Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Pair of restaurants proposed for location near Sixth Street Wal-Mart; City Hall tensions rise over East Lawrence proposal
I often play a guessing game whenever I make the trip to Wal-Mart with my family. You know, like: I guess you need a new pair of shoes; I guess I can push back retirement an extra 10 years; I guess I could curl up in a ball and sob quietly beneath the rack of discounted sweat pants. But now we all have a new guessing game to play when it comes to the area near the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa. Plans have been filed for two new restaurants near the store, but we don’t yet have names for them.
Plans have been filed to build about a 12,000 square foot building that will house two “upscale casual sit down restaurants” and a boutique retail type of tenant. The building is planned for the southwest corner of Wakarusa and Overland Drive, which is the vacant lot basically directly east of the Wal-Mart store.
According to the plans, one restaurant will be about 5,000 square feet while the other one will be about 3,700 square feet. The plans indicate the development group — which isn’t listed but is being represented by a Topeka architecture firm — has tenants for both restaurant spaces and will be looking for a tenant for the approximately 3,600 square feet of boutique retail.
“Both restaurants will be managed by successful homegrown companies specializing in the management of multiple establishments in the greater midwest area,” the plan states.
Other things we know from the plan are that the restaurants are of the type that have alcohol sales, and neither of the restaurants currently have a presence in Lawrence. This is what we call, in the world of restaurant detectives, a clue. Rest assured that I am on the case, I have picked up the scent and I will not rest until I come up with an answer. (Or until I become distracted by fried cheese sticks, or really any type of appetizer, which is a serious occupational hazard of a restaurant detective.)
Based on the plans submitted, I can’t even say with certainty that we’re talking about a national chain. It may be more a regional chain. But I like mentioning national restaurant chains about as much as I like fried cheese, so I looked at a recent list of the top 100 restaurant chains in America and pulled out the casual dining establishments that aren’t already located in Lawrence. Here’s that list: Olive Garden; Red Lobster; Outback Steakhouse; T.G.I. Friday’s; The Cheesecake Factory; Ruby Tuesday; Texas Roadhouse; Red Robin; P.F. Chang’s China Bistro; Hooters; Carrabba’s Italian Grill; California Pizza Kitchen; Logan’s Roadhouse; Romano’s Macaroni Grill; BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery; O’Charley’s; Ruth’s Chris Steak House; Bonefish Grill; and Cheddar’s.
I’m not saying that any of those restaurants are the ones included in this project. Clearly, some of them don’t make sense for the site or don’t even have operations in this part of the country. But I do find it interesting to note what major restaurants we don’t have.
The deal, which was brokered by Lawrence commercial real estate broker Lance Johnson, will be an interesting one to watch. The site needs to win zoning approval from the City Commission before it can proceed. The current zoning calls for more office-related uses than restaurant. The new zoning also will technically put the corner above the retail square footage cap that planners have set for the corner. The corner has about 99,000 square feet of retail space already constructed. The development group is asking for the corner’s retail cap to be increased by about 6,200 square feet.
Look for the issue to come up on a City Commission agenda in the next couple of months. In the meantime, I’ll keep scouring for clues to the identify of these restaurants. Well, I'll get started on that right after I get this marinara dipping sauce off my tie.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As we’ve previously reported, a medical office building also is being built near the Sixth Street Wal-Mart. The large building is just north of the proposed restaurant site. We now have more information about that medical office building.
Lawrence physician Stephanie Suber is opening a new medical practice called Family Centered Medicine. The practice also will include two other certified physician assistants. A message on the business's answering machine indicates that the practice will open during the week of Jan. 5. I haven’t had any luck in making contact with Suber or a a representative of the business to get more details.
The site is one to watch though, because it is a large new building. People in the medical community tell me that part of the building is set aside for another user, perhaps another medical practice or some other health-related company. No word, though, on whether that user has been found yet.
• Well, this could get messier than a double order of cheese sticks with extra dipping sauce. City commissioners last night began to show their frustrations with the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association. The association has been expressing concern about the proposal to convert a portion of Ninth Street east of Massachusetts into a unique arts corridor. Specifically, East Lawrence leaders have felt like the Lawrence Arts Center and the city haven’t done enough to make the neighborhood a “full partner” in the early stages of the process. City officials and Arts Center leaders have countered that the design process hasn’t yet begun and that East Lawrence and other stakeholders will be a major part of the process.
The East Lawrence association at the City Commission meeting last night presented a letter to commissioners spelling out how it hopes to be involved in the project. If commissioners follow the association’s suggestion, it will mark a different way of working with neighborhoods on projects.
How different? Well, for starters, the city would pay two representatives of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association to be active participants in the process. There weren’t a ton of details about everything these paid positions would do, but certainly attending meetings and keeping the neighborhood informed about the project would be major roles.
The idea brought a mix of reactions from commissioners. Both Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said the idea of paying neighborhood people to be involved in a project sounded odd to them. But Commissioners Bob Schumm and Terry Riordan said they wanted more information, and noted how it is difficult in a working class neighborhood for people to take off work to attend meetings and such.
“It would need to be very well defined, though,” Riordan said. “We would have to be careful because we would be setting precedent.”
The proposal also would require the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association to approve any design plans for the Ninth Street project before those plans are presented to the Lawrence City Commission for final approval.
That point caused significant discomfort with commissioners.
“That is not a partnership but is basically creating an authoritarian government,” City Commissioner Mike Dever said of the proposal, which equated to a veto power for the neighborhood association. “I’m trying not to get angry about this.”
Farmer did not do much to contain his anger about the proposal. Farmer said he wasn’t ready to give the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association any more money or power in the process. He said he’s uncomfortable providing any increased funding to the organization, in part, because “it continues to oppose everything that comes before us.”
Farmer also brought up concerns that the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association is not very representative of the actual residents of East Lawrence. Commissioners have been getting some e-mails about that concern from residents, and Farmer said he picked up on the theme when he walked the neighborhood during last year’s debate about whether to allow a multistory hotel to be built at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, which drew opposition from the neighborhood association.
“We heard everybody in East Lawrence was against that project, and it turned out that it was about four people who were against it,” Farmer said.
I didn’t get a chance to have detailed discussions with East Lawrence leaders last night, but I’m confident they don’t agree with that assessment.
Regardless, it looks like the idea of an arts corridor on Ninth Street is going to remain bumpy for awhile. In fact, Amyx said the tension between the neighborhood, the Arts Center and others is causing him to rethink his support for the project.
“This is something that I thought would be so good for East Lawrence, but now I’m having a hard time staying in the game,” Amyx said.
Right now, commissioners are just trying to hire a design firm for the project. At some point — probably next summer — a future commission will have to decide whether to spend an estimated $3 million in city money on the project. It will be interesting to see if the project ends up on the chopping block as the city seeks for ways to help pay for a new police headquarters.
Bus driver, union leader files for seat on City Commission; Salvation Army kettle drive falling short of goal
If ever there was a City Commission candidate who could make the case for having an actual campaign bus, it would be this one. A Lawrence bus driver who also is the president of the local transit union has filed for one of three seats up for grabs on the Lawrence City Commission.
Justin Priest, 41, said he’s seeking to bring a louder voice to a group of Lawrence residents who he believes sometimes gets overlooked at City Hall.
“I’m mostly about the working man and the blue collar person,” Priest said. “Nearly everybody on the commission owns their own business or is in the white collar realm.”
Priest said he has experience representing the working class. He’s been president of the local chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union for about a year, and during that time membership in the union has grown to 83, up from about 30.
Priest said he anticipates running a campaign that focuses on how the community can get more jobs. He also said he anticipates the campaign to include many questions about some of the commission’s spending decisions. He said the decision by commissioners to spend nearly $25 million on the Rock Chalk Park sports complex before asking voters for a new sales tax to pay for a police headquarters has left him feeling “irritable.”
“I understand the police building needs to be renovated or we need to build a new one,” Priest said. “But the funding was there before, and then it kind of went away.”
Priest grew up in Lawrence during his junior high years, moved away and then moved back various times. He’s been a Lawrence resident most recently since 2002. He’s been a bus driver — he mainly drives Kansas University buses, but also occasionally drives city buses for the company that has the city contract — for the past eight years. He previously was a co-owner of a mortgage company, J&J Financial, which he dissolved after his business partner died.
Priest also continues to work as a tax preparer for Lawrence’s Hume Tax Service. That brings up an interesting situation because one of the other candidates in the City Commission race is a retired IRS agent. I have some concern that City Commission debates are going to devolve to issues such as allowable deductions, estimated tax payments, and the ability of writers to claim Doritos purchases as a professional development expense because of their obvious power as brain food. (My Leavenworth-based accountant assures me this is largely a settled issue, and for some reason also frequently reminds me that sending him a cake with a file in it also is perfectly legal.)
Priest is the fifth candidate to file for a seat on the commission. The others are: Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet sitting company; Stuart Boley, a retired IRS agent; Stan Rasmussen, an attorney for the U.S. Army; and Matthew Herbert, a Lawrence High government and civics teacher.
The seats currently held by Commissioners Mike Dever, Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm are set to expire. None of the commissioners have yet filed for re-election. Candidates have until noon Jan. 27 to file for one of the three at-large seats. If seven or more candidates file, there will be a primary election March 3 to narrow the field to six candidates. The general election will be April 7.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Contributions to charity clearly are tax deductible. But so far, donations to the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign are coming in short. Jim Evers, director of development for The Salvation Army of Douglas County, said donations stand at about $50,000, which is only half of the $100,000 goal the organization has set. The Salvation Army relies on holiday donations for about 30 percent of its annual budget.
Lt. Matt McCluer with The Salvation Army said the money raised through the kettles helps support programs such as the feeding program and rent and utility assistance programs that are operated year around. In addition, the organization also runs special programs such as a school supply distribution event that helped about 800 kids get ready for school this year, and a series of summer camps in sports, music and other activities.
McCluer said he is optimistic that giving to the kettles will increase.
“I think that is kind of the psychology of the kettles,” McCluer said. “People don’t always give until it gets closer to Christmas. They get more excited for the holiday and then they give more. People in Lawrence are generous, so I think we’ll get there. We just need to finish strong.”
Local tech company featured in The New York Times; chicken and doughnut restaurant opens in West Lawrence
A downtown Lawrence office landed in The New York Times this weekend, which has created new enthusiasm that Massachusetts Street may be home to a burgeoning tech company that aims to change the entire financial industry.
Back in September I wrote about a new financial services company called Yantra Services that had converted the former Antiques Bazaars II building at 840 Mass. into an office for computer scientists and programmers. I noted then that it looked like a business to keep an eye on, and others in the financial industry seem to agree.
The Times published an article in its DealBook section that explains how the company is looking to dramatically change everything from the debit card to multibillion-dollar transfers between banks. Specifically, the article details how the owners of Yantra have bought a bank in Weir, a small town in southeast Kansas. In addition to providing small-town banking services, the company is using the bank to test its new technology solutions for transferring money and making electronic payments.
In the banking world, the article says, it is widely acknowledged that it takes too long for financial service providers to process many payments. Banks, though, are loath to speed up the process because the quicker a bank processes payments, the less time it has to detect fraudulent transactions.
Yantra is developing a system that will allow for instant transfers from one account to another, utilizing the current technology system that powers the ATM network, according to the article. It includes a sophisticated computer program designed to quickly look at up to 40 factors to determine if a transaction is fraudulent. A few health insurance companies already are using Yantra’s system, through the bank in Weir. Companies pay a few dollars per transaction, and already the tiny bank is noticing a big difference in its bottom line.
The good news is that Lawrence is a part of this action. Yantra is based in Topeka, but as we reported in September, it wants to tap into the Lawrence market for computer scientists, programmers and other technical positions. The times article said about dozen computer engineers work for Yantra in its Topeka offices, but Yantra president and CEO Suresh Ramamurthi told me in September that he hoped to have that many or more in Lawrence at some point.
“Basically, we are looking to see if we can find the right talent in the Lawrence market,” Ramamurthi said in September. “If we can, we intend to fill the building up.”
It sure seems like Lawrence is a big part of the company’s plan. I noticed that although the company is based in Topeka, it was the company’s Lawrence office that was photographed for the article.
It will be an interesting company to watch. It appears to be the type of high-tech, high-wage company than every community is looking for these days. Ramamurthi had a successful career at Google, and his wife, Suchitra Padmanabhan, has been a bond and security analyst at Lehman Brothers and other large institutions. The couple has been in Topeka since 2002, when she took a job at the money management firm Security Benefit.
But there will be another interesting, more headline-grabbing aspect of the company to watch. The company hopes to make debit and credit cards much more technologically advanced. The Times’ article gives an example of how a parent could create a debit card for a child that could be used only during lunch hours and only in a ZIP code near the child’s school.
Oh, you can bet I’ll be keeping my ears open for news of that project for both professional and personal reasons. Think of the possibilities. My household’s balance sheet would change entirely if I could somehow restrict bulk chocolate purchases. No more large cash outlays to Hershey, no more semi-trucking fees, no more cold storage fees . . . .
Like I said, a company to keep an eye on.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of foods that have been known to bankrupt a fellow, there is a new restaurant in town specializing in fried chicken and doughnuts. I don’t have a lot of details yet, but I know news like this is a lot like a nitroglycerin tablet: There are consequences if you wait.
Harolds Fried Chicken & Donuts has opened in the Miller Mart gas station at 3300 W. Sixth St. The restaurant is closed on Mondays, so I was unable to try any chicken and donuts, but I did grab a menu. The restaurant isn’t a Dunkin’ Donuts type of place that happens to serve fried chicken. Instead, the menu touts something called “honest fried chicken,” which is served with a “warm maple glazed donut and your choice of dipping sauce.” Near as I can tell, the restaurant doesn't serve any other type of donuts.
The menu includes about a half dozen sauces, including country gravy, a Thai chili/garlic sauce, and buttermilk ranch. It also includes something called a “grilled glazer” that is a toasted maple glazed donut, topped with a fried chicken breast, cheddar cheese and a secret sauce. The restaurant also offers side dishes such as mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, cole slaw, and even “old-fashioned chicken noodle soup.”
As I said, I wasn’t able to talk to anyone at the restaurant because it was closed today, but I’ll keep an ear out for more details.
• If your Christmas tradition is to go eat some Chinese food — a la the famous scene from A Christmas Story — you have one less option in Lawrence. The Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet, 3140 Iowa St., has closed its doors. No word on what happened, but there is a hand-written sign taped to the door that reads: Out of Business.
There had been some talk on social media sites that the restaurant was closed as the result of health code violations. But I talked with a spokeswoman with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, which runs the state’s food safety program, and she said the department had taken no action against the establishment.
No word on whether another business is slated to take the restaurant’s spot, which is in the shopping center that includes Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and several other retailers.
Pachamamas restaurant up for sale, may close after Valentine’s Day; Rock Chalk gets set for big basketball tourney
News that the highly regarded downtown restaurant Pachamamas is about to close is a bit like cold pizza for breakfast: It isn’t quite right, but it is not quite wrong either. Ken Baker, owner and chef of Pachamamas, has confirmed to me that he has put the restaurant and downtown building up for sale, and the restaurant will close in the coming months if a buyer isn’t found.
Baker said the restaurant simply has struggled to recover from the 2008 recession, when patrons didn’t have as much money to spend on a nice meal.
“The last four years have just been hell trying to chase the dollar, and I’ve wrecked my body in the process,” Baker said.
Baker said he’s had two back surgeries recently, which have played a role in the decision to exit the business. He said he also “has a 6-year old boy who doesn’t see his dad very much.”
As for a possible closing date, Baker said he plans to run the business through Valentine’s Day, unless someone buys it before then. He recently listed the building, 800 New Hampshire St., with Lawrence’s Allison Vance Moore, a top commercial real estate agent with Colliers International. Baker said he is optimistic a buyer will be found, although he said it is hard to predict whether a buyer would want to buy both the building and the Pachamamas name and concept.
The building has a prime location along the active New Hampshire Street corridor. A new Marriott hotel is expected to open at the corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets in early 2015, and work on a second multistory apartment building at the intersection is expected to begin soon, as well.
“I wish I had the sea legs to wait it out because a lot is happening here,” Baker said.
Baker has been adjusting the business during the past year to try to improve its finances. The restaurant in April stopped serving lunch but added a new happy hour and lighter menu to its Star Bar operations.
Baker has owned the restaurant for 15 years, and moved it from its original location in west Lawrence to downtown in 2006. The restaurant touts its philosophy of using locally sourced produce and other items to create seasonal dishes that have an artisanal feel. Like today, the menu features items such as smoked duck breast, pork osso bucco, or a special dessert like honey bourbon butter cake. (See, that’s why I’m not a chef. I never thought to put them in a cake. I’ve just been consuming those three items separately all these years.)
Baker said he still very much enjoys the artistry of producing fine meals, and said the decision to exit the business has been a difficult one, in part because he also still enjoys working with his staff.
“Some of the most important people in my life have come through these doors and been on my staff,” Baker said.
I’ll work to keep you updated on any pending changes at the restaurant.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe a celebration dinner will be in order for some youth basketball team in Lawrence this weekend. There indeed will be a lot of youth basketball teams in the city beginning today and lasting through Sunday, as the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park hosts its largest tournament yet.
I haven’t been able to get the latest estimate from the city, but it looks like the tournament will bring 50 to 100 youth teams to the recreation center — Sports Pavilion Lawrence — for the event that begins Friday evening and lasts into Sunday. That means probably anywhere from 400 to 1,000 players, plus their parents and entourages. (UPDATE: A city representative tells me about 70 teams are expected. Figure 8 to 10 players per team, that's around 600 to 700 players that will be out at the facility at various times this weekend.)
The tournament is put on by Agape Hoops Productions out of Independence, Mo. The tournament — called the MO/KS Winter Challenge — will occupy all but one of the eight courts at the recreation center. According to the tournament’s website, it will be for both boys and girls in grades second through eighth.
It looks like the company also has another large tournament scheduled for the Sports Pavilion in March. One thing I happened to notice when I was looking at the company’s schedule is that while it has two tournaments scheduled for the Sports Pavilion between now and April, it has four tournaments scheduled for the Robinson Center at KU during the same period. It may be that the Sports Pavilion already was booked for those weekends, but it does bring up an interesting question of whether KU — who is a partner in the overall Rock Chalk Park sports complex — will be a competitor with the Sports Pavilion for youth tournaments, or whether that part of Robinson’s usage will be phased out? And certainly, I think city officials are hopeful of landing some tournaments that are so large that both facilities will need to be used.
I don’t have a solid update on how many tournaments have been booked at the Rock Chalk Park center thus far, but city officials said they’ve been very pleased with the response from tournament organizers in the early going.
City officials also have been thrilled with the number of Lawrence residents coming out to use the facilities. The city tallied 63,807 visitors to the recreation center in November, up from 53,100 in its opening month of October. Parks and recreation officials report the indoor walking track has been drawing large numbers of retirees to the center, and the new gymnastics area and indoor turf field both have been in high demand for free play. That’s in addition to the large number of volleyball and basketball leagues that have been having practices and games at the center.
Some of you have asked what the large crowds at the Rock Chalk Park center have done to attendance at the other recreation centers in town. Parks and recreation officials said attendance at those other centers, particularly Holcom and East Lawrence, have dropped by about 50 percent since the opening of Rock Chalk. Smaller usage numbers have made it easier for people to use the gyms at those facilities for “free play.” A lack of free-play time at the existing centers was one of the issues leaders hoped would be improved with the construction of the Sports Pavilion.
But parks and recreation officials also expect attendance to pick up at those other centers in the coming months. The department moved pretty much all of the basketball leagues to the Sports Pavilion as a way to introduce the facility to large numbers of people in the community. But the department plans to move some of those games back to the other centers around town as the season progresses.
We all have different types of training we have to do. For example, today I’m judging a holiday cookie contest and will partake in my company’s holiday meal, so I’m training by eating a piece of cake for breakfast. Some of you, however, may prefer lifting weights, tossing medicine balls and running sprints. If so, you now have a new place in town to do it all.
Jayhawker CrossFit has opened at 4931 W. Sixth St. (For those of you who are more cake-oriented, it is in the shopping center that includes Eileen’s Colossal Cookies and Six Mile Tavern, which I mention because I know you have to wash the cake down.) Lawrence native Andrew Armbrister is the owner of the new establishment, and he said he’s excited about helping people learn about the CrossFit style of training.
“Most of it is barbells and kettlebells, and all sorts of things to make your body the machine instead of you sitting on a machine and moving your body,” Armbrister said.
(I’m all in, by the way. Any workout program that involves kettle corn sounds good to me. I assume that is what kettlebells are.)
The gym puts an emphasis on doing group workouts. The business offers five classes per day, and the classes are structured so a person of any fitness level can participate in any of the classes. Armbrister said the classes allow beginners to see experts in action, and everybody kind of feeds off each other. (Again, the kettle corn, I’m assuming.)
The program involves a mix of traditional weight lifting, basic gymnastics and sprint training, Armbrister said. Gym fees range from about $15 for a daily drop-in rate to about $115 to $125 for various monthly plans.
Armbrister is back in Lawrence after having taught personal training concepts in Las Vegas. He said he worked for another CrossFit gym in the area, and knew that he wanted to open one of his own.
“I just really believe in the program because it is about functional fitness for everyday life,” Armbrister said. “We train in the gym to be more successful in everyday life.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• The Cave, the large nightclub at The Oread hotel near KU’s campus has been in the news again. It was just outside that nightclub where a large altercation that resulted in the arrest of a couple of KU athletes took place recently.
Coincidentally, The Cave this week also was set to be the subject of discussion by state alcohol regulators in Topeka. The establishment was to have a hearing today before an officer of the Alcoholic Beverage Control division regarding allegations that the establishment in March was illegally advertising free liquor. But a spokeswoman for the division has confirmed that hearing has been postponed because the state and officials with The Cave have reached a tentative settlement agreement.
But the spokeswoman said the details of that settlement aren’t yet available to be released because it is not yet final. The settlement is expected to be finalized in the next 30 days, at which time the details will be released, she said.
The Cave had been facing a $2,000 fine and a two-day suspension of its liquor license, if found in violation of the allegations regarding free liquor.
Mayor wants to restart discussion about police headquarters project; City Commission rejects cell tower plan
Get ready to start talking about a multimillion dollar police headquarters project again. Mayor Mike Amyx at last night’s meeting directed staff members to begin looking for dates in January and February to get input from the public on what they think the next steps should be in improving facilities for the police department.
This discussion, of course, comes on the heels of voters having rejected in November a proposed sales tax to pay for an approximately $30 million facility.
“I wanted to wait for awhile and let people calm down a bit and think about it some,” Amyx said. “But now I would like to start fresh with some ideas from the public.”
It sounds like the mayor wants to have a pretty open discussion that could involve: whether the facility upgrades are needed at all; where a new facility ought to be located; how it ought to be paid for; and I suspect whether a broader review of police department issues is warranted before the city proceeds with the facility issues.
The public comment process undoubtedly will be useful, but it is appearing more likely all the time that it will be the new commission that takes over in April that will play a much larger role in determining the outcome of this issue.
We will, of course, report on the times and dates of the public forums once they are set.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It was a busy night last night at City Hall, so I did not get a chance to report on the debate over a cellular phone tower in eastern Lawrence. Commissioners soundly rejected the plans for a 120-foot tower at 1725 Bullene Ave.
The tower would have been located on industrial property, but it is property that is very near to single-family homes. Commissioners said they were concerned the tower indeed would reduce property values in the area, and they weren’t convinced that officials for Verizon Wireless had done enough examination of other sites.
One site that commissioners suggested received a further look is a vacant piece of ground along Haskell Avenue that is owned by The Salvation Army. The site is only a few hundred feet away from the proposed site, but it does allow for quite a bit more separation from homes. Commissioners also said they wanted Verizon representatives to look closer at using the grain elevators just south of 19th and Haskell.
Let me just say the neighborhood is fired up about this issue. It had protest petitions and lots of people at Tuesday evening's meeting.
Commissioners rejected the plan on a 5-0 vote, and it now will be up to Verizon to file plans for a new site.
• A quick note on the restaurant front. I had told you earlier that I expected an opening date soon for Dickey’s Barbecue Pit at 721 Wakarusa Drive. Well, I’ve gotten word that the grand opening will be at 11 a.m. Thursday. The restaurant will give away gift cards and such, plus a chance to win free barbecue for a year.
Neighborhood group asking city to slow down on downtown grocery store project; update on city’s quest to get Google Fiber-like Internet service
Getting a grocery store in downtown Lawrence may be a bit like me walking down the candy aisle. No, it won’t require hooking a dozen shopping carts together, but I am predicting it is going to take awhile. I say that because the process has barely begun, and the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods is already asking City Hall to slow down.
If you remember, the owners of the Lawrence grocery store Checkers have an interest in building a downtown grocery store that would be part of a seven-story building at 11th and Massachusetts streets. But the Checkers group has asked city commissioners to consider a request that would allow the new grocery store to have exclusive use of 18 public parking spaces along Massachusetts Street, and 16 new spaces that would be along 11th Street. Commissioners are scheduled to hear that request at their meeting tonight and are expected to direct staff members to further study it.
But the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods is asking that the idea not even be studied yet. It calls the request “extremely premature.” The association notes that the idea of a seven-story building across the street from both the historic Douglas County Courthouse and Watkins Museum is going to create some concern. The letter seems to indicate the height issue ought to be addressed before city officials start looking at parking issues.
No doubt the height of the building is going to be a matter that creates debate. But it is worth noting that this request for parking is coming directly from the Checkers group. In talking with Checkers owner Jim Lewis, he indicated that parking was going to be a paramount issue for the grocery store project. Given that, it appears he wants a read on the city’s thinking early on. It may be that if the city is not willing to give a little on parking, Lewis may find the site infeasible, and would have to shift gears. It is hard to know whether that’s the case or not because the project will include other parking in a private garage proposed for the area just east of the alley between Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Certainly, the idea of devoting public parking spaces to a private business — and removing the parking meters — is a big issue. There would be many businesses that would like to have that arrangement. Commissioners will have to decide whether a grocery store — which commissioners hope will make downtown a more attractive place to live — is a unique enough project to take the unusual step of altering the downtown parking system. But do you answer that question in the early part of the process or the later part of the process? I guess that’s the debate we’ll have tonight.
One group I haven’t heard from yet is Downtown Lawrence Inc. I don’t know if that group has taken a position yet on the parking idea, but I have a call into its leader. (UPDATE: I talked with Sally Zogry, executive director of DLI, and she said the group's membership is excited about the prospects of a downtown grocery store. She said the group believes the city staff should study the parking proposal. But she said some members will have concerns about the Massachusetts Street parking proposal . But she said the membership wanted to hear information from city staff about how such a parking arrangement could be enforced and other such issues. She said DLI expects to provide significant input on the proposal as it gets closer to a decision.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is time to restart Lawrence’s never-ending Internet debate. City commissioners today will have their second study session in as many weeks on the idea of bringing high-speed broadband service to Lawrence. This week they are meeting with the leaders of Baldwin City-based RG Fiber to discuss its proposal to begin installing gigabit Internet service in parts of Lawrence.
Last week the company met with Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband to discuss its plan for gigabit service, which is the same type of service being offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City. Wicked’s proposal includes a request for a $300,000 loan guarantee from the city. Commissioners didn’t make any decisions on that issue, or really even tip their hand on that issue.
But last week’s study session did bring clarity to a couple of points. The first is that Wicked Broadband still is not interested in making its financial books public as part of the process for the city to determine whether to provide a $300,000 loan guarantee. As we previously reported, the city is being asked to make a decision on whether to provide the loan guarantee without knowing basic information such as the amount of debt Wicked currently carries, the company’s operating profit or loss, or other basic details about its balance sheet. But at last week’s meeting, Josh Montgomery, an owner of Wicked, said he would show his books to individual city commissioners who came by his office and asked to see them. But he said he would not submit the document to City Hall, which would make it a public document He said making his financial statements public would put his company at a competitive disadvantage. Of course, some of Wicked’s competitors are arguing they will be put at a competitive disadvantage if the city gives Wicked a $300,000 loan guarantee. So, I guess it is all just how you slice it.
The other point that was made clear last week involves the $300,000 pilot project that would provide service to parts of downtown and East Lawrence. The number that has most frequently been associated with the project is 300 addresses. That’s how many households or businesses that could be served by the project. But Montgomery made it clear that the 300 households is likely not the number that would actually end up with service at the end of the project. The project would run fiber cable in front of 300 addresses. Of that amount only a certain percentage would sign up for the service. It is tough to say with certainty how many addresses may sign up for the service, but Montgomery mentioned that 30 to 40 percent was a realistic target. All that makes sense, but we hadn’t quite explained it that way, and I’m not sure that commissioners realized that the pilot project may result in only about 100 locations having the high-speed service.
The issue that commissioners spent the most amount of time talking about is a technical one called common carriage. Wicked is proposing that any company that uses any part of the city-owned fiber optic network be required to commit to the idea of common carriage. Common carriage is the idea that more than one company can operate on the same set of fiber optic cables. The way it would work with this pilot project, for example, is that once Wicked installed the fiber system in downtown, other Internet service providers could lease space on Wicked’s cables. They would be charged a wholesale rate that would be consistent for any and all carriers. Wicked, as the owner of the system, would collect those wholesale fees. But Wicked also would be entitled to be a retailer of such services as well.
Montgomery is lobbying hard for the common carriage idea. He said it will spur competition, which will be good for the Internet consumer. City officials, though, are split on the idea. City staff members have raised concerns that other companies looking to make broadband investments may be turned of by the common carriage requirements. Some companies don’t like the idea of sharing their network, and some companies don’t like the idea of buying wholesale service from a company that also will be competing with them in the retail market.
Staff member also have said they are concerned the city will become a de facto regulator of the wholesale system, which they said could be time consuming and contentious. City commissioners seemed split on the idea too, so that will be one to watch.
As for RG Fiber, we’ll get an update on them today. But they have consistently asked city commissioners not to provide Wicked the loan guarantee because they view that as an unfair subsidy to a competitor.
The study session starts at 4 p.m. today at City Hall.
Details on proposed changes to west Lawrence’s Alvamar golf and country club; speculation about restaurant tenant for Marriott; Wheat State Pizza allowed to reopen after tax dispute
Here’s the surest sign that word of proposed changes to the Alvamar golf courses is starting to make its way around town: I caught my insurance agent trying to steal my golf clubs. Yes, a big part of the proposed revamping of Alvamar is to add more homes along the course, and with my hook, slice and my proclivity to confuse the golf cart’s accelerator and brake, that can ruin even the most financially sound of insurance companies.
If you remember, Bliss Sports — the Thomas Fritzel-led group that also was the key private partner at Rock Chalk Park — has tentatively agreed to purchase the Alvamar Golf & Country club in west Lawrence. I recently chatted with Lawrence architect Paul Werner, who is serving as the designer for Bliss. Werner has met with club members and residents who live near the course. He said he is assuring them of two things:
“There are 36 holes of golf today and there will be 36 holes of golf tomorrow,” Werner said. “And if you live on the golf course today, you will live on the golf course tomorrow.”
Werner said the development group hasn’t had any serious discussions about eliminating nine or 18 holes of golf at the complex. Instead, the group has focused on moving some fairways and even a few greens to create larger areas around the course to accommodate more residential development.
Werner said he cannot yet put a number on how many new living units would be created around the course, but he’s telling people to expect a variety of housing types. Those included traditional single-family homes, patio homes, condos, and probably some apartments, as well. One area of the course is designated to accommodate several cabins that could house larger groups of overnight visitors to the course. (Just for the record, it takes me a long time to play a round of golf, but it has been very rare that I’ve had to spend the night to finish a round.)
In terms of more details about the proposed changes, see the photo above of a possible site layout that was shared at the members meeting. Here’s some additional details:
— The greens for No. 9 and No. 18 on the public side of the course are scheduled to move, and the group is still studying the possibility of moving the green for No. 17.
— Plans call for the fairways on holes No. 10 on both the public and private side of the courses to move, and the fairway for No. 1 on the public side also likely would be re-arranged.
— New homes would be added between the fairways of No. 1 and No. 9 on the public course, meaning that No. 1 would have homes on both sides of the fairway. New residential units also are planned for both sides of the portion of Crossgate Drive that runs north of the clubhouse area of the complex. Plans call for the No. 10 fairways on both the public and private side to be moved and the driving range to be narrowed to accommodate the housing. Werner said the group also is considering developing a new housing area near where the 17th green of the public side is today. Those homes would be on the north side of Quail Creek Drive, but Werner said that portion of the plan is less definite than the other proposed residential areas.
— The plans show about a dozen cabins or more would be built near the No. 9 green on the public side of the course. Such cabins have become popular at some golf clubs across the country, with Werner pointing to the Flint Hills National Golf Club near Wichita as an example.
– The public side clubhouse — the smaller structure with a pro shop, snack bar and deck that overlooks the practice putting green — would be torn down fairly early in the process, Werner said. In that general area, the group would build a banquet hall and a large pond that would help serve some of the irrigation needs of the course. (The pond is one of several called for on the plans, but I’ll have to get more details about those later.) The banquet hall could seat up to 800 people. Certainly the facility would be able to accommodate large weddings and other such social events. Whether it would try to accommodate conferences and small scale conventions remains to be seen. The project currently does not have a hotel proposed for anywhere on the site, but Werner told me the group is open to looking at that possibility in the future.
– Drawings show a large indoor/outdoor tennis center just south of the parking lot for Alvamar. It would be on the west side of Crossgate and would take advantage of some of the re-arranging of the holes and fairways. As envisioned, the facility would be a joint complex that would be shared by members and the Kansas University tennis team, Werner said. But he said the tennis center idea is still in the early stages of discussions with KU officials. KU currently owns an indoor/outdoor tennis center at 5200 Clinton Parkway in west Lawrence.
– Plans call for a new swimming pool to be built near where the cart barn facility is located today.
– Discussions with KU are underway to expand KU’s existing practice facility at Alvamar, Werner said.
Werner said he didn’t have a definitive timeline for the project to proceed, but said he expected work to begin at some point in 2015. Alvamar officials previously have said they expect the sale of the club to Bliss Sports to be finalized by April. Currently, the company is going through a due diligence period, which includes winning approvals for the proposed changes to the course.
Werner said Bliss has not yet submitted any plans to City Hall for the necessary land use approvals. He said the development group, however, has started talking with city planners to get a better understanding of what approvals will be needed.
Werner said the development group is not anticipating asking for a large incentives package from the city to move the project forward. He said the group may seek an exemption on paying sales taxes for construction materials, which is an exemption the city has given other projects by issuing industrial revenue bonds. Werner said more significant incentives such as tax increment financing or a transportation development district aren’t being considered at this time.
Werner said this development clearly will be a much more private development than the public-private partnership that was used to develop Rock Chalk Park. He said the driving force behind this development is to create more residential living around the course, which in turn should create more members for the country club.
“More residents out there will make it healthier,” Werner said.
He said there also is the possibility that the country club could become more an attraction for out-of-town visitors. He said the development group is in early discussions about creating a Kansas golf hall of fame that would be located at the club.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that the courses can be a great destination,” Werner said. “Maybe you have a group come in for a KU game, and they stay in one of the cabins for a few days longer to play some golf.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Back in June we reported that the hip Kansas City-based Mexican restaurant Port Fonda was seriously looking for a location in Lawrence. Well, those rumors have heated up again, and now the word on the street is that it may well be the tenant that takes the restaurant space in the new Marriott hotel that will open at Ninth and New Hampshire streets in early 2015.
I checked in with Jamie Davila, a co-owner of Port Fonda, and he said he didn’t yet have any announcements to make, but said he thought one would be forthcoming soon.
“We’re still very interested in Lawrence,” he said.
So, take the Marriott rumor for whatever you think it is worth, but it looks like something to keep an eye on.
For those of you not familiar with Port Fonda, it has become a favorite for some of the Westport crowd. Patrick Ryan, the other co-owner of the business, started in a food truck in Kansas City and then transitioned to a full-scale restaurant about two years ago.
• We reported last week that agents with the Kansas Department of Revenue locked the doors of Wheat State Pizza near 23rd and Louisiana due to about $42,000 in unpaid taxes. Well, the restaurant is back open. A spokeswoman with the Department of Revenue confirmed that Wheat State Pizza had reached “an acceptable payment option with the state” that allowed the restaurant to reopen on Friday.
Update on construction at 31st and Kasold; Lawrence residential building numbers at historic lows; skate rink attracts more than 1,300
The few times I’ve managed to actually keep my eyes open as my wife drives us around the Kasold Curve, I’ve noticed construction work is moving right along on the beginning stages of Lawrence’s newest neighborhood.
The Kasold Curve, of course, is at 31st and Kasold, and we’ve previously reported that the site is going to be home to a new neighborhood of duplexes. But several of you apparently have forgotten that because questions abound about what’s going on at the curve. (Or maybe you’re just asking how my Ford Taurus can keep its wheels on going sideways — you really should ask the driver.)
Regardless, I’ve got an update on the development. Longtime Lawrence real estate executive Mike McGrew is a partner in the project, and he said he hopes to have 10 to 12 duplexes under construction at the site soon. The work you’ve seen at the site has been for the streets and other infrastructure.
Overall, McGrew said the development would have about 130 townhomes, which equates to about 65 structures with two living units apiece. McGrew said the development will include a mix of rental units and units for sale. He is partnering with Lawrence-based Grand Builders. McGrew anticipates it will take about three years to fully build out the development.
The project will include some changes to the Kasold Curve. The city is requiring a left-turn lane to make it easier for motorists to enter the development. In addition to the townhomes, the site includes a site for the Lawrence Wesleyan Church, which purchased 33 acres at the corner in 2009, and then sold about 19 acres to the McGrew development. The church will be built on property just west of the houses, but a timeline for that project is less certain.
The residential building market has been slow in Lawrence this year — more on that in a moment — but McGrew said he thinks the time is near for activity to start picking up again.
“I’ve been watching the national statistics, and they show that even at a million new units a year, we’re still undershooting the household formation rate by about 500,000,” McGrew said. “That is why there have been a lot of apartments. I think there are a lot of people in apartments who would rather be in houses.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Here’s something to keep an eye on this month: Unless something changes in December, this year is at risk of being the worst on record for single-family home construction in Lawrence.
City officials recently have released the latest building permit numbers, and they show that the city has issued only 87 permits for single-family home construction through November. For decades and decades it was a given that Lawrence would issue more than 100 permits a year for single-family homes. Then in the depth of the recession in 2011, the city failed to hit the 100 mark for the first time since at least 1956, which is how far back the city’s building permit records go.
Now, just three year later, the city is at risk of missing the mark again. It will be close, though. Housing starts have picked up a little momentum at the end of the year. The November report shows 13 permits were issued. That was the highest monthly total of the year. If builders take out 13 or more in December, the city will hit the 100 mark. Even if they just take out eight or more, they’ll avoid setting a new low. The city issued 95 permits in that rough year of 2011.
If you add in duplex units to the mix, the numbers look a little better, but not much. The city has issued permits for a total of 101 living units when count both single-family and duplex permits. That’s the second lowest total of the last five years, trailing only the 2011 year.
It also is interesting to note that apartment construction also has lagged in 2014. The city has issued permits for 83 apartment units. That’s the lowest total by a lot in recent years, with the next lowest being 172 in 2009. Add it all up and Lawrence is having its slowest residential construction year since . . . 1974. Through 11 months of 2014, the city has issued permits for 184 living units. Back in 1974, the city issued permits for 176 units of single family, duplex and apartments.
Of course, we still have one more month to go. And I wouldn’t worry too much about a lasting slowdown in apartment development. Apartment builders may just be catching their breath. Several projects are on the drawing board. Construction likely will being in early 2015 on the latest multi-story apartment building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. That project has received all its city approvals and is awaiting building permits. Plus, there is the news about a multi-story building at 11th and Massachusetts that would house a grocery store on the ground floor. The upper levels of that seven-story project would include apartments. And there is the proposed apartment project across the street from Memorial Stadium that has been approved but may or may not happen. Nonetheless, it's interesting to note it has been historically slow thus far on the residential front in Lawrence in 2014.
For all projects — residential, commercial and otherwise — the city has issued permits for $91 million worth of projects so far in 2014. That’s down from the $163 million issued through the same period a year ago, but 2013 was a banner year. The average since 2009 has been about $105 million worth of projects, so this year is off about 13 percent, which isn’t bad in the cyclical world of construction.
• Speaking of things that are falling, how about an update on ice skating. The city has the numbers back from the opening weekend of its new outdoor rink near the Lawrence Public Library. (Some have noted that I shouldn’t call it ice skating because it is an artificial surface rather than real ice. But I count it as ice skating because there seem to be very little difference in the doctor bills I rack up between the real and the fake stuff.) There were not reports of injuries on the opening weekend, but rather just lots of skaters. More than 400 skaters showed up for opening day, and for the three-day weekend a total of 1,324 skaters took to the ice-like surface. The city is expecting good crowds this weekend, which is the Winter Wonder Weekend that Downtown Lawrence Inc. and others are sponsoring to bring in more shoppers. A highlight of that is Saturday’s Old Fashioned Christmas Parade at 11 a.m.
Developer completes purchase of Turnhalle building; new funeral home eyes Lawrence; city ponders earlier start time for City Commission meetings
I’ve said it more times than my wife cares to remember: Mini-bowling and beer will solve a lot of problems. We may soon put the theory to the test at the old Turnhalle building in East Lawrence.
If you remember, East Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich signed a tentative deal in July to purchase from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance the 1869 Turnhalle building at Ninth and Rhode Island streets. Then he set out to find a tenant for the old building. But no one emerged as a tenant for a building that likely will need more than $1 million worth of renovation work.
Krsnich this week went ahead and completed the purchase anyway, and he tells me he’s looking at plans to use the ground of the building to house a beer garden and mini-bowling establishment. If that sounds a little random, you have forgotten your Turnhalle history. The building housed a social club for the German-American organization Turnverein. The main floor housed a performance area for plays, meetings and gymnastics, while the ground floor housed a beer garden and mini-bowling area.
Krsnich held several public meetings asking for suggestions on how the building should be used in the future, and many people kept coming back to the beer garden and mini-bowling idea. No one, however, stepped forward and submitted a business plan for the idea. That leaves Krsnich — the developer who is behind the popular Poehler Lofts building and the Warehouse Arts District — moving forward on his own.
“We’ll probably go through all the City Hall approvals and start swinging hammers whether we have an operator or not,” Krsnich said. “We think if you will build it they will come.” (That’s an excellent idea: Keep repeating that phrase, and Kevin Costner will come and run the mini-bowling alley.)
A use for the main floor of the building hasn’t been determined yet.
“I’ll continue talking with people in the community,” Krsnich said. “I think it ultimately will be a destination location for whatever its next purpose is.”
As for the beer and bowling, Krsnich wants to be clear that he’s not proposing to put a full-scale tavern or rowdy club in the East Lawrence neighborhood. He said he envisions serving some German food at the establishment and incorporating several other pieces of German culture into the business. And, let’s be honest, if someone else wants to lease the building for another business use, Krsnich is willing to move away from the beer garden and mini-bowling idea.
He has offered to turn the building over to a nonprofit agency for office space, if the agency could afford to do the renovation work. Several have looked, but thus far, none has had the resources to undertake the necessary renovations.
Terms of the purchase weren’t disclosed, but Krsnich said he’s invested more than $100,000 into the building already. He said more investment will soon come. He’s finalizing an agreement with Lawrence-based Hernly Associates to design renovation plans for the structure.
The sale of the building, which is one of the older structures in the community, is a major accomplishment for the Lawrence Preservation Alliance. When LPA purchased the structure in late-2012, it risked the financial future of the organization to do so. But the LPA successfully raised funds and grant money to stabilize the building, which was deteriorating rapidly because of water infiltration.
Dennis Brown, president of the LPA, said he’s proud of what the organization has accomplished and particularly grateful that Krsnich has stepped forward to take the building to its next phase. LPA, however, isn’t entirely out of the project yet. Brown said the organization is providing a $50,000, low-interest, second mortgage on the property to help with the financing during the time period that a tenant is being sought.
“Tony has taken a tremendous leap of faith,” Brown said. “We believe he is the right person for this job, but it is a huge job. We sincerely hope the entire city will get behind Tony and support saving the Turnhalle.”
The contract Krsnich had with LPA would have allowed him to back out of the purchase if he didn’t find a tenant, but Krsnich said he ultimately decided against because he thought the project was too important from a historical preservation standpoint.
“You can’t take the state and be recognized as a national historic development team,” Krsnich said referring to several of the awards his group has won for the Poehler Lofts building, “and then let one of the most historic buildings in town fall down a few blocks from your office.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence may be getting a new funeral home, and it may occupy a building along a busy stretch of East 23rd Street.
The Greatful Gathering Funerals and Cremation Centre is the business that hopes to buy the property adjacent to the city’s Lawrence Venture Park at 2004 E. 23rd St. If you remember, Mike Hultine, the current owner of the property, has approached the city about buying a half-acre portion of Lawrence Venture Park property to be used as a parking lot for the building. He told commissioners that he has a contract to sell the building, but the buyer needs the additional land to accommodate parking needs.
At the time we first reported on the project, we didn’t know the nature of the business. Now we know it is a funeral home. Lindsay Jones and Robert Davis, funeral professionals with ties to Kansas City and St. Louis will be the principals of the new business. But area residents Melanie Loyd and Rev. Arsenial Runion also will be part of the new venture, according to an email the group sent me.
The funeral home plans to embrace a funeral concept “where family and friends share in thankfulness for all they had while in relationship with their loved one,” the release says.
But first, the project must complete its land deal for the needed parking lot. City commissioners on Tuesday directed staff to further negotiate with Hultine on a selling price for the property. Hultine had offered $21,760 for the property, or about $1 per square foot. City staff members countered with a price of $30,028.
• Perhaps in the future I will be able to abandon my regular Tuesday evening meal of Mountain Dew and cocoa beans. I, nor you, may not have to stay up so late to watch Lawrence City Commission meetings. City Commissioner Terry Riordan says he wants to have a discussion about starting City Commission meetings earlier. Meetings currently start at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesdays, and it is not uncommon for them to last past 10 p.m.
Commissioners over the years have expressed concern that they make some some pretty important decisions late at night. I’ve witnessed bleary-eyed commissioners making multimillion dollar decisions near midnight. A few times such marathon meetings have taken place following a Tuesday afternoon study session, meaning commissioners and city staff have been at it for seven hours or more. (I have my meeting notes to prove it. Granted, they simply read “must get career counseling, must get career counseling . . . )
But commissioners have been reluctant to start meetings earlier because they are concerned members of the public may have a hard time getting off work to make it to a commission meeting. But Riordan has suggested an idea of starting the ceremonial portion of the City Commission meetings at 5:30 p.m. Before you get the wrong idea, we don’t walk around with scepters and gold leaf copies of the City Code, or anything like that. (Not on Tuesday nights, anyway.) But the meetings do routinely include proclamations and other such ceremonial recognitions.
Riordan’s idea is that those could take place at 5:30 p.m., since they don’t normally generate much public comment. The city wouldn’t start its regular business meeting prior to 6 p.m. Other commissioners said they were open to the idea, but want to hear more feedback from the public. I suspect the city will seek some public comment on the idea in the near future, then make a decision.
In case you are wondering why the city starts its meetings at 6:35 p.m., instead of, say ,6:30 p.m., the simple answer is: We have no idea anymore. It used to be because the local cable station, Channel 6, would broadcast the meetings following its 6 p.m. newscast. The newscast ended at 6:30 p.m. and the extra five minutes gave the production crew a chance to get in its proper places. But that hasn’t been the case for quite awhile. The city does its own television production of the meetings, meaning it can start them whenever it wishes.
Rock Chalk Park opponent files for City Commission seat; other campaign updates; pair of restaurants set to open next week
This is the way it goes in Lawrence these days. As soon as you get your turkey bib, your gravy fountain and your 42-inch pumpkin pie pan put away from Thanksgiving, we jump right into the next season. I, of course, am talking about Lawrence City Commission election season.
We’re in it, and we now have our second official candidate for the race. Lawrence resident Matthew Herbert has filed for one of the three seats that will be up for election on the five-member commission. Herbert is a Lawrence High civics and government teacher, and also operates a rental business, Renaissance Property Management.
Based on his website, he’s concerned with some of the past actions of the City Commission. He criticizes the increasing use of tax abatements and other financial incentives for private projects.
“As a Lawrence city commissioner I will promote economic development so long as it is done the right way,” Herbert says. “It would be my expectation that private industry finance private development with private dollars.”
Herbert also made it clear he was not a fan of the process used to move forward with the Rock Chalk Park project. He called the process, which involved nearly $12 million worth of infrastructure being built without a bid, a “fiasco.”
“The ‘no-bid’ contract that was handed out is inexcusable,” Herbert said. “As a city commissioner you are a steward of the public’s money. Mega-million dollar deals need to be both bid and bid with transparency. Whenever possible this type of expenditure must be put to a public vote.”
I’ve got a call out to Herbert and hope to bring you more information about him later today.
I’ve also been talking with some other potential candidates recently. Current City Commissioner Terry Riordan told me last night that he hopes to make a decision on whether to seek re-election in the next couple of weeks.
“I’m going out and talking to people I know, and seeing what they think,” Riordan said.
Riordan, who is a longtime physician in the community, acknowledged it has been kind of a controversial time period on the commission. He’s only in his second year on the commission, and thus got in on just the end of the Rock Chalk Park debate. But concerns about that project have lingered, and the City Commission took some criticism for the unsuccessful effort to pass a sales tax to support a new police headquarters facility. And don’t forget rental licensing. Those new regulations, which Riordan was a strong supporter of, made a lot of neighborhood residents happy, but left some landlords miffed. So, indeed, it has been an active two-year term for Riordan.
“I would like to be confident that I’m doing what the citizens want,” Riordan said of his current conversations.
For what it is worth, I think Riordan would like to run again.
“I’ve loved it,” he said of his time on the commission. “It is a tremendous opportunity to help the community.”
I’m less clear on the plans of current Lawrence school board member Kris Adair. I also chatted with her last night — we were all at a City Commission meeting — and she said she is still pondering a run for the City Commission. She said she doesn’t plan to make a decision until after Christmas.
Adair has a few things to think about. She has said she likely would resign her position on the Lawrence school board if she won a term on the City Commission. Adair also finds herself involved in an issue that is pending before the City Commission. She is a co-owner of Wicked Broadband, which is seeking a $300,000 loan guarantee from the city as part of a pilot project to bring Google Fiber-like high-speed Internet service to parts of downtown Lawrence.
Commissioners had a study session on that topic on Tuesday, but reached no decisions. But it looks like that issue will be decided one way or another before the April elections. Again, for what it is worth, Adair is starting to sound like a candidate. She’s taken a strong interest in economic development issues. As we have previously reported, she’s behind a project to start the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship in a commercial building near Ninth and Iowa streets.
She said the center is expected to be open by Feb. 1, and she plans to serve as its director. The facility will serve as a center to help Lawrence residents build new businesses. It will include co-working space for businesses, a data center, a lab that can be used for some prototype work, and will host several entrepreneurship-based classes.
If she runs, it sounds like a change in economic development policy will be a major part of her campaign. She delivered public comment at last night’s City Commission meeting highlighting the poor results of the community’s job creations efforts over the last 10 years.
I’m also expecting at least two other Lawrence residents to file for the commission relatively soon. Eric Sader, a Lawrence attorney who also has a background in the social services industry, has told me he expects to file for a seat in early December. Leslie Soden, a small-business owner who has been active in the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, continues to indicate she will run for a seat. She ran two years ago and narrowly missed winning a seat on the commission.
Current Commissioners Mike Dever and Bob Schumm both have terms that are expiring. Neither has made an official announcement, although Schumm has made comments indicating he is leaning toward running. Dever has said he likely won’t make a decision until January. If Dever runs again, he would be seeking his third consecutive term on the commission.
Certainly, Greg Robinson, a leader of the police sales tax opposition group, has been mentioned as a possible candidate, although I don’t have a clear sense on whether he will run. I’m hearing other names that are early in the process as well. All indications are there will be a large number of candidates in the race.
If seven or more candidates file for a seat on the commission, we’ll have a primary election to whittle the field to six on March 3. The general election will be April 7. The filing deadline for the race is noon on Jan. 27.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Prior to Herbert’s filing, Stan Rasmussen, a Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner and an attorney for the U.S. Army, was the lone candidate who had filed. I briefly reported on his filing last month, but he wasn’t immediately available for an interview because of some work responsibilities.
But we did get together for an interview recently, and he said he’ll spend a lot of time in the campaign talking about the need for good long-term planning.
“You don’t go buy yourself a fancy new car in the summer and then say in September that I forgot I had tuition coming due,” Rasmussen said. “I have heard the questions from people about how did we put some of these wants and nice things ahead of a police facility that seems more like a need. Whether that is accurate or not, that perception is out there.”
Rasmussen said he fully expects another proposal for a police facility to emerge.
“The process of building consensus in the community for where and what and how we’re going to pay for a new police station will be really important,” he said.
He also said that the City Commission needs to be mindful of making sure the entire community feels like it is benefiting from new projects.
“I really want to work towards shared prosperity,” Rasmussen said. “If I put myself in the shoes of someone who lives in Prairie Park, going to Rock Chalk Park is probably not where I’m going to go to work out. I think it is understandable that some people feel a little left behind.”
Rasmussen also told me that he is resigning his position on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission because he does not think it would be appropriate to run a campaign while serving on that board.
• You may want to drag out that Thanksgiving bib after all. Next week will be a big week for restaurants that have been known to make my tie look like a Picasso painting. Buffalo Wild Wings will open its new location at 27th and Iowa streets on Monday. It will be giving away free wings for a year to the first 100 people who are in line for the 10 a.m. opening of the restaurant.
As we previously reported, Buffalo Wild Wings has closed its downtown location to move to the new South Iowa spot, which is caddy-corner from Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I’m also being told that Dickey’s Barbecue Pit expects to be open by the end of next week, according to the landord of the space at Sixth and Wakarusa. As we previously have reported, that chain is taking the spot previously occupied by Johnny Brusco’s pizza.
One restaurant tid-bit that I’m getting some questions about but don’t yet have any answers on is Texas Roadhouse. Some of you have been to some area Texas Roadhouse locations and have been told by employees there that the steakhouse chain is coming to Lawrence, likely along South Iowa. I’m working to get some more information on that front, but at the moment have no confirmation on those rumors.
WOW to increase many cable bills by more than $15 a month; Eudora bests Lawrence in young families ranking
Wow may not be the first word that pops to mind when you get your cable television bills in 2015. WOW — also known as Wide Open West — has announced rate increases that will add $15 to $20 per month to bills of many cable, Internet and telephone subscribers in the area.
Here’s a summary of the rate and fee increases that WOW plans to implement on Jan. 1:
— The company will begin charging a $2 per month “sports surcharge fee.” The fee is designed to help offset some of the money the cable company must pay stations like ESPN and Fox Sports to broadcast their popular channels. Everybody who has cable television service with WOW will pay that fee.
– A $1 per month “local origination programming fee” also will be added to bills.That fee will recover a portion of the costs to produce “community-based” local content. That fee will help offset a portion of the production costs for the local news, weather and sports programming on Channel 6. All cable customers will pay that fee.
— A $5 per month “broadcast TV fee” will be added to bills. That money will help pay the fees WOW pays to local televisions stations such as FOX, ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates in Kansas City. Even though those stations are available for free to anyone who has television antennae, federal law requires cable companies to pay for the right to include those stations on their cable systems. Everyone who has cable service will pay that fee.
In case your abacus is broken, that’s $8 a month in new fees for all WOW cable subscribers. Some of you may be thinking that you are sure glad you got a “rate guarantee” from WOW that will forestall those increases. Think again on that point. Debra Schmidt, system manager for WOW’s Lawrence operations, confirmed that these new charges are fees, not rates. That means, she said, people with rate guarantees will see those increases on their bills beginning in January.
There are a couple of other fees that people will pay, depending on what type of service they have. They include:
— A $1.61 per month carrier service fee. That fee helps pay administrative costs related to phone service. Only customers with WOW phone service will pay that fee.
— A $1 per month increase in the cable modem lease fee. Internet subscribers have the option of using their own cable modem or leasing one from WOW. Only Internet subscribers who lease a modem will pay this fee.
— The FCC Network Access Charge will increase $1.30 per month. Only telephone subscribers will pay this fee.
Thus far, everything we have listed has been fee increases. But rates also are going up. This is where it will come in handy to know whether you have a rate guarantee from WOW. As an incentive to sign up, some customers were promised their rates would not increase for a certain number of months. Schmidt said WOW will honor those rate guarantees. But for those of us without a guarantee, we’ll see the following rate increases in January:
— For customers with basic broadcast cable, rates will increase $6 per month.
— For customers with the Apartment Pak/Family Pak cable, rates will increase $7 per month.
— For customers with the Bronze cable, Internet and phone bundle package, rates will increase $8 per month.
— For customers with the Preferred/Silver/Gold bundle package, rates will increase $10 per month.
— For customers who only subscribe to Internet services, rates will increase by $2 per month.
I know, this is a lot like programming your VCR — confusing. The best way for you to know how much your monthly bill is set to increase is to call WOW customer service at 785-841-2100. But I’ll do my best here to present a couple of scenarios.
My understanding is most WOW customers have some sort of bundled plan. If you have the bronze plan, which includes television, phone and Internet service, it looks like you will be paying $8 more per month in rates and $10.91 more per month in fees. That’s an increase of $18.91 per month or just over $225 a year.
If you have a gold or silver plan, it looks like your increase would be $20.91 per month.
“We certainly empathize with our customers,” Schmidt said. “We hate to increase rates.”
Schmidt said this is one of the larger rate increases in recent memory. She said most of the increase is being driven by the tremendous increases in programming fees being charged by sports networks and other cable and broadcast channels. She said sports programming fees last year increased at a rate seven times greater than inflation.
“Our single biggest cost is the one we have the least control over: programming costs,” Schmidt said. “I know that people are sick of hearing that, but it is true.”
She said the cable industry continues to push for some national reforms that would rein in programming costs.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Eudora has reason to pound its chest a little bit today. A new study has found that Eudora is the sixth best city in Kansas for young families. The financial Web site NerdWallet has released its annual ranking, and found that Eudora’s combination of schools, housing prices and income growth make it an attractive place to raise a young family. (Hopefully having cheap access to the Disney Channel isn’t part of the calculations. WOW is the dominant cable provider in Eudora, as well.)
Regardless, as a resident of Eudora, I can tell you the city does well when it comes to young families, if doing well means a pack of 11-year-old boys devouring your food pantry after school and a herd of 8-year-old girls regularly busting windows with their daily shrill sessions.
Here’s a look at the top 10:
This is one list that Lawrence did not score well on. Lawrence ranked No. 36 out of the 48 cities included in the study. You might be asking how the six miles between Eudora and Lawrence can equate to 30 places in the survey. In a nutshell, the answer seems to be a combination of cheaper housing, higher incomes and slightly better ranked schools made the difference for Eudora.
Eudora schools received a “Great Schools” rating of 6 out of 10, while Lawrence schools were rated a 5. Median home values in Eudora came in at $145,800 compared with $176,500 in Lawrence. Median monthly homeowner costs were $1,394 in Eudora versus $1,461 in Lawrence. Median household income was $62,576 versus $44,713 in Lawrence. And finally, incomes from 1999 to 2012 grew by 50 percent in Eudora compared with only 28 percent in Lawrence. That’s the one that keeps some Lawrence community leaders up at night, although there were certainly cities that had lower growth rates. Wichita was at 15 percent, Topeka at 12 percent, and Kansas City at 14 percent. None of those cities ranked well as a good place for young families, by the way. Wichita was No. 46, Topeka was No. 41 and Kansas City was last at No. 48.
But one thing that does make Lawrence’s situation a bit unique is the difference between housing costs and incomes. Lawrence had the ninth highest monthly housing costs in the study, but had only the 26th highest income levels. Average Lawrence homeowners are paying 39 percent of their annual incomes in housing costs. In Eudora, for example, the level drops to 26 percent.
Handmade stationery and gift shop opens downtown; city considering offer for portion of Lawrence Venture Park; builder asks city to waive development fees
It is not often you find a new company that builds its business around an early 1900s piece of equipment, but that is indeed what’s going on with a new venture in downtown Lawrence.
Could it finally be that my dream of a steam-powered downtown party bus has become a reality? (Slogan: Come party with the Steam Team.) Umm, no. The piece of equipment I’m talking about is an old 1915 letterpress that is a centerpiece of Ruff House Art, a new stationery and gift store in downtown Lawrence.
Ruff House Art opened just a couple of days ago in the spot formerly occupied by Lids, 729 Massachusetts St. The store sells handmade stationery, invitations, greeting cards and a host of other such items that it either makes or buys from a group of about 50 other letterpress artisans across the the country. You can find calendars, wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, paper plates, and the company has an entire section devoted to wedding invitations.
The husband and wife duo of Jill and Brian Shephard run Ruff House Art, and they’ve been in business since 2009. But this new location represents their first storefront. Previously, they operated the business out of their Lawrence home and sold their items predominately online.
Jill said she feels like now is the time to expand the business because there has been a renewed interest in fine cards and stationery. She said the Internet, of all things, has helped spark the interest. She said as email, text messages and other forms of electronic and impersonal communication have taken hold, some folks have grown to appreciate a more personal touch.
“There are people out there who really appreciate a nice piece of paper,” Jill said.
The company operates two letterpresses: a 1915 Chandler & Price model and a newer 1950s machine, that are on display for customers to see.
The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners on Tuesday will have their first opportunity to sell some real estate that is part of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant that has been converted into a new business park. But don’t get out your party streamers just yet. The proposed deal is to accommodate a parking lot, not a major new manufacturer or such.
Lawrence businessman Mike Hultine and his business Cornerstone Plaza is seeking to buy a half acre of city-owned property that is directly behind a commercial building he owns at 2004 E. 23rd Street. The property currently is being leased by Hultine’s firm and was used as a makeshift parking lot for a former tenant of the building.
The building now is empty, but Hultine has a deal to sell it to a St. Louis company that proposes to bring five to 10 employees to the location. But as a condition of the deal, the company needs to own the parking lot rather than simply lease it from the city.
Cornerstone Plaza is offering $21,760 for the property, or about $1 per square foot. City staff members said they haven’t had this specific piece of property appraised, but appraisals of similar nearby property suggest a fair value of about $30,028, or about $1.38 per square foot.
City commissioners on Tuesday will have to decide whether they want to sell the property and at what price.
As for the company that may be coming to town, details have been sparse. Hultine said he wasn’t at liberty to disclose the name of the potential buyer. But he said the company was in the service industry, and the parking lot would be primarily for employees, not retail customers.
One of the conditions of the sale is that the current parking lot would be rebuilt to city standards. The current lot was allowed to be built with a gravel surface to temporarily serve the former tenant of the building SurePoint Medical.
If you recall, SurePoint was a growing mail order pharmacy business that occupied two buildings along East 23rd Street. The company also leased about 17,000 square feet of space near 33rd and Ousdahl to accommodate expected growth in the company’s employee totals. SurePoint, though, vacated the two buildings on 23rd Street a few months ago, and my understanding is they have consolidated their workforce into the space near 33rd and Ousdahl.
• What started out as a potential debate between a builder and neighbor now may end up with the city granting the builder a waiver building permit and other development fees.
The property at issue is 920 Missouri St. An older three-story home was recently purchased by Joe and Gina Keating, who proposed to demolish the house and construct a duplex on the property, which the current zoning would allow.
But several neighborhood residents became concerned about the pending demolition of the house and approached Keating and city planners about whether there was any way the house could be saved.
After some discussion with planners and neighborhood residents, the Keatings have proposed to keep the house but create an addition on the house so it can function as duplex. But the Keatings have told city officials they would like to receive a waiver from several city fees to make this new design more financially feasible.
Specifically, they are asking for a waiver of building permit fees and utility connection fees. In total, the fees are expected to be about $5,000. Staff members are recommending approval of the fee waiver “in this unique instance where the owner has foregone their code-compliant development to accommodate the request of the neighborhood.”
Proposed apartment building near KU seeks another parking exemption from City Hall; WOW in negotiations to keep Discovery Channel; city to host food/toy drive Monday
I saw you this morning, with your blinker on and a railroad tie attached to your front bumper, as you tried to find a parking space on this Black Friday. So perhaps today isn’t the best day to report on a new plan to reduce the amount of parking for a proposed apartment/retail project near KU’s Memorial Stadium. But there is a new plan out there, and now KU officials are working to help the developer convince city officials to reduce their parking standards.
City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider allowing a Chicago-based development group to eliminate 100 parking spaces from its plan to build a new apartment project that would have 624 bedrooms at 1101 and 1115 Indiana St.
Commissioners already have rejected one such request, citing concerns that allowing the project to be built with the less-than-required amount of parking spaces would put too much pressure on the adjacent Oread neighborhood. But as I reported a few days ago, I had heard that the development group had a new plan for reducing the parking spots. Now, we know it involves a partnership with KU.
The development group said it has reached preliminary agreement with KU that would allow tenants of the apartment complex to park in KU parking lots, with the proper university-issued permits. Specifically, HERE officials are promising city leaders that all the vehicle-owning tenants of their apartment complex would either have a permit to park in the private parking garage that is part of the development or would have a university permit to park in a KU parking lot. Tenants would be required to have one of the two permits in order to maintain their leases. HERE officials said they have reached an agreement with KU parking officials that will allow HERE to verify that their tenants have a KU parking permit (KU will release the information as long as the tenants sign a release form.) HERE officials once a year would share that documentation with the city to prove that the tenants have arranged for parking.
The city’s planning staff is recommending approval of the proposed agreement, although it's doing so with some hesitancy. A memo from the planning staff notes enforcing the parking provisions could be challenging because it will involve “high levels of coordination” between KU, the developer and the city. But the bigger issue mentioned in the memo is the prospect that this arrangement could create a precedent for other such developments. The Oread neighborhood certainly has other areas that may redevelop with apartment uses, and those areas also are near university parking lots. Planning staff members said if the request is approved, they would want it made clear that other developers should not see this as a precedent. It will be interesting to see if developers agree.
To be clear, the agreement HERE has with KU parking officials doesn’t reserve any spaces for an apartment tenant to park in a KU parking lot. Tenants simply would have a parking pass and could hunt for a spot like anybody else with a permit. A key piece of information I haven’t seen yet is an analysis of the parking demands in the KU lots near the project. If the lots already are full on a consistent basis, it seems possible that some parking will be displaced into the neighborhood when more permits are issued for those lots.
HERE officials, though, have argued that a large number of their tenants won’t have cars. Because of its location right next to campus, HERE leaders believe, many tenants will rely on bikes and public transportation. City officials and several Oread neighborhood residents have disagreed with that assessment.
One other piece of information that wasn’t clear to me on Friday morning was whether the large KU parking garage adjacent to the proposed apartment site would be of any benefit to the project. My recollection is that garage is entirely a pay-by-the-hour facility. There is no university permit that allows you to just park there. I may be wrong on that. I’m sure we have some readers out there who know the situation well.
The information provided to the city doesn’t spell out what will happen on KU game days. Most KU parking lots are closed to permit holders on game days.
It will be interesting to see how it all plays out on Tuesday. A big question is whether the development group will build the project if it is required to build the full amount of parking required by city code. The lead developer for the project has confirmed the project has had difficulty getting financing. The reduction in parking is expected to save the project several million dollars in construction costs.
In other news and notes:
• This could be dangerous. There is an outside chance that I may have to start busting myths rather than simply relying on the television program "Myth Busters" to do the work for me. (I think on Thanksgiving I busted a myth about elastic waistbands, or perhaps I just busted an elastic waistband.)
What I’m talking about is the cable television channel Discovery — which hosts "Myth Busters" and others — and how there is a chance Lawrence’s largest cable system may be without the channel for awhile. I don’t know if that is a very likely possibility, but officials have posted a public notice that alerts viewers that WOW’s contract with Discovery expires on Dec. 31.
“Although we are working to negotiate a fair price for these networks after Dec. 31, Discovery may turn off their networks or require us to remove all their channels until a new agreement is secured,” the notice states.
Several networks could be in jeopardy, if the contract is not renewed. Discovery also owns TLC, Animal Planet, Destination America and several other channels.
I put a call into a WOW official to get an update on negotiations, but haven’t heard back yet. If you’re a TV fan, it may be an issue worth watching. These negotiations with cable networks go a long way in determining how much your cable bill may have to increase in the future.
• Circle your calendars for an easy way to donate some food or toys to a local charities. Employees in the city’s solid waste division will be sponsoring a unique food drive on Monday and Dec. 8. Crews on the city’s trash trucks will pick up any nonperishable food items or any new toys that are left at the curb on those two days. Simply set the items out at the same time you would set out your yard waste, which also will be collected on Monday.
This is the second year members of the solid waste crews have taken it upon themselves to organize the food/toy drive drive. On Monday, city trash trucks already drive by every home in the city to pick up yard waste. So last year, division employee Duane LaFrenz and some others thought it would be cool if they allowed households to set out some food or a toy, in addition to their yard waste.
The food goes to the local food bank Just Food, and the toys go to the Blue Santa Program, which helps area families in need during the holiday season.
Proposed 120-foot cell tower may spark debate; city finding more bedbugs at apartment complex; date set for Ninth Street corridor meeting
When it comes to the 1990s and wireless communications, I remember two things: Cell phones the size of a small poodle, and many complaints from area residents about cell phone towers. (A poodle owner in my neighborhood also had many complaints, even though I told him I was just momentarily confused.) Well, thankfully, we’re not going back to the 1990s, but there may be an old-fashioned cell phone tower debate brewing.
A company representing Verizon Wireless has proposed building a 120-foot monopole communications tower at 1725 Bullene Ave. in eastern Lawrence. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is a small industrial area about a block west of Haskell Avenue between Lynn and LaSalle streets. I’m sure that clears it right up. The site is along the Burroughs Creek Rail Trail, and is generally northwest of 19th and Haskell.
The property is zoned industrial, but there are quite a few houses near the site. Michael Almon, a member of the Brook Creek Neighborhood Association, has told me there are concerns with the idea of a 120-foot tower there.
Here are a couple of photo simulations created by the company proposing the tower. Here is how it would look from some nearby homes.
And, if you spend a lot of time gazing at the KU campus from this vacant lot, here’s how that would look in the future.
Ultimately, I expect this will end up as an issue for Lawrence city commissioners to decide. We used to have several of those type of debates at City Hall, but as the wireless industry has matured we’ve seen less of them. Plus, the city created some policies that required wireless companies to share tower space whenever possible. This tower is being designed to accommodate up to two other carriers, according to the plans filed at City Hall.
In terms of why the new tower is needed, the application doesn’t provide a lot of detail, other than to say it will “provide enhance wireless voice and data services” to local subscribers. I’ll let you know how the issue plays out.
In other news and notes from around town:
• After my Journal-World colleague Caitlin Doornbos reported on a bedbug problem and other rough living conditions at Cedarwood Apartments, city officials have now said they’ve taken another look at the apartment complex. Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning and development services, said inspections recently have found bedbugs in eight apartments at the complex, and corrective action has been ordered for the units.
But City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said at Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting that he wants city officials to take extra steps to ensure they find any more problems at the complex, 2411 Cedarwood Ave. The planning and development services department, which oversees code issues for apartments, has agreed to put together a special flyer that will be placed on the doors of all the apartments at the complex. They flyer will notify the tenants that the city will conduct a free inspection of the units for everything ranging from bedbugs to electrical problems to smoke alarms to inadequate locks on doors and other code issues.
“I want people to know if they just call us, we can help them,” Farmer said. “I want to be proactive in making sure people know that. Let’s make sure people don’t have to spend Christmas in really crappy living conditions.”
The free inspections apply to any apartment in Lawrence. City inspectors asks that you try to work out any issues with your landlords first, but if that doesn’t work, you can simply call the city at 832-3345 to request an inspection.
“I would say that we get calls concerning living conditions weekly,” said Brian Jimenez, the city’s code enforcement manager. “It is a pretty common theme from renters.”
Jimenez said if it is determined that a landlord isn’t being responsive to a tenant complaint, the city will schedule an inspection with the tenant to go through the property.
The city has started a new rental licensing and inspection program, but, if you remember, it won’t inspect every rental unit in the city. Basically, it aims to inspect a sample size of 10 percent of a landlord’s units. It will take about three years for the city to get through all the landlords in the city. So, making sure tenants know they can request an inspection is still an important part of the process. Jimenez said the city is trying to figure out better ways to let tenants know that service exists.
The city earlier this year sent out postcards to tenants that currently live in single-family rental units. The city has information on those rental units because they already have been required to register with the city. All apartment units in the city will begin registering in January. Jimenez said they city will have to determine whether it wants to expand the postcard program to all rental units in the city.
At one point, Farmer had suggested an idea of a small plaque that would be located in rental units that had the number of the city’s inspections department. But that idea didn’t get far because several people said they were concerned that was too much regulation, and also that such a plaque may cause someone’s apartment to look like a hotel room.
• If you are among those interested in how a portion Ninth Street east of Massachusetts may be turned into a unique arts corridor, there is a new date to circle on your calendar. The city is hosting an event at 7 p.m. on Monday at New York Elementary School to discuss the project with East Lawrence residents and anyone else who wants to join the conversation. Specifically, the discussion will be about what scope of services the city should expect from a design consultant who will be hired to work on the Ninth Street project. The city plans to hire el dorado inc., a Kansas City architecture firm, to lead the project. But last week, several residents of East Lawrence said they felt like their neighborhood needed to have a larger role in the beginning of this project. Those concerns led to this upcoming meeting.
Retiree housing proposed for 23rd and O’Connell; Lawrence ranked No. 2 in nation for local holiday shopping
Here’s another reason to keep an eye on the intersection of 23rd and O’Connell: A Johnson County development group wants to build a new retirement housing community near the intersection.
The Olathe-based firm Wheatland Investments wants to build 90 units of senior housing on about nine acres of property at the northwest corner of 25th Terrace and O’Connell Road. The $16 million project would be limited to residents 55 years and older.
The property is just south of the 23rd and O’Connell intersection and is basically across the street from the new Lawrence VenturePark, the business/industrial park the city is developing. That, of course, is the other reason to keep an eye on the intersection.
The project is billed as an affordable housing project. As this holiday shopping season so often proves at my house, we all have different definitions of affordable. (One particular shopper in my house believes if it fits in the U-Haul she takes to the mall, it is affordable.) I don’t know what rent rates will be at the proposed project, but the developers are seeking state tax credits, which will mean that rents will have to be controlled and pegged to certain income guidelines.
Whether this project goes forward probably will have a lot to do with whether it wins those state tax credits. City commissioners also will play a role. The development group is seeking industrial revenue bonds for the project, which means the housing development would be exempt from paying local property taxes. City commissioners will have to decide whether a rent-controlled retirement complex is worth a property tax abatement. In a letter to commissioners, the development group said the project likely won’t be feasible if it has to pay local property taxes.
City commissioners already kind of have been down this road. Commissioners have granted large property tax rebates for affordable housing projects in the Warehouse Arts District, and commissioners granted an 85 percent tax rebate for a proposed luxury apartment building near KU’s Memorial Stadium. This project would be a little different because it is asking for a full property tax exemption instead of a large rebate.
If this project sounds familiar, it probably is because you remember a previous proposal for this site. This same company proposed the same project back in January, although the deal never materialized. But the group believes it now has a better chance to pull the project together.
As proposed, the project would be built in phases, with 16 one-bedroom and 32 two-bedroom units constructed in phase one. The first phase also would include a community center for residents. The remainder of the 90 units would be built in a second phase. Developers have told the city the project will be designed to look like single family homes or town homes, rather than multistory apartment complexes.
The development group for the project is led by Johnson County apartment developers David and Suzanne Rhodes. They currently own five other affordable “garden/ranch style apartment” developments in Kansas and also own or manage about 350 conventional apartment units.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight will receive the request for industrial revenue bonds but aren’t scheduled to take any action on the request other than to direct staff members to study the proposal.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re talking about apartment projects in town, I’m hearing that city commissioners will be presented with another plan to reduced the amount of parking required for a proposed $75 million luxury apartment building near KU’s Memorial Stadium. The Chicago-based development group previously was unsuccessful in lobbying for a parking reduction on the project, but City Manager David Corliss recently told commissioners he’s received another proposal from the developers on that subject. I don’t have all the details on how this most recent proposal is different from what the group previously requested. But I’ll keep an eye out for the proposal to show up on a City Commission agenda in the near future. As we previously reported, the development group has kept the building permit application for the project active, even after commissioners rejected the idea of reduced parking for the development. But the development group — HERE, LLC — has said they may have to abandon the project if it doesn’t win the parking reduction, which has been hotly opposed by residents of the adjacent Oread neighborhood.
• Oh dear, my household may be upgrading U-Haul sizes. This just in from our friends on the Internet: The folks at Yelp released a new study that shows Lawrence is the second best city in the country for “finding great local gifts.” I’m not exactly sure how Yelp determined that, but the company’s blog says Yelp officials looked at the millions of reviews and business listings on its site and then analyzed them to determine the U.S. cities with “the largest concentration of highly rated, local businesses where holiday shoppers can find great gifts.”
Portland, Maine, came in No. 1, but Lawrence was right there at No. 2. Lawrence was the only city in Kansas or the entire Plains region that made the list. Here’s a look at the top 10.
Portland , Maine
St. Petersburg, Fla.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Chick-fil-A files plans to build restaurant on South Iowa Street; city sets details for ice rink grand opening
With apologies to the pilgrims, forget about turkey for a moment. Think chicken, a pile of mayonnaise the size of the Mayflower, and a few pickles just for the heck of it. Yes, renew the cholesterol medicine, do the Chicken Dance, do whatever you need to do to prepare, but indeed Chick-fil-A has filed plans to open a restaurant in Lawrence.
I reported back in December that Chick-fil-A had expressed some interest in locating next to the Dick’s Sporting Goods at 27th and Iowa streets. Well, it took awhile, but the company has now filed plans to build a 4,800-square-foot store in the parking lot of the Dick’s Sporting Goods development. No word on when the location will open, but I would guess within the next 12 months, assuming that the project wins the fairly routine planning approvals it needs from Lawrence City Hall.
If you are not familiar with Chick-fil-A, they are “Home to the Original Chicken Sandwich.” (I always tell them not to serve me that one because I think it would be mighty stale.) The restaurant has about 10 different chicken items on the menu, ranging from crispy and grilled sandwiches to nuggets and strips, and even chicken salad sandwiches. But the menu also includes wraps, salads, breakfast items and desserts. The company has operated a food court version of its restaurant in the Wescoe dining area on the KU campus, but this will mark its first full-scale restaurant in Lawrence.
As for the shopping center Chick-fil-A is going into, the corner of 27th and Iowa streets continues to gain momentum. Dick’s Sporting Goods is already open. Construction work is underway to build a new PetSmart next to the Dick’s store. The Wichita-based development group that is redeveloping the former Sears site still has space for at least one, and maybe two more retailers, according to the plans I have seen. The development has about 9,000 square feet on the northern end of the building that could accommodate a retailer, and when an update on the development’s plans were filed in June, it showed room for about a 5,000 square foot retailer on the south end of the development. See the plans below. If you are keeping track at home, that one location that used to house an underutilized Sears store is set to house four new retailers and a restaurant.
I’ll keep my ears open about what else may be going into the development, and, of course, will keep my eyes peeled for the cargo planes full of mayonnaise landing at Lawrence Municipal Airport, which will be a sign that Chick-fil-A will soon open.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’m beginning my stretching routine. No, I’m not talking about picking out the elastic pants I will wear for the opening day of Chick-fil-A. I’ve had those ever since my wife discarded her maternity clothes. I’m talking about stretching for the opening of the city’s new downtown ice rink.
City officials have finalized the details of the grand opening event. The rink, of course, is in the plaza area between the Lawrence Public Library and the new city parking garage along Vermont Street. The city will hold a brief grand opening celebration at 3 p.m. Friday, and then the rink will be open to skaters. (I can only assume the official grand opening ceremony will involve Vice Mayor Jeremy Farmer tossing Mayor Mike Amyx, who will do a perfect triple axel over the library’s copy of War and Peace, but the city press release didn’t provide those details.)
The rink’s normal hours will be 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays. But the rink will have special hours in the days right before and after Christmas. From Dec. 20 to Jan. 5, the rink will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It will be open from 1 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays.
The city will charge $3 per person to skate on the rink, and that includes skate rentals. The city is not allowing anyone to bring personal skates to use at the rink. The rink is made synthetic ice, which city officials said need very sharp skates for the best experience. The city will require people to rent skates to ensure that all skates have a sufficient sharpness. Children 10 years old and younger must be accompanied by an adult at the rink.
Another hamburger restaurant to locate in downtown Lawrence; crews repairing cracks at 23rd and Iowa; Kief’s holding auction
You know the saying: Where there is smoke, there is a fancy hamburger (or sometimes a science fair project that I’ve “helped” my kids with). In downtown Lawrence, it almost always is a fancy hamburger. It looks like we’ll soon have a new place to grab some exotic burgers, gyros, hot dogs and other types of food that fit in your hand.
The folks at KC Smoke Burgers have confirmed that they have plans to open a restaurant on Massachusetts Street. The company has signed a lease to locate in the space formerly occupied by Shots, the bar/restaurant that briefly operated at 1008 Massachusetts St.
KC Smoke Burgers has been operating for about five years near the Kansas University Medical Center at 39th and Genessee. Mustafa Mahoud, an owner of the restaurant, said a friend of the business will be operating the Lawrence venture and he is aiming for an opening sometime in December.
But the menu from KC will make its way to Lawrence, Mahoud said. That includes about 20 burger varieties. We’re talking about some traditional stuff such as a bacon cheeseburger and mushroom Swiss burger. But we’re also talking about dishes like the Danger Zone Fire Smoke Burger, which includes grilled slices of jalapeños, habaneros, and a house blend of hot sauce and cheese. There’s also a lamb burger smothered with pesto and feta cheese, something called a pesto gyro smoke burger that includes lamb and beef and cucumber yogurt sauce, and stuffed burgers.
The menu also includes seven types of third-pound hot dogs, a variety of beef, lamb and chicken gyros, about five types of Philly cheesesteak-inspired sandwiches and ice cream shakes.
Prices range from about $8 to $13 for a hamburger, but the menu says all of them come with fries. A 2011 article in The Pitch even went so far as to describe the portion of fries being roughly equivalent to the “width and depth of a paver brick.” (I do like my portions to be brick size, although on Thanksgiving and most Thursdays in general I upgrade to a masonry block.)
One other unusual thing about the restaurant, it brands its buns. Yes, according to the photos on its Website it has a special branding iron that it uses to leave a charred brand on the top of each hamburger bun.
The restaurant will continue a trend of specialty burger places locating in downtown. I believe we are up to four: Dempsey’s Burger Pub, The Burger Stand, the recently opened BurgerFi, and now KC Smoke Burgers.
I’m also curious to see whether we are in the beginning of a trend of Kansas City restaurants expanding into the Lawrence market. I reported in June that Port Fonda, the hip Mexican restaurant in Westport, was seriously looking at several locations in Lawrence. I’ve heard that interest level is still high and even that a deal may be done. I hope to get an update soon.
In other news and notes:
• The orange construction cone caught in your windshield wiper is perhaps a clue that the construction work at 23rd and Iowa streets is not yet complete. The fact that crews in recent days have been cutting out large sections of the newly constructed intersection is another clue.
Lawrence Public Works Director Chuck Soules tells me two concrete panels in the project failed a city inspection, and crews were instructed to remove the concrete and pour it again. A pour took place several days ago, and Soules said he expects the new portions of concrete to be ready for traffic by the end of today.
As for the concrete problems, Soules said cracks developed in the concrete. An epoxy was used to try to fix the cracks, but it wasn’t successfully sealing.
“It was unfortunate,” Soules said. “The concrete was cut correctly, but sometimes it will crack even when you do it right. If we pay for a project, we’re going to have it 100 percent to our standards.”
Soules said the city won’t be charged any extra fees for the additional work. The two cracked panels — each 12 feet by 12 feet — were causing some traffic disruptions because vehicles obviously hadn’t been allowed to be on those sections while the concrete was curing.
For a time, it looked like the 23rd and Iowa project was going to get done ahead of schedule, but it now appears that work will stretch to about Thanksgiving, which was the original end date for the project. Soules said once the concrete panels cure, motorists may still experience some temporary lane closures while crews apply pavement markings. But Soules said the city’s contract calls for construction crews to be completed with all work that would disrupt traffic by Thanksgiving. If not, the construction company has to start paying damages to the city. Soules said he expected all lane work to be done by Thanksgiving, although some landscaping and other work along the side of the road may continue past Thanksgiving.
Soules said the city has been pleased with the quality of the work in the project, and he said the two cracking panels were isolated incidents. He said there’s nothing to suggest there will be problems with any of the other panels.
• If you want one last look at Lawrence’s iconic Kief’s audio and video, you’ll need to get on it Saturday. As we previously have reported, Kief’s longtime owner, John Kiefer, has retired, and now the store is holding a business liquidation auction on Saturday.
The store has been in business for 54 years, but Kiefer’s son Rob is changing the focus to installation of audio and video equipment rather than retail sales. I’ve got a call into Rob to get an update on where the business may move to and what other changes are in the works.
But on Saturday local auctioneers Jason Flory and Mark Elston will auction off tons of equipment that was in the retail store. That includes CDs, videos, audio equipment, theater equipment, shop and back office equipment, shelving and a lot of miscellaneous items that have accumulated while the company has been in business.
John Kiefer ended up being one of the longer-time retailers in Lawrence. Click here for an article I did earlier this year about some of his tales about getting in the Lawrence business scene.
The auction begins at 9 a.m. at 2429 Iowa St.
Developers seek new zoning to lure retailers next to Rock Chalk Park; new Douglas County income numbers and the pocket of poverty
There are all types of competition going on at Rock Chalk Park and the city’s new recreation center: Volleyball, basketball, indoor soccer, pizza eating at the concession stand, senior citizen drag racing on the walking track and . . . well, perhaps I shouldn’t continue. But there’s also a competition to get new retailers to locate near the northwest Lawrence facility, and there are signs developers are working on a new strategy on that front.
The developers of the vacant Mercato commercial and residential development just south of Rock Chalk Park have filed new zoning plans for the property. The developers, led by the Schwada and Fritzel families, are seeking a broad community commercial zoning designation for the approximately 120 acres south of the sports complex. Currently, the land is zoned as a mix of commercial, single-family, office and multifamily zoning categories.
After talking with a planner in the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, it appears the gist of this application is to give the development group more flexibility on how it designs the commercial areas of the property. The site long has been envisioned for commercial development. In fact, it is one of the few sites in town that already have the proper zoning in place to accommodate big box retailers. But the property has sat vacant for several years, in no small part because the economy took a turn for the worse at about the time the project came on the market.
One key point to remember is that all the zoning on the property occurred prior to the idea of Rock Chalk Park locating on the adjacent tract to the north. As a result, the current plans call for a significant amount of single-family housing along the southern border of Rock Chalk Park. The new zoning would eliminate that single-family housing and would allow commercial development to occur in the area closest to Rock Chalk Park. In fact, the new zoning would eliminate the possibility of any single-family housing on the property. It would, however, still allow for apartment development to occur on the site.
Being able to rearrange the configuration of commercial development on the site seems to be a big part of the new zoning request. The new zoning it seems would give the developers more flexibility in designing a commercial project that would take better advantage of the crowds being generated at Rock Chalk Park.
But thus far, planners tell me the requested zoning doesn’t seek a change in the total amount of retail square footage the development is seeking. A cap of 360,000 square feet is still in place, which is enough to accommodate several big box retailers and restaurants and such. Or, it could accommodate many more smaller midsize retailers. It will be interesting to see what strategy the development group pursues.
The economy has picked back up, and retailers are taking a new look at Lawrence. There has been a lot of interest in south Iowa Street. A proposal to build a large retail area just south of the Iowa Street and SLT interchange is still alive and supposedly has interest from a Sam’s Club and other retailers. When it makes its way to the City Commission hearing, however is a bit uncertain. Interest also is picking up in some south Iowa Street areas that could be redeveloped. That includes the shopping center that houses the soon-to-depart Discovery Furniture. I’m also keeping my eyes open for possible redevelopment near the southwest corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. As we have reported, real estate transactions have shown some consolidation of properties in that area.
But the northwest area now has Rock Chalk Park up and running and can show some new traffic patterns to retailers. City officials told me that the recreation center had attendance of more than 6,000 people per day on both Saturday and Sunday, when a tournament was at the facility. The city has a lot of recreation classes and leagues at the center, which is driving daily traffic as well. We’ll see whether that gets retailers to take a new look at the area. I’m sure it will help, but it is hard to say whether it will cause any retailers to pull the trigger on a deal. The area still doesn’t have the synergy that south Iowa Street has with other retailers, but, of course, that’s always the case with a new area until some retailer makes the jump to be the first.
A bigger issue may be whether retailers can forecast what type of housing development will happen around the site. There is no doubt that the property generally south and east of the Rock Chalk site will develop with housing and apartments. New single-family home construction is already underway just southeast of the project. But figuring out what will happen to large amounts of property to the north of the Rock Chalk site is still difficult. As we’ve reported, most of that ground to the north of the sports complex is in the Perry-Lecompton school district. I still have local Realtors telling me that they believe that will greatly slow residential development in that area because the schools in the Perry-Lecompton district are farther away than schools in the Lawrence district.
We’ll see how it shakes out, but rest assured that there is a lot going on behind the scenes right now to get retailers next to Rock Chalk Park.
In other news and notes from around town:
• When it comes to attracting retailers to town, there is one number that probably doesn’t help us much: our per capita income. The federal government today has released the latest numbers for per capita income by county, and Douglas County is still near the bottom of the list in Kansas.
Per capita personal income in Douglas County — that is everything from wages to stock dividends to Social Security payments — was $36,911 in 2013. Out of the 105 counties in Kansas, Douglas County checked in at No. 91.
For years, people have kind of discounted Douglas County’s low per capita income numbers because we have a number of university students who don’t really earn much money but rather live off support from their parents. That brings the per capita average down. That is certainly a factor, but it probably doesn’t tell the whole story of why Douglas County is near the bottom in this category.
Riley County, for example, has a per capita income of $43,603, and ranks No. 52 in the state. Riley County and Douglas County aren’t twins — Riley County has a lot more military wages in its economy — but it is still galling to think that the average person in K-State country has about $7,000 more per year than those of us in Jayhawk land.
In fact, there are lots of us around Douglas County who are near the bottom of the per capita income list. It is like there is a little pocket of poverty between Kansas City and Topeka, and Douglas County is right in the middle of it. Here is what I mean:
• Franklin County: $36,156, No. 94
• Jefferson County: $36,809, No. 92
• Leavenworth County: $37,484, No. 89
• Osage County: $35,744, No. 95
All those counties border Douglas County. And the county with the lowest per capita income almost borders Douglas County: Wyandotte County with per capita income of $29,996 and a rank of No. 105. Low-earning college students aren’t bringing down the average in any of those counties. Maybe there is something larger going on here.
There are two counties that border Douglas County that are doing quite a bit better. The big one, to no one’s surprise, is Johnson County. It has per capita income of $60,068. Remember, that is for every man, woman and child in the county. That ranks No. 8 in the state. Shawnee County has per capita income of $41,598, which ranks No. 64, which is still below the midpoint but is quite a bit better than where we stand.
If you are looking for something good, per capita income did at least grow in 2013. In Douglas County it increased by 1.5 percent. The bad news with that number, though, is the national average was closer to 2 percent. Our growth rate also didn’t fare well when compared with others in the state. Out of 105 counties, our growth rate ranked No. 82.
In case you are wondering who has the highest per capita income in the state, pack your bags for Greeley County. The far western Kansas county had per capita income of $73,877. Of course they don’t have to share their money with many. There are fewer than 1,500 people in the county, which is right along the Colorado border. But the county is noteworthy in this report because it had the largest per capita gain in personal income of any county in the entire country. Income jumped by 30.3 percent. I assume oil, gas and agriculture have been leading the income growth there, or perhaps some statistician made an error with his abacus. If the numbers are to be believed, the average Greeley County Joe has about $17,000 more in 2013 than he had in 2012.
The county’s namesake, Horace Greeley, was correct: Go west, young man. And take a vault (and pictures of trees) with you.
Lawrence library visitors up 55 percent; city agrees to final library construction bill; solar panels installed at Prairie Park
Perhaps we all should have just read a book instead of watching Tuesday night’s KU-Kentucky game. Book club selections for last night’s game include: Stephen Covey’s Eight Habits of Highly Effective People. (The little known eighth habit is disabling the Kentucky Wildcats team bus prior to it ever reaching the arena.) I can’t attest to how many people were checking out books at the Lawrence Public Library last night, but there are new numbers out that show business is booming since the library moved into its new space.
If you remember, the library held its grand opening for a completely renovated facility at Seventh and Vermont streets in late July. As expected, lots of folks came through the doors in the days that followed just to check it out. (Opening Day attracted 12,000 people, and 150,000 people have visited since the doors opened July 26. ) But Library Director Brad Allen now has numbers for September 2014, and they show library attendance remains much higher than normal.
Library visits were up 55 percent in September compared to September 2013. About 40,000 people visited the library during the month. New users of the library grew by an even greater amount. The library issued 1,060 new borrower cards in September, up 96 percent from September 2013 totals.
Other numbers from September include:
— Attendance at youth programs was up 160 percent to about 2,600 for the month.
— Program attendance for all types of events was up 31 percent to about 3,400 people.
— The number of total items is up 10 percent to about 115,000 items.
— The number of youth items — books, DVDs, etc. — is up 24 percent to about 37,000 items.
So, the early returns indicate the number of kids using the library is up significantly. That’s what library officials had expected. The renovation project included much more space devoted to children and teen materials and activities.
• City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting took care of one major library project item. Commissioners agreed to the final total costs for the project. The final bill ended up raising fewer questions than the final bill for Rock Chalk Park, which also was on Tuesday’s night’s agenda.
That’s mainly because the library project was fairly traditional and followed a city bidding process, and the costs came in within original estimates. Sort of. The record will show that the city spent just under $18 million for the library project. That is the amount voters were told when they went to the polls to approve the project in 2010.
But this project is like many other things involving money: It depends on how you count it. (I count my money from afar, at my wife’s insistence.) Everything that you see at and around the new library project did cost more than $18 million. The total project cost $19.8 million, but about $835,000 of that amount is for an extra level that was added to the design of the parking garage following the 2010 library vote. Commissioners at the time said none of the library bond money would be used to cover those costs. Instead, city commissioners said they would pay for the garage through a combination of existing city funds and a special property tax assessment that will be placed on downtown property whose owners the city believes will benefit from extra parking.
The other piece of math to be aware of is that private donations through the library’s endowment fund are paying for about $1 million of the library costs. That also is what was presented to voters in 2010. So, when you deduct those two items from the project’s total, you come up with $17.94 million of money that was spent from the voter-approved library bond issue. The remaining $52,041 in the library bond fund will be set aside for future library maintenance, commissioners determined on Tuesday.
So, by using those calculations, the library project came in slightly under budget. But it's worth noting that the project did end up costing a bit more than what was anticipated when the project was competitively bid. During the course of the project, city officials agreed to about $520,000 worth of change orders. Change orders typically are tweaks that are made to a project after construction has begun. You can see the entire list of change orders here, but most of them appear to be fairly technical items. In addition, city officials also agreed to spend about $170,000 on projects that were near the library but not really a part of the original project. That included traffic signal improvements near the library, additional street lights for the area, and even some new pavement work for the nearby Lawrence fire station, which city officials said could be done more cheaply because crews were already in the area. Those projects weren’t paid for through the $18 million voter-approved bond. They were paid for through other city funds.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you head out to the city’s Prairie Park Nature Center anytime soon, you may notice some construction work. Crews with Lawrence-based Good Energy Solutions are installing an array of solar panels on the roof of the facility, 2730 Harper.
As we previously have reported, the project was selected as part of a grant program sponsored by Westar Energy. The grant aims to educate the public about the benefits of solar energy and place solar panels in places where the public can see them in action. (In fairness, solar panels are kind of like last night’s version of the Jayhawks: They’re not much to look at, and they shoot a really low field goal percentage.) The project, though, does include a kiosk where visitors can see how the solar panels work and how much energy they are producing at any moment. City officials also are excited about the potential cost savings the panels will provide. They’re estimating the panels will reduce energy costs by about 20 percent, or about $1,300 a year.
Under the terms of the grant, Westar is paying for the full cost of the panels and their installation.