Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Lawrence home sales surge in May; new report shows local rental rates on dramatic rise; local incomes still lagging
Maybe it is time to sell the house, and I’m not just saying that because I perhaps didn’t keep up on the dish washing quite as well as I had planned while my wife was away this week. No, the real reason is because new Lawrence home sale numbers are out, and there are lots of indications the market has become a strong one for sellers.
Lawrence home sales in May surged by 25 percent compared with May 2014. For the year-to-date, home sales in Lawrence are up 20 percent from the same time period a year ago. But a particularly telling statistic is the number of homes that are on the market. At the end of May, there were 349 homes on the market. That’s down nearly 100 homes from May 2014. That’s a trend Realtors are hoping to see reversed.
“We still need more homes available for buyers to balance our market,” said Crystal Swearingen, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
The smaller inventory of homes for sale has the potential to cool the Lawrence housing market. At the end of May, Realtors had 133 contracts written for new home sales. That number was down more than 7 percent from the same period a year ago. That decrease in inventory is a major reason that contract numbers are down, Swearingen said.
Here’s a look at other numbers from the Lawrence Board of Realtors’ monthly report:
• Home sales through May totaled 462 units, up from 383 in 2014 and 409 in 2013.
• Sales of newly constructed homes continue to struggle. Through May, 22 sales have been recorded. That’s down from 26 during the same time period a year ago, and down from 44 during the same time period in 2013.
• The median selling price of homes is $162,500, which is pretty close to the $159,000 of a year ago. But selling prices are still a bit below 2013 averages. In 2013, the median was around $169,000.
• The median number of days a house sits on the market is down to 36. (That’s not even enough time to get all the dishes washed.) That’s down from 40 in 2014 and 57 in 2013.
• Thus far this year, real estate agents have sold $90.7 million worth of homes in Lawrence. That’s up from $73.9 during the same time period a year ago, which is an increase of more than 22 percent. So, it has been a good year for real estate agents thus far.
On that note, I should tell my real estate agent friends not to hit me up. I’m not going to sell my house. Instead, I’ve loaded the dishes in the F150, and I’m heading to the car wash.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Buy stock in Ramen noodles. (And, trust me, wash the dish when you're done.) If this new report is accurate, some renters in Lawrence may need to make the cheapo food source a bigger part of their diets.
The real estate website Zillow has released its May real estate report, and it says median rent prices in Lawrence have increase by 13.4 percent over the last year. One caveat: Zillow only seeks to calculate the average rent rates for homes that are rented, not apartment units. But still, a 13.4 percent increase in rents is significant. I took a look at some other communities, and Lawrence is far outpacing most. Zillow is a little hit or miss in the communities it monitors, so I’m using a little bit different list than I normally would. But I’ve tried to find some college communities for comparison sake. Here’s a look:
— Kansas City: up 10.2 percent
— Topeka: up 2.4 percent
— Columbia, Mo.: up 1.2 percent
— Iowa City, Iowa: up 0.9 percent
— Bloomington, Ind.: up 2.2 percent
— Fayetteville, Ark.: up 7.1 percent
— Fort Collins, Colo.: up 10.8 percent.
In case you are wondering, Zillow says the median rental rate for a home — not an apartment — is $1,324 per month.
• Yesterday I reported about how the state got a decent piece of news when it came to the amount of money its residents are earning. Well, I’ve now had a chance to go through the numbers for Lawrence, and they weren’t quite as positive.
The latest report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis found that Lawrence’s per capita personal income in 2013 was just $36,187. That’s an inflation-adjusted number. It also is a 2013 number because it apparently takes the federal number crunchers awhile to come up with this statistic. But, it's what we have.
What it shows is that Lawrence’s per capita personal income — that’s everything from wages to rental income to Social Security checks — continues to be well below lots of other places. As I’ve said several times before, this is not just because Lawrence is a college town. It is a factor, I’m sure, but other college communities have overcome it. Here’s a look at some regional communities:
— Columbia, Mo.: $41,366
— Kansas City: $45,450
— Manhattan: $42,884
— Topeka: $42,460
— Wichita: $43,064
— Kansas: $45,619
We’re all taking a big discount to live in Lawrence. But our income levels did grow in 2013. Unfortunately, they grew at only about half the rate that incomes grew statewide. Lawrence’s per capita income figures grew by 0.4 percent for the year, while the state as a whole grew by 0.8 percent
Here’s a look at how we stacked up compared with other communities in the region:
— Columbia: up 0.3 percent
— Kansas City: no change
— Manhattan: down 1.4 percent
— Topeka: up 0.8 percent
— Wichita: up 0.2 percent
New sushi along 23rd Street, new Chinese along Iowa Street; rumors of KC restaurant chain coming to town; figures show positive Kansas income growth
There are new adventures to be had in Lawrence with chopsticks, and this time I’m almost sure it won’t require a trip to the ear, nose and throat doctor. In other words, there’s news about some new Japanese and Chinese restaurants in the city.
Yeah Sushi has opened in the Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana streets. Yuyuan Jiang is the owner of the restaurant, and he told me he’s been a sushi chef for the past eight years in places such as California, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and New York.
“My sushi style is coming from many different states,” he said.
In fact, Yeah’s menu includes a sushi roll for almost every state. (In fact, it would be dead on, if geographers would quit insisting that we recognize Missouri.) By my count, the menu has 49 different sushi rolls. There are plenty of traditional ones such as the spicy tuna roll, the Philadelphia roll, the Yellowtail scallion roll, the California roll and the rainbow roll.
But there are also some with more local flair. There’s a KU roll, which has salmon, crab meat and avocado, and there is a Lawrence roll, which has crab meat, shrimp, cucumber, tempura flakes and eel sauce. (That sounds about right. Every time I’ve ever met an eel here, he’s been sauced.)
The restaurant also has about a dozen salads — ranging from a house salad to more creative ones like a salmon skin salad or a seaweed salad. There are lots of other things on the menu that I’m probably not the best at explaining. (After all, I was worried about Rudolph when I saw a Christmas roll on the menu.) But my understanding is my colleague Joanna Hlavecek is writing a little something about the restaurant, so keep an eye out for that at Lawrence.com.
I have two other quick updates from the land of Far East cuisine. There’s a new Chinese restaurant called Xi’an Kitchen in the location that used to house the Asian restaurant 8 Flavors. That’s near the intersection of 23rd and Iowa, behind the building that houses the West Coast Saloon. I haven’t yet chatted with the owners of that establishment, but we’ll reach out to them.
And one more note, and this one comes from Lawrence’s Far East, which is 23rd and Harper. The Jin Shan Buffet that is located at the shopping center at the northeast corner of the intersection is closed. But a sign on the restaurant says it will reopen. According to the sign, there was a fire in the kitchen of Jin Shan several weeks ago. The sign wasn’t clear on when the restaurant will reopen, but there was a large Dumpster from a local fire restoration company on site. I’ll let you know if I hear more.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It would take a big pair of chopsticks to tackle a moose, but I’m hearing rumblings that the popular KC-based restaurant Blue Moose Bar and Grill is seriously considering a Lawrence location.
I’ve reached out to the company, but haven’t yet heard back. So this falls into the category of unconfirmed, and you can take it for whatever you think it is worth. But there is definitely talk on the street that the Blue Moose Bar & Grill is working on a deal for a northwest Lawrence location. I’ve heard that the site next to Spin Neapolitan Pizza, which is locating next to the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa is a potential site, but again I don’t have confirmation from the company on that.
For those of you not familiar with the Blue Moose, it is not your typical bar and grill food. There are certainly some hamburgers and buffalo chicken and that sort of stuff, but there’s also salmon, pastas, flat bread pizzas, gourmet mac and cheese and other such items. My understanding is the locations also serve brunch.
The restaurant has locations in Prairie Village, Overland Park, Topeka and Lenexa.
Again, I wouldn’t pull the moose antlers out of the closet just yet, but it is a restaurant to keep an eye on. I’ll let you know if I hear more.
• There’s some economic news out that is not bad for the state of Kansas. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has a new report out that says personal income in the state grew faster than it did many other parts of the country, and, to boot, Kansas is a quite a bit cheaper place to live.
The numbers are for 2013, but those are the latest numbers available, so we’ll take what we can get. The federal number crunchers found that personal income — that’s things like wages, rental income, Social Security payments and a host of other things — rose by 1.1 percent in Kansas, after adjusted for inflation. That’s better than the 0.8 percent rise for the U.S. as a whole.
What’s more, Kansas did better than many of the other states in the region in 2013. (Note: This is the growth rate for total Kansas personal income, not per capita personal capita income.) Here’s a look:
— Colorado: up 1.0 percent
— Iowa: up 0.6 percent
— Missouri: up 0.5 percent
— Nebraska: up 2.2 percent
— Oklahoma: up 0.7 percent.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis also does a neat thing where it tries to show how far a dollar goes in each state. It uses an index that is similar to the popular Consumer Price Index to measure how much the price of goods and services are changing. What it found for Kansas is that prices are about 10 percent cheaper here than they are compared with the country as a whole.
Here’s a look at how we compare with other states. The key to understanding these numbers is that 100 is the national average. So a score of 90 would mean we're 10 percent below the national average on prices, while 110 would mean we’re 10 percent above the national average on prices, for example.
— Kansas: 90.8
— Colorado: 102.2
— Iowa: 90.3
— Missouri: 89.2
— Nebraska: 90.5
— Oklahoma: 89.9
The report also lists per capita income amounts for metro areas across the country. I’m still accessing some of that data, and I’ll bring you more later. But the quick version for Lawrence is that per capita personal income stood at $36,187, up from $36,048 in 2012. That’s an increase of 0.3 percent. I’ll get you some comparisons to other communities as I get through the data a bit more.
Schumm files plans for new multistory commercial/condo building on Vermont Street; Sprouts set to open; update on Bauer Farm development
I thought my garden was doing well, but it is no match for the one that sits in the 800 block of Vermont Street. That longtime downtown vegetable garden soon may have a $6 million, four-story office and residential building coming out of the ground.
Former Lawrence City Commissioner Bob Schumm is the longtime owner of the vacant lot, which is just south of the former Headmasters building. For years, he and others have grown vegetables there. Now, he’s filed plans at City Hall for a new building that would continue the trend of multistory, mixed-use buildings that encourage more people to live downtown.
As it currently stands, the project may add a new level of luxury living in downtown. Schumm said preliminary plans call for eight condo units on the top two floors of the building. Those units would be about 1,800 to 1,900 square feet in size.
“They would be nice, large units,” Schumm said.
Schumm said the size may shrink in future versions of the plans. He said another option is to have 12 condos averaging about 1,200 square feet in size. Schumm said the project currently is focusing its efforts on the overall size and exterior of the building to comply with the city’s downtown design guidelines and historic resources code. The property is just south of the historic Lucy Hobbs Taylor building at 809 Vermont, which dates back to 1871.
The Lawrence-based architecture firm Hernly Associates is designing the project.
Schumm confirmed he is in discussion with a bank to take a portion of the ground floor commercial space in the building. The second floor of the building would be be divided into “high-tech” office space. Schumm said plans call for high-speed fiber optic broadband service in the building and common areas that could be shared by multiple businesses. He said the space will be designed to accommodate smaller firms looking for high-quality office space.
“We would rent it to a large company too, but there are an awful lot of one- and two-person companies that want to be able to just walk in and plug their computers in and get to work,” Schumm said. “That’s a popular concept right now.”
The project also will include underground parking that would utilize a “car elevator” rather than a traditional entrance and exit ramp. That system will allow below-ground parking spaces. The elevator system, Schumm said, allowed for about a half-dozen more space than would have been possible with a traditional ramp system.
The project will have to win necessary design approvals from City Hall. The project also may spark an incentive debate at City Hall. Schumm confirmed that he’s considering seeking incentives for the project. He said he’s voluntarily reduced the height of the building so it can be a better fit with the historic property to the north. The project also is providing more parking than is required, and additional setbacks.
“All of that changed the economics of the project dramatically,” Schumm said.
There’s also one other item of note on the project. Technically there are two vacant lots that will house the building. Schumm owns the northern lot, while a company led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel owns the southern lot. Fritzel was part of the public-private partnership to build Rock Chalk Park, which of course was a controversial item that Schumm helped guide through the City Commission during his tenure.
But Schumm told me that Fritzel is not a partner on the project. Instead, Schumm has secured an option to purchase the vacant lot from Fritzel, if the project wins the necessary city approvals.
“And let me stop the rumors before they start,” Schumm said. “The price we agreed upon is above the fair market value the appraiser has on the property. I’m on my own with this one.”
In case you are wondering what a vacant lot on Vermont Street is valued at, the appraiser has that one at about $182,000. To be clear, though, I don’t know what the price is between Schumm and the Fritzel entity. Schumm only said he was paying more than appraised value.
As for the timeline of this project, Schumm said he hopes to win approval later this year, and have the project open by late 2016.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of gardens, after all this rain, I need to either learn how to operate a hoe or see if I can land a production deal to serve as the site of Chuck Norris’ next jungle action movie. I’m a big Chuck Norris fan, so I think buying some produce rather than growing it may be on my list of things to do. And indeed there is news on the produce and grocery front. Sprouts Farmers Market, Lawrence’s newest grocer, is set to open tomorrow, July 1, at 4740 Bauer Farm Drive.
The company plans to open the doors at 7 a.m., and it is offering some promotional deals to the first 200 people who are in line when the doors open.
The Lawrence store is the company’s fifth in the Kansas City area. If you are having a hard time picturing where the company’s Lawrence location is at, it is near the corner of Wakarusa and Overland Drive. The company built a new 27,000 square foot store in the Bauer Farm development just south of Free State High School.
The company, based in Phoenix, is the latest entrant in the growing healthy foods sector of the grocery market. (Natural Grocers has entered the market, The Merc has expanded, and essentially every traditional grocery store in town has made improvements to its healthy foods section in recent years.) Sprouts has a strong focus on fresh produce and organic foods, but it also offers meat, seafood, dairy, frozen foods, bulk foods, vitamins, household items and several other products.
And some of you have asked whether the store will carry beer. (I know, you are just asking because you understand the importance of hydration in a healthy diet.) Actually, I think you may be asking because the nearby Wal-Mart store and its grocery has not carried beer, presumably because of its location near Free State High. I haven’t been in there recently, so I don’t know if that is still the case with Wal-Mart. Regardless, city officials last week approved an off-premise cereal malt beverage license for Sprouts, so I assume the store will carry 3.2 beer to go.
The store is the latest project in the Bauer Farms development, which has caught a new gear in 2015. As we previously have reported, an XpressWellness urgent care center is being built in the Bauer Farm development. It is the project underway in front of Meadowlark Estates near Sixth Street and Folks Road.
The development also is slated to get some new residents. As we’ve previously reported, plans have been filed for 145 new apartments to be built just west of the Sixth and Folks Road intersection. Look for a mix of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments, plus a 12,000 square foot clubhouse. The project also is important because it will require the completion of Bauer Farm Drive. That east-west road currently dead ends in the development, but in the future it will be a new way to get from Folks Road to Wakarusa Drive.
With the new development, look for a new traffic signal on Sixth Street near the main entrance to Bauer Farm Drive. The city is in the process of creating a benefit district that will charge commercial areas on both sides of Sixth Street for a new traffic signal at Sixth and Champion Lane. It likely will take several months for the traffic signal to be installed, however.
And, while it isn’t technically in the Bauer Farm development, let’s not forget Spin Neapolitan Pizza. As we’ve previously reported, the pizza joint will open in a new building across the street from Bauer Farm. It will be next to Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa. There’s room there for one more restaurant as well. I’m starting to hear some rumblings about that one, and hope to have some information soon.
Even though I’ve been telling my wife otherwise for years, the “S” in SLT really may stand for shopping after all. A proposal has re-emerged to build a large shopping center at the South Lawrence Trafficway and Iowa Street interchange.
As expected, plans have been filed at City Hall for an out-of-state development group to build about 250,000 square feet of new retail and restaurant space at the southeast corner of the future interchange of the SLT and Highway 59, which also is Iowa Street in the city limits.
Tenants for the new development haven’t been announced, but the developers are the same folks who proposed a much larger development at the intersection last year. As part of that development, they had identified Old Navy, Academy Sports, Designer Shoe Warehouse, and Marshalls/Home Goods as companies that had expressed a strong interest in locating at the site. Ulta Beauty also was identified as a tenant in the previous proposal, but it has chosen a site at 27th and Iowa, and is currently under construction there. No word on whether Old Navy, Academy and the others are still looking at this location, but it would make sense that they are.
The “concept plan” that has been filed at City Hall shows space for two large anchor stores ranging in size from 55,000 square feet to 62,000 square feet. It also shows three junior anchor stores ranging in size from 20,000 square feet to 25,000 square feet. Two other buildings are listed as spaces for small shops, and six lots right along the SLT are designated as out parcels, which often attract chain restaurants. The paperwork filed at City Hall indicates about 30,000 square feet of new restaurants could be part of the development. (I need to get my lobster bib back from the tailor, and my all you-can-eat breadstick wagon out of the garage because I’m sure there will be much speculation about Red Lobster or Olive Garden at this site.)
Before any speculation turns to reality, however, the project — which is dubbed Southpoint — must win a couple of key approvals from City Hall. The site previously was unable to do so, but the majority on the City Commission has changed since this project was last proposed. Importantly, the project has changed too. It is about half the size of what was proposed in 2014. That plan called for nearly 540,000 square feet of commercial space versus the 247,000 square feet in the new plan.
The project must win both a rezoning request and a comprehensive plan request. Both items will be heard by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the City Commission. The comprehensive plan request really will set the tone of the debate. Horizon 2020 currently envisions that piece of property serving as an “auto related center.” Exactly what that designation means always has been a bit unclear, but it has been suggested the title was meant primarily for an auto dealership, but it also could be interpreted to allow for a truck stop or any other type of business where vehicles are a primary focus of the business.
The development group — which is led by North Carolina-based Collett real estate — is framing the upcoming debate as what type of commercial development Lawrence residents want to see at the southern gateway to their community. It points to the comprehensive plan as already having designated the area for commercial development, so now the discussion is what type.
“This development would provide an appropriate gateway to the southern entrance of our city,” the developers wrote in their application to City Hall. “As opposed to the small service buildings and large car lots and truck plazas often associated with auto-related commercial centers, the proposed development would offer attractively designed retail buildings, graciously landscaped streets and parking lots and appropriate open space buffer between it and the Wakarusa River and Baker Wetlands to the south and east.”
We’ll see how commissioners respond to the new idea. The project faced several hurdles last time. One of the big ones was that commissioners were concerned that adding large amounts of new retail space on south Iowa Street would slow any potential commercial development near Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence. But the question for commissioners now is likely how long do they give Rock Chalk Park commercial to develop before they start approving other projects that appear to have interest from the retail market? It has been more than a year since this south Lawrence site was first proposed for retail development, and thus far there hasn’t been any new commercial development take place near Rock Chalk Park. But the owners near Rock Chalk are actively marketing that property, so that could change at any moment. It will be an interesting process to watch because during the last round of debate on this site, the ownership group near Rock Chalk Park — which includes the Schwada and Fritzel families — applied considerable political pressure to deny the south Lawrence project. We’ll see how the debate shapes up this time.
Another factor that has changed since the project was last discussed is the city’s financial picture. State lawmakers have now passed a property tax lid, which puts more emphasis on cities relying on sales tax revenue to fund their budgets. Developers previously said the the large project would add up to $2 million a year in sales tax collections to the city’s coffers when fully built. This smaller project will do less than that, but the economic impact the project could have on the city’s budget is likely to be a big topic.
With that discussion, though, expect debate over whether this project will actually attract new shopping dollars to Lawrence or simply re-distribute existing dollars in the community. The specific tenants proposed for the site probably will be an important consideration. Are they the type that would cause outsiders — Ottawa and Franklin County shoppers are only about 20 minutes away — to come to Lawrence instead of driving to KC? Are they the types of tenants that would cause some Lawrence shoppers to stay home rather than drive to KC or Topeka?
And finally, expect some environmental discussion related to the site as well. The property is just a bit west of the environmentally sensitive Baker Wetlands and is just north of the Wakarusa River. Portions of the property are in the floodplain, which doesn’t prohibit development, but does trigger some additional regulations.
At this point, it is tough to handicap how this one may turn out. Commissioners Stuart Boley, Matthew Herbert and Leslie Soden are all new to the commission since this site was last discussed. During the campaign, Herbert was the most outspoken on the development. He said the city sent a poor message to the developers previously. He said new retail projects that aren’t asking for any types of tax incentives should be an easy yes for the commission. Soden made some comments during the campaign that she was concerned that without proper planning Lawrence’s retail scene could become too focused on one area of town, much like how Topeka has become centered on Wanamaker Drive. She said projects on the edge of town also can be costly in terms of the amount of infrastructure that must be extended to such sites.
Lawrence restaurant selected for national breakfast test; questions emerge about what you can store in your yard; cell tower awaiting approval
Any test that involves breakfast, I’m game for. After all, my most frequent classroom in college was the cafeteria, and my majors were biscuits and gravy, bacon and elastic waistbands. All this is to say that Lawrence is among a handful of cities where McDonald’s is testing the concept of all-day breakfast menus.
Patrick Manning, a spokesman for the local McDonald’s franchise, said the test began last week and likely will last into September.
“The students obviously get back around Aug. 1, and we think it is going to be very popular with them,” Manning said.
McDonald's this spring began testing the concept in San Diego. Manning said the Lawrence franchise shortly thereafter sought corporate approval to run a test here. The exact number of markets that are being allowed to test the all-day breakfast menu hasn’t been released, but Manning described it as only a “handful” of cities across the country. He said Lawrence is the only one in the Kansas City region.
Traditionally, most McDonald’s restaurants serve breakfast from 4 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., although the Lawrence franchise several years ago received corporate approval to serve until 11:30 a.m.
“People love breakfast in Lawrence,” Manning said. “The test is off to a great start.”
The all-day menu is a bit smaller than the morning breakfast menu. Right now it includes primarily breakfast burritos, hotcakes, egg McMuffins and similar breakfast sandwiches.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Let’s get caught up on some City Hall happenings. Commissioners met from 3 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. on Tuesday, which produced more discussion than I was able to fit into the next day’s article. So, here’s a look at some other City Hall items.
— We saw the power of green on Tuesday night. As I previously reported, commissioners had an item related to potential code violations at 1145 Pennsylvania St. The site is the home of Cosmic Beauty School, which practices urban farming and promotes sustainability. As part of that business, it has some exterior storage, which has drawn a complaint from at least one neighbor. City inspectors have said the storage is in violation of the city’s property maintenance code.
Commissioners were receiving an update on the property at their Tuesday meeting, and they also received an earful from fans of urban farming and sustainability. It became clear on Tuesday that commissioners weren’t going to take any action that made them look like they weren’t in full support of such issues.
But how commissioners distanced themselves from the issue has brought up questions about whether enforcement of the city’s property maintenance code is on shaky ground.
Here are some photos the city has taken of the property. It certainly does not rank among the worst offenders of the property maintenance code in the city. But you will notice that there is a pile of bricks in what essentially is the front yard of the business. Actually, the bricks are on the city’s right-of-way. They’re very near the street. If you run your car into them, they have become a new type of traffic-calming device. There’s also wood pallets stacked in the right of way, and those big white structures are tanks to catch rainwater.
Commissioners looked at those pictures and received the report from their enforcement staff. Here’s the key reaction:
“I think we have lots of time on our hands if we are going after people with piles of pallets and bricks in their yard,” Commissioner Matthew Herbert told staff members, to the cheers of those in the audience.
The other four commissioners really didn’t say anything to bring any element of moderation to those comments. So, that has left some interesting questions. Is it just old bricks and pallets that I can store in my front yard, or is it any type of construction material? How about old shingles off my roof or piles of lumber that I’m sure I’ll get around to using at some point? Do I have to stack it neatly or can I use my preferred organizational method, which recognizes the power of randomly shaped piles? Can my pile only take up 5 percent of my front yard or can it take up 50 percent of my front yard? And, I’m assuming, there’s no problem here if my yard happens to be in a neighborhood surrounded by homes that are $400,000 or $500,000 in West Lawrence.
I understand the unique nature of the business at 1145 Pennsylvania St. Folks who are serious about running an urban farm are going to have nontraditional items in their yard. Staff noted piles of tomato cages and a couple of hay bales. There was a brief discussion about whether the city needs to add some provisions to its code book that address urban farming. But Herbert’s comments seemed to be of a different nature. They left staff members wondering whether the City Commission wants certain parts of the property maintenance code enforced anywhere.
“We would appreciate having a discussion about the property maintenance code in the future because staff is trying to enforce what is written today,” said Interim City Manager Diane Stoddard.
It should be an interesting debate. I’m sure there are differences of opinion about what constitutes proper aesthetics in a yard, but I’ve also heard others talk about how piles of wood are fire hazards, piles of bricks are environments for rodents, and how piles of material stacked up right against a street are a danger to motorists. I’ve also heard people say the city’s property maintenance code is so broad that basically everyone is technically in violation of it at some point.
Commissioners directed staff to hold in abeyance any enforcement measures against the property owners until the city has had a chance to have such a discussion about the property maintenance code.
– Commissioners also had on their agenda a discussion about a new roundabout proposed for Wakarusa and Harvard in West Lawrence. Commissioners, though, deferred that discussion because it became apparent the meeting already was going to be extremely long. Look for that discussion to take place at the July 7 City Commission meeting.
– If you are interested in the future of a new wireless phone tower in East Lawrence, mark your calendars for the July 14 City Commission meeting. That is the tentative date that commissioners will consider a request from Verizon Wireless to build a 120-foot tower on property near the Ottawa Co-op grain elevators. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission recommended approval of the plans. Neighbors previously had objected to a different set of plans that called for a cell tower at 1725 Bullene Ave. The City Commission rejected those plans, and Verizon has sued the city over that rejection. Whether approval of these new tower plans makes that lawsuit go away is unclear, but it might. The new 120-foot tower would be about 400 feet away from the grain elevator, which is about 130 feet tall.
Shakeup for longtime interior store on South Iowa Street; medical supply company gets new owners, name; retirement center begins expansion
A storefront in the shopping center at the northwest corner of 27th and Iowa streets is going from one thing that I don’t understand to another — from taxes to drapes. A deal has been reached for longtime retailer Jane Bateman Interiors to move into the spot that has housed the satellite office for the Douglas County Treasurer’s office.
The move will mark the end of a 33-year run for the store at its current location of 2101 W. 28th Terrace.
“We have a lot of stuff in the corners to move,” Bateman said.
A lot of that stuff has to do with drapes and other types of window coverings. The 38-year old company — it previously was in downtown for five years — has made a living off drapes, blinds, shades, valances, slip covers, pillow cases and a host of other fabrics for the home. I could go into further detail, but my neighbors would tell you there is much I don’t understand about drapes, and the remnants of an unfortunate experiment involving a couch, nacho cheese sauce and a cantilevered spoon is evidence that I learned just a tad too late about slip covers. (Personally, I still think physics was largely to blame there, but others disagree.)
Bateman said she’s excited about making the move because it will put her business close to several other stores that cater to folks doing home makeovers. Factory Direct Appliance, Sherwin-Williams Paints and Paradise Floors are all located in the shopping center.
“I can see us working back and forth a lot with those types of businesses,” Bateman said. “We like the idea of synergy.”
Bateman is making the move because her store has lost its lease on its existing location. There’s been a change in ownership of Advanced Homecare, which had been the landlord for Bateman’s building. My understanding is that the new owners of Advanced Homecare have expansion plans — more on that in a moment — and now require the Jane Bateman Interiors building.
The Douglas County Treasurer’s office space became available after the treasurer’s office struck a deal to open a satellite location near 31st and Iowa Street in the shopping center in front of Best Buy and Home Depot. Allison Vance Moore, a broker with the Lawrence Colliers International office, helped broker the deal for Bateman to move into the new spot.
Bateman expects to be open in the new location near Aug. 1. Renovation work on the space is expected to begin within the next week. As for the treasurer’s office, we’ve previously reported that the satellite was to close on June 24. I haven’t been by to see if it has closed, but I assume so. Based on the last report I had, the new location is scheduled to open in four to seven weeks. The main treasurer’s office and a satellite location at the Dillons at 3000 W. Sixth Street remain open to take your tax payments.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As I mentioned, Advanced Homecare has sold to a new set of owners. The medical equipment company has been purchased by Breathe Oxygen and Medical Supply, which is an affiliated company of Topeka-based Midwest Health, which operates Lawrence’s Pioneer Ridge retirement community.
The Advance Homecare brand currently is undergoing a name change to Breathe Oxygen and Medical Supply. Dennis Bahr, a regional manager and an owner of Breathe, said the company plans to make Lawrence a prominent part of its operations. The company has a store in Topeka, but I’ve been told the two Lawrence buildings that were purchased as part of the Advanced Homecare deal will give the company more warehouse and office headquarters space.
“With the acquisition, we see a lot of growth potential for the Lawrence area,” Bahr said.
The company sells oxygen tanks and other breathing supplies to both individual customers and institutions. The company has has other types of medical equipment such as a canes, crutches and safety equipment to prevent falls and such. The company has contracts with multiple long-term care and hospice providers throughout the region.
Advanced Homecare previously was owned by Lawrence businesswoman Sandra London. During London’s tenure, the company struck deals to provide services to 73 long-term care facilities in the region, and approximately quadrupled the size of the business. The company had 13 employees at the time of the sale. Bahr said the new company is keeping the Advanced Homecare staff and anticipates some additional staffing will be needed in the near future.
“I really want to give a large thank-you to the community for supporting us over the years,” London said.
• I mentioned Pioneer Ridge Retirement Community earlier. Some of you may have noticed construction work that is underway near that company’s facility at Wakarusa and Harvard. Well, that’s the beginning of a major expansion for the center. As we reported in October, the company filed plans to build an approximately $15 million expansion that will house 76 new independent living units. The new units will be just east of the company’s existing facility.
Here’s a look at the renderings that previously were filed at City Hall for the project.
Previously, the company had said the project would take about 10 to 12 months to complete, but I'm not sure of the current timeline for completion.
New Internet provider seeking to come to Lawrence; residents want new requirements for Ninth Street arts corridor; urban farm battle brewing
For once, there is a promising Internet deal that doesn’t involve my credit card and chocolatebuytheton.com. Instead, there’s an Internet deal brewing at Lawrence City Hall that may pay immediate dividends for large Internet users in the city, and eventually may benefit regular Web surfers as well.
Lawrence City Hall officials are close to inking a deal with Wichita-based Kansas Fiber Network that will allow the company to lease unused portions of city-owned fiber optic cables. Those cables will be used to begin offering ultra high speed service to educational institutions, health care firms and other large users of broadband services.
Think of Kansas Fiber Network as kind of a wholesaler of Internet and broadband services. It wants to deal with large customers that are looking to buy business class Internet service. Think of universities, school districts, hospitals and businesses that push a lot of information through the Internet.
“We think there are probably 100 to 150 of those types of customers we hope to serve in Lawrence,” said Steven Dorf, president of Kansas Fiber Network.
But where it may get exciting for regular old Internet users who are simply trying to buy the weekend pallet of Hershey’s bars is that one of the types of customers Kansas Fiber Network sells to is Internet Service Providers. That means a new startup Internet service provider could buy wholesale from Kansas Fiber Network and then start selling to residential and small-business customers much easier than trying to build a network entirely on its own.
“We hope that is a likely scenario in Lawrence,” Dorf said. “In other markets we have served, that has been the case. We think we’ll be good for the residential customer because we ultimately enable competition.”
The idea of providing wholesale service is a bit similar to what leaders at Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband had proposed to City Hall, although Wicked also wanted to be in the retail business by selling to residential and small business customers too. A key difference here, though, is that Kansas Fiber Network is not asking for any city incentives. It is seeking to rent the unused fiber from the city at the standard rate the City Commission previously set as part of its new fiber use policy. As currently proposed, the company would pay the city just under $17,000 a year to lease 12 strands of unused fiber in the city’s fiber ring, which runs along most of the major arterial streets in Lawrence.
Dorf said service provided by Kansas Fiber Network will be capable of providing Internet upload and download speeds of 1 gigabit and more. He said the company’s network is actually designed for up to 100 gigabits, although he said there aren’t many business customers that need that type of speed today.
It will be interesting to see if new Internet service providers enter the Lawrence market as a result of this deal. The idea of startup ISPs certainly isn’t as novel as it used to be. As we’ve reported multiple times, Baldwin City-based RG Fiber has committed to providing gigabit service to both Baldwin City and Eudora. We recently reported that RG has begun burying fiber as part of that project, and Baker University is set to become a gigabit campus by the next school year. RG has said it wants to provide service to Lawrence, but the Baldwin City and Eudora projects are ahead of Lawrence, in part because the previous Lawrence City Commission struggled with creating policies for leasing its unused fiber.
As a result, Lawrence is behind the pace of several other communities. One that I recently learned of is a multimillion dollar project in Emporia. A group of local investors there has spent about $12 million bringing a high speed fiber network to the city, according to an article in the Emporia Gazette. According to the article there have been no incentives or tax breaks given to the company. And unlike what had been proposed in Lawrence, this isn’t a pilot project. According to the February article, enough fiber cable had been installed to reach 65 percent of all houses in Emporia. By the end of this year, the company expects to reach 85 percent of all homes.
It is odd to think how new the idea of gigabit Internet service was when Google Fiber announced in 2011 plans to make Kansas City its first market for the new service. Now, places like Baldwin City, Eudora and Emporia are going to have it on a wide scale before Lawrence does.
As for the Kansas Fiber Network project, commissioners are scheduled to approve the lease agreement at their meeting tonight. Dorf said he believes the company can start hooking up new businesses and wholesale accounts in about 90 days. The company already owns some private fiber in Lawrence and likely will be installing more as part of the project.
Kansas Fiber Network is owned by a consortium of 29 independent telephone companies that operate in Kansas. The group created Kansas Fiber Network about five years ago with the idea of providing needed fiber services to rural areas. It now has plans to expand into larger communities, Dorf said. He said Lawrence is part of a group of about 20 towns that it currently is eyeing for expansion.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Get ready for a new twist in the Ninth Street arts corridor project. City commissioners at their meeting tonight are set to receive an update on the planning for that project, which will run from about Massachusetts Street to the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence. Commissioners, though, will get more than an update. They’ll also get a letter with nearly 140 signatures asking the commission to do more to involve East Lawrence residents and local artists.
The letter has several specific requests. They include:
— The East Lawrence Neighborhood Association should be part of the formal review and approval process for any public art project planned for the corridor. The letter states this would be consistent with how other public art projects in the neighborhood have happened. It notes the Hobbs Park mural, the New York School mural and a few others.
— The letter writers are seeking a commitment that at least 50 percent of the public art projects planned for the corridor be led by Lawrence artists. In addition, the group wants one half of that one half to be led by artists who live in the East Lawrence district. Plus, the letter writers want a requirement that all of the art projects planned for the corridor include at least one paid assistant who is a Lawrence artist.
“This will be great experience and training for our local artists and will give lead artists who are not from Lawrence essential insights into the place they are working,” the letter reads.
— The group is wanting the city to create a zoning device called a “conservation overlay district” for the arts corridor. That basically means the city would create a specific zoning district for the corridor, and that district would have regulations tailored specifically for the corridor. The city has used the method in the past when it has felt an area is unique enough to require specific regulations rather than the general ones found in the city’s standard zoning code.
We’ll see how this all plays out. It is worth remembering that this isn’t entirely a City Hall project. The Lawrence Arts Center has secured a $500,000 grant that will be used to fund a lot of the art work for the corridor. But the city does hold about a $3 million hammer. To make the project successful, the street needs to be rebuilt, and that will occur with city tax dollars. The current estimate is about $3 million.
On its face, you would not think adding art to a neighborhood — especially one that loves art as much as East Lawrence — would be this hard. But there continues to be concern from various East Lawrence residents and others that the arts corridor is going to become more of a linear entertainment and commercial district that connects downtown and the East Lawrence Warehouse Arts District. City officials have worked to assure residents that what they really are trying to create is more of a linear park infused with art.
This project seems to be a prime example of how certain residents really have a distrust of City Hall. It has been a rough couple of years in the trust-building department for city government, and city commissioners have acknowledged that.
Art can be beautiful in many ways. If this project somehow can be maneuvered to rebuild trust, that would rank right up there on beautiful Lawrence sights.
• Just like art, the beauty of a yard is in the eye of the beholder. You know some of you see dandelions while others of us see beautiful yellow flowers. Some of you see a car on blocks, and others see a visit from our Missouri cousins. I have a feeling we’re going to spend some time talking about the eye of the beholder at tonight’s City Commission meeting.
Commissioners are receiving an update from staff about the property at 1145 Pennsylvania St. City code inspectors say they’re ready to take the property owners — Nick Brown and Shannon Gorres — to court to resolve issues involving storage of materials in the property’s yard and in the city rights-of-way.
You can see pictures taken by the city in December, here.
I’ve received an email that is going around town urging people to show up at tonight’s City Commission meeting to protest the city’s potential action against the property, which operates as the Cosmic Beauty School. Its website touts it as a venture that promotes urban agriculture, holistic lifestyles and sustainability.
Several folks appear to be upset that the city is not recognizing that this property is really an “urban farm” and the storage that is on the property is just normal in a farm setting. City inspectors, though, note that technically the property is zoned for residential uses. It has been operating under a grandfather clause for years because the property — which used to be the home of Freeman Used Furniture — has a history of commercial uses dating back to the early 1900s.
Planning officials have supported allowing the property to continue to operate under a grandfather clause, but I don’t believe city officials thought this newest business venture would include as much outdoor storage as exists today. The city has received a complaint from a neighbor.
City officials have noted that in a 2009 application to extend the grandfathered commercial use of the property, the project was described not as an urban farm but as a “Holistic Health Management Service.” The application included a statement from the owners that “noise or external visual disturbances should be minimal.”
• A quick bit of housekeeping: Town Talk will take a one day break tomorrow to give me time to unload the chocolate truck, or something like that.
Large comic book, gaming store to open on south Iowa Street; high-tech homebuilding may create new manufacturing jobs for Lawrence firm
Perhaps Allen Fieldhouse won’t be the only famous game venue in Lawrence. A Topeka company has signed a deal to open a south Lawrence comic book shop that also is envisioned to become a regional hub for video game and board game tournaments. I can see the banner on the wall now: Beware of the Frogger. (That’s still a hip video game, right?)
Boom Comics has begun work to renovate the former Kief’s Audio Video store at 2429 Iowa St. Boom currently has stores in Topeka and Manhattan, but the Lawrence store — at about 15,000 square feet — will be the company’s largest.
“It is going to be the most awesome too,” said owner Matthew Kreger.
Comic books will be a big part of the store, but so too will games. The store will have about 5,000 square feet of space — that’s about the size of an average downtown store — just for people to play table-top games. That could be games like Dungeons & Dragons or increasingly popular trading card games like Magic: The Gathering, Force of Will or Yu-Gi-Oh. In fact, it is those type of games that may make the store a regional destination, Kreger said.
Players of those those trading card games frequently are looking for large venues to host high-level tournaments. The Lawrence store should provide some of the more unique space in the region. Kreger said the space is being set up so video from the store’s gaming competitions can easily be streamed lived over the Web. Yes, that stuff really does happen.
“There are professional Magic players now,” Kreger said of the fantasy card game. “There will be a lot of regional competitions and tournaments. It will bring a lot of activity to Lawrence, and they’ll spend their money in a lot of places.”
Video games also will be a big part of the store, although I’m not sure there is a need to get my Frogger fingers loosened back up. The store will sell and rent a large number of games for Xbox, Playstation and other gaming systems. The store also will be set up for customers to play the games right there in high-quality theater settings.
Kreger said the store plans to have eight large screen TVs, ranging in size from 60 inches to 200 inches, for people to rent for video game competition or other such outings. One will be a “prestige theater” with significant amounts of seating, and the others will be smaller two-person rooms.
Plans also call for the theater space to be used to show popular television programs such as “The Walking Dead,” “Game of Thrones” and “Croaked: Frogger’s Revenge.” (Actually, that last one is still in development. In my basement. So many frog zombie costumes to make.)
And let’s not forget, there also will be comic books at this comic book shop. Kreger said there will be about 200 new titles released at the store each month. Plus there will be vintage comic books as well. Kreger, a former professional opera singer, got into comic books in a big way before he started the store.
“I probably had over 100,000 books of my own, and my wife was giving me a hard time about it,” he said. “I told her I could open up a comic book shop, and she told me to go for it.”
Kreger opened the store in Topeka in 2014, and followed up with a location in Manhattan. Kreger said the Lawrence store — which also will include a coffee shop and snack bar — should open Aug. 1.
“I have wanted to do this in Lawrence ever since I had the idea,” Kreger said. “I just couldn’t find the space for it. I remember growing up in Topeka and driving to Lawrence to go to Kief’s. When I heard that space was available, I knew it would be perfect.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is time to keep an eye on a Lawrence-based company that may be bringing new manufacturing and warehousing jobs to Lawrence.
Prosoco, one of the companies located in the East Hills Business Park — has formed a new affiliated company that plans to become a major player in the industry of building highly energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings.
Prosoco leaders have announced they have completed a deal to form Build Smart, a company that builds energy-efficent wall panels and other products that are designed to reduce energy costs in typical homes by 65 percent to 75 percent.
A Prosoco executive confirmed to me this morning that the company is currently examining ways to manufacture the products in Lawrence.
“Absent a change of plans, some manufacturing work will be done in Lawrence,” said Paul Grahovac, Prosoco’s director of new business development.
The company’s announcement also said new warehousing space also would be needed for the venture. Grahovac said the company is in a “decision mode and search mode” on the warehousing and manufacturing needs of the new company.
Prosoco currently has a little more than 80 full-time employees at its Lawrence headquarters and production facility. Grahovac said he was optimistic Build Smart will create new Lawrence jobs, but did not offer any projections. He said the company likely will make decisions about its manufacturing and warehousing operations by the end of the year.
Prosoco, which has had its headquarters and production plant in Lawrence for the last 16 years, has focused on manufacturing chemicals and solutions related to cleaning, protecting and maintaining concrete. But about 10 years ago, the company developed a product that is a chemical application that can take the place of the white, plastic Tyvek sheeting that is used to wrap houses and other buildings while they are under construction. About five years ago, it developed a chemical application that can be used to make window openings more air and water tight.
Those products, Grahovac said, became very popular in an architectural movement known as Passive House construction, which focuses on making homes much more energy efficient than standard houses. That led to a collaboration with noted Passive Home architect Adam Cohen, who told Prosoco officials that he had developed a new method for construction of high-efficient pre-fabricated wall panels.
“It was driving him crazy,” Grahovac said. “Everybody wanted the panels, but he’s not a manufacturer.”
Grahovac said Prosoco and Cohen finalized a deal to create the new company about two weeks ago. Prosoco wholly owns the new venture, but Cohen is serving as the company’s founder and technical director, Grahovac said.
The company is starting by offering three products. They are:
— Pre-fabricated, energy efficient wall panels that can be used in place of traditional “stick-built” exterior walls. Grahovac said the panels are built in smaller sections so they don’t require the use of a crane on a job site, and the panels aren’t constructed with any screws or nails. He said that improves the energy efficiency because screws and nails can act as tiny breaks in the thermal barrier of a building.
— Insulated forms used for pouring concrete basement walls or slab foundations for homes or other buildings.
— Insulated pre-casted concrete walls that can be used for basement walls.
The new company believes the future of the energy-efficient building industry is strong. Building codes are requiring a greater emphasis on energy efficiency, and builders are starting to see how the products can be used in cost effective ways.
Build Smart is estimating that the 65 percent to 75 percent saving in energy bills for a typical home will easily offset the “fractional” increase in construction costs by using the pre-fabricated walls. For larger commercial buildings, the company says the energy efficient building system often can reduce the size of building’s heating and cooling systems by 40 percent to 60 percent.
“I created these products from my design/build work, and I’ve long wanted to bring them to a wider audience,” Cohen said in a statement. “I’m extremely pleased that it’s finally possible through the Build Smart partnership with Prosoco. The ultimate goal is to change the way we build in North America to bring energy efficiency within reach for anyone.”
Update on plans for development near Clinton Parkway and Inverness; roundabout proposed at Wakarusa and Harvard; policy on court usage at Rock Chalk may change
Let me quash all dreams of an outdoor fun center with go-karts, mini-golf, batting cages and other such features on a prominent piece of West Lawrence property. This is the official notice that we all should return to our previous plan for fun that involves a stiff glass of Metamucil and solitaire with a 51-card deck. In other words, the owner of the property at Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive has told me previous plans for a fun center on that site are dead.
If you remember, we reported last week that a request had been filed to rezone about seven acres of property near the intersection for neighborhood commercial uses. The site was the same site that in late 2013 had been proposed for an outdoor fun center, but the idea faced opposition from neighbors. When we checked in last week, it was clear the ownership group was the same one that had proposed the fun center, but there was no word about what type of development they wanted to build with the new zoning.
Well, Lawrence businessman Glen Lemesany — the leader of the group that owns the property — reached out to me and told me that the new plans for the property are much more mundane. He hopes the first phase will include a couple of buildings that could attract a neighborhood coffee shop, a dry cleaner, a sit down restaurant or some other use that neighbors would like. The project has no tenants lined up, and currently is being designed by Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects.
“I’m telling everybody that Paul (Werner) and I have shredded the fun center plans,” Lemesany said. “You don’t have to worry about the fun center plans.”
Lemesany said neighbors also don’t have to worry about a fast-food restaurant chain locating on the site.
“I know people have been worried about a McDonald's or something like that,” Lemesany said. “A McDonald's isn’t going to locate there.”
Lemesany said he thought a drug store was highly unlikely as well. At one point several years ago Walgreens had expressed an interest in building a store near the site. But two CVS drugstores have entered the market since then, and it is unclear that Walgreens has any such interest anymore.
Lemesany, though, said the development may file the paperwork for a special use permit that would allow for drive-thru businesses to locate on the site. He said a coffee shop, a dry cleaner or a bank are all examples of businesses that may want a drive-thru.
“We want to start by building next to the corner and seeing what other interest pops up,” Lemesany said. “We want something that the neighbors want and enjoy. I can envision them walking over there and getting their coffee and having an area to chat with their neighbors.”
It will be interesting to see how neighbors react to plans for commercial development on the corner. Neighbors previously have made it clear that they do not want more apartment development on the vacant property. They feel the city already has allowed the area to become overdeveloped with apartments.
The fun center drew opposition based on concerns about noise, traffic, lighting and all the other standard stuff that comes with many commercial development requests that are near established neighborhoods. It is worth noting that this area has had some significant commercial development in the last couple of years, and thus far I have not heard complaints from neighbors. That would be the Hy-Vee convenience store and gas station that is at Clinton Parkway and Crossgate, which is one block away from the proposed site.
We’ll see what the neighborhood reaction is to the plan. The zoning still has to win approval from both the Planning Commission and the City Commission. But before that issue gets settled, Lemesany’s group next week will be before the Planning Commission seeking approval for a duplex development on vacant property just east of the proposed commercial site. Plans call for 28 living units — 14 buildings — of duplexes. Lemesany told me the duplexes would be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units.
Lemesany said he thinks the duplex development is small enough that it won’t have a significant impact on traffic in the neighborhood. The units also willl have garages and enough driveway space that parking should all be handled off street, he said.
“It will be less intense than a lot of apartment uses,” Lemesany said.
As for the idea of a fun center popping up somewhere else in town, Lemesany didn’t provide much hope on that front. He said the project is very difficult to make work financially because of the price of land in Lawrence. Fun centers require quite a bit of property, and by the time you pay for the land, you’ve already got a pretty expensive project on your hands. We maybe had a window when the real estate market was depressed a bit, but that window is closing.
I’ve certainly heard the concern about land prices from others who have investigated the idea of miniature golf courses, roller rinks and other such fun center uses. But I also hear from some city commissioners how there is a concern about a lack of activity for families and young people. I wonder if the city at some point will ever consider using some of its park land to accommodate a miniature golf course or some other types of similar uses. At this point, that may be the most likely path to solve the land-cost issue. Whether there are any parks where such uses would be welcomed by the neighborhood is probably a significant issue.
In the meantime, I’ll keep rooting for my luck to change in solitaire.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe go-karts aren’t in our future, but there may be another way we can go round and round. Yep, there’s talk of a new roundabout on Wakarusa Drive. City commissioners at their Tuesday meeting will be asked to file some paperwork to access $600,000 in state funds to build a roundabout at the intersection of Wakarusa and Harvard.
The roundabout would be pretty similar to the one built at Wakarusa and Legend/Inverness Drive. It would be a dual-lane roundabout. There was consternation about how Lawrence drivers would adapt to dual-lane roundabouts, but thus far it seems that motorists are figuring it out on Wakarusa Drive.
The idea of a roundabout at Harvard and Wakarusa should not come as a surprise. City engineers said during the debate over the Wakarusa and Legends/Inverness drive roundabout that they likely would propose one for the Harvard intersection too.
But city officials are having to do a little shifting of money to make this one happen. The city previously had been awarded $400,000 in KDOT money to improve the intersection of 19th and Naismith. But the city is now asking the state to transfer the $400,000 over to Wakarusa and Harvard and add another $200,000 in funding. The state has given preliminary approval to the idea.
The city was able to present crash data that shows from 2011 to 2013 there were 11 crashes that involved two injuries at the Harvard intersection. Several more crashes have occurred since then as well, staff found. City officials are hopeful the roundabouts will decrease crash totals, especially crashes that happen at higher speeds and cause injuries. Since roundabouts make most motorists slow down, (when my wife puts on the Richard Petty sunglasses, I know we’re not slowing down) engineers are pretty confident serious injuries will be reduced.
Data for the Wakarusa and Harvard intersection is inconclusive thus far. From 2011 to 2013 there were eight crashes at the intersection — or about 2.7 per year. Since the roundabout opened in January there has been one reported crash.
This will be our first chance to see what this new commission — remember, three of five are new since April — thinks of roundabouts.
• In the category of fun and games, there’s a proposed change in how the city will use the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. While the debate was brewing about whether the the city should proceed with building the 181,000 square-foot recreation center, there was a promise made by city officials that at least one of the eight basketball courts at the center would be kept open for public use at all times that the center was open. There would be times that the other seven courts would be reserved for use by tournament organizers, but one court would always be available for free play by the taxpayers who funded the construction of the building.
On Tuesday, city commissioners are being asked to suspend that policy at least temporarily, and there are signs that the Parks and Recreation Department may seek a permanent change. There is a large basketball tournament — the Sunflower Showcase — that is being held at the recreation center from July 23-26.
From my understanding, the event is going to be one of the larger ones and more prominent ones to be held. I’ve heard more than 100 teams will participate, and the tournament’s website lists that it has teams from 15 different states. It also says it has at least 12 of the top 100 high school basketball players as ranked by Nike Elite participating in the tournament. So, I’ve been told to expect some high-profile college basketball coaches to be in attendance as well.
But the basketball tournament is happening on the same weekend that Lawrence officials also booked the USSSA National 14 & Under Softball Championship. That has created a shortage of hotel rooms for the weekend. Chad Rader, an executive with Kansas City-based Sports Radio 810 and the organizer of the tournament is asking to use all eight courts on the Friday and Saturday of the tournament so that more games can be played at once, which will make it more convenient for teams that are staying out of town. He said a significant number of teams are staying in hotels in Bonner Springs, Topeka and Kansas City.
The city’s parks and recreation staff is recommending approval of all eight courts for the two-day period. In a memo to city commissioners, the department acknowledged it may recommend a more permanent change in the policy as well. It plans to discuss the item with the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board because the department is receiving multiple requests from tournament organizers to use all eight courts.
It will be interesting to see how the public responds to the possible change. There was no ambiguity in how city commissioners sold this project to the public. There were explicit statements made that there would always be one court available for public play. Those statements were made because the commission was putting out fires on several fronts with the Rock Chalk Park project, and they wanted to nip in the bud any concern that the public would be paying for a $10.5 million recreation center and about $12 million worth of infrastructure and not have access to at least some of the courts during the popular weekend hours.
But the commission has changed since that time, the city manager has changed since that time, and perhaps the policy will too. Certainly one of the reasons the recreation center —Sports Pavilion Lawrence — was built was to lure tournaments and their dollar-spending visitors to the community. Other portions of Sports Pavilion Lawrence will continue to be open to the public during tournament time. That means the weight room, fitness area, indoor walking track and such.
City commissioners will have a decision to make: How accommodating they want to be to tournament organizers who are bring sales tax dollars to town versus Lawrence residents who still produce the majority of sales tax dollars that pay for the facility.
The issue is on the city’s consent agenda, which is a portion of the agenda where decisions are made without commission discussion. But it may be pulled for discussion, if commissioners or members of the public desire discussion. Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday.
The Lawrence construction industry may be getting a little more competitive. There’s news of a Eudora-based company expanding through a merger and opening up a new headquarters to accommodate an expected growth in employees.
Leaders with Benchmark construction have confirmed they’ve completed a deal to purchase Ron Fowles Construction Management Services, a Manhattan-based firm that has done significant construction work for Kansas State University and other large projects in the Manhattan area.
In addition, Benchmark also has struck a deal for a new corporate headquarters building in Eudora. The company has purchased the former Carquest Auto Parts building at 10th and Ash streets in Eudora. Tim Bruce, the CEO of the combined companies, said the company currently has its six executive and administrative positions in a small Eudora office along Kansas Highway 10. He said the company needed a larger office space that would allow the company to accommodate the 10 to 15 new executive and administrative employees that he anticipates over the next three to five years.
“It gives us the room we’re going to need for project managers, operations managers, a safety office and other positions,” Bruce said. “It also gives us some good warehouse space.”
Bruce said he sees good growth potential in the area’s construction market, and he thinks Benchmark is well positioned to compete with large Lawrence-based construction firms such as B.A. Green Construction, First Construction and others for commercial building projects such as office buildings, mixed-used buildings, and educational buildings both for school districts and universities.
Bruce said the new company will operate under two names. Benchmark and RF Construction, and will continue to maintain an office in Manhattan. Bruce, however, said the Eudora office will serve as the corporate headquarters for the new entity.
Bruce said Eudora made good sense for the company in part because the community of about 6,000 people is well positioned for companies that are looking to do business in the Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City areas. The town is located right along Kansas Highway 10, and a relatively new interchange on the Kansas Turnpike is just a few minutes north of Eudora.
“It makes for really good transportation access,” said Bruce, who also is a member of the Eudora City Council and a leader in the city’s chamber of commerce.
It will be interesting to watch in the coming years whether Eudora is able to take advantage of the new Kansas Turnpike interchange, which is probably five minutes or so from its downtown. The city has an industrial park on the eastern edge of the city, right along K-10, and the community has significant amounts of undeveloped frontage property along the highway. But it also is just down the road from the new Lawrence Venture Park, which is expected to be the property that area economic development leaders focus on filling for awhile.
• That’s it for today on Town Talk. I’m going to be participating as a “victim” in today’s emergency management exercise that is taking place in the Lied Center parking lot and also at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Rumor has it that a terrible hazardous materials accident may befall me. I’m not sure if that will happen at the exercise or as I finish making breakfast here. Stay on the lookout this weekend for a Lawhorn’s Lawrence for a behind-the-scenes look at what happens when a fake disaster hits the city.
Talk of a new dog park and a $10 per year dog license requirement for Lawrence; Quonset hut debate in East Lawrence on hold; city manager search update
There are, of course, dozens of reasons why you may see a fellow running with a milk bone in hand, yelling “come back, Toodles, come back.” One of them, though, is his dog likes to run far and wide when taken off a leash at one of the city’s two off-leash dog parks. Well, there is a new effort to revive an old idea in Lawrence: construction of a new fenced dog-park that would better accommodate such canines.
Organizers of the idea also are pitching the idea that a new $10 per year dog licensing fee could be part of the plan to help raise money to maintain the park and fund other dog-related services in the community.
Lawrence resident and pet lover Lisa Scieszinski came to Tuesday’s City Commission meeting and told commissioners that she and a group of residents plan to push hard for the creation of a park. She said preliminary research indicates the best site would be on vacant city-owned property along Peterson Road, just west of the Hallmark Cards production plant.
There is a site at the northwest corner of Peterson Road and North Iowa Street and also a site at the southwest corner of that intersection. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has estimated it would cost about $145,000 to build a 5-acre, fenced dog park complete with parking and a restroom (for the humans.)
Scieszinski, though, is not asking the city to come up with that money. Instead, she wants the City Commission to commit to a site, and then give herself and others a year to raise private funds to build the park. As for how to maintain the park, Scieszinski said that is where the city ought to consider establishing a dog licensing fee.
Scieszinski said a computer program that estimates the pet population of various communities has pegged Lawrence’s dog population at about 19,000. (Fire hydrants throughout the city shudder at that statistic.) If the city charged a $10 per year license fee for all dogs in the city, that would be $190,000 in new revenue. The money could be used for maintenance at this park and the two other dog parks that currently exist in the city. It also could be used to help provide the city’s share of funding to the Lawrence Humane Society. The city currently provides that funding from general tax dollars.
City commissioners didn’t comment on the proposal on Tuesday. The item was not part of their agenda, but rather Scieszinski presented the idea during the general public comment section of the meeting. We’ll see what commissioners do next with the idea.
The issue has come up before, and money and location have been two of the stumbling blocks. In the past, leaders with Parks and Recreation have said they would want to do more work to confirm that neighbors near the Peterson Road property would want a dog park near their homes.
There also may need to be a bit more discussion about what is driving the need for the new facility. It is easy to understand why a fenced dog park would be more appropriate for some types of dogs that don’t always return when you call them. It also is easy enough to understand how a park that has areas designated for smaller dogs would be useful. What we’ve reported previously, however, is that the large city-operated dog park below the Clinton Lake Dam has a smaller area that is fenced. A 2012 article, though, described it as overgrown and not well used. I don’t know what the situation is today.
But clearly, the city has enough space at the dog park at Clinton Lake to have a fenced area. So, that brings up the question of whether this proposal is more about having a park in a location that more people find convenient. That’s a slightly different issue for commissioners to consider.
It also will be interesting to see how dog owners respond to the possibility of a $10 per year, per dog fee. The idea of a dog licensing system certainly isn’t novel. Lots and lots of communities have them. Scieszinski presented information that Manhattan charges $12 a year for dogs and cats that have not been neutered or spayed, and $6 per year for those dogs and cats that have. Topeka also licenses both dogs and cats, charging $8 or $20 depending on their spayed or neutered status.
Notice I have mentioned the ‘C’ word — cats — twice now. Scieszinski didn’t mention anything about a licensing program for cats. But most of the benefits of a licensing system — assuring compliance with vaccination laws, reduction in animal shelter stays, and such — are the same for cats as with dogs. Using the estimation program Scieszinski used, there are supposedly another 21,000 cats in the city. Add that to the dog total, and that would be about $400,000 a year that the city would be collecting in licensing fees. Remember, though, all of this is based off a pretty rudimentary estimation program that doesn’t have any specific data about Lawrence. It would be interesting to see how much Manhattan, Topeka and other Kansas cities are collecting in pet licenses.
We’ll see where this one goes, and in the meantime, I’ll keep rooting for Toodles to return.
In other news and notes from around town:
• A debate about an East Lawrence Quonset hut — or at least it is similar to a Quonset hut — appears to be on hold. City Hall officials have received word that Black Hills Energy has withdrawn its demolition permit for the old maintenance building that sits near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets.
If you remember, some neighbors had expressed concern that the building was a significant architectural feature of the neighborhood. Black Hills officials said they needed to tear down the building so they could conduct further environmental tests on the site, which in the early 1900s served as a coal gas plant. The city’s Historic Resources Commission objected to the demolition permit, and Black Hills was appealing the HRC decision to the City Commission.
Black Hills plans to sell the property, but attorneys for the natural gas company aren’t comfortable with a sale until the remaining environmental tests are completed.
What happen now, I’m not sure. I’ll reach out to Black Hills officials. City Hall leaders said the company has told them that they are “exploring alternative solutions.”
• While it is not quite the magnitude of a Quonset hut debate, the city also has the matter of finding a new city manager. Commissioners Mike Amyx and Leslie Soden have both been interviewing search firms that could help the commission find the next top executive for City Hall.
The search committee has narrowed the field of consultants down to three finalists, and interviews took place on Monday. The full City Commission ultimately will pick the search firm. Amyx said he hopes to bring a recommendation to the commission for its July 7 meeting, at the latest.
Soden said she has been pleased what she’s heard from the consultants thus far. Soden said she’s been concerned that the not so-positive national publicity about Kansas may hurt the city’s chances of getting high-quality applicants.
“We were worried the process that has been going on in Topeka may sandbag our process a bit, but the consultants have told us they don’t think that will be the case,” Soden said. “They think we’ll have a lot of good interest.”
Soden said the firms have said they think the hiring process could be completed in a couple of months. Whether the City Commission will choose to move that fast is still an open question.
The city is looking for a new city manager after David Corliss left to take a town manager position in Castle Rock, Colo. Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard has been named interim city manager. She has not yet said whether she will be a candidate for the position.
Kansas City’s Jazz restaurant chain sets sights on Lawrence; keeping an eye on list of Gap stores to close; city to address questions about affordable housing tonight
UPDATE, 11 A.M.: I’ve gotten ahold of co-owner Damian Farris, and he has confirmed that the company has signed a lease to locate in the former Buffalo Wild Wings spot near 10th and Massachusetts.
Farris said the company is beginning remodeling work and hopes to be open by late September or early October “at the latest.”
The location will be the sixth for the restaurant chain. Farris said anybody who has gone to the restaurant’s two locations in Kansas City will feel right at home in the Lawrence location.
“It will be the same menu, the same recipes, the same New Orleans feel,” Farris said.
That means lots of seafood, po’ boys, pasta and live music. Farris said plans for the live music schedule haven’t been worked out yet, but the company’s goal is to have live music as often as possible.
“It really comes down to what the restaurant can support,” Farris said. “If we have solid crowds five nights a week, then we’ll have live music five nights per week.”
Regardless, look for lots of jazz, blues and Dixieland performers in the Mass. Street location.
Farris said the deal — the lease was signed Monday — marks the end of a long Lawrence search for the company. Farris said he began looking at Lawrence locations in 2002. He said the company recently was close to signing a deal for a Leawood location, and then heard of the former Buffalo Wild Wings spot — remember, Buffalo Wild Wings moved to South Iowa Street — and cancelled the Leawood project.
“We just saw the space and fell in love with it,” Farris said. “The timing was just perfect.”
ORIGINAL POST: This has been a little bit like talking to my crazy Louisiana cousins: Confusing but exciting at the same time. (I swear, I thought he said toupee, not étouffée.) What I’m talking about is news that Kansas City-based Jazz restaurant is coming to Lawrence.
The company sent out several tweets on Monday to announce it would be coming to Lawrence in the fall. I’ve called one of the Kansas City restaurants, and the general manager there said he couldn’t talk about it. But I’ve reached out to the owner of the restaurant on Twitter, I and hope to hear back.
There has been further speculation that the location will be where Buffalo Wild Wings was located downtown. Jazz tweeted "opening on 10th & Mass this fall!"
The idea of the Jazz restaurant coming to Lawrence certainly isn’t new. Back in 2012, there was a lot of speculation that Jazz was coming to town when somebody associated with the restaurant said such a thing as part of live radio remote broadcast from one of its restaurants. But that ended up being confusing too. (I’ve long said, the Cajun language is one of love but also confusion. You don’t even want to know what I did with dirty rice.) Back in 2012, a partner in the restaurant said Lawrence was on its list of expansion targets but no deal was in the works. But he said if the company was to expand in Lawrence, he expected it would do something smaller than the restaurants it has in Kansas City, and likely would look for a spot on Massachusetts Street.
As for those of you not familiar with the restaurant, it has Kansas City locations at the Legends and also on West 39th Street in Kansas City, Mo. The menu includes lots of seafood, pasta, “blackened” dishes (that’s a good thing in the Cajun world) and ample opportunities to mispronounce words like beignets, a type of doughnut; boudin, a type of sausage; czarina, a type of sauce; and Lafayette, a rich 18th Century French general who roams the restaurant asking if you would like some more toupees. Wait, I’m told I got that last one wrong. Lafayette is also a sauce. I think sauce, if you know what I mean, is a big part of the restaurant. I know if I had to talk this way all the time it would be.
In other news and notes from around town:
• All skinny jean wearers and polo shirt aficionados should be on high alert. Gap has announced that it is going to close about 140 stores this year. The company has not yet announced which stores it will close, so I do not know whether the Lawrence store at 643 Massachusetts St. is on the chopping block. I could speculate, but since multiple big-haired teenagers with Walkmans are now yelling at me that skinny jeans and polo shirts are no longer a thing, you can guess how accurate my assessment is of the Gap world. (Big hair and Walkmans aren’t a thing anymore either? Then, who were those people?)
Some national reports indicate that Gap is expected to release more details about its restructuring today. So I will keep an eye out for a list of store closings. The Lawrence store has been a tough one to gauge. Most of Gap’s stores are located in malls, so that has made the Lawrence location a bit of an oddity from the beginning. Whether that is good or bad for its future, I don’t know.
• If affordable housing is your thing, then come to City Hall tonight and wallow in the topic. City commissioners have added an item to their agenda to talk about affordable housing. Or perhaps more accurately, they’ve added an item so they can be talked to about affordable housing. The new agenda item is listed as a “discussion on affordable housing with Justice Matters.”
Justice Matters is the faith-based group that has brought together a few thousand members of local congregations to talk about social issues such as affordable housing and mental health care. From what I’ve gathered, Justice Matters was not pleased with the study session city commissioners had last week on affordable housing. There was talk by the commission of spending about $75,000 to hire a consultant to do a comprehensive study of the city’s housing market and what problems it may have from an affordability standpoint.
Folks at City Hall tell me that tonight’s item on the agenda may be about nixing that idea of a study. Some believe that now is the time for action, and that limited dollars ought to be spent on projects rather than a study.
Others have noted, though, that it would be good to have a game plan before the city creates an affordable housing trust fund, which is the action Justice Matters has sought from the commission. The city created an affordable housing trust fund around 2001. It eventually spent most of it approximately $500,000, but there was a long period marked by squabbling and indecision. I think many folks were surprised to learn that the city still technically has an affordable housing trust fund that has a little more than $100,000 in it.
City staff members have noted that the affordable housing issue has some key questions that come with it. For example, what does the city want to require of the building industry when it comes to affordable housing? Scott McCullough, director of planning and development services for the city, said that a serious examination of affordable housing will include a discussion about whether inclusionary zoning should be enacted. That’s a policy that generally requires new residential developments to set aside a certain percentage of lots that will be entered into an affordable housing program that is run by a group like Tenants to Homeowners or the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority. Other communities have placed surcharges on new building permits, with the fees being used to fund affordable housing programs. As you can imagine, such provisions can be controversial because some argue placing new requirements on new construction increases the cost of housing.
“There are going to be some lighting rod issues,” McCullough told commissioners last week.
Should the city have a discussion about whether it wants to create any such regulations? Would the creation of those regulations change the amount of money that may be required in a housing trust fund? Would the creation of such regulations change the strategy of how housing trust fund money would be used? What is the strategy for how housing trust fund money would be used today? Does Lawrence have an affordable housing problem or a low-wage job problem? Can a study by a professional firm provide any useful guidance on funding and regulatory issues?
I think the various players in this debate have different answers on many of those questions. We’ll see how much gets hashed out tonight. Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. at City Hall.
More than a dozen social service agencies recommended for cuts in city’s 2016 budget; downtown July 4 celebration planned; satellite treasurer’s office moving
Wipe off whatever that was that splattered on you from the state’s budget process, and get ready to dive into the city of Lawrence’s budget fun. City commissioners are starting to get a whole lot of numbers about their 2016 budget, and it is easy to see how some of them are going to spark some debate.
Some of that debate may start within social service agencies across the city. The city’s Social Service Funding Advisory Board is recommending nearly a 7.5 percent cut in general fund dollars for the approximately 20 agencies that it reviews.
That recommended cut is coming at the same time that revenues flowing into the city’s general fund are doing quite well. The city’s general fund is the city’s big fund that receives sales taxes, property taxes, franchise fees, fines and other sorts of revenue. The general fund pays for most city functions, except for water, sewer, trash, debt payments and a few other speciality items.
News numbers from the city’s finance department are projecting good growth for that fund. Without any sort of tax increase, the city’s general fund is expected to grow by about $3.55 million in 2016. The city had budgeted to collect $74.95 million in its general fund in 2015, and now expects that in 2016 it will collect $78.51 million. That’s a growth rate of about 4.6 percent. Most of the new money is coming from shoppers spending more, and thus the city collecting more in sales taxes as a result. Some of the growth also is coming from an increase in property values and new construction that is boosting the city’s property tax base. (Although, to be clear, some of that additional $3.55 million is automatically transferred out of the city’s general fund and into a public transit fund because of the way the city’s sales tax system is structured.)
The even better news on the revenue front is that the growth is occurring now. Remember, I said the city had budgeted to collect $74.95 million in 2015. But the new report projects the city actually will collect $76.79 million in 2015. That’s about $1.8 million that is now projected to enter the city’s coffers, but was not budgeted to be spent by the city this year. That should help the city as it prepares its 2016 budget this summer.
Thus far, though, it has not helped the approximately 20 social service agencies that receive general fund dollars from the city. The Social Service Funding Advisory Board is recommending that the city provide $513,236 in general fund dollars to agencies that range from the Ballard Center to the Willow Domestic Violence Center. That proposed amount is down from the approximately $554,000 in general fund dollars the City Commission approved last year.
Why the cut is being proposed is kind of convoluted. During the 2015 budget process, the Social Service Funding Advisory Board recommended $513,236 in funding. But then the City Commission added $41,000 in funding to the recommendations to provide assistance for Van Go Mobile Arts and Willow Domestic Violence Center. But commissioners at the time said it was one-time funding that would be taken out of the city’s version of a savings account.
So, this year, the Social Service Funding Advisory Board was instructed by city staff that its funding recommendations needed to be no more than $513,236 in total. The one-time money was treated as one-time money. But the advisory board chose to recommend funding for both Willow and Warm Hearts — the recipients of the one-time money. The result is that nearly everybody else’s funding allocations declined. Of the 19 agencies reviewed by the advisory boards, 18 of them are being recommended for a cut in funding.
The approximately $500,000 in social service funding isn’t very significant in the grand scheme of the city’s approximately $75 million general fund. We’ll talk about much larger issues during this budget season. But social service agencies repeatedly say the money they receive from the city is important. Often times it is used to help match private grant dollars and such. The social service funding issue always receives outsized attention in the city’s budget process, in part, because of the work the groups do and also because the agencies have boards that often are full of politically active members who know how to make their cases at City Hall.
It will be interesting to see how this new commission approaches social service funding. There certainly have been indications that this commission views the City Commission as having a role in providing social services. Think of the discussion by City Commission candidates about how mental health care should be funded, and about providing assistance for people in need of transitional housing.
Members of the Social Service Funding Advisory Board struggled with finding funding in their recommendations for some agencies that address those topics fairly directly. For example, the Bert Nash Homeless Outreach program, which deals with mental health issues extensively, is scheduled to take a cut of nearly $15,000 in funding from the city’s general fund. The Salvation Army requested $15,000 in city funding for a program that helps provide transitional housing to single mothers in need. Under the current recommendations, it is not scheduled to receive any funding.
Don’t get me wrong, the Social Service Funding Advisory Board has a tough job. I’m not trying to criticize its recommendations. It clearly has some parameters placed on how much total funding it can recommend. That may be where the largest discussions will be had: Does the new commission think those parameters are still correct? And ultimately, these are just recommendations. City commissioners can change them. We’ll see if they do.
It also is worth noting that this group of approximately 20 agencies that are part of this recommendation make up just one set of what is a complicated system of how the city provides funding to “outside agencies.”
The city also has received a recommendation from the advisory board to provide $316,617 of funding to eight social service agencies that deal with issues of helping those with substance abuse problems. That money comes from the city's Special Alcohol fund, which is funded through collection of the state drink tax charged on liquor purchases at bars and restaurants. That total amount is unchanged from 2015 totals, but five of the agencies are recommended to receive less money than in 2015 because the group is recommending the money be split between eight agencies instead of the seven that received funding in 2015.
The city also has some social service agencies that don’t go through the standard review process run by the Social Service Funding Advisory Board. The Lawrence Community Shelter is probably the primary example of such an agency. It is listed as a city vendor — along with groups such as the Humane Society and the Arts Center. Vendors don’t go through an advisory board review, but rather make their case directly to city commissioners. The funding amounts for those categories can be significant. The homeless shelter is seeking a $50,000 increase for operations of the shelter, and the Arts Center is seeking $59,000 in additional funding in 2016.
In the past, tight budget conditions have been the No. 1 reason that city commissioners have given for the basically zero sum increases in social service funding for many of these agencies. The city certainly has some budget issues staring at it in 2016. The biggest is the city hasn’t yet figured out how to pay for a new multimillion dollar police headquarters building. But as the new financial report shows, the city is not facing a crisis when it comes to city revenues. Most revenue sources have been performing nicely.
For those of you who want the details, here’s a look at the agency funding recommendations, and how they compare to 2015 totals.
General Fund dollars
— Ballard Center: $13,210, down from $14,500
— Bert Nash Homeless Outreach: $153,208, down from $168,114
— Big Brothers Big Sisters: $17,580, down from $19,300
— Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence: $119,328, down from $130,922
— Communities in School: $2,280, down from $2,500
— Douglas County CASA: $22,780, down from $25,000
— Douglas County Dental Clinic: $13,670, down from $15,000
— GaDuGi SafeCenter: $8,200, unfunded in 2015
— Health Care Access: $24,410, down from $26,800
— Housing & Credit Counseling: $15,580, down from $17,100
— Lawrence Community Food Alliance: $6,830, down from $7,500
— Lawrence Farmers Market: $9,110, down from $10,000
— The Shelter Inc.: $29,150, down from $32,000
— Success by 6 Coalition: $25,050, down from $27,500
— TFI Family Services: $6,380, down from $7,000
— Van Go Mobile Arts: $31,890, down from $35,000
— Warm Hearts of Douglas County: $5,470, down from $6,000
— Willow Domestic Violence Center: $5,470, down from $6,000
— Willow Bus Pass program: $3,640, down from $4,000.
Special Alcohol Funded Programs (funded from drink tax revenues)
— Big Brothers Big Sisters: $8,710, not funded in 2015
— Boys & Girls Club: $95,710, down from $97,000
— DCCCA: $93,534, down from $93,696
— First Step House: $37,180, down from $37,421
— Hearthstone: $7,500, unchanged from 2015
— Heartland Community Health Center: $30,000, unchanged from 2015
— Van Go Mobile Arts: $26,273, down from $32,000
— Willow Domestic Violence Center: $17,710, down from $19,000
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps all these numbers once again give you the urge to take a pile of spreadsheets and blow them up with a really large firecracker. Or maybe with 20 or 30 large firecrackers. Or perhaps a quarter-stick of dynamite.
I’m not sure any of that will be allowed, but Lawrence’s official Independence Day celebration is set to return to downtown Lawrence for another year.
Once again the Lawrence Originals — a group of Lawrence-owned restaurants — will sponsor the event. It is set for Watson Park near the corner of Seventh and Kentucky Streets. It will include music, food, alcohol sales, children’s activities and other such events. The group has filed the necessary paperwork with City Hall, and commissioners are scheduled to approve the permit at their Tuesday evening meeting. In the past, the local Jaycees club has provided a fireworks show from the levee of the Kansas River. That show isn’t part of this permit request, but I’m assuming all systems are go for the fireworks show. I'll let you know when I get more details about that.
• For years and years I have gotten questions about what is going to go into the large, vacant retail building that is in front of Best Buy and Home Depot at 31st and Iowa. Well, I’ve got a new answer for you: the Douglas County Treasurer.
The treasurer’s office has signed a deal to locate in space that is next to the Firehouse Subs restaurant that opened in the building within the last year. (I know a sub sandwich always makes me feel better after I pay my taxes.) The treasurer’s office has a satellite office in the shopping center at the northwest corner of 27th and Iowa Street. It is kind of near the Hancock Fabrics store. (Fabric shopping always makes my wife feel better.) That satellite location will close at 5 p.m. on June 24. The treasurer’s office has received a building permit to begin work on the new 31st Street location. Work is expected to take four to seven weeks to complete. In the meantime, residents can still take care of their tax bills, car tags and other such needs at the treasurer’s office at the Douglas County Courthouse at 11th and Massachusetts streets or the satellite office at 3000 W. Sixth St. inside the Dillons Store.
Lawrence-based hamburger chain expanding into Kansas City; a 1,000-foot water slide coming to town; area swimmer signs pro contract with adidas
You know me, I’m always looking for an excuse to wear my Hamburglar outfit, so my ears perked up when I heard news of a Lawrence business that is becoming a growing burger chain. But, alas, no Hamburglars, no clowns or other such characters. Instead, there’s news that Lawrence-based Dempsey’s is taking another step at becoming a regional leader in the upscale burger market.
Lawrence businessman Steve Gaudreau has confirmed he’s struck a deal to expand his Dempsey’s burger chain into the Kansas City market. Gaudreau has finalized a deal to purchase the Blanc Burgers + Bottles in the Westport district of Kansas City, Mo. Gaudreau said the Blanc location will be converted over to a Dempsey’s by July 7.
This will mark the fourth location for Dempsey’s, which got its start and still operates out of the space at 623 Vermont St. in downtown Lawrence. The chain also has locations in Lincoln, Neb., and Wichita. Gaudreau said the business is still very much in an expansion mode.
“I want to grow it as big as I can go,” said Gaudreau, who also is the longtime owner of the downtown bar and sandwich shop Quinton’s. “Dempsey’s is definitely our future. I prefer the restaurant business over the bar business. That’s more of a young man’s game.”
Gaudreau said he thinks the prospects for growth are good in the upscale burger market. Prior to the Westport deal, Wichita was the last market he expanded into. He said diners there have taken to the idea of burger with a flair.
“Wichita was way bigger than my projections,” Gaudreau said. “It is doing extremely well. Lawrence had its best year, and thus far every year has been better than the previous one. Lincoln is smaller than the other stores. There was an influx of restaurants that opened there when we opened. But it is doing fine.”
Gaudreau said at the moment he’s not looking to franchise the business, but rather wants to build up a chain of locations that he owns. Gaudreau said getting into the Kansas City market has been high on his list because it is a large enough community where he could operate several Dempsey’s in the market, once the restaurant builds name recognition.
Gaudreau said the owner of Blanc Burgers & Bottles was ready to sell the Wesport location so that he could focus solely on Blanc’s other Kansas City metro location, which is located in Leawood.
As for Gaudreau’s other Lawrence business, Quinton’s, he said the longtime downtown establishment continues to “chug along.” But he said the bar business in Lawrence has seemed to become more sporadic of late. That would jibe with some of the numbers we reported last week about how Lawrence’s drink tax collections have declined for two straight years.
“The bar business is a fickle game right now,” Gaudreau said. “It is just a seesaw. You don’t have the constant, steady business that you used to have.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• I may not have found a reason to wear my Hamburglar suit yet, but it looks like there may be a weekend where my Speedo in Lawrence won’t draw as many stares. There’s information out on the social media world advertising that a 1,000-foot temporary water slide is coming to Lawrence in August.
A company called The Urban Slide is advertising that it will be on Eighth Street Aug. 8-9. The company’s website promotes the slide as being 1,000 feet long and “built for steady sliding and extraordinary family fun.”
The website doesn’t really spell out the specific location for the slide, but when you click on the direction tab on the site, it takes you to the block of Eighth Street between Massachusetts and Vermont streets. I wouldn’t count on that, though.
I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat, badly misused a pipe, and did some sleuthing. Lawrence-based Silverback — the production company that does events like The Color Run and other wild things —is behind The Urban Slide.
Silverback leader Ryan Robinson said the group originally wanted to have the slide downtown, but a host of logistical issues has that looking unlikely. For one, the slide works best on a hill, which is lacking in downtown. And then there is the issue of size — 1,000 feet is really long. Robinson estimated the slide is about 2.5 blocks long.
“That would cause Massachusetts Street to shut down, and I don’t think the city really wants that,” Robinson said.
He’s probably right, but how cool would it be to finally go down Massachusetts Street — legally — on an inner tube?
Robinson said he’s now looking at areas around the KU campus, which as any freshman and his oxygen bottle can tell you, is located on top of a hill. Robinson mentioned Mississippi Street and Fambrough Way as possibilities. He said he hasn’t settled on any location, and the use of any city street is going to have to win approval from city officials for safety and traffic purposes.
But Robinson said he’s confident a location is going to be found and that the event will happen in August. Robinson said his company’s been putting on Urban Slide events in other metro areas around the country for about a year.
“They are a blast,” Robinson said.
I’ll let you know when I hear of a location for the Lawrence event.
• Speaking of swimsuits, there is now a rural Lawrence resident who is officially making his living in one. I got word today that 16-year old swimming phenom Michael Andrew has signed a professional endorsement deal with the athletic equipment company adidas.
Michael’s mother, Tina Andrew, said her son has signed with adidas Swim. The signing makes Michael the youngest male swimmer in the history of U.S. swimming to turn pro.(Actually, it looks like he technically became the youngest male professional in 2014 when he signed a deal with nutritional supplement company.) Even if you are not a swim fan, perhaps you remember reading of Michael. I did a profile on Michael and his family back in 2013, detailing the wild ride that an international swimming career has taken them on.
Back then, the goal certainly was for Michael to make the U.S. Olympic team for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. All indications are that is still the goal, and perhaps just the beginning. Terms of the adidas deal were not disclosed, but the parties confirmed it is a multiyear agreement.
“Michael’s drive, talent and personality fit perfectly with adidas’ ambition to empower young swimmers around the world,” Christine Barth-Darkow, category director for swim for adidas Global said in a press release. “We look forward to supporting Michael on his journey to leave his mark on the global stage for many years to come.”
Thus far, Andrew has set 76 age group records in US swimming.
Take a look at the new 31st Street and rebuilt Haskell Avenue; federal figures give Kansas economy middling rank; BBQ contest this weekend
Perhaps you are like me and you vaguely remember a street — I think it was called 31st Street — that would take you between Haskell and Louisiana. Perhaps you are like me and have had your vehicles filled with a metric ton of concrete by construction crews as you “check” to see if that street has reopened. Well, that portion of 31st Street is not yet open, but a brand new, multimillion dollar stretch is indeed open. And it may be the most unique stretch of street in the city right now.
The portion of 31st Street between Haskell and O’Connell is open to traffic. But this new $4 million section of 31st Street has a much different feel to it than many other new roads. For starters, it is a street that is one lane in each direction, but those single lanes are separated by a median.
In addition, the street continues a new trend of narrow lanes for traffic. The street features 11-foot wide lanes, rather than what used to be the standard 12-foot lanes. The street also has no curb and gutters. Stormwater is meant to soak into the ground surrounding the project, or runoff through natural means. And if you have ever questioned Lawrence’s commitment to being pedestrian or bicycle friendly, drive this street. There is a 10-foot wide multi-use path on the south side of the street and a 6-foot wide sidewalk on the north side of the street. In addition, the street has two four-foot lanes that aren’t technically wide enough to be labeled bike lanes, but they’re certainly wide enough for bikers to use.
Think about this for a second: On the south side of the project there is actually more concrete devoted to pedestrian and bicycle traffic — 10-foot rec path plus four-foot quasi bike lane — than there is devoted to motorized traffic. On the north side of the project it is about a tie — 11 feet for motorized vehicles and 10 feet for pedestrians and bikes. Walking and biking have a lot of environmental benefits, but the amount of concrete used per user is not one of them, at least on this project. I’m not trying to make any judgments here, but rather just asking whether this is the new future for roads in Lawrence?
“We are trying for our new projects to have that more complete street feel,” said City Engineer David Cronin, referring to a design term that highlights the importance of including pedestrians and bicycle features into street designs.
I didn’t use either the rec path or the sidewalk while I was there, but I’m told the sidewalk on the north side of the street goes within about 30 feet of Mary’s Lake, the picturesque city park that is in the area. I’ve been told it will be fairly easy to make a connection between the 31st Street sidewalk and the trail system that runs around Mary's Lake and connects to the Prairie Park Nature Center.
The project also includes another feature that is making a comeback in Lawrence: a roundabout. The new intersection of 31st Street and O’Connell includes a roundabout. Cronin said if his count is right, it is the 20th roundabout installed in the city.
The work on 31st Street is just one small way the landscape is changing in that area. The new Haskell Avenue is also now open. It is a much curvier street than it used to be. It’s alignment is now farther east than it previously was. The road now runs east of the small industrial/office area that was located at the old intersection of 31st and Haskell.
Motorists also have two new traffic lights to navigate. One is at the new 31st and Haskell intersection, and the other is a short block away on a new road called Horizon, which leads into the industrial/office area. That stoplight also is at the entrance to the interchange for the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The new Haskell goes south of the South Lawrence Trafficway and connects with the old portion of Haskell — or County Route 1055 — right before the Wakarusa River bridge. The southern section of Haskell Avenue does have an interesting feature that has caused some questions from motorists. There’s a pretty noticeable dip in the road south of the SLT interchange. In a small way it reminds me of my second favorite activity from my re-creations of "The Dukes of Hazzard" — jumping over a country ravine. (My favorite activity, in case you are wondering, is eating BBQ ribs in a pristine white suite and cowboy hat, while jumping over a country ravine.) I will check in with KDOT officials to find out of if the dip is here to stay or what is involved. It is not like your car bottoms out in it, but it is noticeable enough that some people have asked about it.
While I was out and about in the area, I also took a photo of the new College & Career Center that the school district is currently constructing. It is highly visible from the new Haskell. It is adjacent to the Peaslee Tech vocational center that is opening this fall.
As for the opening date for the section of 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana, city officials tell me they are still hearing from the state officials that oversee that project that it will be open around the end of the summer.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While lawmakers in Topeka were doing the very important work of banging their heads against the newly renovated brick walls of the Statehouse, a new federal report came out that measured the Kansas economy. It gave the state a middling rating.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis released its estimates for gross domestic product growth for each of the 50 states in 2014. That GDP statistics are basically the broadest measure of a state’s economy. The new report found Kansas’ GDP grew by 1.8 percent in 2014, which is less than the 2.2 percent national growth rate, but was a higher growth rate than several in our region.
Kansas’ growth rate in 2014 ranked 21st. The 1.8 percent rate was the best growth rate for the state since 2011, when we had 3.6 percent growth in GDP.
Here’s a look at how Kansas has fared over the years, and also compared to the national average for those years:
2014: up 1.8 percent (National: up 2.2 percent)
2013: down 0.3 percent (up 1.9 percent)
2012: up 0.4 percent (up 2.1 percent)
2011: up 3.6 percent (up 1.4 percent)
This most recent report does rank Kansas’ GDP growth second among the seven states that make up the Plains Region. Here’s a look:
Iowa: up 0.4 percent
Kansas: up 1.8 percent
Minnesota: up 1.4 percent
Missouri: up 0.9 percent
Nebraska: up 0.7 percent
North Dakota: up 6.3 percent
South Dakota: up 0.6 percent
In terms of other border states, both Oklahoma and Colorado had higher GDP growth rates in 2014. Oklahoma was at 2.8 percent and Colorado was at 4.7 percent.
The report also provides information on what parts of the Kansas economy were growing. It does show signs of growth in the much talked about business sector that has been an emphasis of the Brownback administration. Growth in the category of “management of companies and enterprises” added 0.37 points to Kansas’ GDP. That was better than the national average of 0.18 points. The category saw the greatest reduction in Kansas was government activity. It reduced the Kansas GDP by 0.17 points. That was greater than the national slowdown of government activity, which reduced national GDP by 0.2 points.
• Here's hoping I find where my wife put my white suite and cowboy hat because we'll all have a chance to do some barbecue eating this weekend. I’ll again be a judge for the Fire in the Hole BBQ competition. The public portion of the event will begin at noon on Saturday at the Eagles Lodge, 1803 W. Sixth St.
There will be at least eight barbecue teams cooking chicken, beef, pork and other barbecue items. Members of the public can pay $10 to sample a ton of food. Children pay $5. The best part is all the proceeds go to the Douglas County Toys for Tots and the Lawrence Police Blue Santa program, which provides toys, gifts and other assistance to families in need, especially during the holiday season.
Commercial development, duplex plans filed for property near Clinton Parkway and Inverness; city’s Parks and Recreation Department finalist for national award
Perhaps you remember back in late 2013 when a business group filed plans to build a “family fun center” with go-karts, batting cages, mini bowling and other such items near the corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive. Perhaps you also remember that neighborhood opposition killed the project, leaving several of us not nearly enough opportunities to wear our midriff bowling shirts in public. (Everything in mini bowling has to be smaller, right?)
Well, development interest for that same piece of vacant west Lawrence property is heating up again. But this time the type of business that may locate there is a mystery.
Plans have been filed at City Hall to rezone about seven acres of vacant property near the corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive to accommodate “neighborhood commercial” development. Currently the property is zoned for a mixture of residential and office uses.
To add to the mystery, it sure looks the ownership group of the property includes some of the same players who were interested in the fun center project. The property is owned by RPI, LLC. The secretary of state’s office doesn’t technically have an ownership listing for RPI, LLC, but does have one for R.P.I. LLC. Indeed, its former name used to be Kansas Fun Center, LLC, and it is represented by Lawrence attorney Mike Riling. Riling is the attorney who is representing the company on this current rezoning matter.
I asked Riling if he could provide any more details about what the owners want to do with the property. He said he couldn’t at the moment, but was checking with the ownership group to determine what it wants to share about its plans for the property.
I don’t have any inside knowledge that the group wants to make another effort to locate a family fun center on the site. It would seem unlikely given its past rejection. The requested CN2 zoning would allow for a lot of uses. Think drug stores, restaurants, dry cleaners and numerous other possibilities. An area plan approved by the city has recommended CN2 zoning for the property. The neighborhood has not liked the idea of additional apartments being built on the corner, so planners recommended neighborhood commercial. It may be that the developers are just trying to bring the property into compliance with what is recommended by the area plan. It also is worth noting that the fun center idea — if it included outdoor uses like the go-karts — would require a special use permit. The group has not filed for any such permit.
Like I said, I really don’t know that the fun center is in play, but it has been my understanding that the fun center developers have been looking around town for a location for their project. If you remember, the company publicly disclosed it was interested in locating next to a new police headquarters project when it was proposed for a site near McDonald Drive and the Kansas Turnpike. But voters didn’t find much fun in the proposed sales tax to pay for the police headquarters project, and thus the project never got off the ground. (Think of the revenue lost: Police officers stationed next to a go-kart track. They wouldn’t even have to leave the parking lot to write speeding tickets.)
I’ll let you know if I hear more details about the type of commercial development proposed.
• There is another part of the plan, however, that may draw concern from neighbors. The same development group has filed a plan that would allow for 28 new living units of duplexes to be built on the property.
The duplex development would be just west of the existing Remington Square Apartments. Essentially the duplexes would be a buffer between the apartments and the proposed commercial lot. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is scheduled to consider that duplex development at its June 22 meeting.
Unlike the proposed commercial development, the duplex development doesn’t need rezoning approval. The existing residential office zoning allows for duplexes. Neighbors have been very united in their opposition to new apartment and rental units on that property. In fact they just get downright mad, like when their spouse has hidden their mini bowling pants from them. Neighbors feel that the city has allowed that area to turn into much more of a multifamily neighborhood than what was envisioned when the adjacent single-family homes were developed years ago.
Technically, duplexes aren’t apartments, though. We’ll see what type of response the duplex idea elicits from both neighbors and the planners tasked with approving the project.
• One landowner who may be watching all of this with interest is Bart Yost. I noticed several weeks ago a land transfer showing that he had bought a vacant piece of property kind of behind the Hy-Vee gas station that is located at Clinton Parkway and Crossgate Drive. Yost is an owner of the longtime Rumsey-Yost Funeral home, but no, he doesn’t have plans to build a new west Lawrence funeral home.
When I contacted him, he said he bought the property with the idea of future apartment development in mind. The lot — which is just east of the Legends apartment complex — isn’t real large, so any apartment development would be smaller than any of the other apartment complexes in that area. Thus far, no development plans have been filed for the property. Yost didn’t provide any timeline on when he may pursue the project.
In other news and notes from around town:
• People say we don’t have a go-kart track in town, but those are people who just lack imagination with a golf cart at the city-owned Eagle Bend course. I don’t think the city’s Parks and Recreation Department appreciates such imagination, but the department is getting its fair share of appreciation these days.
It has been announced that the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is one of four finalists for a national gold medal award from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration and the National Recreation and Park Association. The award recognizes excellence in parks and recreation management and overall service. Lawrence is competing against departments in Allen, Texas; Roswell, Ga.; and St. George, Utah. Lawrence has twice been nominated for the award before, in 1997 and 1998. Winners of the award will be announced at a Las Vegas conference in September.
Take a look at East Lawrence’s latest multimillion dollar project; city prepares for discussion on economic development incentives
The latest multimillion dollar project in East Lawrence is nearly complete, and now it is time to weigh in on its distinctive look.
Work on the 9 Del Lofts affordable housing project is wrapping up at the corner of Ninth and Delaware streets. The project is the latest by a group led by Tony Krsnich, who developed the nearby Poehler Lofts and the Warehouse Arts District.
As we reported months ago, Krsnich set out to build the new four-story 9 Del Lofts building with an architectural style that is much more modern than the old buildings that dominate the rest of the district. Krsnich, who is an award-winning historic preservationist, said he doesn’t like architecture that tries to make new buildings look old. He told me he wanted a building that 50 years from now would be recognized as a building that came from this time period. So, take a look.
“People are either going to love or hate the look of the building,” Krsnich said. “I don’t think there will be much in between. We’ve tried really hard to make it look creative.”
The Kansas City architecture firm el dorado inc. — which is the same group leading planning efforts on the Ninth Street Corridor project — designed the building. It has said it was looking for a a building that would convey the light industrial heritage of the neighborhood. So, the building uses what looks a lot like the sheet metal siding you would find on a lot of industrial or agricultural buildings. Various shades of metal are used, and strips of bright yellow are used to add another element to catch the eye. In time, the metal is expected to take on an interesting patina as it ages.
The building also has LED lighting on its exterior in several of the crevices where the structure protrudes. The lighting kicks on near dusk and gives the building a glowing look at night. I haven’t seen it yet at night, but will be out and about this evening and will try to take a picture of it.
“I was scared of the design at first,” Krsnich said. “But I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. I kept having people ask me whether I was going to make it look like the Poehler building or the Cider Gallery. I told them neither. I was going to take a chance. We don’t think of it, but the buildings we build today will be a part of history too. I’m really curious to know what people think of it,”
As someone who once aspired to be an architect before I had that unfortunate incident with the T-square, I’m curious too. Lawrence is going through a significant time period of new construction of large buildings. Some of them have been designed to look old, some of them have been designed to just exist, and some have tried to add a more modern look. The library project and adjacent parking garage are probably the leading example of a public project that has gone with a more distinctive design. And, I think it is fair to say, some people love it and some people hate it. Who knows how much longer the building boom will continue, but it will be interesting to see how the architectural style of the city develops.
As for the 9 Del Lofts project, it has 43 units of apartments, with most of the units rent-controlled. Krsnich’s group used state-issued tax credits to help finance the project. Those tax credits come with a condition that most units in the building must be rent-controlled and offered only to tenants that meet certain income guidelines.
Krsnich said 34 of the units will be rent-controlled. Rents will range from $500 for a one-bedroom to $800 for a three-bedroom. All units, whether they are rent-controlled or not, will feature stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, polished concrete floors and other amenities.
Krsnich told me this morning that the project has all but about 10 of the units leased. People started moving in last week. You can get a closer look at the project on Friday, when it hosts an open house and celebration with food and live music. The ribbon cutting is set for 4:30 p.m. The open house and tours run from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners are scheduled to discuss a couple of topics at their study session this afternoon. Affordable housing is one of them, and economic development is another.
Economic development, and the use of financial incentives and other such items, was such a big topic during the City Commission campaign. But thus far, the commission hasn’t had much of a discussion about the topic. We’ll see if that comes today.
Commissioners will have plenty of information to review. One piece will be the city’s 2014 economic development report. Back in April we reported on that document’s findings, but here’s a reminder of some of the highlights.
— From 2011 to 2014, the public has provided $591,254 in property tax abatements to manufacturing and other industrially based companies. The abatements have helped the companies — Amarr Garage Doors, Prosoco, Grandstand Glass and Sportswear, and Sunlite Science & Technology — add 330 jobs with an average salary of $37,918 a year. The companies also have invested about $21 million in new plant and equipment upgrades.
— From 2011 to 2014, the public has provided $2.9 million in tax incentives — namely tax rebates and approvals for special taxing districts — for hotel, low-income apartment, retail development, and office development projects. The city doesn’t track the number of jobs or salaries created by those projects, but rather measures the amount of new construction added by the developments. The city estimates those projects — which include The Oread hotel, the Bauer Farm development at Sixth and Wakarusa, the Treanor Architects downtown headquarters and multiple developments in the Warehouse Arts District — have resulted in about $55 million in new investments.
— The city thus far has spent $2.04 million in infrastructure upgrades to help support the new Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, which also includes the rent-controlled Poehler Lofts apartment building.
— The city in 2014 spent $341,540 to help support the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on KU’s West Campus. Since 2006, the city has spent $3.5 million to support the center, which helps young science and technology companies get started. That’s in addition to funding that Douglas County has provided the center. At the end of 2014, the BTBC estimated that the 31 companies it works with had 136 employees with an annual payroll of $8.1 million.
The headline number in the report, though, was that in 2014 for “every $1 in public sector investment, approximately $5.40 in private sector capital investment is realized.” I guess another way of saying that is that the public is about a 15 percent partner in the projects, although not technically because the public doesn’t actually own a portion of the projects. And it also is important to remember that many times the public's investment comes in the form of forgiving taxes rather than taking existing money out of the public's coffers.
Still, it will be interesting to see if the number sparks a discussion. The statistic does a pretty good job of highlighting how economic development has changed over the years. For a long time, the key statistic in economic development was jobs created and the wages those jobs paid. That’s still the case with a couple of the city’s economic development programs: Traditional tax abatements given to industrial businesses; and public assistance given to fund the incubator program that houses start-up science and technology firms.
Both of those programs have job numbers to tout. The tax abatement program has produced 330 jobs with an average salary of $37,918. If you do the math, that equates to annual payroll of about $12.5 million that is injected into the local economy. The public in 2014 provided $181,318 in traditional tax abatements.
The incubator project on KU’s West Campus reports its companies have created 131 jobs with an annual payroll of $8.1 million. The city spent $341,540 on that program in 2014. I believe the county spent about that much as well.
But where jobs become less of an issue is in the Neighborhood Revitalization Act, tax increment financing and transportation development districts. Those programs provide property tax rebates, sales tax rebates, and allow for the creation of special taxing districts for projects such as hotels, retail development, apartments and other types of nonindustrial projects. The city doesn’t really track jobs created or the wages paid by those developments. But the public does provide a lot of assistance for those programs. In 2014 it totaled $642,633. That’s more than the other two programs combined.
Now, the city points out that it doesn’t really track job totals because those programs haven’t been designed to create new jobs. When the state created the laws that gave cities the ability to offer these types of incentives, it was done with the idea of helping blighted areas of a community become revitalized. One way to measure revitalization is by measuring the amount of new construction and investment that has happened as a result of the projects. The city estimates that projects that used those NRA, TIF, TDD incentives have made about $55 million worth of private investments in buildings and such. The question is, how do you measure the public’s return on that private investment?
Property taxes paid is one way, but probably shouldn’t be the only way because the public doesn’t fare too well in that calculation. But that is obvious. The public is providing property tax rebates well in excess of 50 percent on most of these projects, so by definition the public is providing more tax rebates than they are receiving in taxes. Some of the projects also receive large rebates on sales taxes generated by the projects. Most of the times those rebates last for 10 years to 20 years.
None of this is to say, though, that the public’s investment in those projects has been a poor decision. I’m just trying to point out that the city has struggled with how to measure it. Certainly, there are arguments to be made that the projects wouldn’t have been built without the incentives, and the public doesn’t enjoy any gain from a project that isn’t built. And commissioners also have argued that there are intangible benefits to some of these projects. What’s the value of having a run-down lot at Ninth and New Hampshire and replacing it with a multistory hotel/retail project?
The past commission seemed to have reached its own understanding about the intangible benefits of such projects. It is unclear that this new commission has reached such an understanding. I think the current commission will have a discussion about what role job creation should play in all incentive programs offered by the city. Discussions like the one this afternoon may provide glimpse at where this commission ultimately will land.
Lawrence’s sales tax collections growing at fastest rate in the state; a final payment on Rock Chalk Park recreation center
Maybe Lawrence shoppers have crystal balls. Here we are in June, and the latest signs out of Topeka are pointing to a sales tax increase. So, what did Lawrence shoppers do in May? They bought, bought and bought some more. So much so that Lawrence, at the moment, is the fastest growing major retail market in the state.
Based on the latest sales tax figures, Lawrence shoppers don’t just have crystal balls in their closets, but likely mountains of new shoes, clothes and three-quarters of the inventory of the QVC shopping network. Sales tax collections in Lawrence rose by a whopping 11.4 percent last month.
The latest figures from the Kansas Department of Revenue are for the May reporting period, which generally covers sales that were made from mid-April to mid-May. The 11 percent increase in taxable retail sales is one of the larger monthly increases I can remember for Lawrence. What’s behind the increase is tough to say. Certainly there is some increased visitor spending generated by tournaments and other such events at Rock Chalk Park. But that’s not likely to account for all of the increase. When you do the math on the May numbers, Lawrence consumers spent about $14 million more last month than they did for the May period of 2014.
Monthly sales tax totals can be erratic. The year-to-date numbers generally are more meaningful. Lawrence is excelling in that area too. Through the May reporting period, Lawrence’s sales tax collections have grown 6.9 percent. That’s a higher growth rate than any of the other major retail markets in the state. Here’s a look:
— Johnson County: up 2 percent
— Kansas City: up 5.2 percent
— Lenexa: up 6.2 percent
— Manhattan: up 4.4 percent
— Overland Park: down 2.9 percent
— Salina: up 5.4 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 3.8 percent
— Topeka: up 2.1 percent
If this trend continues for Lawrence, it could make for a bit easier budget process at City Hall this summer. When city officials were putting together the 2015 budget last summer, they budgeted for about a 3 percent increase in sales tax collections. If the increase instead comes in closer to 7 percent, that would provide a bit of a windfall. Based on rough numbers in the city’s budget, the city is on pace to receive about $1.25 million more than what it had budgeted to receive in sales tax dollars.
But, that is dependent upon the city maintaining its current pace. For that to happen, City Hall leaders had better hope Lawrence consumers still have some closet space left.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Tuesday’s City Commission meeting may produce an uncomfortable vote. Commissioners are scheduled to to make the final $50,000 payment due to Gene Fritzel Construction for the construction of the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.
As is fairly common with large projects, the city withheld payment on a portion of the $10.5 million construction contract for the recreation center to ensure that all miscellaneous “punch list” items were taken care of before the contractor received its final payment.
City officials say those punch list items are now completed. I’m not exactly sure what those items consisted of for Sports Pavilion Lawrence, but I’ll check. In other projects it has involved everything from touch-up paint to readjusting how doors fit to other issues that you don’t typically notice until you have used the building for a bit.
As we previously have reported, the building has had some issues related to some concrete cracking and water leakage. The city, the builder and the architects have been working on those issues. This final payment doesn’t preclude continued work, if other such issues develop. City officials note the entire building is under warranty until Sept. 1.
The vote may be an interesting one, however, because there is only one commissioner left on the City Commission that actually voted for the Rock Chalk Park project. That’s Mayor Jeremy Farmer. Commissioner Mike Amyx is the only other member who was on the commission during the time the project was being approved, but he consistently voted against the project. The other three commissioners all took office in April, and all of them expressed significant concerns about how the process that was used to approve the project.
But it is worth remembering a couple of points. First, the recreation center portion of the Rock Chalk Park Project did go through the city’s standard bidding process. The $10.5 million bid from Gene Fritzel Construction was the low bid in what was a very competitive bid letting. It was the approximately $12 million worth of infrastructure work at Rock Chalk Park that didn’t go through the city’s bidding process. Second, the city signed a contract saying the city would pay the company $10.5 million for the construction of the building, as long as certain conditions are met. City staff members are saying those conditions have been met. You can go back and argue about the process surrounding the Rock Chalk Park project, but failing to pay an executed contract likely will land the city in a different type of a process: a legal one that involves attorneys who bill by the hour.
Given all that, I would expect the commission will find the necessary votes to make the final payment.
Liquor store coming to Ninth and New Hampshire; city set to increase golf fees at Eagle Bend; cost of trees going up too
I’m in the mood for some this ’n that — and weather that doesn’t require me to wear rubber socks and a life jacket. I can help with one of the two. Here’s a look at some this ’n that items set to occur at Lawrence City Hall in the coming days.
• The center of downtown Lawrence is set to get a liquor store. An application has been filed at City Hall for City Wine Market to open in the same building that houses the Marriott Hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. City Wine Market operates a liquor store at Sixth and Wakarusa. The company has filed a renewal permit for that store, so the downtown location would be an expansion of the company’s offerings in Lawrence.
Steve Wilson, who runs the business along with manager Jamie Routledge, said the store will be on the Ninth Street side of the hotel building and will share an entrance with the new Port Fonda restaurant that currently is under construction on the ground floor of the hotel. Wilson said he hopes to have the liquor store open in late July or early August.
Like the West Lawrence store, the focus at the downtown location will be on wine. But the store will have a larger beer section than the west Lawrence store, and it also will offer other spirits besides wine. The West Lawrence location has about 400 “everyday wines,” plus quite a few upper-end wines as well. Wilson said he expects to have that type of selection downtown as well. Plus, the downtown location will have a wine-tasting bar that will host weekly events, Wilson said.
Wilson said the company was looking for expansion opportunities after the west Lawrence store hit its five-year anniversary recently. He said the company long had thought its next store would be in Johnson County, but he said the amount of residential development that is occurring in downtown Lawrence made the area too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“With the apartments, the hotel guests and Port Fonda, the density of people at the intersection is going to be pretty impressive,” Wilson said.
• The price of golf at Lawrence’s Eagle Bend Golf Course is set to increase. City commissioners on Tuesday are being asked to approve an immediate increase of $1 for all green fees and $2 for all golf cart fees at the course, which is located below the Clinton Lake dam.
The increase would mean 18 holes on a weekday with a cart would come to $33, up from $30 currently. (None of those fees, of course, include the premiums for the necessary liability insurance. What? You’re not required to take out insurance when you play?) The fee for 18 holes on the weekend with a cart will increase to $45, up from $42.
Eagle Bend, like many golf courses, had dropped its rates during the economic downturn. In 2012, rates dropped all the way to $25 for 18 holes and a cart on the weekdays at Eagle Bend. The course has been gradually raising fees since then.
Eagle Bend officials said they’re confident this latest fee increase will keep Eagle Bend’s prices slightly below several other area courses. The staff surveyed the rates of 11 other courses in the area — such as Lake Shawnee, Alvamar Public, St. Andrews, Ironhorse, Prairie Highlands, and others. City staffers found that the proposed fees for Eagle Bend will be $3 to $6 lower than the average fees at the 11 courses surveyed.
We’ll see what type of impact the fee increases have on the number of golfers using the course. The city’s parks and recreation department is projecting the current fees will cover the course’s approximately $790,000 in operating expenses. But it would like to have additional revenue to begin funding capital improvements, such as replacing aging equipment and such at the course.
• We go from golf to trees, and for once that transition did not result in a costly Municipal Court ticket. City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are being asked to increase the price of trees sold by Lawrence City Hall.
You have that perplexed look on your face like when your 5-iron gets stuck in the tree. Don’t feel bad, lots of folks perhaps don’t know that City Hall sells lots of trees. The city has a Master Street Tree Program that requires the planting of a certain number of trees along city streets when new building permits are issued. Builders pay for the trees as part of their building permit fees, and the city plants the trees during the appropriate times.
Well, apparently tree prices are on the rise. The city says recent bids have made it clear that an increase is needed. The city is proposing to charge $365 per tree, up from $245 per tree. The $365 price includes a $25 administrative fee, which would be an increase of $5 from the current administrative fee. The city notes the last time it increased the tree fee was in 2003. Parks and recreation officials, who oversee the purchase of the trees, said their suppliers tell them tree prices are on the rise nationally because of poor conditions related to the drought and increased costs to battle several types of diseases affecting a variety of trees.
The city, at the request of the Lawrence Home Builders Association, is proposing to make the fee increase effective in about 90 days in order to give builders time to adjust their pricing on homes.
In case you are wondering, the city has planted about 4,400 trees as part of the Master Street Tree Program since 2002.
Longtime Lawrence bar closes; the surprising statistic about local liquor sales; fitness center finds new home
Thankfully there are still plenty of opportunities around the house for me to wear my captain’s hat and talk like Thurston Howell III. But there’s one less opportunity to do so in the Lawrence nightlife scene. All indications are that the longtime Lawrence bar The Yacht Club has closed.
The phone line for the business has been disconnected, and I’ve chatted with a business associate of the owner who said the bar’s not just on short break. Attempts to reach the owner haven’t yet been successful.
If you are having a hard time picturing where The Yacht Club was located, don’t feel bad (unless you have driven your car into a deep body of water looking for it.) You do have to be able to navigate by the stars a bit to find the spot at 530 Wisconsin. It is a short block off Sixth Street behind the shopping center that houses Subway.
But I’m guessing many of you knew exactly where the business was at, especially if you spent any time at KU. I don’t know exactly how long the business has been in operation, but I know from personal experience that it has been more than 20 years. Many Jayhawk fans at some point made their way into the business to see the old replica scoreboard that back in the day listed the final score of the Jayhawks’ 1988 national championship triumph over Oklahoma. I think later the score was changed to show the 2008 national championship over Memphis. No, I don’t know what is happening to the scoreboard, but I’ll ask if I get in touch with the owner.
While looking at the scoreboard, you perhaps would rekindle your interest in chemistry. At least that’s how I always explained it to my folks. The Yacht Club featured a giant beer that was served in something that looked like an oversized beaker or test tube. (I guess. I’m no expert in chemistry, although there were a few times at the club when I put in the effort to be one.)
The bar underwent a pretty significant remodel in the early 2000s, and began offering a much larger menu. It really became a bar and grill at that point. No word yet on whether there are any plans for the building.
In other news and notes from around town:
• This is probably a good time to share one of the more interesting statistics I’ve found about the city recently. I know for a long time it has been thought that the bar business in Lawrence is better than alchemy. You sell a beaker of beer for $11 and watch the bank account grow. But surprisingly, the numbers show that liquor sales in Lawrence are in a bit of a funk.
The city recently released its tally of liquor sales tax collections for 2014. They actually dropped by 0.1 percent compared to 2013 totals. More significant is that the 2014 totals mark the second year in a row that liquor tax collections have declined in Lawrence. From 2012 to 2014, liquor tax collections have declined by 0.5 percent.
That’s a sharp reversal from what Lawrence bars had experience not long ago. From 2010 to 2012, the city’s liquor tax collections grew by 8.2 percent. That was generally a bad time for the economy as a whole, but it was a period of growth for the bar industry. I’ve talked to bar owners before who have said that it is not unusual for business to be good during downturns in the economy. Add your own social commentary here. What would be unusual, though, is for a prolonged decline in liquor sales in Lawrence.
One thing to keep in mind is that these liquor tax numbers don’t capture all liquor sales that occur in the city. This tax is charged just on the drinks served at bars and other drinking establishments. Liquor bought at liquor stores does not show up in these numbers.
• Practice enough chemistry, and a body at some point will need a little bit of exercise, especially around the midsection. Well, there’s news from an exercise business in Lawrence. The local Jazzercise business has a new owner and a new location.
If you remember, the Jazzercise Lawrence Fitness Center was next to the Christal K-9 pet business that caught on fire in December. The Jazzercise facility suffered damage from that fire. That fire left the Jazzercise owner looking to exit the business. Longtime Jazzercise instructor Amy Sand decided to purchase the business, and she also looked to move it to a new location.
The business has now opened at Bob Billings Parkway and Kasold Drive in the Orchards Shopping Center. Sands said the move has come at a good time. The Jazzercise business is undergoing a rebranding effort to highlight more classes that involve strength training in addition to the traditional cardio workout that the exercise program has been known for.
The Lawrence location is now offering about 37 classes a week at the new location, Sands said.