Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Update on reopening plans for Ladybird, Jefferson’s, Biggs on Mass following fires; a guess on when Menards will open
If anything good comes out of the fires that have temporarily closed three downtown restaurants, it is that the pairing of doughnuts and bourbon may finally get its due. I have updates on reopening plans for the three eateries — Jefferson’s, Biggs on Mass, and Ladybird Diner — and yes, one of them really does involve doughnuts. (Also known in my house as the Breakfast of 18th Place. We’re fine with being middle of the pack if it means we can skip the Wheaties and instead have a chocolate glaze every morning.)
“I tell people that several years from now people are going to look back on the fire at Biggs, and say ‘that was the best thing that ever happened to doughnuts in Lawrence,’” said Meg Heriford, an owner of Ladybird Diner at 721 Massachusetts St.
If you remember, on March 3 a fire started in the smoking pit area of Biggs on Mass, and ever since that barbecue restaurant and the adjacent Ladybird Diner have been closed while crews work on removing smoke damage and replacing interior furnishings.
Heriford hopes to have Ladybird reopened sometime this summer. “I just don’t know if it is going to be the beginning of summer or near the end,” she said.
In the meantime Heriford has rented a commercial kitchen in town to work on new recipes for artisan doughnuts, which she said will be a larger part of the business when the diner reopens. Heriford said she recently was experimenting with a salted caramel popcorn doughnut with bourbon icing, another one that featured mango and chiles, and one that had espresso icing with cornflakes and bacon. Given the circumstances, I think one certainly should be the Fire in the Hole Doughnut, my own personal creation where you have the doughnut of your choice, while sitting in the hole is a round ball of Tabasco infused dough fried in Tabasco sauce. (Well, maybe there is a reason why I’m not yet on The Food Network, and perhaps even a reason why Bobby Flay sought that restraining order.)
Regardless, Heriford said work is continuing on the building rehabilitation, and she said it is much more extensive than she ever thought.
“The extent of the smoke damage caught us all off guard,” Heriford said. “I walked in after the fire and saw that we didn’t have any structural damage. We had a basement full of water, but I thought we would have everything cleaned up in a couple of days.”
Instead, Heriford has found that removing the smoke odor from the restaurant is complicated. The entire ceiling had to be removed, and new duct work also is required. Once the smoke issue is taken care of, there is a lot of work for the restaurant to reopen. Furnishings will have to be reinstalled, and a staff will have to be hired and trained again, Heriford said.
Heriford is trying to keep the Ladybird in the Lawrence food scene in the interim by selling pie from her sidewalk dining area every couple of weeks. She also has reached a deal where The Bourgeois Pig, 6 E. Ninth St., is selling Ladybird pies on the weekend.
Next door at Biggs on Mass, the latest plans are for the barbecue restaurant to reopen sometime in June. Owner Doug Holiday said he’s received a building permit from city officials, and work is underway to rebuild the back area of the building where the fire started. A major part of the renovation work at Biggs involves replacing all the electrical panels in the building, which were damaged by the water.
“There are no winners in this deal,” Holiday said. “Well, maybe the cleaning companies.”
Jefferson’s, 743 Massachusetts St., is the third business that is closed due to fire damage. Fire struck that building on Jan. 15, but it appears it may still have the most work to do to reopen.
Brandon Graham, an owner of Jefferson’s, told me that he hopes to reopen sometime in August, but said it is still too early to know whether that timetable is feasible.
“It is a complete remodel at this point,” Graham said.
Graham said the rebuilding process was complicated by the fact he did not have access to the building for a full month after the fire. Insurance officials were still investigating the cause of the fire. Graham said he still doesn’t know exactly what happened. An old air make-up unit on the roof played a role in the fire, but Graham said a transformer near the building also blew up near the time of the fire. Graham said he’s not yet learned whether a surge from the transformer caused a problem in the rooftop unit, or if something else occurred that caused the fire and the transformer problems.
At this point, Graham is focused on getting the restaurant reopened. He said the restaurant — which was known for burgers, wings and other sports bar fare — will come back with much of the same look and feel. One thing that won’t be back, though, are the thousands of decorated dollar bills that adorned the walls of the restaurant.
“They were ruined,” Graham said. “Everything stunk. We took them down and took them to the bank.”
How many were there? Well, you’ll get a chance to guess that. The restaurant plans to hold a contest where patrons guess how many dollar bills were on the wall. The winner will receive free wings for a year. Graham said the restaurant will restart the tradition where patrons can decorate a dollar and have it posted on the wall.
Graham said he’s optimistic the crowds will return to the restaurant once it reopens.
“We get quite a few questions about when we are going to reopen,” Graham said. “That makes us feel good that people in the community care about what is going on with us. I feel for our neighbors up the street who are going through it too. It is a difficult thing to deal with.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• High on the list of questions I receive — somewhere near the ones about tongue ointments for Tabasco burns — is: When is Menards going to open?
Well, I’ve received no information from Menards about its Lawrence opening date. But I get the question enough that I thought I should remind you what I’ve previously reported. Menards officials during the planning process told me it takes about nine to 10 months to build a Menards store. The company received a building permit from the city in September. I think that means there is a good chance the store could be open by the time the next school year starts in late August. Menards and Sprouts, the grocery store near Wakarusa and Overland drives, both started construction near the same time. Sprouts is set to open on July 1, although that building is significantly smaller than Menards.
If you have been near the 31st and Iowa area lately, perhaps you have gotten a sense of how big Menards is going to be, especially in comparison to the Home Depot that is next door. According to information filed with the city, Menards will have about 250,000 square feet of space under roof. That’s compared to about 94,000 square feet for Home Depot. Plus, Menards will have an approximately 150,000-square-foot outdoor lumber yard.
Home Depot certainly didn’t want to have such a small store in Lawrence, but that is all they could get approved by city commissioners in the early 2000s. I will not be surprise if Home Depot files plans for an expansion in Lawrence. I have no inside information on that, but I have noted that Home Depot has sought something called a zoning certification from the city. That’s just a piece of paperwork that confirms what the zoning is for a particular piece of property. Sometimes it is just for a lender or tax purposes, but other times it is the first step in a company putting together plans to build on a piece of property. It will be interesting to see how big of a home improvement battle we have at 31st and Iowa.
• Town Talk will be off tomorrow. Contrary to the rumors, I will not be recovering from doughnut experimentation. I will be parking cars at the Lawrence Swap Meet at the Douglas County Fairgrounds as part of a fundraiser for my kids’ 4-H club.
Lawrence based advertising agency sold to new owner; get ready for ‘Unmistakably Lawrence’; plans in the works for City Hall to take over Convention and Visitors Bureau
A Lawrence-based advertising agency that does work for everybody from Free State Brewing Company to Westar Energy has been sold.
Leaders at Callahan Creek have announced that longtime CEO Cindy Maude has sold her majority ownership interest in the company to Callahan Creek President Chris Marshall. With the purchase, Marshall now takes over as president and CEO of the company.
But local officials shouldn’t worry that the company will leave Lawrence for a more traditional ad agency type of market. Marshall is a Lawrence native, and he said plans are for the company to keep its corporate headquarters in downtown Lawrence.
“Lawrence has a great creative culture,” Marshall said. “Who I am today is built around the people and this city. I definitely want to continue to leverage that culture.”
Callahan Creek came to Lawrence in 1999 after Maude bought the company and moved it from Topeka. The company has about 65 employees, with most of them at the headquarters at 805 New Hampshire St. The company has 11 employees based in California who work on a national account for Toyota.
Maude said it was simply time for her to sell the company and move into more of a retirement role, although she’ll serve a CEO emeritus and consult with several clients.
“It has been a really easy and smooth transition,” Maude said. “Chris is going to be a great leader for the company.”
Marshall has been with Callahan Creek for 10 years. He said the company is poised to grow by focusing on its expertise in helping clients understand the growing number of advertising options, including print, broadcast, digital, social media and other emerging channels.
“We focus on success through simplicity,” Marshall said. “There are so many mediums out there, and that means there are more messages, and more pressure to show a return on investment. Marketers are thirsty for people to make sense of all that.”
Maude said she thinks the company is well-positioned in Lawrence to grow. The company added about 20 employees after Maude moved the company to Lawrence.
“It has been a great decision for us,” Maude said of the company’s move to Lawrence. “It enabled us to do what we needed to do, which was attract employees. Lawrence is a creative community, and being downtown has been really important. To me that is where creative energy of Lawrence is.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• When it comes to marketing, the folks at the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau have been busy lately. We previously reported the group has changed its name to Explore Lawrence. Now, I also have word that the organization is set to launch a new branding campaign for the city.
Next month expect to see pint glasses, T-shirts and other items with a new marketing slogan of “Unmistakably Lawrence.” The campaign is expected to be launched on the weekend of Kansas University graduation ceremonies. Several bars and restaurants across the city will be using the pint glasses with the “Unmistakably Lawrence” logo on it.
The slogan is designed to highlight that Lawrence has many events and attractions that aren’t common to other communities in the area. Think of the downtown shot put event recently, or in the original rules of basketball that will be displayed in the new center adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse.
• A bigger change may be on tap for the convention and visitors bureau, however. There is serious consideration of Lawrence City Hall taking over the organization. Currently the agency is overseen by a non-profit board — Destination Management Inc. — that oversees both the CVB and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. That board is appointed by a host of different organizations, including the city and the county.
The plan currently being floated by local leaders would involve splitting those two organizations. DMI would be responsible for overseeing the national heritage area, while the convention and visitors bureau would be overseen by the City Manager’s office. As currently envisioned, Communications Manager Megan Gilliland would be the executive overseeing the agency. although a new director would be hired for the CVB, and that person would report to Gilliland. The current employees of the organization would become city of Lawrence employees under the plan.
An argument can be made that City Hall should have more direct control over the CVB because city tax dollars provide the major funding for the agency. It receives about $860,000 a year in transient guest tax money, which is the special sales tax charged on hotel rooms. Currently that money goes to DMI and is used to support both the CVB and Freedom’s Frontier. The bulk of the money, though, goes to the CVB function.
If the city does bring the CVB inside City Hall and allows DMI to exist on its own, city commissioners likely will be asked to provide some funding to DMI. Figuring out what that amount should be likely will be the big issue to determine. Thus far, the Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board has been supportive of the idea of moving the organization into City Hall. (To be clear, the offices for the CVB would not actually move to City Hall. The organization has relatively new offices inside the Carnegie Building at Ninth and Vermont streets.)
The CVB board likely would take on an enhanced role under the new structure. Gilliland is proposing that the new structure include a formal grant program through which organizers of community events would apply for transient guest tax dollars. Currently, groups periodically ask for support from the City Commission, and the requests are handled on a case-by-case basis.
Gilliland said a new process would require event organizers to go through a more formal application process. That process would include the CVB board making recommendations on whether an event should receive funding. Ultimately, city commissioners would still have the final say on spending decisions. But the new process might do a better job of ensuring that the guest tax dollars are being used on events that are likely to attract overnight visitors, which in turn attracts more guest tax dollars.
I expect discussion about the proposal to happen this summer as city commissioners are crafting the 2016 budget.
Home sales soar in March; proof that a Chick-fil-A is coming to Lawrence; plans for East Lawrence bar/bistro
I’m sure we all spent some of our time last weekend watching the Kansas University spring football game, and we all came to the same conclusion about the upcoming season: I’m going to have to buy a bigger house to host all these fantastic watch parties. Well, some people evidently had already figured that out before Saturday’s game because the latest report for the Lawrence real estate market showed sales soared in March.
To be fair, I also did hear one other sentiment from KU’s spring football game: Until further notice, the spring game should be played only on . . . Nintendo. Regardless, home sales in March — which is the beginning of the important spring buying season — were up nearly 30 percent compared to March 2014, according to a report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. There also were signs that April will be a solid month. The number of sales contracts written in March was up 31 percent. Sales contracts usually are a good way to predict sales totals for future months.
The strong March has 2015 off to a good start. Through the first quarter of the year, Lawrence home sales are up about 14 percent from the same period a year ago. About the only number that wasn’t stellar in the most recent report was the number of newly constructed homes that have sold: nine. That’s equal to the total for the first quarter of 2014, but is below the 2013 and 2012 totals.
Most of the report, though, was positive. In fact, the market is beginning to show signs of struggling to keep up with the pace of buyers. In March, there were 326 active listings on the market, down from 374 last year and down from 408 in 2013. One way real estate agents measure the housing supply is to weigh the number of houses on the market versus the number of houses being bought per month. In March, that calculation was a 3.9 month supply. That’s down sharply from the 5.8 months and 5.4 months in 2014 and 2013. Anything less than a 5 month supply normally is a sign that a market is becoming tight in terms of available homes.
“Many homes are selling very quickly right now, and we really need more homes on the market,” said Crystal Swearingen, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
Here’s a look at other figures from the recent report:
• The median number of days a home is remaining on the market is 69, down from 77 in 2015.
• The type of homes selling in 2015 are a bit less expensive than in past years. The median sale price is $155,750, down $165,000 in 2014.
• Newly-constructed homes that are selling, however, are going in the opposite direction. The median sale price for a newly constructed home is up to $357,090. That’s up nearly 17 percent from the 2014 median. It is up about 25 percent from the 2013 median of $283,000. But take caution with these numbers. The sample size is small since only nine newly constructed homes have been sold all year.
• The total value of homes sold in the Lawrence market stands at $34.7 million, up about 10 percent from the same period in 2014.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The photo above should cause the arteries in your chest to tingle in a certain way. If the photo doesn’t, the restaurant that will soon be on the site certainly will. This photo is proof that a Chick-fil-A is indeed coming to Lawrence.
As we have reported several times, Chick-fil-A has plans to locate in the parking lot of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Shopping center at 27th and Iowa streets. Well, construction has now started on the pad site, which is just north of the Midas auto repair shop.
You can see in the photo, which is a couple of days old at this point, that work on the slab has begun, and piping is coming out of the ground. For those of you not familiar with all the technical details of construction, the piping is for the peanut oil, barbecue sauce and perhaps even the massive amounts of pickles needed to run a Chick-Fil-A. (Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that. It is a very technical business, and I probably someday will start my own company building fast food restaurants.) As for how long it takes to build this restaurant and get it open, I have not been given an estimate by anyone associated with the project. But I’ve clearly established my credentials as an expert in the subject, so I would estimate three to six months of construction for the project. I’ll keep you posted.
• Another area that I’m an expert on is food trucks. If you don’t believe me, you could look in the creases of the seat of my F150 pickup and almost certainly find a french fry or two from yesterday’s lunch.
So, I bring you news about a food truck venture we’ve previously reported on. Tony Krsnich, the developer of the popular Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, has long had plans to turn the small building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets into a bistro that serves food from several food trucks that will be just outside the building.
The project has received the necessary approvals from City Hall, but those approvals came with a condition: At least 55 percent of the business’ revenues had to come from food sales. The city placed that requirement on the zoning of the property after some neighbors were concerned the location could be come a tavern.
Krsnich, though, will be back at City Hall tonight to ask that the 55 percent condition be removed. Krsnich said he’s tried to find an operator for the business on multiple occasions, and each time the 55 percent requirement has been a deal killer.
Krsnich said the plans still call for food to be a large part of the business. He said he doesn’t have any desire to allow a traditional tavern or a rowdy establishment to locate in the building. The building is just west of his multimillion dollar Poehler Lofts building and his new 9 Del Lofts apartment building under construction at Ninth and Delaware streets. So, he notes, he has a lot of incentive to keep the neighborhood healthy. He said several potential operators have not wanted to take the risk of starting the business knowing that the city would have the legal right to shut it down if the business comes up a bit short on the food sales.
The 55 percent food requirement is the target new downtown drinking establishments have to meet. We’ll see what commissioners and neighbors think of the latest proposal. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission last month recommended removal of the 55 percent requirement on a 6-2 vote. City commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
Report says Lawrence could use more conference space; city set to move ahead with $45 million sewer plant
Lawrence could use some extra conference space, and it probably ought to be located in a place like downtown, a new City Hall report has found.
As I told you last week, a new conference center report commissioned by the city and Kansas University has been completed. Among the findings by the firm Convention Sports & Leisure are:
— “Unmet market demand exists to support new convention/conference center development.” The report estimates that Lawrence could support 30,000 to 37,500 square feet of new conference center space. (The low end of the range is an event without my wife’s chocolate fountain, while the high end is with it.) More specifically, the space should include a 20,000- to 25,000-square-foot multipurpose room with 30-foot ceilings that could support exhibitions and other types of large events. It also should include 10,000 to 12,500 square feet of meeting room space.
— A full-service hotel with at least 150 rooms should be attached to the conference center. In addition, a parking garage of at least 650 spaces would be required.
— Another study is required to determine how much a conference center would cost to build and operate. The study, though, does forecast that a 30,000- to 37,500-square-foot conference center probably would have to receive some level of public subsidy. If a project were to move ahead with only private financing, the project might have to be reduced to 23,000 to 27,000 square feet.
Near as I can tell, the report doesn’t provide any estimates of how many events a conference center would host, or how much additional visitor spending it would create.
The report also looks at issues surrounding the location of the center. Before we get into that, it is time for the full disclosure moment: Owners of The World Company — which publish the Journal-World and LJWorld.com — have proposed redeveloping property owned by the company into a conference center, hotel and mixed-use project. Specifically, the proposal involves the property at Sixth and New Hampshire and Sixth and Massachusetts streets that formerly housed the printing plant for the Journal-World.
The report looked at three general areas that could house a conference center: Downtown, the KU campus or Clinton Lake. The report determined that “a greater opportunity is believed to exist for an off-campus project.”
The report doesn’t come right out and say that downtown is the best spot for a project, but it certainly implies that: “The concentrated visitor amenity infrastructure on Massachusetts Street is the designation’s strongest appeal to non-local groups.” I think that is a politically correct way to say that people don’t come to conferences for the conferences. They come for the bars and restaurants.
The authors of the report also noted they interviewed dozen of event planners, and all event planners said they preferred a downtown location to a campus location.
So we’ll see what comes next. There may be questions about whether KU officials want to continue with the study. From a City Hall standpoint, a second phase of the study that comes up with costs estimates will be important before commissioners could figure out how the project fits into the city’s plans. Whether that study happens soon is a big question. The commission has a city manager’s search to complete, and it seems likely that discussion on a police headquarters project will continue. As supporters of a conference center project have noted, however, increased visitor spending generated by a conference center could help pay for projects like a police headquarters.
As far as price goes, the report did look at about 20 other conference center projects across the country. Prices vary widely. One project that has gotten talk in Lawrence is a conference center project in downtown Manhattan. The report states the Manhattan project cost $9.5 million to build, and an adjacent 135-bed Hilton hotel cost another $12.5 million. The hotel was privately funded, while the conference center was publicly funded, although the city is receiving lease payments from the hotel operator, which also operates the conference center. But one thing to keep in mind: The Manhattan project is quite a bit smaller than what is proposed here. The Manhattan project has just less than 1,900 square feet of meeting space and about 15,000 square feet of ballroom space.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The city is ready to spend $45 million on a new project, but I don’t think it will be a great place to host a convention. Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are set to approve the low bid for a new sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.
City officials last month received a $47.15 million bid from Garney Construction to build the main portion of the sewage treatment plant, which will be just south of the Wakarusa River where O’Connell Road dead ends. That price, though, made it difficult for the city to proceed with the project without further increasing sewer rates.
Engineers are now recommending about $2 million worth of cuts to the project, which brings the bid amount down to $45.2 million. City officials are confident they can build the treatment plant for that amount without increasing sewer rates more than already planned. Make no mistake: Sewer rates are going up as a result of this project, but those increases were approved months ago. Most users will see rate increases of about 6 percent.
Among the items that are being cut from the project are: $753,000 to build a vehicle storage and maintenance facility at the site; $117,000 related to making portions of the project LEED certified, which is an energy efficiency and environmental standard; $224,000 to eliminate some back-up processing equipment; and $459,000 to reduce the sludge storage area. (That’s the way it always works in my house. When times get tough, my wife tells me I can live with less sludge.)
Commissioners are being strongly urged by engineers to accept the bid. The plant will increase the city’s sewage treatment capacity by about 20 percent. Without the new plant, the city is concerned about its ability to accommodate future west Lawrence development. Engineers say the plant also will help the city meet treatment requirements during heavy rainstorms, which is a time when the current plant in East Lawrence struggles. Without a plan to improve treatment practices during those heavy rain events, the city could be at risk of federal regulators taking action against the city.
If the bid is approved on Tuesday, engineers estimate construction could begin in early June. The project is expected to be completed in March 2018.
The $45 million construction of the plant is the largest part of the project, but the other portions of the project are significant as well. Construction of roads, force mains, land acquisition, engineering fees and other material acquisition is expected to add another $29 million to the project. In total, the project is now estimated at $74.3 million, which likely makes it the largest construction project ever undertaken by City Hall.
City set to select Stoddard to serve as interim city manager; speculation that Holiday Inn will become a DoubleTree by Hilton
Lawrence city commissioners are now off and running in their process to find a replacement for departing City Manager David Corliss. As expected, commissioners are turning to current Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard to serve as an interim replacement for Corliss, who has taken a job in Colorado.
Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider approving an employment contract to pay Stoddard $145,000 a year to serve as the interim city manager. The contract is open ended in terms of length. Stoddard will serve as interim city manager until a permanent replacement is found. The contract allows Stoddard to apply for the permanent position. It also calls for her to be reinstated as an assistant city manager if she is not selected as Corliss’ replacement. It provides a severance package of six months' pay if she is dismissed from her duties by the City Commission or by a new city manager within one year of the new manager's start date. All in all, the contract seems to be pretty standard for an interim position.
Stoddard has deep ties to Lawrence. She was born and raised here, and received both her graduate and undergraduate degrees from Kansas University. Stoddard was hired in 2007 to become an assistant city manager. She previously had worked as a deputy city manager for the city of Manhattan. She has expertise in working on economic development issues. She’s led City Hall’s efforts on many of the downtown redevelopment projects in recent years.
Stoddard’s appointment as interim city manager was largely expected. She’s the most experienced assistant city manager on the staff. Both Mayor Jeremy Farmer and City Commissioner Mike Amyx already had publicly endorsed her for the position.
I haven’t yet talked with Stoddard about whether she plans to apply to become Corliss’ permanent replacement. I would suspect that she’ll give it strong consideration. The position likely will attract a large number of applicants. KU is home to a top-ranked graduate program in public administration, which means there is an unusually large number of city managers across the country that have a personal connection with Lawrence.
City commissioners still haven’t provided details on when they plan to begin the formal search process to find a new City Manager. Hiring an interim, though, was seen as the first step.
Corliss’ last day with the city will be May 28. Stoddard’s tenure as interim city manager will begin May 29. City Hall is hosting a public reception for Corliss at 5:30 p.m. May 11 at the Carnegie Building in downtown. Corliss is leaving Lawrence to become town manager for Castle Rock, Colo.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It appears a major change is coming to Lawrence’s largest hotel as the community gets more serious about attracting conferences and conventions. I’m hearing a lot of speculation that the Lawrence Holiday Inn and Convention Center is set to drop the Holiday Inn brand and become a DoubleTree Hotel, which is part of the Hilton chain.
Holiday Inn General Manager Stephen Horton said he couldn’t comment on possible brand changes. But he said a formal announcement about “very significant changes” for the hotel is expected within the next few days.
We previously have reported that a major renovation project for the Holiday Inn, located off the Kansas Turnpike on McDonald Drive, is in the works. In January we reported that the ballroom and convention center would be closed in June for a complete renovation. But the idea that the hotel is going to become part of the prominent Hilton system is new.
The DoubleTree by Hilton chain has more than 400 hotels in 33 countries, according to its website. It is perhaps best known for providing guests a warm cookie upon arrival. (It is chocolate chip, and the chain uses 950,000 pounds of chocolate chips each year, which also is known as a smidgen in the Lawhorn household.)
Horton told me some renovation work on rooms has begun. He said several rooms will be larger. It was unclear to me whether the total room count at the hotel would remain the same. With 192 rooms, the Holiday Inn is the largest hotel in the city. With a little less than 15,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, the hotel also is the largest hotel-based conference and event space in the city. Many of the renovations will be focused on that meeting and banquet space, Horton said. He said the total amount of space won’t change, but everything else about it will.
“This won’t just put a new shine on it,” Horton said. “We’ll basically be doing everything from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling.”
I expect to get more details about the renovations in the next few days. I suspect we’re talking about major changes in style, design, amenities and technology. A lot has changed in the conference and event world since the space was last renovated. (For example, if you want to host the Kansas City Royals Caravan, you now need a full first aid station and the ability to bolt chairs to the floor.)
We’ll see how the changes to the Holiday Inn impact the discussion about whether to build a new conference center downtown. Full Disclosure: Owners of The World Company, which publishes the Journal-World and LJWorld.com, have proposed building a conference center, hotel and mixed-use project on downtown property owned by the company.
I suspect city commissioners in the next few weeks will have some conversations about where a downtown conference center falls on their list of priorities. A preliminary report by a city-hired consultant is now complete, and it finds that there is some unmet demand for conference center space in the city. I’ll bring you more details on that report as I wade through it.
New center for business startups opens near Ninth and Iowa; city plans to discuss gigabit Internet again
Figuring out how to help Lawrence residents build new companies is the big talk in local economic development circles these days. Now, there is a new private effort underway to help budding entrepreneurs as well. The Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship has recently opened near Ninth and Iowa streets.
If you remember, we reported back in October that Lawrence school board member Kristie Adair was opening the new venture. Adair, who also is a co-owner of Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband, said construction work has been completed and the center is fully operational.
The center, which is in one of the office buildings west of The Merc, offers both office space and access to a workshop that is stocked with several specialized tools that can help in the creation of prototype products. We’re talking about devices like 3-D printers that meld plastic material together to create new objects and a CNC machine that uses computer-generated designs to cut and shape material into new objects. Plus, there’s traditional woodworking tools, an electronics repair station and other such tools. The center also offers classes in how to use some of the more advanced equipment. (That sounds handy because I can’t get my 3-D printer to work. But I suspect I’m just wearing the glasses wrong.)
On the office side of the business, there are shared worked spaces, a conference room, a lounge, desktop publishing software and, importantly, high-speed gigabit Internet service. That means businesses have the same type of ballyhooed Internet speeds that are being offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City. The center sells memberships to businesses for $50 a month, which gives members 24-hour access to the facility, Adair said.
The center also offers a secure computer server room that companies can rent space in to house their own servers or back-up servers.
Adair is serving as executive director of the new center, which is a private venture owned by Adair and her husband, Joshua Montgomery. Adair said it is important for communities to have centers like this one, if communities are serious about being friendly to new startups.
“We really remember what it is like to start out in a small business,” Adair said. “It was challenging, and one of our bigger challenges was finding space.”
Adair said she’s come to learn that sharing space with other startup businesses also can be beneficial.
“You realize you need space, but you don’t always realize that you need somebody to bounce some ideas off to and talk shop with,” Adair said. “Starting a business can be a lonely venture.”
While the center is geared toward business startups, Adair said membership also is available to people who haven’t yet gotten to that stage, but are interested in learning more about 3-D printers and some of the other “maker space” technology.
The Center for Entrepreneurship isn’t alone in trying to reach out to Lawrence startups or home-based businesses that are looking to make the transition into office space. We’ve previously reported on Lawrence Creates, a nonprofit venture in East Lawrence, that offers some of the same types of services but also does more outreach to the artist community as well. The Cider Gallery in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District also offers shared office space and other business services for startups. Adair, though, said she thought the various business centers all would carve out their unique niches in the marketplace.
“I think people are really starting to see the need in Lawrence for this type of service,” Adair said. “Businesses that build jobs one or two at a time really are the backbone of an economy.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re speaking of high-tech things, there’s an update on Lawrence’s quest to get widespread gigabit Internet service in Lawrence. Perhaps you recall that last week I reported that Eudora was about to jump ahead of Lawrence in its efforts to get the super fast Internet service that is similar to Google Fiber in Kansas City. Eudora is close to signing an agreement with Baldwin City-based RG Fiber that would bring the service to that Douglas County community just east of Lawrence. If the Eudora project proceeds, RG’s leader has said it likely would delay the company’s plans to install the service in parts of Lawrence.
RG Fiber has been interested in installing service in parts of Lawrence for more than a year, but the City Commission has been slow in approving a “fiber policy.” (This one is different from the standard three bowls of Shredded Wheat per morning.) This fiber policy would allow companies like RG to lease unused portions of city-owned fiber optic cable to help complete a network in the city.
Well, perhaps it is all just coincidence, but shortly after Lawrence officials learned that RG was talking with Eudora, city commissioners are now saying they’re ready to pass this fiber policy. Expect it to be on Tuesday’s agenda. New Commissioner Matthew Herbert also forecast that the policy shouldn’t have any problem winning approval.
“I think it is pretty close to just needing a rubber stamp,” Herbert said. “People in the industry are happy with it.”
We’ll see whether Lawrence’s approval of the policy causes RG Fiber to reconsider its timing for entering the Lawrence market.
How paychecks, pickup trucks and guns fit into the city’s budget deliberations; name change on tap for Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau
Paychecks, pickup trucks and guns: They’re not just the beginning of a Jeff Foxworthy joke. They’re also items to keep an eye on as city commissioners begin crafting a 2016 budget.
The new City Commission yesterday spent some time talking about budget issues and other spending matters. As we reported, the police headquarters topic certainly garnered some discussion. But that wasn’t all that got discussed. City Manager David Corliss said there are at least three big topics that commissioners need to be aware of as they figure out the spending plan. Here’s a look:
— Paychecks: Corliss said he believes compensation issues — i.e. how much city employees are paid — is going to be a “dominant” issue in the city’s budget discussions for 2016. The city has held wages relatively steady for most employees for the last several years. Corliss said he thinks changes in the marketplace will make it difficult for the city to take that approach and still keep valued city employees.
“I have seen wages start to move over the last 18 months in this region,” Corliss said. “We’re going to have to raise our wages to be more competitive.”
— Pickup trucks. Well, really we’re talking about equipment in general, but pickup trucks certainly are included in that category. Corliss, who is in the final weeks of his job here before he takes a town manager position in Colorado, was straightforward in his assessment of how city commissioners have treated the city’s equipment budget over the last few years.
“I don’t want to get too preachy as I leave here, but generally we have said let’s cut back on some of our maintenance or delay some equipment purchases, because we haven’t said no to a lot of things,” Corliss said.
For what it is worth, Corliss wasn’t chastising commissioners for those decisions. Lawrence isn’t the only place that has taken that strategy during tight budgets, but he was pointing out that there is a limit to how often you can go to that well. Corliss said he is concerned that the city’s equipment fleet needs some significant upgrades.
— Guns. Members of the public bringing guns into Municipal Court and City Hall is a concern for staff members. If you remember, legislators in 2013 passed a law that says cities can’t stop licensed concealed carry holders from bringing their weapons into government buildings, unless those building have extensive security systems such as metal detectors. If you also remember, the Legislature this year passed a law saying you will no longer have to have a license in order to carry a concealed firearm.
Cities were given a four-year grace period from the 2013 law. In other words, City Hall and Municipal Court can still be a no-gun zone, even though neither has the required metal detectors or security systems in place. That exemption will expire at the end of 2017.
City Attorney Toni Wheeler said it is not too early for commissioners to begin thinking about how they want to deal with that pending issue. She oversees the city’s Municipal Court, and she said she has real concerns about allowing defendants to enter a court building with a loaded weapon.
“We often deal with people who aren’t happy to be there or are angry,” Wheeler told commissioners. “We deal with a high percentage of defendants who have a mental illness. I am very concerned about security and safety at the building.”
We’ll see whether the issue really gets much discussion during this budget session, or whether commissioners wait another year and see if the law changes.
As far as potential costs, they are significant but not crippling to the city. Back in 2013, the city estimated it would cost about $5,000 for every metal detector it required for a building. The larger cost would be for employees to staff the detectors. The police department has said a proper security plan may require two people at a detector. Back in 2013, the city estimated it would take $42,000 per person to staff a metal detector. To implement such a system at Municipal Court and City Hall would mean a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, each and every year. I’m sure those numbers probably haven’t gone down since 2013 either, so look for new numbers if the issue indeed does become a topic of conversation this budget season.
An interesting twist to the conversation will be whether city commissioners think other city-owned buildings also should have metal detectors. The public access area of the police department building at Bob Billings and Wakarusa certainly will get some discussion. Recreation centers are another one that may get debated. If the city decides it needs metal detectors at recreation centers, the costs could approach $1 million a year.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Get ready to Explore Lawrence. I’ve gotten word that the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau is scrapping its longtime name, and soon will be known as Explore Lawrence.
That is just one of several changes that are taking place at the organization. Fred Conboy, the director for Destination Management Inc. — the nonprofit group that oversees the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area — resigned in February. I haven’t been given any particular details about why he resigned, other than it was just a decision that he made. Megan Gilliland, the city’s communications manager, has been serving as the interim director for DMI.
Gilliland said the idea of changing the name of the CVB has been in the works for awhile. She said the idea of a convention and visitors bureau can sometimes be hard for the average traveler to understand.
“Explore Lawrence is an action-oriented phrase,” Gilliland said. “It calls people to do something.”
A major part of the new name will be a new website. Gilliland said the new site will make it much easier for visitors and Lawrence residents alike to find out information about events and attractions in Lawrence and Douglas County. Look for that website to be launched in the next few weeks.
I plan to write more about the new direction at the CVB later today, so check back for more details.
Bridal shop to take over space of longtime downtown retailer; city considering issuing new citizen survey; project to honor Langston Hughes
Someday soon, a man going to downtown Lawrence is going to be confused. (Women all over the city are saying, “I’ve already heard this one.”) A man will go into the storefront at 731 Massachusetts St. and expect to revel in the comfort of bats, balls, jerseys and other macho merchandise that was the hallmark of Francis Sporting Goods. Instead, he’s soon going to find wedding dresses and everything else brides are looking for to make a perfect day.
As we reported in November, Francis Sporting Goods has closed its downtown retail location, and now is focusing on its warehouse business with teams and colleges. Now, we can tell you a deal has been struck for Lawrence-based J. Lynn Bridal to move into the spot this June. The bridal store is moving from its location at 2449 South Iowa St. in the Holiday Plaza shopping center.
J. Lynn owner Jena Dick said she decided to move the two-year old business because she wanted a location with better visibility. Plus, she thinks there are plenty of brides who will want to bring all their bridesmaids downtown for a day of shopping and strolling on Massachusetts Street.
“It is going to be more of an experience than where I’m at right now,” Dick said.
J. Lynn focuses mainly on wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses, tuxedos and all the fashion accoutrements necessary to cause two people to say “I do.” The bridal shop will be next door to Ruff House Art, which is a specialty letterpress shop that produces wedding invitations. And within a short walk of the shop are several jewelry stores. And shoe shops. And hair salons. And flower shops. So, while some men may be confused about the changes at 731 Mass., there are others who may be downright scared: fathers of the bride. At least there are several banks and cocktail purveyors within walking distance as well.
“We feel like it is going to be an ideal spot,” Dick said. “When I first opened, I always dreamed it would be on Mass.”
Dick is closing the store on South Iowa Street at the end of May and hopes to be in the downtown space in early June.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I can only hope that one of the new Lawrence city commissioners takes on the personality of the late-great "Family Feud" game show host Richard Dawson by frequently yelling during the meeting “Survey says . . .” Perhaps the odds aren’t great, but regardless the city is poised to get a new survey.
Commissioners at their meeting tonight are scheduled to discuss creating a citizen survey that will be conducted by a scientific polling group. The idea is not a new one. The city has conducted these surveys every few years for the last decade or so. I think the last time the city conducted the survey was back in 2011. Back then, the main finding was that residents weren’t too happy with the condition of city streets, but were relatively pleased with other City Hall service levels.
The city created a draft list of questions for commissioners to consider using this time. Many of them are the same as past surveys, which allows the city to monitor changing attitudes of residents. Among the questions are those that ask residents to rank their satisfaction with basic city services such as police, fire, water, sewer, streets, sidewalks, parks and recreation, planning, trash collection and other such basic City Hall functions. The survey also delves into downtown issues such as availability of parking, downtown safety and downtown beautification. Also proposed is a section on city taxes and what type of value residents believe they’re receiving in that category.
One section also gives residents the ability to control how city money is spent, for at least a moment. The survey ask residents to assume they have $100 to spend. How would they divide it among the following city issues: develop public safety facilities for police and fire; support for economic development initiatives such as “a conference center, tax incentives, etc.”; reconstruction efforts for the Ninth Street Corridor project; develop parks and recreation facilities such as trails, athletic fields, pools, etc.; repair and restore deteriorating infrastructure such as streets, city buildings, sidewalks; bike lanes, sidewalks and other nonmotorized transportation infrastructure; or other.
Commissioners are expected to discuss whether to move ahead with the survey at their 5:45 p.m. meeting this evening. A cost estimate for the survey hasn’t been provided yet, but in 2011, we reported the survey cost about $30,000.
• We should take a survey someday to figure out how many Lawrence residents understand the importance of the late-great American poet Langston Hughes. Hughes grew up in Lawrence, and there is a new effort underway to highlight his time here.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider writing a letter of support for an approximately $60,000 grant being sought by a Kansas University associate professor and several other community members. The grant would pay to have about 20 bronze plaques or signs posted around town recognizing places that were important in the young life of Hughes. The grant also would pay for several guided tours of the community for people who wanted to learn more about the poet and his formative years in Lawrence. The group — which is led by Jacob Dorman in KU’s history and American studies department — is seeking the grant from the Douglas County Natural & Cultural Heritage Grant Program.
According to the grant application, sites that likely would receive a marker are:
— New York Elementary School, which Hughes attended.
— St. Luke AME Church at Ninth and New York, which Hughes attended.
— The former Central middle school site at 901 Kentucky, which Hughes attended.
— The Lawrence Public Library
— The Carnegie Building, which used to serve as the public library, a site Hughes often spent time at.
— Kansas Union, which was the site of a 1958 poetry reading by Hughes.
—The Eldridge Hotel, which is a location Hughes is thought to have worked at.
— The former Barteldes Seed Company building at 804 Massachusetts St., which is likely where Hughes had his first job.
— The former Bowersock Opera House, which is where Liberty Hall is today. Hughes often attended shows at this location and had to sit in segregated seating.
— A site near the Kansas River. Hughes wrote a famous poem titled “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”
— Homesite of grandparents Mary and Charles Langston, 732 Alabama St.
— Memorial Stadium. Hughes would attend KU football games at McCook Athletic field, which was near the current day stadium site.
— The site of a former grocery store at 820 Massachusetts St. The grocery store at the location was partially owned by Hughes’ grandfather.
— Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church, 901 Tennessee St. Hughes’ family occasionally attended church at the site.
— The former Patee Theater site at 828 Massachusetts St. The site, which is now home to the Lawrence Antique Mall, previously was a movie theater that allowed blacks for a short period of time during Hughes’ time in Lawrence. The theater burned in 1955 and was replaced with the current structure.
— Pinckney School, where Hughes attended elementary school for a year.
— Watkins Community Museum of History, which previously was home to Watkins Bank. Hughes’ grandmother faced the constant threat of foreclosure by the bank, according to the grant application.
— Douglas County Courthouse, where Hughes’ mother briefly worked.
— Homesite of Hughes’ uncle Desalines Langston, 726 Alabama St.
— Homesite of Mary and James Reed, 731 New York St. The Reeds were family friends with whom Hughes stayed for a time.
The Douglas County grant committee is expected to make a recommendation on funding within the next few days.
Police and fire put together list of more than $33 million in funding needs for 2016; Sprouts sets new opening date for Lawrence store; former KU basketball player says deal is near on wing restaurant
So much for a nice welcome basket or even a tin with that wonderful nacho cheese-flavored popcorn. New city commissioners will get none of that when they dig into their first full meeting on Tuesday. Instead, they’ll get memos detailing how the police and fire department need millions of dollars in new funding.
City commissioners meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday for a study session to get up to speed on budgetary matters at City Hall. During the campaign, the winning candidates spent a lot of time talking about public safety needs. So you want to talk about public safety needs, do you? Bam. Here are two memos detailing more than $33 million in unfunded items for the police and fire departments. (I knew candidates should have spent more time talking about nacho cheese-flavored popcorn.)
The biggest item is hardly a surprise: $26 million for a new police headquarters facility. But what is interesting to note is that police and fire department leaders are making sure that city commissioners understand that facility isn’t the only pressing public safety need. If you remember, leading vote-winner Leslie Soden talked a lot about looking at the entire public safety system — police, fire, jail, mental health — rather than just focusing all attention on a new police headquarters building. Tuesday’s study session may be the first glimpse at whether other commissioners want to take a broad look or instead focus on the headquarters project.
Here’s a look at some of the other funding issues identified by the chiefs for the police and fire departments:
— $1.3 million in year No. 1 to hire and equip one new sergeant, six detective positions, two police officers, and one administrative support position at the police department. Police Chief Tarik Khatib notes that the number of detectives in the department has basically remained unchanged for about 10 years. This $1.3 million in funding would just get the expansion started. The city would have to dedicate a similar amount to future budgets to sustain the new positions.
— $43,000 for additional training for the police department. The department receives only $17,000 in city funding for the training of its 185-person staff. The department has won some grant money to do additional training, but Khatib notes it is difficult to rely on grant funding because the department is not assured of receiving the grants in the future.
— About $550,000 to replace 18 vehicles that the police department has identified as nearing the end of their useful lives. The department normally gets about $225,000 for vehicle replacement, but that amount has not kept up with the aging fleet of the department, Khatib said.
— About $163,000 per year to add an extra firefighter per shift to the fire department’s current work roster. Chief Mark Bradford said the extra firefighter would be a good investment because the city currently is paying overtime or using employees from its “extra board” program to fill in for full-time firefighters that are on vacation or have taken other types of leave
— $2.3 million to renovate Fire Station No. 1, which is located in downtown. This project was scheduled to get started in 2015-2016, but one proposal calls for pushing the project to 2018-2019 to accommodate a plan to build a police headquarters without needing a tax increase.
— $725,000 to replace the training tower near 19th and Haskell.
— $1.7 million for repairs to failing concrete in front of multiple fire stations.
— $27,345 for various maintenance items at Fire Station No. 2, which is at 2128 Harper St.
— $98,750 for various maintenance items at Fire Station No. 3, which is at 3708 W. Sixth Street.
— $32,950 for various repairs at Fire Station No. 4, which is at 2121 Wakarusa Drive.
— $15,285 for various repairs at Fire Station No. 5, which is at 1911 Stewart Ave.
— $6,350 for maintenance at the training center near 19th and Haskell.
— $18,000 for drainage issues at Fire Station No. 5.
— $30,000 a year to increase training operations of the fire department, including additional training for structural collapse emergencies, extrications, hazardous materials, domestic terrorism events and emergency medical service training.
There are other items on the list that don’t have a specific price tag attached, but they are significant. They include:
— Fire truck replacement. The city has been using money from the infrastructure sales tax to replace fire trucks since 2010. But the sales tax is scheduled to expire in 2019, and only $100,000 of sales tax money is budgeted in the future for fire engine replacement. (Most trucks cost $500,000 or more.) Certainly, the city may ask voters to renew the sales tax before it expires. Absent that, the department will need to find another funding source, because Bradford has said continuing to replaced aged equipment will be critical.
— New fire stations. Bradford says in his memo to commissioners that “it is becoming difficult” for the department to meet its response time goals with the current system of fire stations. The department strives to have fire stations that are within 4 minutes driving time of most structures in the community. “Discussions should begin to identify future fire station location requirements,” Bradford says in the memo.
— Firefighter pay. Although not mentioned specifically in the memo, everyone at City Hall is bracing for negotiations with the union that represents Lawrence firefighters. The union believes a study will show that pay for Lawrence firefighters has fallen behind that of peer communities, which puts the city at risk of losing firefighters to other cities in the region. If you remember, the city and fire union went to impasse in negotiations last year. This year’s negotiations are expected to begin soon.
— Police officer pay. The city also will be negotiating with the association that represents police officers. Khatib, though, notes that sergeants and captains aren’t represented by that association when it comes to wage and salary matters. He said salary ranges for those positions have been capped for four years, which he said is “exasperating an already existing compensation compression problem.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’ve been telling you for months now that west Lawrence is getting a new grocery store near Wakarusa and Overland drives. Now, I can tell you that it is opening July 1. Sprouts has announced that’s the opening date for its new 27,000 square-foot Lawrence store.
In case you have forgotten, the Phoenix-based company touts itself as a “farmers market style” grocer. The stores have a variety of departments including meat, dairy, frozen foods, grocery, bulk items, bakery, deli, seafood, supplements and other health care products. As a farmers market style grocer, produce is a big part of the store as well.
In a new release, the company said it is hiring about 100 full- and part-time employees to staff the store. Positions will range from cashiers to managers.
• You also may remember way back in October 2013 that we reported former KU basketball player Keith Langford was going to open a Wing Stop restaurant in Lawrence. Well, that plan has been a bit like the alley-oop play in my pick-up basketball game: slow developing. But there’s indication the idea is still alive. Langford posted information on his Twitter account that indicates a Lawrence store will open in October. He has indicated the locations will be at 23rd and Louisiana, next to Mr. Goodcents.
Bill Self and Scot Pollard team up to buy Mass. Street property; BBQ event coming to Rock Chalk Park
Well, here’s a property to keep an eye on, and a partnership that sets the mind to racing. Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self and former KU basketball star Scot Pollard have bought a Massachusetts Street commercial property.
Documents filed with the Kansas Secretary of State’s office confirm that Self and Pollard are the members of a corporation that bought the former Performance Tire and Wheel building at 1828 Massachusetts St. That’s right. We’re talking about south Mass. here. In case you left your map of former tire shops at home, the building is just north of Cottin’s Hardware or a couple doors south of Dillons.
No plans have been filed at City Hall yet that give any clues about how the duo plans to use the property. The rumor that Self bought the property has been floating around for quite awhile now. Indeed, the property was purchased some time ago, but until recently the only information I had was the name of the corporation that bought it. But in recent weeks the corporation had to file an annual report that listed its shareholders. Self and Pollard were the only ones listed as owning more than 5 percent of the company.
The most common speculation I've heard is about a restaurant going into the location. But I don’t have confirmation. I’m doubtful that Self is going to give up his clipboard for an apron, so any restaurant venture likely will involve someone else.
I’ve got a call into Ted McDonald, a Kansas City-area attorney listed on a lot of the paperwork for the project, but haven’t yet heard back.
But, of course, the idea of Bill Self lending his name to a venture is intriguing. For that matter, Pollard’s involvement is intriguing as well. Pollard is nothing if not intriguing, although it has been reported that he’s mellowed over the years. For those of you who have forgotten Pollard, think back to the KU basketball player who got attention for painting his fingernails, and then wore a Mohawk and muttonchops in the NBA.
The possibilities of a Scot Pollard-themed club are fun to think about. But the possibilities of a Bill Self-themed club — again, I don’t know that's going to happen — are even more fun. Ponder this for a second: The corporation Bill Self formed to buy this property is BS, LLC. How about the BS Club? Anyone interested in that? Referee blows a call. Rehash it at the BS Club. Iowa State fan has too much of a liquid corn product and charges our head coach. Mock him at the BS Club. KU football season . . . well, the BS Club may need an expansion.
Again, I don’t know what the future holds for the property. I’ll ask the good folks on our sports desk to reach out to Coach Self, and we’ll let you know if we hear more. (UPDATE: They got in touch with Self. He said he didn't have any comment at the moment.) It certainly could just be that Self and Pollard bought the property as a real estate investment.
If so, they may be finding that some real estate investments can be as much fun as a road trip to Ames. This property used to be an old gas station, and it had an underground storage tank that had to be removed. In fact, I think it had two underground storage tanks, which may have been a surprise, according to some people I have talked to. The latest paperwork filed at City Hall is for a demolition permit for one of the small buildings on the site. The permit application indicates the work is related to an underground storage tank remediation project.
In other news and notes from around town:
• For what it is worth, it looks like Scot Pollard may be building a new home out in the neighborhood where Bill Self lives. City commissioners a couple of weeks ago approved as part of their consent agenda a variance request for Pollard so that he could build at 4520 Bauer Brook Court, which is the upscale subdivision on the northern portions of Folks Road in northwest Lawrence. As has been the case with several of the houses in that subdivision, it has needed permission to install a septic tank, since the property has difficulty accessing a city sewer line.
• Well, if you haven’t gotten your spring shipment of Wet Wipes, you had better get busy. It is BBQ season, and there is a change coming to one of the larger barbecue events in Lawrence. The Sertoma Club of Lawrence is moving its annual barbecue competition to Rock Chalk Park, from Broken Arrow Park.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are set to approve a permit that will allow the competition to use one of the large parking lots at Rock Chalk Park on May 8-9. Plans call for 48 teams and about 400 members of the public to participate in the event. Teams will start cooking at 8 a.m. on Friday, May 8 and continue into May 9. The event will be open for the public to go out and sample barbecue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 9.
So, if you are planning ahead, you may want to be prepared to hunt for different parking spot if you are heading to the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park on that day. Depending on how long you stay and sample, you may also want to plan a little extra time on the treadmill too.
No word yet on whether the move to Rock Chalk Park is a permanent one for the event, or if perhaps the group is just trying out the venue given that there is so much construction work around Broken Arrow Park because of the South Lawrence Trafficway project.
Parks and Recreation has long list of projects that could be affected by police headquarters plan; weight room at Rock Chalk to close temporarily
Police and Parks and Recreation may soon converge. I know what you are thinking, but, no, I did not do that thing with a golf cart at Eagle Bend again. I’m talking about a plan to build a new police headquarters without a tax increase and how I soon expect the conversation to get much more intense about what type of cuts that may mean to the Parks and Recreation Department.
If you remember just prior to the City Commission election, commissioners briefly discussed the idea of a no-tax increase plan to build a new $26 million police headquarters. That plan had two main components: delay some road projects for a few years and fundamentally change how sales tax dollars are used to fund Parks and Recreation for the next 20 years or more.
Well, this week Parks and Recreation leaders met with the department’s advisory board, and a topic of discussion was how to address future maintenance needs if large amounts of the department’s current sales tax funding are diverted to the police project.
They didn’t come up with any easy answers. They did come up with a list though. Department leaders put together a list of about 40 projects that they believe are needed maintenance projects or needed enhancements to existing facilities that will be tough to fund.
The list is nothing new. There is a version of it every year. It also isn’t new that the department doesn’t have enough money to fund everything on the list. What’s new this year, though, is that some future sales tax funding that was going to become available to perhaps address some of those projects is in jeopardy of going to the the police project. The department’s maintenance budget currently is set at $500,000 a year in sales tax money. But city projections call for that amount to grow by 4 percent a year. If the no-tax police plan moves forward, the $500,000 would be frozen. The last I heard, City Hall hadn’t ordered inflation to freeze as well, so the $500,000 20 years from now will have a lot less buying power. How much less? Well, if you assume a 3 percent inflation rate, $500,000 today will have buying power of about $280,000 in 20 years. Even if you drop inflation to 2 percent, the buying power is about $335,000.
The other thing that has Parks and Recreation leaders worried is that they were expecting some new streams of funding to develop in future years that could be used for maintenance. Specifically, bond payments for the Community Health Building, Eagle Bend golf course and a few smaller park projects are scheduled to come off the books in 2016. Most of that money already has been spoken for to pay for the Rock Chalk Park project. But ‘most’ is the key word. There was a cushion of a few hundred thousand dollars in most years. Under the no-tax increase plan, that cushion goes to the police project.
So, expect advocates for parks and recreation to begin making some noise at City Hall in the near future.
“I hope the new commission has some understanding of how this works,” said Joe Caldwell, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. “You can’t just ignore the problem because these issues won’t get cheaper to fix, and they won’t just go away.”
But enough with all this talk. You all want to know about the list, I’m sure. Here we go: Top Ways to Draw Unwanted Attention on a Golf Cart: 1. Nitrous Oxide. 2 . . . Oh, that’s the not the list. You want to know about major parks and recreation projects. OK, here’s that one:
— $80,000 to replace playground equipment at Burcham Park. The equipment was removed to accommodate a project that worked on the nearby intake pipe for the adjacent Kaw Water Treatment Plant.
— $85,000 to add parking at the East Lawrence Recreation Center.
— $40,000 to restore the old stone wall at Clinton Park. The park and the wall date back to the founding of the city. “If we don’t do something with it, it will fall down,” said Mark Hecker, assistant director of Parks and Recreation.
— $45,000 to improve the pavement leading into the Youth Sports Complex in west Lawrence.
— $45,000 to improve the pavement leading into the Clinton Softball Complex in west Lawrence.
— $30,000 for various improvements on concrete trails around the city. Several of them have had settling issues that have created tripping hazards.
— $40,000 to replace the flooring in the Community Building. It has become so worn that it is slick, and larger issues also may need to be addressed. Moisture is coming through the basement floor in some places.
— $20,000 for large window shades for a portion of the Sports Pavilion Lawrence recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. During certain times, a bright glare is hampering game play on some courts.
— $50,000 to convert the playground surface at Holcom Park into an ADA compliant surface.
— $45,000 for exterior tuck pointing at the Community Building downtown.
— $20,000 to fix settled concrete at the Clinton Lake Softball Complex.
— $10,000 to paint a large fence at the Oak Hill Cemetery.
— $25,000 to remodel the women’s restroom at the Holcom Recreation Center.
— $25,000 for additional parking and fencing at the off-leash dog park at Clinton Lake.
— $35,000 to update the department’s master plan.
— $60,000 in pavement improvements to roads in city-owned cemeteries.
— $40,000 to address acoustical problems at Sports Pavilion Lawrence. Hecker said during tournament times, noise levels in the building make it difficult for employees at the front desk, for example, to take phone calls and answer questions. “It is a future concern, but it is a concern,” Hecker said.
— $20,000 to continue to install new curbless tree grates along Massachusetts Street.
— $18,000 to replace play features at the indoor aquatic center.
— $50,000 a year for at least the next five years to remove right-of-way trees that are expected to die as a result of Emerald Ash Borer disease. As we previously have reported, the department believes thousands of Ash trees across the community will die when the disease makes its way to Douglas County. It currently is in the Kansas City area.
— $20,000 to repair the concrete seating area at Hobbs Park. “We really ought to do something there if we’re going to allow the structure to stand, and it is a historic structure, so it will stand,” Hecker said.
— $20,000 for divider nets for the indoor turf field at Sports Pavilion Lawrence.
— $35,000 for better sealing windows at the Community Building downtown.
— $120,000 to install additional restrooms at the Youth Sports Complex.
— $20,000 for outdoor fitness equipment at South Park.
— $15,000 to replace burned out strands of lights and other aged decorations for the downtown holiday light display.
— $85,000 to make certain sidewalks at the Youth Sports Complex ADA accessible.
— $80,000 for parking lot repairs at the Holcom recreation center.
— $95,000 to replace the slide that has been removed at the Outdoor Aquatic Center. The center previously had two slides, but one had to be removed because it was worn out.
— $85,000 to replace worn playground equipment at South Park. In case you are ever in a position to win a trivia contest off of naming the busiest playground in the city, South Park is the answer, department leaders said. It gets daily use from St. John Catholic School, which is next door.
— $85,000 to make concrete repairs to the deck around the Outdoor Aquatic Center.
— $250,000 to replace a heating and air conditioning unit on the roof of the indoor Aquatic Center. Department officials have concern about how long the unit will continue to last. The units suck in a lot of chlorinated air from the pool, which leads to deterioration of the units.
— $350,000 to replace the lights at the Holcom baseball fields. The lights frequently burn out and are in need of maintenance, Hecker said.
— $250,000 to improve drainage and restroom problems at the shelter at Broken Arrow Park.
The largest item on the list is $900,000 to add a “crash area” onto the Indoor Aquatic Center. Again, no golf cart is involved here. A crash area is a spot where participants in swimming events can wait for their events to begin. During large swim meets, the area around the pool cannot safely accommodate all the people. Previously, the city has been able to use space at Free State High, which is connected to the aquatic center. But in recent years it has become more difficult to reserve Free State High space because the district often has other activities occurring at the same time.
One item that is not on the list, but could be, is the purchase of additional land for future parks. Historically, the department has tried to buy parkland about 20 years in advance of an area developing because that was the only way the city could afford to purchase the property. Such purchases haven’t happened in awhile, and likely wouldn’t under the current proposal. Hecker noted that currently the city doesn’t have any future parkland purchased west of the South Lawrence Trafficway, or south of 31st Streets.
The new City Commission hasn’t yet set a date to begin discussing police headquarters plans, but expect there to be some parks and recreation advocates around when they do.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of fixes, there will be one underway at the new Sports Pavilion Lawrence recreation center. The city is notifying users that the weight room at the recreation center will be closed from April 21 to April 27 while repairs are made to the floor. I don’t have details on what repairs are needed, but the release from the city noted that the work was being done under warranty. The track and cardio area will remain open during the repairs.
Potential deal to bring gigabit Internet service to Eudora may delay plans for Lawrence; city committee rejects plan to demolish East Lawrence Quonset hut
Forget keeping up with Kansas City. When it comes to widespread, super-fast gigabit Internet service, there are new signs that Lawrence is struggling to keep up with Baldwin City and Eudora. There is word out of Eudora that RG Fiber is close to signing an agreement to bring gigabit Internet service to that community, which also likely would delay any plans that RG Fiber has to bring the super-fast Internet service to Lawrence.
The Eudora City Commission on Monday had on its agenda a license agreement with Baldwin City-based RG Fiber. The commission didn’t yet approve the license agreement, but it is scheduled for a vote at a commission meeting later this month.
Mike Bosch, founder of RG Fiber, told me this morning that he is “very optimistic” an agreement will be reached with Eudora officials, and he hopes to announce details in the next several weeks about bringing gigabit service to homes and businesses in Eudora.
RG Fiber is the company that previously has announced a project to bring gigabit service — which is the same type of service Google Fiber is building in Kansas City — to Baldwin City and the Baker University campus.
As part of that project, Bosch planned to run fiber optic cable through Lawrence en route to Baldwin City. Bosch planned to use that fiber optic cable to also offer service in Lawrence. He had sought agreements with the city of Lawrence to lease some unused portions of city-owned fiber optic cable that would allow RG Fiber to begin offering gigabit service along major corridors in the city, such as Iowa, 23rd, Sixth and several other major streets.
In late January, Lawrence city commissioners met on the subject and appeared close to approving a fiber policy that would have allowed for a lease agreement to be entered into with RG Fiber. But then the fiber policy never did reappear on the City Commission’s agenda.
In the meantime, Bosch said discussions with the city of Eudora began to intensify. Bosch said he has found an alternative route to bring the needed fiber optic cable into Baldwin City. That route doesn’t involve Eudora, but he said he became interested in the Eudora market because he has investor capital that he needs to put to work.
As for what all this means for RG Fiber’s plans to offer service in Lawrence, Bosch said he’s still very much interested in the Lawrence market.
“But if the Eudora project goes through, we won’t have as much capital to build in Lawrence as we had hoped,” Bosch said.
Bosch said that likely could mean a delay for any project the company would undertake in Lawrence.
Bosch said the company, though, certainly is still interested in the Lawrence market. It could raise additional capital to expand in Lawrence, but Bosch said it was becoming difficult for RG Fiber to reserve capital for a Lawrence project without knowing when the city may act on RG’s request. Bosch said the process in Lawrence, thus far, has taken about a year longer than he anticipated.
Lawrence city commissioners met on Jan. 27 about a fiber policy that would have cleared a path for the city to sign a lease agreement with RG Fiber. The policy was recommended for approval by both the city’s own staff and also by a city-hired consultant. Commissioners, though, delayed a vote on the policy, but indicated it wanted to have the issue brought back up in the next several weeks.
Bosch said hasn’t received any substantive update from city officials on the fiber policy since that late January meeting.
“I really believe the elections and the questions surrounding the commission just overtook the fiber policy,” Bosch said. “It just never made it back to the agenda.”
Now, three new commissioners have taken seats on the five-member City Commission. Bosch said he hopes the new commission will consider approving the fiber policy soon.
“I really do still want to work with Lawrence,” Bosch said.
As for more details about the potential agreement with Eudora, Bosch said he didn’t want to comment on that agreement until it was finalized. I’ve put a call into the city administrator for Eudora, but haven’t yet heard back.
In terms of the Baldwin City project, the company has bought a building in downtown Baldwin City and has started to equip it for the project. Bosch said there have been some vendor delays, but the project is on track to begin hooking up customers this summer.
Bosch said RG is selling residential plans that offer 1 gigabit of service — both upload and download speeds — for $80 a month. If customers want to add a television package, the price is about $135 a month, depending on what package is selected, he said. Commercial gigabit accounts will start at $135 per month.
The Baldwin City project will include wiring all of Baker University’s campus — both its classrooms and its residence halls – with gigabit service. Bosch said he believes Baker will become the first campus in Kansas to be fully wired for gigabit service.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If there is anything sexier than super-fast Internet service these days, it is surely old Quonset huts. If you remember back in November, we reported that Black Hills Energy had filed plans with City Hall to demolish its Quonset hut maintenance building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets. You also may remember that some East Lawrence residents and the developer of the Poehler lofts building expressed concern about tearing down the old building.
Well, the city’s Historic Resources Commission agreed. It has voted against a plan that would allow for the removal of the building. Black Hills Energy, however, has filed an appeal of that decision. So, maybe it will be bib-overall night at City Hall soon because city commissioners are going to get to spend some time discussing Quonset huts. Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning, told me he expects the appeal to be brought to the City Commission for a final decision in the next couple of weeks.
Black Hills wants to remove the building as it prepares to sell the site. The natural gas company no longer uses the building for its maintenance crew. But others in the neighborhood have said the building represents a rare form of architecture that is worth preserving. Others have said the building could be turned into something cool that would fit in with the adjacent Warehouse Arts District.
McCullough said the Historic Resources Commission voted against the plan, in part, because the building sits in a conservation overlay district that calls for replacement plans to be presented before any buildings are demolished. McCullough said Black Hills has indicated it doesn’t plan to replace the building, but rather would turn the site into a gravel lot while it seeks a buyer.
I’ll let you know when I hear more details about when he issue will next arrive at City Hall.
Large apartment project near KU to set up office in downtown; new report shows T ridership grew in 2014
The idea of fancy and 935 Massachusetts Street long have gone together in my book. If you remember, 935 Mass is the former home of Jayhawk Spirit, and my wife once got a bedazzled Jayhawk T-shirt there that is so fancy I still have to wear a welding helmet to look at it. Well, soon, the location will be all about selling fancy apartments. The company that is building the $75 million multi-story luxury apartment building across from Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium has signed a deal to locate its rental office at 935 Mass.
HERE Kansas, LLC has filed plans at Lawrence City Hall to remodel the former T-shirt shop into a rental office for its apartment project. Jim Heffernan, a partner on the HERE project, said he expects to have the rental office open in the next few months. Heffernan said the amount of construction underway at the apartment site, just north of the Kansas Union and across the street from the football stadium, made it impossible to have a leasing office on location. So, downtown Lawrence seemed like the logical choice, he said.
Heffernan said the project is proceeding well. Plans call for the apartments to be ready to lease by July 2016. Heffernan said the project is a little more than halfway done with its pier work. He expects to start building vertically in the next month or so. If you haven’t driven by the site lately, go take a look. Heffernan said it shows how challenging the site is to redevelop. The site has about six stories of fall from its peak to its base. The project received significant financial incentives from the city, in part because of the difficulty of redeveloping the site.
As a reminder, the project will include 239 apartments. They’ll be a mix of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units, with a total of 624 new bedrooms. At it highest point, the project will be seven stories tall. Heffernan previously has described the project as an upscale apartment project that will include a lot of high-grade finishes, pools, garden areas and other amenities. The project will be the first in the area to use an automated parking garage. Residents will pull into the parking garage on site, deposit their vehicle in an elevator-like structure, and then exit the car. The automated garage then will lift the vehicle to the appropriate level and use a system of tracks and other devices to place the vehicle in the appropriate spot.
In addition, the project will include about 13,000 square feet of commercial space. Some restaurant uses certainly are anticipated for the project, but Heffernan said the project also is looking for some other uses that will benefit both students and the general neighborhood.
“We’re in some very preliminary discussion with people interested in the commercial space now that they can see the site a little better,” Heffernan said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The latest ridership numbers are in for Lawrence’s public transit system. A little more than 1.1 million rides were provided on the city-funded T bus system in 2014, according to a new report from City Hall. That’s an increase of 4.5 percent from 2013. It also continues a trend of increasing ridership since 2008, when the city began coordinating bus routes with the KU bus system. Since 2008, ridership has grown from about 400,000 rides.
The new numbers show the city’s NightLine bus service also is growing. The city in 2013 started a system where people could call ahead during daytime hours to schedule a bus to pick them up between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday. The system was designed to serve third shift workers and others who had regular needs for late-night bus service. The report found that the service provided 14,462 rides in its first full year of operation. Month-over-month numbers showed steady increases in ridership. For example, when the program began in June 2013, ridership for the month was about 600. In June 2014 it had grown to about 1,200.
The new report also highlights a couple of new programs that were launched in 2014. The system rolled out a new GPS program that allows transit passengers to send a text message to the system and find out exactly when their bus will arrive at a specific location. The city also in 2014 reached deals with Dillons and Hy-Vee stores to begin selling bus passes.
It will be interesting to watch the transit system in 2015. The big project facing the system is a new transit hub. Bus system leaders have proposed moving the transit hub — the place where buses congregate and transfers are often made — from downtown to a spot near 21st and Iowa streets.
But the political environment may be shifting. Incoming commissioners Stuart Boley and Matthew Herbert both expressed concerns during the campaign about that proposed location, saying they thought a hub should be at more of a destination location. That could mean other locations downtown would be considered, or perhaps some other commercial areas in other parts of the city. Currently, the hub is across the street from the library, but transit leaders have expressed concern about that location being cramped. They’ve liked the 21st and Iowa area because it is on ground already owned by the Kansas University Endowment Association, and it would allow the hub to be near the KU campus.
Get ready for a night of pomp, circumstance and free cookies at Lawrence City Hall. This year we may want to add popcorn to the list as well because Tuesday’s installation of new commissioners and an election of a mayor seem to have more drama than usual.
Normally, the election of a city commissioner to serve a one-year term as mayor has been pretty routine stuff. It is based on tradition — more on that in a moment — and tradition calls for Jeremy Farmer to become the next mayor of the city. Usually at this point in the process, everyone has agreed and all that is left is the formality of a vote.
But within the last several days, emails have been floating around from constituents urging that Farmer be bypassed for mayor and that the current mayor, Mike Amyx, be elected to serve another one-year term.
Bottom line, I think odds are good that Farmer will be the next mayor, but it is noteworthy that some commissioners have still yet to commit to that idea. I talked with both Commissioners-elect Stuart Boley and Leslie Soden. Both of them stopped short of saying they were ready to support Farmer for mayor.
“I think we just need to wait and see,” said Boley on Monday morning.
Soden said she also was still weighing that decision.
“Tradition is definitely important,” Soden said. “But with this election it seemed pretty clear that the city is looking for a new attitude from the City Commission. I don’t know. This one is a tough one to balance.”
Soden said she thinks the commission could go one of three ways for mayor: Farmer, Amyx or herself.
“I’m weighing all those options right now,” she said.
I think Farmer is still likely to become the next mayor because Monday morning Amyx threw his support behind Farmer. It was not clear that was going to be the case, but Amyx on Monday morning said he wanted to end any speculation about his intentions.
“Tradition has served us very well,” Amyx said. “Jeremy has worked hard over the last couple of years. He has been somebody who has been involved with a great number of things. He has put in his time as a commissioner and vice mayor and also during the election two years ago. He deserves to be in the position of mayor.”
As for Farmer, he said he’s ready to serve.
“It would be a privilege to be able to serve my community in that capacity,” Farmer said.
In terms of what has caused this unusual episode of ‘guess the next mayor,’ part of it is just the general discomfort voters showed with the current commission, evidenced by the fact both of the incumbents seeking re-election — Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm — failed in their bids. But Farmer said he understands that part of it is likely because he has irritated some constituents with a fairly aggressive style that sometimes has led to heated discussions with members of the public during City Commission meetings.
Farmer said he is working to change that demeanor.
“I’ve been trying to have a bigger ear than a bigger mouth,” Farmer said. “I want people to understand that I will be receptive. I’m going to be committed to transparency, openness and communication.”
In case you are confused about all this mayoral elections stuff, don’t feel bad. We did just have an election, so it is natural to think that the issue of mayor was settled through that process. But Lawrence, like many other cities, doesn’t directly elect a mayor. Instead, the five-member commission picks one of its own members to serve a one-year term as mayor.
An arm-wrestling tournament didn’t seem fair, so commissioners through the decades came up with a different type of tradition to pick a mayor. It basically goes like this: Whoever is vice mayor becomes mayor, and whoever was the top vote winner in the most recent election becomes vice mayor. Whoever was the second place vote winner in the election will be vice mayor the following year.
So, get out your scorecards and follow along. In 2013, Amyx was the top vote winner in the election. He became the vice mayor in April of 2013 and then became mayor in April 2014. Farmer was the second-place winner in the 2013 election, so he became vice mayor in April 2014 and is in line to become mayor on Tuesday. Soden was the top vote winner in last week’s election, so she is in line to become vice mayor on Tuesday and then mayor in April 2016. Boley was the second place winner last week and is in line to be vice mayor in April 2016 and then mayor in 2017. Matthew Herbert is the other new member elected on Tuesday. He finished third and receives only a two-year term and, by tradition, is not in the running for a mayoral spot.
Whew. Tradition can be tough to follow. But for the most part, city commissioners have followed this one. As near as anyone can remember, there have been two times in the past 30 some years that commissioners have deviated from the selection process. One time Nancy Shontz was bypassed and another time Mike Rundle was skipped.
We’ll see how this all goes on Tuesday. It does seem to have the potential to create a little tension among the commissioners, but perhaps not. The surest thing is that a new commission will be seated.
And yes, there will be some pomp and circumstance involved. There is a formal State of the City Address, a formal swearing in ceremony and, if tradition holds, a reception that includes free cookies for all.
That’s one tradition that I plan to hold onto — perhaps even with one in each hand.
Former Ramada Inn property at Sixth and Iowa to be razed for redevelopment; announcement expected soon on new tenant for BTBC
Keep your eyes open for a major change of scenery at Sixth and Iowa. Plans are in the works to demolish the former Ramada Inn building that sits just north and west of the busy intersection.
The building has not served as a Ramada for a long time, and housed a litany of other hotel chains in recent years. It recently closed, and a new ownership group plans to demolish the building in mid-May.
Lawrence-based Williams Management has bought the property from an East Coast bank. Adam Williams, leader of the development group, told me he doesn’t yet have specific plans for the nearly four-acre property. He is in discussions, though, with various groups. He said he became interested in the property because its commercial zoning allows for a number of uses. He said a new hotel is a possibility, as is an office building, retail development or even a gas station.
“We feel like we have a lot of options,” said Williams. “We really like the corner and the location.”
Williams — who is the developer who built the new Capital City Bank building and medical office building at Sixth and Folks Road — said the group had no interest in keeping the current building.
“It had become a tired hotel,” Williams said. “The property is in need of a change. I think the community will be glad to see it.”
Williams said an auction will be held May 3 to auction off the contents of the building, and then demolition is likely to begin a few weeks later. Williams said he hopes to have a more definitive plan about how to redevelop the property this summer.
“I don’t think it will be long until we identify what will happen with the property,” Williams said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re talking about properties at busy intersections to keep an eye on, it appears the Phoggy Dog at 2228 Iowa St. falls into that category. The longtime bar appears to be closed, although I’ve struggled to confirm that. I’ve had patrons email me that the establishment closed last week. I’ve tried to get in touch with the business operator, but have had no luck. I did go by the establishment last night and it was closed, although there weren’t any signs explaining whether there were plans to reopen. So take it for what it is worth.
For those of you not up on your current bar locations, the Phoggy Dog is in the shopping center on the northeast corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. For a long time the location was the home of King Arthur’s, which I’m pretty sure was a monarch in the 1990s who was almost entirely funded by proceeds from my ATM account.
Anyway, it is another prominent location that may be up for a change in scenery, although you would think another bar use is likely, given that the location is within walking distance of the Daisy Hill dormitories.
• I’m hearing there is going to be a positive announcement on the Lawrence economic development front. I believe a new tenant is going to be announced at the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on KU’s West Campus on Monday. My understanding is it may be a company looking to locate its headquarters here, and may be in the health field. Obviously, I’m still gathering information on this. I don’t have any word on how many employees the firm may employ, but the BTBC site is an incubator facility, so usually companies are on the smaller side with strong growth potential and good professional-level jobs. We should learn all the details on Monday.
Monday's announcement is not related to work that local economic development leaders have been doing to bring the first tenant to the new Lawrence VenturePark. But Larry McElwain, president and CEO of the chamber, told me that work is still continuing to go well. McElwain previously has said the community is in the running to land a large manufacturer that would occupy about 120 acres at the park and would employ about 125 people over the next five years. No word on when Lawrence may learn about the future of that project, but it sounds like it is a project whose leaders are still actively considering Lawrence.
Sales tax collections on the rise in early part of 2015; city sharpening pencil to build $50 million sewer plant on budget
While the forklift drivers are dutifully unloading all the clearance rack Easter candy at my house, there’s a new report out that shows Lawrence shoppers did a pretty good job of keeping the cash registers ringing during the Valentine’s Day period as well.
The latest sales tax report from the Kansas Department of Revenue shows taxable sales in Lawrence from the mid-February to mid-March period were up 4.2 percent compared with the same period a year ago. The year-to-date numbers for 2015 are even more impressive. Thus far, taxable sales — most of which are retail sales but also include sales taxes on items such as your utility bills — are up 5.6 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
The 5.6 percent growth rate puts Lawrence in the top half of the large retail centers in the state. Here’s a look at how other Kansas communities fared:
— Kansas City: up 6.4 percent — Lenexa: up 7.6 percent — Manhattan: up 3.4 percent — Overland Park: down 0.3 percent — Salina: up 5.6 percent — Sedgwick County: up 3.1 percent — Topeka: up 2.1 percent
It will be an interesting year to watch retail sales in Lawrence. There’s lots of activity on south Iowa Street. This year will be the first full year for Dick’s Sporting Goods in the market, PetSmart just recently opened its store next to Dick’s at 27th and Iowa streets. As we previously reported, Ulta Beauty and the Boot Barn also are scheduled to open later this year at the 27th and Iowa street shopping center. Then, just down the road, Menards will open the largest home improvement center in the city near 31st and Iowa. There are multiple pad sites available around that store, although there haven’t been signs yet that tenants have been found for those spaces. And there also is development out west. Sprouts is opening a new grocery store just north of the Sixth and Wakarsusa interchange.
All those stores have the potential to generate significant amounts of sales tax revenue, so it will be interesting to watch whether Lawrence’s sales tax totals over the next couple of years rise significantly. There’s certainly been a debate among some about whether the new stores will add new sales to the Lawrence market or whether it will just shift existing sales around. The numbers probably won’t be definitive. (That’s a way of saying we’ll probably continue to argue about that point.)
But thus far, retail sales in Lawrence are on an impressive run. In 2014, sales tax collections grew by 4.1 percent, which was the second fastest growth rate of the eight major cities that we track. That’s despite the fact that Lawrence continues to have per capita retail spending that is significantly less than other cities. In 2014, our per capita spending was $15,857. Fellow university community Manhattan had per capita spending of $19,236, or about 20 percent greater than Lawrence’s. Maybe Lawrence never will have per capita spending reach that level since we are so close to the major shopping areas in Kansas City.
But there certainly have been arguments that Lawrence can attract more outside-the-community shoppers from places such as Franklin County and Jefferson County who may find it more convenient to run into Lawrence than to deal with the larger crowds in Kansas City. If Lawrence could just increase its per capita spending — either through purchases made by Lawrence residents or by people outside the community coming here to shop — by 1 percent, it would add about $15 million in sales to the Lawrence economy. That $15 million in sales would add about $400,000 a year in new sales tax revenues to the city and county coffers.
If Lawrence somehow could grow its per capita spending levels to equal Manhattan’s, that would amount to about another $337 million a year in retail spending in the city. That would add about another $8.6 million to the sales tax coffers of the city and the county.
In other news and notes from around town:
• When it comes to big numbers, plans for a new sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River kind of take the cake at Lawrence City Hall. If you remember, bids for that project created a few too many big numbers last month. Commissioners rejected the bids after they came in about $5 million more than expected. Well, the project has been rebid, and the results have proved that the best way to get a project to come in closer to engineers' estimates is to . . . raise the engineers' estimates. Previously the sewer treatment plant had an engineers' estimate of $45.9 million. When the project was rebid, engineers increased the estimate to $51.3 million, largely because construction costs are on an upward trend right now.
New bids for the project did come in below the $51 million estimate, but are still above the $45 million to $46 million that city officials have budgeted for. Garney Construction submitted the low base bid at $47.15 million. Crossland Heavy Contractors was the only other bidder at $49.3 million.
City officials, though, are optimistic they’ll be able to make the new bid work. Unlike the last time the project was bid, the city asked for several bid alternates that will allow certain parts of the project to be deleted. By making some deletions, it appears the bulk of the project will be able to be constructed within that $45 million to $46 million range. That price range is important because anything above that would likely require sewer rate increases greater than those that already have been approved.
“The City Commission has made it clear that it wants to move ahead with this project, but it wants to move ahead within the already approved rate plan,” City Manager David Corliss said.
Staff members are looking at the possible deletions and are expected to make a recommendation to the commission in late April.
“But we have some good options now,” said Dave Wagner, the city’s director of utilities.
As far as what may be cut, some options are directly related to the technical sewage treatment operations of the plant, while others are related to office space, vehicle storage and other such ancillary functions.
City officials say the new plant is needed to help the city meet EPA treatment requirements and also to give the city the needed treatment capacity to grow in the coming decades.
Another urgent care medical clinic slated for Sixth Street; big announcements from Free State Festival; items of note from City Commission elections
If turkey-on-pita or that wonderfully catchy Spangles jingle was medicine for your body, you’re still out of luck in Lawrence. But soon you will be able to go see a doctor in the Sixth Street location that formerly housed the Spangles restaurant. (And, you can always ask the doctor to sing the jingle. You never know.)
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for MedExpress to locate in the former Spangles building at 3420 W. Sixth St. If you remember, the fast-food restaurant closed down in late 2013. MedExpress is a West Virgina-based walk-in health clinic that treats everything from broken bones, cuts and scrapes, colds and flus, and a host of other nonlife-threatening ailments.
According to its website, the walk-in clinics are open seven days a week from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. The company has locations in seven states, but it looks like the Lawrence clinic will be its first in Kansas.
It certainly won’t be the first to start the trend of walk-in health clinics coming to Lawrence. West Lawrence residents, I don’t know what you have been doing — but perhaps we can talk in private later — but doctors certainly have been interested in serving you lately. Just a couple of weeks ago we reported that another walk-in clinic company — XpressWellness Urgent Care — had filed plans to build near the corner of Sixth and Folks Road. That’s just a couple of blocks away from this site. Interestingly, Lawrence developer Doug Compton played a hand in both projects. XpressWellness is going into the Bauer Farm development that Compton is a part of, and the paperwork for MedExpress shows that Compton’s First Management now owns the Spangles building.
No word yet on when MedExpress plans to open. The site will undergo a significant renovation. For some reason, it appears the medical office will not be keeping all the 1950s diner-style neon that exists at the Spangles buildings. Plans call for most of the existing building to be demolished. A new structure that is about 2,000 square feet bigger will be built. All told, the clinic will be about 5,000 square feet.
In other news and notes from around town:
• This news is just in: For those of you who didn’t get enough funk in the recently completed election season, one of the masters of funk will be performing a live concert in Lawrence this summer as part of the Free State Festival. The Lawrence Arts Center announced this morning that George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic will be a headliner of the festival, which runs June 22-28.
Noted comedian Bobcat Goldthwait also will be in town for the festival. He’ll be screening a documentary that he directed about comedian Barry Crimmins. Look for more information about the complete festival lineup and more details about showtimes soon.
• My french fry habits alone put me much closer to Bill Clinton than George Clinton, so you should find it as no surprise that I’m better versed on politics than funk. Even though I suspect there are many of you sick of the political season, we should do a quick wrap-up of some items from last night’s City Commission elections. Here are some things I think we learned:
— It was an odd year for money in Lawrence politics. The top three vote winners in the election were the candidates who raised the least amount of money. Leslie Soden, the top vote-winner, raised just less than $7,000 for the entire campaign, according to the most recent filings. The top fundraiser, Stan Rasmussen, raised just more than $25,000. He finished fifth in the six candidate field. The second-highest fundraiser, Bob Schumm, finished sixth. Couple this with the fact that supporters of the police headquarters sales tax greatly outspent opponents in November but still lost. Perhaps the role of money is changing in local politics. Perhaps social media is making it easier to run grassroots campaigns. Perhaps we just caught voters in a particular mood. Likely, it is a bit of all three.
— Any money that even looks like it may have touched the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity or other such conservative causes is poison to the touch in Lawrence. That seems to be the most likely explanation for why Rasmussen fell from second-place in the March primary to fifth place in the general election. Rasmussen had to deal with a controversy in the final week of the campaign as some voters expressed concern about $4,500 in donations that he took — and then later returned — from a prominent southeast Kansas family involved in conservative political causes. Rasmussen tried to explain that the money from the Crossland family came to him because he was a classmate with the elder Crossland in Leadership Kansas, not because the two shared political philosophies. For what it is worth, several people have come forward and said Rasmussen really isn’t a conservative in the ilk of Crossland. But Lawrence voters, it appears, take no chances on that front.
— This may be the last April election we have. One of the items that got a bit of talk in political circles last night is whether the Kansas Legislature will approve a law that would move the city and school board elections to even numbered years in November. County Clerk Jamie Shew told me he thinks the bill has a real chance of approval. City and school elections would still be nonpartisan but they would be on the ballot with partisan races such as governor and presidential races. Now that the campaigning is done, I’m going to look at that bill more, and I’ll report back. The implication could be large though. For one, some members of the City Commission will have to have their terms adjusted, if elections move to even numbered years. The bigger implication, though, may be how it changes the voter mix in Lawrence. Generally, KU students don’t come out to vote in City Commission elections. Generally, they do for presidential elections. If there are City Commission names on the ballot, will they vote in that race as well? It has the potential to be a game-changer.
Farmer proposes monthly potluck dinner with city commissioners, other changes if he is elected mayor; study finds Kansas vehicle tax rates among the highest
Let’s be honest; we’ve all suspected for a while that the answer at Lawrence City Hall is more pea salad and fruit-infused Jell-O. No? Well, it might be. City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer says he plans to propose, if he is chosen to be mayor, a monthly community potluck with city commissioners as a way to open up lines of communication with residents.
In his weekly email update, Farmer says he plans to propose several changes to how City Commission meetings are structured, if he indeed is chosen by his fellow commissioners to be mayor later this month. Farmer currently is the vice mayor and, if tradition holds, he’ll be elected to serve a one-year term as mayor beginning at the April 14 meeting. The five-member City Commission each year chooses one of its members to serve as mayor.
Here’s a look at how Farmer envisions City Commission meetings:
— The first Tuesday of each month would continue to be business as usual: a 5:45 p.m. meeting at City Hall.
— The second Tuesday of each month would be a “City Commission community conversation” that would be held at various neighborhood locations. At 5:45 p.m. commissioners and members of the public would have a potluck dinner together. There would be time for conversation afterward as well.
“I think these meetings should be a place where we have a dialogue with people who show up about things that matter most to them,” Farmer wrote in his blog. “We get input, talk together about ideas, concerns, celebrate things that are happening in our community as elected officials.”
Farmer proposes that these gatherings would be taped and later broadcast. I’m not sure if the actual eating would be taped. If so, I’m predicting that me eating pea salad will become the next great reality television hit.
— The third Tuesday of each month would be business as usual: a 5:45 p.m. meeting at City Hall.
— The fourth Tuesday of each month would be a City Commission study session held at various locations around town. The main difference between a study session and City Commission meeting is that commissioners can’t take any binding votes at a study session. Normally a study session focuses on just one or two items. Commissioners hear reports from staff members and other people they believe have information to share, but public comment traditionally is not accepted. Farmer suggests these study sessions would be taped and later broadcast on the city’s cable channel.
We’ll see what comes of these ideas. Any changes to the City Commission meeting structure would have to be approved by the City Commission. The idea of changing the way the commission meets has come up before. For years, the concern has been that commissioners get caught up in doing the week-to-week routing of approvals and ordinary debates that happen during the course of a regular City Commission meeting, and they rarely find time to discuss the broader issues facing the city.
More recently, a concern expressed by some commissioners is that they haven’t done enough to bring the discussion to residents of the city. That has sparked the idea of having City Commission meetings at other locations. And perhaps that is what has sparked the food idea as well because — let’s face it — a standard City Commission meeting is probably not the most exciting game in town on a Tuesday night. But throw in some food . . . (Plus, if I’m required to bring a dish, you’ll want to show up just to see what I will put mayonnaise on. Miracle Whip on a pear . . . fantastic.)
In his latest email update, Farmer certainly addressed, in a fairly frank manner, how he thought he has fallen short in the category of connecting with residents.
“I have made decisions I can live with, and others which cause me great amounts of stress still,” Farmer wrote of his first two years on the commission. “I stumbled upon one of my campaign walk cards around the first of the year, and in it, contained a set of values. Those values, I can honestly say, I was not adhering to.
“One of the main ones was to tell you that your voice mattered. Don’t get me wrong, it always has. But I was doing a lot more talking and defending than I was listening, and for that, I am truly sorry.”
We’re set to have an interesting time at Lawrence City Hall. Voters will choose a new commission on Tuesday, that new commission will choose a new city manager in the coming months, and we soon may have a new mayor who has ideas that some will consider nontraditional.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I knew there was a reason my mayonnaise budget had been strained in recent months: automobile taxes. The folks at the financial website WalletHub have put out a new study that found Kansas has the third highest vehicle property taxes in the country.
The study found that the national average amount paid in vehicle property taxes for a person owning a new car — specifically the study used the top-selling 2015 Toyota Camry — was $423 for the year. But in Kansas, the average was $905. Only Virginia at $962 and Rhode Island at $1,133 paid more than Kansas motorists. It also is worth noting that only 27 of the state have a vehicle property tax, according to the WalletHub study.
In terms of how our neighbors fared, here’s a look:
— Colorado: $410
— Missouri: $595
— Nebraska: $340
— Oklahoma: No tax
The study also looked at average property taxes paid on real estate. Kansas also fared in the bottom half of that study. Kansans paid an average of $2,411 in real estate property taxes. That ranked 37th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The national average was $2,089. The study used Census data to come up with the averages. It appears it is looking only at property taxes paid on homes.
Here’s a look at how our neighbors fared in the real estate property tax category:
— Colorado: $1,089
— Missouri: $1,749
— Nebraska: $3,228
— Oklahoma: $1,499
Police PAC issues statement against Soden; Board of Realtors PAC gets nearly $15K from national organization; SLT concept plan could create major changes near Clinton Parkway
A sturdy seat belt may be a good item for Lawrence voters to have, because the twist and turns in the final days of the Lawrence City Commission campaign have been significant. The two most recent: the political arm of Lawrence police officers is squaring off with front-runner Leslie Soden, and approximately $15,000 in outside money recently has been injected into the City Commission race from a national Realtor group.
First, Lawrence police officers and their concerns about Soden, the top vote-winner in last month’s primary election. The Lawrence Police Officers’ Association Political Action Committee has issued a formal statement about why it doesn’t think Soden is suitable to serve as a city commissioner. The group said that as it was researching candidates to support, it found several social media messages on Twitter that raised concerns about her attitudes towards the police.
“If one were to view Ms. Soden’s social media activity, and her failure to tour existing police facilities to educate herself on one of the most discussed issues of this year’s campaign, it shows she is willing to make decisions not based on facts and vital information but upon uneducated and incorrect assertions,” the group said in its statement. “This demonstrates that she lacks the mature judgment needed by a Commissioner, and if elected to the City Commission it could be to the detriment to our community.”
This twist in the campaign should be interesting to watch because the social media messages in question likely are going to be viewed differently by different folks. First, it is important to note that none of the messages actually were written by Soden. They rather were all retweeted or favorited. (For those of you who confine your tweeting activity to bird shows, think of “retweeting” or “favoriting” sort of like forwarding an e-mail message, although, in this case, to multiple people at a time.)
There are some tweets that Soden forwarded or favorited that bring up questions of race relations between the police officers and the communities they serve. These tweets came in the aftermath of the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Here are a couple of examples:
— Soden retweeted an Aug. 17 message from Max Berger, an organizer with the Occupy movement, that read: “#Ferguson is the perfect storm of America’s problems: war equipment from Iraq used to suppress poor people angry about a racist murder.”
— On Sept. 19, Soden favorited a tweet by Jason Barr, a prolific Lawrence-area Twitter user. It read: “Cops arresting a guy with a huge assault rifle at Dillons on 6th. A (expletive) assault rifle. He was white . . . so they didn’t shoot him. #LFK”
Soden told me she can understand how some people may be concerned about the social media messages when “they are taken out of context.” She said she was very interested in the news of the day surrounding the Ferguson shooting and its aftermath. She said she thinks the discussion happening in the wake of the Ferguson shooting is very important for people involved in community leadership to pay attention to. She said she retweeted the messages because they showed the emotion of the debate. She said she doesn’t necessarily agree with all the sentiments expressed in the tweets.
“They were just retweets,” Soden said. “They weren’t my words. It showed a lot of emotion. There were a lot of emotional messages that people were sending out. It showed this is something people were experiencing very intensely.”
The police officers association in total included 40 tweets that it said were examples of messages that “demonstrate a lack of understanding of issues facing law enforcement and the communities they police.” If you want to look for yourself, you can see Soden’s full Twitter feed here. It is worth noting that about half-dozen of the messages cited by the police group were simply retweets from news organizations such as the Associated Press, NPR, CNN and LJWorld that were providing updates on the Ferguson situation.
Soden said she wants people to understand she thinks Lawrence police officers are doing a good job in serving the community.
“Any police officers I have encountered in Lawrence, I’ve had good interactions with them,” Soden said. “I think they do a great job. There are probably people in town who don’t agree with that, but my experience has been good.”
One issue the police officers association raised is that Soden hasn’t been on a tour of the current police facilities. She said that is correct. Soden said she’s attended several city presentations on the condition of police facilities, but hasn’t yet taken a tour. She said she’s already convinced that police facilities need to be upgraded and expanded. She expects a formal City Commission tour of the facilities will be one of the activities of the new commission.
Soden said she thinks this most recent statement by the police officers association is a sign of frustration.
“I understand that they are frustrated that they were not the top priority for past commissioners,” Soden said. “And I’m sure the failure of the sales tax in November was frustrating too. But for the past few months I have been telling anyone and everyone that public safety is my top priority. I really am looking forward to working on that issue.”
Soden, during her campaign, has been advocating for examining the entire “emergency services system,” which includes the police, the fire department, the hospital and the jail. She said such a review may lead to ways that the community can reduce the demand for police services.
All six candidates in the field have supported improvements for police facilities, but Soden has differentiated herself from several other candidates by saying she wants to study whether existing facilities could be upgraded or expanded before looking at $26 million plan to build an entirely new police headquarters.
“I agree that we have issues with our current facilities,” Soden said. “I don’t know why they are in the shape they are now. I totally think it needs to be a top priority. But to build a new facility so soon after the voters rejected that idea, I’m not sure.”
• On to Twist No. 2. The newly formed Lawrence Realtors Political Action Committee filed its required campaign finance report with the Douglas County Clerk’s office yesterday. It showed two contributions to the PAC: $300 from the Lawrence Board of Realtors and $14,645.49 from the National Association of Realtors based in Chicago.
If you remember last week, there was an uproar over outside campaign donations perhaps influencing local races. Given that, I wanted to check in on this donation, which to my memory is the largest single donation related to a Lawrence City Commission race.
Crystal Swearingen, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, told me this morning that members of the local board of Realtors periodically make donations to the national political action committee for the National Association of Realtors. One of the programs of the national PAC is to provide grant money to local boards of Realtors to use in local races. Swearingen said the local board this year decided it wanted to get more active in the Lawrence City Commission race, in part because the next commission is expected to deal with updates to Horizon 2020 and other planning documents that directly will impact the residential home industry.
Swearingen said the local PAC is using the money to send postcards and buy advertising to support the three candidates it has endorsed, Stan Rasmussen, Terry Riordan and Matthew Herbert.
“We just want to make sure people understand how these issues may impact property owners,” Swearingen said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• A little more than 100 people went to a public open house regarding concept plans to expand the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway to four-lanes. As we have reported previously, the project won’t be as simple as just adding two more lanes to the existing bypass.
The latest concept plans give an idea of how much could change along the western route of the road. Specifically, some new interchanges may be built, and there’s even talk of eliminating the existing Clinton Parkway interchange. Nothing is close to being set in stone. The state doesn’t have the money currently budgeted to build another two lanes, so any project is years away. But the Kansas Department of Transportation does hope to settle on a concept plan within the next year.
Here’s a look at some of the major ideas floated in the current draft version of the concept plan:
— Moving the existing Clinton Parkway interchange to the south. A map shows a location that would be just north and west of where Wakarusa Drive currently intersects with the SLT near the YSI sports complex. Planners do not like the at-grade intersection that exists at Wakarusa/27th Street near YSI. It has been dangerous. The concept plan notes that creating an interchange at the Wakarusa Drive location “would be challenging” due to several right-of-way issues. A new interchange to the north and west, however, could provide access to the YSI complex, if some new frontage roads are built. But that new interchange would mean the existing interchange for Clinton Parkway would be removed. KDOT planners have said they are open to that idea, in part, because the Clinton Parkway interchange currently is the least used on the SLT. Removing the interchange, however, may create new difficulties for people wanting to get to Clinton State Park.
— Changes to the roadway alignment near the existing Clinton Parkway interchange. If you remember, that is where the road takes a big curve. Planners say the arc of the curve would make it difficult for the road to safely have a 70 mph speed limit. The arc of the curve likely would need to be lessened, which would bring the road much closer to existing residential development or perhaps would require some houses to be relocated. Here’s a map that shows what they’re talking about.
— A new interchange where the SLT and Inverness Drive would intersect. The interchange would be south and east of the existing Wakarusa/27th Street intersection. It also could provide an alternative route to the YSI complex. If built, planners have said they would add an overpass for Wakarusa and the SLT.
— Changes where Kasold Drive intersects with the SLT. The concept plan says that intersection needs to be removed for safety reasons. The planners also have ruled out the idea of an interchange due to floodplain concerns and too little space between that location and the U.S. Highway 59 interchange. The concept plan notes an underpass that would allow Kasold to get across the SLT is a possibility.
– Major changes to the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. That’s the interchange that connects the SLT to the Kansas Turnpike. Planners want that interchange to be completely free-flowing, meaning motorists wouldn’t have to travel through any at-grade intersections. That design, though, will be tough to accomplish if access to North 1800 Road — also known as Farmers Turnpike — is allowed to remain at the interchange.
Planners are contemplating that a new Kansas Turnpike interchange could be built at Queens Road, just east of the current Lecompton interchange. The Queens Road interchange would allow motorists to have access to North 1800 Road. Once built access to North 1800 Road at the Lecompton interchange would be eliminated.
Another possibility is a new interchange at County Route 1029, which is a bit west of the existing Lecompton interchange. County Route 1029 leads directly into Lecompton. That new interchange also would allow access to North 1800 Road.
Here’s a map that goes over some of the ideas. As I said before, the project is years away, but the talk that is going on today could be very significant in shaping Lawrence’s transportation future. KDOT intends to have another public meeting this summer where it presents a revised version of the concept plans.
75th Anniversary of The Duke and 75,000 fans in Lawrence; police officers association endorses three for City Commission
Well, Pilgrim, cinch up your saddle, pull your hat down tight and mosey over to to the popcorn trough. There’s a new excuse for Lawrence residents to watch a John Wayne movie in the coming days. (As a bonus, we also can walk around saying words like pilgrim, sarsaparilla and boy-howdy without people looking at us odd. Why are you still looking at me odd?)
Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of John Wayne coming to Lawrence as part of the world premier of his 1940 motion picture "Dark Command." The movie wasn’t filmed in Lawrence — if you have ever watched it, you’ll get a kick out of the scenery around Lawrence — but the plot was based in Lawrence. The movie is loosely based on Quantrill’s Raid of the city. The villain and John Wayne’s nemesis in the film is a fellow by the name of William Cantrell.
To hear some people tell it, the 1940 event is one of the standout pre-war memories people have of Lawrence. A Journal-World staff writer reminisced on the event in a 1998 Journal-World article. It was estimated that more than 75,000 people turned out in downtown Lawrence for the festivities surrounding the world premiere. There was a parade that was estimated to be “more than two miles long as hundreds of local horse fanciers and motorcade fans” joined in the festivities. Both John Wayne and Gene Autry were in town for the event. Wayne was the star of the film. Autry was not in the film but was in town for the event. Roy Rogers, however, was in the movie, although he did not sing in the film. (Cantrell surely would have been brought to justice earlier if there had been more song and dance.)
The Eldridge Hotel hosted many of the film’s stars and had banners draped all over it, including one that read “Lawrence Welcomes Hollywood.”
It is an interesting piece of Lawrence history, and you can learn more about it at the Watkins Museum of History. The museum at 11th and Massachusetts will unveil an exhibit about the movie and the world premier event on April 18. However, the museum has a small display up now. On April 18, the museum will host three screenings of "Dark Command" at 10:30, 12:30 and 2:30.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The Lawrence City Commission race is really in the homestretch now, which means more groups and organizations are announcing their endorsement of candidates. The latest group is the Lawrence Police Officers Association Political Action Committee. It has endorsed candidates Stan Rasmussen, Matthew Herbert and Terry Riordan. That is the same trio of candidates that recently won the endorsement of the Lawrence Board of Realtors. It is always unclear how much these endorsements help a candidate, but two of these three certainly were left with some work to do after March’s primary election. Riordan finished fourth in the primary and Herbert finished fifth. Only the top three vote winners in the General Election will win a seat on the City Commission.
The General Election is on Tuesday.
• I’m getting lots of questions these days about the election and also a lot of questions about the future of City Manager David Corliss. As you may remember, we reported a couple of weeks ago, Corliss is a finalist for the town manager job in Castle Rock, Colo. That’s still the case. The town of about 50,000 people outside of Denver has not yet made an announcement. But I’m expecting one soon. I suspect we’ll have an answer on Corliss’ future before we have an answer on who the next city commissioners will be. I’ve received no definitive word on what will happen in Castle Rock, but just reading the tea leaves around City Hall, I think city commissioners are preparing as if they’ll soon be searching for a new city manager. But perhaps we’ll all be surprised. It should become much clearer soon.