Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
If I could just get my hair to grow like famed boxing promoter Don King, I think I could put together a heck of a rumble here in Lawrence. Picture this: Ronald McDonald, the Taco Bell Chihuahua, and his majesty the Burger King squaring off in the middle of 23rd and Iowa streets. It would be a fast-food rumble in a slow-lane intersection. I’m not sure such an event is going to happen, but there are signs that the battle for the local fast-food dollar is heating up.
Last week we told you about plans for the McDonald’s on south Iowa Street to temporarily close while it adds a double drive-thru lane and gets an interior remodel. And we’ve been talking for months about the complete makeover of the Burger King near Sixth and Maine streets. Now, we have information about a major remodel for one of Taco Bell’s locations in Lawrence.
Everything but the drive-thru is currently closed at the Taco Bell at 1408 W. 23rd St. Crews are undertaking a complete remodeling of the lobby and the exterior of the building. For the time being, drive-thru service is still available, but a manager at the restaurant said the drive-thru also will be shut down in a few weeks in order to complete the rest of the remodel.
Work began last week, and crews are expected to take another six to seven weeks to complete the lobby renovations, said Linda Smith, a manager at the restaurant. She said work then will move to renovating the kitchen, which likely will take another six weeks or so. During that time, the restaurant will be closed.
“It is going to look fantastic when it is done,” Smith said. “It will be really flashy. A lot of neon.”
The major remodel comes just a couple of months after Chipotle opened a new restaurant that is basically next door to the Taco Bell. Can you say Burrito Brouhaha? (Don’t feel bad. It took me weeks before I mastered the Spanish language.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• I actually have been tangentially involved in herding buffalo before, and I can say that process is similar to trying to find out when the new Buffalo Wild Wings on south Iowa Street is going to open. As we have reported several times, the new building being constructed at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets will house a Buffalo Wild Wings. Before you get out your mega-size wet wipes, though, it is important to note the entire building won’t be occupied by Buffalo Wild Wings. There will be space for two other businesses. We’ve reported a tanning salon is taking one of the spaces, and the other space is still searching for a tenant.
A sign has emerged on the site saying Buffalo Wild Wings is “opening soon” at the south Iowa Street location. I have been calling a Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson for a few weeks, but I haven’t had any luck in getting a more specific timeline. An employee at the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings, however, did confirm that the downtown location will close. I think we all expected that, but the company had been pretty mum on that part of the project as well. That will leave a large space in downtown in search of a tenant. I’ll keep my ears open on that one.
If you remember long ago, I reported that there may be another wing player entering the Lawrence market, and it would have a connection to a famous wing on a past KU basketball team. About this time last year, we reported that Keith Langford’s family was posting messages on Facebook that it had been approved by the national franchise Wing Stop to open a restaurant here. I haven’t had much luck in contacting the Langfords about that possibility, but in the past few months, I have heard from others that the idea still has some legs to it.
• Thus far we have mentioned Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King and chicken wings. In my relentless effort to promote a healthy lifestyle, I’ll now talk about a half-marathon. City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider granting the necessary permits for Lawrence-based Silverback Enterprises and Health Care Access to host the 2014 Kansas Half Marathon and 5K run on Nov. 2.
The marathon route would begin at Watson Park in downtown and would travel along Massachusetts Street from about Seventh Street to 15th Street. It will travel along 11th Street to get back to downtown and will use one lane of Sixth Street near City Hall to get to the Kansas River bridges. The route then will continue into North Lawrence, using a combination of residential streets and the Kansas River levee. The route will end at Watson Park.
The 5K route will use Seventh Street to get into East Lawrence and will use portions of Eighth, Delaware and 11th streets before returning to Watson Park.
The event will create some lane closures and traffic delays while runners are on the course. The event is expected to run from about 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Last year, the event sparked some concern from downtown churches that had some problems with Sunday morning parking. According to a letter from Health Care Access, the group is working to better notify churches of possible impacts this year.
We’ll see if commissioners have any concerns about the race. One issue they will have to decide is whether to donate some city services for the event. The race will need assistance from the fire and police departments. The city has billed some events for the time spent by police and fire at these races, but this event is a major fundraiser for Health Care Access. The city has donated the time of the police and fire departments for some events that have been nonprofit fundraisers. The fire department is estimating it will spend about $2,200 staffing the event. The police department estimates it will spend about $6,000 staffing the event.
Commissioners meet at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
Proposed buyer of Turnhalle building still looking for a tenant; McDonald’s on South Iowa to close for remodel; World Series produces change-up at City Hall
I’ve had a few plans based on beer, bowling and gymnastics (I still contend the tumble I took in the ninth frame was gymnastics.) But I’ve never had a business plan based on the trio. Apparently others haven’t either, and that’s bad news for fans of the Turnhalle building, the 1869 building at Ninth and Rhode Island streets.
If you remember, the Turnhalle building has one of the more unique histories in Lawrence. It is believed to be the oldest community building in Lawrence, and it was built by a German-American social organization called the Turnverein. The club used the basement of the building for a beer garden and a bowling alley, while the main floor frequently was used for gymnastics. The club’s members were required to do a certain amount of gymnastics.
In July, Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich reached a tentative deal to purchase the Turnhalle building from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, which previously had bought the building because it was badly deteriorating. But the deal was contingent on Krsnich finding a use for the building. Thus far, Krsnich’s search hasn’t been successful, and the time period for Krsnich to find a use for the building has expired. But Krsnich said he and the LPA have extended the contract to give more time for potential users to emerge. He expects to keep looking until mid-November.
“If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down in flames because the building deserves to be saved,” Krsnich said.
Krsnich said he’s heard a lot of ideas for the building. The idea of a beer garden and an old-time bowling alley in the basement is an intriguing one, he said. The idea of a restaurant is a good one. Event or theater space also could be successful. Simply using the space for a professional office could be workable as well, he said. But Krsnich said thus far the ideas mainly have come from people who have good ideas for what the building could become, but no real desire to open a business in the space.
He said he’s now extending his search to include Kansas City companies, and he’s also willing to transfer his contract to purchase the property over to any local nonprofit agency who may be looking for space.
“If there is a nonprofit who wants to own it, I would assign the contract to them and teach them everything I know about tax credits and work with them as a consultant,” Krsnich said.
Krsnich is estimating that the building needs about $1 million worth of repairs and renovation to make the building viable as commercial space.
Krsnich, who is the developer behind the popular Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, said he’s still holding out hope that an entrepreneur with a viable plan will emerge. He notes that the Ninth Street corridor that Turnhalle is located on will undergo a major revitalization. The street was selected for a national ArtPlace grant to transform the street into a platform for public art and a variety of visual and performance arts.
“That project is going to turn Ninth Street into the most interesting street in Lawrence, and really well beyond,” Krsnich said. “Somebody is going to wish someday that they did something with the Turnhalle building. Now is the time.”
Krsnich said he’s working to develop another public forum to solicit more ideas for the building. He said that event likely will be in the next couple of weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep your eyes open for more development in Krsnich’s Warehouse Arts District. He told me he is close to signing a deal for an operator to open a bistro in the small building that is just west of the popular Poehler Lofts building. The bistro concept has been in the works for several months, but Krsnich said he believes a deal is near. Krsnich said he also has plans to open another art gallery in one of the old buildings along Pennsylvania Street. I’ll bring you more details on those projects as they become available.
• Do not panic. I repeat, do not panic. The McDonald's on South Iowa Street is not going out of business. But it will be closing for a few weeks, while it undergoes a significant renovation. The Dobski family, the Lawrence-based owners of the area’s McDonald’s franchise, have filed plans to build a side-by-side double drive-thru lane at the location, 3241 Iowa St. Plans also call for new seating and decor, and an extended front counter.
The restaurant will close on Monday and is expected to be closed for at least two weeks. The restaurant, which opened in December 2000, is expected to have grand reopening festivities near Thanksgiving.
• Do not panic, do not panic, take two. I know you all have been torn about whether you will go to Tuesday night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting or watch Game 1 of the World Series, featuring the Kansas City Royals. Well, city commissioners are trying to allow you to have your cake and eat it too. They have moved the start time of the World Series game. No, no. They didn’t do that. But they have moved the start time for the City Commission meeting to 5:30 p.m., instead of the normal 6:35 p.m. The World Series is scheduled to begin at 7:07 p.m. There are a couple of items on this week’s agenda that are expected to produce public comment. They include the temporary closure of a portion of the 800 block of New Hampshire Street and a request for reduced parking standards for the proposed HERE apartment complex near Memorial Stadium.
The earlier start date certainly is a welcome development for us Royals fans. I, of course, will be at the City Commission meeting. But to be safe, I likely will bring my roller grill full of bratwursts and my 55-gallon drum of nacho cheese sauce. And my giant foam finger, which come to think of it, would probably come in handy at most City Commission meetings.
City solidifies plans for downtown ice rink; Kansas ranks well in student debt measure; and a Royal day
I may or may not have said when the Royals reach the World Series I’ll do a figure skating routine in a blue, sequin-studded leotard. My son is checking the tape for that and other statements. (I was not aware he had wiretapped the house, but now it makes a lot more sense why he read all those Nixon memoirs as a toddler.) Regardless, I do have news about the city’s plans for an ice skating rink in downtown.
Leaders with the city’s parks and recreation department recently said they are confident the ice rink will be open for business by Nov. 28, which is the Friday after Thanksgiving. If you remember, the ice rink will be a temporary attraction that will be built in the plaza area between the library and the city’s parking garage.
Crews will begin building a temporary plywood platform for the artificial ice to rest upon. The designated area will be the top tier of the library plaza, which is the tier closest to Vermont Street. The city plans to rent skates for $3 per pair. The city plans to require people to rent skates from the city rather than bring their own skates. Jimmy Gibbs, the parks and recreation manager overseeing the project, said that’s because skates need to be very sharp to operate properly on the artificial ice surface. The city is concerned skaters would bring dull skates to the rink, and would be disassitified with the experience. There is an advantage to using the city’s skates. They’ll be the ski boot type that have latches that allow users to easily put the skates on and take them off.
“There won’t be the 15 feet of shoe-laces you have to mess with,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the $3 rental fee will allow users to skate as long as they would like. The city will have skates for all ages, he said.
I’m still checking on the hours that the rink will be open, but look for the ice rink to be a part of the downtown lighting ceremony that takes place on Nov. 28. Parks and recreation officials said they have ordered extra lights to decorate the the plaza area of the library, including a couple of large snowflakes and a string of lights that will hang above the rink. (There you go. It probably will be impossible for me to do my figure skating routine. I don’t want to get tangled up in the beautiful lights when I do my jumps.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• As my family busily compiles the list of everything I said I would do if the Royals make the World Series, I’m beginning to worry about how to finance all of this. (However, I’m almost certain I didn’t say I would add a wing to the house for shoes, purses and bulk chocolate, although that would save us on storage unit rental fees.) Regardless, maybe I should try to figure out how I could use a student loan to do all this. A new study says Kansas is one of the better states in the country to have a student loan.
The financial Web site WalletHub has conducted a study that finds Kansas is the 7th best state in the country to have student debt. What it means by “best” are states where students feel less pain from their student debts.
The study looked at several factors, including amount of debt per student, number of loans past due, the unemployment rate for young people, and how student debt averages compared to average incomes in the state. Kansas didn’t top any of those categories, but it was better than average in almost all of them.
The average amount of student debt in Kansas ranked as the 17th lowest in the country. The state’s unemployment rate for people ages 25 to 34 was the 13th lowest in the country. The amount of student debt as a percentage of average incomes in the state was the 10th lowest in the country. Those are all pretty positive numbers for the state, and more particularly positive for Lawrence, where education is our largest industry. No one likes how much debt students are having to take on these days, but it should be an advantage for KU if it can point to numbers that show students have less debt here, and that the state provides a good environment to comfortably pay it off.
In case you are curious, Utah was the best-ranked state,and Nebraska was the lone Plains state to finish higher than Kansas. It finished 5th. Rhode Island ranked last in the survey.
• A quick reminder that the city is hosting a forum tonight (Thursday) to discuss issues surrounding the 0.2 percent sales tax proposal to pay for a police headquarters. The forum, which will feature the police chief, is set from 7 to 8 p.m. at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Massachusetts St. The chief will make a presentation and answer questions.
• In case you hadn’t heard, the Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series. This column is called Town Talk, and that is what the town is talking about today, but I don’t normally write about sports. I hope you’ll pardon the detour.
It would be easy to say I’ve been a Royals fan my entire life, but it probably would be more accurate to say I’ve been one since 1980. I remember George Brett standing with his arms raised at second base when he topped the .400 mark. I remember his blast into the upper deck in Yankee Stadium. For some reason, I vividly remember standing outside our barn with my father after the Royals clinched the A.L. pennant in 1980, and I just kept telling him I couldn’t believe we were finally going to the World Series. I remember a lot more conversations with my grandmother, who was the real baseball fan in the family. Still is. She’ll soon turn 95, and she has put in some late nights during these playoffs.
Of course, I remember 1985 well. I was in junior high. My son today is in junior high. That’s the thought I had Wednesday as I literally jumped up and down in my driveway after hearing Denny make the final call. Someone shot off fireworks within 30 seconds of the final out. (Yes, my neighborhood has a ready supply of fireworks at all times.) My son ran out of the basement TV room about the time the echo of the firecrackers had subsided. He’ll remember this day.
Despite 29 years of evidence to the contrary, the circle really does remain unbroken.
I know we’re all busy wearing 1985 sports memorabilia, urging our mullets to return, and watching baseball on a 25-inch Zenith TV to recreate the environment of the last time the Kansas City Royals went to that big event that rhymes with Hurled Theories. (No true Royals fan should yet utter its real name for fear of a jinx.) But perhaps we all can take a brief break for a juicy piece of speculation: Sam’s Club is interested in building a store in Lawrence.
Talk of Sam’s Club — the wholesale shopping club run by Wal-Mart — certainly has been the quiet talk in certain real estate circles around town. I’ve been told that the development group that is proposing a major new retail area southeast of the Iowa Street and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange has told city officials that Sam’s Club has expressed a very serious interest in locating at the proposed shopping center.
Now, take that for whatever you think it is worth. The point man for the North Carolina-based development group hasn’t yet talked to me about Sam’s Club. But I’m confident information about Sam’s Club’s interest has been relayed to city officials. So, what’s next? I’m not sure, but there are several questions that arise:
— Would a Sam’s Club ease some City Hall opposition to the proposed retail area south of the trafficway? If you remember, the planning commission narrowly recommended denial of the proposed retail project, and city commissioners have not yet formally acted on the planning commission’s recommendation. That appears to be because there have not been three votes on the City Commission to approve the development. I’m not sure whether a Sam’s Club would change their thinking. Sam’s Club certainly would be a new retailer to Lawrence, and a new category of retailer as well. The city doesn’t have a wholesale club, and there are Lawrence residents who leave town to go shop at wholesale clubs. It also seems to be the type of retailer that would attract out-of town shoppers. No, folks from Topeka or Kansas City aren’t going to come to Lawrence to shop at Sam’s. But it seems to me that has never been the goal of this proposed shopping center. When it talks about drawing out-of-town shoppers, I think it means shoppers from smaller, secondary markets, not Topeka and Kansas City. If this development causes people in Ottawa to shop in Lawrence instead of Overland Park, then that’s a win for Lawrence.
— Can the development group deliver on bringing a Sam’s Club to the site? Sam’s Club obviously hasn’t signed any lease to come to the shopping center. The shopping center doesn’t exist, so neither do leases for it. But retailers have been known to put in writing their intentions to come to a site. I don’t know if Sam’s has done that yet. Have other retailers? Previously, the development group publicly announced that Academy Sports, Ulta Beauty, Old Navy, Designer Shoe Warehouse and Marshalls/Home Goods all had said they want to come to the shopping center. But I think city officials were leery of whether all those deals really would come to fruition. We’ll see if the development group has come up with a way to convince city officials that the interest is real.
— What about northwest Lawrence? If you remember, a good portion of the opposition from City Hall on this project has been based on concerns that this southern shopping center would make it difficult for an already-approved shopping district near Rock Chalk Park to develop. The area around Rock Chalk Park has been approved for several years, but hasn’t yet attracted retailers. City commissioners have indicated they wanted to give that project more time. Is Sam’s Club also interested in northwest Lawrence? The people I’ve talked to said they haven’t heard that Sam’s Club is interested in northwest Lawrence. Maybe Sam’s is interested, and that word just hasn’t begun to spread yet. I don’t know. What is clear is that several retailers have chosen South Iowa Street over the northwest area. Think Menards, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Petsmart, to name three. Thus far, retailers really have wanted to be close to the other retailers on South Iowa Street rather than doing the hard work to be a pioneer in a new northwest Lawrence shopping district. If Sam’s Club comes out and says it only is interested in the South Lawrence site, will that change the city’s thinking on waiting for the northwest to develop?
— What about politics? This south-of-the-trafficway development is heating up just weeks before the Nov. 4 sales tax election for the police headquarters issue. Those two issues certainly can be linked, if politicos want to link them. The city is betting heavily on increased sales tax revenues to pay for a future police headquarters facility. To fund the headquarters under the city’s current plan, it needs voters to not only approve the new 0.2 percent sales tax, but it also needs retail sales in the city to grow by about 2 percent a year for about the next decade. If the sales tax gets approved and the retail sales don’t grow by that amount, the most likely outcome is that commissioners will either have to cut the city’s budget elsewhere or increase property taxes to make up the difference. A 2 percent growth rate isn’t unreasonable, with or without the south-of-the-trafficway development. But the development group previously has produced estimates that show the development could provide a nice boost to to the city’s sales tax collections. These numbers come from the developer and need further vetting, but the group is estimating a $1.1 million increase in city sales tax collections in 2016-2017 and $2.1 million a year by 2020. Again, the numbers need more vetting, but if true, that development alone would pay for more than half of the police headquarters project. It will be interesting to see whether developers try to get a hearing on this project with the City Commission prior to the Nov. 4 elections. It will be interesting to see if the City Commission will allow it to be scheduled before the election.
There are more questions than answers right now, but the project basically has been in limbo since July. Based on the e-mails and questions I’m getting, the public is ready for some answers.
Apartments winning out over single-family homes, report shows; city delays vote on HERE proposal; another project to reduce traffic flow on Iowa Street
I thought this year was going to be the year. (No, not the year that the Coach purse store released the lien from the house. A snazzy red “fall” purse ended that dream recently.) I’m talking about the year that Lawrence builders actually build more single-family homes than apartments. It still may happen, but the latest building permit report from the city shows single-family home builders now have some catching up to do.
City officials have released building permit totals through August, and they show that the pace of multifamily construction now has pulled ahead of single-family home construction. Through August, the city has issued permits for 83 apartment units while issuing permits for 55 single-family homes.
This should not come as a shock. The last time Lawrence builders constructed more single-family homes than apartments was all the way back in 2007. Since 2007, the score is this: 2,104 apartment units versus 933 single-family home units. I think even Charlie Weis and Turner Gill are blushing just a bit at that score.
I’m not saying that the trend toward more apartment construction is bad. I’m just saying if it continues for the long term, it certainly will change the demographics of the community. The 2010 Census found that 53.3 percent of all housing units in Lawrence were occupied by renters. If we continue to see apartment construction occur at twice the rate of single-family home construction, I suspect that number will grow. Other impacts likely will be a greater concentration of ownership of residential property in the community, and I’m guessing a greater percentage of out-of-town owners. I’m just guessing, but I believe the rate of out-of-town owners for apartment complexes is greater than the rate of out-of-town owners for single-family homes. Again, I’m not saying that is bad, but rather just different.
What we are seeing now with apartment construction is not unprecedented. Looking back at past building permit totals, there actually was an entire decade where apartment construction exceeded single-family construction. From 1963 to 1973, builders each year constructed more apartments than they did single-family homes. During that 10-year period, builders constructed 3,351 units of apartments and 1,646 single-family homes.
So maybe what is happening now is a new wave of construction to replace those large number of units that have hit the 40- or 50-year mark. But that leaves a big question: What happens to those old apartments? Thus far, most of the new apartment development has not been tearing down and replacing older units. (The HERE proposal near Memorial Stadium is proposing to do that.) I continue to believe one of the more important development questions for Lawrence over the next 10 to 15 years will be how those old apartment complexes are redeveloped. That’s what has made the HERE proposal interesting. It has needed a 10-year, 85 percent property tax rebate to make the project feasible. Will that be the case for other apartment redevelopment in the future?
As for the other numbers in the August building permit report:
— The city has issued a total of 66 single family and duplex permits through the first eight months of the year. That’s down from 121 during the same time period in 2013. The 66 permits represent the smallest number of single-family and duplex permits in at least the last five years.
— The city has issued permits for $61.4 million worth of construction through August. That’s down from $148 million during the same period a year ago. The $61 million total is the lowest since 2009.
The two largest projects in August were both apartment projects. The city issued a building permit for $4.4 million worth of construction for the 9 Del Lofts project at 900 Delaware St. That is the project by developer Tony Krsnich that will be adjacent to his popular Poehler Lofts building in East Lawrence. This also is the project that city, county and the school district are in the process of providing a 15-year, 95 percent property tax rebate for the new construction. So, if you are keeping track on your calendar, the project is unusual in that the building permit for the project had already been issued prior to city commissioners hearing the request for incentives. Usually, that process is vice versa because developers say incentives play a large role in whether a project is feasible. This project, which will have 43 units, never was in much doubt of receiving city incentives, though. The city has been supportive of the project from the beginning, in part because it is in an area of town the city is hoping to spur investment, and also because the large majority of the apartment units are rent-controlled and will be available only to low-to-moderate income tenants.
City officials also issued permits for $2.2 million worth of construction for two additional apartment buildings at the Apartments at Frontier complex, 542 Frontier Road. Lawrence architect Paul Werner is designing that project, and he told me more expansion is likely on the way for the complex, which is on the site where the Boardwalk Apartments used to be located. (That’s another example of a recent apartment project that redeveloped on the site of an existing complex.) Werner said that plans call for three more buildings to be constructed in the near future. When completed, the project will have 192 units. Werner said the project, which began in 2009, has been popular with tenants. The units are designed to be ultra energy-efficient, and the three-story buildings include a rarity in Lawrence apartment units: elevators to cut down on the amount of trips up and down the stairs.
In other news and notes from around town:
• This information is just in from City Hall this morning: Commissioners at their meeting tonight will not debate a request from the Chicago-based development group HERE, LLC to receive a parking reduction for its planned apartment complex near Memorial Stadium. A notice from City Hall says the issue now is scheduled to be heard on Oct. 21. No word yet on why the issue is being delayed.
• I know you are sad that the construction work at 23rd and Iowa Street may soon be over. I’m now hearing that the intersection will be fully open by the first of November. But don’t cry in your Halloween candy just yet. There is another project in the works that will reduce traffic flow on Iowa Street, although it won’t be near the production 23rd and Iowa Street has been.
Kansas University officials are asking the city to reduce traffic on Iowa Street to one lane in each direction near the Irving Hill Road overpass. That is in between 15th and 19th streets. Work won’t actually be taking place on Iowa Street, but rather on the bridge above. The project includes widening the bridge to include better sidewalks. KU officials want to reduce traffic to one lane in each direction underneath the bridge to make for a safer work area. KU leaders, however, said the lane reductions could be limited to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., which will mean the street will be fully open during the rush hour periods. KU also is committing to have the street fully open during holidays, KU football games and KU basketball games.
Work on the project won’t begin until the 23rd and Iowa Street intersection is fully open. Once work begins, the project is expected to take up to 12 weeks to complete. City commissioners will hear the request from KU at their meeting tonight.
The Mattress Hub coming to 23rd Street; more talk of major manufacturer eyeing Lawrence; city set to give more time to ride-sharing pilot project
Hopefully The Mattress Hub has all of its display models encased in those plastic slip covers. The Wichita-based chain is indeed the mattress retailer that is locating in the same 23rd Street building that houses Hog Wild Pit BBQ, and I’ve learned the hard way that pulled pork in bed is a bad idea without one of those plastic covers.
We’ve been reporting for months that a mattress retailer was going to go into the portion of the former Blockbuster video building, 1516 W. 23rd St., that Hog Wild didn’t occupy. Now we know that retailer is The Mattress Hub because the sign for the store recently has been installed.
I’m still working to gather more details about The Mattress Hub, such as its projected opening date. But I can tell you the company is a regional chain based out of Wichita. According to its website, the company has about 15 stores in Kansas and Missouri, with stores in both the Kansas City and Topeka areas.
According to some coverage the company has received in the Wichita Eagle, the company was founded in 2008 by Wichita businessmen Ryan Baty and Mark Barrientos. In late 2012 company leaders told the Eagle that the company had major plans to expand into the Johnson County area, despite Nebraska Furniture Mart’s major presence in the Kansas City mattress market.
“We feel like there’s room to come in and grab some market share,” Baty told the Eagle in 2012. “We just feel like there’s room for a different customer experience in Kansas City.”
The company carries brands including Serta, Beautyrest, Tempur-Pedic, and Five Star Mattress, according to the store’s website.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I told you last week that I was hearing rumblings of a possible deal to bring a major business to Lawrence Venture Park, which is the business park the city is creating at the former Farmland Industries site in eastern Lawrence. Well, I still don’t have all the details, but chamber leaders now are starting to publicly talk about the efforts as well.
Larry McElwain, president of The Chamber, told a group of real estate agents recently that economic development leaders are in deep discussion with a major manufacturer for one of the sites.
“We are talking to a very good prospect about a significant manufacturing plant,” McElwain said. “The day you read about it in the newspaper, it will lift your spirits because it will be a sign that Lawrence is back in the game.”
McElwain said he couldn’t provide other details about the company, but hopes an announcement will be made in the next 90 days. He also told the crowd that economic development leaders are in good discussions with two bioscience companies about locating in the city. He didn’t identify either of those companies, but said that the “hottest prospects” the community has currently are in the animal health field. He said companies increasingly are becoming more interested in locating next to Kansas University’s highly ranked pharmacy school. KU’s expertise in drug delivery systems has a lot of cross-over potential into the animal health world.
The community has some space for biotech companies in the newly expanded BTBC incubator facility that is right across the street from the pharmacy school. But I think in coming months it will be interesting to watch the northwest corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. That’s where the university has some soccer fields and other recreational space. But that corner also has been envisioned for bigger things in KU’s master planning process. That could be the location for a type of public-private business research park.
Big companies have shown an interest in having office space on KU’s campus. Garmin and Assurant — two large companies well past the incubation stage — have space in the BTBC facility because they want easy access to the young talent that is graduating from KU and also want access to the faculty talent at the university. But the BTBC space put some limits on how large of an operation a company could have on campus. A West Campus business park would remove some of those size limitations. A business/research park on West Campus is certainly an idea that is getting some talk in economic development circles, but it is hard to say what will be the tipping point for that idea to turn into action.
• Perhaps you remember that city commissioners previously approved a city ordinance change to accommodate the testing of a ride-sharing program that involves people along the side of the road holding a white board with the name of their desired destination.
But several of you have noted that you haven’t seen many people with white boards along the side of the road. (That one day I was doing it doesn’t count. I simply panicked when I spilled the barbecue sauce on the mattress and thought that would be the best get-away option.)
Well, city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will get an update on that project. Commissioners are being asked to temporarily extend the city ordinance that granted the Lawrence OnBoard program time to conduct a pilot project of its ride-share program. But the group will be testing a different model because it has partnered with Carma, an international company that has developed a smart phone application for carpooling. Carma is hoping to test a version of its program called CarmaHop in Lawrence. Participants may still use a whiteboard along the side of the road to attract motorists willing to give them a ride. But users will first download the CarmaHop app, which allows them to create a profile and look up the availability of participating drivers and such. The system will allow ratings to be created of both drivers and motorists. It also will facilitate drivers winning some prizes for participating in the program.
City commissioners on Tuesday are being asked to grant the project another six-month exemption from the city’s traffic ordinances, which generally prohibit people from standing alongside a road for the purposes of soliciting a ride. City staff members are recommending the six-month exemption because the company did not conduct much testing of its system during the previous six-month exemption period. Instead, the Lawrence OnBoard became focused on its merger with Carma.
City staff recommends approval of reduced parking for apartments near KU; more details on Delaware Tribe proposal; part of New Hampshire may close for two years
Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will be a bit like me at a Western Sizzlin’ buffet. There are a lot of meaty issues to tackle. So let’s get right to it. Here’s a summary of what’s on tap:
• Apartment parking. The proposed $75 million, seven-story apartment/retail project slated for the area across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium may be precedent-setting in more ways than one. The project likely already has helped open the door for future developers to ask for property tax rebates to build apartment projects. As we’ve previously reported, the city on a 3-2 vote has approved an 85 percent tax rebate for 10 years on the project. But now the apartment project, called HERE @ Kansas, also may set a precedent on reducing parking standards for apartment projects in the city.
As we’ve previously reported, the development is seeking a variance from the city’s parking code that will allow the 237-unit, 624-bedroom apartment complex to reduce its required parking by 100 space. The news out of City Hall is that the city’s planning staff is now recommending approval of the request. If approved, the project would have 461 parking spaces for its 624 bedrooms. The project also has about 13,000 square feet of retail space. The developers are proposing that all of the parking demand for the retail spaces be accommodated by on-street parking that will surround the project. That on-street parking is expected to total 107 spaces, but is subject to change as final design of the building progresses.
The memo from the city’s planning staff notes several concerns about reducing the parking standard for the apartment project, but then recommends approval. It does so largely based on one set of numbers it received from Kansas University parking officials.
The memo notes that 70 percent to 75 percent of sophomores through seniors at the Jayhawker Towers at 1603 W. 15th St. have parking permits, which the city is taking to mean that the other 25 percent or so do not have vehicles. If that percentage is the same for the proposed apartment development, then the 461 parking spaces would be pretty close to meeting the demand for parking. (It would meet it if the number is 70 percent. It wouldn’t quite meet it if the number is 75 percent.)
The percentage of residents with parking permits in other university-owned housing is even less, but the city believes the Jayhawker Towers is the best example to use from a demographic standpoint. There is another apartment complex, though, that may be even more similar to the HERE project. Naismith Hall at 1800 Naismith Drive is a privately owned residence hall right on the edge of campus. Some have argued that relying only on data from university-owned residence halls may under-report the demand for parking because many times the residents in those halls are among the students living on the tightest budgets. The HERE project has indicated that rents for a 4-bedroom apartment will be about $2,800 a month. The city examined the Naismith Hall property but wasn’t able to determine what the parking demand is for that project.
The parking issue brings up some interesting questions:
*— Will the city allow other apartment projects to provide fewer parking spaces? * It seems likely that other developers will ask for a similar deal. The question probably becomes what criteria does the city use to determine whether a reduction is prudent. Does it need to be within walking distance of KU, or does being on a KU bus route suffice? If a bus route suffices, that opens up large areas of town. If it needs to be within walking distance to KU, that opens up several neighborhoods surrounding KU, but Oread neighborhood would be most impacted. Perhaps the city will say that only mixed-use projects qualify for the reduction. But that may be a fairly low bar to reach. The building is proposed to be 445,000 square feet. It has 13,000 square feet, or about 3 percent of its space, devoted to retail.
— What will this do to parking in the Oread neighborhood? City staff notes that the amount of parking in the Oread neighborhood has not kept up with residential development in the neighborhood. The staff also notes the neighborhood is a popular place for people outside the immediate area to park because on street parking is free in the neighborhood, while parking on campus requires the purchase of a permit. If a precedent is set that future developments in the neighborhood require less parking, those issues likely are to become magnified. The Oread Residents Association already has come out against the proposed parking reduction. It will be interesting to see if this issue spurs more discussion about a permit parking system for the on-street spaces in Oread. The idea has come up at City Hall previously, but hasn’t gained much traction.
When commissioners discussed the proposed parking reduction last month, they were split on the issue. Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Bob Schumm both expressed concern about the request. Commissioners Mike Dever, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan also expressed some concerns but said they wanted to study the feasibility of the request more. The commission doesn’t want to lose the project, and the Chicago-based development group has said it is having difficulty finding financing for the project. It is hopeful the reduced parking standard will help attract financing of the venture.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday.
• The Delaware Tribe of Indians. Commissioners will get an update on what type of development is being considered for North Lawrence property owned by the Delaware Tribe of Indians. The tribe owns approximately 90 acres just east of the Kansas Turnpike interchange in North Lawrence. The property is currently a sod farm, but commissioners are being told the tribe is interested in using the ground for its tribal headquarters and several other uses. They include:
— Offices for its tribal headquarters.
— Classroom space for the tribe, Haskell Indian Nations University, KU, Kansas State University and other educational partners to collaborate on the teaching of food production methods.
— Space for internships and job training.
— Space for profit-generating “public interface.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like a space for some retail sales for the tribe.
— A kitchen to feed elderly tribal members.
— General meeting spaces.
— Areas to host classes in Native American culture.
Those uses above would be confined to the western 30 acres of the property. What isn’t spelled out is how large of a building would be needed. That could be an issue because neighbors in the area have expressed a lot of concern that construction on the site is going to create storm water flooding issues for the surrounding area. Neighbors and environmentalists have advocated for low-intensity development on the site.
The remaining 60 acres would be devoted to agricultural uses. Some of those ideas include a food hub distribution site; a food-based botanical garden; demonstration areas for agricultural methods; hoop houses, orchards and fruit stands, a holistic health center, and a farm-to-plate restaurant.
There are a lot of details to be worked out. A formal plan has not been filed with the city. Instead, the city, county, the tribe, Haskell, KU, the chamber of commerce and a few other organizations are being asked to sign an agreement that commits the parties to participate in a design charrette that will seek to create a more refined plan. City commissioners will vote on whether to enter that agreement at Tuesday’s meeting.
• Downtown Street closings. Developers of the property at Ninth and New Hampshire are asking for a good portion of the 800 block of New Hampshire Street to be closed to all traffic for up to 24 months. Lawrence-based First Management is making the request to accommodate the construction of a multistory apartment and office building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
The construction group is asking for the north and southbound lanes of New Hampshire Street to be closed between Ninth Street and the mid-block crosswalk that is in the 800 block of New Hampshire Street. In other words, from about where the hair salon is at Ninth and New Hampshire to where Cielito Lindo Mexican Restaurant is located in the mid-block of New Hampshire. The group wants the closure for 24 months or the length of building construction, whichever is shorter. (CORRECTION: The south-bound lane of traffic will be open during much of the project. There will be times when both the north and south-bound lanes will be closed, but not for the entirety of the project.)
Traffic on Ninth Street also would be impacted. Traffic would be open in both directions, but crews would shift all traffic to the south half of the street.
It also is important to note that a portion of the 900 block of New Hampshire Street already is reduced to southbound traffic only. That is to accommodate construction of a hotel/retail building on the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. The city is projecting that there will be a time period when traffic in both the 800 and 900 blocks of New Hampshire Street is impacted.
If approved at Tuesday’s meeting, the street closures on New Hampshire Street could begin later this month or in early November.
Internet start-up company opening office in downtown Lawrence; city to again debate parking exemption for apartment complex near KU; city sets ribbon-cutting date for VenturePark
There’s a new company in downtown called DriverDo, which in eclectic downtown Lawrence could lead to an interesting game of fill in the blank. DriverDo honk for hemp. DriverDo avoid that herd of zombies. DriverDo back the U-Haul up to the shoe store and start loading. (Maybe that one is more unique to my household.) But this DriverDo is more exciting than that. It is an Internet startup company that is opening a prominent Massachusetts Street office and hopes to become a major service provider in the auto dealership and vehicle rental industries.
The company currently is converting the former retail space that housed Cosmos Indian store at 734 Massachusetts (it moved to West Lawrence) into office space. CEO and founder Zarif Haque said work on the office is expected to be completed in the next few weeks, and the company has plans to hire about 10 employees to prepare for its product launch by the end of this year.
The product is a mobile app that is designed to make driver management much more efficient for auto dealers, car rental companies and other such businesses. Haque — a Lawrence businessman who has been in the auto industry for several years — said it is a common misconception that auto dealerships receive all their vehicles via semi truck. He said many of the vehicles actually are driven to the dealership individually by hired drivers. The same goes for many of the vehicles at car rental businesses. Hiring those drivers, insuring those drivers, providing proper directions to those drivers, and paying those drivers can be a big chore for dealerships.
“It has created a lot of problems for dealerships,” Haque said.
I don’t confess to understand everything the DriverDo app does, but among its features are: a sign-up and vetting process for people interested in becoming drivers; a paperless system for paying drivers; real-time tracking of vehicles; and a patent pending system that will screen individual drivers in a manner that will lead to lower insurance rates for the auto dealerships. The company will make its money by taking a small administrative fee as drivers are paid.
The company has raised a “comfortable amount” of money in the venture capital market, Haque said. The company is expected to start booking sales by the end of the year.
The company also is interesting for another reason. It might be an early sign of a trend of high-tech companies taking over Massachusetts Street retail spaces for offices. It is the second tech company in the last month or so that has converted a former ground-floor retail space on Massachusetts into office space. The other one is the financial services firm Yantra Services, which has opened an office in the former Antiques Bazaars II building at 840 Massachusetts St.
Like the folks at Yantra, Haque said his company believes the downtown atmosphere will be a key selling point in attracting talented tech workers to the company.
“Our downtown atmosphere is unique and really difficult to find in the Midwest,” Haque said. “People feel like it could have a flavor of an Austin or a Palo Alto. When you have a tech company, you are looking for amenities to help attract talent, and that is what downtown offers.”
I don’t have any numbers to back this up, but I think the popularity of living in downtown has reduced the amount of second-story office space that is available in downtown, so companies have started to look to the ground-floor spaces. Some of those spaces have been available because attracting nonrestaurant retailers to downtown can be challenging at times. So, the trend may not be entirely positive, but I think downtown leaders are excited about having more office users in downtown because it produces more potential retail and restaurant customers who are downtown throughout the day.
As for the approximately 10 jobs that DriverDo plans to add, Haque said the positions will include graphic designers, project managers and customer service specialists.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’m expecting the Lawrence City Commission to have another debate over whether to provide a proposed apartment/retail project next to Kansas University an exemption from the city’s parking code. As we have reported, the Chicago-based development company HERE, LLC is asking the city to reduce the required number of parking spaces for the $75 million, seven-story project by 100 spaces. The company is seeking to reduce the size of its automated parking garage in order to help the project attract financing. The project is proposed to have 237 apartment units that will include nearly 600 bedrooms. The building, proposed for 1101 and 1115 Indiana also will have almost 15,000 square feet of retail. Under the new request, the parking garage would have 477 spaces, plus there would be some off-street parking surrounding the building.
The company has filed another round of paperwork at City Hall seeking the reduced parking standard. City commissioners last month were undecided on whether to grant the request. They asked for more information from city staff, and City Manager David Corliss has indicated that a report will be delivered at Tuesday’s meeting. So, I’ll let you know when more information becomes available.
In the meantime, I have found an answer to a question several of you have asked. Georgia Bell, the 91-year old woman who owns the house at 1115 Indiana St., indeed is in limbo as it becomes unclear whether this apartment project will be built.
If you remember, HERE, LLC had previously filed plans to build the apartment/retail building on three sides of Bell’s home after the company was unsuccessful in buying the property from her. But then in May, Bell confirmed she had reached a deal with HERE to sell her property.
But in recent weeks it has become clear the apartment/retail project is still in a speculative stage. HERE has confirmed it hasn’t yet secured financing for the project. So that left the question of what is to become of Bell, if the project doesn’t move forward. Bell reached out to me recently and said she is concerned about how matters are progressing.
Bell confirmed that HERE has not yet bought her property. What she described to me sounded like HERE has an option to purchase her property once the project becomes finalized. She said she’s received $25,000 upfront, but the bulk of the money, which she said is several hundred thousand dollars, won’t come her way unless the project is approved. She has begun the process of looking for a new home in Lawrence, and has certainly had a lot of people offer to help her with that process after we reported she had signed a deal with the development company. She has started to spend some money on that process of finding a new home and now is concerned about how all this will play out.
In talking with Bell, I was unclear when the option on her property expires, but she indicated it was soon. Right now, it seems the entire area is in limbo. Perhaps more clarity will come in the next week or so on this project, which indeed would be a game-changer for the Oread neighborhood and the area near Memorial Stadium.
• If you are a fan of economic development in Lawrence, or simply like to watch the mutilation of ribbons, mark your calendars. City Manager David Corliss said the city is planning to host a ribbon-cutting and grand opening for Lawrence VenturePark at 4 p.m. on Oct. 21. VenturePark is the former Farmland Industries site on the eastern edge of Lawrence that the city has been converting into a business park.
The park doesn’t yet have any tenants, but city officials are celebrating because all the roads, sewer lines and other infrastructure needed to host business tenants have been completed. My understanding is that economic development officials are in negotiations with a potential tenant for the site that would be bringing new jobs to the city. I have no real details to share with you on that, but I would expect the next 12 months to be an important time for Lawrence VenturePark. Its recent completion is creating some buzz in the economic development industry, and the pending completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway is expected to give Lawrence more momentum with business site selectors than it has had in years. So, it seems like these next few months will be the time when the iron is hot.
Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but we’re knee-deep in barbecue sauce, and I’m not just talking about the unfortunate incident with the industrial-size pressure cooker in my kitchen. I’m talking about the flood of barbecue restaurants opening in Lawrence. Now we are seeing the flip side of that equation, as one large player in the barbecue scene has exited the Lawrence market.
As I reported yesterday on my Twitter feed (@clawhorn_ljw), Famous Dave’s has closed its barbecue restaurant at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. It was a quick operation that caught many by surprise as the signs came off the building Monday afternoon. I got in touch with the group that owns the franchise for the Famous Dave’s in Lawrence, and a spokesman there said the decision simply came down to the business environment.
“Sales just weren’t quite meeting expectations,” said Christian Brabec, marketing manager for Lincoln, Neb.-based Concord Hospitality Inc., the franchisee for the Lawrence area. “People are staying home and not eating out as much, and sales just weren’t where we needed them to be.”
Brabec didn’t specifically mention the competitors in the Lawrence market, but activity in the barbecue arena has been significant. (When I say “barbecue arena,” I’m speaking metaphorically, and not of the area I’ve cordoned off where my neighbor and I battle to near death with tongs, turkey basters and wet wipes.) Wichita-based Hog Wild Pit BBQ has opened its Lawrence location on 23rd Street in recent weeks, and Lawrence-based Biggs BBQ recently has opened its downtown location. But closer to home for Famous Dave’s is the fact that the large chain of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is opening at the Sixth and Wakarusa intersection. As we’ve previously reported, Dickey’s is going into the space at 721 Wakarusa Drive, which previously housed Johnny Brusco’s New York-style pizza restaurant. The Dickey’s location is basically right around the corner from the Famous Dave’s location. When we reported on the restaurant in mid-August, plans called for the Lawrence location to be open in six to eight weeks.
Brabec said Famous Dave’s had been in operation in Lawrence for about 3 and a half years. The company made a big jump into the market not just by opening the restaurant; the owner of the franchise actually bought the entire shopping center at Sixth and Wakarusa. (The one around the corner that will house Dickey’s is owned by a different group.) Brabec said the company doesn’t yet have plans for the vacant Famous Dave’s space.
“We’re waiting to see if some people reach out to us, but nothing is planned or set in stone on that space yet,” Brabec said.
The space is adjacent to the popular, locally owned Six Mile Chophouse, which shares some space with its sister business Six Mile Tavern. There’s no official word, but I’ve heard that the owners of Six Mile Chophouse may consider an expansion.
As for folks who had plans to visit Famous Dave’s, Brabec said all gift cards to Famous Dave’s will continue to be honored at any location. The company also is reaching out to everyone who has booked catering or banquet events with the company, and is working to make sure those events still happen. People with other questions are asked to call the Topeka restaurant, which also is owned by Concorde. Its number is 785-272-2944.
In other news and notes from around town:
• At Lawrence City Hall, you can almost keep track of the seasons by watching the various proclamations that come through the door at Tuesday evening meetings. For those of us who have been to a couple of decades' worth of meetings, you notice the same ones each year. For example, October is always Meet the Blind Month and also Community Planning Month. And then there is April, which is the official month of months, with National Service Recognition Day, Public Health Week, Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month, Fair Housing Month, and one of my favorites, Mathematics Awareness Month, which I normally celebrate by buying an inordinate amount of lottery tickets.
But there was a new one on Tuesday night: Sweet Potato Month. That’s right, we’re living it right now.
Sweet Potato Month is a neat effort by several local farmers to bring some recognition to a crop that once was a major part of Douglas County’s agricultural economy but has faded a bit. John and Karen Pendleton and Bob and Joy Lominska are two of the larger sweet potato growers in the area, and they believe the crop once again can become a significant player in the area’s agricultural scene. They note that it is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in northeast Kansas, because it adapts very well to heat.
They and others are doing their best to boost awareness, and their efforts go well beyond asking the mayor to read a proclamation. Every Tuesday in October, a group of 11 locally owned restaurants will participate in what they’re calling Tuber Tuesday, which means the restaurants will feature a sweet potato dish on their menus. A list of the restaurants is available at the group’s Web site, celebratesweetpotatoes.com.
The sweet potato group also is hosting a “Community Sweet Potato Potluck” at 6 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Carnegie Building at Ninth and Vermont streets. The public is invited to bring their favorite sweet potato dish and sample all the others. Prizes will be awarded.
As part of the proclamation process Tuesday night, I got a recipe for sweet potato biscuits and also one for sweet potato pie. That was nice, but as a veteran of proclamation readings, I feel I should say that it wouldn’t break proclamation protocol if the group wanted to bring, say, biscuits and pie for everyone at the meeting in future years. Groups receiving proclamations have been known to do such things. For example, I still have an advanced calculus equation I’m working on from Mathematics Awareness Month, which is one of the reasons why you’ve seen me barefooted more often recently.
Topeka-based credit union buys bank branch in West Lawrence; city set to approve permit for $65 million sewer plant
The Lawrence banking industry has become something like a college class reunion: Names tags are needed, and it would be helpful if I had a list of who I still owe money to.
We’ve already reported on several name changes on the Lawrence banking scene, but add one more new name to the mix. Intrust Bank has sold its branch on Wakarusa Drive to a Topeka-based credit union.
Envista Credit Union has opened its first Lawrence location at 1555 Wakarusa Drive in the space formerly occupied by Intrust. Envista finalized a deal to purchase the bank building from Intrust last month, and opened its new branch a few weeks ago. Intrust continues to operate two other locations in Lawrence.
“The credit union is growing, and we want to be able to offer added convenience for the members we have in Lawrence and elsewhere in the area,” Jessica Somers, vice president of business development, said of the decision to open a Lawrence location.
Envista is a significant player in the financial services sector in Topeka. The credit union has nine locations in Topeka, in addition to one branch in Hutchinson. In total, Envista has about $260 million in assets and more than 33,000 members. You don’t have to be a member of a particular profession to join the credit union. Envista allows membership based on geographic location. Any resident of Douglas County, and a host of surrounding counties in northeast Kansas, is eligible to become a member.
Due to its size, Envista is able to offer pretty much all the lending services available at a traditional bank, Somers said. That includes mortgage lending, auto loans and business loans.
The Lawrence branch employs seven people, and will have a grand opening celebration at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Somers said.
As for Intrust Bank, Doug Gaumer, the community bank president for Intrust, told me the decision to sell the branch came down to changes in how customers use bank branches.
The trend of online banking and now mobile banking via smartphones is changing the industry. (I hear a lot about the convenience of online banking, but I just don’t see it. I know I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to guess the password my wife sets each week.)
“The manner in which people are conducting their banking is definitely changing,” Gaumer said. “Technology has become more important than physical locations. I would rather invest in people here than bricks and mortar for a branch.”
Intrust continues to operate a large branch near Sixth Street and Lawrence Avenue, and has its Lawrence headquarters at Ninth and Vermont streets downtown. Gaumer said the bank is planning to use some of the proceeds of the West Lawrence sale to remodel the interior of the Sixth and Lawrence branch. He said Intrust also has added a position to the bank’s Lawrence-based commercial banking team.
“We’re confident we’re still well positioned to serve the community,” Gaumer said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There is still one industry where location is paramount: Sewer plants. Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting Tuesday evening will take an important step toward constructing the city’s new $65 million sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.
Commissioners are set to approve the special use permit to locate the plant on 531 acres at 2300 E. 41st St. Yes, Lawrence now has a 41st Street. (I think for fun we should all hail a taxi and ask the driver to take us to 41st Street and see where we end up. I would offer to pay the fare, but I can’t get into my bank account at the moment.)
The city has renamed part of the county road that runs in front of the site for the sewer plant 41st Street. The property is just south of the Wakarusa River where O’Connell Road dead-ends at the Wakarusa River. The city renamed the road because the property has been annexed into the city, so it needs a city street name.
As for the special use permit, it is expected to be approved without much problem. The property is in a low-lying area dominated by agricultural uses. The city is creating a large buffer area to separate the plant from neighboring properties, and to ensure that the city has plenty of room to expand in the future. The city bought 531 acres at the site, but the first phase of the sewage treatment plant is expected to occupy only 15 acres. The rest of the property will remain in agricultural production. The special use permit does highlight one unusual element of the sewer plant design: A fairly large array of solar panels will be installed to provide some of the needed electricity.
Proposed pilot project for super-fast Internet service shrinks; Baldwin City company making stronger push to bring gigabit service to Lawrence; downtown retailer closes
East Lawrence residents may want to momentarily put on hold their plans to become rich using super-fast Internet connections at their homes. (Yes, this may affect your plans to sell online all those tie-dyed Kansas City Royals T-shirts you made this weekend.) A pilot project to bring gigabit Internet service to parts of East Lawrence appears to be shrinking.
An official with Wicked Broadband has told me the company, at the suggestion of City Hall staff, is now asking the city for a $300,000 loan guarantee rather than the $1 million loan guarantee the company has been seeking for several months. But that means the geographic size of the pilot project also is shrinking. The proposal now is to provide the super-fast Internet service to 300 addresses, down from the original proposal of 1,000. Josh Montgomery, an owner of Wicked, told me that means the project likely will be more downtown-oriented. The original proposal was to extend service to downtown, parts of East Lawrence and a couple of other pockets of town. Montgomery said he’s in the process of drawing a new service map, but said the area in East Lawrence will shrink.
What will be interesting now is to see if the smaller size of the project helps it win the three votes needed on the City Commission. Commissioners will be discussing the latest Wicked proposal at their Tuesday evening meeting. What’s becoming clear as this project stretches on is that other private providers in the region are amping up their efforts in Lawrence.
We’ve already reported on the announcements by WOW, the largest Internet service provider in the city. It has committed to double its Internet speeds by January, and it recently has said it will begin offering 200 Mbps service at some point in 2015.
But the more interesting proposal may be from a Baldwin City-based company that is telling city commissioners that it can bring gigabit service to a broad area of Lawrence without a city loan guarantee or other similar incentives.
The company is RG Fiber, and we have reported on its plans before. But the group will be making its most detailed presentation yet to city commissioners on Tuesday night. The company also is hosting a big event in Baldwin on Wednesday to launch its gigabit project there. Gov. Sam Brownback and several Baldwin City and Baker University officials are scheduled to be in Baldwin City on Wednesday. RG Fiber won’t be turning on any gigabit service as part of the event, but rather will begin the sign-up period for homes and businesses in Baldwin that want the service. Mike Bosch, the top executive with RG Fiber, said he expects to begin offering service to 500 locations in Baldwin City by the summer, with construction beginning in the spring. Bosch said Baker University is driving demand for the service in Baldwin City, a significant number of local businesses and households have signed up for the service, which is being offered for $75 a month.
One of the key lines of fiber optic cable RG will use for the Baldwin City project will run through Lawrence. Bosch said that is a key reason why his company is in a position to provide gigabit service to parts of Lawrence. Bosch has unveiled a map that shows he could provide gigabit service to downtown, the Sixth Street corridor, the Iowa Street corridor, and the 23rd Street corridor in Lawrence.
Like Wicked, he is seeking to lease excess capacity that exists in the city-owed fiber optic cable that rings the city. Bosch said the company is proposing to pay $300 a month for access to four strands of cable. The proposal also includes language about asking the city to donate some land at the city’s Venture Park to house a data center and technology building for the company. But Bosch said that part of the proposal isn’t a deal-killer, and was included to forecast that the company may approach the city about the possibility in the future.
The main point Bosch is trying to highlight is his company does not need any loan guarantee from the city. And he says if the city does provide a loan guarantee to Wicked, he will kill any plans to bring gigabit service to Lawrence.
“If the city intervenes and funds our competitors, it is just not a smart business move for us to invest money and compete with the city of Lawrence,” Bosch said. “If the city does this, it looks like it has an emotional connection to one of my competitors that is so strong, that it wouldn’t make sense for anybody to go in and compete with that because you would never know where the city’s support would end.”
Montgomery, though, counters that it is no coincidence that interest in the Lawrence broadband market has picked up once Wicked started proposing bringing gigabit service to town.
“We feel like this competition is a direct result of us pushing this project forward,” Montgomery said. “The city should be working to get the best deal it can for consumers.”
The whole situation creates an interesting issue for the city: Does offering an incentive to one company create a disincentive to another company? Or is this all just posturing on the part of competitors? Will I ever be able to sell these 30,000, tie-dyed, Mike Moustakas bath robes?
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep an eye out for construction work at 925 Iowa St. Montgomery confirmed to me that his company has signed a lease for 5,000 square feet of space in the building that is adjacent to the Hillcrest Shopping Center. Plans call for part of it to house technical equipment related to Wicked Broadband, but a good portion of it will be an enterprise called the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship. I’ll bring you more details as I get them, but it sounds like Montgomery and his wife, Lawrence school board member Kris Adair, will be providing a place where startup businesses can rent office space, have access to a business attorney and other types of experts.
• There is one less place in town to buy a Kansas City Royals hat. Lids, the store that specialized in hats of athletic teams, has closed its downtown Lawrence location. A sign on the door is directing people to check out its locations in the Kansas City area. The space at 729 Massachusetts doesn’t yet have a new tenant, said Jon Francis of Francis Sporting Goods, who is part of the ownership group of the building. Francis said a search has begun to fill the space, and a retail user is the main focus. He said the space likely would not work to house a restaurant.
“Retail is definitely what we want,” Francis said.
British restaurant opens on south Massachusetts Street; west Lawrence retirement center plans expansion
Get ready for a British invasion at Lawrence’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post. No, that guy behind the bar really isn’t Ringo, and that’s not a cricket game that has broken out near the jukebox. But indeed you now can get some British fare at the VFW. The former downtown restaurant Queen Lizzy’s has reopened in the VFW post at 1801 Massachusetts St.
“The menu is going to be very similar to what we had downtown, but we’ve also added some American bar food as well,” said Matt Poulton, owner of Queen Lizzy’s.
Poulton said signature dishes will include fish and chips, Shepherd’s Pie and bangers and mash, which I think is a dish of sausage and mashed potatoes. (Although there’s also a chance it may just be a cricket term and us dumb blokes have mistakenly been ordering it for years. However, I would highly suggest the googly or the dibbly dobbly for dessert.) Also on the menu will be American fare such as pork chops, hamburgers, nachos and other bar food.
Poulton closed his downtown restaurant at 125 E. 10th St. in late 2012 after operating it for about 15 months. Since then, the Queen Lizzy’s name largely has been staying active in the catering business. But Poulton said he became intrigued by the idea of using space in the VFW building, which used to house Bambino’s restaurant.
“The space has a fantastic kitchen and a dining room, but the VFW had never really thought about opening a restaurant,” Poulton said.
The arrangement is unusual because the VFW is a private club. But Poulton said any member of the public can come into the club to dine. If you want to drink alcohol, however, you’ll need to have a membership to the club. But Poulton said auxiliary memberships are available to the VFW, even if you are not a veteran.
The restaurant opened last week.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep your eyes open for a large new development in the world of Lawrence retirement housing. The folks at Pioneer Ridge have filed plans to develop 76 units of independent living apartments as part of their complex at 4851 Harvard Road.
Debbie Walker, regional director of independent living for Pioneer Ridge’s parent company, said work is expected to begin in late October, and the units likely will be ready by late 2015. The project will be on vacant ground that has frontage along Wakarusa Drive and is just south of Pioneer Ridge’s main building. The apartments will be a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. They will be the first independent living units for Pioneer Ridge, which currently has about 60 assisted living units and multiple beds in a full health care unit.
The independent living units will allow residents to take advantage of some of the services offered at the main facility at Pioneer Ridge, such as meal plans, Walker said.
“People will have a full amenity package when they move in, and they can add additional amenities that they want or need,” Walker said.
The project continues a trend of trying to attract more retirees and seniors to the Lawrence community. Several of the existing retirement centers in Lawrence have added units or undergone renovations, and Meadowlark Estates built 124 living units for people 55 and older at Sixth and Folks Road in 2011. More recently, officials with Americare had plans approved for a 46-bed assisted living facility at Peterson Road and Monterey Way. Walker said demand for retirement living in Lawrence is significant.
“We have had a lot of people ask us for independent living options,” Walker said. “We have always felt like there is a very strong interest in people moving back to Lawrence. Plus there are a lot of professionals who live in Lawrence and want to move their parents here to be closer to them.”
• If you are trying to follow the debate about the proposed $28 million police headquarters facility, you may want to check your calendars. The city has changed the location of a forum it is hosting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16. The new location is the auditorium of Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Massachusetts St.
Plans for downtown grocery store at former Borders site hit a snag; Just Food celebrates 5-year anniversary; WOW announces another plan to boost Internet speeds
Forget about the hundreds of zombies that will roam downtown Lawrence on Thursday night. (It is the zombie walk, not Royals fans still comatose from Tuesday’s late game.) The really scary sight in downtown Lawrence is the new Halloween store in the former Borders bookstore at Seventh and New Hampshire streets. It is scaring the stuffing out of people who have hoped that the former Borders building would become home to a much-wanted downtown grocery store.
If you remember, we reported about a month ago that the owners of the Lawrence-based Checkers grocery store were in negotiations to open a full-service grocery store in the Borders location. The Halloween store doesn’t kill that possibility — it is only a temporary, seasonal store — but it is a sign that negotiations for a grocery store aren’t progressing like people had hoped.
“We have made several offers to buy or lease the building, but we can’t seem to come to any common ground,” Jim Lewis, the owner of Checkers, told me. “I’ve told our real estate agent that the ball is basically in (the building’s owners') court.”
In other words, the two sides can’t agree on a price or terms for the building. I certainly had heard that Lewis was most interested in buying the building, but I’ve also heard that the ownership group out of Michigan was more interested in a lease.
Lewis said he hasn’t given up on the idea of a downtown grocery store.
“I’m still optimistic, but I can’t tell you a location at this point,” Lewis said. “But my son and I are committed to making something happen down there.”
Lewis said he’s also not giving up on the possibility of striking a deal for the Borders location.
“We’re not saying no on Borders,” Lewis said. “They just haven’t made a decent proposal, in our opinion.”
Lewis said he has begun to look at other locations, but declined to give details on where those might be. Finding another location in downtown is probably not impossible, but it will be difficult. Lewis said he must have a site that can provide ample parking.
“You’re not going to make it just relying on walk-in traffic,” he said.
I have no idea where Lewis may be looking, but one site that comes to mind is 11th and New Hampshire. Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Rand Allen have said they want to redevelop the former Allen Press property. Compton previously has said he wants to build a multistory apartment building with retail on the ground floor. At one point, Compton thought he was close to signing a deal with a national drug store chain — CVS was the likely tenant, I believe — but that was months ago. I’m still hoping to get an update from Compton, but it seems like that project has lost some momentum. Whether a downtown grocery store would work there, I don’t know. The project would have below-ground parking, but whether enough parking could be built to satisfy the needs of apartment residents and a grocery store is unclear to me.
I also think the East Lawrence Warehouse Arts District might be an area to keep an eye on. Lawrence businessman Tony Krsnich has a significant amount of property in the district, and he has talked about drawing businesses that would provide more amenities to the growing number of residents in the district. That area isn’t quite downtown, but perhaps it is close enough to satisfy those wanting a downtown grocery store.
I don’t have a good timeline on when Lewis will make some decisions on this issue, so I’ll just keep an ear out.
As for the Halloween store, it is called Halloween Express, and it looks like it has all things Halloween related. You still have plenty of time to become a zombie for tonight’s zombie walk, or even better, perhaps it can help us prepare for the Royals’ playoff games with the Los Angeles Angels. I’m thinking a voodoo doll of Mike Trout would be helpful.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Zombie costumes won’t be the only reason to dress up in downtown Lawrence on Thursday. The folks at the Douglas County food bank Just Food are celebrating their five-year anniversary with a special dinner and fundraising event at Abe & Jake’s Landing. The event also will be celebrating the life of Just Food founder and former dean of the renowned KU School of Social Welfare Ann Weick. Weick died this summer.
Just Food is run by Lawrence City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, and he told me that about 26,000 different Douglas County residents will receive food from the organization in 2014. That’s about 25 percent of Douglas County’s entire population.
“There are a lot of people who are falling through the cracks,” Farmer said.
Farmer said about 60 percent of Just Food’s clients are people who make more money than is allowed for food stamps and other such government assistance. He said Thursday's event, which is sold out, is meant in part to help people better understand the people who need help putting food on the table.
“There are a lot of false perceptions out there about people who need some assistance,” Farmer said. “These people a lot of times are working two or three jobs.”
Farmer said the event also is meant to honor the role that Weick had in founding Just Food. Farmer said he’s learned that Weick had the idea of a locally run food bank on her mind for a good 20 years before the opportunity every arose to get the organization started.
“She was an incredibly resilient and calm leader who exercised her leadership for 20 years before her vision became a reality,” Farmer said. “She is our true north. Our true north is to help people get out of the system because that is always what Ann envisioned.”
As part of the event on Thursday evening, Just Food also will announce the winner of its first leadership award, which it has named the Ann Weick Leadership Award.
• This news is just in: WOW has announced additional plans to upgrade Internet speeds in the city. As we recently reported, the cable and telephone provider in Lawrence will start offering Internet download speeds of 110 Mbps in January, which is a little more than double the speed of its fastest Internet packages.
But at the time, WOW officials said they expected to make additional announcements during the course of the next year about service upgrades. Well, this morning the company said “additional investments are now planned for 2015” to support a new tier that will allow for download speeds of 200 Mbps and upload speeds of 15 Mbps. That’s nearly another doubling of Internet download speeds, and about a tripling of upload speeds. The upload speed issue — which refers to how fast you can post files, photos and other such objects onto the internet or file-sharing services — had been a question with WOW’s previous proposal. Currently, upload speeds are limited to 5 Mbps.
The latest announcement from WOW still does not give any information on pricing plans for the programs. The announcements come right before Lawrence city commissioners are scheduled to again discuss whether to give Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband a $1 million loan guarantee and other incentives to start a pilot project in Lawrence to bring gigabit service to downtown, East Lawrence and a couple other pockets of town. Gigabit service is the same super-fast Internet service being provided by Google Fiber in Kansas City. The Wicked proposal would provide the gigabit speeds for both downloads and uploads, which Wicked officials say is particularly important for business users. City commissioners are scheduled to discuss the Wicked proposal at their Tuesday evening meeting.
Lawrence ranks high in new lists of fastest growing cities; latest Kansas income numbers not too bad; Dillons announces job gains in Lawrence
Following Tuesday's late-night Royals playoff victory, Lawrence and the entire Kansas City metro area ranks fairly high on a new list of top cities with zombie-like workers with Salvador Perez tattoos. As exciting and useful as that is, local leaders may be more interested in a new list that shows Lawrence is one of the faster growing cities in the country, at least by one set of economic measurements.
Our friends at the financial website NerdWallet rank Lawrence as the No. 6 city in the country when it comes to the combined growth rate of its population, its employment rate and its earnings. Lawrence was the only city in the region to make the top 10 list. Boulder, Colo., finished in the No. 1 spot.
Digging a little deeper into the study, it is clear why Lawrence ranked highly in this particular study: earnings growth. From 2009 to 2013, the growth in median income for workers has increased by 37.75 percent, according to Census data used by NerdWallet. That ranked Lawrence No. 2 among the top 10 cities, trailing only Boulder.
Lawrence did not rank well in the other two categories measured by the study. The study looked at the growth of the “working-age” population of the city from 2009 to 2013. Lawrence’s working-age population grew by only 0.26 percent, tying it for second to last among the 10 cities. Lawrence also didn’t fare well in the category of employment rate growth. From 2009 to 2013, Lawrence’s employment rate increased by 3.42 percent. That was the smallest increase of any of the top 10 cities.
But still, we’re No. 6 in the country. The Kansas City Royals won a playoff game at approximately midnight last night. I found a bottle of Mountain Dew to put on my cereal this morning. Life is good, and I do like to revel in the good times as much as the next guy. (If you don’t believe me, how else do you explain why I’ve had the shower in our home replaced with a miniature version of the fountains at Kauffman Stadium?)
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that another financial website, WalletHub, released its list of the 2014 Fastest Growing Cities. It measured the same sort of categories as NerdWallet, but did so in a broader manner. It looked at 10 different Census categories from 2008 to 2013. Lawrence ranked No. 128 out of the 516 cities studied. That doesn’t sound as good as No. 6, but it is in the top quarter of all cities in the country. Because of the broader nature of the study, I almost feel better about that ranking than the other one. In the WalletHub study, we do trail a few other regional cities, including Kansas City at No. 126 and Columbia, Mo., at No. 16.
The study also ranks the cities by population size, and Lawrence ranks No. 34 out of the 210 cities in the small city class. These numbers do seem better than they would have been a few years ago. The city’s job totals still aren’t where leaders would like them, but some other statistics are showing signs of improvement.
So, what does all this really mean? I’m not sure I have it entirely all figured out, but based on the studies by NerdWallet and WalletHub, I am confident of two points: I need to name my wallet, and NerdWallet and WalletHub have both figured out we really like lists. If you don’t believe, I’m sure they both have a list that shows how much we like lists.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its latest numbers showing how much residents of various states are earning these days. In more technical terms, it is called the 2nd quarter personal income numbers. The news is not too bad for Kansas. (Holy cow. The Royals win a playoff game, the state has economic numbers that aren’t too bad, and the hardware guy in Hades is wondering why there is a run on ice scrapers.)
The numbers show that in the second quarter of 2014, Kansas had the 14th best rate of growth when it comes to personal income. Personal income grew at 1.7 percent, which is a bit better than the national average of 1.5 percent.
But, not to be a killjoy, it is worth noting that Kansas didn’t perform as well as many of our neighbors. The Plains region — which includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — had some of the best personal income growth in the country in the second quarter. Every state in the region was above the national average. Kansas’ rate of 1.7 percent was the second lowest in the region, trailing Missouri.
Looking at one-quarter of personal income numbers, though, isn’t overly useful because they do vary a lot by quarter. Looking at the last five quarters of data, Kansas’ personal income numbers have grown by a quarterly average of 0.9 percent. That’s just less than the national average of 1 percent. But compared with the other states in the Plains region, Kansas’ 0.9 percent fares well. It comes in ahead of all the states in the region, expect North Dakota.
So, one way to look at these numbers is that Kansas has had fairly steady growth in personal income since the second quarter of 2013, but currently it is losing some momentum as compared with other states in the region.
• One number that is easier to understand is 65. That’s the number of employees the grocery store chain Dillons is hiring in Lawrence. Dillons’ parent company recently announced that it is hiring 1,000 new employees in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. A spokeswoman with Dillons told me a good portion of the 65 employees represent new positions the company has added in Lawrence, now that it has remodeled and enlarged several of its stores in recent years. The 65 employees is one of the larger employee increases the company is undertaking in the state. It trails only the 275 positions in Wichita and the 100 positions in Topeka.
Discovery furniture to close Lawrence store and sell property to investment group; talk of south Iowa Street retail heats back up
Lawrence is losing in the furniture battle, and I’m not just talking about my effort to get a recliner with a built-in beer cooler, bun warmers and a secret Doritos compartment in my living room. No, the city’s largest furniture store has plans to close in early 2015.
The owners of Discovery Furniture have confirmed they’re closing their store at 2525 Iowa St. in January. Upon closing, they’ll open a mega furniture store in Olathe to complement the mega store they already operate in Topeka.
In case you haven’t caught on, mega is the trend in the furniture retail business, and Discovery’s store in the old Food-4-Less building on south Iowa Street just wasn’t mega enough.
“Our new location will be four or five times larger than what we have in Lawrence,” said Jeff Winter, an owner of the Discovery store.
The new store — called the Furniture Mall of Kansas, which is also the name of its store in Topeka — will be in the former Benchmark Home Furnishings building across the street from the Bass Pro Shop.
Discovery has operated its Lawrence store since 2010, and it was a big deal when it came to town. Lawrence’s furniture market began declining in the late 1990s, and then pretty much was decimated after Nebraska Furniture Mart opened its mega store near Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County in 2003. There was much lamenting that lots of Lawrence dollars were heading over to do business with Warren Buffett and his crew. (Buffett’s company owns Nebraska Furniture Mart, which is how I scored a very brief interview with the most famed value investor of all time when he was on hand for a ribbon cutting . I, of course, asked him the only logical question of the day: Am I getting ripped off if I pay for the Scotchgard treatment on my sofa? I can’t quite recall, but I think he looked at the stain on my tie and advised it was a good value.)
Winter said it was a tough decision to leave Lawrence because the store was doing fine from a sales standpoint. But he said the company determined it made greater strategic sense to operate large locations in both Topeka and the Kansas City markets, with the hope that Lawrence shoppers will find it convenient to shop at one of those two locations.
Discovery has about 20 employees, and Winter said the company is offering incentives for those employees to make the move over to the new Olathe store.
If there is a positive in this news, it is that interest in the Discovery location at 25th and Iowa is high. In fact, a development group already has purchased the property from the Winter family. A group that includes Lawrence businesswoman Susan Hatfield finalized a deal in recent days to purchase the entire shopping center, which also includes the adjacent Office Depot and Tuesday Morning spaces. In addition to Hatfield, Christian Ablah, a noted commercial real estate broker who has been involved in bringing Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy and Home Depot, to Lawrence also is part of the group.
Ablah told me the group doesn’t yet have a tenant for the approximately 45,000 square feet of space that Discovery occupied in the center. But Ablah said the development group was eager to purchase the property because south Iowa Street seems to be the destination of choice for many midsize to large national retailers. Ablah said the Discovery space could accommodate one large retailer or easily could be rearranged to accommodate three midsize retailers. He said the development group also is exploring whether it is feasible to build a separate building in a portion of the parking lot that could house a restaurant or smaller retailer. Both Office Depot and Tuesday Morning continue to have leases under the new ownership, he said.
“South Iowa is where a lot of tenants want to be right now,” Ablah said. “I love Lawrence, and I’m hearing there are a lot of retailers who want to locate in Lawrence right now.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is probably wise to keep an eye on another piece of property near 25th and Iowa streets as well. The shopping center that includes Kief’s Audio Video, Biggs BBQ and Sunflower Pawn is going through an ownership change. Longtime retailer John Kiefer is selling his interest in the property to Evan Holt, who is the son of Kiefer’s late partner in the development.
Holt told me he could have up to 13,000 square feet of space available in the center. That’s because Kief’s is expected to downsize or move out of the center entirely. As we previously reported, Kiefer has retired from the business, and his son is making some changes in focus at Kief’s. It likely will focus more on custom installations and other high-end jobs rather than traditional audio/video retailing, Kiefer told me.
Holt said he doesn’t have a tenant lined up for the space, but like Ablah, he said interest in the south Iowa corridor seems high. Holt’s property is adjacent to the shopping center that includes the now vacant space that housed Saints Pub. There’s also some other vacant space in that center. I hear rumblings from time to time about a major project that would involve large amounts of property between 23rd Street and 25th Street. That would be a major undertaking, and I haven’t seen anything solid on that at the moment. But with the amount of traffic at 23rd and Iowa and the growing interest in south Lawrence retail, it seems like an area that is probably drawing some behind-the-scenes interest from developers.
It will be interesting to see how all this interest in south Iowa Street shakes out, and in particular, what impact it has on the city’s desire to see retail development take hold around the Rock Chalk Park complex in northwest Lawrence. It also will be interesting to see if the group that wants to build a major retail center just south and east of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Iowa Street will come back with another plan for city commissioners to consider. I’m getting a lot of indications that the development group plans to at least broach the subject of a revised plan with key city officials. I’m hearing they have yet another significant retail tenant that has expressed a strong interest in the site. I hope to get some more information on that project and bring it to you in the coming days.
• Town Talk will be off on Monday and Tuesday. A certain baseball team — I refuse to mention its name out of fear that I will jinx it — very possibly could be playing in the playoffs on Tuesday. As a lifelong fan of this certain baseball team, I have come to believe that a playoff appearance is a lot like Halley’s Comet: If you miss it, you may be waiting a long time to see it again.
Downtown business of 25 years closing on Sunday; local home sales fall in August; Wicked Broadband owner considering run for city commission
I often have had shoppers at a garage sale I’ve hosted tell me I have a particular item priced too high. (I don’t care what they say, my portrait of dogs playing pool is at least a $10,000 piece of art.) But I’ve never had someone like Gary Strong come up to me and say that I need to raise the price of an item. Strong is the owner of downtown Lawrence’s Strong’s Antiques, and he’s been known to do that when he sees someone inadvertently giving away a valuable item.
But Lawrence residents may not be able to rely on such kindness for much longer. Strong is getting out of the antique business. After 25 years in Lawrence, Strong’s Antiques will close for good on Sunday. Strong and his wife will continue to own the building, but they’ve signed a deal with Lawrence-based Lucky Dog Outfitters to locate in the storefront at 1025 Massachusetts St.
Strong said he was simply ready to give retirement a try, and a certain event convinced him of that. In December a stray vehicle from Massachusetts Street drove through the storefront in a strange accident. The accident damaged thousands of dollars worth of antiques, involved hassles with numerous insurance companies, and required eight months worth of construction.
“I began to realize that maybe retiring isn’t such a bad concept,” Strong said.
Strong said the interest in antiques has declined over the past 10 years, but that business at the shop remained solid, in part because the business had gained a regional reputation for clock repair, music box repair and other speciality services.
Strong even made house calls to repair people’s grandfather clocks and other such large items. During the years, he also got to deal with Hollywood types by providing set pieces to productions such as The Day After and other movies that have shot in the area. All in all, it has been a good business to meet a lot of people, Strong said.
“I probably will miss communicating with so many people,” Strong said. “It is nice when people are happy when they get something they have been looking for.”
Strong said garage sale people also like it when he tells them that what they think is an ugly vase that perhaps should sell for $5 actually is a beautiful antique worth quite a bit more. Strong said he’s come across that situation several times in his career.
“I always tried to make them aware of it because I didn’t want them to come into my shop someday and see their vase selling for $375 or something like that,” Strong said.
I’ll see to bring you more information in the coming days about the plans Lucky Dog Outfitters has for the space. The Strongs also also own the space that houses Aimee’s Cafe and Coffeehouse, which is run by their son. Strong said Aimee’s will remain in business.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As I become an even more prodigious collector of fine canine billiards art, I probably at some time will have to buy a bigger house to display it all. But that time was not in August, and according to the latest statistics from the Lawrence Board of Realtors, I wasn’t alone in putting off a home purchase.
Lawrence home sales in August were down about 15 percent compared to the same period a year ago. Real estate agents sold 90 units in August, down from 106 in August 2013.
For the year, home sales have totaled 759 units through August, and are down 5.7 percent compared to the same period a year ago. It is beginning to look like 2013 was the peak of the housing rebound in Lawrence. But it also is good to keep the 2014 numbers in perspective: Home sales are still about 16 percent ahead of 2012 totals. The industry is not in a bad place right now.
Other numbers of note from the monthly report include:
— The total value of residential real estate sold in Lawrence in 2014 thus far is $146.8 million, down 11 percent from the same period a year ago, but up 18 percent from 2012 levels.
— The median selling price in Lawrence in 2014 has been $164,000, down from $170,000 in 2013.
— The median number of days a home sits on the market is down to 33. That’s down from 42 in 2013 and 63 in 2012.
— The number of homes on the market has fallen to 414, down from 441 in 2013 and 479 in 2012.
– Sales of newly constructed homes continue to be the most troubling part of the Lawrence real estate market. Only 47 newly constructed homes have sold thus far in 2014. That’s down 35 percent from 2013 levels and is down nearly 13 percent from 2012 levels.
• Tonight — Thursday, that is — I will be covering a campaign event for the Nov. 4 sales tax election to fund a police headquarters project. The event is the public forum hosted by the city at 7 p.m. at the police department’s Investigations and Training Center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. But before that campaign is even done, I’m required to keep my ear to the ground about possible candidates for the following campaign — the Lawrence City Commission races in April.
I had heard speculation that Lawrence school board member Kris Adair is considering a run for the City Commission. Well, Adair confirmed to me that she indeed is seriously considering running for the commission. She hasn’t made a decision yet, but she said she’s been talking to numerous people about a campaign. (If this were presidential politics, I think we could it an exploratory effort, and Adair would be doing lots of photo opportunities with ethanol, corn on the cob, corn-on-the-cob art and whatever else it takes to suck up to the fine folks of Iowa.)
Adair is an owner of Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband, and as such has had quite a few dealings with Lawrence City Hall. Wicked — formerly Lawrence Freeneet — currently is awaiting a decision from the commission on a $1 million loan guarantee that would spur a pilot project to bring gigabit service to parts of Lawrence. A decision on that issue is expected to be made by mid-November.
In addition to the broadband issue, Adair has been active in lobbying for changes in how the city approaches economic development. In particular, she has called for a greater emphasis on fostering start-up companies and expansion of smaller local businesses.
Adair still has two years left on her term as a Lawrence school board member. She said if she does run for the City Commission and does win a seat, she likely would resign her seat as a school board member. I’m not sure what the law allows in terms of holding multiple elected offices, but regardless, Adair said she thinks it would be too difficult to do both jobs simultaneously.
In case you don’t yet have your Lawrence City Commission smartphone election app (that app almost certainly will void your warranty on your new iPhone), here is a rundown: Three of the five seats will be up for election in April. The seats held by Mike Dever, Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm are up for election. None of the three have officially said what their plans are for the future, although Schumm has said some things that indicate he’ll likely run again. I believe Leslie Soden, who narrowly missed out on a seat two years ago, also will likely run. And I’m certain there will be others.
Burger King begins work to reopen on Sixth Street; Menards receives building permit from city; large apartment project near KU lacks financing
It really is safe for all of us to get out our bibs, our paper crowns, our mobile thrones and all the other accoutrements required for a proper trip to Burger King. The Burger King on Sixth Street is going to reopen. Really.
There have been a few false starts and false hopes when it comes to the reopening of the Burger King at 1107 W. Sixth St., which has been closed since August 2013 because of a fire on the roof. Burger King officials previously had told me they expected the store to open sometime in April. But that date came and went, and I began to feel a tad silly arriving at the empty restaurant each morning in my crushed velvet bathrobe and scepter. And my son certainly was getting tired of wearing the jester’s outfit.
But Burger King officials now tell me they have everything they need to begin the project, and hiring for the store has begun. I’m more confident than I have been that the store is indeed on the path to reopening because City Hall officials have confirmed they’ve issued the project a building permit. There also appears to be work crews at the site.
“We have the building permit, and we’re ready to start throwing hammers and stuff,” said Lance Zach, regional manager for Burger King.
Zach said he hopes to have the store reopened by the end of October. I’m not sure I would write that date in stone just yet because there is a significant amount of remodeling that will be done at the site. Zach said the store will end up looking a lot more like the modern Burger King that is near Sixth and Wakarusa. The inside also will have a more modern look, with a lot more emphasis on areas for people to use their wireless devices while they dine. (That is good because the King needs to be in constant communication to deal with important matters in the realm, such as his kingdom’s fantasy football team.)
As for why the project has taken so long, I’m not entirely sure. Zach said he wasn’t either but is just happy to be moving forward. My understanding is that it may have taken the restaurant longer than anticipated to get its insurance check after the fire, and then the building permit process has taken quite a bit longer. City officials confirmed they received the application in March. There are always two sides to these types of stories about delays from City Hall. The city really doesn’t have a motive to unnecessarily delay a project, and sometimes projects are more complicated than property owners envision. For example, this property was old enough that I think it has to make some changes to its parking lot, and that type of work triggers a review from the Kansas Department of Transportation to review the property’s entrance onto Sixth Street, which also is U.S. Highway 40.
Regardless, the project is on the move, and Zach said the company is conducting interviews for restaurant positions each Wednesday. Zach said he plans to hire six to seven managers for the location, and a crew of about 40 people. Interviews are taking place at Burger King’s other two Lawrence locations, which are near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive and in North Lawrence. Look for information on the interview process at the stores.
“We’re comfortable with where we’re headed with this now,” Zach said. “I’m glad because I couldn’t walk through this town without somebody asking me about it.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• City officials also have confirmed they’ve issued a building permit for the Menards home improvement center near 31st and Iowa streets. I don’t have word from Menards officials about when the store may open, but they previously have said construction should take nine to 10 months. Depending on how much the winter slows them down, I would say it is a good bet that the store will be open by the time the 2015 holiday shopping season rolls around.
It will be interesting to watch the project come out of the ground. It also will be interesting to watch whether Menards’ neighbor, Home Depot, makes any effort to expand its store. As construction begins at Menards, it will become obvious how much bigger Menards will be than the Home Depot store. According to documents filed at City Hall, Menards will have about 250,000 square feet of space under the roof. Home Depot has about 94,000 square feet. In addition, Menards will have an outdoor lumber yard that is about 150,000 square feet. If you remember, Home Depot wanted a larger store, but was unable to win approval from the City Commission in the early 2000s for the project.
• There is news — or at least questions — about one other large project in town. It is still not clear when or if work will begin on a major apartment/retail building planned for a site across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium.
At Tuesday evening’s meeting, city commissioners delayed taking action on a requested parking variance for a proposed multi-story building that will have about 240 apartments with a total of about 625 bedrooms. The developers want to reduce the required parking for the project by 100 spaces, which would leave the project with fewer parking spaces than there are bedrooms in the project. Commissioners said they wanted more information, such as how many students bring cars to campus, before they act on the request.
But what did become clear at Tuesday’s meeting is that the Chicago-based development group proposing the project doesn’t have the financing in place to build it.
“We have had several capital sources tell us they are not interested,” said Jim Heffernan, a manager with HERE Kansas LLC.
The project already has received from city commissioners — on a 3-2 vote — a 10-year, 85 percent property tax rebate. But Heffernan told commissioners that even with that incentive, the city’s parking requirements have made it difficult for the project to pencil out from a financial perspective.
Heffernan didn’t directly say whether the project would be discontinued if the parking exemption isn’t granted, but it is becoming clear that the project is still in a pretty speculative stage.
• One other last note: Mark your calendars for Thursday evening, if you are interested in the police headquarters issue. The city will host a forum from 7 to 8 p.m. at the police’s Investigations and Training Center at 4820 Bob Billings Parkway. A second forum sponsored by the city will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Oct. 16, also at the Investigations and Training Center.
Also worth putting on your calendar is an event to be hosted by the Voter Education Coalition. The group plans to hold a forum from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Lawrence Public Library. My understanding is that forum will have representatives from both the advocacy group and opposition group that have formed around this issue. The two forums hosted by the city mainly will feature the chief of police and city commissioners.
Retail sales in Lawrence hit new high; Biggs opens downtown location; Burger Fi expected to open in matter of days
Maybe it was the gross of red, white and blue streamers that I bought, or perhaps the case of burn ointment that I ordered, or maybe even the significant amount of foundation work I had to perform after my buddy lit a firecracker that looked and sounded a lot like a half-stick of dynamite. Whatever the case, a new report shows retail sales in Lawrence reached an all-time high for the period surrounding the July 4 holiday.
The latest numbers show that consumer spending in Lawrence for the period of mid-June to mid-July grew by a whopping 7 percent from the same period a year ago. With 8 of the 12 reporting periods for 2014 now in the books, consumer spending in Lawrence is up 4 percent for the year, compared with the same period in 2013. Simply put, Lawrence consumers have been as protective of their money this year as the Detroit Tigers bullpen has been of a late-inning lead. (I know, that was weak. But I’m a Kansas City Royals fan, and the idea of making jokes about other baseball teams is still a new concept.)
Consumer spending in Lawrence has increased eight of the last nine reporting periods. The one period it declined was last month’s reporting period, so this news of strong spending should ease some concerns that perhaps retail spending was beginning to cool. In fact, here’s an interesting piece of trivia for you: Taxable sales in Lawrence totaled just over $130 million during the mid-June to mid-July reporting period. Based on the records I have from the city, that appears to be the highest total for any month of any year in the city’s history. Now, none of that is adjusted for inflation, so I’m sure there have been some better months once you make that adjustment, but still it is a neat little barstool conversation-starter. (Assuming you are in a bar full of economists, auditors and accountants, which likely would be named Liquid Assets, or perhaps the Denominator, if you wander into a tough-guy mathematician bar.)
But speaking of inflation, the numbers in 2014 are strong even when you factor inflation into the equation. Thus far in 2014, consumer spending in Lawrence is at $958 million. That’s up by $147 million from the same period in 2010, which was when the economy was at a real low point. If you adjust those numbers for inflation, they still show that consumer spending has grown by about 8 percent during the time period. That’s about 2 percent per year, after inflation, which may not sound like a lot, but actually is pretty good compared with some past periods. For 2004 to 2008, for example, consumer spending in Lawrence actually declined slightly when adjusted for inflation. Going back further, the go-go years of 1996 to 2000 saw consumer spending in Lawrence increase by a little more than 12 percent after inflation, or a bit more than 3 percent a year.
As for the here and now, Lawrence’s 2014 performance is stacking up well against other retail markets in Kansas. I look at 16 different communities in the state, and Lawrence’s 2014 growth rate currently is the fifth highest. Here’s the list:
• Dodge City: down 0.7 percent
• Emporia: up 4.8 percent
• Garden City: up 5.2 percent
• Hays: down 15.9 percent
• Hutchinson: up 2.3 percent
• Junction City: down 0.2 percent
• Kansas City: up 3.4 percent
• Leawood: up 1.2 percent
• Lenexa: up 4.6 percent
• Manhattan: up 1.5 percent
• Ottawa: up 3.5 percent
• Overland Park: up 3.8 percent
• City of Shawnee: 5.3 percent
• Salina: up 3 percent
• Topeka: up 1.2 percent
• Sedgwick County: up 3.6 percent
In other news and notes from around town:
• Downtown Lawrence is back in the barbecue business. As we reported in June, Lawrence’s Biggs BBQ signed a deal to open up Biggs on Mass in the former Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse location at 719 Massachusetts St. The restaurant opened on Monday.
The menu focuses on barbecue, with both full barbecue meals or simple sandwiches available. It doesn’t carry the chicken fried steak and other such meals that the large Biggs BBQ restaurant on South Iowa Street carries. The restaurant also is a quick service type of establishment, where you place your order at a counter and someone brings it out to you in just a couple of minutes.
The restaurant has remodeled the Buffalo Bob’s space and replaced much of the western decor with old photographs of Lawrence and Jayhawk sports teams. The remodeling job also includes an element that should please economists, auditors and mathematicians. There is a flat-screen television in all 18 of the booths in the restaurant. So, now you don’t have to miss out on C-SPAN, CNBC or PBS. Actually, I don’t think that is quite the concept. Doug Holiday, owner of Biggs, told me that while the restaurant isn’t trying to be a traditional sports bar, it definitely wants to have plenty of televisions for sports fans who want to come in for dinner.
“I learned early on at my days at the Hereford House that you really need to have televisions in Lawrence,” Holiday said, referring to his time as the general manager for the Lawrence steak house. “People in Lawrence really like their sports.”
• In other restaurant news downtown, look for Burger Fi to be open in the coming days. The restaurant at 918 Massachusetts St. — the former Chutney’s location — has scheduled a ribbon cutting for Oct. 1. As we reported in March, the hamburger chain is excited to move into the Lawrence market. It had hoped to open in midspring. The restaurant makes all of its hamburgers from free-range, hormone-free, never frozen Angus beef. It also carries a line of ice cream and desserts that are made with sugar cane instead of the more common high frutose corn syrup. When I chatted with the franchise owner in March, he said the company also had signed a marketing deal with the Sporting KC soccer club, which means the restaurant plans to have some team events at the Lawrence location. I’ve got a call into the Burger Fi folks to get the latest update on their current plans.
• I’m also keeping an eye out on the Buffalo Wild Wings location. As we have reported several times, the construction work underway at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets is for a multitenant building that will house Buffalo Wild Wings. I previously have not gotten Buffalo Wild Wings to confirm that it will close its downtown restaurant when the new location opens, but I haven’t checked in on that front for awhile. That certainly is the expectation, though, in the restaurant and real estate circles around town.
New spa opens near Ninth and Iowa; company with local ties vying to make 1 billion coffee cups for Dunkin’ Donuts
I sure could use a spa treatment after this past weekend. I’m sure we all could. First, there were the handsprings following the KU football team’s win over the University of Michigan. (Why do my geography and editing teachers keep texting me?) Then there were the series of violent swings with a baseball bat at my 12-foot bean dip statue of Sluggerrr following the Kansas City Royals games on Friday and Saturday. Well, we’re in luck because a new luxury spa has opened in Lawrence. (I think I’m going to have to first wash some of this bean dip off, though.)
Sensora Spa has opened at 930 Iowa St. in the Hillcrest Professional Building that includes a host of medical offices.
“We looked at a ton of places on the west side of town and elsewhere, but a lot of places were just too loud for a spa,” said Lara Thompson-Countess, an owner and esthetician at the spa.
Thompson-Countess said finding the right environment for the business was important. Sensora touts itself as one of the few locations in the area that is entirely a spa rather than a combination spa/hair stylist location.
“You won’t hear hairdryers here or smell the chemicals from nail treatments,” Thompson-Countess said. “People can feel instantly relaxed once they walk in the door. We want people to walk in here and leave the outside behind.”
The business employs six therapists, including three massage therapists and three estheticians, which of course are professionals who specialize in skin treatments and other such beauty techniques.
And boy, are there a lot of techniques. The spa offers six forms of massage, including the traditional Swedish massage, hot stone massage, and something called Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Massage. (I envision Sluggerrr enjoying this. He uses three Rs after all, so I assume he likes things that repeat themselves.)
The business also offers a host of hair-removal treatments, facials, body scrubs, customized lip treatments, and herbology treatments, where a therapist rubs citrus oil on your body and wraps you in a blanket of Chinese herbs. There is even something called an eyebrow tint, which I know nothing about. (See the photo that runs with this column everyday to understand why a certain someone in my house said an eyebrow tint for me would require an automotive spray paint booth.)
Thompson-Countess has been in the spa industry in the area for several years and long had wanted to open her own business. She had assumed, however, that it would be in her native England, but she married a Kansas resident, and they landed in Lawrence. She still has the English accent, though, which is very relaxing in itself. (It is a fact that the BBC has caused more people to fall asleep than any other organization in the world.)
Sensora opened a couple of weeks ago. Its hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps in the future when you buy a cup of to-go coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts you won’t just be putting money into the pocket of your dry cleaner, but you also may be helping out a manufacturer with local ties. The trade journal Plastics News (I read it right before I turn the BBC on) reports that Berry Plastics is working to develop a recyclable plastic cup that would replace all the foam coffee cups sold by Dunkin’. Berry Plastics has a major manufacturing facility in Lawrence. I’m not certain that the cups would be made in Lawrence. It looks like the company’s technology to produce that particular line of polypropylene cup is located in a Kentucky facility.
But Berry also operates a large distribution center in Douglas County. It is the big building you see just west and north of the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. I’m not sure what role that distribution center may play in the project, but the Dunkin’ deal would be a big one. Dunkin’, according to the Plastics News article, is America’s largest retailer of coffee by the cup. The article indicates Dunkin’ may have a demand for about 1 billion cups per year if it decides to move forward with the project, which currently is in the test market stage.
So, at the moment, this appears to be one to merely keep an eye on. But I found it interesting nonetheless because what is good for Berry potentially could be good for Lawrence.
Mexican restaurant moving to 34th and Iowa streets; food truck debate set for Tuesday; city to consider tax rebate for another apartment project
If you are like me and find that it is helpful to have about a gallon of nacho dip and approximately about that much in margaritas before your significant other drags you to the latest romantic comedy playing at the theater, I have good news for you. The popular Mexican restaurant El Potro is moving into vacant space near the Regal Southwind theater in south Lawrence.
An owner for El Potro has confirmed the restaurant will be moving into the former Casa Agave restaurant building at the corner of 34th and Iowa streets, or basically adjacent to the movie theater. The company will be vacating its location a few blocks north at 2351 W. 31st St. Gloria Delatorre, an owner of the restaurant, said plans are for the business to make the move in November. The restaurant on 31st Street will remain open in the meantime.
“It is going to be like three times bigger than what we have now,” Delatorre said. “And the parking lot will be much bigger.”
Delatorre said business has been great at El Potro, which opened in Lawrence about three years ago, but customers have complained about the small parking lot. Delatorre said the new space will allow the restaurant to make some other improvements too. The restaurant will feature a full service bar with about a dozen beers on tap and multiple margarita specials. The restaurant also plans to build a patio area at the new location.
The menu, however, will remain the same, Delatorre. No word yet on what may be going into El Potro’s current space, which previously was home to Backyard Burger.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Mark your calendars for food truck fun at Tuesday evening's City Commission meeting. After several weeks of delay, commissioners are scheduled to decide whether to loosen the city’s regulations to allow food trucks to more easily operate in the city limits.
If you remember, the issue revolves around whether the city should remove a provision that currently limits the amount of time a food truck can operate at a location to three hours a day. The new regulations essentially would allow food truck to set up in any private parking lot — with the permission of the owner — as long as the food truck receives an approved site plan from City Hall that ensures the truck won’t be causing parking problems, traffic problems or other such issues.
But some commissioners have expressed concern that food trucks may be unfair competition for traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants, given that food trucks traditionally have lower operating costs. There had even been a suggestion that the city’s regulations should limit how closely a food truck could operate to a traditional bricks-and-mortar restaurant. The city’s planning staff, however, is recommending against such an idea.
“From a land use and legal standpoint, there must be some connection between the regulations and the public health, safety and welfare,” the planning department wrote in a memo to city commissioners. “Staff considered several options to address this concern, but concluded that the use should not be regulated from a competition standpoint.”
I’ll try to check in on this issue again before Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday.
• Also at their Tuesday night meeting, commissioners will consider another property tax rebate for an apartment project. This one is for the latest multistory, affordable housing, loft-style apartment building at 900 Delaware St. near the popular Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence.
The development is being led by Tony Krsnich, the businessman who led the redevelopment of the Poehler Lofts building and the Cider Gallery in East Lawrence. Krsnich received incentives for both of those projects. He’s now asking for a 95 percent property tax rebate for 15 years for the project, which will include 43 apartments.
The city’s Public Incentives Review Committee has unanimously recommended approval of the request. The city’s staff also is recommending approval of the request; it notes the request does fall outside of several city policies.
The city’s policy for tax rebates says a project should produce at least $1.25 in economic benefits for every $1 it receives in city incentives. The city-run analysis for this project found the numbers fell far short of that mark. The city policy also suggests that the length of a tax rebate be limited to 10 years.
The analysis found that the project comes in at 48 cents of benefit instead of the $1.25 mark that is called for in the policy. But staff members note this project is unique in that it is receiving state tax credits that mandate a large number of the apartment units be rent-controlled to serve low-to-moderate income tenants. In this project 38 of the 43 apartments will be rent-controlled and must remain that way for at least 20 years. That, in addition, to the benefit the project can provide to the growing Warehouse Arts District, provides for a good reason for the city to deviate from its policy, staff members said.