: down 2.1 percent

— Kansas City: down 1.2 percent

— Leavenworth: up 6.2 percent

— Leawood: down 6.9 percent

— Lenexa: up 4.4 percent

— Manhattan: down 0.2 percent

— Olathe: down 5.7 percent

— Overland Park: up 1.3 percent

— Salina: down 2.5 percent

— Shawnee: up 1.6 percent

— Topeka: down 2.1 percent

The list shows two things: 1. Perhaps a meteor has hit Hays and news hasn't made it back this far east yet. (Hays' sales tax numbers have been awful for several months, and I really have meant to call out there because I'm curious about what has happened.) 2. Lawrence performed better than several other large markets.

This is always an interesting time of the year for sales tax numbers because the budget-makers at City Hall soon will have to put together their best estimates on what sales tax numbers will do in 2015. The city's budget process will begin this summer, and an estimate of how much sales taxes will generate in 2015 is a key number in the budget process.

Taxable sales in Lawrence have grown three straight years, after falling in 2009 and 2010. Taxable sales grew by 4.5 percent in 2011, 5.2 percent in 2012 and 2.1 percent in 2013. I know budget makers would like to count on a 2 percent increase in retail sales, but was 2013 the beginning of a moderation? I don't know.

What I do know is my hand hurts. For some reason, each high five I asked for from my wife this morning got a little harder: The one after she brushed her teeth, the one after she brushed her hair, the one after she packed her lunch, the one after she loaded dirty clothes in the washing machine. After that one, I kept my hands in my pockets.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Easter is almost upon us, and there is a local church making a little bit of news in the real estate industry. Vintage Church has purchased the building at 15th and New Hampshire streets that formerly housed the Lawrence Community Theatre.

Vintage Church has been meeting in space at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School for about the last five years. Deacon Godsey, the lead pastor, said the congregation of about 250 people is excited to have a location to call its own.

"It has great seating and great children's ministries space for us," Godsey said. "And we love the fact that we're in a residential neighborhood."

Godsey said his research indicates the building was originally built to be a church. He said telephone records indicated the building housed a church from about 1949 to 1984, when the community theater took over the building.

Vintage, a non-denominational Christian church, plans to begin holding services in the building on May 11. Some minor renovation work is currently underway at the site.

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  • Reply 11 comments from Mommatocharlie Merrill Lee Saylor Leslie Swearingen Rick Masters Clark Coan Steve Jacob

    Library seeking partner to open coffee shop in new library space; as weather warms up, downtown events begin to pile up

    A coffee shop in the new Lawrence Public Library: Maybe it could be called The Java Code, and the menu board could be written in a da Vinci-style code. Or maybe it could be called Mugs and Muggles, and the menu board could be written in Harry Potter-esque incantations. Or maybe it could be called 50 Shades of Black, and the menu board could be written in, well, uh, maybe there is a reason I'm not in the library coffee business.

    But leaders of the Lawrence Public Library are looking for someone to be their coffee partner. When the library in July moves back to the expanded and refurbished library building at Seventh and Vermont streets, plans call for a privately operated coffee bar to be located in the main lobby of the building. Library leaders now have put out a request for proposals, hoping to find an experienced coffee operator.

    As currently planned, the library will provide a couple of cafe tables, a built-in bar, a sink and a basic food preparation area. All this will be located right near the main entrance to the library. The big thing the library will provide, however, is foot traffic. Before its move, the library was attracting a little more than 40,000 visitors per month, and leaders expect that number to grow significantly in the new building. The other thing the library brings to the table is a policy that will allow snacks and drinks — with lids — to be consumed throughout the library.

    As for the menu, the library is fine with a menu that includes a variety of drinks, as long as they are nonalcoholic.(How is anyone supposed to finish a "Twilight" novel with a nonalcoholic drink?) The RFP also says pastries and snacks can be sold at the coffee bar, but it does prohibit any type of grilling, frying and other cooking, except that which can be done with a microwave. (As Ron Popeil and three easy payments of $19.99 can attest, that really is no limitation at all.)

    But if you are thinking of quitting your day job and starting a coffee shop in the library, you may want to think again — unless your day job is in the coffee business. The RFP states that the library committee only will consider proposals from people who have two or more years of continuous experience in the specialty coffee business or other such concessionaire experience.

    The library is not asking for any specific rent amount for the space, but rather is requiring interested parties to state how much they would be willing to pay per month, either in the form of a flat fee or through a percentage of sales.

    The library has set a deadline of May 2 to receive proposals. Ultimately, the library's board of directors will make the final decision on how to proceed. People interested in more information can see the library's complete RFP on its website.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The library yesterday gave you a date to circle on your calendar: July 26, which will be the opening day for the new library. Well, here are a few more that I've seen come through City Hall.

    — Sports editor Tom Keegan already has profiled Friday's downtown shot put competition and how much fun that ought to be. But maybe next year it can be even more fun. How? Three words: Celebrity Shot Put Competition. (Wait, that's four words. Dang shot put.) Think of the possibilities. Charlie Weis versus Bill Self, Tom Keegan versus 6News sports director Kevin Romary, Mayor Mike Amyx versus Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman. Well, that one may not be fair (I'll let you determine who would have the advantage) but the possibilities are endless. I'm sure some charity could benefit from it, and surely there is a chiropractor who would sponsor it.

    — May 10 the first Kansas Food Truck Festival will take place place on the portion of Pennsylvania Street from Eighth to Ninth streets in East Lawrence.

    — May 30 a portion of the 900 block of New Hampshire Street will be closed to accommodate the Art Togeau parade and a street party that is part of the Final Friday arts event. The street party will include live music, vendors, games and some art demonstrations.

    — June 27-29 the city's Tour of Lawrence bike races will return to downtown and the KU campus. The Street Sprint portion of the event will take place on the evening of Friday, June 27, on Vermont Street in downtown Lawrence. The multimile race will take place on and around the KU campus on Saturday, June 28. The fast-paced criterium racing will take place downtown on the morning of Sunday, June 29. The city is providing $10,000 in transient guest tax funds to support the event. Look for more details as the event nears.

    — That will be a busy weekend for downtown because the Lawrence Arts Center and others will be hosting the Free State Arts Festival from June 25 to June 29. That event will involve several outdoor screenings of films, plus a couple of street parties in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street. The city is providing $20,000 in transient guest tax funds to support the event. Again, look for more details as the event gets closer.

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    KU broadcaster David Lawrence to open West Lawrence sports restaurant and bar; update on Limestone pizza restaurant downtown

    Due to a host of oddities that no one ever could have predicted, I never did make it into uniform for the Kansas Jayhawks football team, which means KU broadcaster David Lawrence never did get to use his colorful phrases to describe my talents. But perhaps that soon will change. I'm 80 percent certain I'm not going to plow through a Big 12 defensive line anytime soon, but I can still plow through a double bacon cheeseburger and fries, and perhaps Lawrence will be there to see it. Lawrence and a partner are in the process of opening a new West Lawrence sports-themed restaurant and bar.

    Lawrence and successful restaurateur Matt Llewellyn of 23rd Street Brewery are opening Legends at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive in West Lawrence. The business will be in the location that formerly housed Bambino's Italian restaurant. The look of the space, however, will be completely remade.

    Lawrence — who was an all-conference performer for the Jayhawk football team in the early 1980s — has been part of the KU radio broadcasts since 1993 and has been the color commentator for football since 2006. He'll be in charge of creating the sports ambiance of the restaurant. The Legends name means the restaurant and bar will have photos and memorabilia from a host of local legends. Lawrence said that will include a lot of Jayhawk athletes, but also some high school performers who have reached that legendary status, including those days when Lawrence High football was the king of the state and the region. Lawrence said the restaurant also will look for some local people who are legends in fields other than athletics.

    Also expect to see some live radio broadcasts from the restaurant. Lawrence hosts a variety of sports talk radio programs, and he said he is in the process of arranging for some of that type of work to occur at the new location.

    As for the food and drink portion of the business, Llewellyn will be leading that side of the business. Lawrence said it is important to both he and Llewellyn that the business will be more than your typical sports bar.

    "We feel like it is a great location, and we know it is a great neighborhood," Lawrence said. "We want to be a restaurant for the neighborhood to go to. That is right at the very top of our list."

    Lawrence said in addition to the pizza, wings and burger baskets that are staples of sports bar menus, the restaurant also will serve some steaks, seafood and other higher-end fare.

    Lawrence said he and Llewellyn have known each other for many years, in part because Lawrence has done several of his radio shows at 23rd Street Brewery.

    "Matt and I have talked about doing this for quite some time," Lawrence said. "I'm at a stage in my life that if I'm going to do it, I need to do it now. Being able to do it with a pro like Matt was the key for me."

    Remodeling work on the space is just getting under way, but Lawrence said he's holding out hope that the restaurant can be open sometime in June. The remodeling work includes creating a new area of the restaurant that will be called the Phog's Den, that will serve as a private viewing area for up to 65 people to watch a game or host an event.

    Maybe that will be the spot where Lawrence can set up his radio booth and do some color commentary on my talents. Trust me, they will be colorful. Anybody who has seen my shirt after eating a bacon double cheeseburger can attest to that.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • I've been getting questions about Limestone Pizza + Kitchen + Bar in downtown Lawrence. (Don't let the plus signs worry you. I don't think there are any math tests involved with a visit to the restaurant.) The restaurant at 814 Massachusetts opened over the weekend.

    We reported on the plans for the restaurant back in January. But now we have more details about how the menu of the restaurant has come together. Rick Martin, longtime Lawrence chef and part owner of the establishment, sent me a menu recently.

    As we reported, a Neopolitian style, thin crust, crispy pizza is a big part of the menu. The restaurant calls it "Neoprairie" pizza and serves it in a 12-inch size. And it looks like it intends to be creative with the toppings. The most traditional pizzas, it appears, are a sausage pizza, and a margherita pizza with local ground tomatoes, house-made mozzarella and basil oil. But there also will be pies like the Farmer, which has bacon, local eggs, spinach and gruyere. And there's also The Spud, which includes ingredients such as creme fraiche, bacon and rosemary.

    Outside of pizza, the restaurant will have appetizers such as local chicken wings, calamari, egg and pita toast, and roasted roots such as radishes, turnips, carrots and onions. Also on the menu are sandwiches such as house-made pastrami, a local beef hamburger, pork rapini, and larger dishes such as ham and beans and fresh linguini and sauce.

    Hours are 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. on Sundays.

    • As part of my duties yesterday, I visited what we call the "morgue" here at the J-W. It is our room where we keep old newspaper clippings, and old reference materials. I was digging through a 1977 Polk City Directory to confirm that indeed Buffalo Bob's restaurant — which announced it is closing on April 29 — is the oldest current restaurant in downtown. So just for fun, I thought I would pass along some of the other restaurants I saw on that list from 1977. It might bring back some good memories.

    As far as far as restaurants that are still in business, there are a handful. They include: La Tropicana in North Lawrence; The Flamingo Club in North Lawrence; the Wagon Wheel Cafe in the Oread neighborhood; Taco Bell on 23rd Street, and the McDonald's on 23rd Street.

    But particularly fun are some of the names of ones that have departed us. They include: the Campus Hideway on North Park Street in downtown; Cornucopia near 18th and Mass.; Drake's Snack Shop at Ninth and Mass.; Heavy Eddy's on W. 14th Street; J-B's Big Boy Family Restaurant on Iowa Street; Shorty's Cafe on Massachusetts Street; a whole host of Taco Grandes and a Taco Tico, and the Vista Drive In on Sixth Street. And of course there is one that I know many people dearly miss: Don's Steakhouse on East 23rd Street.

    I know I do. There are times that I get this sharp pain in the left side of my chest and down my arm, and I know what that is. It is my body saying it misses the fried chicken and slabs of ribeye at Don's Steakhouse. Of course that is what it is. What else could it be?

    Reply 16 comments from Terrylee Ron Holzwarth Sherry Warren Richard Andrade Cimmy Redmond Merrill Mike Edson Arnie Bunkers Joehawk Jim Fisher and 2 others

    UPDATE: Buffalo Bob’s to close at end of month; Ladybird Diner plans to open along Mass. Street in June; city, county hosting Horizon 2020 meetings

    UPDATE: Since posting the original column this morning, I've had a chance to talk with Bob Schumm, owner of both the Dynamite Saloon and Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse, and he dropped a BBQ bombshell: He's closing Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse after 37 years in business. The last day of business will be April 29. As reported below, he's leased the Dynamite Saloon portion of the building to the Ladybird Cafe. He's in discussions to lease the remaining 3,000 square feet to another restaurant user.

    Schumm, 67, who also is a Lawrence city commissioner, said it simply was time to do something else.

    "I have employees who are children of past employees of the restaurant," Schumm said. "I always said when I started employing their grandchildren, it would be time for me to move on. We're getting pretty close to that point."

    Check back in for a more complete story later today.


    As I briefly mentioned on Friday, a new diner is coming to downtown Lawrence, and now I have details. What I don't have at the moment is the money to pay the increased health insurance premium that is sure to come. We're talking about breakfast meat and pie within walking distance of the Journal-World newsroom.

    Ladybird Diner will be taking over the spot currently occupied by the Dynamite Saloon, 721 Massachusetts St., and will be operated by a partnership that includes owners of the popular downtown restaurant 715.

    Meg Heriford, a server and pie maker at 715, will be an owner and operator of Ladybird Diner. She said plans call for the restaurant to be open in June, once some remodeling work is done at the Dynamite spot. Heriford said she's not releasing many details of the menu quite yet, but said it will be "classic diner fare" inspired by diner foods that she and other members of the ownership group have sampled from across the country.

    "I'm the type of person that when somebody has a bad day, my first reaction is to cook a chicken pot pie," Heriford said. "When somebody has something to celebrate, I run to cook a pot roast. I just want to share that with the broader community."

    I don't know what type of news you have to share with her to get homemade pie, but I don't think it will take much. She said 715 recently added her homemade pies to its menu, and the response has been strong.

    "It is hard to keep pie in that place," Heriford said. "I think a lot of it is that it is hard to find a slice of pie in Lawrence that is not corporate pie."

    (I had corporate pie once. I ordered it with extra stock options and a golden parachute, but it left me with heartburn and an IRS audit.)

    Heriford said the diner will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • I can't promise there will be any pie involved (in fact, I'm almost certain there won't be), but city and county officials want to hear your opinion on how Lawrence and the surrounding parts of Douglas County should grow. The city and county are hosting eight public forums to get feedback on Horizon 2020, the city and county's comprehensive plan. City and county officials are in the process of updating the plan, and getting some basic feedback from residents is one of the first steps. Here's a list of the upcoming meetings:

    — 6 p.m to 8 p.m.., April 16, Lawrence High School Cafeteria

    — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., April 29, Lawrence City Hall

    — 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., May 7, Lecompton Community Building

    — 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., May 29, Lawrence Indoor Aquatics Center

    — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 4, Lumberyard Arts Center in Baldwin City

    — 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., June 19, Eudora Recreation Center

    — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., June 30, Douglas County Courthouse

    — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., July 16, Dreher Family 4-H Building, Douglas County Fairgrounds

    The meetings will provide a chance for residents to discuss with city and county planners issues such as growth and development, transportation, preservation of historic and natural resources, and infrastructure needs.

    Reply 12 comments from Rae Hudspeth Leslie Swearingen Clark Coan Renaissance Cimmy Redmond Edgeofbaldwin Arnie Bunkers Terrylee Rick Masters

    City receives just one proposal to redevelop dilapidated East Lawrence property; rumblings of Buffalo Wild Wings, barbecue and a downtown diner

    The Lawrence development community evidently hasn't fallen in love with Rhody Delahunty.

    If you remember, city commissioners recently went through the unusual process of taking the house and real estate at 1106 Rhode Island St. by eminent domain. As part of the eminent domain process, the city paid $114,500 for the dilapidated and vacant house and barn that sit just east of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center in downtown.

    Commissioners bought the house, in part, because it is in a historic district, and the home itself is an old one. It dates back to the early 1870s, and the site was used by colorful Irishman Rhody Delahunty as the headquarters for his thriving dray wagon business.

    Last month, commissioners sent out an RFP saying they wanted to receive proposals on how to redevelop the property, with the caveat that the old structures wouldn't be demolished. City staff members now report that the city received just one proposal.

    But as my wife says as she sorts through her stack of credit cards at the checkout line: It just takes one good one. Now, city officials will have to determine whether the lone proposal is a good one.

    It comes from longtime Lawrence architect and historic preservationist Stan Hernly's company Hernly Associates. As expected, the proposal involves financial assistance from the city to redevelop the property. First, Hernly proposes to buy the property for 90,000, which is less than what the city paid for it. Hernly says the city paid a price based on what the land was worth in a clear condition, but the condition of the house and barn actually make the property less valuable.

    Hernly's group also is seeking essentially a 90 percent, 10-year property tax rebate on the completed project. The group also is seeking $26,100 in development grants to help fund what is expected to be about a $900,000 rehabilitation project.

    As for what the project will include:

    — The old house would be converted into a three-bedroom, two-bath rental house.

    — A new one-bedroom, one-bath apartment would be built above the garage.

    — The existing warehouse/barn would be converted into 2,170 square feet of office space. According to the proposal submitted to City Hall, Hernly plans to move his architectural business into the office space.

    The proposal goes into detail about how the property will be greatly improved, noting everything from the major structural improvements that will have to be undertaken to the landscaping and site improvements that will clean up what has generally been viewed as a long-term eyesore.

    That has been the one part of this project that most people have agreed upon: The property has been a mess, and has detracted from the neighborhood. But the city's actions to purchase the property through eminent domain have been important because it is the first time in recent memory the city has used that power to deal with a dilapidated property.

    Now, it appears, purchasing the property won't be the only costs to the city. As proposed it will included taking money out of the city's coffers to complete the deal.

    City commissioners have the power to order unsafe and dangerous houses to be demolished, but that option wasn't seriously considered in this case. That's because the history of the house made it likely that the city's own Historic Resources Commission would object to any proposed demolition of the property.

    It will be an interesting project to watch. Let's face it, the amount of assistance being asked for isn't going to put a major dent in the city's budget. But there are certainly other old, dilapidated properties around town that the city has struggled to deal with. The more interesting question to me is whether the city has created a new strategy — one centered on the use of eminent domain — to rehabilitate old properties? And if so, what do we think of that? Is it finally a solution to deal with property owners who refuse to live up to their responsibilities, or is it an overreach by government?

    Don't look at me. Sometimes I just get paid to ask the questions.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • In my line of work, the celebrities I hang around with are city commissioners, and, if I'm lucky, an occasional planning commissioner. So, you can imagine how popular I become at cocktail parties when I start dropping names. But in that tradition, I'll drop a few names here. Like all good name-dropping, I'm a little light on specifics at the moment. In other words, I'll attempt to follow up in coming days on some of these.

    — Buffalo Wild Wings: As we have previously reported, the restaurant is planning a new location at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa Street. Well, there are signs that project is moving forward. The biggest sign is a bulldozer clearing the site. I still don't have a definitive answer on what this means for the downtown location for Buffalo Wild Wings. In the past, officials at the location have told me they don't know what the future holds for the downtown spot. People in the commercial real industry, however, tell me they've been told Buffalo Wild Wings is moving out of the location. It has been awhile since I've check with Buffalo Wild Wings, so I'll let you know if there is an update.

    — Blockbuster: The last we reported on the vacant Blockbuster building on 23rd Street was that Wichita-based Hog Wild Pit Bar-B-Q was taking part of the building, and an unidentified mattress store was taking the other part. As far as I know, that's still the plan, and work clearly has begun on the site. I'll see what update is available from the development company.

    — Pie: I've gotten word from a reliable source that a new downtown diner is coming to Massachusetts Street. It involves a partnership with an existing downtown restaurant and a pie maker extraordinaire. But I haven't yet got in touch with all parties involved, so I'm going to leave it at that until I have a chance to do so. But trust me, I will. I don't let pie go cold.

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  • Reply 11 comments from Merrill Leslie Swearingen Gregdivilbiss William Weissbeck April Fleming Clark Coan Renaissance

    Chinese restaurant opens in East Lawrence; Rock Chalk Park lighting debate stirs up emotions

    I have an announcement to make: I'm not declaring for the NBA Draft. After Joel Embiid's announcement yesterday, I thought you could use a dose of good news. Only time will tell if I made the right decision. I was leaning in the other direction for quite some time, but a fortune cookie at a relatively new Chinese restaurant convinced me to stay.

    The new restaurant is the Oriental Pearl, and it is in the shopping center at 19h and Haskell. Matt and Rachel Tindell are the owners, and they are hoping to bring a slightly different take on Chinese food to the community. In addition to the standard Chinese menu offerings, they are going to have some dishes — think stuffed pork buns — that are from the northern region of China, which I'm told is not the standard fare.

    The menu also includes several cross-over dishes. For example: Coke wings, which are barbecue chicken wings cooked in Coca-Cola. Also on the menu: Tomato Fish Fillets, which are fried fish battered with tomato sauce and served with diced green peppers, red onions and mushrooms; Cucumber Salad; House Cold Noodles with a fried egg; and Chinese Fried Sauce Noodles. That involves thick noodles topped with a mixture of ground pork, stir-fried with fried sauce. Fried sauce: For some reason, that concept just gives me a warm feeling inside. (Or perhaps I need to see the cardiologist again.) The restaurant also has a tea menu, with about a dozen different varieties.

    Matt said his wife, Rachel, is Chinese and formerly managed a Chinese restaurant in Hays. When they moved back to this area, Matt said, they were looking to open a "locally oriented" restaurant. The space in the 19th and Haskell shopping center was budget-friendly, and they feel like the East Lawrence area is under-served.

    "There are not a lot of restaurants in East Lawrence, especially restaurants that you can walk to," Matt said.

    The restaurant does not offer a buffet, but does offer a $4.99 express menu, in addition to traditional, family-style Chinese dining. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • When you are dealing with Chinese food, there are two inevitable outcomes: some type of injury caused by chop sticks, and leftovers. So, in the spirit of leftovers, here's an issue I didn't get to fully report on from Tuesday's City Commission meeting because of time and space constraints.

    As we reported, the city approved a temporary occupancy permit to allow the Kansas Relays to be held at Rock Chalk Park, although the complex isn't quite complete. That permit included the approval of a lighting plan for the complex, something that was supposed to have been done before construction but was missed in the permitting process, city officials have acknowledged.

    The lighting conversation got a bit tense at times. Jack Graham — the nearest neighbor to the complex, at the moment — has said he doesn't object to Rock Chalk Park but said he is concerned the city hasn't followed the proper process as it relates to lighting and wants to make sure the city does all it can to minimize the impact of the lighting.

    Graham's attorney, Rick Hird, told commissioners he thought the private engineering analysis the city ordered for the project was lacking because it measured only light spillage but not the amount of light glare. It seems there is a significant difference between the two. Hird asked the city to consider three things: restrictions on the number of times per year the lights could be used; or a 10:30 p.m. cutoff for the lights rather than the 11:30 cutoff that is in the current permit; or higher-tech light hoods that could be installed around the lamps that light the track and field, softball and soccer stadiums. Commissioners didn't approve any of those requests.

    Instead, City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer got some feelings off his chest about the project.

    "I am beside myself, frankly, at all of this," Farmer said.

    He said much of what he had heard about Rock Chalk Park recently has been "nonsensical opposition" to a project that he is sure everyone in the community is eventually going to be proud of. He acknowledged that the Rock Chalk Park project has gone through a process that has been different than others — about $12 million worth of infrastructure work was awarded without going through a bidding process. But he said he hopes the community is ready to move on and "shouldn't continue to gripe about what happened in the past. I hope we can move past this and not keep finding ways to nitpick and gripe and raise conflict."

    I got a chance to catch up with Hird today, and he said he didn't have any comment about what further options his client may be considering on the lighting issue. Hird said the amount of light from Rock Chalk at Graham's property is enough that "he can do shadow puppets on his bedroom wall."

    Hird said he was very disappointed in Farmer's comments.

    "It was disappointing that Commissioner Farmer characterized our participation as griping," Hird said. "It was a public hearing. To be accused of griping was very disappointing. This whole process was botched from the beginning."

    One side note to all of this is that at the moment Graham's property is the closest to the lights. But based on approved plans for the Mercato development just south of Rock Chalk Park, there is planned to be large numbers of apartments and other residences just about 800 to 900 feet away from the lights — which is much closer than Graham's property. Interestingly, though, representatives of Mercato, which is being developed by a Duane Schwada led group, never spoke about the lighting issue. I've heard several people say that the lighting issue — combined with a few other Rock Chalk Park issues — will give that group all the ammunition it needs to come in and request a rezoning of the residential property to commercial uses. We'll see if that develops.


    Deciphera receives $6 million payment as cancer drug advances, sets up corporate offices in Boston; Bargain Depot closing; update on SportQuest

    There are 6 million pieces of good news on the Lawrence bioscience front today, and one piece of news that may create some worry among local bioscience leaders.

    Deciphera Pharmaceuticals — the Lawrence-based biotech company that has been labeled as a hot prospect for breakout success — has reached a major milestone. The company announced that it has received a $6 million payment from the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly after one of Deciphera's cancer treatment inhibitors moved into phase I clinical trials. Deciphera is developing the treatment, which the company hopes will be successful in battling several types of advanced cancer, in partnership with Eli Lilly.

    At the same time, Deciphera announced that it has a new president/CEO and that the company is establishing corporate offices in Boston. New president and CEO Mike Taylor, a biotech veteran, will office in Boston.

    Deciphera's press release says all research activities for the company will continue to be based in Lawrence. But the press release doesn't make clear whether the company's corporate headquarters will be in Boston. Reports by biotechnology media outlets give that impression. The Web publication FierceBiotech reports Taylor "is looking for a handful of execs to join him in the big Boston hub."

    Boston is one of the power centers for the pharmaceutical industry, and Deciphera clearly is moving into a new phase of its development. Taylor previously was CEO of Ensemble Therapeutics, where he brokered research alliances with Roche, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer and other major pharmaceutical companies.

    Dan Flynn, the founder of Deciphera, will remain with the company, but will give up his title of president and CEO. Flynn now will serve as chief scientific officer, and will continue to serve as a member of the company's board of managers. It appears that he'll remain based in Lawrence with the research operations.

    Perhaps in today's mobile world, the idea of corporate headquarters isn't as important as it used to be. Lawrence leaders, after all, will be thrilled if Deciphera grows its research team and the good-paying jobs that come with it in Lawrence. But local leaders — with good reason — long have been concerned about promising companies with KU ties leaving Lawrence just before they become big successes. A big part of the city's economic development strategy is capitalizing off of KU research, and then keeping those promising companies in the community for the long haul. It has worked well in places like Stanford, MIT, the University of Colorado and other places. Leaders are convinced KU — especially with its pharmacy school — has the potential to produce a homegrown home run.

    Deciphera — which has its offices and some lab space in downtown Lawrence — long has been listed as that type of prospect. As part of the announcement of Taylor's hire, it was confirmed that Deciphera will be looking for new investors, FierceBiotech reported. Sometimes investors dictate where companies need to be located, so it will be worth keeping an eye on.

    I hope to get in touch with Deciphera officials soon, and report more details on the latest developments.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • If you are like me and the best drug is a good bargain, there is some bad news. Bargain Depot, the 23rd Street business that sells surplus items ranging from tools to camping gear, is closing.

    The signs are up, and the sale is underway. Deborah Wall, the store's liquidation manager, said an exact closing date hasn't been set, but she expects it to be in May.

    Wall said the decision to close the store was based on the owner's desire to retire. The store was previously been owned by a partnership, but one of the partners became ill, and that created a transition period for the business, which Wall estimated had been in Lawrence for about 10 years.

    The store is just west of 23rd and Harper streets. The sizable building is owned by an Overland Park-based trust, according to records from the county courthouse. A commercial real estate firm already has begun marketing the property, and Wall said several prospects have shown an interest.

    Suddenly, there are quite a few spots on 23rd Street up for redevelopment. They include the old Carlos O'Kelley's location, the former Half Price Books store, the former Kwik Shop location, and a pretty good amount of space in the shopping center that includes Panera Bread.

    Plus, there are two other sites that often get overlooked, but may have some of the largest potential: the former Don's Steakhouse building and the former construction yard for Diamond Everley Roofing. The sites are next to each other and right on the eastern edge of Lawrence. They are just west of Lawrence VenturePark, which is set to become the city's newest business park.

    When you combine those two sites, you have the potential to do a fairly sizable project there. I have heard people in certain business circles talk how that could be a site for a new grocery store. I haven't yet heard that any new grocery companies are seriously considering the Lawrence market at the moment. (Other than the specialty grocer that has signed in West Lawrence. Still waiting for an official announcement on that name, by the way.) The site across the street near Tractor Supply also is positioning itself for a grocery tenant. But folks in that business have told me the old Don's Steakhouse location may get a look from grocers as well because, unlike the Tractor Supply site, it is on the north side of the road, which makes it convenient for commuters on their way back from Johnson County.

    • It was a long City Commission meeting last night, which means it was tough to get all the news out on deadline. One item that got some discussion was the idea of naming the new recreation center at Rock Chalk Park SportQuest. As we briefly reported, the idea didn't go over well with commissioners. They didn't formally reject it, but said they wanted another two weeks to look at other names. Commissioner Jeremy Farmer will work with staff members on that project. Farmer already has said he likes a name along the lines of the Ad Astra Center, so keep an eye open for that.

    But while commissioners didn't sign off on the name, they did agree to move forward on finding a corporate sponsor for the center. Commissioners approved a $17,500 contract with Premier Sports Management to seek out one major corporate sponsor for the center and two or three other smaller sponsors.

    Premier has said it will be talking with companies such as Hy-Vee, Dillons, Checkers, Dick's Sporting Goods, Jock's Nitch, health care companies and other such firms that have a natural tie into sports, health or wellness.

    Any type of sponsorship deal is expected to take several months to materialize. What I assume, but what wasn't really discussed on Tuesday, is that once a tentative deal is reached, the proposed corporate sponsor will be brought to the City Commission for final approval.

    In the meantime, those of us who have to put names of facilities into articles and headlines are ordering extra ink. We can't be caught off guard if the facility ends up being named Dick's Sporting Goods Ad Astra Center at Rock Chalk Park.

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  • Reply 1 comment from Renaissance

    Large fitness center coming to East Lawrence; update on Rock Chalk Park fitness center, trail system

    The Lawrence-based company that hosts Color Run events all over the country is opening a major new fitness center and health club in East Lawrence. But no, they won't be throwing paint on you while you work out. (While we're on that subject, could someone please tell my wife to put down the paintball gun while I'm on the treadmill.)

    Plans are in the works to convert the old Zimmerman Steel building at 701 E. 19th St. into a fitness center that will have Crossfit training, circuit training, cycling classes and a sports performance department that will include former KU football running back Jake Sharp and KU football athletic trainer Murphy Grant as head trainers for the facility.

    In total, the facility will have 9,000 square feet of indoor fitness center space, plus a 24,000-square-foot outdoor turf field that will host youth camps and other events. The site even will have room for a community garden, said Ryan Robinson, president of the Lawrence-based event and promotions company Silverback.

    The new gym will carry the Silverback name, and the building also will serve as the corporate headquarters for the approximately 20 full-time employees who work as part of the event-promotions company.

    "This just seemed like a natural fit for us," Robinson said. "Plus, the building is too neat not to do something really cool in here."

    If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is about a block west of the 19th and Haskell intersection. Silverback recently has filed a request with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department to have the property rezoned to commercial from its current light industrial status.

    Silverback has made a name for itself in the sporting and event industry by serving as one of the top contractors for the immensely popular Color Run events, which are fun runs where participants run through a course and have a colored starch solution sprayed on them at various stations. The runs have become immensely popular. Last year's 5K Color Run in downtown Lawrence attracted more than 3,000 participants, and it's one of the smaller Color Run events nationally.

    Robinson said his company produced 200 events across the world last year, with many of them being Color Run events, but also Ironman, marathons, obstacle course competitions, and another themed-race called The Electric Run. (Would somebody please tell my wife to put down the jumper cables.) In total, events hosted by Silverback attracted more than 1 million participants last year.

    "Business has been great," Robinson said. "We had a record year last year, and we are doing even better now."

    Silverback will continue with its event promotion business, but Robinson said the company was looking for a business venture that would allow the company to have a stronger presence in Lawrence. The company is going through the necessary approval process at City Hall, and hopes to have the fitness center open in September.

    In the meantime, unfortunately, I guess my wife and I will have to continue with our fitness routines: Me running on the treadmill and her lifting case after case of paintballs.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The city of Lawrence also is ready to make a big purchase when it comes to fitness. City commissioners at their meeting tonight are scheduled to approve $120,000 worth of cardio and fitness equipment for the new Rock Chalk Park recreation center, which is scheduled to open by September.

    City staff members are recommending going with the same brand and style of fitness equipment that is used at the student recreation center at Kansas University. In terms of quantity, the order will include: five treadmills, three recumbent bikes, three upright bikes, five elliptical trainers, one upper body cycle, one stair climber, 12 strength/weight machines, and a variety of dumbbells and free weights with benches and weight racks.

    • City commissioners also are scheduled to approve a master plan for the trail system at Rock Chalk Park. The plan calls for a little more than 5 miles of trails at the complex, which is just north and east of the Sixth Street and SLT interchange in west Lawrence.

    About 3.3 miles of the trails will be constructed in the wooded area north and west of the recreation center. The scenic trails will allow for 5K runs and walks to be hosted on the site. Plans call for the trail to be built with crushed asphalt. When hosting running events at the site, the city plans to have the start/finish line in front of the recreation center. Near the recreation center, a gathering area — complete with fire pit — will be built to host runners and spectators.

    In addition, about 2 miles of 10-foot-wide, concrete shared-use paths will be built on the property. Those paths will connect the recreation center to other facilities such as the track and field, softball and soccer venues on the site.

    Click here to see a detailed plan, or look below for a quick glimpse. The yellow trails would be the crushed asphalt trails through the natural areas of the site. The blue and purple trails would be the 10-foot-wide concrete shared-use paths. The red asterisk is about where the 8-foot-by-8-foot fire pit would be located.

    Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall.

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  • Courtesy: Paul Werner Architects/City of Lawrence

    Courtesy: Paul Werner Architects/City of Lawrence by Chad Lawhorn

    Reply 5 comments from Merrill Lawrence Morgan Clark Coan

    Colder water coming to city’s Outdoor Aquatic Center; bids for 23rd and Iowa street road project come in $1M over budget

    To wake up of a morning, some people drink a half-gallon of coffee, some eat copious amounts of Cap'n Crunch doused in Mountain Dew, and some of us cut out the middle man entirely and pour Karo syrup directly down our gullets. Then there are the crazy ones: They dive into the chilly waters of the competition pool at the Indoor Aquatic Center.

    That cold water, it appears, also will be found at the city's Outdoor Aquatic Center this summer. Kansas University has offered to purchase a $45,000 chiller for the downtown Outdoor Aquatics Center to cool the water to a temperature more appropriate for competition swimming.

    Parks and Recreation officials plan to use the chiller to cool the water to 82 degrees each morning, which will accommodate members of the KU swim team and other clubs who use the pool for lap swimming before it opens to the public in the afternoon. In case you are wondering, 82 degrees is the same temperature maintained at the competition pool at the Indoor Center.

    Jimmy Gibbs, recreation and aquatics manager for the department, said the chiller, however, only will run overnight. The water will heat up during the course of the day. But the bottom-line is, the water in the outdoor pool will be cooler than it has been in the past.

    Gibbs said he thinks the recreational swimmers who use the pool will be fine with the cooler water. Gibbs said sometimes the pool water reaches temperatures of 90 to 94 degrees. With the new system, he expects daytime temperatures will be in the mid-80s.

    "When it reaches 94 or 95, we have people come out and tell us that it is not very refreshing," Gibbs said.

    It will be interesting to see how quickly the pool heats up during the day, and what the average swimmer thinks about the temperature. I just know there are two things that have kept me from being a great Olympic swimmer: The cold water, and my eyebrows. (They create a wake like an 87-foot yacht.)

    As for the chiller, city commissioners are scheduled to approve the project at their Tuesday evening meeting. KU has agreed to pay for the cost of the project, although the city will pay for the energy to run the chiller.

    KU swimmers and other competitive teams have used the outdoor pool for morning swimming practices for many years, Gibbs said. The competition pool at the Indoor Aquatic Center is available for such practices, but Gibbs said outdoor swimming is very popular.

    "Many of the swim teams just absolutely enjoy swimming outside during the morning," Gibbs said. "There is really nothing quite like it."

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Motorists may have a need to cool off as they try to traverse the intersection of 23d and Iowa streets this summer. A major rebuilding of the intersection is on tap in the coming months. The waterline work you see there now is not the major project. (Think of that project like one of those giant cinnamon rolls. It is not breakfast. It is a warm-up for breakfast.)

    The rebuilding work is expected to create some traffic delays, but the project already has encountered some bad news before it has even gotten underway. Bids recently came in about $1 million higher than expected.

    The city received only two bids for the project. The low bid from Amino Brothers Company came in at $3.7 million. Engineers had estimated the cost of the project at $2.7 million. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are being asked to approve the project, and pull the extra money out of the city's infrastructure sales tax account.

    The number of bidders and the price may be a good indication that the construction industry in Lawrence has picked back up. For much of last year, city projects came in under bid as multiple construction firms were aggressively trying to get work. Or, the bids for 23rd and Iowa may just be a recognition that working in the busiest intersection in the city is going to be a real pain, so several companies decided to take a pass on this one.

    Either way, motorists should prepare for a series of obstacles this summer. The intersection will remain open to traffic, but many times will be funneled down to one lane. Plans call for work to begin in May and last until mid-November.

    When completed, the intersection will include dual left-turn lanes for all four corners of the intersection, reconfigured right-turn lanes for west, south and northbound traffic, pedestrian-friendly medians, and all new concrete pavement.

    • Construction projects on Iowa Street this summer will be a bit like biscuits and gravy on an all you-can-eat buffet: If you don't get enough, it will be your own fault.

    As we have previously reported, city engineers have plans to improve the intersection of Sixth and Iowa streets. Last year was supposed to be the year for the project, but some additional design work pushed it to this summer.

    Commissioners are scheduled to receive bids later this month, but they have set a tentative start date of May 19. I haven't seen an estimated end date yet, but the project likely will take most of the summer.

    When completed, the project will include two-thru lanes and a dedicated left-turn lane for westbound traffic turning off of Sixth Street onto Iowa. Currently, the intersection has just two lanes, and neither of them are a dedicated left-turn lane. Other improvements will include a new right-turn lane for motorists turning east off of Iowa onto Sixth Street, new sidewalks and an improved shared use path on the north side of the intersection.

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  • Reply 2 comments from Clark Coan Eric Moore

    Consultants recommending naming new Rock Chalk Park recreation center SportQuest; local Eagles lodge closed following investigation

    Get ready, Lawrence. You soon may be embarking on a quest. I'm almost certain it won't require a hobbit, three rings or even a donkey and windmills, for that matter. No, think a quest for a championship. Think a quest for success.

    Start thinking SportQuest. It soon may be the name of the city's new multimillion dollar recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.

    A consulting firm hired by the city is recommending the 181,000-square-foot, eight-gym center be named SportQuest at Rock Chalk Park. Or, at least that will be part of the name. Consultants also are recommending that the city seek to find a title sponsor for the center. In that case it could be something like: Hy-Vee SportQuest at Rock Chalk Park, or OrthoKansas SportQuest at Rock Chalk Park, or Dick's Sporting Goods SportQuest at Rock Chalk Park. None of those companies, of course, have agreed to that, but they were among several companies listed as prospects in a report prepared for city officials.

    The marketing firm — Premier Sports Management — is estimating a corporate sponsorship for the center could generate $95,000 to $125,000 a year for the center, minus the cost of signs and Premier's 20 percent commission. The company thinks there also is the potential to attract two or three presenting sponsors that would have signs in spaces such as the gyms, fitness area, turf field and other such spaces. Those sponsorships could fetch $40,000 to $75,000 per sponsor. In total, the city hopes to generate at least $225,000 a year in revenue, minus the commission.

    We've previously reported on the likelihood the city would pursue corporate naming of the center. But it still will be interesting to see how the public reacts. In a memo to commissioners, parks and recreation leaders note that some in the public may be opposed to the corporate nature of the idea, but staff members said without the revenue from sponsorships, they may have to consider the idea of "memberships and other general use charges."

    As for the name SportQuest, that is being recommended by the Lawrence-based marketing firm Miller Meiers. The company says it is important for the facility to have a name that distinguishes it from the facilities — such as the track and field, soccer and softball facilities — that will be used by Kansas University. The name also should give the center a "distinct persona from other facilities in the state and region."

    The Miller Meiers team is recommending SportQuest in part because the center is designed to serve as a sporting facility for youth tournaments but also as a wellness and fitness center for local residents. The idea is there may be teams on a quest for a championship, while there may be others users who are on a quest for health and wellness.

    The company considered some other names. They included: AdAstra, OneLawrence, Freedom, Kanza, Victory, SportsOmni, and SportsPlex.

    One that did not make the list, but that I had heard early one was The Rock at Rock Chalk Park. It was edgy, and I'm almost certain we could have gotten the actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to regularly serve as a weekend referee at the center.

    It will be interesting to see whether any name besides Rock Chalk Park ever truly sticks to this center. Rock Chalk Park has become such a strong name in the community already, I can already hear kids saying: "We're going to be playing at Rock Chalk this weekend."

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • There is mystery surrounding the local Eagles Lodge today. The club and banquet facility at 1803 W. Sixth Street is closed, and a notice on the door says the club's charter has been suspended by the national Fraternal Order of Eagles.

    The notice says a "thorough investigation" found at least a half-dozen violations of the by-laws of the organization, including violations of presidential duty, secretarial duty, treasurer duty and auditor duties.

    The club is frequently used for wedding receptions and other events. I'm not clear on how this suspension will impact people who have booked events at the facility. The notice stated an agent was being appointed for the location, and the agent would have broad powers to act immediately. So maybe the facility will reopen soon. I called the national headquarters, and an employee there was unaware of the suspension of the club's charter. I'm reaching out to local leaders of the club now, and will provide an update when I have one.

    UPDATE: I got in touch with Caleb Regan, who was the club president at the time the suspension of the club's charter occurred. He said the club is meeting with an agent from the national organization on April 18, and hopes to have the club reopened by April 19.

    Regan would only characterize the reason for the club's closure as "errors of an operational nature."

    "It is not a financial issue or a criminal issue," Regan said.

    He said the closure does mean that the club's regular Friday night bingo games are on hiatus until the club reopens. He said if the club is able to reopen by April 19, the closure will not impact any wedding receptions or other similar events booked for the club. A fundraiser for the Toys for Tots and Blue Santa programs is scheduled to go on as planned at 4:30 p.m. on April 19.

    "As long as we have certain things in place by then, we're hopeful that we'll be allowed to continue operating after that point," Regan said.

    Regan said a Lawrence flea market event scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday will be allowed to take place in the parking lot of the facility.

    The club has about 600 members and auxiliary members, Regan said. But the club is open to the public at various times, such as for bingo and a host of events. Prior to the shutdown, the club had been discussing a possible sale of its building, and moving to a smaller location.

    "It is prime real estate, and we really don't utilize all the space all the time," Regan said.

    He said he does expect the club to bounce back from its current troubles.

    "I am disappointed but we just have to do whatever we can to get the operations up and rolling again," Regan said. "We do a lot of good through charities in town, and it is important for us to be an institution in Lawrence."

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  • Reply 9 comments from Richard Andrade David Klamet Merrill Bob Forer Don Brennaman Lee_go_hawks Mark Rainey

    KDOT interested in expanding western leg of SLT to four lanes; update on Ninth and N.H. and possible downtown drug store

    It is like my wife always says: You have to strike while the iron is hot. (This is one of the reasons why I always hide when my wife has a hot iron in her hand.) However you interpret that saying, it appears the Kansas Department of Transportation is taking it to heart when it comes to the South Lawrence Trafficway.

    State officials are beginning the process to hire a consulting firm that will study the feasibility of expanding the western leg of the South Lawrence Traffiway to four lanes. A consultant could be hired this summer, and the study could be completed about 18 months later.

    The trafficway always has been planned to be a four-lane highway, but when the western leg of the trafficway was built in the 1990s, traffic demand only called for two lanes at the time.

    After a couple of decades of lawsuits and protests, the eastern leg of the trafficway is now under construction. When it is completed in 2016, it will be a four-lane freeway. So, for that reason alone, it makes sense that KDOT is interested in planning for four lanes on the western portion of the bypass.

    But it also makes sense for another reason: The South Lawrence Trafficway is on a roll. Ever since the project won a key federal ruling at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in July 2012, the project has had a lot of blue skies. The Legislature easily included the needed funding for the project in the state's transportation plan. Then bids for the $130 million project came in about $20 million lower than what engineers had estimated.

    Perhaps the most surprising development, though, is that within the last several weeks, roadwork has begun in the Wakarusa Wetlands, and environmentalists, American Indian groups and others haven't done anything to disrupt it. If you would have told me five years ago that there would be bulldozers in the wetlands and there wouldn't be a mass protest on the site, I wouldn't have believed you. But that hasn't materialized. (I am worried, however, that a group of KDOT engineers now wants to pummel me with slide rules for tempting fate.)

    As for the proposed study, the Metropolitan Planning Organization — a city-county board that oversees transportation planning — has been asked by KDOT to put the study on its list of future transportation projects. By putting the study on the list, it becomes eligible to receive state and federal funding. The MPO is scheduled to take action on the request at its April 17 meeting. In the meantime, the MPO is taking public comment on the request and the entire list of projects on its Transportation Improvement Plan through April 13. Click here for more details on how to submit comments.

    If placed on the plan, the state will fund the full cost of the study, KDOT officials have indicated. But Kim Qualls, a spokeswoman with KDOT, notes that there is no state money to actually fund the construction of the two additional lanes. Such funding likely would have to come from a future state comprehensive transportation plan. The current plan expires in 2020.

    This study, though, will get the process moving. Local leaders ought to be particularly interested in one part of the study: possible modifications to existing intersections. The western leg of the trafficway has two at-grade intersections: one at basically Kasold extended and the other near the YSI sports complex and Lawrence Rotary Arboretum. The one near YSI and the arboretum has been particularly dangerous. Last summer, a bicyclist trying to cross the freeway at the intersection was killed when struck by a motorist. Other serious accidents have occurred at the site as well.

    But whenever the idea of making an improvement to the intersection comes up at City Hall, cost issues seem to squash the discussion before it ever really gets started. An intersection improvement as part of a four-lane expansion likely would be largely funded by the state, and may represent the best hope for the intersection. Of course, it also will take a number of years for any such project to materialize.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Believe your eyes, not the calendar. That big wooden thing you ran into at Ninth and New Hampshire streets today was a barricade. The northbound lane of New Hampshire Street from Ninth Street to the Lawrence Arts Center is still closed.

    Back in January, city commissioners agreed to close the portion of New Hampshire Street until March 31 to accommodate work on the new multistory Marriott hotel at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire.

    Well, March 31 is several days in our rear view mirror, and the barricades are still up. City officials recently have received a request from the hotel development group, which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, to allow the barricades to remain up through Dec. 31 or the end of the project, whichever comes first.

    The request doesn't really get into any details about why the extra time is needed, although the project clearly has suffered some weather delays. The southbound lane of traffic would remain open, and the northbound lane could occasionally be opened to traffic to accommodate some events at the Arts Center.

    We'll see how commissioners react to the request. If the closure is still in place by September, it could affect bus traffic related to the city's downtown bus shuttle for Kansas University football games. The commission's agenda for Tuesday hasn't yet been released, but I've been told the issue will be on Tuesday's agenda.

    • The same development group also has plans for a new multistory apartment and office building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hamsphire streets. Work on that building is expected to begin later this year as work on the hotel project begins to wind down.

    But the building project that I've been most interested in hearing an update on is a proposal to build a seven-story apartment building that would have a drugstore on the ground floor. As we reported in October, Compton wants to build that project at 11th and Massachusetts — just north of the Douglas County Courthouse — on what is known as the Allen Press property.

    Back in October, Compton believed he was just a few weeks away from having a signed contract with a national drug store retailer. (He's never confirmed the company, but CVS and Walgreens are the two most frequently mentioned, and I would bet on CVS.) But those few weeks have come and gone, and an announcement still hasn't been made.

    I talked with Compton a couple of weeks ago, and he said he was still waiting to hear word from the company. What has caused the delay isn't quite clear, although national retailers can be a fickle bunch, and I'm sure CVS is monitoring how its two existing stores in Lawrence have been performing.

    If the idea of a national chain doesn't pan out for the location, it will be interesting to see what happens to the project. I've heard some credible talk that the idea of a locally run drug store at the site is feasible. The concept worked for a long time, with Round Corner Drug being the last to close in 2009. Since that time, downtown has added quite a few new living units that could use drug store services.

    The momentum to add more apartments in downtown continues to be strong. When I briefly talked to Compton, he seemed as committed as ever to building the project at 11th and Mass.

    Reply 9 comments from Merrill Curtis Lange Eddie Muñoz Ron Holzwarth Clark Coan Randall Uhrich Garth Atchison

    Work begins on complicated Kansas River waterline project; Pachamamas ends lunch service but adds new happy hour concept

    If you have driven through North Lawrence recently, you've probably noticed a bunch of heavy-duty boring equipment on the lot just north of Sonic. Perhaps you were like me and assumed it was gastrological equipment related to my upcoming summer season of Sonic hot dog eating. But no, this equipment is for a project even more impressive than what I can do to a couple dozen hot dogs in an hour.

    Construction crews have begun a project to bury a huge waterline underneath the Kansas River. The line will run from the Kaw Water Treatment Plant near Burcham Park on the south side of the river, under the river and into North Lawrence. The city hopes to have the project completed before the fourth quarter of the year, although flooding on the river could change that timetable a lot.

    The $5.6 million project is designed to provide a second source of drinking water to North Lawrence. Currently, the only water line that runs into North Lawrence is an old line that is connected to the bottom of one of the Kansas River bridges in downtown Lawrence.

    "We think it is a pretty important project," Dave Wagner, the city's director of utilities, told me. "We've had two leaks under the bridge over the last couple of years."

    It is an interesting project too. As someone who briefly made a living by burying things (you're crazy if you think I'm going to tell you what or where), the details of this project have been impressive.

    Construction crews will bore a hole 70 feet below the water level of the Kansas River. That's the depth engineers have determined there is a solid layer of sandstone that can be used to support the pipe.

    This is the type of project that you only want to do once, so city officials aren't being skimpy on the size of pipe that will run beneath the river. Plans call for the pipe to have an inside diameter of 36 inches. For comparison's sake, the pipe that runs under the Kansas River bridge is 16 inches. Engineers report this new pipe will be the largest single pipe in the city's water distribution system.

    Part of the reason for such a large pipe is that, eventually, the city plans to serve not only North Lawrence with the waterline but also parts of southeast Lawrence, including the new Lawrence Venture Park. Sometime between 2019 and 2025, the city plans to run another waterline underneath the Kansas River, except this one will be under the river near the eastern edge of the city. That line, which will be connected to the North Lawrence line under construction now, will help ensure the growing southeast portion of the city has plenty of water for the future. City officials are recommending the river approach because it will be less disruptive than running a large water line through a ton of existing neighborhoods between the Kaw Water Treatment Plant and southeast Lawrence.

    But back to the current project for a moment. A city official did recently ask an engineer an interesting question: What happens if there is a leak in the pipe under the river?

    The short answer: That wouldn't be good. Engineers said that is why they have spent a lot of time thinking about the right pipe to use for the project. The pipe is a special PVC pipe that is molecularly fused together, said Philip Ciesielski, assistant director of utilities for the city.

    Ciesielski said the city has a key goal with this project: "We'll pull this pipe through, and hopefully nobody will ever see it again."

    I know I've certainly said something similar about the 24th hot dog.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • I'll admit that hot dogs perhaps aren't the best choice day-in-and-day out. For finer dining, downtown lunch-goers have long turned to Pachamamas at 800 New Hampshire St. But Pachamamas for lunch is no longer an option. The restaurant ended its lunch service earlier this week.

    But fear not, Pachamamas is still very much alive and well, said owner and chef Ken Baker. Baker told me he simply wanted to focus on dinner, catering and an expanded happy hour concept. Baker said being one block off Massachusetts Street made lunchtime trade difficult at times.

    "It is something we may revisit in the future as more projects are built on New Hampshire Street and more more foot traffic is generated," Baker said.

    But for now, Baker hopes customers take to the idea of an early happy hour. Plans call for happy hour to take place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. In addition to drink specials, the kitchen will produce small plate specials such as lamb meatballs with a sheep's milk yogurt sauce, house-made pimento cheese, and grilled flatbread with mozzarella and parmesan.

    Dinner service will begin at 5 p.m and last until 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. In addition to the change in lunch, the other big change for the restaurant is that it now will be open on Mondays. Previously, it was closed on Mondays.

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    Cold winter has city builders off to slow start; Corpus Christi begins $2 million expansion

    Maybe their hammers were still thawing out from January, or maybe they were just too busy building a full-size, chocolate sculpture of Johnny Depp for Valentine's Day. (We all had to do that, right?) Whatever the reason, Lawrence home builders slowed down the pace a bit in February, according to the latest report from City Hall.

    Lawrence officials issued just five new permits for single family homes in February, which is the lowest February total in at least the past five years. The five-year average has been 10 new permits. For all of 2014, the city has issued 14 permits for single family and duplex construction, which is the lowest level since 2011.

    January and February aren't usually critical months for the the Lawrence construction industry. so these lagging numbers aren't any reason for concern yet. But it will be interesting to watch whether the city's home building industry can post its third straight year of increased single family home construction. In 2013, builders started 155 new single family homes. That was up from 123 in 2012 and from the low point of 2011, when only 95 new homes were started in the city.

    Other construction projects in the city also have gotten off to a slower start. City officials have issued permits for $9.6 million worth of projects. That's down from $22.7 million worth of projects started by this time last year. The biggest difference has been that apartment construction in the city has taken a pause. Last year at this time, the city had 286 apartment units under construction, which added more than $10 million to the construction totals. Thus far, no new apartment projects have been started in the city in 2014.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The largest construction project started thus far in 2014 is a major addition at the Corpus Christi Catholic School, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway. City officials have issued a permit for $2.3 million worth of construction work at the West Lawrence school and church.

    School principal Mary Mattern told me the project will include three additional classrooms, a multimedia library and technology area, a two-story music space and new offices for administration and teacher work areas. The space will be used both by the school and the church for religious classes and parish activities.

    The school serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, and enrollment has been growing. Mattern said the school has averaged an 8 percent enrollment growth each of the past five years. Enrollment now stands at a little more than 300 students.

    The construction project is expected to be completed by the beginning of the next school year.

    • While we're on the subject of building permits, the city has released information from its annual audit of its building inspections division. The new report found that building inspection fees aren't quite covering the full cost of the service the city provides. In other words, general taxpayers are subsidizing the building inspection division to a degree.

    The division's revenue for 2013 was about 4 percent less than its expenses, which checked in at about $890,000. So, general taxpayers covered about $36,000 of the department's expenses. Builders, through fees paid for permits and licenses, covered the other 96 percent of the expenses. City officials strive to have the program paid for through fees as much as possible. And the city's building community keeps a close eye on the division's finances to ensure that the fees they pay aren't exceeding the actual expenses. City officials said the 2013 totals show there is a rough balance between the two, and are not recommending any fee increases for the department in 2014.

    The report does note that there were 45 projects in the city — mainly affordable housing projects or government projects — that were not required to pay a fee. Those projects had $108,000 worth of fees waived.

    The report, however, did not note the amount of fees being waived by the city as part of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence. As part of the incentive package approved by the City Commission, the Lawrence-based private development firm Bliss Sports is getting a full rebate of all of its building permit fees.

    I checked with the city about that amount. Officials tell me the city either has or is in the process of rebating about $65,000 in building permit fees as part of the Rock Chalk Park project. Those $65,000 in fees, however, are counted as revenue in the annual report because technically the city is rebating the fees through the issuing of an "economic development grant," which is separate from the building inspection division's budget.

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    Home sales in city up by 7 percent for 2014; update on city bus hub; more numbers on Rock Chalk Park infrastructure

    I spent my weekend hosting an overnight birthday party for six 11-year old boys, so I know a thing or two about being in the market for more space (You know what they say: Two's company, three's a crowd, and six is an insane asylum.)

    According to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors, there were a few other space-hunters out there as well. Through February of 2014, home sales in the city are up a solid 7 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

    February isn't particularly a big month for home sales, but the next several months sure are. The spring season will go a long way in determining whether Lawrence's real estate market posts a third straight year of rising sales.

    It is a little too soon yet to predict whether that will be the case. While home sales are up for the year, the pace of growth does seem to be slowing some in recent months. For example, February's home sales were up just 4 percent compared with February 2013. That continues a slowdown trend that began about midyear 2013. During the first half of 2013, sales were up 29 percent over the same period a year earlier. In the second half of 2013, sales growth slowed to 6 percent. But all of this may be me just being unnecessarily jittery. (Funny how watching a golf cart loaded with six boys jumping through a ring of fire will do that to you.)

    Regardless, here's a look at some other statistics from the most recent report.

    — The number of active listings on the Lawrence market is down to 344, which is about 7 percent less than a year ago. That drop generally has been viewed as a positive sign that the market has heated up from where it was a few years ago. It is interesting to note that the number of newly constructed homes on the market is 45, which is up from 32 a year ago. That's a sign that builders have had more confidence in the market in recent months. Whether that confidence will be repaid is the big question for the spring season. In February, only one newly constructed home sold. That's down from six a year earlier.

    — The median sale price for homes in 2014 is $149,700, down 14 percent from a year ago. But I wouldn't pay much attention to those numbers just yet. The drop likely is due to the small sample size, not a reflection that housing values are going down . The numbers, though, are probably a good indication that smaller, less expensive houses are what's selling best right now.

    — The median number of days that a home sits on the market before selling is 84, which is almost unchanged from 86 a year ago.

    — The number of pending contracts at the end of February was 93, down from 143 at the end of February 2013. Pending contracts are a decent indicator of what to expect in the month ahead, so this may be the one number that creates some concern for the industry. The 93 contracts, however, are still a pretty healthy number, but just not the huge number that was posted a year ago.

    Bottom line: We'll just have to wait and see where all this lands. If nothing else, the golf cart has taught me that.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • If you are interested in the city's transit system, mark your calendars for April 21. The city has scheduled a meeting at 6 p.m. at Fire Station No. 5, 19th and Iowa streets, to further discuss the possibility of placing a new transit center along Iowa Street.

    As we reported in October, the city has an interest in vacant property near 21st and Iowa streets to use as a transit hub, which would serve as the main transfer point for bus routes in the city. The city has conducted a traffic analysis for the area, and wants to share the results of that study with neighborhood members and others at the April 21 meeting.

    City commissioners likely will be asked to make a decision on the site sometime in May. The site is on the northeast corner of 21st and Iowa streets. City officials also had been interested in a site near Ninth and Iowa streets, basically behind The Merc's building. But as we reported in October, KU officials haven't been wild about that site. KU — which also will use the hub for many of its bus routes — wanted a location closer to campus. The owners of the Ninth and Iowa property also must not be wild about the idea. City officials said they recently have not been successful in setting up any discussions with the owners of the Ninth and Iowa property.

    We reported a couple of weeks ago about how construction crews are racing to get a lot of street, parking lot and other infrastructure work done at Rock Chalk Park ahead of the Kansas Relays in mid-April.

    Well, the city has produced a new report on Rock Chalk Park work, and it gives a few more numbers on how the project is proceeding. Among the findings:

    — At the end of December 54 percent of all the infrastructure work at the complex was complete. That is about $6.6 million of the projected $12.2 million in infrastructure costs. As it currently stands, the city is projected to pay for about $10 million of that work. Bill Self's Assists Foundation is projected to pay for up $2 million of the work. Neither Kansas University, nor the private development group that will own the property, is currently projected to pay for any of the infrastructure work.

    — An update on how much infrastructure work was done at the end of February wasn't included in the report. But the report noted no infrastructure work was completed in January because of the weather.

    — In February, city inspectors noticed the site wasn't complying with regulations designed to keep construction dirt and other materials out of city storm sewers. Inspectors issued a notice of violation to the project, with instructions to add appropriate sediment barriers to the site within two weeks. City staff reports the corrections were made.

    — As previously reported, some cracks have shown up on the concrete parking lots and streets at the project. City staff members now have more precise numbers on that issue. After walking the entire project, about 3 percent of the panels in the parking lot have cracks and about 2 percent in the streets are cracked. The report notes that the developer will need to make repairs to the panels before the work is accepted by the city.

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  • Reply 1 comment from Bob Forer

    Douglas County’s population grows by more than 1,000 during past year; update on Lawrence Public Library project timeline

    Today is one of those days when I love statistics, and not just because all the math gives me an excuse to take off my shoes. Today, statistics help remind me that all is right in the world again. A pair of reports show that Lawrence and Kansas once again are faring better than the M&M's: Manhattan and Missouri.

    Report No. 1 is from the Census Bureau, and it shows that Douglas County had a decent year in terms of population growth in 2013. Douglas County added 1,279 people from July 2012 to July 2013. In terms of total number of people, that was the third-highest total out of the state's 105 counties. The Census Bureau estimates the county has a population of 114,322 people.

    The county's growth rate checked in at 1.1 percent, which was the 11th best growth rate in the state for 2013. Let's be clear: Historically, that is not a real good number for Douglas County. During the 1980s, Douglas County averaged 2 percent growth per year. During the 1990s, the average growth rate was 2.2 percent per year.

    But those were different times, and it is important to note that Douglas County's growth rate is still a heck of a lot better than the state's as a whole. The Census Bureau estimates the entire state added just 8,559 people during the 12-month period. That's a growth rate of 0.3 percent.

    As for Manhattan, well the numbers show that Riley County — which includes Manhattan — lost 636 people during the time period. That was the second largest population loss in the state. The largest, in case you are wondering, was Geary County, with a loss of 873 people.

    Geary County is right next to Riley County and is home to Fort Riley. It is probably safe to assume both Riley County's and Geary County's population changes were affected by changes at the fort. Both communities are used to population swings that are far greater than Douglas County experiences. So, I'll leave it to someone else to determine whether those numbers are really that concerning. I'm mainly just taking my shots at Manhattan while I can. After all, we are now closer to football season than we are to basketball season.

    Here's a look at the five counties that added the largest number of people over the past 12 months.

    — Johnson County: 7,097 people (1.3 percent growth rate)

    — Sedgwick County: 1,977 people (0.4 percent)

    — Douglas County: 1,279 people (1.1 percent)

    — Wyandotte County: 1,209 people (0.8 percent)

    — Leavenworth County: 475 people (0.6 percent)

    The way I'm reading this data: Of the urban counties in the state, Lawrence had the second fastest growth rate in the group. That's not bad. It is not what it used to be, but still not bad.

    In case you are wondering which county had the fastest growth rate in the state, well, get ready to invest all your money in the economic boom known as . . . Wallace County. It had a growth rate of 2.5 percent. It added 39 people.

    Report No. 2 focuses on Kansas and our neighboring states. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis recently released its report on 2013 per capita income for all the states. In other words, this is the report that shows how rich we are compared with other states (kind of, to use a highly technical economic phrase.)

    Kansas saw its personal income grow by 2.4 percent, which wasn't quite as good as the national average of 2.6 percent. So, we didn't exactly keep up with the Joneses in 2013.

    But surely you have figured out by now that the key to feeling good about yourself is to find somebody you are better than. In the Plains region, there was only one state that Kansas clearly outperformed: Missouri. The Show Me State checked in with a 2.3 percent growth rate. Kansas also had a higher growth rate than South Dakota, which checked in at 1.8 percent. South Dakota had the lowest growth rate among the seven states in the Plains Region, but more on why I decided to pick on Missouri in a moment.

    Kansas average per capita income was $43,916 in 2013, which is about 1 percent less than the national average. Kansas was one of only two states in the Plains region that had a per capita income that was below the national average. Missouri was the other. While Kansas was 1 percent below, Missouri was 10 percent below the national average. All joking aside, Missouri appears to have some issues to consider when it comes to income and wages.

    None of us, however, are North Dakota. These numbers confirmed to me that there are only two forms of recreation in North Dakota: growing things (money, it appears) and drilling either an oil or gas well in your front yard. Income growth in North Dakota was 7.6 percent, tops in the nation. And North Dakota now has the second highest per capita income in the nation. It is $57,084, or 28 percent above the national average.

    Anyway, my feet are getting cold, so I'm going to end my mathematical exercises by showing you how Kansas compared with the other states in the Plains region:

    — Iowa: $45,114 per capita income, up 3.2 percent

    — Kansas: $43,916 per capita income, up 2.4 percent

    — Minnesota: $47,856 per capita income, up 2.8 percent

    — Missouri: $39,897 per capita income, up 2.3 percent

    — Nebraska: $46,033 per capita income, up 3.0 percent

    — North Dakota: $57,084 per capita income, up 7.6 percent

    — South Dakota: $45,558 per capita income, up 1.8 percent

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • If you have driven by the construction site of the Lawrence Public Library expansion, you'll notice that building is starting to really take shape. The library is scheduled to move back into the space at Seventh and Vermont streets, this summer, but we never have gotten a real firm date from the city on when.

    Well, there are now some indications that it will be late summer. City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are set to approve an extension of the lease the city has to temporarily locate the library in the former Borders building at Seventh and New Hampshire streets.

    Originally, the city had planned for that lease to end May 31. But staff members now are recommending the library extend the lease through July 31 to give the library more time to make the move into the new facility.

    In case you are wondering how much it costs to rent a temporary library, the city pays $11,690 per month for the building.

    Reply 1 comment from Thomas Bryce

    Development group files plans to add more than 20 retailers, restaurants to south Iowa Street

    Plans have been filed at City Hall for a new south Lawrence retail development that would add more than 20 new stores and restaurants.

    An out-of-state development group has filed plans for the vacant property just south of the South Lawrence Trafficway and east of the dead-end bridge that spans Iowa Street. That's right, there are plans for the infamous Bridge to Nowhere to go somewhere.

    Back in October, we reported that a group of Oklahoma- and North Carolina-based developers had an option to purchase the property and were beginning to shop the area to potential retailers. The shopping has gone well because the group has filed plans for what would be one of the larger Lawrence retail developments in recent memory.

    A concept plan filed at City Hall shows spaces for 10 large retailers ranging in size from 74,000 square feet to about 10,000 square feet. In addition, the plans show 11 outlying lots that would ring the property and could accommodate restaurants or smaller retailers.

    "When we started marketing this, we got a very strong and positive response from national retailers," said Chris Challis, a broker working on the project with North Carolina-based Collett & Associates and Oklahoma-based Sooner Investments.

    Challis said he has commitments from about a half-dozen retailers who want to be at the site. He said he plans to release the names of those retailers soon.

    I have been checking around, but don't yet have a strong lead on who the retailers are. There certainly have been on-again-off-again rumors that Lowe's still wants to put a home improvement center in Lawrence. But based on the concept plan that is filed, the development doesn't appear to be targeting that type of retailer. It also doesn't appear to be targeting the super-big-box stores.

    I suppose that could all change. But at the moment, the concept plan indicates a development more similar to Pine Ridge Plaza, the south Lawrence shopping center that houses Kohl's, Bed Bath & Beyond, TJ Maxx and other retailers. But this proposed development would be a bit larger than Pine Ridge Plaza, which has about 240,000 square feet of retail space. This development could approach 400,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space.

    The concept plan calls for a 74,000-square-foot anchor tenant - about the size of the Kohl's store in Lawrence. The plan also has space for 56,000- and 51,000-square-foot stores. Other larger spaces include 30,000-, 25,000- and 17,000-square-foot retail buildings. For comparison purposes, TJ Maxx and Bed Bath & Beyond are both in that 25,000 square foot range.

    Again, I don't have any strong leads on who the future tenants may be, but I took a look at who this development group has attracted at other locations, primarily in Oklahoma. They've worked with a large number of retailers, including many we already have in town. But among those we don't have are: Ulta Beauty; PetSmart; Hibbett Sports; Academy Sports; The Children's Place; Catherines; Lane Bryant; and a whole host of restaurants.

    Challis said the development group will work hard to bring in new types of retailers to Lawrence, specifically those that have been drawing Lawrence shoppers to Johnson or Shawnee counties.

    "What we do best is create regional drawing-power shopping centers," Challis said.

    Challis, though, said the development group understands that in Lawrence it will require a balancing act to make sure a new development doesn't harm the health of downtown.

    "We understand that everyone wants to preserve the great Main Street that Massachusetts Street is," Challis said.

    That will be a key point in the months ahead. Although plans have been filed, this project is a long way from a done deal. For starters, only an annexation request and rezoning request have been filed. More specific development plans will have to be filed before the project can win final approval. As for what has been filed, the rezoning requests total about 166 acres. About 122 acres would be used for the commercial development. The remaining 46 acres would be zoned as open space, recognizing the large amount of Wakarusa River floodplain that covers the site. Some of the proposed commercial area is located in the floodplain, and would have to meet special development code standards.

    But an even larger question for the project will be political. The size of the project is sure to cause some community members to question whether the city's retail market is healthy enough to handle such a major expansion. Challis said his group will note that many retailers are eager to get into the Lawrence market because they see the amount of shopping that Lawrence residents do in Johnson and Shawnee counties.

    The City Commission ultimately will decide whether to grant the necessary land use approvals. Commissioners did recently approve a major expansion of the South Iowa Street retail corridor when it approved a plan by Menards to redevelop the former Gaslight Mobile Home Park near 31st and Iowa Streets. In the past, though, city commissioners have tried to direct large retailers to commercially-zoned property in the northwest part of the city, near the Rock Chalk Park sports complex that is under construction. People in the marketplace, however, tell me that idea hasn't gained much momentum with retailers.

    This land just south of the trafficway shows up in the city's long-range plan as a site for auto dealerships and apartments. Challis' group has filed documents to modify that plan, saying such a designation doesn't appear feasible in today's marketplace. Many of the community's current auto dealers have recently re-invested in their current locations, Challis notes, and the need for new apartment developments has been debated. He also notes the project is a natural site for a major retail development because it is at the intersection of two major highways — U.S. 59 and the South Lawrence Trafficway, which is scheduled to be completed in 2016.

    We'll see how quickly this project moves through the planning process. We're about one year away from having a new Lawrence City Commission. (Elections are set for April 2015.) This type of project could become a campaign issue, if it lingers that long. In fact, it is worth noting that this very piece of property once dominated city politics. This site was proposed to house a traditional suburban mall — dubbed the "Cornfield Mall" — in the 1980s. That proposal created major battlelines in the city. This proposal is different, and the community has changed considerably since then. But I am curious to see the reaction.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • I had someone question why the city was removing the heads of several parking meters on the east side of the 900 block of Massachusetts Street. Well, don't get your hopes up about free parking on Massachusetts Street. (There seems to be a stack of yellow envelopes in my wife's car that indicate there has been some confusion over the price of parking in downtown.)

    Instead, the city is completing a project to replace about 60 light poles downtown. Several of those new light poles also double as locations to mount parking meters. So crews have been removing some meter heads as part of that project, but they will return on the new light poles. In fact, I think they're already back in place.

    The light pole project cost about $125,000. Megan Gilliland, the city's communications manager, said many of the poles dated back to the 1970s and had become badly worn.

    The site of the proposed retail development for southern Lawrence. The South Lawrence Trafficway is immediately north of the site. U.S. Highway 59 is immediately west of the site. A new city street that will be called Michigan Street will be just east of the site. Michigan Street is being built as part of the SLT project.

    The site of the proposed retail development for southern Lawrence. The South Lawrence Trafficway is immediately north of the site. U.S. Highway 59 is immediately west of the site. A new city street that will be called Michigan Street will be just east of the site. Michigan Street is being built as part of the SLT project. by Chad Lawhorn

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    West Lawrence fun center plans on hold again as neighbors speak out; the big question looming for city’s rental licensing program

    Mini-golf, mini-bowling, many concerns, it appears. As we've reported multiple times, plans have been filed for a "family fun center" on vacant ground near the southeast corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive in west Lawrence.

    When we last reported on the project in February, it was scheduled to receive a key vote at the Lawrence-Doulgas County Planning Commission that evening. It didn't. Instead, it got deferred until March's meeting, which took place Monday. But again, no vote for the fun center. The issue was deferred before the meeting ever began.

    I've got a message into the architect for the project to find out if the development group still plans to pursue the project. I haven't received any word back on that. (I also don't have a clear understanding of who the development group is behind the project.)

    What is clear is that an organized opposition effort to the fun center is underway. Raintree Montessori School is among the leaders of that effort. In its newsletter to parents this month, Raintree takes a strong stand against the project

    "We feel relocation to another property more suited for recreation would be the only acceptable compromise," it writes in the newsletter.

    The fun center is proposed to have a variety of activities. They include:

    — A two-story club house that would have private party rooms, arcade and snack areas on the ground floor. The second floor would include a bar that serves 3.2 beer and has a NASCAR driving experience arcade and miniature bowling.

    — Outside, an 18-hole miniature golf course, six batting cages, a patio area and a children's "tot-lot" play area also are planned.

    — A future second phase of the development proposes a 33,000 square-foot, outdoor go-kart track. The carts are proposed to be electric and produce little noise, according to information submitted by the developers.

    A prevailing theme in the opposition to the fun center is that those type of uses aren't appropriate for an area that has so many schools nearby. Bishop Seabury, Raintree, Sunflower elementary, and Southwest middle school are all within walking distance of the site.

    Raintree leaders mentioned that proximity as being a problem, and so too did an earlier letter from the Wimbledon Terrace Townhomes Association. It expressed concern about "hundreds of little children who might be intimidated by the large numbers of teenagers and young adults who would frequent the project."

    I'm not sure how such intimidation exactly would play out, but it is worth noting that the city's planning staff is recommending approval of the project, in part, because it is a walkable destination for a variety of people. Creating walkable destinations has been a real catch phrase at City Hall in recent years. (No one has ever accused City Hall of having extraordinary catch phrases.)

    There are other reasons, though, that neighbors have objected. In addition to the fun center, the development in recent weeks has added a request for two lots that could house drive-thru businesses, such as a fast-food establishment. The architect, Lawrence-based Paul Werner, has told me that he doesn't envision a traditional fast-food restaurant at the location. Instead, he thinks some type of coffee shop with a drive-thru would be more likely. But it sounds like several neighbors haven't liked the addition of drive-thrus.

    "The roundabout on Inverness can barely handle the traffic now, but adding this type of use to the neighborhood will increase traffic exponentially," Raintree writes in its letter. "The availability of alcohol late at night in a high traffic area has the potential for causing serious problems, and the noise and lights from the center will disturb the sleep of countless residents nearby, not to mention the increased incidents of vandalism."

    Raintree is sponsoring a petition drive against the project.

    I suspect we'll find out in the coming days whether this project has any legs left to it. If it doesn't, it will be interesting to see what comes next for this area. It is a highly visible piece of vacant property on a major city street. It basically is surrounded by apartments. Neighbors already have strongly voiced their opposition to future apartment development.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • There were times during the nearly four hours of discussion at City Hall last night about the rental registration program that I thought we perhaps were going to settle the issue with a game of mini-bowling or a putt-putt contest. (Or perhaps that was just wishful thinking on my part.)

    But, instead, it was a night of back and forth between opponents and supporters of the program. As we reported, the program was approved on a 3-2 vote.

    I left the meeting, though, with one big question about the program: Will it survive the next election?

    One of the changes to the program last night was its start date. A divided commission pushed the start date back by six months to give the city more time to prepare for the program, although staff wasn't asking for more time to prepare for the program.

    The new start date means the first inspections of multifamily rental units won't begin until July 2015. That means no inspections will have taken place prior to the next City Commission elections, which are in April 2015. (Unless state law changes on municipal elections.)

    Politically, I'm not sure what the ramifications of that change will be. Originally, the program would have had four months of inspections under its belt before voters went to the polls in April. I think some city officials were hopeful those four months of inspections would have shown that the program will not be nearly as burdensome as many landlords believe. Now, there won't be any such chance to prove that before the elections.

    Of course, you could also argue that if the city did inspections and they went poorly in those first four months, that may have been bad politically. I asked Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, who pushed for the delayed start date, whether he was concerned that a new commission could take office and end the program before it every really got started. (Registrations, but not inspections, will begin in January.) He said he wasn't. His belief is the timing won't affect the politics of this. He may be right.

    But it is worth noting that two of the three commissioners who supported the rental inspection program have terms that are expiring in 2015: Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm. Mayor Mike Dever, who voted against the program, is the other commissioner who has a term expiring in 2015.

    I don't know what will happen, but I think it will be very interesting to watch whether a slate of candidates committed to repealing the rental inspection program emerges by early 2015. As some of you may remember, Manhattan had a program for two years, but then a new slate of commissioners came into office and repealed it.

    The plan commissioners approved on Tuesday was meant to be a compromise aimed at making landlords more comfortable with the program. It is questionable whether it accomplished that. Landlords came out in large numbers to oppose the plan, and some of them appeared to be well-funded. I counted at least four attorneys who rose to speak against the proposals.

    That leaves me with just one more question: Are we absolutely sure mini-bowling can't solve this?

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    Plans for rent-controlled housing near 23rd and O’Connell on the ropes; city concerned about historically low water levels at Clinton Lake

    There is a fair amount of uncertainty hanging around Lawrence these days. When will spring finally arrive in earnest? Will Joel Embid stay or go? Was it a mistake to take out a sizable home equity loan with the assumption that I was going to win Warren Buffett's billion dollar bracket?

    The answers to those questions are not clear, but it is becoming clearer that financial uncertainty is becoming a problem for a proposed low-income housing project near 23rd and O'Connell.

    As we previously have reported, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority has a strong interest in partnering with a local development group to build rent-controlled housing near the northwest corner of 23rd and O'Connell Road.

    But Housing Authority board members met on Monday, and it appears the group is no closer to figuring out a way to fully finance the project, which would be geared toward providing housing for low-to-moderate income working families.

    "I don't really see us getting anything done in 2014," Shannon Oury, the executive director of the Housing Authority, told me. "Maybe we would figure out financing in 2014, but we probably wouldn't start building until 2015."

    As we previously reported, an unexpected rise in interest rates has left the housing authority with a financing gap. Oury said the Housing Authority and its partner — a development group led by Lawrence businessman Bill Newsome — have redesigned the project. It now has 72 units, down from 128. That has cut the size of the project to about $8.8 million, down from about $15 million previously. But Oury said the project still has a gap of about $1.5 million that needs to be financed.

    Figuring out how to fill that gap is where the project stands. And, as Oury notes, experts aren't predicting interest rates to go down any time soon.

    "It is going to be tough," Oury said of finding a solution. "Nobody really expected the rates for tax credit projects to move, but they did, and that has created quite a bit of uncertainty."

    But Oury said the group will continue to look for solutions, and that the project is not yet dead.

    So, it is just like my billon-dollar bracket. BYU is still a Final Four contender, right?

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Well, I've recently been informed that my strategy of picking BYU because it sounds somewhat similar to BYOB, was not a good one. I also was informed that I may soon be living in a green van next to Clinton Lake.

    At the moment, though, it will be a Clinton Lake that is a bit starved for water. City commissioners at their meeting tonight will be asked to take an action related to Clinton Lake's low water levels.

    Commissioners are being asked to send a letter to leaders with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking them to alter their normal plans for releasing water from Clinton Lake this spring and summer. The Corps' policy is that from April through September, the Corps will release water into the Wakarusa River at a minimum rate of 21 cubic feet per second. That minimum release is done "for the benefit of downstream fish, wildlife and aesthetics."

    But city commissioners are asking the Corps to adopt a temporary policy that would allow for a minimum release of 7 cubic feet per second. The Kansas Water Office also has made that request of the Corps.

    The reason the city and the Water Office is seeking a change is because Clinton Lake levels are at a historic low. Clinton Lake is about 4.5 feet below its normal elevation, which may not sound like a lot, but it actually is the lowest level the lake has been since it was filled in 1981.

    The city has a strong interest in maintaining healthy supplies of water at Clinton because the city receives about 60 percent of its supply of treated water from Clinton. (That number also includes the water the city treats for Baldwin City and a host of rural water districts.) The city is not pushing any alarm buttons about running out of water. The city has legal rights to keep pulling water out of Clinton Lake until it reaches about 23.5 feet below its normal pool, according to a city memo. The city also has significant water rights, and a water plant, on the Kansas River. So, Lawrence is in a better situation water-wise than many communities.

    But pulling water from a depleted lake can create treatment problems, and there are a ton of recreational users of the lake who don't want to see water levels fall any more than they have to. My understanding is that at current levels, boat ramps, docks and other features for boaters haven't been affected greatly by the low water supply. But that will change if the lake doesn't start rising soon. The heat of summer will increase evaporation.

    I'm sure, though, that decreasing the flow of water out of Clinton could have some significant impact on the ecosystems along the Wakarusa River. We'll have to see how the Corps balances those interests. No word yet on when the Corps may make a decision about future water releases.

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    Construction crews racing to get Rock Chalk Park finished for KU Relays; trash day to change for many Lawrence households

    Maybe you are like me on this sad morning: sleep-deprived and desperately looking for something to take your mind off that Jayhawk basketball game. No, the loss didn't keep me up, but that freaky looking Stanford Tree on the sideline sure did. (Stanford's earth science professors must be very proud.)

    I've always found quickly switching gears to another sport helps ease March Madness heartbreak. (Easing heartbreak and the Kansas City Royals have always gone hand in hand.) But perhaps track and field is just the sport this year. After all, KU has a National Championship program.

    It also has a race of a different type on its hands this year. Construction crews are racing to complete a long list of items to make the new Rock Chalk Park track and field stadium ready to host the Kansas Relays in mid-April.

    As we previously reported, the university will be seeking a temporary occupancy permit that will allow the Kansas Relays to be held at Rock Chalk Park from April 16 to 19. City officials recently have provided a substantial list of improvements that need to be made to infrastructure at the site in order for the city to issue the temporary occupancy permit.

    The list includes some concrete work that has been done but apparently hasn't held up well since its recent construction. Crews are being instructed by the city to replace 13 panels of concrete on Rock Chalk Drive that have significant cracking. The city is requiring removal of the concrete, re-installation of dowel bars, and pouring of new concrete as a condition of approval for the temporary occupancy permit.

    If you remember, we previously reported that an inspector at the site noticed in November that crews incorrectly had prepared an area for a concrete pour. When notified of the incorrect methods, construction crews went ahead with the pour anyway. City staff members have said that joint needs to be repaired, and they have listed that area as needing replacement before the the temporary permit will be issued.

    City officials previously have said they are pleased with the overall quality of the concrete work and other work being conducted by Bliss Sports, the Lawrence-based firm that was awarded the no-bid contract to build the infrastructure at the site. It also should be noted that there are hundreds, if not more than a thousand, panels of concrete that have been poured at the Rock Chalk site, so I will leave it to people more experienced than I to figure out whether the current cracking problems are anything unusual.

    In addition to replacing some concrete, there are several other items that need to be addressed before the Relays can be held at the new facility, which is expected to be one of the top track and field venues in the country. Here's a look at the other items city officials are requiring for the permit:

    — Completion of at least five different street intersections at or near the site;

    — Sealing of all joints along Rock Chalk Drive and George Williams Way;

    — Completion of public sidewalks leading to the stadium;

    — Completion of curbs and gutters for streets and parking lots that will be used for the relays;

    — Installation of traffic signs.

    With a little bit of help from Mother Nature, I expect construction crews will figure out how to get all that done. But one issue that wasn't addressed in the city memo I saw is the issue of lighting at the site. City officials have conceded that they erred by allowing work to begin at the site prior to city commissioners approving a lighting plan for the project. A neighbor to the site, Jack Graham, has expressed concern about the current lighting situation, and the last we reported was that city officials were still reviewing information on the lighting. City commissioners haven't yet approved a lighting plan for the site.

    I'm not sure how much of the Kansas Relays is planned to be held under lights. I'll do some checking around, though, to determine whether the lighting issue is something that will have to be addressed prior to the Relays receiving a city permit. City commissioners are scheduled to receive a briefing on the issue at their Tuesday evening meeting.

    In the meantime, I'll also try to get that Stanford Tree out of my head once and for all. I'm not sure track and field is going to do it, but I have figured out what will: golf. Give me a driver and a golf ball, and I can guarantee that tree will get what's coming to it.

    In other news and notes around town:

    • Here's a bold prediction: A few Lawrence garages may stink for the first couple of weeks in May. That's because a few people may forget to set out the trash on the right day in early May as the city implements a major change in its trash route system.

    The city on May 6 plans to implement a new route system that will change when trash is picked up for about half the households in the city. The change is part of the city's preparations to implement a curbside recycling program in October.

    There is no easy way for me to describe the changes, so I'll point you to the map below. It shows which days of the week neighborhoods will be served.

    A map of the proposed trash routes for the city. The new routes are scheduled to begin on May 6. Photo: City of Lawrence

    A map of the proposed trash routes for the city. The new routes are scheduled to begin on May 6. Photo: City of Lawrence by Chad Lawhorn

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    Downtown Italian restaurant closes; city looks to put “rolling mural” on city transit bus

    If your March Madness party included plans of Meatball Madness or Marinara Madness or, heck, even 15 pounds of Lasagna Madness (alliteration is overrated), you now have one less option in Lawrence. Intorno, the downtown Italian restaurant at Eighth and Massachusetts streets, has closed.

    Already, the rumor mill is churning about a Kansas City restaurant company coming in with a new eatery in the space. If you remember, a few weeks ago I briefly mentioned in a column that there was speculation Coal Vines pizza and wine bar was coming to downtown Lawrence.

    Coal Vines has a location on the Country Club Plaza, and features some upscale pizza, wine and cocktails. Well, the second part of the rumor I had heard back in February, but didn't report, was that Intorno was closing and Coal Vines was going to take its spot. Half of that rumor has come to be, so it will be interesting to see if the other half does as well.

    I called down to Coal Vines' Plaza location in recent days. An employee there told me he indeed believes a downtown Lawrence venture is in the future for the company, but he said the restaurant may not operate under the Coal Vines name. So, maybe it will be a pizza place, or maybe it won't. He also didn't give any details on a specific location. He referred me to an owner of the company, but thus far I haven't had luck in making contact.

    It appears the ownership group does other things than Coal Vines. The Kansas City Star recently reported that Zach Marten and Bret Springs, owners of Coal Vines on the Plaza, recently opened Westport Ale House in the popular Westport district of Kansas City.

    But again, all of this is just speculation, so take it for whatever you think it is worth. The folks at Intorno did seem to believe another restaurant was slated for the spot, but they didn't have details.

    As for Intorno, chef and owner Jim Vaughn said the restaurant — which was in the spot that formerly housed Esquina and before that was the longtime home of Round Corner Drug — just never could produce the needed volume of business during its run of a little more than a year.

    "We just couldn't fill the seats, and the overhead was just too high," said Vaughn, who previously was part of the successful Charlie Gitto's Italian restaurant in The Hill district of St. Louis. "It is really stiff competition on Mass. Street. It seems like the staples are busy, and the other guys get to try."

    It has been a bad couple of months for Italian restaurants in Lawrence. As I briefly mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Bambinos Italian restaurant in West Lawrence also has closed.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Downtown murals have been in the news lately, but here's a new twist to the idea: A rolling mural. It looks like the city of Lawrence is going to introduce the concept to us. City commissioners are being asked to approve a partnership with Van Go to paint a mural depicting Lawrence's history on a 20-foot transit bus.

    The idea is that Van Go, which is a nonprofit agency that uses art to work with youth, would design and paint an extensive mural that would then be placed on the bus via a vinyl wrap.

    I don't have a picture of the proposed mural, but according to information from the city, it sounds multifaceted. The hood of the bus would include several images important to American Indians who populated the area, including a white buffalo, sunflowers and other vegetation. The back of the bus would have an image of John Brown emerging from storm clouds. (That may get your attention while texting and driving.)

    The passenger side of the bus will include images of Quantrill's Raid, and an image of a river evoking the idea of a broken heart. The passenger's side of the bus would have wagon trains, the railroad, the underground railroad, a steamboat, and a path that leads to a hill and familiar KU buildings.

    Van Go has received some grant money to help create the mural, according to a city memo. The city is proposing to spend about $4,000 to have the vinyl wrap produced and applied to the bus.

    I haven't heard a timeline for the project, but I'll keep an eye out for it. Really, I will. I don't want to be surprised by John Brown at a stop light.

    Reply 3 comments from Merrill Beerguy Rusty Thomas Clark Coan

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