Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Library expansion bids come in below budget, allowing for coffee shop concept to be added back to project
When the Lawrence Public Library opens early next year, be prepared to find more than a good book. Perhaps a good cup of Joe awaits too.
And you almost certainly won’t be able to miss the 25-foot piece of art hanging from the ceiling.
City commissioners on Tuesday are set to approve the last major batch of bids for the $19 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library.
As has been the case with other recent projects, contractors came in with competitive bids. The bids for construction of the library building totaled $9.09 million, which is about $622,000 — about 6.5 percent — lower than the budget for the project.
Architects and the city’s library design committee are recommending commissioners use the savings to add several design elements that will enhance the project. (Perhaps my wife is serving as a consultant on this project because that seems to be her advice when I happen to find a savings somewhere.)
Actually, most of the “enhancements” were included in the original design, but they were broken out of the main bid package in case bids came in higher than expected. If you remember, bids on the parking garage portion of the project did come in higher than expected, and a few items had to be removed. Architects would rather add things than remove them, so the design team adjusted these bids accordingly.
Some of the enhancements will be fairly technical, but at least one will be pretty noticeable, especially to those early-morning library users who may need a little bit more than a Stephanie Meyer novel to wake them up. The design team is recommending that a coffee bar be installed in the main lobby area of the library.
Library director Brad Allen told me that the concept is to have a private vendor come in and operate the facility. He said the amount of space devoted to the coffee bar makes it likely that the shop mainly will focus on coffee and beverages rather than having a large menu of food and pastries.
“There has been quite a bit of public interest in the idea,” Allen said.
No vendor has been selected yet, but Allen said the library has started to receive inquires from potential vendors. Once they find one, perhaps I will pitch my literary-themed name for the coffee shop — Fifty Shades of Black. (Never mind. I thought the best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey was the memoir of a conservative suit salesman.)
Other design enhancements included as part of the recommended bid package:
• A more acoustical-friendly ceiling for the library’s auditorium.
• Tile and wood flooring for the main lobby and reference desk area.
• The insertion of “tubular daylighting devices” that will allow more natural light into the building.
Speaking of light, it is going to be a major theme in the building. A 25-foot piece of art hanging from the ceiling will ensure that. As we previously reported, a committee of artists, library leaders and city staff members have recommended the glass artist team of Dierk Van Keppel and John Shreve be awarded a $75,000 contract to create public art for the new building.
Commissioners are set to finalize that contract on Tuesday, and more details about the proposed artwork are becoming available. The artists plan on having several pieces of glasswork in the library, but the main piece will hang from the ceiling above the atrium area of the library.
The piece is entitled “A Ribbon of Light,” and will be constructed of clear and colored glass that will be suspended by a stainless steel structure. Its length will be about 25 feet, and it will be from 3 feet to 8 feet wide. A rendering of the proposed artwork isn’t yet available. But you can get a sense of what the team likes to do by looking at some of their previous work here.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday to accept the bids and approve the contract.
As for how many local companies won bids on the project, I don’t know yet. The list of winning bidders is still being compiled, but it will be released prior to Tuesday’s meeting. Lawrence-based B.A. Green Construction is serving as the construction manager of the project. (UPDATE: A preliminary list shows several Lawrence firms did win bids as subcontractors for the project. In addition to work done by B.A. Green, Lawrence-based companies R.D. Johnson Excavating, Diamond Everley Roofing, Kennedy Glass, HiTech Interiors, and Commercial Floorworks are all set to win bids on the project.)
In case you have forgotten, the city already has accepted bids on the parking garage portion of the project. Those bids came in at $6.10 million. With these latest bids, the bulk of the project has been bid, and the total stands at $15.81 million. I’m sure there are still more expenses to come, but the project appears well-positioned to come in at or below the $19 million total price tag that was presented to the public.
Allen hopes the library will be ready for the public in spring or early summer 2014.
For a man who now owns two pigs (technically, my 4-H children own them but I have yet to be paid), this is news of note: The large pharmaceutical company Merck Animal Health is setting up a Lawrence laboratory.
Details are slim right now, but the company has pulled a building permit to do about $110,000 worth of work in a small industrial building at 2415 Ponderosa. The permit indicates the company is adding laboratory space to the building, which is about two blocks south of 23rd Street.
Merck has a fairly significant operation just off Kansas Highway 10 at De Soto, but a Lawrence presence is something new. I haven’t yet found a good contact at Merck, but I’ll put in a few phone calls and see what I can find out. Based on the size of the building, it doesn’t appear that this facility will employ lots and lots of people. Nonetheless, the project will create excitement among economic development leaders in Lawrence because it is in the community’s wheelhouse of bioscience development. In that arena, any new company is a benefit because it helps to build what economic development leaders call a critical mass. In other words, bioscience companies like to locate where other bioscience companies are located.
The area of animal health doesn’t immediately pop to mind as an area of research strength for Kansas University. But LaVerne Epp, executive chairman for the Bioscience and Technology Business Center, told me KU’s strength in human pharmacueticals can translate over to animal health companies as well.
And this part of the country is a target for animal health development. Leaders in both Kansas and Missouri are working to brand the area from Columbia, Mo., to Manhattan as the Animal Health Corridor.
Lawrence has at least two significant players in the animal health arena currently: Argenta, a New Zealand-based animal health company has a laboratory in the Bioscience and Technology Business Center; and IdentiGen, a company that provides DNA tracing products for meat producers, has its U.S. headquarters in Lawrence.
“I think we do have good potential in the animal health arena,” Epp said. “We’ve had other inquiries from companies that you would recognize as animal health firms. They like the location and the potential for collaboration with KU.”
Epp said Merck has expressed some interest in Lawrence in the past, but he doesn’t have information about its current project.
I’ll let you know when I hear more. Who knows, maybe there is a beautiful relationship that can be had between my pigs and Merck. I’m willing to do about anything to get my money back on these. A little extra meat at the 4-H fair wouldn’t hurt. I would even name one Barry and the other Bonds, if you know what I mean. Wink, wink.
New report compares Lawrence’s economy to others in the region; latest numbers show local economy shrank in 2011
Watch out Cleveland, Tenn. We’re right on your heels.
What? When you think of cities similar to Lawrence, you don’t think of Cleveland, Tenn.? What’s that? You don’t think of Cleveland, Tenn. — population 42,000 people along the Ocoee River — at all. Well, by one standard, that city is our closest of kin.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis recently released its annual report on the size of local economies. (They call it the Gross Domestic Product for metropolitan areas, but it basically is just a measurement of all the economic activity in a community.)
I normally find the report interesting because it reminds me of something that we perhaps forget from time to time. We’re small — at least when it comes to the size of our business community.
The latest report — which measures 2011 economic activity — shows Lawrence had an economy of $3.56 billion. That ranked Lawrence 339 out of the 366 metro areas.
That’s where we are ranked currently. We won’t be ranked there long, unless we start to see a rebound. The BEA report found Lawrence’s economy actually shrank in 2011 by 1.7 percent. (Note: The BEA uses some inflation-adjusted dollars to determine if an economy has grown or shrunk. Without that inflation adjustment, we grew a bit.) The negative 1.7 percent growth rate ranked us 338 out of the 366 metro areas. We also were well below the average growth rate for a metro area, which checked in at 1.6 percent.
But back to our cousins in Cleveland. I mention them because we have the 339th largest economy in the country and Cleveland has the 338th largest. So — if like all great coaches say — you take ’em one at a time, Cleveland should be our next aspiration.
I’m, of course, just having a little bit of fun here. Cleveland and Lawrence aren’t much alike. Cleveland likely would gladly take our major research university, and Lawrence probably would take Cleveland’s batch of industrial businesses: Coca Cola, M&M Mars, Dr. Scholl’s foot products, Tappan appliances, Duracell Batteries, and something called Catnapper recliners. There are a lot of different ways to have a $3.5 billion economy.
But what is interesting about the BEA list is just how much smaller Lawrence is — at least in economic size — to several other cities that we compare ourselves to. A few that jumped out at me included Columbia, Mo. Columbia has an economy of $6.91 billion compared to Lawrence’s $3.56 billion. Even Joplin, Mo., is quite a bit bigger than Lawrence, checking in at $5.97 billion. But the one that really stuck with me was — you guessed it — Manhattan. The home of Kansas State University has an economy of $6.5 billion. Manhattan’s economy is nearly twice as large as Lawrence’s. That seems hard to believe, but that is what the numbers show. While that sinks in, here’s a look at several other cities of interest:
• Lawrence: $3.56 billion in 2011. Rank: 339
• Ames, Iowa: $4.24 billion; Rank: 309
• Austin, Texas: $90.91 billion. Rank: 34
• Boulder, Colo.: $19.35 billion. Rank 111
• Columbia, Mo.: $6.91billion. Rank 218
• Fort Collins, Colo: $12.0 billion. Rank 159
• Iowa City: $7.90 billion. Rank: 208
• Joplin, Mo.: $5.97 billion. Rank: 246
• Kansas City, Mo./Kan.: $108.1 billion. Rank 26
• Lubbock, Texas: $10.53 billion. Rank: 173
• Madison, Wis.: $36.52 billion. Rank: 63
• Manhattan: $6.5 billion. Rank: 230
• Oklahoma City: $60.99 billion. Rank: 46
• St. Joseph, Mo.: $4.67 billion. Rank: 296
• Springfield, Mo.: $15.38 billion. Rank: 133
• Topeka: $9.50 billion. Rank: 187
• Waco, Texas: $8.75 billion. Rank: 198
• Wichita: $27.36 billion. Rank: 82
As I’ve already mentioned, Lawrence did not do well in terms of its GDP growth in 2011. (There were signs of some positive economic activity in 2012 and they continue in 2013, so perhaps next year’s report will show a reversal in fortunes.) One-year growth rates always should be taken with a grain of salt, but here’s a look at some in our region:
• Lawrence: negative 1.7 percent Rank: 338
• Ames: 3.2 percent Rank: 42
• Austin: 4.4 percent. Rank: 20
• Boulder: 3.6 percent. Rank: 31
• Columbia, Mo.: 1.7 percent. Rank: 117
• Iowa City: 3.5 percent. Rank: 34
• Joplin: 0.1 percent. Rank: 234
• Kansas City: 0.0. Rank: 243
• Manhattan: 5.0 percent. Rank: 17
• Topeka: 1.0 percent. Rank: 160
• Wichita: 0.5 percent. Rank: 209
What about our cousins in Cleveland, you ask? Well, their economy grew at a 3.5 percent rate in 2011. Yes, that will make it a little more difficult to catch them, but don’t worry. We’re talking about a town that makes Coca-Cola, M&Ms candy and comfortable recliners. We’ll catch ’em because at some point they’re going to have to take a break to go to the cardiologist.
Little noticed state law change will require one week delay of swearing in of new city commissioners
There won't be a change of power at Lawrence City Hall next week after all. But no, were not in the midst of a coup.
Instead, local election officials are now realizing a change in state law impacts how quickly Tuesday night's election results can be made official. Those results won't be made official until Thursday, April 11, which means Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan can't be sworn into office on Tuesday, April 9, as originally planned.
The two new members of the commission — along with holdover Mike Amyx — will take their oaths on April 16. That's also when the new city commission will hold its election to select a mayor from its ranks.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said the change comes from the Voter ID law that became law in January 2012. That law gives counties the option of delaying the canvassing of the vote until the second Thursday after the election. In past years, the vote was canvassed and made official on the first Friday after the election.
Shew said his office believes in taking the extra time because it gives people more time to find their IDs and bring them to the courthouse. The Voter ID law allows people who don't have an ID with them when they visit a polling site to cast a provisional ballot on election day. But they have to provide an ID to the county clerk before the votes are made official.
If you are not familiar with it, the canvassing process is where election officials go over each provisional ballot and rule whether it is valid.
The provisional ballots aren't likely to change the outcome in the Lawrence City Commission race. There were 119 provisionals cast in Lawrence. (Technically, the difference between third and fourth place in the City Commission race is 97 votes, which means nearly all the provisional ballots would have to go to fourth-place finisher Leslie Soden in order for the results to change. That's highly unlikely.) But process is process, and you can't swear someone in until the election results are official. And the provisionals may play a role in some other races. The Baldwin City mayoral race has just a 12-vote margin.
So, if you were planning on rolling out a red carpet for the new commissioners, keep it in storage for another week. If you were planning on bringing lots of treats and beverages to City Hall to celebrate, feel free to go ahead and do that next week. Drop them off at the media table and I'll keep an eye on them for you.
Downtown Lawrence Inc. soon will be looking for a new leader.
DLI Executive Director Cathy Hamilton announced today that she’s leaving the organization this summer to retire.
“I’m fortunate that I am able to retire a couple of years earlier than I had expected,” said Hamilton. “But I have the chance, and I’m going to take it.”
Hamilton said she will stay on through Downtown Lawrence’s big sidewalk sale, which is set for July 18, and she hopes to be able to provide about four weeks worth of training to the next director.
Hamilton has been with the organization — which provides marketing, event planning and other services to merchants and other downtown businesses — for about 2.5 years. Before that, she was a longtime employee and television personality on Sunflower Broadband, back when it was owned by The World Company, which is the parent company of LJWorld.com. (In other words, that’s my way of disclosing that I know a television personality.)
Serving as the director of Downtown Lawrence Inc. could be described as being a chief cat-herder. Downtown Lawrence merchants are an independent bunch, but Hamilton said the job has been a “great job.”
“And for the right person, it will be a great job for them too,” Hamilton said. “I’m nothing but optimistic about the future of downtown.”
Hamilton said the large amounts of new residential development being built downtown — particularly at the intersection of Ninth and New Hampshire — is adding a new level of excitement to downtown merchants.
“There seems to be a real optimism on the street, which is different than when I started,” Hamilton said. Downtown Lawrence Inc.’s board already has begun advertising for a new director on its Web site.
It is time to clean out the City Commission election refrigerator. There are canned speeches, moldy questionnaires and calorie-laden political advertisements in here. But I’ve had enough of all that, so I’ll just pass along some leftovers of a different type — leftover notes from my notebook.
• Let’s set the table for who is who in this new City Commission. First, Hugh Carter and Aron Cromwell will finish their terms at next Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. Mike Dever and Bob Schumm were the two incumbent commissioners who were not up for re-election. Mike Amyx and newbies Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan will be sworn into their terms at next week’s meeting. That’s your five.
• Schumm’s one-year term as mayor will end on Tuesday. If tradition holds — and it will — vice mayor Dever will be elected by his fellow commissioners to serve a one-year term as mayor. Also, it is expected that Mike Amyx, as the top vote winner in the election, will be elected as vice mayor. That means he’ll be in line to be the mayor in April 2014. If tradition holds, Farmer, as the second-place finisher, is in line to be the vice mayor in April 2014, which means he’ll be mayor in April 2015.
• There was so much action with the political newcomers last night — Farmer, Riordan and fourth-place finisher Leslie Soden — that it was easy to overlook the accomplishment of Amyx. The downtown barber shop owner won his fifth term on the City Commission. His first term on the commission was a two-year term in 1983. All the rest have been four-year terms. So, at the end of this new term, he will have served 18 years on the City Commission, although not consecutively. I’ll have to brush up on my history to determine who, if anyone, has served longer on the City Commission. In addition, Amyx served four-plus years as a Douglas County commissioner in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“I woke up at 1:15 in the morning (election morning),” Amyx told me at last night’s vote counting. “I was so excited I couldn’t go back to sleep. I’m as excited today as I was in 1983.”
• Political pundits (in Lawrence, I think that is just code for guys who sit on bar stools and talk about politics) will spend a bit of time figuring out what impact the new political action committee Lawrence United had on the race. Two of the three candidates it endorsed won election, but the question will be whether they won because of the PACs endorsement or in spite of it? The PAC endorsed Farmer, Riordan and unsuccessful candidate Rob Chestnut.
For Farmer, the numbers didn’t change much from the primary election, when he finished second by about a 400-vote margin. On Tuesday, he finished second with about a 440-vote margin. Farmer was solidly in the top three all night long, and that pretty much was the case during the primary election too.
For Riordan, the situation was different. He won third place only by 97 votes after having secured third place in the primary by 310 votes. And Riordan definitely had a tension-filled night. Until the last West Lawrence returns came in, it appeared he was going to lose to Soden, who was seeking to become the first candidate in recent memory to go from sixth place in the primary to the top three.
Riordan told me last night that he thought some voters did react negatively to a well-funded PAC becoming involved in a City Commission race. But Riordan, a Lawrence physician, also pointed out that people who believed PAC funding would influence him perhaps were forgetting something. The biggest contributor to Riordan’s campaign was Riordan himself. He estimated that once all the figures are totaled, he will have provided about 60 percent of the funds — about $18,000 — for his campaign.
The third candidate endorsed by the PAC, Chestnut, certainly didn’t get a boost. He was in fourth place after the February primary but fell to sixth place on Tuesday. One difference between Chestnut and the other two is that Chestnut also was the subject of a supportive mailing by the Americans for Prosperity group in the days before the election. Perhaps the takeaway is that help from Americans for Prosperity is no help at all in Lawrence city politics. Or that may just be hokum as well. It is worth noting that Chestnut finished last in the ballots that were voted in advance as well, and a good number of them likely were cast before the AFP mailer. So, I don’t know. That’s the thing about political punditry — there’s a lot of guessing involved.
• Speaking of guessing, that's what some people will be doing to try to figure out Soden’s rise in the general election. Was it — as she suggested — an indication that Lawrence residents still are pretty divided over this proposed recreation center? Soden and Amyx were the most outspoken candidates on the issue. Or, was it that the Lawrence electorate really does want to have a female voice on the commission? There hasn’t been a woman on the commission since Sue Hack left the commission in 2009.
In the primary election there were two female candidates — Soden, who finished sixth, and Judy Bellome, who finished seventh. Between the two, they got 19.6 percent of all the votes in the primary. In the general, Soden, the lone woman in the field, got 16.3 percent of the vote. What does that mean in relation to our question? I don’t know, but I got the abacus out to create a number, so I’m darn sure going to use it.
• Finally, it is worth remembering that we have these elections to create a City Commission that presumably will go out and do something. Now the question is: What will this next commission do? It will be interesting to watch. I can tell you that some of the first words out of Riordan’s mouth involved discussion of a new police headquarters facility. The idea got more talk in this election than it did in the last election. For what it's worth, the three candidates endorsed by the police officers political action committee won the election.
But the new facility could cost between $20 million and $40 million to build. If it moves forward, it will follow an $18 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library, a $25 million recreation center, a $64 million sewage treatment plant that will come with a multiyear increase in sewer rates, and a new curbside recycling program that comes with a $2.81 per month rate increase.
Probably one of the bigger issues the next City Commission will have to figure out is the mood of the public. Does it still have an appetite for large projects or will it want to take a pause?
• One last number for the election: the 16.3 percent voter turnout rate. The number is what it is, but Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said it is worth noting that the rate is affected by several precincts that are dominated by KU students. It has been tough to get them interested in city commission or school board elections. The Burge Union, for example, had three voters, which produced a turnout of 0.25 percent.
Four Lawrence precincts saw turnouts higher than 30 percent:
• Brandon Woods, 1501 Inverness Drive: 33.6 percent.
• American Legion, 3408 W. Sixth: 32.9 percent.
• Liberty Memorial, 1400 Massachusetts: 31 percent.
• Pioneer Ridge Assisted Living, 4851 Harvard: 30.7 percent.
Who knows, this could be one of the last elections we have in April. There continues to be talk at the Statehouse of moving city and school elections to November. I asked Shew what he thought about that. He said he had concerns about combining the races with the partisan presidential and gubernatorial races that take place during the even-numbered years. He said that would make for a multipage ballot, and would add complications for both voters, who would have far more races to become educated about, and for election workers.
But he said an idea to move the city/school elections to November in odd-numbered years — when they would still have the ballot to themselves — is intriguing. He said it is possible that if residents knew that there would be an election every November, it might be easier for folks to remember to vote. But he’s unsure. It will be worth watching to see if such a proposal advances at the Statehouse.
This confuses me. Surely everyone already eats, sleeps and breaths Lawrence City Commission election news. My favorite item in the paper today is the On the Street question where we ask — on Election Day, mind you — how interested folks were in the City Commission race. One guy answered: “I’m interested. I didn’t realize the election was today, but I’ll definitely read about it tomorrow.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Nah, I think I’ll just find my seat and become a political pundit for the rest of the day.
UPDATE: I just recently received a new spreadsheet from the Douglas County Clerk's office showing the voting totals by precinct for the election. Click here to see them for yourself. They provide a lesson in Lawrence election mathematics: What's most important is not winning a precinct but always finishing in the top three.
Don't get me wrong, winning is good. Just ask Amyx. He won 41 of the 64 precincts in the city in route to a runaway first place finish.
But the next most frequent winner was Soden, and by a lot. Soden won 14 of the 64 precincts, but finished fourth in the vote totals. That's because in several precincts, she finished out of the top three.
To show how unimportant winning a precinct is, Farmer and Riordan — the second- and third-place overall winners — each finished first in just two precincts.
Riordan won the precincts at Langston Hughes Elementary and a very small precinct at the Lawrence Union Pacific Depot that had six votes.
Farmer won the precincts at the Lawrence Bible Chapel on Monterey Way and a small precinct at Prairie Park Elementary that had 21 votes.
Chestnut won at Corpus Christi Catholic Church and a small precinct at Free State High School. Soden won the precincts at: Pickney, Douglas County Senior Services; Carnegie Building (2 precincts); Trinity Lutheran Church (2); Hillcrest Elementary; Central United Methodist Church; Cordley Elementary; Centennial Adult Education; Liberty Memorial; Haskell Stidham Union; East Lawrence Center; New York Elementary. So, a strong East Lawrence and central Lawrence base.
Amyx won all the remaining precincts.
Lawrence City Commission elections aren't decided by wards. All five seats on the commission are at-large positions. If the city had a ward system, it seems likely the results would have been different this year.
The old F-150 and I have been out checking polling sites in Lawrence today, and the results are unscientific (almost everything that happens in the F150 is) but it sure appears that the west side of Lawrence is getting out better than the east side of Lawrence.
I was out over the noon hour at several east Lawrence polling places, and only at one did I encounter more than one voter. Shortly after lunch, there was a steady stream of voters at pretty much every west Lawrence site I went to today.
Here are some of the numbers I gathered:
• Checkers, 23rd and Louisiana, at noon: 29 voters of 921 registered; 3.1 percent turnout.
• Prairie Park Elementary, 2711 Kensington Road, at 12:30 p.m.: 123 of 3057; 4.0 percent turnout.
• Douglas County Fairgrounds 19th and Harper, at 12:40 p.m.: 65 of 1,877; 3.4 percent turnout.
• New York Elementary, 936 New York St., at 1 p.m.: 69 of 1,031; 6.6 percent turnout.
• East Lawrence Recreation Center, 1245 E. 15th St., at 12:45 p.m.; 62 of 1,193; 5.1 percent turnout.
• American Legion, 3408 W. Sixth St., at 1:20 p.m.: 142 of 987; 14.3 percent turnout.
• Mustard Seed, 700 Wakarusa Drive, at 1:30 p.m.: 204 of 1,751; 11.6 percent turnout.
• Langston Hughes Elementary, 1101 George Williams Way, at 1:45 p.m.: 325 of 2,450; 13.2 percent turnout.
• Corpus Christi, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway, at 1:50 p.m.: 125 of 1329; 9.4 percent turnout.
• 360 Church, 3200 Clinton Parkway, at 2:10 p.m.: 103 of 1,160; 8.8 percent turnout.
Polls are open until 7 p.m., so there's still plenty of time for this trend to change. But it would be no surprise if the votes from the west side of town far outweigh the number from the east side. That has been the trend the last few municipal elections. There were questions, though, whether the school bond issue would alter that balance a bit. We’ll see.
As for what a heavy westside turnout would mean for the races, I suppose there could be any number of interpretations. On the City Commission race, it probably makes the race more competitive for Rob Chestnut, who finished fourth in the primary election. The primary election numbers showed a good amount of his support came from the west side of town. As it is shaping up, I expect a close contest for that third and final spot on the commission.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew provided this report that showed totals for pretty much every precinct at 10:30 a.m. You can do your own ciphering with it.
As for me, I have to put gasoline in the F-150. Now I see why elections are so expensive.
Bids to convert former Farmland fertilizer site into new business park come in far lower than expected
If you have about 450 acres of an abandoned fertilizer plant, now is apparently a good time to convert it into a business park.
The city is in the process of awarding two key construction contracts to convert the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant on the east edge of Lawrence into a business park. And both bids for the contract came back well below what the city was expecting.
Last week the city awarded a $4.98 million bid to Lawrence-based R.D. Johnson Excavating for street construction, waterline installation and lot grading at the site. The city’s engineers had estimated the work to come in at $8.16 million. That’s a difference of almost 40 percent.
This week, commissioners are scheduled to accept bids to install the necessary sewer lines for the site. The low bid is from Amino Brothers at $601,089. The city’s engineers had estimated a cost of $1.41 million. That’s a difference of almost 60 percent.
I guess that is why you take bids.
City officials are hoping other construction firms are as hungry as these. The city in the next week or so is set to approve a set of bids for the $18 million library expansion project. Those bids have already come in, and my understanding is interest was extremely high by contractors.
On May 14, the city will be getting bids on an even larger project: the $25 million city recreation center. We’ll see how hungry recreation center builders are. But what we won’t see are any bids for the infrastructure work on that project.
The city negotiated a deal with KU Endowment officials and Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Sports that calls for the recreation center building to be bid through the city’s normal bid process. But the infrastructure work for the KU and city project — things like streets, sewers, waterlines and parking lots — won’t be bid through the city’s open bidding process. Instead, Fritzel’s Bliss Sports will use its preferred contractors and will negotiate a price for that work. I’m sure the city will make Fritzel aware of these bids, assuming the price hasn’t already been fully determined. (Some dirt-moving work is under way at the site.)
The city has an interest to pass these bids along because the city likely will be paying for a portion of that infrastructure work. The Rock Chalk Park deal calls for the city to pay for 100 percent of the cost to build the recreation center building. The city then will pay for infrastructure work up until a point that the city’s total cost on the project reaches $25 million. So, if the city’s recreation center bid comes in at $19.9 million, which is the current estimate by the city, then the city will pay $5.1 million for the infrastructure/parking work. (I previously had said $7 million, which shows why I don't have a career in math.) That means the city would pay a little less than half of the infrastructure/parking costs that are estimated at $13.5 million. Some people have said that sounds about right, since the infrastructure will serve both the city-owned property and the property that will house the KU track, softball and soccer facilities.
But as the Farmland project has shown, estimates are more of an art than a science. If those estimates — much like the Farmland estimates — are 50 percent too high, then the city would be paying for about 75 percent of the infrastructure and parking costs for the entire Rock Chalk Park project. (That is assuming that the city’s estimate for the construction of the building comes in at $19.9 million. Perhaps that estimate is high also, which changes the dynamics even more.)
It will be interesting to watch but perhaps hard to sort out. What is clear is it seems to be a good time to be going out for bid on construction projects.
The city is taking advantage of the good prices on the Farmland project. Originally, the city thought it may only be able to install the streets, sewers and waterlines in this first phase. But because the prices were low, the city added an alternate that allows for about 12 pad sites to have preliminary grading work completed. That will speed up the process for future business park tenants to build on those lots.
Work on the streets and sewers at the Farmland site is expected to go on throughout the summer and into the fall. The city hopes to have lots ready to build upon at Farmland by late 2013 or early 2014.
It may end up being a good time to have industrial property to offer. I read this article today from the Washington Post about how European manufacturers are starting to relocate to the U.S. because of our cheap natural gas prices. Chemical companies, in particular, are among those migrating.
It is funny how quickly the world changes. When I covered Farmland’s bankruptcy about a decade ago, high natural gas prices were one of the leading factors that put the Lawrence fertilizer plant out of business. Not that I think it is very likely, but how odd would it be if the big new user for the revamped Farmland site is a fertilizer plant?
Advance voter turnout at highest level since 2005; update about which PACs have to report their spending for local races
Your time to have some Lawrence City Commission election fun is quickly winding down. For example, if you were hoping to vote in advance, you’ve just missed your window.
Advance voting ended at noon today for the April 2 local election, which also includes races for the Lawrence school board and the school bond election. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew reports that 1,583 advance ballots were cast for the general election.
Those advance ballots are sometimes a good predictor of voter turnout, and, if that is true this year, then we should expect a few more people than usual to come to the polls for a local election.
The 1,583 advanced ballots represent a 49 percent increase over the number of advanced ballots cast for the 2011 city/school board election. In fact, this year’s total is the highest since 2005, when 1,619 voters turned out in advance.
Higher numbers for this election wouldn’t be a surprise because there is a school bond election on the ballot. That has provided a boost to voter totals in past years.
Couple that with the fact that a snowstorm created a very lightly attended primary election in February, and political observers have several questions about how tomorrow’s race will shake out. I would guess that the race for the third and final seat on the Lawrence City Commission will be a tight one.
We’ll know by tomorrow evening. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, and this time it appears unlikely that voters will have to deal with snow.
• When it comes to election questions, a few of you have had some about political action committees. As we have reported, a new PAC formed this year, Lawrence United, to promote a pro-jobs/pro-business platform. We’ve detailed its fundraising activities, as they have been reported to the Douglas County Clerk’s office.
But there are other PACs out there as well. The most visible in the last few days have been the PACs created by the local employee associations (basically unions) of the Lawrence police officers and Lawrence firefighters.
Perhaps you have noticed they have been running advertisements asking you to vote for a slate of candidates. Both groups have endorsed City Commissioner Mike Amyx, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan. Those three candidates were the top three finishers in the primary election.
But some of you have wanted to know how much money those PACs have raised and spent on this election. Well, you’ll find out, but not right now.
An oddity of state law gives those PACs until Jan. 10, 2014, to report their spending and fundraising during this election. That’s because both those PACs are registered as state PACs, meaning they can expend money on state legislative races, in addition to local city and school board races. The Lawrence United PAC, in contrast, registered only as a local PAC.
Local PACs have a reporting period that falls during the local election season. State PACs do not. That state law quirk has been a source of frustration for some.
“It puts the public at a disadvantage because you don’t know how much money is being raised or how much is being spent,” said Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.
But Williams stressed the groups are meeting all of the state laws. And it would be hard to argue that the groups should register only as a local PAC. With some of the bills before the Legislature this year, it is easy to see how police and firefighter groups may want to become involved in some Statehouse races. If they registered as a local PAC, they would be prohibited from doing so.
As for these two PACs, the police and firefighters, their past reports indicate their fundraising activity is pretty straightforward. During the 2011 local elections, the police PAC had $5,000. All of it came from the police association itself, rather than from special interest groups. The Lawrence Professional Firefighters PAC had $5,975. All of its donations came in the form of donations of $50 or less.
Both groups generally give $500, the maximum under state law, to each of the candidates ndorsed. The groups also generally run a few ads asking people to support those candidates. (UPDATE: Rob Neff, treasurer for the police PAC called me today and said that has been the case this year too. It has given $500 to the three candidates it has endorsed, and has spent a little less than $1,300 on advertisements and fliers related to the election.)
At least one other group makes a point to publicly announce endorsements. The Lawrence Board of Realtors has endorsed Amyx, Riordan and Rob Chestnut.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors doesn’t have its own PAC. But there is a Kansas Realtors Political Action Committee, and it has given donations to candidates in this race and in past city commission races. The Kansas Realtors PAC is a good example of how a truly statewide PAC sometimes will dip its toe into local races. The Kansas Realtors PAC in 2011 had just under $240,000.
Then there are some groups that do some election-season advertising but don’t have to report their expenditures because they aren’t specifically advocating for the election of a particular individual. Williams said that often is how the group Americans for Prosperity structures its advertisements. I haven’t seen it, but Jim Mullins, a field director for Americans for Prosperity, confirmed to me that the group did send out a mailer this weekend that dealt with some Lawrence City Commission topics and also had some mention of candidate Rob Chestnut. Again, I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know the specifics on its content. (UPDATE: I asked the folks at AFP to send me one, and they did. The mailer doesn't mention the election but instead talks about Chestnut's role in balancing budgets when he was on the commission. Instead of asking you to vote for him, it asks you to call him and then lists his cell number.)
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has a website that lists all the state political action committees and their most recent finance reports. There are about 250 of the PACs.
The only other one that clearly is Lawrence-based is the Lawrence Teachers PAC, which had $2,928 available during the 2011 campaign.
It will be interesting to see if more are formed in Lawrence in the future. The list from Governmental Ethics makes it clear that the idea of a PAC to support local jobs or local business growth isn’t unique. The Wichita Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Kansas City Area Chamber of Commerce are both examples of local chambers of commerce that have political action committees. Lenexa also had what was called a “Business Issues” political action committee, and the homebuilders in the Kansas City area had a couple of PACs.
What is unique about the new Lawrence United PAC is that it has registered as a true local PAC, meaning it has to show its fundraising activity now, rather than well after the fact.
Well, it looks like a certain basketball-oriented celebration that has been known to close downtown streets has been called off this year. But fear not, there will still be plenty of opportunities to celebrate — and close downtown streets — in the coming weeks.
What sort of a lineup have we got scheduled? What would you say if I told you that you could take out your hatred on tick-borne diseases by participating in a 5K race that will go through downtown and parts of East Lawrence? I would say if you are still ticked off about the KU-Michigan game, here’s your chance to actually take it out on the ticks. (Yeah, that joke sucked. Most tick jokes do.)
Mark your calendar for 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 11: The Kansas Tick-Borne Disease Advocates will host a race that will begin on Massachusetts Street at South Park, go through downtown to Seventh Street, head into East Lawrence, loop back onto Massachusetts Street at 15th Street and then finish at South Park. Massachusetts Street will be closed for a few minutes at a time as the runners come by in waves.
Several other events either have been approved or are in the process of being approved for the downtown in coming weeks. Here’s a look:
• At 8 a.m. on Monday, May 27 — Memorial Day — organizers will host The Home Run 5K in downtown Lawrence, an event that benefits Family Promise and the Lawrence Community Shelter. Perhaps the Royals pitching staff will participate. They usually are at the scene of a home run. (Yes, I’m a true Royals fan. I know Opening Day is not too early to lose your optimism about the team.)
The race will use the same route as the tick-borne awareness race. City officials, I believe, are trying to convince more events to use that route because it requires fewer resources from the Police Department to control traffic, and it introduces people to the city’s Burroughs Creek Trail that runs through East Lawrence.
• The Tour of Lawrence bicycle races will be back in Lawrence from June 28 through June 30. Once again, the events will happen both downtown and on the KU campus.
On Friday, June 28, downtown will host the Street Sprint portion of the tour. The 700 and 800 blocks of New Hampshire will be closed from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 28. That’s where the sprinting will take place. Eighth Street between New Hampshire and Massachusetts will be closed from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 28. That's where the post-sprint celebrating will take place. The area will have a kids zone and live music, and adult beverages also will be sold.
A word of warning to people who park along New Hampshire Street: Be sure to move your car by 5 p.m. on that day, because towing will take place to ensure the race route is clear. (It's a Friday, so you can tell your boss that it's super critical you be out of the office by 5 p.m. I think I’ll park there.)
On Saturday, June 29, the racing will shift to the KU campus. Several streets on and near the campus will be impacted by the race but none will be completely closed. Here’s a look at that route and others used during the tour.
On Sunday, June 30, the event will finish with a Downtown Criterium, which is kind of like bicycle’s version of NASCAR short track racing, except the pit crews don’t fight at the end of each race. (The spandex must have a calming effect. Maybe NASCAR should try it.) It really is some action-packed racing, and it will require several streets in downtown to be closed from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. That includes much of Massachusetts Street and parts of New Hampshire and Vermont.
As in the past, the event will receive $10,000 from the city’s transient guest tax fund. The event will use the money to help attract elite teams to the race. This year the money also will be used to increase marketing to cyclists in the Chicago and Dallas areas.
• And finally, on the weekend of Sept.14-15, an estimated 2,000 cyclists once again will be camping overnight in downtown Lawrence. The 2013 Bike MS event is set to take place from 6 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, to noon Sunday, Sept. 15, in South Park.
In case you don’t remember the event — which will be making its third appearance in Lawrence — it is a fundraiser for the Mid-America Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Near as I can tell, cyclists ride miles and miles — from the Garmin headquarters in Olathe to South Park — to justify partaking in a large beer tent that has been sponsored by an area brewing company in the past. (Personally, I just drink light beer and skip the miles and miles of cycling part.)
In addition to riders coming from the east, a separate group also will be leaving from Topeka to ride to South Park.
The event will require Massachusetts Street from North Park and South Park streets to be closed from 6 a.m. Sept. 14 to noon on Sept. 15. The Community Building Parking lot also will be closed at that time. Both South Park and the Community Building will be used as an overnight “Cycle Village.”
• This last event isn’t a race and it won’t impact traffic in downtown. But I thought I would mention it anyway because it may impact traffic near 27th and Iowa streets. At least it is likely to when my wife is driving by it, becomes distracted by it and uses the Ford Taurus to create a new drive-thru at the nearby Runza restaurant. Beginning April 13 and lasting for the entire week, there will be 5,860 multi-colored flags stuck into the ground near the southeast corner of 27th and Iowa Streets — in front of Landmark Bank and Runza.
The flags — about 20 inches high — will be commemorating the Week of the Young Child. The 5,860 number is meant to be one flag for every child that is in childcare in Lawrence. The flag idea is being put together by Child Care Aware of Northeast and North Central Kansas, a nonprofit group based in Lawrence.
So, don’t be distracted. I’ve warned you. But Runza folks, if you see a maroon Taurus with a driver pointing at the pretty flags, I’d take cover behind the counter.
If you are like me and continue to set off crimson and blue confetti bombs in the TV room after every Jayhawk victory, you soon may be looking for a new house. So, how about some news and notes from the Lawrence real estate and building industry?
• The city has February’s building permit report out, and the numbers continue to be a tale of two types of construction. Single-family home construction continues to be pretty stagnant, but there are builders staying busy with multifamily construction.
The city issued 10 single-family building permits during the month. For the year, the city has issued 18, which is on pace with what the city did last year. (There were 19 issued during the first two months of 2012.) On the apartment front, though, the city issued permits for 22 new apartments in February, bringing the total number of units to 286. Apartment permits come in bunches though, and all the permits are for one project in the city — the new apartment development just west of Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa. That project, by the way, is being built by Lawrence-based Highland Construction, which indicates Lawrence’s Stultz family — longtime landlords in the community — are behind the project.
In total, the city issued $6.04 million worth of building permits in February. For the year, the city has issued $22.7 million worth of permits, which is up from $10.47 million a year ago. It’s early, so it is not wise to read too much into those numbers yet, but city officials certainly would love for that pace to continue.
• Sales of single-family homes continue a steady climb, according to a new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Lawrence homes sales in February checked in at 46, up from 44 during February of 2012.
For the year, home sales are up about 20 percent — 82 home sales during the first two months of the year vs. 69 for the same period a year ago. But the bigger story is that February marked the 11th consecutive month that homes sales have been higher than the same month a year earlier. That’s the type of statistic that begins to paint a picture of a rebound. Indeed, I’m hearing from some in the industry that agents are now starting to believe that more homes are needed on the market. That hasn’t been the case for quite some time. If that feeling continues, that’s the sort of sentiment that will fuel a rebound in the single-family construction industry.
In terms of other numbers from the monthly report:
— The number of active listings in Lawrence is down almost 30 percent from a year ago — 371 in February 2013 compared to 510 in February 2012.
— The median selling price for the year is $174,125, up from $145,000 during the same period a year ago. But the sample size this early in the year is so small that those numbers don’t mean much.
— The median days on market is at 99, which is up significantly from 79 days one year ago. That’s the one piece of the report that runs a bit counter to the recovery trend.
• You know the housing market has been slow when homes that are built to sell for prices below their market value were slow to sell. But that had been the case for awhile with the southeast Lawrence affordable housing project being built by Tenants to Homeowners.
In case you have forgotten, Lawrence-based Tenants to Homeowners has started construction on the Prairie Wind affordable housing community right near the corner of 26th and Haskell.
The development is listing brand new four bedroom homes for $125,000 to $130,000. The homes have an appraised value of about $175,000. But Rebecca Buford, executive director of Tenants to Homeowners, told me even those homes were moving very slowly in the Lawrence market for the last year or more.
But there are signs that is changing. Buford said the development has put four houses under contract in the last three weeks.
“It is like a switch was turned on in the last month or so,” Buford said. “I think people have just been scared. And it probably wasn’t a good decision to buy if they didn’t think their job was solid. But I think people are starting to feel better about that.”
The Prairie Wind development is set to have 18 homes when completed. Buford said five houses have already been sold and another seven are under construction, with four of those under contract. She said she hopes to have the project fully built and sold by this time next year.
The development does place income restrictions on who can qualify to buy the below-market rate homes. Buyers must have an income under 80 percent of the median income for the area. For a Lawrence family of four that means an annual income of less than $56,650.
• I have some catching up to do here on our listing of property sales as recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds. Click here to see the last few weeks worth of reports. There have not been many commercial sales of note, other than the ones we already have reported in past Town Talks. But here are few that caught my eye.
— Maybe James Naismith’s original rules of basketball will be housed in The Oread hotel. I rather doubt that, but it appears the man who bought the rules to bring back to KU has purchased a condo in the hotel building. The listings show a trust held by David and Suzanne Booth bought an upper story condo in the hotel that sits atop Mount Oread.
— The Midland Railway Historical Association in Baldwin City has purchased a piece of property, 1704 College Street, along the railroad tracks, about a block south of its historic station. No word yet on what the plans may be for that location, but the old-time train company has been busy lately. It launched its first dinner train in January.
— It looks like business must be going well for Biemers BBQ at 2120 W. Ninth St. The property transfers indicate the business has finalized a deal to purchase its restaurant location — which used to be the old Bucky’s hamburger joint — from a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton.
I don’t know about you, but a little BBQ and basketball sounds good right about now.
Business prepares to move to make way for South Lawrence Trafficway; details and speculation about what else the SLT may bring
Construction on the South Lawrence Trafficway is still at least six months away from getting started, but signs of the coming changes already are starting to show up.
The one known business that will have to relocate due to the SLT recently has signed a deal for a new southeast Lawrence location. The business formerly known as RSC Equipment Rental will move to 930 E. 30th St., which is the space that used to be the parking lot and maintenance facility for the city’s public transit buses.
RSC Equipment Rental now goes by the name of United Rentals, after the RSC chain of stores was purchased by United recently. The company rents aerial lifts and other types of construction equipment.
The company plans to use the existing 5,000-square-foot building on the site, but it will undergo about $250,000 worth of remodeling, according to plans filed at City Hall. An employee at United told me the move is likely to happen in the next month.
The business now is at the southeast corner of 31st and Haskell. But soon enough, a new road will run through that location. No, the new road won’t be the South Lawrence Trafficway. It will be the new road called 32nd Street, which will be the local road that will run just north of the SLT. It will replace the thinly paved joy of driving that we currently know as 31st Street.
If you have forgotten about that new street, you probably have forgotten about several others. The South Lawrence Trafficway project likely will produce the most change in the city’s street network of any project in decades. Take a look at the map on this page to see the details. Here’s a reminder of what you are looking at:
• A portion of Haskell Avenue will move about 1,000 feet east of where it is today. Haskell will start making its shift to the east at about the point where it intersects with 29th Street today. In other words, right near where Hiper Technologies is located, or — if you are an old timer — where the Honeywell avionics plant used to be. Haskell will shift back to its current alignment before it reaches the Wakarusa River bridge. (At that point the road is actually called County Route 1055 because it is outside the city limits, for all you geography sticklers.)
• The existing portion of Haskell Avenue between 29th Street and the current 31st Street will remain in place to serve as a frontage road for the businesses — such as the new United Rentals building — that are just west of the existing Haskell Avenue.
• The existing 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana will be removed and the property will be converted back to wetlands. The new 32nd Street — which will be four lanes — will be the local route through the wetlands.
• Louisiana Street south of 31st Street will undergo major changes. The road will be moved a half-mile to the west, in order to get the road farther away from the Baker Wetlands. In other words, if you are driving on Louisiana Street north of 31st Street and want to continue south, you are going to have to turn west onto the new 32nd Street. You’ll take that new road — which turns into the existing portion of 31st Street in the city — for a half-mile. Then you can turn back south onto the new Louisiana Street. The new Louisiana Street eventually will curve back to the east and connect with the existing Louisiana Street (technically E 1400 Road outside the city limits) before it crosses the Wakarusa River. If you are trying to picture where the new Louisiana Street will intersect with 31st Street, it will be just east of the large apartment complex at 31st and Ousdahl.
The state plans to accept bids on the SLT project in September, and construction in the wetlands could be begin this fall. Work on the Haskell and Louisiana parts of the project wouldn’t begin until 2014.
All of these new roads — with the largest, of course, being the new four-lane SLT — will create a lot of question both in the business community and at City Hall. The best way to get a feel for some of them is to go to Google Maps and type in the area of 31st and Louisiana. Zoom in several clicks, and the map will show you the route of the SLT and of the new 32nd, Haskell and Louisiana streets. That map does a good job of highlighting several pieces of property that seemingly will have a lot more development pressure in the near future.
Some properties and questions that jumped out at me include:
• The former Gaslight Mobile Home Park just east of Home Depot. As we have reported, Menards has filed a plan to build a new store on the property, plus have lots for several smaller retailers or restaurants. This is going to be an issue very soon. The Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to review the plans in April. In order for the project to be approved, the city is going to have to change its planning documents. The city’s planning documents call for the property to be developed as apartments.
Here’s the question: Will the city stick to those plans when a major retailer clearly wants to be on the site? Now that a new 32nd Street is going to be built just east of the site, the property will be on one of the most highly improved roads in the city. That’s generally where most cities want their retail.
The more political question is whether the City Commission will do everything it can to steer all new retail development to Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway in northwest Lawrence? After all, that is where the city will be investing $25 million for a new recreation center. But Menards has had plenty of opportunities to sign a deal to locate in the existing — and vacant — Mercato development at Sixth and the SLT. Company officials have told the city the site doesn’t meet their current needs. Will the city hold its ground on steering development to Sixth and the SLT, or will it blink?
• The former E&E Display building at 29th and Haskell. That’s a decent size manufacturing/warehouse building with some vacant/underutilized ground near it. When the SLT is built, it really will only be about a minute away from the freeway. I’ll keep my eyes open for some sort of jobs producing deal for that location. If one doesn’t materialize, given its location, economic developers should be asking what’s wrong with our community?
• The vacant ground directly behind Wal-Mart at 33rd and Iowa streets. Until you look on the Google Maps, it is easy to forget about that piece of property. But the map makes it clear that it is one to remember. The ground stretches all the way from the Walmart/Crown Toyota area on the west to the former Printing Solutions building at 31st and Louisiana on the east. The entire piece of property will have great visibility from the South Lawrence Trafficway. As a bonus, the new Louisiana Street will cut through the property as well.
City commissioners talk about the need for planning, but what is the plan for that area? I’m sure there is something in a plan somewhere about that area, but it is an area that hasn’t been talked about by city commissioners for awhile. It would seem — given its location next to major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and others — that the market may have an interest in putting some retail there. Will the city share that interest?
It will be interesting to watch, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only one watching. In fact, if you see a tent staked up on that vacant property, that’s my wife. She wants to make sure she doesn’t miss out on any early-bird specials.
If you are a Lawrence driver, you’ve had this happen to you before: You’re driving westbound on Sixth Street, minding your own business. You see Taco Johns, and then begin calculating how many cheap tacos you are going to eat on Taco Tuesday. You see the Zarco 66 station and its car wash, and try to calculate if this is the year the F150 is due for a wash. You see the Dollar General store, and begin calculating how many $1 bags of knock-off Doritos you could buy with a month’s worth of paychecks.
And then . . . Holy Mother of Red Lights. You are in the LEFT LANE at Sixth and Iowa Street. You’re trying to go straight, idiot. Why are you in the left lane?
At this point, you might as well just settle in because Sixth Street at Sixth and Iowa has no dedicated left turn lane, which means traffic in the left-lane will stack up while the poor guy at the front of the line is waiting for a break in vehicles to turn onto Iowa Street.
We’ve previously reported that problem is set to get fixed this summer. Crews will add a left turn lane at the intersection. But now I’ve learned there is even more on tap for the intersection.
City Hall engineers tell me that as they’ve worked on the design of the project, it appears it will come in under the $900,000 estimate they had for the intersection. Engineers are looking to keep the project budget the same but add a few more improvements to the intersection.
Originally, the project was slated to just include adding a left turn lane on westbound Sixth Street. Plans called for the roadway to be widened to the north a bit, and traffic lanes would be reduced from 12 feet wide to 11 feet wide. That would allow Sixth Street to have a left turn lane and two lanes of through traffic at the intersection. The latest plans still call for those improvements, but also these additional ones:
• Iowa Street now will have two left turn lanes, funneling traffic westward onto Sixth Street. To accomplish that, however, the city will change the intersection so that there is only one lane of traffic for southbound Iowa Street. (Just at the intersection. It will widen back out to two lanes as you progress southward.)
• A dedicated right turn lane for eastbound motorists on Sixth Street turning south onto Iowa Street. City engineers have calculated the average delay at the intersection during peak driving hours will be reduced from 93 seconds to 23 seconds.
The city is expected to go out to bid for the project in April. Construction would take place over the summer.
New Lawrence PAC raises $14K as City Commission election draws near; Farmer top candidate fundraiser at $11K
The largest fundraiser during the heat of this year’s Lawrence City Commission race wasn’t a candidate. It was the newly formed political action committee Lawrence United.
According to new reports filed at the Douglas County clerk’s office, the Lawrence United group raised $14,400 during the key Feb. 15 through March 21 reporting period.
The group raised all of its money from just 10 donors. Lawrence builder Tim Stultz and Blue Jacket Ford LLC — a development company headed by construction owner Roger Johnson — both donated $5,000 apiece to the PAC.
Three companies that include Thomas Fritzel, the Lawrence businessman driving the public-private partnership for Rock Chalk Park, gave a total of $3,000 to the PAC. Lawrence-based McGrew Real Estate also donated $1,000 to the PAC. All the other donations received by the group were at the $200 level or less.
The pro-business PAC has endorsed candidates Rob Chestnut, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan.
Those three candidates also did well in their individual fundraising efforts. Farmer, the political newcomer who serves as the CEO of the Lawrence food bank Just Food, raised the most money of the six candidates in the race: $11,265. Farmer finished second in last month’s primary election.
Rob Chestnut, the CFO for a Topeka publishing company, raised $8,949 during the period. Chestnut was fourth in the primary election. Only the top three vote winners in the April 2 general election will receive a seat on the commission.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx, the lone incumbent in the race, raised $5,960. The downtown barbershop owner is seeking his fifth term on the commission. He was the top vote winner in the primary.
Terry Riordan, a Lawrence pediatrician, raised $5,315 from supporters. Riordan also contributed $9,000 of his own money to the campaign. When combined with a similar loan Riordan made to his campaign during the primary season, Riordan has now invested more than $18,000 of his own money in the campaign. Riordan finished third in last month’s primary election.
Scott Criqui, an executive with Lawrence’s Trinity In-Home Care, raised $4,555. He was fifth in last month’s primary.
Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet care business, raised $2,718. Soden was sixth in the primary election.
The Lawrence United Group gave $500 each to Chestnut, Farmer and Riordan. (Note: In a previous article, Riordan had told me the group gave him $100. But Riordan called me this weekend to tell me he had misspoken then. He quoted that number off memory and realized the amount was $500 when he looked at his records.)
But the group’s bigger impact on the race is that it has sent out several mailings urging support of the three candidates it has endorsed. Businesses and individuals are limited to making contributions of no more than $500 to any candidate during any one reporting period. Individuals and businesses, however, can make unlimited contributions to PACs, and the PACs can spend as much money as they choose advocating for a candidate.
Lawrence has had other PACs in the past. In the 1990s, a group called Progressive Lawrence campaigned for candidates who it thought would give the neighborhoods more of a voice in the City Hall process. Progressive Lawrence no longer exists, but there are other organizations that are in the political giving business. The plumbers and pipefitters union — it is based out of Wichita but has operations here — gave $200 each to Chestnut and Amyx, according to the latest reports. And the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, based out of Washington, D.C., gave $500 to Criqui. Criqui has been a frequent advocate for greater equality for the LGBT community.
But this year, Lawrence United sure appears to be the most active and best funded political organization operating in the City Commission race.
There is a question among campaign watchers, however, whether the PAC’s support will help more than it hurts. Thus far, the PAC largely has been supported by business interests in the community.
That has put some candidates at recent events emphasizing that they won’t be beholden to any special interests if elected.
“I have told people that if I have to choose a side to win an election, I would rather lose the election,” Farmer said during a forum hosted by Lawrence’s 6News last night.
Farmer went on to say that he clearly doesn’t equate taking a donation from any group as creating an expectation that he’ll vote in any particular manner, if on the commission.
“My integrity is not for sale,” Farmer said.
At the Monday night forum, Riordan said he thought some people had “overblown” the importance of the group’s endorsement. He said he consented to the endorsement because he and the group agree on the importance of creating sustainable jobs in Lawrence.
“They will have my attention in the future, but everybody else will too,” Riordan said.
Chestnut said he also supported the group’s main message on jobs, but he said he doesn’t “know that much about Lawrence United.”
It will be interesting to see what the final week of the campaign brings from the PAC in terms of advertising. At the end of the reporting period, March 21, Lawrence United still had about $20,000 in its coffers.
The complete reports for all the candidates are available for viewing and show the names and amounts of contributors. You can find them here:
• To see Amyx's report, click here.
• To see Chestnut's report, click here.
• To see Criqui's report, click here.
• To see Farmer's report, click here.
• To see Riordan's report, click here.
• To see Soden's report, click here.
• To see Lawrence United's report, click here.
City commission candidates show no signs of wanting to eliminate fluoride from city’s water; forum on fluoride set for Wednesday at KU
Some of you have been asking whether Lawrence is going to have a great fluoride debate.
If you remember, City Commissioner Hugh Carter in February caught folks by surprise by asking the city to at least do more research on whether adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water is a good idea.
But thus far, that appears to be an issue that other city commissioners and the current crop of city commission candidates are avoiding like a root canal.
The city auditor put together a memo on the most recent studies related to benefits or dangers of water fluoridation. Commissioners have had that memo since late February, but haven’t brought it up once at a City Commission meeting.
The memo basically directs commissioners to three reports conducted by the National Research Council, the Congressional Research Service and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The reports do recommend a lowering of the amount of fluoride that is allowed in treated drinking water. The thinking, according to the reports, is that as more food and beverage products are made with fluoridated water, that the public is ingesting fluoride in more ways than ever. The city auditor notes Lawrence’s fluoridation policy already meets the lower guideline.
I recently asked each of the City Commission candidates for their views on the fluoride issue, and none advocated for the city to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water.
Most flatly rejected the idea. Jeremy Farmer was the lone candidate who left the door open a bit. Farmer said he does think there are many nutritionists who object to the idea, but studies show fluoride has improved dental health.
“Until presented with other compelling information on how unhealthy fluoride may be, I’m O.K. with it,” Farmer said.
Others had stronger opinions. Leslie Soden said she found it “a little embarrassing” that city commissioners were “wasting the time” of the city’s auditor to compile a report on the subject.
Scott Criqui said he thought the science behind water fluoridation was pretty sound.
“It has been so well studied, and the health benefits dramatically outweigh any downsides," Criqui said. "I haven’t heard anyone articulate a concern in a very scientific way.”
Terry Riordan, who is a medical doctor, said he has “no concerns” about the city’s water fluoridation practices. He said he not only supports the idea as a City Commission candidate, but also as a health advocate.
The other two candidates, Commissioner Mike Amyx and Rob Chestnut, said they haven’t seen any information that causes them concern about the city’s practices.
The issue has been a hot topic in various communities across the country at times. But it hasn’t been much of one in Lawrence at any point in the last couple of decades.
That is interesting because one of the world’s foremost opponents of water fluoridation lives in Lawrence. Albert Burgstahler, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemistry at KU, is the longtime editor of the journal Fluoride, which publishes much research advocating against water fluoridation.
Burgstahler will host a public forum at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at 1001 Malott Hall on the KU Campus to discuss research related to fluoridation of public drinking water.
City set to go out to bid for $25 million rec center; commissioners asked to OK retail rezoning for area across highway from center
After a weekend of shoveling snow, perhaps you are looking for a new form of recreation these days. If so, mark your calendars for Tuesday evening to learn the details on the city of Lawrence’s biggest recreation project yet.
As previously reported, the city will host an open house to show off the designs for its $25 million, 181,000-square-foot recreation center set for an area near the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The open house will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. The public will get its peek at the plans just before city commissioners are set to send them out for bid. Commissioners at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday will be asked to start the bid process for the project.
Under the process, the plans will be released to potential bidders on April 9 — the plans are complete enough for an open house but aren’t yet complete to the point that they can be shared with contractors.
Part of what is going on right now is the city has hired its own Quality Control Management Team to review the plans that have been developed jointly by Paul Werner Architects and Gould Evans. According to a city memo, the Quality Control Team of Craig Penzler’s CP/Sports and Dan Foltz’s KBS Constructors is reviewing the roof and mechanical engineering plans of the facility.
It is a bit unusual for the city to hire a separate team to check the plans of an architect that is working on the city’s behalf. But, as you have perhaps noticed, this is a bit of an unusual project. The architectural firms of Paul Werner and Gould Evans certainly have been working with the city on the design of the recreation center, but it wouldn’t be completely accurate to say they have been working for the city.
During the design process, both architectural firms have been closely tied to Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Sports company, which is the private company that has been the driving force behind the larger Rock Chalk Park sports village that will be built adjacent to the recreation center. So, those mixing of interests has caused the city to agree to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars or more to hire an independent review of the plans.
At this point, the independent review has found the plans to be solid. The review team will stay on the job during construction of the facility to serve as the city’s representative on the job site.
Once contractors receive the plans on April 7, they will have about a month to put together a bid for the recreation center. The city will open the sealed bids on May 9.
As a reminder, the city has committed to pay $25 million for the project. If the recreation center bids come in below $25 million, the city will pay the difference to Bliss Sports and/or a KU Endowment entity that is responsible for building the infrastructure for the Rock Chalk Park sports village.
We’ll see how much competition there is among area builders for the project.
• Recreation center plans aren’t the only reason commissioners will be looking at the intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway on Tuesday.
Commissioners at their weekly meeting also will be asked to rule on a contentious zoning request for property directly across the South Lawrence Trafficway from the recreation center project.
Essentially, commissioners are being asked to decide how much — if any — retail/commercial development should be allowed on 146 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
If you remember, the city’s recreation center once was proposed to be located on a portion of that site. At the time, the city was planning to approve commercial/retail zoning for a good portion of the site, in order to accommodate hotels, restaurants and other uses that would complement the recreation center.
But when the project got pulled from that site and moved across the highway, there was talk from the City Commission that any idea of retail development on the site was done too.
Well times and thinking do change. The project now comes to the City Commission with a positive recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission is recommending the northwest corner be allowed to have up to 155,000 square feet of retail uses in the future. City commissioners on Tuesday will be voting on a rezoning ordinance that will give the property that right.
In somewhat of a surprise move, the Planning Commission also has opened the door to retail development on the southwest and southeast corners of the intersection. The Planning Commission is recommending approval of a planning document that calls for the southwest corner to have up to 25,000 square feet of retail development, and the southeast corner to have up to 60,000 square feet of retail development.
At the moment, there aren’t rezoning requests for either one of those properties, but this plan makes it likely that such retail uses would be approved in the future. (Assuming the plan is followed, which isn’t always a good assumption.)
The southeast corner is vacant, but is next to a growing housing development just north of Langston Hughes Elementary. The southwest corner largely is thought of as the west campus for Lawrence’s First United Methodist Church. But there also is a vacant portion of ground near the church. That ground is owned by a group of investors, and Allison Vance Moore — a commercial real estate agent with Lawrence’s Colliers office and one of the city’s leading retail brokers — already has a "for sale" sign planted in that property.
It has been interesting to watch how opinions on this area have changed in a relatively short period of time. The Planning Commission in October voted to deny the retail rezoning for the northwest corner of the intersection. But by January, it became clear the political winds on the City Commission had shifted toward allowing retail zoning at the northwest corner, so the Planning Commission reconsidered the issue in February and recommended approval of the rezoning.
So, what has changed to cause the City Commission to now look favorably upon retail development at the site? It is tough to say for sure, but certainly commissioners have gotten an earful from the owners of the property, which is a group led by Lawrence developers Duane and Steve Schwada.
That group has been making the argument that the city is about to make a huge mistake in building the recreation center and Rock Chalk Park without a clear plan of how to build the necessary commercial and retail uses that visitors to the park will expect.
The Rock Chalk Park property — as currently zoned — doesn’t have any area for retail or commercial uses. Originally city commissioners assumed the vacant Mercato development, just south of the Rock Chalk Park site, could accommodate the necessary retail development for Rock Chalk Park.
But Schwada also controls that property, and there are indications he’s reluctant to change the plans of that development. It is the only site in town that is zoned for future big box store development. That was a hard-won victory at City Hall, so to change those plans to accommodate hotels, restaurants and other such uses may not be likely.
Instead, he has pointed to his property across the street. So, perhaps, the city has decided it doesn’t want to play that bluffing game with the Schwadas.
But that leaves a large question looming. If the area on the west side of the SLT is expected to carry the load in terms of hotels and such for the new Rock Chalk Park destination, who is going to pay to have the necessary infrastructure extended across the SLT?
If there are several million dollars worth of expenses to extend water and sewer to the site, are any hotels, retailers and such going to pay to develop on that piece of property? If they don’t, how is the Rock Chalk Park area going to have the necessary hotel and retail space that many people say is needed to support the development?
At this point, the city hasn’t done anything to indicate it is willing to pay to extend those pieces of infrastructure to the site. But, of course, just a few months ago the city was indicating that it wasn’t going to approve retail zoning for that property either.
So, as I’m prone to say, it will be interesting to watch.
Lawrence residents, you have about 18 months to come up with an extra $2.81 per month.
Before this Lawrence City Commission gets kicked to the curb with the April 2 election, it wants to make sure it finalizes a plan to create a city-wide, city-run curbside recycling program.
Commissioners are set to do just that at their Tuesday evening meeting. Commissioners will approve an ordinance that officially creates the program, and that ordinance contains the details that many folks have been waiting for. Here’s a look:
• Price: The city has settled on an initial fee of $2.81 per month for the curbside recycling service. As expected, every residential and multi-family resident who currently receives a city trash bill will be required to pay the fee. People won’t be required to actually recycle, but every resident will be required to pay the monthly fee, which will be added onto the city’s standard trash bill.
• Timing: The city will be ready to begin the service on Oct. 15, 2014. That’s also when the $2.81 per month rate increase will take effect. After Oct. 15, 2014, it will be illegal for any other company to collect recycling materials generated by residents "unless authorized by license or other formal agreement with the city." I'm still checking to see what that means for private companies that currently offer the service. (Businesses will still be able to contract with private companies for their recycling needs.)
• Frequency: Curbside collection will happen once every two weeks. The city will create a schedule showing what days each area of town is served. I’ve previously been told that this new service is likely to cause the trash day for many residents across the city to be changed. Your recycling will go out the same day your trash does.
• Carts: The standard cart size delivered to households will be a 95-gallon cart. The standard size trash cart delivered to residents recently is 65 gallons, So, as you’ve probably already determined, the recycling cart will be a bit bigger. I’ll try to get you actual dimensions, so you can start cleaning out your garage. Residents, though, can request a smaller cart. And since residents won’t be required to recycle, they can simply refuse to receive a cart from the city. But those folks still will pay the $2.81 per month fee. In case you haven’t figured it out, the city wants you to recycle. And by requiring everyone to pay the fee, that’s how its created the economy of scale to keep the cost below $3 per month.
• Accepted materials. All recycling will be single stream, which means you just throw it all into your cart. Here’s what will be accepted:
— Glass bottles and jars
— Mixed paper such as magazines, junk mail, chipboard, telephone books and other similar materials
— Office and printer paper
— Shredded paper, as long as it is bagged in a clear, plastic bag
— Cardboard containers, such as a unwaxed cardboard boxes
— Tin, steel, aluminum and bimetal food and beverage containers
— Scrap metal that is less than 30 inches in each direction and less than 50 pounds in weight
— Plastic containers marked with recycling symbols #1 through #7
• Dumpsters: If you live in an area where your trash service is by dumpster, you won’t be getting a cart. Instead, the city will place a recycling dumpster next to your trash dumpster.
• Crews: City crews — the same department that picks up your trash — will pick up your recycling. At the moment, though, it will take two separate crews to do the collection. The city does not have trucks that can haul the recycling and the trash at the same time.
• Recycling facility: The city on Tuesday will sign a seven-year contract — with two three-year renewal options — with Hamm Quarry to operate a new recycling collection facility just outside the Lawrence city limits. The multi-million dollar facility will be built at the junction of Kansas Highway 32 and U.S. Highway 24/40, which is just east of the Lawrence Municipal Airport. Hamm is the Perry-based company that runs the landfill where Lawrence takes its trash.
• Fines: The ordinance does establish a $5.00 fine anytime a resident sets out a recycling cart that contains materials that are trash instead of recycling. The city ordinance specifically states residents aren’t to use the recycling carts for other purposes, such as storing yard waste.
Commissioners will be asked to approve the necessary ordinance and the necessary agreement with Hamm to start the service. A majority of commissioners have indicated strong support for the program. This current commission will change after the April 2 election. Per usual, three of the five seats are up for election. This year, only one incumbent — Mike Amyx — is seeking election. So commissioners want to wrap up the curbside recycling issue before the changing of the guard occurs.
Maybe the folks at 3 Spoons Yogurt know something we don’t — that winter is never really going to end.
Whatever the case, the frozen yogurt business at 732 Massachusetts Street has closed its doors, and an employee there confirmed to me that the company has no plans to reopen elsewhere in Lawrence.
I didn’t get any official word on why the company decided to close. I suppose you could assume that it was just a decision based on the amount of sales the company was doing in Lawrence, although the store had nearly 3,000 likes on its Facebook page. (And that’s all you need to get rich in America anymore, isn’t it?) I will say that on my many patrols of downtown, it seemed to me the store had a good following, especially with the sorority crowd. (I’ll tell you what I tell my wife when she asks me why I know so much about where sorority members hang out: It is my job to be observant.)
3 Spoons, which has been in Lawrence for a little more than two years, is part of a franchise that was started in College Station, Texas in 2009, according to the company's Web site. In case you are curious, the nearest store to Lawrence now appears to be Waco, Texas. (It might melt before you get back.)
What isn’t the case, it appears, is that some other business came and took the space away from Three Spoons. Bob Sarna — an executive with First Management, the company that serves as the landlord for the downtown building — confirmed to me he doesn’t yet have another business lined up for the space.
The frozen yogurt business downtown certainly got more competitive in recent months with the opening of TCBY at Ninth and Massachusetts in the former Penny Annies location. Both operated with the same philosophy of serve yourself and then take your yogurt up to be weighed. (Dangerous business trying to gauge the weight of food. Lawrence Memorial Hospital once had a spaghetti bar that operated like that. One of the more important lessons I’ve learned in life: Spaghetti is heavy, although it was the best $22 hospital lunch I’ve ever had.)
TCBY, though, also has the added advantage of being a Mrs. Fields Cookie retailer as well. (Because of the observant nature of my job, I have observed they do give free samples of that product.)
I’ll keep an ear out for word of what may be heading into the 3 Spoons location. As for people who have a gift certificate to the 3 Spoons location in Lawrence, the company is asking you to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org find out the details for a refund.
Sometimes the job was about building a single sidewalk in front of someone’s home. Sometimes it was about building an entire neighborhood.
Margene Swarts has been the official city guru when it comes to all things related to the city’s participation in the federal Community Development Block Grant and HOME funding programs.
Soon, the city will have to hang out a “guru wanted” sign. Swarts is retiring after working at City Hall for the last 33 years. Her last day on the job is Friday.
The CDBG and HOME programs primarily are focused on helping lower income homeowners or neighborhoods make improvements with federal dollars. Recently, the lighted pedestrian path that runs through Oread neighborhood and down to South Park, was constructed in large part with CDBG funds. To see an even bigger project, the federal funding was critical to the HAND Addition, a neighborhood of 30 below-market-rate homes built near 24th and Haskell more than a decade ago.
Between the CDBG and HOME programs, the city receives about $1.15 million a year in federal funding to address neighborhood and affordable housing issues. And some of those issues can be pretty localized. Neighborhood associations frequently apply for the money to fund everything from clean-up days to the salaries for neighborhood association coordinators.
Swarts said the job has involved becoming familiar with a litany of federal regulations, but she’s enjoyed it. “I feel like it has been a wonderful opportunity to work in the community,” Swarts said. “It definitely has been a way to meet a lot of great people.”
Swarts — who started as a building and code inspector with the city — held the title of assistant director of development services, which is the department that oversees everything from building permits to trash in yard complaints.
Scott McCullough, director of development and planning services, said the city is still working out a transition plan for how it will fill that position.
“We’re committed to keeping the service running smoothly,” McCullough said. “But Margene has been our local expert for a long time. There is just a tremendous amount of experience there.” Swarts said she and her husband plan to remain in the area during retirement.
It is spring, which of course means that my crop of crabgrass soon will take off. (That sound you heard was my neighbor who reads this throwing her computer across the kitchen.)
But maybe a different type of crop comes to mind for you with the changing of the season. Fresh produce, it appears, is on the minds of more people than ever these days.
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for yet another farmers’ market.
The folks at Clinton Parkway Nursery — right at the corner of Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive — have filed plans for a farmers’ market every Wednesday evening from May through August.
If you are keeping track at home, there will be farmers’ markets on Tuesday (Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market), Wednesday (Clinton Parkway Nursery, assuming it is approved), Thursday (Cottin’s Hardware near 19th and Massachusetts), and Saturday (Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market.)
Ann Peuser, an owner of Clinton Parkway Nursery, said people are creating a strong demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables. And she said indications are that West Lawrence residents want a market that allows them to buy a little closer to their neighborhoods.
The Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market has had a West Lawrence market in the past. Within the last two years it had a market in the parking lot of the shopping center on the southwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. But as that shopping center started to fill up with new tenants, the market lost its lease. I think the idea of a westside market, though, was starting to gain some momentum.
We’ll find out soon enough how much of an appetite the community has for farmers’ markets. If approved, the Clinton Parkway market will open May 15. Peuser said plans call for the market to be open from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.
She said she expects to have about a dozen vendors — they’ll focus on actual produce, not crafts and such — and she already has “quite a list” of producers who are interested in the market. The market will be in a portion of the nursery’s parking lot.
While the Clinton Parkway market won’t get going until mid-May, the Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market in the 800 block of New Hampshire has set its opening day as Saturday, April 13. I don’t yet see an opening date listed for the Cottin’s Hardware market on its Web site, but it indicates its outdoor market (it has a small indoor market currently) will open in May.
Although I considered it, I won’t have a booth at any of them. But if you need some starter shoots of crabgrass, just get in touch with me and we can dicker. If you buy in bulk, I bet my neighbor will even finance the deal.