Advertisement

Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”

Lawrence home sales improve for 15th straight month

The hot streak continues in Lawrence's real estate market. Home sales in Lawrence rose for the 15th month in a row, according to a new report that measured June home sales.

The Lawrence Board of Realtors found 149 units were sold in June, an increase of 4.9 percent compared to June 2012 totals.

The local numbers outperformed the national market. National home sales fell by 1 percent in June, according to published reports.

The strong June, which is typically the busiest month of the year for real estate agents, continues the rebound theme for 2013. Home sales year to date total 553, up 28 percent from the same period a year ago. The rebound is more dramatic when compared to 2011 numbers. Lawrence home sales are up nearly 46 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

But here's another way to look at it. In this month's report, the Board of Realtors provided sales volume numbers, or in other words, the total dollar amount for all homes sold in a particular time period. Through June, sales volumes were at $112.2 million, up 38 percent from the same period in 2012.

Through June of 2011, sales volumes were at $73.7 million. So, there has been an extra $38.5 million worth of home sales in Lawrence, compared to 2011. If you figure that the average sales commission on a home is 6 percent, that's an additional $2.3 million in sales commissions that local agents and agencies have collected since 2011. I know I've certainly seen some real estate agents at jewelry stores, car dealerships, and other big-ticket retailers. (Granted, I'm usually just peeping through the windows of such places. I'll leave it to you to ascertain who I'm usually trying to keep an eye on.) But the point is, the numbers are interesting because they provide a little bit of meat to the long-held notion that the real estate market is a major driver of the local economy.

Other numbers from the report include:

• Sales of newly constructed homes now total 51, up 50 percent from the same period a year ago.

• The median number of days a home sits on the market is now 49, down from 63 days a year ago.

• The median sale price is $168,900, a 5.8 percent increase from a year ago. The median sale price for newly-constructed homes is $299,900, an 18 percent increase from year-ago numbers.

Reply 5 comments from Brew_crew122 Scritty Pea Randall Uhrich Chad Lawhorn Joe Adams

City prepares to approve budget tonight, including $62 million worth of road and infrastructure projects

Here are three things that were discussed frequently on my family's recent weeklong vacation through the northern Plains: Roadwork (there was a lot of it), budgets (there was not enough of those), and "Full House" (for approximately 1,400 miles, episodes of the once popular Olsen twins sitcom played continuously, thanks to an in-car DVD player and my 7-year old daughter.)

It appears that at least two of the three will be topics at tonight's Lawrence City Commission meeting — hopefully, budgets and roadwork.

Commissioners tonight are set to give final approval to the city's 2014 budget. We've previously reported the basics: A $185 million budget that increases spending by about 6 percent and the city's property tax rate by about 0.5 of a mill. Owners of a $200,000 home will pay about $12 per year extra in property taxes, as a result of the rate increase.

But one important part of the city's budget that doesn't always get a lot of public attention is its list of capital projects that it plans to undertake in the next year. The city has about $15.2 million worth of road projects and other infrastructure purchases on its to-do list in 2014. Here's a look at some of the more notable undertakings:

• $1.7 million for reconstruction of the intersection at 23rd and Iowa streets. Expect new turn lanes and greater vehicle capacity. The project is being funded through state and federal dollars.

• $2 million for the first phase of the 31st Street extension in eastern Lawrence. When completed, the project will extend 31st Street from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. Work will be going on during the same time that construction is occurring on the South Lawrence Trafficway project. The city will use property taxes to fund the project.

• $2.5 million to rebuild a portion of Wakarusa Drive from Oread West to Legends Drive. Proceeds from the city's infrastructure sales tax will be used to fund the project.

• $42,000 to begin engineering work on a future project to improve Kasold Drive from Bob Billings Parkway to Harvard Road.

• $2 million to begin work on a new Maple Street pump station to help alleviate stormwater flooding issues in North Lawrence. Funding will come from the city's infrastructure sales tax.

• $1.5 million to possibly purchase a site or begin design work for a new police headquarters facility. Funding will come from property taxes.

• $400,000 to improve the city's fiber optic and broadband system. The project will improve fiber optic connectivity between city-owned buildings, traffic signals and other structures, but also may put the city in a position to begin offering some of its fiber optic network for use by private broadband providers. Funding will come from property taxes.

• $1.05 million for renovation of the Santa Fe depot in East Lawrence. About $350,000 of the funding will come from property taxes, with the rest coming from a federal/state grant.

• $275,000 to install a traffic signal at George Williams Way and Bob Billings Parkway. The intersection is expected to become significantly busier once the new South Lawrence Trafficway interchange opens on Bob Billings Parkway.

• $750,000 to build a new public transit transfer facility. A temporary facility currently is located downtown, but staff members are exploring an area near the The Merc at Ninth and Iowa streets for a permanent facility. Funding will come from a transit reserve fund.

• $1 million to fund technology upgrades at the city and county's 911 center. Funding will come from property taxes.

• $1.2 million to replace a quint fire engine. Funding comes from both sales tax and property tax funds.

The really big builders in the city's budget, though, are in the city's Utilities Department. The city has budgeted $47.2 million worth of water and sewer projects in 2014.

A big part of that will be making your water taste better. The city has budgeted $17.9 million worth of work to improve taste and odor issues that occasionally occur when algae blooms become significant at Clinton Lake or on the Kansas River.

I would expect this project will get more discussion before commissioners actually approve any spending on the project. By putting it in the 2014 budget, that gives the city the legal authority to spend the money on the project, but commissioners may still decide that's too much to spend on the intermittent taste and odor issues.

The other big utilities project is $14.8 million worth of work on a new sewage treatment plant for south of the Wakarusa River. This will be a multiyear project. When it is done by 2017, the project is expected to cost about $65 million.

Those projects will be funded by increased water and sewer rates, which also are up for approval at tonight's meeting. The budget proposes an approximately 5 percent increase in the monthly water and sewer bills for an average household. That comes after commissioners approved a 6 percent rate increase in 2013.

A household that uses 8,000 gallons of water a month would pay $76.21 in monthly water and sewer fees, up from $72.34 under the current rates. City staff members have put together a chart that shows how Lawrence's rates compare with other cities in the area. An 8,000 gallon bill ranges from $61.69 in Manhattan to $102.65 in Gardner. Click here to see the full list.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today. This basically is the last chance for the public to make comment about the 2014 budget. Historically, the city's budget discussions haven't produced a full house. But who knows? Maybe it will tonight. I'm fine either way — as long as I don't have to listen to the Olsen twins.

Reply 15 comments from Justforfun Bhall87 Cheeseburger Xyz Smitty Jack Clayton Nick_s The_big_b Jack22 Elliottaw and 2 others

Retail rumblings including a new cookie store on Mass. Street, a mattress store going out of business, and a change in venue for a downtown hot spot

From chicken wings to cookies to mattresses: It sounds like a productive Sunday afternoon to me. It also is a set of topics that are trending in Lawrence's retail world currently.

• I've gotten confirmation that a store called Hot Box Cookies will be setting up shop on Massachusetts Street in the coming days. The cookie shop has inked a lease at 732 Massachusetts Street, the former home of 3 Spoons Frozen Yogurt, Bob Sarna, a representative of the building's ownership group, told me.

Hot Box currently operates in Columbia, Mo.. Based on its website, it offers about a dozen different cookie options, including chocolate chip, M&M, oatmeal raisin and snickerdoodles. The business in Columbia also offers shakes, ice cream sandwiches, and good old-fashioned milk to wash it all down.

But this likely isn't your grandpa's cookie shop. According to the website, the store is open until 2:30 a.m. on many nights, which tells me a few people may have a craving for a cookie after they have consumed a certain other type of beverage at their favorite nightclub.

It sounds like the cookie shop may be open as soon as this week.

• A South Iowa Street mattress store is calling it quits. Bed Mart, 2329 Iowa St., will start hosting a going-out-of-business sale on Wednesday.

Gary Lucas, who owns the store with his wife, Kathy, said the store's lease is up and they have been looking to retire.

"We're just tired, basically," Lucas said. "The business is still all right, but we are just too tired to do it anymore. We basically work seven days a week at it."

The mattress market has changed in Lawrence in recent years. The national chain Mattress Firm opened up at 33rd and Iowa streets in the last year, and Discovery Furniture near 25th and Iowa streets has become a major player in the mattress market.

The sector may be one worth keeping an eye on in the future. People in the development industry tell me that the national chain Mattress Hub has been looking for locations in the city. Who knows whether they actually will decide to enter the market, but it is worth keeping an eye on.

• Take this one for whatever you think it is worth, but there's lots of speculation that Buffalo Wild Wings will move out of downtown to set up shop on South Iowa Street.

Multiple sources have told me that Buffalo Wild Wings is the mystery tenant for a proposed restaurant/retail building at 27th and Iowa streets where an Olive Garden was once proposed.

I called a general manager at Buffalo Wild Wings, and she didn't squash the rumor. Instead, she simply said she has heard it too, but said the corporate office hasn't made any announcements yet.

Buffalo Wild Wings currently occupies space at 1012 Massachusetts St., and by all appearances does well there. The South Iowa Street location would allow for a larger restaurant and more parking.

People with a wing-craving, though, shouldn't panic. Any move likely would be quite a ways off. The project would involve constructing a new building on the site. I'll keep my eyes open for something more official on this one.

But actually, I won't have my eyes open much for a few days. Town Talk is taking a break until July 23, while it recharges its batteries. Yes, I suspect it will involve chicken wings, cookies and a mattress at some point in time.

Reply 13 comments from Thinkagain Tgill Coolmarv The_big_b Chicago95 Renaissance Toe Ridikkulus Frankie8 Bearded_gnome and 2 others

Latest Census numbers show Douglas County had fewer private sector jobs, businesses than in 2000

Apparently it is not just my wardrobe that lingers in a past decade. (I'll be out at several events today, and yes, I really am wearing a 100 percent polyester, narrow KU tie.)

There are some relatively new numbers out about the Lawrence economy that show jobs and business totals are actually below where they were at the beginning of 2000.

The numbers are from the U.S. Census Bureau's County Business Patterns Report. The report measures the number of private sector business establishments in a county and the number of employees in those businesses. (So, no government jobs included.) The latest data is for 2011. Here is what it had to say about Douglas County.

Douglas County had 1,329 fewer private sector jobs than it did in 2007, which is right before the Great Recession began. That's a negative growth rate of 3.4 percent. Going all the way back to 2000, Douglas County has 427 fewer private sector jobs. That's a negative 1.1 percent growth rate.

The report also looks at the number of business establishments in a county. An establishment, by the way, is each place of business. So, for example, if a single dry cleaning company has four stores in Lawrence, that's four establishments. Douglas County has 191 fewer establishment than it did in 2007. That's a negative growth rate of 6.8 percent. Going back to 2000, the county has 23 fewer establishments. That's a negative 0.8 percent growth rate.

How do Douglas County's numbers stack up to our peers? Well, nearly everyone saw job and business losses since 2007. We experienced a great recession after all.

Here's a look at 2007 to 2011 growth rates for other large Kansas counties:

• Douglas County: Negative 3.4 percent for jobs; negative 6.8 percent for establishments.

• Johnson County: Negative 5.6 percent for jobs; negative 4.2 percent for establishments.

• Shawnee County: Negative 0.4 percent for jobs; negative 8.1 percent for establishments.

• Riley County: Negative 6.4 percent for jobs; negative 2.9 percent for establishments.

• Sedgwick County: Negative 7.8 percent for jobs; negative 7.9 percent for establishments.

• Wyandotte County: Negative 2 percent for jobs; negative 3.8 percent for establishments.

All in all, we held our own during that time period. I think people will find the totals since 2000 a little more concerning. They look like this:

• Douglas County: Negative 1.1 percent jobs; negative 0.8 percent establishments.

• Johnson County: Positive 5 percent jobs; positive 6.1 percent establishments.

• Shawnee County: Negative 11.3 percent jobs; negative 5.3 percent establishments.

• Riley County: Positive 5.3 percent jobs; positive 9.5 percent establishments.

• Sedgwick County: Negative 7.9 percent jobs; negative 0.2 percent establishments.

• Wyandotte County: Positive 5.2 percent jobs; negative 4.2 percent establishments.

Since 2000, Douglas County has failed to keep pace with Johnson County, Wyandotte County and Riley County when it comes to job creation. We're still outpacing Shawnee County, but that may soon change. Its growth since 2007 has been better than ours. So, all in all, the long-term trend isn't great.

I'm not sure what to make of these numbers, to be honest. But they do seem to add to the question of whether Lawrence's economic standing has fallen further than other communities. I found these numbers as I was doing research for an article on that very question. Look for that article — where we quiz 10 local leaders on the state of the Lawrence economy — in Sunday's Journal-World.

The Lawrence economy is kind of at an interesting point right now. There are some things on the ground that support reason for optimism. Housing sales and housing starts are up. Retail sales posted a strong year in 2012. Construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway is expected to bring new commercial interests to town. The Farmland Industries property gives the community industrial land to market. Downtown redevelopment has hit a new gear. And new development interests already are starting to surface around the Rock Chalk Park development in northwest Lawrence.

As one economic development leader told me, the data is rearview mirror stuff. The stuff on the ground is front windshield material. Certainly, good drivers want to spend more time looking out the windshield than the rearview mirror.

But what do I know? As my wife will tell you, I certainly don't know how to use the mirror on the wardrobe.

Reply 12 comments from Liberty275 Boiled Cocoacrystal The_big_b Fredthemechanic1213 Thebigw Ljreader Blindrabbit Bearded_gnome Firebird27 and 14 others

Mass Street Sweet Shoppe adds sandwich shop to business

The inside of my head right now sounds like one of those blaring weather alert radios. You see, I seem to have a built-in device that warns me of pending perfect storms of a different type.

Tonight my wife and her girlfriends will be attending the Mass Street Mosey, the popular and sold-out wine and food event that benefits Cottonwood Inc., a non-profit that helps those with developmental disabilities. That's all well and good, but now I've learned of a brand new business venture in downtown.

The Mass Street Sweet Shoppe, 727 Mass., has expanded its business to become an old-fashioned sandwich shop in addition to selling sweets. Owner Michelle Miller said she was looking to create a locally-owned sandwich shop in the spirit of past sandwich hot spots such as The Cheese & Salami Shoppe in the Round Corner Drug building, Penny Annie's or Joe's Bakery.

That means a menu that includes sandwiches such as egg salad, Ruebens, turkey melts, tuna salad, club sandwiches and chicken salad.

Ah, chicken salad. There's the source of my beeping head. I believe I established in this space previously that my wife likes chocolate. Well, she also really likes chicken salad. Now you are telling me that there is a shop that sells chicken salad and chocolate and it has opened just in time to serve my wife on a night that she'll be sampling wine on Massachusetts Street.

The men who killed Kennedy must be back in business, because this is a conspiracy.

The menu also includes chips and homemade potato salad, pasta salad and fresh berries, along with fountain drinks.

Miller tells me she thinks a good portion of her business will come from the business crowd downtown. She's offering free delivery in the area of Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire streets between Sixth and 11th streets.

"We think there are probably a lot of lawyers or businessmen and women who can't get out for lunch, and we can bring it to you," Miller said. "Plus, we think people are going to like that we're local. We're just a little independent shop making sandwiches."

I'm sure there will be some folks who check it out tonight. Look for my wife. She'll be the one ordering her two girlfriends to pull a heavy wagon full of chocolate and chicken salad.

Look for me at Walgreens. I'll be the guy buying Excedrin by the case.

Reply 6 comments from Crafty Steven Gaudreau Bearded_gnome Mark English Virgil_caine Budgets_smudgets Joe Adams Blindrabbit

State extends deadline for Clinton Lake resort proposals

The idea of creating a 175-room, destination-style resort hotel at Clinton Lake State Park is still alive. Now potential developers have more time to figure out exactly what they would like to propose.

State officials today said they have extended the deadline for proposals to 2 p.m. July 24. Previously the deadline was July 17.

Chuck Knapp, director of operations for the state's Department of Administration, said officials decided to extend the deadline a week after state officials took extra time to clarify some of the requirements for the proposal process.

Knapp said four to five development firms attended a pre-proposal meeting last week. Once the proposals are opened on July 24, Knapp said a group involving leadership from the Department of Commerce, the Department of Administration and the state's procurement and contract division will review the proposals and will reach a recommendation on a firm to begin negotiations with.

The state is giving developers leeway in what type of resort concept they propose, and also where exactly to locate the resort in Clinton Lake State Park. But members of the public likely will not get to see what all the developers have proposed.

Knapp said the state plans to release the names of all the developers who have submitted proposals, but won't be releasing other details of their development proposals.

As for a timeline for a developer to be selected, Knapp said he didn't have a firm one to offer.

"It is a high priority project though," Knapp said. "We are certainly anticipating moving it through the process as expeditiously and thoroughly as possible."

This will be an interesting one to watch. State officials are planning on developers paying for the cost of the resort. Whether developers will ask for some government assistance, such as help to extend city sewer service to the state park, is an open question. At some point city officials may be asked to chime in on the proposals.

Reply 8 comments from Blindrabbit Joe Blackford II Fred_mertz Hujiko Jayhawkfan1985 Cheeseburger Oneeye_wilbur Jhawkinsf Bob_keeshan

LMH lands on another top 100 list for community hospitals

Pretty soon, the cafeteria/atrium area at Lawrence Memorial Hospital is going to have a bit of an Allen Fieldhouse feel to it; there will be championship banners galore.

LMH has made another banner-worthy type of list. The hospital recently was named as one of the “100 Great Community Hospitals” in America by Becker’s Hospital Review.

The ranking comes after LMH earlier this year landed on the granddaddy of hospital lists: Truven Health Analytics’ 100 Top Hospitals. That list stacked LMH up against every hospital in America, and conducted a rigorous review of LMH’s data on various performance measures.

This latest ranking focuses on smaller hospitals that have fewer than 550 beds, minimal teaching programs, often are located in rural areas and serve as the only hospitals in their communities. Becker used the rankings of Truven and other similar rankings programs to create its top 100 list.

LMH was the only Kansas hospital included on the Becker list. The Becker report called attention to LMH’s $45 million expansion in 2009 that included new facilities for its emergency and surgery departments as well as additional space for maternity and intensive care units.

As for the banner, I don’t really know whether LMH will hang a banner for this award. Hospital leaders did hang a large one in the dining/atrium area near the hospital’s cafeteria when it landed on the Truven list.

So, who knows, perhaps they can consult with the banner experts at Allen Fieldhouse about whether they should hang a banner for this one. Hopefully they won’t take this too far, though. A “Beware of the Phog” banner is not what I want to see when I sit down to eat my fine LMH cafeteria food.

Reply 9 comments from Havecents David Klamet Hawkanator Begin60 Chicago95 Ginny Hedges Merrill Huskernlawrence Laura Wilson Fearthephog512

Humane Society preparing to fight for budget increase; commissioners asked to provide $25,000 in unbudgeted funds for Just Food

It may end up being an interesting evening at Lawrence City Hall tonight because commissioners are set to talk about two items people fiercely guard: pets and money.

Commissioners are nearing the key point in the 2014 budget process where they set the maximum amount of money they are willing to spend for the year.

It looks like a movement is afoot by the Lawrence Humane Society to fill City Hall tonight with people who will argue the city ought to spend more money on pets. Specifically, the Humane Society is seeking about an $80,000 increase in its 2014 budget. City Manager David Corliss is recommending a $20,000 increase, but leaders of the animal shelter are going to argue for the full amount.

Their argument is where the issue gets interesting. Nonprofit agencies ask for more money from the city all the time, but the Humane Society is a bit different of a breed of nonprofit agencies. That’s because the Humane Society is providing a service that by law the city would have to otherwise provide, according to Humane Society executive director Dori Villalon. State law requires that cities have a process in place to impound stray animals. The Humane Society provides that service to the city, and in return the city provided the shelter about $282,000 in funding in 2013.

But Villalon says the shelter recently has begun using a new computer software system that better tracks the actual expenses involved in housing stray animals. After analyzing the numbers, shelter leaders believe the current contract the shelter has with the city falls about $80,000 short of covering its expenses to meet the state-mandated requirement that cities impound stray animals for a certain period of time.

“It is imperative that we close this gap,” Villalon said in a recent letter to commissioners. “LHS (the shelter) isn’t looking to profit from the city contract, but simply cover the cost of providing service, thus protecting the future of our nonprofit organization.”

In case you are wondering, the shelter provided care to 1,665 stray or abandoned cats and dogs from the city in 2012.

When I asked Corliss last week about the shelter’s analysis that the city contract doesn’t cover the basic cost of services, he didn’t dispute it. I’m not sure he has confirmed those numbers either, but rather he said his recommended $20,000 increase is what he could justify without raising the property tax mill levy. Corliss estimates it would take a 0.07 mill increase to fully fund the Humane Society's budget request. That would be on top of a 0.4 mill increase Corliss is recommending to fund other budget issues.

That philosophy is commonly used by the city when determining how much funding it can provide to a host of social service agencies and nonprofits in the community. But the real question here is whether the city is providing financial support to a nonprofit or whether it is being asked to pay for services rendered.

Shelter leaders are indicating it is the latter. The shelter provides a service the city is required to provide, and the city needs to pay an amount to cover the cost of those services. That’s the argument.

Villalon indicated in her letter to commissioners that the shelter — perhaps for years — has been using donations from community members to cover the shortfall that exists between what it costs to provide the state-mandated care and what the city currently pays.

Villalon said the proper use for those donations is to provide care that goes over and above what is mandated by the state law. The law requires stray or abandoned animals to be kept for only a short period of time. Shelters, to avoid euthanizing animals, can choose to keep them for a longer period while they seek to find a family to adopt the pets.

According to the letter and the shelter’s Facebook page, shelter leaders are encouraging supporters of the Humane Society to show up at City Hall tonight to support the budget increase. Shelter leaders are couching the issue in terms of saving lives of animals. In an information sheet the shelter is distributing to supporters, the shelter says if the funding request isn’t granted, “euthanasia of treatable animals may increase.”

Historically, the euthanasia issue has been a hot-button issue in Lawrence, which is a community that seems to really be a pet-loving place. We’ll see how hot the issue gets tonight. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. at City Hall.

•••

UPDATE: City Hall officials have gotten in touch with me today to clarify how they can provide the $25,000 in funding for Just Food without dipping into cash reserves or shortchanging other programs. City Manager David Corliss said he plans to reduce by $25,000 the amount of money that will be spent on sidewalk repair in the city's general fund. That money will be used to pay for the Just Food truck. The sidewalk work will be funded through the $25,000 in CDBG money that had been set aside with the thought it would fund the Just Food truck purchase. By shifting the sidewalk work out of the city's general fund to the CDBG fund, it will limit where the city can perform sidewalk projects. The CDBG funds must spent in one of the low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, such as Oread, Pinckney, East Lawrence or several others.

We’ll go from hot to cold to perhaps back to hot again. Commissioners as part of their consent agenda tonight will be asked to provide $25,000 in funding to the nonprofit food bank Just Food. The organization is run by City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer. The one-time funding will help the organization buy a refrigerated truck that will allow the food bank to collect meat, dairy and other such donations from grocery stores and convenience stores.

We reported in May that Just Food was seeking the city’s assistance to apply for federal funding for the truck through the city’s Community Development Block Program. But word has come back that the truck isn’t eligible for such funding, so now city staff members are recommending that $25,000 in local tax dollars be used to pay for the vehicle.

Plans for the truck do sound promising. Farmer has said it will be used to go to grocery stores, restaurants, convenience shops and other locations that often have to dispose of aging meat, dairy and produce. Currently, Just Food doesn’t have a way to transport refrigerated material from the stores to its distribution center in East Lawrence. Consequently, Farmer estimates grocers and other are throwing away “thousands of dollars of food per week.” Most of the perishable items are pulled off the shelves several days before their expiration dates, which gives Just Food time to distribute it to needy families.

But the timing of this $25,000 unbudgeted expenditure — which would be made in 2013 — may be unfortunate. City commissioners will be asked to approve it right before they are set to talk about how difficult it is to provide funding to worthy causes in 2014.

Reply 18 comments from Richard Andrade Patkindle Tammy Copp-Barta Oneeye_wilbur Crafty Cheeseburger Mommatocharlie Kansasredlegs Budgets_smudgets Chad Lawhorn and 7 others

New development slated for Bob Billings and SLT may land a grocery store

Several Lawrence developments are grabbing headlines these days. Rock Chalk Park, efforts to convert the former Farmland fertilizer plant into an industrial park, and downtown redevelopment are three of the larger ones.

But don’t forget about the nearly $20 million state project to build a new interchange at Bob Billings Parkway and the South Lawrence Trafficway in West Lawrence. Developers certainly haven’t.

A local development group has filed plans for a new commercial and residential development near the northeast corner of the planned intersection.

If all goes according to plan, the development, dubbed Langston Commons because of its proximity to Langston Hughes elementary, will be the next site for a Lawrence grocery store and all the typical surrounding development that comes with it.

RSR Inc., a group led by Lawrence builder Bob Santee and businessmen Tom and Doug Raney, have two concept plans for the nearly 17-acre commercial area. One calls for a 60,000-square-foot grocery store, plus five other smaller commercial buildings. The second concept calls for a 30,000-square-foot retail building, plus seven other buildings ranging in size from about 15,000 square feet to a couple thousand square feet.

Tim Herndon, a Lawrence-based urban planner who is consulting on the development, thinks either scenario could land a grocery store — either a full size one or a smaller specialty store.

“We would love to see something like the next Merc, or Whole Foods or Hen House or some other specialty neighborhood-scale grocer,” Herndon said.

The group doesn’t have deals signed for any tenants, but members are optimistic that interest will be high once the necessary zoning and development plans are approved. That’s because the interchange is set to become perhaps the major western gateway into Lawrence because it will provide a straight shot down Bob Billings Parkway into the Kansas University campus.

“This is going to be the way to get to KU that doesn’t involve worming your way down Sixth Street or 23rd Street,” Herndon said.

Estimates call for traffic volumes in the area to approximately triple once the interchange is open. Herndon said the group hopes to have the commercial development ready to go once the interchange begins serving traffic, which is expected to be by spring of 2016 at the latest.

As for other types of commercial development possible at the site, Herndon said a convenience store is very likely. There also will be spaces for sit-down restaurants. He mentioned the long-talked about duo of Red Lobster and Olive Garden being a good fit. He also said there will be one or two locations for fast food, Starbucks or other similar businesses. In addition, there will be space for traditional neighborhood services such as banks, dry cleaners and the like.

The concept plan also calls for about a one-acre pond-and-water feature. Herndon said that will open up the possibility for a water-side restaurant.

The commercial development, however, is just one part of Langston Commons. The residential development is significant. Plans call for a mix of about 75 single-family, duplex and multi-family living units. The zoning requests indicate about 60 percent of the residential development will be devoted to single-family and duplex units.

The new residential development will be just south of the recently-approved Langston Heights residential development, which is being developed by the same group. That project has a mix of about 140 single-family, duplex and row homes.

Most of the land for the new Langston Commons project will be bought from Alvamar Inc., which has bought and held the land for more than a decade. But about two acres of the property will need to come from the Lawrence school district, which has quite a bit of unused property surrounding the Langston Hughes elementary school. Herndon said the school property is needed to complete a road connection.

For those of you still trying to get your bearings, the entire project can best be described as being north of Bob Billings Parkway, west of Langston Hughes, and it will abut the South Lawrence Trafficway. From the maps, it appears there still will be a fairly significant stretch of open space between the elementary school and the development.

The project will require zoning, platting and site plan approvals from City Hall, but the area has been designated for commercial and residential development in recent long-range plans approved by the city.

It will be interesting to watch how the rest of the area develops. The school district, I believe, still has significant amounts of property around Langston Hughes that would draw heavy interest from developers, if the district decides to entertain such offers.

But things really will get interesting when developers start filing plans for property on the west side of the SLT. The area just west of the planned interchange is an expansive, flat stretch of land that could accommodate a thousand or more homes in future years.

Herndon, who for years was one of the top officials at Lawrence’s Landplan Engineering, said he doesn’t know when the city will be ready to make that jump, but when it happens, it will be a major moment.

“West of the SLT is a pending explosion of development activity,” Herndon said. “That will represent the next major growth center in Lawrence for upcoming decades.”

Reply 76 comments from Cocogirl Patricia Davis Cheeseburger Gatekeeper Streetman Macheath Steven Gaudreau Oneeye_wilbur Bob_loblaw Centurion and 42 others

Lawrence among best venture capital markets per capita

I don’t know about your neighborhood on the Fourth of July, but in mine last night there were plenty of young venture capitalists on display: People willing to burn their money in hopes for a big bang in return.

Venture capitalists — the high-risk investors who provide start-up money to promising young companies — have long been a source of conversation and concern in Lawrence. The conversation has been: Where can I find them? The concern has been: There aren’t enough of them in the Midwest to make Lawrence a major player in the competitive bioscience arena.

Well, there’s a new study out that shows Lawrence may be doing better than people thought when it comes to at least one measure of venture capital. Lawrence has the sixth highest level of venture capital investment in America, when measured on a per capita basis.

Guru demographer Richard Florida — who lectures frequently on the power of the creative class — has crunched the numbers and found Lawrence is part of a trend of smaller communities connected to universities that are doing well in the venture capital arena.

Florida calculated Lawrence had $40.8 million in venture capital deals per 100,000 people in 2012. It put Lawrence in some great company. The top five were:

  1. San Jose, Calif., a.k.a. Silicon Valley: $216.9 million
  2. San Francisco: $159.1 million
  3. Boulder, Colo.: $86.9 million
  4. Boston: $68.1million
  5. Santa Barbara, Calif.: $59.1 million

Lawrence’s metro population — in other words, Douglas County’s population — is just a little more than 100,000 people. So, in real numbers, Douglas County companies attracted a little more than $40 million in venture capital investments in 2012. Think about that for a minute: $40 million in largely outside money came flowing into Lawrence’s economy because of start-up companies.

For whatever reason, area companies don’t do a lot to announce their venture capital successes, so I don’t know what companies attracted the cash in 2012. But in recent years, we have talked quite a bit about rising stars such as Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, drug particle company CritiTech, and the more than 30 companies ranging from animal health firms to e-commerce companies that are affiliated with Bioscience and Technology Business Center at KU.

There is no doubt that this new list is a good one for Lawrence to land on. It helps tell the story that local bioscience officials have been working to tell: You can have success in raising funds in the Heartland. But you could also read too much into this ranking as well. At the end of the day, when people think about hot venture capital markets, they think about real dollars, not per capita dollars.

A separate ranking by Florida shows how much work Lawrence has to do to crack the top 20 markets of overall venture capital activity.

Obviously, setting our sights on the Silicon Valley or top-ranked San Francisco isn’t going to be too productive. San Jose and San Francisco had about $10.7 billion in venture capital investments in 2012, accounting for about 40 percent of all the venture capital activity in the country.

More instructive is to look at some other college communities. Austin ranked No. 8 at $626 million, Boulder ranked No. 14 at $256 million, Raleigh, N.C. ranked No. 18 at $184 million and Provo, Utah ranked No. 20 at $162 million.

But the good news is, when you look at this study, Florida has created a blob map of venture capital markets. Lawrence shows up as a speck on it. And a speck is a start.

Hopefully, though, people aren’t counting on my neighbors to be the next wave of venture capitalists. After what I saw last night, they have to be broke.

Reply 2 comments from Vuduchyld Scaramouchepart2

As Briggs prepares to move out of Sears building, rumors heat up that Dick’s Sporting Goods will be moving in

Here’s what we know: The folks at Briggs Auto Group soon will be vacating the former Sears building at 27th and Iowa streets.

Here’s what’s likely to happen: A whole bunch of speculation that Dick’s Sporting Goods will move into the prime piece of South Iowa Street property.

Rumors of a Dick’s Sporting Goods coming to town are nothing new, but there does seem to be quite a bit of smoke with this particular batch of rumors. And you know what they say: Where there is smoke, there’s usually a kid with a half-dozen Roman candles in each hand and a package of Black Cats in his back pocket. (Actually, maybe they only say that in my neighborhood, although no one would hear it.)

The point is, there may be something to the speculation this time. Mike Neyman, general manager for Briggs Nissan, said the landlord for the Sears building has notified the auto dealership that it will need to vacate the premises by the end of the month because a new deal for the building is being processed.

Neyman said the timeline shouldn’t create a problem for Briggs, because the Nissan dealership already has moved into its new facility in the nearby Lawrence Auto Plaza, and work on the Dodge dealership is expected to be done by the end of the month. (More on Briggs’ developments in a moment.)

Multiple sources in the real estate and development industries tell me that a deal has been struck by an investment group to buy the approximately 90,000-square-foot Sears building. The same sources say that the group has a major national anchor tenant committed to the building. The strong speculation is that it's Dick’s, because the company has been scouting for locations in the city.

“Dick’s is the player here,” one source said.

The chain Hibbett Sports also has shown interest in Lawrence over the years, but it is seen as a less likely option at this location because it usually locates in far smaller buildings.

But speaking of size, it seems unlikely that Dick’s Sporting Goods would occupy all of the nearly 90,000 square feet of the old Sears building. According to press reports in other markets, store sizes for Dick’s usually are around 45,000 to 60,000 square feet.

Local real estate professionals say what is likely is that the old Sears building would be split into perhaps two or three spaces, meaning that other new retailers may be coming to the market as well.

I know there was a lot of interest in that type of concept shortly after Sears closed its store in 2012. A development group tried to buy the building at that time, with the hopes of attracting both Dick’s and Old Navy to the location. But negotiations with the Los Angeles-based real estate group that owns the property were difficult. Early last year, Old Navy closed its store on South Iowa, which was where Ross Dress for Less is now located. I’m told Old Navy, at the time anyway, still was very much interested in the Lawrence market, but needed a smaller space to accommodate a new strategic direction for the company. Whether it is still interested in the market more than a year later, I don’t know.

Once all the smoke clears, we’ll see.

•••

All this talk of rumors can get in the way of what actually is happening. The folks at the Briggs Auto Group are nearing the end of a multimillion-dollar effort to remake the Lawrence Auto Plaza just north of 31st and Iowa streets.

Briggs Nissan has moved into its new showroom and dealership facility right at the Iowa Street entrance to the Auto Plaza. You might remember the location as the former home of the Jim Clark Dodge/Chrysler dealership.

As we previously have reported, the Nissan dealership includes an all-new 20,000-square-foot showroom building, charging stations for electric vehicles and a reconfigured lot for outdoor car displays.

By the end of the month, Briggs’ Dodge/Chrysler dealership is expected to move into its new location, which is on the western edge of the Auto Plaza, where 29th Terrace and Four Wheel Drive intersect. It is where the Nissan dealership previously was located.

Both of those projects are in addition to the Briggs Subaru dealership, which was completed last year in the Lawrence Auto Plaza. All told, improvements to the Auto Plaza by Briggs probably are near the $4 million mark at this point.

Neyman says the company recently added what it thinks will become a new South Iowa landmark: a new time and temperature sign that he says is the tallest sign in Lawrence. I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know exactly how big we’re talking about. But I know that the Briggs folks like the idea of having an aerial structure that draws a lot of attention. As part of the original development plan, Briggs was planning on adding a wind turbine to the Auto Plaza. Neyman said he thinks that is still in the future plans, but I don’t have any word yet on when that may happen.

Reply 30 comments from Toe Countyresident Merrill Rtwngr Steven Gaudreau Lynn731 Scott  Morgan irvan moore Sjgreen The_big_b and 16 others

Proposed budget would reduce free parking downtown, limit funding for retiree marketing

In my household, July means the start of two seasons: This is about the time that my wife’s refusal to turn on the air conditioner causes the kids and I to set up Gatorade stations throughout the house, and it is when city officials really start to dive into their budgeting process.

Fortunately, the weather has been cool this week, so there’s been plenty of time to focus on the budget. We’ve already reported that City Manager David Corliss’ recommended budget for 2014 calls for a 0.4 mill increase, which amounts to about $9.20 per year in extra taxes on a $200,000 home.

But the budget has a lot more details in it than just the bottomline. Here’s a look at a few other items of interest:

• There may be one fewer place for downtown motorists to park for free. As part of his budget, Corliss is proposing that the top level of the public parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street no longer be available for free parking. City officials several years ago agreed to make the top level of the garage free to park as a way to encourage more use of the garage. Usage of the garage, however, is not expected to be a problem in the future. Already, demand is up because of the multi-story apartment building at 901 New Hampshire, and more motorists are expected to be in the area as a new hotel/retail building gets built on the southeast corner of the intersection. By the way, hotel developer Doug Compton has told me he expects to get started on construction of the hotel around July 10.

• Perhaps we won’t get to make those fun commercials to attract retirees to Lawrence after all. Corliss’ budget does not recommend funding $30,000 for an annual marketing campaign to attract more retirees to the community. This will be an interesting one to watch because the city and county already have spent good money to get the ball rolling on retiree attraction. In January, commissioners agreed, along with the county, to award a $34,500 contract to Lawrence-based Kern Group to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to attract higher-end retirees to the area. The contract calls for the group to create a title/slogan, a logo, a Web site, a package for marketing materials, and concepts for various print, broadcast and online advertising. Kern was up-front with officials that he expected it would take an advertising budget of about $60,000 to $80,000 a year to get the message out. If city officials don’t chip in $30,000 for the effort, I’m not sure where that leaves the commitment from the county or private stakeholders who may have made donations. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, a fantastic advertising campaign hangs in the balance. I can see the commercial now: Retirees doing keg stands and streaking down Jayhawk Boulevard, followed by the tag line of “Lawrence: Where you are never old enough to know better.”

• Of all the books in the Lawrence Public Library, there must not be one entitled: How to Get Your Budget Request Fully-Funded at City Hall. Corliss is recommending a $100,000 increase in funding for the library as it prepares to move into its expanded facility downtown. But library leaders had asked for $175,000 increase. It is not unusual for agencies not to get everything they ask for, but how Corliss is proposing to fund this $100,000 increase is unusual. He recommends that the library fund dip into its rather paltry cash reserves to fund the $100,000 increase rather than raising the mill levy to do so. The library fund has about $235,000 in cash reserves, so this increase will eat up a good part of it. The strategy goes against the grain of one of Corliss’ long-held budget philosophies that permanent expenses need to be funded by permanent revenue sources. But in talking with Corliss, I think he is just hoping to buy time until the 2015 budget. The library’s first full year in its new facility will be 2015, and Corliss has said he has not forgotten what city officials told voters when they approved the $19 million expansion of the library. Officials told voters that they would provide the library additional money to operate the larger library. It was estimated a 0.5 mill increase would be needed for additional operational expenses. Thus far, the city only has funded a 0.2 mill increase for library operations. My crystal ball tells me to be on the lookout for a 0.3 mill increase in the 2015 budget.

• The new Rock Chalk Park recreation center will have a goal to shoot for — sort of. The 2014 recommended budget calls for the recreation center to generate about $715,000 in revenue, if it were to be open for a full year. But it won’t be open for a full year in 2014, so it won’t generate that much revenue. But that’s the number the city is shooting for once it is open full-time. As city officials said all along, the amount of revenue the center generates won’t be enough to cover its expenses. The 2014 budget — once again assuming a full year of operation — projects expenses for the center will be about $350,000 more than revenues. I believe revenues for the center will include things such as gym rental fees, class fees generated by the center, tournament and league revenue and concessions.

Ah, concessions. Maybe they’ll have a good deal on Gatorade. My kids and I sure hope so.

Reply 23 comments from Cheeseburger Fredthemechanic1213 Foxli Repaste Steven Gaudreau Oneeye_wilbur Curveball 20yrtransplant Kate Rogge George_braziller and 10 others

Lawrence housing sales up 56 percent in May, according to latest report

According to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors, the housing market produced a big bang in May. Home sales for the month were up 56 percent — totaling 142 — compared to the same period a year ago. The numbers are up almost 78 percent from two years ago.

The numbers continue a theme of 2013 being a bounce-back year for the local real estate market. Through the first five months of the year, housing sales are up almost 40 percent compared to the same period a year ago. They’re up 55 percent from the same period two years ago.

For the year, real estate agents have sold 403 houses in Lawrence. The even better number for the economy is that agents have sold 41 newly-constructed homes. That’s up 64 percent from a year ago. The report was full of positive numbers. They included:

• The median number of days a home sits on the market before selling is now down to 58 days, compared to 73 a year ago.

• The number of active listings on the market is 394, down from 586 a year ago and 676 two years ago. The number of newly-constructed homes on the market now totals only 24. That’s down from 44 a year ago and 63 two years ago.

• The median selling price of a home thus far for 2013 is $169,000, up 7 percent from the $158,000 mark a year ago.

• Indications are that June was a busy month for sales as well. Agents wrote sales contracts for 147 properties in May, up from 126 in May 2012. Many of those contracts are expected to be converted into sales in the June reporting period.

It will be interesting to see what the next few months hold for the market. Everybody is keeping a close eye on interest rates, which spiked last week but have started to come back down. Real estate agents now are alerting buyers of a potential rise in rates.

“People trying to time the market should be making their move now,” said John Esau, a local Realtor and president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.

Reply 4 comments from Mdlund0 Keith Gccs14r Steve Jacob

Pair of traffic calming projects — including a blue light at traffic signals — set for city

We’ll see if talk of traffic calming produces a calming feeling for you on a Monday. I’ve got word of two projects in the works at Lawrence City Hall.

• If you drive in the area behind the new Dillons store at 17th and Massachusetts streets, you may want to get a new set of shocks. Seven speed humps are coming to the neighborhood behind the store.

As part of the store’s City Hall approval last year, Dillons officials agreed to provide $40,000 for traffic calming devices in the neighborhood just east of the store. City officials are now set to begin that project.

Plans call for two speed humps on 17th Terrace between Barker and New Hampshire, and two more on 18th Street between Barker and New Hampshire. In addition, three speed humps are planned for New Hampshire Street, with all planned for the general area near 17th Terrace and 18th Street. Click here to see a map.

The city will accept bids for the project on July 16. Work is expected to begin in late July. Project is expected to be completed by the end of August.

• Red light, green light, yellow light. Blue light? I’m hearing talk around City Hall that Lawrence motorists may start seeing some blue lights at a couple of intersections in Lawrence.

No, I don’t think this is a sign that Kmart is now sponsoring traffic control in the city. (Remember the Blue Light specials in the old Kmarts?) Instead, my understanding is that this is part of a pilot project that involves KU’s engineering school.

I’m still waiting to get official details, but here’s what I’ve heard thus far: Crews, perhaps beginning today, will be installing a blue light on the top of traffic signal poles at 23rd and Iowa and 23rd and Louisiana. The blue light is meant to provide police officers another way to monitor whether motorists are a running a red light.

The idea is that the blue light will be able to be seen from a 360 degree radius. Currently, the best way for a police officer to know whether a motorist has run a red light is to be behind the motorist, where the officer can see both the light and the vehicle. The blue light will come on the moment the traffic signal turns red. Since the blue light can be seen from almost anywhere, an officer can be anywhere near an intersection and monitor it for red light runners.

I’m still a little short on details on the project, but when I hear more, I’ll let you know.

UPDATE: My colleague Ian Cummings is now looking into this story for us. He is reporting that the installation of the lights indeed was scheduled for today, but some technical difficulties have postponed it. No word yet on when the installation may occur, but it might be a few days now.

Reply 60 comments from Wolflover1969 Oletimer Ridikkulus Curtis Lange The_big_b Bliddel Jafs Mightyquin Currahee Frankie8 and 26 others

Lawrence retail sales still up for the year, but latest report raises questions of a slowdown

You’ll have to decide whether you are in a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty mood today. A new report from Lawrence City Hall on the city’s retail marketplace could leave you feeling either way.

First, the good news: Retail sales are still tracking above 2012 totals. Retail sales tax collections are up nearly 1.7 percent compared to the same time last year.

This month’s report tracks sales made through mid-May. Through that time period, taxable sales in the city have totaled about $677 million, up from about $666 million during the same time in 2012.

That’s good news, especially given that 2012 was a stellar year. Retail sales totals in 2012 grew by more than 5 percent, which was the largest percentage gain since 1998. So, the fact that retail sales are going above and beyond those totals is significant.

As for the glass-half-empty part, the report does have some numbers that likely will catch the eyes of City Hall budget makers. Sales tax collections for the latest collection period, mid-April to mid-May, were down by about 2 percent. A one-month decline isn’t cause for much concern, but this is the second month in a row that retail sales have declined. That makes next month’s report one to watch because three consecutive months of declines could be considered a trend.

The larger issue, though, is the city is now at the halfway point for its sales tax collections in 2013. (In case you are wondering, the city receives a check from the state once per month, and it recently received its June check. Because of lag time in collections, the June check only represents sales made through late May. Now you can amaze your friends at parties this weekend with the inner workings of the state’s sales tax collection system.) At the halfway point, sales tax collections are running below the city’s budget projections.

Thus far, collections are only down by about 0.2 percent compared to the budget. One good month will wipe out that shortfall. But the question, of course, is whether something has changed in the economy that will cause good months to be fewer and farther in between. The city is now projecting one scenario where sales tax collections would come in about 1 percent under budget, which would create about a $260,000 shortfall in the city’s budget.

It also would get the city’s 2014 budget started off on a bad foot. City Manager David Corliss’ 2014 recommended budget, which was released yesterday, projects sales tax revenues to grow by 2 percent over the amount the city budgeted to collect in 2013. So, if the 2013 collections come in less than budgeted, then sales tax collections in 2014 will have to grow by even more than 2 percent to meet budget.

None of this is new. Projecting sales tax collections is always a difficult part of the budget process. And if it makes you feel any better, cities all over the state are struggling with the issue too. Retail sales numbers are all over the board. Here’s a look at some of the larger retail markets in the state:

• Emporia: up 2 percent

• Hays: Down 3.1 percent

• Kansas City: Up 5.2 percent

• Manhattan: Down 3 percent

• Ottawa: Up 5.1 percent

• Overland Park: Up 2.2 percent

• Olathe: Up 2 percent

• Shawnee: Up 4 percent

• Topeka: no change from the prior year

So, what does all this mean? Is the glass half full or half empty? I don’t know. But, of course, I have a certain policy about glasses, a certain beverage and this heat. I take no chances. I keep a glass in each hand — one half full and the other half empty.

Reply 3 comments from Frankie8 Oneeye_wilbur

Development roundup: the Kasold curve, Myers Liquor and more speculation about a downtown restaurant

All the way back in 2009, we told you to keep an eye on the piece of farmland at 31st and Kasold, also known as the Kasold curve, for a new housing development.

Well, your eye is probably getting pretty tired by now, but there are signs once again that a significant housing development may occur on the site.

Paperwork has been filed at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department related to a duplex development that would allow for 126 living units on the just less than 30 acre site at 3309 W. 31st St.

The site also still has property set aside for a new church for Lawrence Wesleyan Church. As we reported back in 2009, a desire for that church to expand is what was driving this whole development scenario. Pastor Nate Rovenstine back then said the church had to purchase a large chunk of property at the curve to secure the site, and was open to parceling part of the area off for private, residential development.

It appears that is still the case. The property already has the proper zoning to allow for duplex development and for the church. Now, it appears, the issue appears to be just how many duplex units the site can accommodate. So, tell your eye to be patient. It is still a corner worth watching.

•••

Speaking of things that have drawn the attention of the eye, some of you have been asking me about the construction work underway at Myers Liquor at 23rd and Alabama streets.

The fact some of you have forgotten surprises me because the project has to do with a drive-thru liquor lane — and normally that is the type of news that Lawrence folks remember.

Back in December, we reported the liquor store was working on a plan to add a drive-thru lane — a first for Lawrence — and also to expand the building by about 1800 feet to accommodate a separate tenant. Well, the construction work underway is proof the plan is coming together. The new space is to the west of the existing liquor store. Owner Christian Walter told me he doesn’t yet have a tenant lined up for the new space, which will about double the amount of retail space on that corner. Walter said he is open to a variety of possible tenants that could be complimentary to the liquor store business. (Just to clarify, that doesn’t mean it has to be liquor-related — although a store that specializes in selling limes and salt would be very convenient.)

Construction work has started now with the hopes of being able to have the bulk of the project completed by the time the KU school year really gets into gear. I’ve heard liquor stores get busy at that time.

•••

While we’re updating items we’ve written about, we might as well tackle one other. Back in May, I mentioned that another restaurant is likely to occupy the space at 814 Massachusetts that formerly was home to La Parilla. La Parilla, of course, has moved to larger space at 724 Massachusetts St.

George Paley, the landlord for the building at 814 Massachusetts., told me recently plans are still on track for a new restaurant to locate in the space. He’s not yet divulging the name of the tenant, but he is squashing one piece of speculation. After our report in May, a few readers started speculating that a diner type of restaurant led by Robert Krause — the high-end chef who founded The Burger Stand — would be moving into the space. Paley told me that is not so. He said Krause isn’t involved with the new restaurant planned for 814 Massachusetts. (That doesn’t mean Krause isn’t moving forward with the concept elsewhere. I don’t know, but will tell you when I do.)

But Paley is very excited about what will be going into his building. He said he thinks it has a chance to be “one of the finer restaurants in the history of Lawrence.” What that means in terms of the type of restaurant it will be, I don’t know. (George doesn’t invite me out for dinner enough.) But when I hear more, I’ll pass it along.

Reply 23 comments from Macheath Jean1183 Frankie8 Clovis_sangrail Gconfo The_big_w Crafty Frankfussman Cwgoku Logicman and 10 others

New study ranks Lawrence ninth smartest city in the country

I didn’t even stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, yet I feel like I am an expert in the world’s toughest subjects. Maybe it is because I work in the ninth smartest city in America.

That’s right, according to a new study, Lawrence is the ninth smartest city in America. The report is by Lumosity, the online company that administers a host of brain exercises and tests to users. The company claims to have the largest database of cognitive performance of any company in the world.

The company tracks how Lumosity users score by geography, and then compiles a host of lists. Lawrence ended up No. 9 on the list of 478 “core-based statistical areas,” which is kind of like a metro area. (What am I doing explaining things to Lawrence residents? You already knew that.)

As one economic development professional told me, rankings are a dime a dozen, but Lawrence is in awful good company in the top 10. In other words, this is the type of ranking that will look good in marketing materials.

Here’s the Top 10:

  1. Ithaca, NY
  2. State College, Penn.
  3. Lafayette-West Lafayette, Ind.
  4. Iowa City
  5. Ames, Iowa
  6. Ann Arbor, Mich.
  7. Bloomington, Ind.
  8. Madison, Wisc.
  9. Lawrence
  10. Pullman, Wash.

The Lumosity folks didn’t stop there, though. They also ranked communities based on what type of cognitive skills they possessed. Lawrence ranked in the top 50 of all five cognitive areas: No. 8 for attention; No. 14 for flexibility; No. 15 for problem solving; and No. 22 for speed. As for what area we ranked the lowest in: Memory at No. 35.

The Lumosity officials also broke down the rankings by age group for each community. This may be very useful information for Lawrence. Every age group in the city — except for one — scored in the Top 50. The under 35 age group ranked No. 15, the 35-55 age group ranked No. 8, but the 55-plus age group was not ranked in the Top 50. (This is where this report can be very useful. Lawrence is trying to become a retiree destination, but perhaps we ought to make them pass some sort of test first.)

In case you are wondering, the community with the smartest 55-plus residents was Columbia, Mo., another Midwestern city seeking to become a retiree destination. Columbia also ranked No. 3 in the 35-55 age category. Interestingly, Columbia did not rank in the Top 50 in the under 35 category, the one which would encompass most of the students at the University of Missouri. (This study may produce a useful marketing campaign for potential Mizzou students. The University of Missouri: You’ll get smarter once you leave us. Or for the alumni association: The University of Missouri — The dumbest years of your life.)

The younger age group really must have pulled down the overall scores because despite ranking in the Top 3 in two areas, Columbia overall ranked No. 41.

The study also ranked four other Kansas communities. But before I give you those, I forgot to mention that the cognitive area that Lawrence scores the lowest in is memory. We were ranked No. 35 Now, onto the other Kansas rankings:

• Kansas City, Mo.-Kans: No. 84

• Topeka: No. 96

• Wichita: No. 211

• Salina: No. 338

Our in-state rival Manhattan was not ranked in the 478 core-based statistical areas. I can only surmise (but since I’m in Lawrence, I’m pretty good at it) that Manhattan didn’t qualify because Lumosity required at least 500 users from a geographic area in order for it to be ranked. I’ll let Lawrence retirees off the hook also , and say the sample size issue is probably why they weren’t included in the Top 50 either. Lumosity required at least 200 users from an age group before they considered it to be a sufficient sample size.

As for other rankings, surely you are curious about who ranked at the bottom of the list. Well here you go, here’s a look at the bottom 5:

• No 474: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach (That’s no fair. You try taking a Lumosity test while on spring break in Fort Lauderdale.)

• No 475: El Centro, Calif.

• No. 476: Kinston, N.C.

• No. 477: Laredo, Texas

• No. 478: Lumberton, N.C.

That’s it. That’s the last one. But wait. Before we wrap this up, I forgot to mention that the cognitive area Lawrence scored the lowest in was memory. We were ranked No. 35. If you want to read the entire report — you’re brainy, so you do — you can find it here.

Reply 42 comments from Notajayhawk Jafs Skull Boiled Dan Blomgren Mommatocharlie The_big_b Bearded_gnome Happyrearviewmirror Hujiko and 20 others

City considering $3.5 million swap with KDOT on West Sixth Street

With the trade deadline approaching in Major League Baseball, maybe City Manager David Corliss also can moonlight a bit as the general manager of the Kansas City Royals. Corliss is in a deal-making mode.

After months of wheeling and dealing on the public-private partnership for the Rock Chalk Park project, Corliss now is sharing details of a proposed swap he wants commissioners to consider making with the Kansas Department of Transportation.

The gist of the deal is that the city of Lawrence will relieve the state of any financial responsibility to maintain the portion of West Sixth Street between Iowa Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway in northwest Lawrence.

Currently, the state has some maintenance and financial responsibilities on that stretch of street because in addition to being Sixth Street, it also serves as U.S. Highway 40.

Under the proposed deal, the U.S. Highway 40 designation will be dropped, and the state’s maintenance responsibilities will be eliminated. In exchange, the state will provide about $3.5 million in one-time funding for the city to undertake several other street projects in the city.

Is this a good deal? I don’t know. It doesn’t solve the Royals’ need for a power-hitting right fielder, but it does give the city funding to tackle several road-related projects. They include:

• $1.5 million to make turning lane improvements at Sixth and Iowa streets.

• $1 million to help defray the city’s expense to improve the intersection of 23rd and Iowa streets, which is a major rebuilding project scheduled for 2014.

• An approximately $500,000 reduction in the amount of money the city and the county will have to provide to KDOT as part of a new interchange that will be built on the South Lawrence Trafficway where it intersects with Bob Billings Parkway

• $500,000 to help the city install traffic signals at two intersections that likely will need them in the near future. Those are Sixth Street and George Williams Way, which will be the major entrance into Rock Chalk Park; and Sixth Street and Champion Lane, which is an entrance into the Bauer Farm Development in front of Free State High.

Several of these projects the city already had budgeted to complete, so Corliss is proposing that those budgeted dollars be shifted to other projects. Think of it like a player-to-be-named later. It's not a second baseman who can hit, but the projects are significant nonetheless. They include:

• $1.5 million to be used for acquisition and design of a possible new police headquarters building. The $1.5 million would be just the initial funding needed for what has been projected to be about a $20 million project. Commissioners haven’t committed to a timeline for that project, but have expressed some interest in securing a possible site for the facility.

• $325,000 for the city to use as its match on a federal/state grant to restore the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence.

• $275,000 for a new traffic signal at Bob Billings Parkway and George Williams Way, which will be just east of the new South Lawrence Trafficway and Bob Billings Parkway interchange.

• $400,000 for the city to expand the city’s ring of fiber optic cable around the city.

As for what KDOT will be getting in this deal, it won’t have to participate anymore in projects to repave or rebuild the portion of Sixth Street between Iowa and the SLT. Corliss is estimating that the state pays the city about $40,000 per year for that section of roadway. I haven’t chatted with Corliss about how he’s quantified that number, but it is a little difficult to ascertain just how much the state may spend on that section of road during any given year.

The city is allowed to apply for state grants through its KLINK program, which provides funds to cities for city streets that also serve as state highways. The grants never pay for all of the work to resurface a road, but they do chip in a significant amount. For example, the city this summer will repave the section of Iowa Street, which also is U.S. Highway 59, from 29th Street to the southern city limits. That approximately one-mile stretch of road will cost about $435,000 to repave. The state will provide a $200,000 grant for the work.

Once the state removes the U.S. 40 designation from this four-mile section of Sixth Street, that portion of road won’t be eligible for the KLINK grants in the future.

So this trade, just like a baseball trade, probably will come down to performance: How well will West Sixth Street perform in the future? How much maintenance will it need? City officials believe now is a good time to make the deal because the section of Sixth Street has undergone several improvements in recent years that should limit its maintenance needs in the near future.

Commissioners will discuss the possible agreement with the state at their 6:35 p.m. meeting today.

Reply 23 comments from Ontheright Gccs14r Average Jayhawkfan1985 Chad Lawhorn Mommatocharlie Joe Adams None2 Blindrabbit Paul85 and 7 others

City commissioners to decide whether to order audit of Rock Chalk Park processes

City commissioners will find themselves in an odd position tonight: They’ll get to decide whether they want one of their more controversial projects of the last several years to be audited.

More specifically, they’ll be asked to decide whether they want their city-hired auditor to more closely look into the Rock Chalk Park recreation center project.

Each year, City Auditor Michael Eglinski brings forward a list of topics for city commissioners to consider for performance audits. This year, at least three of the topics on his list for consideration are related to the controversial Rock Chalk Park recreation center.

Eglinski has proposed an audit of the processes the city will use to ensure fair prices are being charged for the estimated $12 million worth of infrastructure work taking place at the Rock Chalk Park site in the northwest corner of the city. If you remember, the city deviated from its bid policy and is allowing the infrastructure work to be built through a no-bid contract with a company led by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel.

The city has said it will review all the invoices for the work related to the infrastructure, and compare them with market prices to ensure that the costs aren’t inflated. But exactly how the city will do that isn’t entirely clear. This audit would examine some of those processes.

Eglinski has put this topic on his list of seven that he is suggesting commissioners give serious consideration. Eglinski has a larger list of topics that he said are probably lower priority items, but deserve consideration as well. Two of those topics have tie-ins to the recreation center. They are:

• A review of public-private partnership practices. The recreation center is one of the larger public-private partnerships in the city’s history. But this topic also could review some other high-profile projects, such as the proposed hotel development at Ninth and New Hampshire streets and The Oread hotel in the Oread neighborhood. Both of those private projects received significant assistance from City Hall.

• A review of the process for reviewing and approving incentives such as tax increment financing, transportation development districts, tax abatements, and industrial revenue bonds. The Rock Chalk Park project is expected to receive about $40 million in industrial revenue bonds. But perhaps the biggest incentive the project is receiving is the city is set to pay for essentially all of the roads, streets, sewers and other similar infrastructure to serve the track and field, soccer and softball complex that is part of the Rock Chalk project. Those facilities will be privately-owned by a group led by Fritzel. Kansas University will lease the facilities.

Eglinski — who reports directly to the City Commission, rather than to the city manager — is asking commissioners to choose four to five audit topics for him to work on this year. Here’s the complete list of seven higher priority topics that he’s presenting to commissioners:

• Recreation center construction invoice controls;

• Barriers to the city adopting additional performance measurements systems for services provided by City Hall;

• How the city can or should control the amount of fats, oils, and grease dumped into the city’s sewer system;

• A financial indicators report for the city. Eglinski annually completes this report that compares Lawrence’s finances to those of other cities.

• An examination of the police department’s workload, examining the claims that the department needs about 30 additional employees.

• A review of the condition of the city’s sidewalks and the community’s efforts to maintain sidewalks.

Eglinski also compiled a list of 28 other audit topics that he has considered. They include audits of: cable television franchises; capital planning and budgeting; cash control testing; condition of public buildings; downtown parking; vehicle and equipment conditions; financial policies; flow of traffic; finances of the Eagle Bend Golf Course; cost accounting methods for the solid waste division; municipal court workload; funding of outside agencies; the parks and recreation department’s fee waiver policy and scholarship program; the performance of the city’s parking fund; the condition of pavement markings in the city; payment card industry data security standards; process for reviewing and approving economic development incentives; public private partnership practices; purchase card transaction reviews; record retention policies; reliability of the city’s population forecasts and estimates; risk assessment survey of department and program managers; safety and workers compensation; solid waste rate structure; span of control analysis; vehicle and equipment replacement; water conservation.

Commissioners will discuss possible audit topics at their 6:35 p.m. meeting tonight at City Hall.

Reply 18 comments from Jack22 Merrill Steven Gaudreau The_big_b Pizzapete Leslie Soden Lawrencereporter Kernal Larry Sturm Foodboy and 5 others

Teller’s restaurant to change name and concept to Merchants Pub & Plate

It’s official: Teller’s restaurant is now a thing of the past.

We reported in May that the downtown institution Teller’s, 746 Massachusetts St., was closing to undergo renovations and a change in concept from Italian-American eatery to a gastropub.

But at the time, the owners weren’t sure whether the Teller’s name would remain. Well, new chef TK Peterson and general manager Philip Wilson have announced the new restaurant will be called Merchants Pub & Plate. The name pays homage to the Merchants National Bank, which the duo says was the first tenant of the historic bank building at the corner of Eighth and Massachusetts streets.

Folks will have to wait a bit longer, though, to see what a pub and plate restaurant involves. The restaurant is still undergoing renovations, and is not set to open until mid-August.

But as you can imagine, any restaurant with pub in its name is going to have a strong emphasis on beer. The restaurant plans to have 30 beers on tap, plus wines and “craft cocktails.” (I think that means you have to knit while you drink — which is the best way to knit — but I’m not sure of that.)

As for the menu, the duo is describing it as a “new dining concept reflective of the region.” I haven’t seen a full menu for the establishment, but the announcement mentioned “locally-inspired pub fare” such as homemade pimento cheese, fried green tomato sandwiches, and grilled quail panzanella salad.

The restaurant also plans to offer something called a “Chef’s Table.” It will be a single table at the restaurant that can be reserved for one seating per night. The menu for the table will be personally designed and prepared by Peterson, previously was the chef at The Oread hotel.

The restaurant will provide samples from its menu at the Phoenix Gallery during the Final Fridays event downtown this Friday.

I know some of you have gift certificates to Teller’s and want to know if they will be honored at the new restaurant. That wasn’t mentioned in the announcement. I’m checking on it, and if I get word about it, I’ll provide an update in this space. UPDATE: I've heard back from a representative of the restaurant who says Merchants gladly will accept gift certificates from Teller's.

Reply 66 comments from Texburgh Pizzapete Merrill Juma Msezdsit Brink75 Flloyd Kendall Simmons Ku79 Steven Gaudreau and 34 others

1... 8 9 10 11 ...26