Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
If you are a fan of Old Navy, feel free to blow your fog horn and do your best Popeye impersonation. A development that is proposing to bring Old Navy, Academy Sports, Designer Shoe Warehouse and a host of other retailers to south Iowa Street has cleared its first hurdle to approval.
The city's planning staff is recommending approval of the necessary rezoning requests and other such items needed to build the project at the southeast corner of Iowa Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. But hold on there, sailor. Before you order a gross of skinny jeans and midriff T's, remember that a recommendation from the city's planning staff is kind of like a bitcoin: It is worth something if you can get somebody to take it.
This proposed retail development still must win approval from the Planning Commission, the City Commission, and the Douglas County Commission will even have to vote on a portion of it. So, the project is a long way from a done deal, but developments that receive a negative recommendation from the planning staff have a decidedly uphill battle.
Based on the conversations I've heard, it wasn't a foregone conclusion that this project would receive a positive recommendation from planning staff. It is almost certain that the project is going to receive some opposition at the City Commission level. Commissioner Bob Schumm already has indicated he thinks the proposal would throw the city's retail market out of geographic balance. That's a debate that likely will emerge in the coming weeks, but the planning staff did not find the threat of creating a geographic imbalance enough to recommend denial.
Here are some key findings from the planning staff's reports:
• The project would add 460,000 square feet of new retail space, plus 80,000 square feet of hotel space.
• There are three fairly large areas in town that already have been zoned for retail uses but haven't really developed yet. The largest is the Mercato area near the Rock Chalk Park sports complex near Sixth and the SLT. The other two are the area near Johnny's Tavern in North Lawrence, which has been proposed for a riverside type of retail and entertainment area, and the area near Tractor Supply near 23rd and O'Connell.
The report notes if this proposed development is approved, it very well could increase the amount of time that those already-approved areas sit undeveloped. But the planning staff did not find that possibility a good reason to recommend denial.
• The report found the area is suitable for retail development. The city's comprehensive plan calls for the area to develop with a mix of apartments and commercial development that is of an "auto-oriented" nature. Think either a car lot or even a truck stop. The planning staff's report said the comprehensive plan does need to be changed to allow this development because the retail uses would be different than the auto-oriented uses envisioned in Horizon 2020. But the report recommends approval, saying that the proposed development would be a natural extension of the south Iowa Street commercial corridor.
• The report did not find a likelihood that the new retail development would substantially increase the retail vacancy rate in the city. The report said it was highly unlikely that the developer would build any part of the project without first having signed leases for the space. The report does note that it is likely up to three existing retailers in town — no names given — will relocate to the site. But the report noted that in recent years vacated store fronts in Lawrence have successfully redeveloped in a reasonable period of time. Think the formers Sears building which now houses Dick's Sporting Goods, and the former Food-4-Less, which now houses Discovery Furniture.
• Data suggests the city's retail market is now attracting more spending than it is losing. In 1999, the city had per capita retail spending that was 1 percent below the statewide average. In 2013, it had grown to 7 percent above the statewide average. Developers of the project, however, note that Lawrence still trails several other cities in that regard. Lenexa's per capita spending is 59 percent above the statewide average, Salina's 45 percent, Leawood's 42 percent, Topeka's, 33 percent, and Manhattan's 31 percent. The developers also note that Lawrence still well below 2001 totals, when per capita spending was 18 percent above the statewide average. The staff report didn't weigh in on how Lawrence compares to other communities, but said that the recent improvement in the per capita spending numbers was a sign that the retail market was healthy and could absorb more space.
Activity on the project will start heating up quickly. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the proposal Monday evening. It could take votes on the necessary rezoning and comprehensive plan amendments needed for the project. If action is taken by the Planning Commission, the item could be before the City Commission in a couple of weeks.
Then, I think it will get pretty interesting. Based on talk I've heard, I think there are some conflicted city commissioners on this one. Here are some questions I think commissioners likely are mulling:
• Can they do anything to steer retail development toward northwest Lawrence and the new Rock Chalk Park sports complex? Thus far several retailers have taken a pass on that area — think Menards, Dick's Sporting Goods and PetSmart. Clearly there are commissioners who want development to go in that direction. They would like to see more retail options in western Lawrence, but retailers have said they like synergy that is created with the south Iowa corridor. But I've heard commissioners say they don't want Lawrence's retail market to develop like Topeka's, where most of it is located in one area of town.
• Can the city financially afford to say no? This is an interesting time to bring forward a large project at City Hall. The city is proposing a 1.85 mill property tax increase, and a larger tax increase likely soon will be proposed for a police headquarters building. The developers have estimated the project will add $1.1 million a year to the city's sales tax coffers by 2017, and the amount will grow to $2.1 million by 2020. Those are numbers put together by the development group, so you can take them for whatever you think they're worth. The city's planning staff didn't try to verify or refute those numbers.
But there's another set of numbers yet to come. Those will be estimates on how much the development will pay in property taxes. As we reported recently, the developers have said they don't intend to seek any tax rebates from the city on this project. That means the city not only will get to keep all the sales tax revenue generated by the project, but also all the property tax revenue. The property taxes will be significant. For example, the Walmart at 33rd and Iowa streets paid $390,000 in property taxes in 2013. This proposed development will be newer and will have about three times as much square footage as Walmart.
Will commissioners feel comfortable rejecting this proposal and its tax dollars, and then turning around and asking the public for another tax increase to pay for a police headquarters building?
It looks like it will be a summer of interesting questions and answers at City Hall.
Maybe at this time next year, you'll see Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari at West Lawrence's Six Mile Chophouse, or Michigan State's Tom Izzo at downtown's Pachamama's, or Missouri coach Kim Anderson at North Lawrence's circus school.
Indeed, it looks like the city's recreation center/fieldhouse at Rock Chalk Park is going to do more than attract youth basketball players. City officials have confirmed they've reached a deal with a major promoter to bring a signature AAU basketball tournament to the city, which is expected to bring 80 to 100 teams, and upwards of 30 of the top Division I basketball coaches to scout talent.
City officials aren't yet announcing the name of the tournament because the promoter hasn't yet made an announcement, but Chad Tower, the operations supervisor for the Rock Chalk Park center, told me the tournament is one that is currently held in Kansas City. Tower said plans call for the tournament to be held over four days in late July 2015.
"You talk about a chamber of commerce type of weekend, this will be one of them," Tower said.
The four-day nature of the tournament — Thursday through Sunday — is great for hotels and gives participants and their families a lot of time to explore the community's shops and restaurants.
More such tournaments may be on the way. Tower said the same promoter is about 95 percent certain he'll use the Rock Chalk center to host a similar size and caliber tournament for top Division I women's basketball recruits in April. A different promoter is close to signing a deal for a four-day boys tournament that would showcase lower NCAA and NAIA types of talent. That likely would be in early July.
"We already have been giving a lot of tours to tournament directors," Tower said. "When you get in there, you really feel the size of the facility. They have all said this is going to be the best facility in the area. They talk about how there won't be another place like it in the area."
Tower said Parks and Recreation officials also have had good discussions with members of Bill Self's staff about having the KU coach's summer basketball camps at the facility. Those camps likely would take place in June.
We've previously reported the facility also has booked some volleyball tournaments with area clubs and leagues. Thus far, Tower estimates that the facility has a little more than 20 tournaments booked.
When completed in early September, the Rock Chalk center — officially named Sports Pavilion Lawrence — will have eight full-sized basketball courts that can be converted to 16 cross-court playing surfaces. Only seven of the eight courts ever will be available for tournaments because the city has committed to keeping at least one court open for community use at all times.
Now that brings up an interesting possibility: Maybe I'll just happen to be on the community court at the same time Calipari, Izzo and the other big-time coaches are in the facility. They'll be over to watch in no time, because I'm guessing it won't take long for word to spread about the player in jean shorts with the hook shot. Who knows, maybe even Kim Anderson will stop juggling fire for a moment and come over to watch.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There have been some questions about whether people will be able to take the city's public transit system out to Rock Chalk Park. Robert Nugent, the city's transit administrator, tells me the answer soon will be yes.
Nugent said the city will be unveiling its annual tweaking of transit routes in August. That will include a new route that will run from Sixth and Wakarusa to the Rock Chalk Park facility. It won't have high frequency — current plans call for it running once an hour — but it also will have a flex service component to it, meaning people can call and schedule some times as well. Look for more details on the route in the coming weeks.
• Lawrence is staying in the trail business in a big way. The city is working to submit a $108,000 grant to build a new trail along the Kansas River between Burcham Park and Constant Park. The trail would tie into a recently completed trail that is located in the Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park, which is behind the old VFW building at First and Alabama streets. The grant, which comes with a 50 percent match requirement from the city, would be through the Sunflower Foundation, which provided grant money for the trail in Shaw Park. Winners should be announced in August. There currently is a path along the Kansas River, but Mark Hecker, assistant director of parks and recreation, said the new trail would be much more functional.
"We will put it back from the river just a bit to avoid erosion problems, but the idea really is that you'll be able to take a nice walk along the edge of the river," Hecker said.
If the grant is awarded, construction would begin this winter. In the meantime, the city is still waiting to receive word on whether it will receive a state transportation grant to build a new hike and bike trail through East Lawrence. News on that grant is expected at any time now.
• On the very off chance that our plan to get recruited by the country's top basketball coaches doesn't work, we may have a fall back. You get your best Brian Boitano costume on, I'll do my best Reg Dunlop impersonation from the classic hockey movie Slap Shot, and we'll put on quite a show at downtown Lawrence's ice rink.
We've reported several times that parks and recreation leaders are exploring the idea of putting in an artificial ice rink in the plaza area between the library and the parking garage. Well, that plan is still moving forward, and we should know soon whether it actually will be feasible.
The city has sent out a request for proposals from companies that can provide the necessary equipment to create the ice rink. The deadline for those proposals is Friday. At that point, the city should have a better idea on the cost of the facility.
As currently envisioned, the rink — which would be designed for recreational skating, not hockey — would be in operation from around Thanksgiving through the winter holiday season, which may mean through New Years or perhaps all the way to Valentine's Day.
Lawrence consumers are continuing to do their best impersonation of the Energizer bunny. They keep going and going and going. The latest numbers show that retail sales in Lawrence increased for the seventh straight month.
The new report measures retail spending for the mid-April to mid-May time period. And as they say in my house, April showers bring May flowers, a set of designer gardening gloves, a platinum-plated garden spade, and a new diamond tennis bracelet — because it can't all be about toiling away in the garden. All that is to say, consumer sales in Lawrence were up by 9.4 percent compared with the same one-month period a year ago.
Thus far we have six sales tax reports in for 2014 and, year-to-date retail spending is up 4.7 percent for the year. That growth rate is more than double the 2.1 percent growth in sales that was posted in 2013. If the pace continues — and that is a bit like counting your Gucci handbags before the UPS driver delivers them — this would be the third year out of four that sales tax collections have grown by more than 4 percent. And get this, you have to go all the way back to the 1996-1999 time period to find the last time that sales tax collections have grown by more than 4 percent in three out of four years. I don't know exactly what that means, other than we're in a pretty good stretch right now.
As for how we are doing compared with other retail centers in the state, we're right in line. It is worth noting that the city actually is posting better growth rates than one market that traditionally sucks dollars away from Lawrence: Topeka. Here's a look:
• Dodge City: up 0.1 percent
• Emporia: up 6.4 percent
• Garden City: up 6.8 percent
• Hays: down 19.3 percent
• Hutchinson: up 3.6 percent
• Junction City: up 1.2 percent
• Kansas City: up 3.4 percent
• Leawood: up 0.8 percent
• Lenexa: up 4.9 percent
• Manhattan: up 1.7 percent
• Ottawa: up 4.7 percent
• Overland Park: up 5.4 percent
• City of Shawnee: 5.8 percent
• Topeka: up 2 percent
• Sedgwick County: up 4.5 percent
Retail sales numbers could take on some additional importance in the coming weeks. The planning commission next week is scheduled to vote on a proposed shopping center at the southeast corner of Iowa Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. Discussion of whether Lawrence's retail market can safely absorb more retailers is expected to be part of that meeting. The sales tax numbers are some of the best data we have on that subject.
I hope to get my abacus out in the coming days and crunch a few numbers in that regard.
Used bicycle shop opens in East Lawrence; Kwik Shop nixes plan for 19th and Mass. expansion; Baldwin City Walmart update
I've always said that if I could find Lance Armstrong's old bicycle, I would enter the Tour de France, because the bike clearly was the secret to his success. Well, I may be in luck. Lawrence has a new business that specializes in used bicycles. (And just in time for the Tour de France. Don't worry. I've already got the Spandex on, so it will take me no time to catch up.)
The new business actually is an old one that has reopened. After closing its downtown location in 2011, the Lawrence Re-Cyclery bicycle shop has reopened in East Lawrence.
"Everybody I ran into in the community kept telling me how much they missed the shop," said owner Brian Shay.
So, Shay jumped at the chance to be part of what's becoming an East Lawrence renaissance. (Yes, I'm trying to build up my French street cred by using words like renaissance.) The shop is located at 924 Delaware St., which is next door to the new coffee shop Decade and just a block away from the growing Warehouse Arts District.
The shop doesn't actually specialize in used Tour de France bicycles, but rather carries used bicycles of all types. Shay buys, sells and trades a variety of bicycles, and usually has 40 or more on hand at any given time.
"I think we're the type of business that really benefits the community," Shay said. "We're providing cheap transportation. If you can get a bike that retails for $400 for $175, that makes people happy."
Shay said he and his staff refurbish all the used bikes and offer a 30-day warranty on any bike that is purchased. The business also has a full-service shop that will do repairs on any type or age of bike.
"The service shop is important because lots of people are starting to use bikes for transportation," Shay said. "i keep people on the road every day who tell me all they have is a bike."
The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
On a side note, I first interviewed Shay a couple of years ago because he was part of a group hoping to get access to some city-owned land to build a BMX bicycle racing track. I asked Shay about those efforts, and he said they have essentially fallen by the wayside. He said discussions with the city about a suitable location for such a track just never gained any traction.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While my dream of winning the Tour de France and receiving the obligatory lifetime supply of cream puffs and other French pastries is alive and well, the dream of an expanded Kwik Shop at 19th and Mass. appears dead.
As we have reported over the last several months, Kwik Shop had filed plans with City Hall to tear down the existing store, rebuild farther to the east and use the additional room near Massachusetts Street for more gasoline pumps.
But the city's planning office now has confirmed that Kwik Shop has officially withdrawn that proposal. Neighbors along New Hampshire Street had expressed some concern about the store moving closer to their homes. Plus, the project needed several zoning variances to fit all the pumps on the lot. So, don't look for that project to proceed, but I'm told by those who have followed the project to look for a remodeling of the existing store.
• Well, you can tell that Baldwin City and Lawrence drink from the same pail of water because when it comes to Walmart projects, both towns have plenty of concerned citizens. (Just in case you are ever on Final Jeopardy!, Baldwin really does buy its water from Lawrence.) As we reported earlier this week, Walmart has filed plans for a Walmart Express store along U.S. Highway 56 in Baldwin City. The store would be about a 15,000 square-foot mini-Walmart that sells gasoline, groceries, pharmacy items, and offers a service that allows customers to order any item stocked by Walmart.
But according to our sister publication the Baldwin City Signal, about 100 residents showed up at the Baldwin City Planning Commission meeting to express their opposition to the store. Planning commissioners then tabled any action on the proposed development plan.
The planning commission said Walmart needs to submit a traffic study for the development, and the Baldwin City Council needs to determine how the store would fit in with the city's comprehensive plan. We'll see what steps Walmart now takes. It could create the traffic study, or appeal to the city council that such a study is not required. Or, Walmart could decided to drop the proposal all together. Residents near Sixth and Wakarusa probably could offer some odds on that prospect.
Kansas City-area psychiatric practice expands to Lawrence; local drug development firm has success in cancer trials
It was touch and go there for awhile, but my wife's dream of opening a psychic detective office in Lawrence is still alive (At least, I assume that's her dream. She loves the USA Network program "Psych," and she spends an inordinate amount of time rubbing her temples — especially when I'm talking — like she is receiving a psychic message.)
Regardless, I had heard that there was a new psych office coming to town, and I just assumed . . . But in reality, there is a new psychiatric office that has opened in Lawrence, and it really is no joking matter.
It was about 10 years ago that Lawrence Memorial Hospital closed its inpatient mental health unit, and a major reason behind the closure was a shortage of psychiatrists in Lawrence.
A Kansas City-area psychiatrist says the shortage still exists, which has led her to open Awakenings, an office that offers intensive outpatient mental health programs out of the Medical Arts building at 346 Maine St.
"This is a step down from an inpatient unit, but it is a step up from what can be provided by an ER visit for a suicidal patient, for example," said Dr. Maria Cristina Davila, who serves as the medial director for the Awakenings practice.
Davila has been a psychiatrist for more than 20 years. She opened her Awakenings practice in Prairie Village last year and quickly decided to expand into Lawrence after hearing about the need.
"I've been a resident of Lawrence since 1996, and we definitely have a large gap in services," said Angie Logan, a clinical therapist on the Awakenings staff. "I have seen a lot of KU students who have had to drop out of KU because they had to go to Kansas City or elsewhere to get treatment."
The Lawrence office will offer intensive outpatient programs for conditions such as bipolar, anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, pain pill addictions and other issues. Awakenings offers both adult and adolescent treatment programs.
Davila will have regular office hours in Lawrence on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and other licensed mental health professionals also will staff the Lawrence office on other days. A big part of the treatment programs at Awakenings involve group therapy, which meet three times a week for three hours at a time.
Davila said the practice also hopes to have serious discussions with Lawrence Memorial Hospital about how her staff can provide services that complement the mental health treatment that is provided in the hospital's emergency room.
"There is a real problem when patients get sent out of town for treatment," Logan said. "A lot of time when they come back to Lawrence, they don't have that continuity of care, and that is critical."
In other news and notes from around town:
• There's also news on a different health front in Lawrence. We've been telling you for years to keep an eye on the Lawrence-based biotech company CritiTech. Well, the company has recently announced that its latest trials for a possible cancer drug have gone well.
The company put its Nanotax product through phase I clinical trials that involved providing doses to 21 patients with advanced forms of cancers. The trials were conducted in partnership with Kansas University's cancer center in Kansas City, Kan., which is a National Cancer Institute-designated program.
A majority of the patients were suffering from advanced stages of ovarian cancer, but the drug also is designed to treat pancreatic cancer, colorectal, liver and bladder cancers.
"The study results demonstrated that Nanotax was very well tolerated, and there were no serious adverse events related to the drug," said Charles Decedue, Crititech's chief scientific officer. With guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, we are looking forward to initiating the next steps to continue to advance Nanotax."
In other words, the company is still moving down a positive path to gain regulatory approval to sell the drug in the U.S. I reached out to company officials to get a better estimate of that timeline. Drug development is a slow-moving business, but this latest news is a positive development for the company, and there have been other signs that Crititech is optimistic about its future.
As we previously reported, the company purchased a new headquarters location in North Lawrence late last year. The move was billed as a strategy to provide room for the company to expand its laboratory and drug development space.
Questions about whether project would rename portion of Ninth Street; proposed city budget causes some cuts to social service groups
UPDATE: Don't get your heart set on Free State Boulevard just yet. Susan Tate, director of the Lawrence Arts Center and one of the leaders who applied for the ArtPlace grant, called me back and said the idea of changing the name for a portion of Ninth Street hasn't gained any real traction. Tate said the name of the grant proposal does involve the title Free State Boulevard, but she said that is not an indication that the group plans to ask the city commission to change the name of the street. She said it is hard to predict what the yet-to-be-hired design team may recommend, but she she doesn't have any plans to ask commissioners for a name change. "It is just the title of the grant," she said.
When it comes to street names in Lawrence, we like to keep folks on their toes. We have 15th Street that suddenly turns into Bob Billings Parkway. We have 23rd Street that suddenly turns into Clinton Parkway. We have Inverness Drive that turns into Legends Drive. And I'm sure there are some others too that have caused motorists to get into a shouting match with their GPS.
Perhaps, though, we may have one more in the center of downtown. Commissioners briefly talked about the recently awarded $500,000 ArtPlace grant, which will be used to hire a planning consultant and purchase some public art to help remake Ninth Street between Massachusetts and Delaware streets. The city has tentatively agreed to place $3 million in its 2015 budget to fund the actual rebuilding of the street, sidewalk, bike paths and such.
That's all been pretty well understood, but at Tuesday's City Commission meeting, there was some talk that Ninth Street may actually get a new name out of the deal as well: Free State Boulevard.
I'm still trying to determine whether a change in name is a major part of the idea that has been put forward by leaders of the Lawrence Arts Center and others who submitted the ArtPlace grant. The name of their proposal to the ArtPlace grant funders indeed was Free State Boulevard: From the Studios to the Streets.
The application doesn't clearly say that the street would be renamed Free State Boulevard, but there is a portion of the application that makes you think it might.
The application says the grant would be used to "design the streetscape and sustainable plan for permanent and ephemeral art and cultural events that will transform this segment of 9th Street into Free State Boulevard."
I've got a call into Susan Tate, the director of the Arts Center, to get more information on the idea of a name change. Any change in name would have to be approved by city commissioners. Commissioners didn't discuss really at all on Tuesday, but did receive public comment from one East Lawrence resident who said some neighbors had heard of the idea and were not wild about the name change.
Regardless, the name is expected to be a pretty minor part of the project. The bigger question will be how the street would be designed. Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday agreed to put out a request for proposals for a design team for the project. The city is expected to create an advisory group that will include artists, area residents and other stakeholders who make recommendations on the design of the road.
But already there has been a concept presented to city commissioners. In the information provided on Tuesday, there was a sample drawing that showed the section of Ninth Street including a tree-lined median. In addition, there would be bike lanes in each direction and wide sidewalks on both sides. Click here to see a sample design.
UPDATE: Tate told me that she estimates about $350,000 of the grant will be spent directly on art projects or events for the corridor. She estimates about $50,000 of the grant will be provided to the city to help cover the approximately $200,000 in design costs for the project. The remaining money will be used to cover administration, travel and other overhead expenses associated with the grant.
We'll see where the design process leads, but certainly it will put a strong emphasis on making the corridor a "complete street," meaning it will pay as much attention to pedestrians and bicyclists as it does to motorists. Also, expect to see more benches, lighting and public art on the street.
If the street is indeed renamed Free State Boulevard, I guess we'll all know what the signature art piece will be: a 32-foot tall sculpture of a sudsy bottle of Ad Astra Ale.
Oh, maybe we're not talking about that Free State.
In other news and notes from around town:
As we reported from last night's City Commission meeting, a proposed property tax increase is still on track to becoming reality in the 2015 budget. So too is a shakeup of social service agency funding.
Commissioners largely left unchanged a list of recommended funding levels for a host of area social service agencies and nonprofit groups that receive city tax dollars. The recommended funding provides new money to some organizations, but cuts or eliminates the funding of some longtime recipients of city money.
Here's a look at the agencies scheduled to receive cuts in city funding, if the recommended 2015 budget proceeds.
— Warm Hearts: Funding cut by $6,000 to zero in 2015.
—Van Go Mobile Arts: Cut by $35,000 to $32,000.
— Jayhawk Area on Aging: Cut by $7,400 to zero.
— Ecumenical Minister's Fellowship; Cut by $2,000 to zero.
— Downtown Farmers' Market: Cut by $600 to $10,000 .
— Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence: Cut by $17,800 to $227,922.
— Big Brothers Big Sisters: Cut by $4,365 to $19,300.
— GaDuGi Safe Center; Cut by $2,000 to zero.
— Headquarters Counseling: Cut by $10,000 to zero.
— Heartland Community Health Center: Cut by $28,792 to zero.
There are some winners in the process, though. Here's a look at the agencies scheduled to receive increases:
— Ballard Community Center: Up $6,000 to $14,500.
— Success by Six: Up $27,500 to $27,500.
— DCCCA: Up $52,696 to $93,696.
— First Step House: Up $9,761 to $37,421.
The city has a Social Service Funding Advisory Board that reviews all the requests by agencies for city funding. The group had its reasons for recommending the various increases and decreases in funding, but they're too numerous for me to explain here. But click here to see a report by the group explaining its funding recommendations.
Plans confirm Sprouts is latest grocer coming to Sixth and Wakarusa; Rock Chalk Park trails set for approval; Free State to host open house at bottling plant
It is official now: Sprouts Farmers Market will be the new grocery store that will be constructed near Sixth and Wakarusa in the Bauer Farm development.
We've been reporting for months that a specialty grocer was coming to the intersection, and it hasn't exactly been a secret that Sprouts was the leading contender. (A secret is my PIN for my ATM card. I still haven't been able to get my wife to tell it to me.) But now a building permit has been filed for the project, and it lists Sprouts as the tenant.
So, West Lawrence residents, get ready for what should be a good time to be a grocery buyer. In case you have lost count, this means that three of the four corners at Sixth and Wakarusa will have a grocery store. There is Dillons on the southeast corner, Wal-Mart on the northwest corner, and Sprouts on the northeast corner. (Technically the Sprouts will be closer to Wakarusa and Overland Drive, but you could throw an organic tomato from Sixth and Wakarusa and still hit it.) Of course, there is also Hy-Vee at Sixth and Monterrey Way, which coincidentally is undergoing a significant renovation, including a beefed up health market section.
It is almost like they are getting ready for more competition. We could call it the Grocery Games. (As opposed to the Hunger Games. In this competition, rather than bows and arrows, contestants are armed with cocktail toothpicks and copious amounts of free samples.)
The grocery games may just be getting started. An area to keep an eye on is the proposed — but not yet approved — retail area southeast of the Iowa and the South Lawrence Trafficway intersection. The development group has said it plans to have a specialty grocer in that development and has been talking to two such companies. When the developers released the names of likely tenants, a specialty grocer wasn't on the list, which may mean discussions still have a ways to go. I don't have good insight into who the developers may be talking to, but when you think of top specialty grocers not already in Lawrence, you think of companies like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. But the small-store grocery space is a very active one, so there are probably others we're not thinking of.
As for Sprouts, I've got a call into the company headquarters in Phoenix to find out details about a potential opening date, and why the company is interested in the Lawrence market. When I hear back, I'll report back. In terms of what Sprouts offers, the company has a store in Overland Park, so some of you may be familiar. Based on the company's website, the stores have a variety of departments including meat, dairy, frozen foods, grocery, bulk items, bakery, deli, seafood, beer, and supplements and healthcare products. The company touts itself as a "farmers market style" grocer, so produce is a very large part of the store's make-up.
In other news and notes from around town:
• After you get done partaking in all the free samples grocery stores soon will have to offer, you might want to take a walk or jog along a Lawrence trail. Soon, work will begin on a little more than 3.5 miles of trails at the Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence. City commissioners at their meeting tonight are scheduled to approve the plans. Click here to see a map of the proposed trail system. In general, there will be about a quarter-mile of 10 foot-wide concrete trails near the recreation center and stadiums. There will be about 3.3 miles of a 10-foot wide crushed asphalt trail that runs through the woods, the hills and the stream valley that is behind the recreation center. The plans also call for a fire pit area near the recreation center, which could be used as a gathering area when the trails are used to host 5K runs and such. As for costs, the city as part of its master development agreement agreed to pay $404,520 for the trails.
The city also has another Rock Chalk Park item on its agenda tonight. Commissioners are set to approve the design of a $53,200 stone monument sign to be placed at the entrance to Rock Chalk Park. See below for a rendering of the proposed sign. As for the cost, the city had agreed to $150,000 worth of monument sign expenses for the project, so it appears possible that the city will see a savings in that area.
• After taking a long walk or jog, you certainly need to get rehydrated. There will be a unique opportunity to do so on July 19. From 1 to 4 p.m., the The Free State Brewing Company will be hosting an open house of it production facility and bottling plant at 1923 Moodie Road in East Lawrence. Folks can stop by and learn more about how Free State makes its beer and ships it out across the Midwest. Free State beer and food will be available for purchase at the event, with proceeds going to benefit the Health Care Access Clinic.
The open house is part of 25th anniversary celebration for the company, and also the five-year anniversary of the company's East Lawrence production center.
Old Navy, Academy Sports, others announced as likely tenants for south of SLT retail project; Walmart Express taps Baldwin
The type of fireworks that gets the dog excited, the neighbors awake and the ATF knocking on your door may be over, but there are new fireworks, of sorts, that may get Lawrence shoppers excited.
Boom . . . Old Navy. Boom . . . Academy Sports. And just for good measure, Ulta Beauty, Designer Shoe Warehouse, and Marshalls/Home Goods. All of those companies are retailers who have a strong interest in locating in the major new retail area proposed for the southeast corner of Iowa Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway intersection.
We've been reporting on this project for months, and I've told you that I've been working to get some names of potential tenants. Chris Challis, a project manager with the real estate development firm Collett, said all those companies now have consented to have their names released as tenants who intend to locate in the project.
That is, if the project wins City Hall approval. Whether this project gets the necessary zoning approvals from City Hall, will be one of the more interesting questions of 2014. This week the full court press for approval begins from the developers.
The Collett organization has commissioned a retail market analysis that estimates the project will add $132 million in new retail sales to the city upon its completion. And just to make sure the numbers catch the attention of budget-makers at City Hall, the report is estimating the development will add $1.1 million a year to the city's sales tax collections in 2016-2017 and $2.1 million by 2020.
The numbers behind these retail market studies — this one was done by longtime area firm Caplan & Associates — always are up for debate, but this one certainly will restart the discussion about whether Lawrence's retail market is under-served and loses too many dollars to places like Johnson County and Topeka.
For those of you who are just interested in new stores and new places to spend your money, the report provides some good details about what type of businesses are expected at the center. In total, the development is being designed to accommodate 32 new businesses that would occupy 538,550 square feet.
According to the retail market study, the ultimate tenant mix would include:
• Four stores that sell furniture or home furnishings;
• One electronics and appliances retailer.
• Two companies that sell food and beverage goods, such as a specialty grocer.
• One store that focuses on health and personal care products.
• One convenience/gasoline station.
• Four clothing stores.
• Three sporting goods, book stores or hobby-oriented stores.
• Four general merchandising stores.
• One hotel.
• Eight restaurants, with five of them being sit-down restaurants and three fast-food establishments.
• A few offices, perhaps including a medical office, and a mailing and shipping store.
That whole list, of course, is subject to change, but it gives you an idea of what the development group is shooting for.
As for the retailers that have allowed their names to be released, there is a mix of some old and new in there. The Old Navy announcement is not a surprise. We reported on that speculation a few weeks ago. It has long been rumored that Old Navy wanted back in the Lawrence market and only left the Pine Ridge Plaza area near 33rd and Iowa because of lease-related issues.
Academy Sports is also not much of a surprise, although it is interesting timing since Dick's Sporting Goods just opened. Lawrence would go from no big-box sporting goods retailers to two. Academy has been expanding into the Midwest fairly aggressively, so it was not surprising to see Lawrence on its list of locations.
Ulta touts itself as the largest beauty retailer in the U.S., selling everything from fragrances to shampoo. The Chicago-based retailer has about 675 stores in 46 states. Marshalls is primarily a women's clothing store, but it HomeGoods stores sell everything from furniture to bedding to kitchen essentials. And, surely I don't need to tell you what Designer Shoe Warehouse sells. No, it is not warehouses.
I expect to have some more news on this proposed development later this week, so check back.
In other news and notes from around town:
If you remember the multiyear legal battle Walmart had to go through to build its store near Sixth and Wakarusa in Lawrence, you would have a hard time believing "express" is a word that would be associated with the giant retailer in these parts.
But indeed express and Walmart are the words of the day in Baldwin City. The company has filed plans to build a Walmart Express on a vacant lot along U.S. Highway 56.
Based on this article from our sister publication the Baldwin City Signal, perhaps the express in Walmart Express refers to how quickly folks can mobilize against the idea. Petitions opposing the project are being circulated.
Perhaps you are just trying to figure out what the heck a Walmart Express is. I'm tempted to say it is convenience store on steroids, but the better descriptor is probably to say it is a Walmart that's been run through the hot water cycle of the wash. (Things shrink when they are washed on hot, at least I'm assuming that is why my jeans have gotten tighter.)
Based on the reading I've done, a Walmart Express is about 12,000 to 15,000 square feet and includes fuel sales, a grocery department and about 13,000 other items that a traditional Walmart stocks. The grocery department goes well beyond a convenience or dollar store type of grocery. It includes meat, produce and dairy. The stores also have a pharmacy and seasonal merchandise. But perhaps the most interesting thing about the concept is that Walmart is including a delivery service with the store. A customer can go to a Walmart Express and order any item that is stocked in a traditional Walmart store, and it will be delivered to the Walmart Express. I haven't heard what the delivery time will be in Baldwin City, but in North Carolina, Walmart reportedly was testing same-day delivery.
It will be interesting to see whether Lawrence will have an occasion to learn more about the stores in the future. Lawrence already has two Walmarts, but the company is making the Walmart Express stores a big part of its future growth strategy. In February, the company announced it plans to build 300 small stores during 2014, up from a previous plan of about 150. The company is trying to tap into that market currently served by places such as Dollar General, Family Dollar, Kwik Shop and other retailers that serve as a quick service location that people go to in-between their trips to big box stores. At the moment, it looks like Walmart is focusing on placing the stores in smaller communities that are 20 minutes or more from a Walmart Supercenter.
As for the Baldwin City project, the petitions are out in full force opposing the idea. Several people in the community of about 5,000 have expressed concern that Walmart will hurt local businesses such as the grocery store, pharmacies and convenience stores. It looks like the project — which would be between Eisenhower and Washington streets north of U.S. 56 — faces a key vote from the Baldwin City Planning Commission on Tuesday.
Lawrence investors open multistate cocktail business; city to look at fire engine, ambulance issues for North Lawrence
As Roman candles land in the yard, as firecrackers blow up the trash can, and as the Chinese once again invade my neighborhood with their "lanterns" that double as flying blowtorches, I pine for an old-fashioned Fourth of July.
And now I know just the Lawrence company to help me have it: Arty's Legendary Cocktails. What? You weren't thinking of the Old Fashioned cocktail, which is a mixture of whiskey, bitters, club soda and some other flavor enhancers? I guess then you haven't spent enough time watching your party guests try to clean your gutters with an M-80.
A pair of Lawrence investors, though, have been thinking of the Old Fashioned cocktail quite a bit. Scott Still, a retired aerospace engineer, and Dean Reed, the former operator of Kaw Valley Home Sales, have joined with two Wisconsin investors to create Arty's, which produces pre-mixed legendary cocktails that you can buy at liquor stores.
The company technically is based in Appleton, Wis., because Old Fashioned cocktails are quite the thing up there. Still says they essentially are the state drink of Wisconsin, which explains why so many Wisconsin residents wear cheese on their heads. (Trivia question: Can you tell me how Lawrence and Appleton, Wis., are linked? The winner gets a package of Roman candles.)
But two of the four investors are from Lawrence, and Still — the company's vice-president of business development — has his office here. The company also has chosen Lawrence and Kansas for its first big expansion. The company recently signed a deal with Lawrence-based O'Malley Beverage to begin distributing Arty's products in Kansas liquor stores. The product started showing up on some Kansas shelves last week, and another dozen or so stores are expected to be added in the Lawrence and Kansas City area in the next week or so.
The company sells three versions of the Old Fashioned and also has a pre-mixed Moscow Mule. The company plans to soon release a pre-mixed Bloody Mary and some vodka lemonade concoctions. All the products come in 7-ounce, ready-to-drink bottles that are sold in four-packs for about $8.
Even if none of those offerings interest you, this may be a company to keep an eye on because Still thinks it could end up producing some jobs for Lawrence. The company now sells in Wisconsin, the Chicago metro area and Kansas. But it soon will be expanding into Indiana and Las Vegas, with other markets also under consideration.
Currently, the company has a contract with a microbrewer in Wisconsin, and Arty's mixes, bottles and ships the product out of a company-owned facility in Appleton. But as the company grows, Still said a more centralized production and distribution center is likely, and he said Lawrence will get strong consideration for such a facility.
"We think Lawrence would be a terrific area for the concept," Still said.
So, I'll keep an eye open for that.
Now, to our trivia question. Appleton, Wis., and Lawrence really should be sister cities. Both communities were founded with financial help from Amos Lawrence. Technically, Amos backed the creation of Appleton's Lawrence Institute, but the school is largely what fueled the creation of the town. Today, it is known as Lawrence University. We named our city after Amos, while Appleton named its after Amos' father-in-law, Samuel Appleton.
Another acceptable answer is that Appleton is the community that makes Lawrence's fire engines. Pierce Manufacturing, the large fire engine builder, is based in Appleton.
So, I'm feeling generous today. If you had either one of those answers, you can come pick up your packs of Roman candles at my house on July 5. They will be in the yard, on the roof, in the gutters, in the barbecue grill, in the . . .
In other news and notes from around town:
• In case you didn't already know, the city of Lawrence has a ban on almost all fireworks. (Put your handcuffs away. I don't live in the city limits.) I've been asked to list what fireworks you can shoot off in Lawrence. Here goes: Party poppers, snappers, snakes/glow worms, sparklers, toy caps and toy smoke devices. Pretty much everything else is illegal to shoot or sell in the city limits. All those fireworks stands you see are technically just outside the city limits.
it is obvious, though, that many people do shoot fireworks inside the city limits despite the ban. As we reported, the police chief has put together a report on the enforcement of the ban. City commissioners received the report at their meeting last night, but anyone hoping the city would come up with a better way of enforcing the ban was left with a dud.
Commissioners didn't even talk about the issue. They just received the written report and moved on. The report stated the ban is difficult to enforce, in part, because there are many other calls to respond to on July 4, and when the department does receive a fireworks complaint, it often is hard to determine who shot the fireworks after the fact.
I was curious to see whether commissioners pushed for a change in philosophy on enforcement, i.e., moving away from a complaint-based system and one where a certain number of officers are assigned to go out and look for fireworks violations. Think two officers and an unmarked vehicle. Drive through a neighborhood, and stop when you see people shooting fireworks. Confiscate what could be a few hundred dollars worth of fireworks. Give a ticket to those people who are uncooperative. A fire department vehicle could be parked a few blocks away to take the confiscated fireworks and properly dispose of them. Yes, it would take some extra staff, and, no, it wouldn't catch everyone. But it would catch more than what's being caught today, and word may begin to spread. But commissioners had no such discussion of that idea or any other.
Commissioners also didn't have any discussion about asking the county to consider tougher regulations in the future. No ban exists in the county, but the police department has noted that the large number of fireworks tents that exist right at the city limits may be sending the wrong message to Lawrence residents about the legality of fireworks in the city.
Based on Tuesday's lack of discussion, it looks like the status quo is the most likely path for the fireworks ban.
• One event that may get some changes in the future is the Tour of Lawrence bike race. The Sunday morning race that happened downtown caused some traffic disruptions around the fire station at Seventh and Vermont streets.
Ted Boyle, the president of the North Lawrence Improvement Association, took notice. He said the line of backed-up vehicles in the downtown area would have made it very difficult for a fire engine or ambulance to respond to North Lawrence.
He came to Tuesday's City Commission meeting to make sure city commissioners were aware of the problem. Boyle and other North Lawrence residents long have lamented that the city does not have a fire truck or ambulance based in North Lawrence.
At Tuesday's meeting, Mayor Mike Amyx instructed city staff to come up with a policy that would dictate when the fire department should place a first-responder vehicle in North Lawrence. It sounds like the general idea is that when certain roads in town are going to be closed — either for construction or events — the fire department would temporarily place either an ambulance, a fire engine or both in North Lawrence. The specific details of the policy are to be crafted in the next few weeks.
As for the bike race, city officials noted the route was different this year because of some downtown construction. Next year, the route is expected to shift back to its traditional course, which has not produced as much traffic disruption.
New wireless phone and tablet store open on Massachusetts Street; John Brown to make return to downtown?
Sure, there are still all the usual things you can do in downtown Lawrence after having a nice dinner. You can take a leisurely stroll down Massachusetts Street. You can have a cupcake, or two, at one of the many such shops. You can get four or five dips of ice cream for your three or four cupcakes. You can find a bench to stop all this strolling because you're getting cupcake and ice cream all over your shirt, and you are a bit out of breath. You know, all the usual stuff.
But now there is a new activity to add to the list: Play with the latest smart phones and tablets. A new store that sells smart phones, tablets and hundreds of accessories to go with them has opened at 815 Massachusetts St.
Mobilosity is in the space that used to house the tuxedo shop next to Marks Jewelers. Co-owner Oliver Gans said the store stocks about 700 products ranging from headphones to chargers to batteries to stylish cases for phones and tablets. And yes, the store also carries the actual devices. Currently, the store is carrying Apple iPhones, iPads, Kindle Fire, Kindle e-readers, and Blue phones, a brand that competes with the popular Samsung phones. In the coming weeks, the store also expects to stock Samsung smart phones.
On the accessory side, the store carries brands including Sony, Belkin, Monster Beats, Otterbox and many others. The store also offers some cell phone repair services, such as fixing cracked screens, battery replacement and a few other repairs. Currently it is offering service only for iPhones, but Gans said the store is working to expand the service to Samsung phones and a variety of tablets.
Gans — who co-owns the store with business partners Gabriel and Charles Wargin — said he wants the store to have the feel of an Apple store, but with a broader selection of brands and products.
"We want it to be a store that is very engaging where people can come in and play with the devices and the accessories," Gans said. "We want it to be very different than the big box stores."
Gans said that is why the company decided to locate its first store in downtown Lawrence. He said the group likes the idea that people may just want to stop by while they are enjoying an evening on Massachusetts Street.
The store, which opened last week, has hours of 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
"But recently, we had so many people in here at 8 p.m. that we weren't able to close the doors until 9 p.m.," Gans said. "That's a good problem to have."
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don't know if John Brown ever had an iPhone, but he soon will have his own drinking establishment in downtown. (Wow, think of John Brown on Twitter.)
The city is set to issue a drinking establishment license for John Brown Underground at 7 E. Seventh St. If you are having a hard time picturing the space, it is the basement level spot that used to house the Game Guy video game store. But thus far, the fellows behind John Brown Underground are a bit more shy than their namesake was. According to the drinking establishment license, Scott Elliott is a partner in the business. I believe that is the same Scott Elliott who is part of the ownership group at The Summit, the downtown health club at Ninth and New Hampshire. I've got a call into him, but haven't heard back yet.
A few weeks ago, I did talk to Lawrence businessman Doug Compton about the project. Compton is the landlord for the building. He told me the business was going to have a "speak-easy" feel to it, although that has made me more curious than anything else. It is my understanding that the business can't be just a traditional bar, but will have to make the majority of its revenue from food sales in order to meet city zoning regulations for downtown. I haven't heard yet what the food component of the business may be.
But it is one cool name, and it is within stumbling distance of the News Center, so I'll be sure to stay on the trail of John Brown and let you know any details I find.
• One other quick downtown development note: It looks like Lawrence Bank is going to move its downtown branch for a time into the spot that used to house Central National Bank at Eighth and Massachusetts. The location just will be a temporary spot while a new multistory building is constructed at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets, which is where the bank is currently located. When completed, Lawrence Bank will occupy the ground floor of that office/apartment building.
But the temporary move does involve a twist. The company is asking for the exclusive use of two on-street parking spaces along Eighth Street that are adjacent to the bank building. In addition, the bank wants to place a canopy-like device over the two spaces. See below for a picture of the canopy. The bank, according to the request filed by Lawrence architect Paul Werner, is trying to provide something close to drive-thru service for their customers. The bank is offering to pay the city $192 per year, per parking space for use of the spaces. That's how much it costs for a parking permit downtown, although permits obviously don't allow you the exclusive use of any parking spot downtown.
City staff members are reviewing the request and will take a recommendation to city commissioners.
As for the multistory apartment building project, look for it to begin sooner rather than later. Compton has long said he would like to start construction before the end of this year on the project. Construction work in the area, however, is complicated by the work that is underway on the new Marriott hotel being constructed on the southeast corner of the intersection. That project — which also is being built by a group led by Compton — is moving right along. An architect on the project told me the goal is to have the hotel open by the end of this year.
The first neighborly dispute between Menards and Home Depot; city set to increase water and sewer rates
Don't get your tool belt all in a bunch. The proposed Menards store near 31st and Iowa streets indeed is still on track to happen, even though it has been a year since the project was approved and construction still hasn't begun.
I know the delay has some of you fidgeting like you've dropped fiberglass insulation down your knickers. But, really, Menards is oh so close to pulling a building permit for the project.
First, though, there is a little matter of a handyman fight. (And I'm not talking about two men in sweat-soaked flannel in the middle of 31st Street using tape measures as light sabers. Really, I'm not talking about that. My attorney said to take the Fifth.)
In case you hadn't noticed, Home Depot is right next door to the proposed Menards site. At their Tuesday evening meeting, city commissioners will hear from the Chicago-based development group that owns the Home Depot site. The development group is not pleased with the proposed site plan for Menards because it looks like a stormwater issue would limit the ability of Home Depot to expand, if it chose to do so in the future.
The next time you go to Home Depot, notice that there is quite a bit of open land just to the east of the store. Part of the land is used to temporarily detain stormwater runoff before it is released into nearby Naismith Creek. Once Menards is built, the stormwater will run to the Home Depot detention site, then to the Menards detention site, and then to Naismith Creek. The group that owns the Home Depot site would like for it to run directly to the Menards detention site. That would then provide flexibility for additional development to occur on the Home Depot site.
"Certainly there are a couple of acres of land there that could be developed," said Dan Watkins, the Lawrence attorney for the Chicago development company.
The group that owns the Home Depot site thought it had a deal worked out with Menards, but that has fallen through. City commissioners will have to decide whether to force Menards to make the stormwater change. The city's planning staff is recommending against forcing the change because they cannot find any code language that requires it.
Whether any of this is a sign that Home Depot would like to expand in Lawrence isn't clear, but you could understand why it would want to. I'm not sure the average Joe understand how much larger Menards is going to be than Home Depot.
According to the documents filed at City Hall, Menards will have about 250,000 square feet of space under roof. Home Depot has about 94,000 square feet of building. In addition, Menards will have an outdoor lumber yard that is about 150,000 square feet.
If you have been in Lawrence for the last 15 years or so, you know that Home Depot didn't want to build its store this small. But city officials in the early 2000s, had quite a debate about how much retail development should be allowed at that corner. The current configuration of Home Depot and the adjacent Best Buy is the compromise that emerged.
But that was then and this is now, and don't think that the Home Depot folks haven't noticed.
"There was a big change in City Hall policy when they allowed Menards," Watkins said.
Indeed, there is going to be a lot more retail near the 31st and Iowa intersection. In addition to Menards, the latest site plan shows a concept that would accommodate seven other retail buildings. The plan doesn't get specific on how big those buildings could be, but based on the amount of parking set aside for the various lots, it appears three of the buildings could be about 20,000 to 30,000 square feet in size. Those could accommodate significant national retailers. The other four buildings shown on the plan are smaller buildings sized for restaurant or specialty retailers.
Tenants for those buildings haven't been found yet, and Menards has said they won't build any of the buildings on speculation. Menards has enough to do to get its own building constructed. The good news on that front is that planning department officials tell me that this site plan issue is really the last item to resolve before a building permit can be issued. Menards already has filed for the building permit, so it is possible that one could be issued in the next few days.
Previously, Menards officials have said it will take about nine to 10 months to build the store.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don't know about your neighborhood, but in mine this is the time of year when approximately 15 dozen kids use a lawn sprinkler to turn my backyard into a high-speed water slide. (Just like a certain water park in K.C., I would prefer not to talk about what happened to our test dummies.)
Well, in Lawrence, you may want to start charging admission to such backyard fun. Water and sewer rates are both set to go up. As we reported in May, commissioners gave preliminary approval to a new rate plan. At their Tuesday evening meeting, commissioners are set to give final approval and order city officials to begin collecting the higher rates in November.
How much your water and sewer bill will increase depends on who you are. Here's a look at some common scenarios:
— A single-family house that uses 4,000 gallons of water per month will see an increase of $2.62 per month, or a 4.9 percent increase over existing rates.
— A single family house that uses 20,000 gallons per month will see an increase of $11.26 per month, an increase of 5.4 percent.
— An apartment resident who uses 4,000 gallons of water per month will see an increase of 86 cents per month, an increase of 1.8 percent.
— A business that uses 100,000 gallons of water per month will see an increase of $61.56 per month, an increase of 6.9 percent.
— An industrial user that uses 2.5 million gallons of water per month will see an increase of $1,201 per month, an increase of 5.7 percent.
The rate increases will fund a variety of projects, including about $5.8 million worth of improvements to address taste and odor issues that occur in the city's drinking water when algae levels are high at Clinton Lake or the Kansas River.
The higher rates come at a time when other increases are expected to find property owners. The city already has predicted the 2015 budget will include at least a 1.5 mill increase in the city's property tax rate. Black Hills Energy, the predominant natural gas provider in the city, is asking state regulators to approve new rates that would increase the average residential bill by at least $5.70 per month, but likely more depending on how much gas you use. Still unresolved is what new sales or property taxes city commissioners may propose to fund a new police headquarters building. Plus, the county and the school districts may have their own needs for additional funding that could affect taxes.
It is not as much fun as what we did with the test dummy, but let's do some quick math to see what the average person may be facing thus far:
— Property taxes on a $170,000 home: Up $29 a year.
— Average 6,000 gallon water and sewer bill: Up $44 a year.
— Minimum Black Hills natural gas increase: Up $68.
That's an increase of $141 for the year, or a little less than $12 per month. Again, though, this doesn't include anything for the police department or other taxing jurisdictions. Plus, I think it is possible that when the city's recommended budget is released in the coming days that it will include a property tax increase greater than 1.5 mills.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
Deep-dish pizza and funky old photos featured at new west Lawrence sports bar; city receives update on difficulties of fireworks ban; downtown parking changes on tap
There is a new player in the Lawrence pizza battle, and consider this one an offensive lineman version.
As we told you a couple months ago, former KU football player and current broadcaster David Lawrence was teaming up with longtime 23rd Street Brewery owner Matt Llewellyn to open a new sports bar and restaurant at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.
Well, indeed, Legends has opened recently, and now we know more about its menu offerings. Deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza is featured heavily. I do mean heavily. Llewellyn tells me that a small deep-dish pizza weighs four pounds.
"We think we're going to bring very unique food to Lawrence," Llewellyn said. "We'll have traditional dishes, but we think we'll do them in a unique way."
In addition to the deep-dish pizza, Legends also offers hamburgers, three kinds of steak, pastrami sandwiches, a meatball sub named after local coaching legend Wilbur "Nanny" Duver, and a whole page of items labeled "Hudy Approved Health Menu."
That would be Andrea Hudy, who has gained fame for overseeing the strength and conditioning program for the Kansas University men's basketball program since 2004. Hudy is a partner in the sports bar, Llewellyn said. Her healthy portion of the menu includes things such as the Cindy Self Caesar Salad, a steak and goat cheese salad, a Scotch egg salad, grilled Argentinian chicken, shrimp scampi and even pan-fried trout. (Personally, my plan is to put a four-pound deep-dish pizza in each hand and do curls with them as I eat. I'm thinking that has to win some type of stamp-of-approval.)
The restaurant also features more than 200 photos of former KU players, coaches and other local dignitaries. Those are well worth the look, if for no other reason, than to get some ideas for poses for your next family photo. Or, maybe not. I learned two things at the restaurant: Curling deep dish pizza may lead to pepperoni in your nose, and early 1900s photographers did you no favors with their fashionable poses.
If you look at several of the team football photos from that era, one of the players often will be stretched out in front of the team, with his head in the lap of another player. (Maybe he just ate a half-dozen deep dishes, I don't know.) Some of the other photos are interesting too, like the 1897 KU baseball team photo. It includes a dog. One KU football team photo includes a sled that looks like it had been well used by players the snowy day the photo was taken. And there are lots of old KU versus Missouri football photos, including one of the 1921 game, which shows Memorial Stadium before the north bowl was built. Notice in the photo that at least one house existed just a few feet away from the stadium. And since the KU-Missouri game used to always be played on Thanksgiving Day, there is even a team photo taken before one of the games where many of KU's stars are holding live turkeys.
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to midnight daily.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Get ready for Lawrence's annual expression of independence, where on the Fourth of July, hundreds of you show that you are free to break the city's law prohibiting fireworks.
City commissioners this year have asked for a report on why enforcement of the fireworks ban has seemed to be a bit lax in past years. The new report from the police department provides the answer most of us would expect: It takes a lot of time and effort to find a fireworks violator, and there is a high volume of other police calls happening on the July 4 holiday.
In 2013, according to the report, the city had 189 fireworks complaints and issued four citations and confiscated fireworks in 12 instances. Since 2008, the most citations the city has ever issued for violating the fireworks ban has been four.
In the memo, police department officials note that it can be difficult for officers to determine who is actually shooting off fireworks. In 2013, 40 percent of all fireworks calls resulted in no action because an officer couldn't determine an offending party after arriving at the scene.
In addition, the memo states a fireworks call that results in action taken usually will require at least 30 minutes of an officer's time. That's in part because fireworks confiscated from a suspect must be delivered to a designated fire station where they can be destroyed. It is not safe to put the fireworks in the evidence storage areas of the department.
The department does add extra staff during the holiday period, but the memo states those staff members often are occupied by the larger call volumes associated with "fights, domestic disturbances, alcohol offenses, and other volatile situations associated with individuals in a celebratory mood."
City commissioners are scheduled to receive the report at their Tuesday evening meeting. We'll see whether commissioners want the police department to take any extra enforcement steps this year. The department says it can do so, but it "would likely require a dedication of significant resources to adequately address the volume of calls and would necessitate a deliberate refocusing of resources from other operational commitments."
But the memo also warns that increased enforcement likely will continue to put officers in a difficult position.
"Often, citizens point to others around them when an officer contacts them about a violation, and they are quick to point out the abundance of firework stands adjacent to city streets at every main artery in and out of town," the memo states. "Additional public awareness and cooperation with the county on the issues could be another avenue to pursue."
If anything is to come of this, that is what I would keep an eye on: a request for the county to consider tightening its fireworks regulations in the future. Most fireworks have been banned from sale and use in the city limits since 2002. But the county doesn't have any such ban.
• Red, white and blue fireworks may not be the only brightly colored items to begin showing up in early July. An increase in those bright yellow envelopes for parking violations may start showing up on the windshields of some downtown motorists.
City officials have announced that July 7 will be the first day it starts charging parking rates in the new city-owned garage next to the expanded library at Seventh and Vermont streets. That, of course, means that you'll be subject to a ticket if you don't pay the fees.
The garage, however, still will have some free parking spots. Parts of the first and second levels will have two-hour free parking spaces, and the top, uncovered deck of the garage will be available for free 10-hour parking. The rest of the garage will charge for parking at a rate of $1 for up to 10 hours. The garage won't have parking meters nor those fancy gates you drive up to. Instead, it will have pay stations that you walk up to and pay. They will be located near the Vermont Street and Kentucky Street entrances. The machines will be able to accept credit cards or cash.
Study says Lawrence among ‘most improved’ cities since end of recession; another arts-based development for East Lawrence; Turnhalle open house
The bright, fancy labels to attach to our foreheads should be arriving any day now. What's that? You haven't heard that Lawrence has made a national list of "most improved cities"? Indeed we have, and just like the bag of bacon and cheddar potato skins in the vending machine, that means we'll need a label to proclaim our improvement. (More bacon, more cheddar, in case you were wondering.)
The financial website Nerd Wallet has ranked Lawrence No. 21 on its list of the Top 40 Most Improved Cities Since the Recession. The study, which looked at more than 500 cities, used three sets of statistics from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey program to rank cities: the amount of change in unemployment rates; the change in median household incomes; and the change in the median home values. It looked at the time period of 2009 to 2012, with 2009 being the end of the recession and 2012 being the most recent data available from the census.
Lawrence's median home values were almost unchanged from that time period, but it scored well in the unemployment and median household income categories. The study didn't provide all the raw numbers it used, but it is showing that unemployment dropped 18 percent in that time period. No, we didn't have Great Depression levels of unemployment here. Instead, in 2009 the Census Bureau estimated unemployment at about 5 percent. The 2012 data estimated it at about 4.1 percent. The difference between those two percentages is about 18 percent.
The median household income number had an even bigger change. It has increased by almost 21 percent. Again, the study didn't provide the specific numbers, but looking through the census data, I found the 2009 household income estimate was $39,496 and it has grown to $47,755 in the 2012 data. I should note that the margin of error for that 2012 number is plus or minus 15 percent, which kinds of makes statisticians cringe. But we'll let the statisticians fight about that on their own. We can revel in making a top 40 list.
All right, we have reveled long enough. Because there is one other number not included in this ranking that I should point out in regard to how the community has recovered since the recession: job numbers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out a quarterly report on the numbers of jobs that are located in each county. Those numbers don't paint as pretty of a picture. In fact, they show that the number of jobs in Douglas County actually was at a lower level in 2013 than in 2009 at the end of the recession. There were 46,876 jobs in Douglas County in 2009 compared to 46,402 in 2013.
In fact, there were fewer jobs in 2013 than there were in 2003: 46,402 versus 46,940. That's despite some significant gains in population during that time.
Now, to be a bit more positive, the job numbers in Douglas County have once again begun to head in the right direction. We hit our low point in 2011 with 45,641 jobs based in the county. We've grown those numbers a bit in both in 2012 and 2013.
But I point all this out because the job numbers would suggest our recovery from the recession has been pretty lackluster. I looked at how other larger counties in Kansas have fared in that time period. Wyandotte County was the only other one that had a net loss of jobs.
— Johnson County: up 5.9 percent
— Riley County: up 1 percent
— Wyandotte County: down 1.8 percent
— Shawnee: up 2.3 percent
— Sedgwick: up 5.3 percent
So, you'll have to make of those numbers what you will. In the meantime, I'm going to wear this label my wife has given me.
Wait a minute, this doesn't say improved.
In other news and notes from around town:
• One area of Lawrence that seems to have a "new and improved" story going for it is East Lawrence. As we predicted, the city did receive its $500,000 grant to make art-based improvements along the Ninth Street corridor east of Massachusetts Street.
The city still needs to come up with about $3 million to fund the actual street improvements along Ninth Street. The city hasn't yet specified how it plans to do that in its 2015 budget, but I think it is likely we'll see a recommendation emerge in the next few days.
Then we'll see whether the improvements indeed spark a boost in arts and culture-based businesses and events in East Lawrence and downtown. Local developer Tony Krsnich is making another bet that arts-based businesses are going to want to locate in the area.
Krsnich, who has developed the Poehler building and the Cider Gallery near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets, has filed another redevelopment proposal — although this one is on a much smaller scale.
Plans at City Hall show that he wants to do an approximately $200,000 renovation of a a 23,000 square foot warehouse building near Ninth and Delaware streets. The newer building was designed to house traditional warehousing or small scale industrial users. But Krsnich says it now makes more sense to subdivide the building into four smaller spaces that could be used for artist studios or small retail shops that want to take advantage of the activity in the Warehouse Arts District.
• Area residents will get a chance to see one East Lawrence project up close on Sunday. The Lawrence Preservation Alliance will host an open house of the Turnhalle building, 900 Rhode Island St., from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman and Mayor Mike Amyx will speak at 2 p.m.
If you remember, LPA purchased the 1869 building in 2012. It has a long history in the city, serving as the meeting place for the German-American society of the Turnverein. But in recent years it deteriorated, and LPA was concerned about its stability.
Grant money and private fundraising have allowed roof and foundation repairs to occur. LPA leaders are continuing to look for a buyer of the building to complete the renovations and give it a new use.
"We're still talking with legitimate, potential buyers," Dennis Brown, president of the LPA, told me. "Not a lot of them, but but there are some out there who are working with us."
Brown said the LPA believes the building could serve as a nice mixed-use project for the neighborhood, with some commercial and office components. LPA, however, is discouraging people from buying the building and using it solely as a residence. The building's history is one of a public building, and LPA would like to preserve that element of the property if possible.
QuikTrip moving into restaurant business at 23rd and Haskell; home sales fall in May; area businessman in running for national entrepreneur of the year
There is a major new player coming to the restaurant business on East 23rd Street, and its familiar name may surprise you: QuikTrip.
Just like Da Vinci didn't stop painting after the Mona Lisa, QuikTrip isn't going to let its culinary creations end with the masterpiece known as a roller grill full of hot dogs and polish sausages.
The QuikTrip at 23rd and Haskell recently has received a building permit for $135,000 worth of renovations at the store to install a full service kitchen. QT spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said the kitchen will allow the store to serve items like pizzas, sandwiches, flatbreads and other items that are made-to-order on site. Currently, most of QuikTrip's food offerings are made off-site and shipped to the store pre-packaged.
The renovations will move QuikTrip in the fast-food restaurant industry, in addition to its gasoline and convenience store items.
"The two main sellers in convenience stores have been gasoline and tobacco products," Thornbrugh said. "Those are two products that we don't really believe are going to grow. We've been working very hard to make the switch to the fresh food side."
QT is in the process of installing kitchens in most of its nearly 700 stores across the country. Reports out of Tulsa, which is where QT has its headquarters, give a better idea of the menu the revamped stores will offer. In that market, personal pizzas are made-to-order from a choice of six toppings, flatbread sandwiches come in chicken bacon ranch, chicken quesadilla, and spicy barbecue steak, toasted sandwiches include grilled cheese, American bacon cheddar, three-cheese Italian, BLT with cheese and bacon, egg and cheese.
For those of you who want to take the European vacation without the trip to Europe, the store also will offer something called kolaches, a European breakfast pastry that features a sweet dough but savory fillings such as sausage and bacon.
Also on on the menu are speciality coffee drinks that will be made by a barista, frozen lemonades, smoothies and soft serve ice cream.
According to the Tulsa World article, the company is adding about 2,000 employees nationwide to staff the full-service kitchens. Thornbrugh said work at the Lawrence store was in its final stages and should be completed within a week or so.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Homes in Lawrence would sell at a much greater rate if they were all equipped with roller grills and polish sausage air fresheners. But they aren't, and thus far 2014 is showing a slowdown in local home sales.
Home sales in Lawrence totaled 133 in May, down about 7.5 percent from the activity levels in May 2013. The slowdown continues a trend that has taken hold in 2014. For the year, home sales in Lawrence totaled 380 through the end of May, a decrease of about 7 percent during the same time period a year ago.
At this pace, it is looking more likely that Lawrence's two-year streak of increasing homes sales will come to an end in 2014. But leaders with the Lawrence Board of Realtors are trying to put the numbers in perspective. This year's totals are still much better than just a few years ago when the housing market in Lawrence and across the country was really struggling. The 380 homes sold thus far in 2014 represents an increase of 31 percent compared to the same period in 2012 and 46 percent from 2011.
Susan Bonham, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, also noted that the market isn't down across the board. She said sales of homes priced below $200,000 are ahead of last year's pace, but homes above the $200,000 mark are lagging past totals.
Other numbers from the recent report include:
— 13 newly constructed homes sold in May, down from 15 in May 2014. While not positive, that number is an improvement in the trend. Through May, year-to-date sales of newly constructed homes total just 26 units. That's down nearly 37 percent from the same period a year ago.
— $159,350 is the median selling price of a Lawrence home, year-to-date. That's down 5.7 percent from the same period a year ago.
— The median number of days a home sits on the market before selling is 40 in 2014, compared to 57 through the same time period a year ago.
— 451 homes were on the market at the end of May, up nearly 15 percent from May 2013. Real estate agents have said that increase is a positive sign for the market because an increase in inventory is expected to bring more buyers into the market.
— At least one measure is indicating the slowdown in sales may continue for the short term. The number of pending contracts in May totaled 212, down from 242 in May 2013.
• A longtime area businessman is in the running for a prestigious national entrepreneur of the year award.
Smitty Belcher, chief executive officer of P1 Group Inc., has been named a regional winner in the Entrepreneur of the Year contest organized by the business consulting firm Ernst & Young.
P1 Group is one of the region's larger mechanical contractors, and it has deep ties to Lawrence. The company is an outgrowth of Huxtable & Associates, which was founded in Lawrence in the 1920s. P1 Group continues to have a large operations center in Lawrence near 23rd and Haskell.
Belcher has been an active member of the Lawrence business community and area philanthropist. As one of 10 winners in the midwest region of the competition, Belcher now is a finalist for the national entrepreneur of the year award, which will be announced in November.
City being asked to repeal ordinance banning concealed carry of knives; incentives package for $75M apartment project faces first vote
Well, this is awkward. No one has shown up for the revolution.
If you remember a few weeks ago, Lawrence city commissioners were told that a pair of local laws prohibiting the concealed carrying of knives would no longer be valid because a new state law has been passed that specifically allows people to carry concealed knives. The city's legal staff had recommended the city remove the local laws from the books, since they no longer would be enforceable.
But city commissioners balked at that idea. They asked for staff to research the issue more, and they also said leaving the laws on the books may be a good way to protest the actions of the state Legislature. They suggested the protest would be even more powerful if other cities joined in the action and left their laws on the books too.
Well, it looks like we're the only people still listening to Bob Dylan these days. We're the only ones who know how to stick it to the man. On second thought, scratch that one. We are talking about knives after all. Regardless, you get the point. Geez, that's not any better.
Anyway, after a bit of research, the city's legal staff has determined that no other city in the state plans to join Lawrence's little protest movement. The League of Kansas Municipalities "advises that it knows of no other city — except Lawrence — considering protesting the legislation by leaving the conflicting ordinances on the books," Maria Kaminska, an assistant city attorney wrote in a memo. "While the city may leave its conflicting laws on the books, the league advises that it is not recommend and that the laws should be repealed."
But Kaminska said her research does indicate that the city can pass a local ordinance that prohibits a few more weapons than originally envisioned. Knives such as switchblades, dirks and daggers can't be prohibited due to the state law. Residents beginning July 1 will be able to carry those hidden on their person. Unlike the concealed firearms law, no special license is required to carry a knife concealed. But Kaminska said the city can prohibit other weapons such as bludgeons, sand clubs, metal knuckles, throwing stars, a billy, blackjacks, tear gas and smoke bombs.
Also prohibited are slungshots, which of course is the weapon of choice of Durwin, David's brother who failed spelling class. No, a slungshot is not a slingshot. According to the slungshot expert Mr. Google, it is a "maritime tool consisting of a weight, or 'shot,' affixed to the end of a long cord often by being wound into the center of a knot called a 'Monkey's fist.'"
So, put your slungshot back in the closet. I probably will leave my Rocky Balboa monkey in the closet as well, out of an abundance of caution. (He has quite a pair of monkey's fists.)
Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will be asked once again to repeal the existing ordinances relating to the carrying of knives and to pass this new ordinance that does prohibit the weapons mentioned above.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As we have been telling you, city officials have a decision to make on what type of financial incentives they want to provide for apartment development in the future. The decision-making process begins tomorrow as the city's Public Incentives Review Committee will consider a tax rebate request for a $75 million apartment/retail development across the street from KU's Memorial Stadium.
A new city report evaluating the request has been completed, and it indicates city officials have some thinking to do. The report from the city's economic development coordinator found the current request for a 95 percent, 12-year property tax rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act does not meet the city's current guidelines for incentives. The request also would include a sales tax exemption on construction materials purchased for the project.
The city has a guideline that for every dollar of financial incentive provided, the city should receive $1.25 in future benefits. The city report found that the project would provide only $1.09 in future benefits to the city and only $1.02 to the county.
The report estimated that a lesser incentive would meet the city's guidelines, but just barely. An 85 percent, 10-year property tax rebate would produce $1.26 in future benefits for the city and $1.38 for the county.
In either case the total value of the incentives packages is large. With the 95 percent, 12-year package, the project would have $6.4 million in property taxes and sales taxes rebated back to it. Under the lesser proposal, the amount would drop to $5.6 million.
But members of the development company — Chicago-based HERE Kansas, LLC — note that the project really will be unique. In addition to the 237 apartment units, it will have about 15,000 square feet of retail space on its lower levels. The project would replace a deteriorating apartment complex — Berkeley Flats at 1101 Indiana St. The project also would include the area's first automated parking garage, which uses a system of lifts and tracks to allow cars to be parked without the assistance of a motorist. The system is being touted as a way to provide parking solutions in areas short on space, plus as a way to cut down on carbon emissions.
Given all that, the development group is not backing away from its original request of a 95 percent, 12-year tax abatement.
"We think it is important to note in closing that we only requested exactly what we needed to make the project work," James Heffernan, a principal with the company wrote in a letter to the city. "Given the tremendous private sector costs involved, every dollar in our budget is absolutely critical to making this investment work."
The Public Incentives Review Committee, which meets at 4 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, will make a recommendation on the incentives package. From there, the city commission, county commission and the school board all must agree to participate in the tax rebate program. The city commission has the final vote on the sales tax rebate portion of the request.
• The Public Incentives Review Committee also will hear a financial incentives request for a project to convert an old East Lawrence home and barn into a residential/office project.
As previously reported, a group led by the Lawrence-based architecture firm Hernly Associates is seeking a property tax rebate for the property at 1106 Rhode Island St.
The group seeks to do about $900,000 worth of work to rehabilitate the historically significant house and convert the property's barn into office space. But developers say they need an 85 percent, 10-year property tax rebate to make the project feasible. It also is seeking a waiver of about $24,000 in development and utility fees that normally would be charged to the project.
A report from City Hall shows the incentive request for this project does meet the city's guidelines. The project is expected to produce $1.42 in future benefits to the city for every $1 worth of incentive provided and $3.87 in future benefits to the county.
Hernly's group also is asking the city to sell the development group the property at a price less than what the city paid for it. The city used the eminent domain process to purchase the property, after the property had badly deteriorated under private ownership. The city paid $114,500 for the property. Hernly is proposing to pay the city $90,000 for the property, largely because of its dilapidated condition, he said.
Hy-Vee to add Starbucks, sushi and other items as part of remodel project; KCC seeks comments on proposed natural gas rate increase
Granola, Starbucks, sushi, a big deli sandwich and perhaps a conversation with a dietician. Perhaps a rather long conversation with a dietician. All those items and more are slated to be part of a remodeling project now underway at the Hy-Vee on Sixth Street.
City officials have issued a nearly $70,000 building permit for the store at 4000 W. Sixth St., and store manager Andy Sutton tells me that the first changes customers will notice is a new Starbucks store. Hy-Vee has been featuring the Caribou Coffee brand, and it will remain the brand served from Hy-Vee's kitchen. But Sutton said Starbucks has been a popular addition at other Hy-Vee locations.
There is little doubt it will be popular in west Lawrence. I haven't yet been able to confirm that the city is undertaking a project that will allow for Starbucks coffee to come directly out of the faucets of west Lawrence homes, but surely planning for the project is underway. Unless I've lost count, this will be the third Starbucks between Wakarusa and Monterrey Way — one in Dillons, one standalone store and now one in Hy-Vee.
The Hy-Vee-based Starbucks is slated to be open by mid-July. The Starbucks, though, is just the beginning. By the end of August, several other improvements should be completed. They include:
— A doubling in size of the store's health market section. When all is said and done, Hy-Vee will have more than 300 bins for bulk product items like whole grains, beans, nuts, granola and other items.
"As consumers' lifestyles change, we need to update as well," Sutton said. "Health markets were in their infancy when this store was built, and now it is the product that customers really demand."
— A "resetting" of the store's center aisles to increase product variety, especially with ethnic and Asian foods.
— Ready to eat food offerings will grow with a new fresh, sushi bar and a new Italian and delicatessen case.
— A more visible and accessible office will be created for the store's dietician to encourage customers to stop by and have conversation with the full-time professional. Sutton said customers will be able to get shopping tips related to weight-loss strategies, gluten-free diets, options for diabetics and other such topics. The dietician office will be near the front of the store where the customer service photo area is located.
Those are the main changes on tap for this remodeling project, but shoppers should keep their eyes open for other changes in the next few years.
Sutton said that in the next three years, Hy-Vee plans to add the Market Grille or Market Cafe concept to many, if not all, of its stores. The concept means a portion of the store will turn into a more traditional restaurant, complete with waiters and waitresses. Before you freak out, the option to buy directly out of the cases or the salad bar, and seat yourself will remain, but Hy-Vee is finding some people like the full restaurant experience at their stores.
The Market Cafe concept, according to Hy-Vee's website, offers a menu of hamburgers and flatbreads and other such fare. The Market Grille, however, offers those items plus steaks, chops and other forms of higher dining. In fact, it looks like some of the Market Grilles come equipped with a bar and craft brews and such. It looks like the nearest Market Grille concept is located at 151st Street in Olathe.
Like I said, neither the cafe nor grille is in the plans for this remodel, but keep an eye open for that trend. West Lawrence residents, I'm sure, will have plenty of caffeine to keep both eyes open.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It won't be as much fun as buying 42 pounds of granola in bulk, but you may want to mark calendars for a meeting on July 10. The Kansas Corporation Commission will be in Lawrence to discuss a proposed rate increase for Black Hills Energy, the largest natural gas provider in the city.
Black Hills has filed a proposed rate increase that would increase the average monthly bills of residential consumers by 7.5 percent and for commercial customers by 9.9 percent. Much of the increase comes in the form of an increase in the monthly service charge, which shows up regardless of how much gas you use. For residents, it is proposed to increase to $21.70 per month, up from $16, according to information from the KCC. For commercial customers, it would rise to $36, up from $22.75.
Black Hills officials say the rate increase is needed to recover the significant amount of money they have invested to keep the system "safe, reliable and efficient." The company also notes that its wages, medical costs and supplier costs are on the rise.
The proposed rate increase, however, doesn't have anything to do with how much natural gas is selling for on the open market. Black Hills simply passes along the cost of the gas to customers. How Black Hills makes its money is by charging a fee for the delivery of the gas. The KCC, however, regulates the rates Black Hills can charge for that service.
Black Hills has a website that explains why it is asking for the increase, and also has a calculator to help you figure out how much your bill may increase. Black Hills' last rate increase was in 2007.
The July 10 meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the Dole Institute of Politics. Public comment will be accepted. The KCC will be accepting public comment on the proposed rate increase through Sept. 22. For more information on how to submit written comment, click here.
Fourth of July celebration details announced; The Met makes major purchase of works by Lawrence artist
It is time to start making those Fourth of July plans. Start peeling the potatoes for the salad, dig the hole for the pig roast, and build the access road, concrete launching pad, and the 122 -foot-deep safety bunker for the "fireworks" show.
Or, some of you may just want to note the details of the Lawrence July 4 community celebration. Several of you have asked whether the party in Watson Park is returning, and indeed it is.
Jay Wachs of the local Internet radio station Lawrencehits.com is one of the organizers this year, and he gave me a host of details. Among them are:
— Gates open at 4:30 p.m. on July 4 at Watson Park. The fireworks show will begin at about 9:45.
— Wachs expects 13 locally owned restaurants that are part of the Lawrence Originals organization to be on hand to serve food. The event is free to enter, and people simply can buy what food and beverages they desire from the variety of food vendor booths. (Did somebody say beverages? Yes, the event has received a permit from the city to allow beer sales.)
— Five area bands will play throughout the evening. (No, not at the same time. That would get confusing.) The first band is set to take the stage at 5 p.m.
— Organizers have arranged to have a larger children's play area at the event. Laugh Out Loud and Theatre Lawrence are hosting the play area.
— The gazebo area in Watson Park — that's the "train park" near Sixth and Kentucky, by the way — will serve as a spoken word stage. Wachs plans to have a poet, theater performances and even a magician on hand. (A magician? Maybe he can make my "fireworks" bill disappear. Or maybe the ticket for violating the "noise ordinance" or the "fire code" or the "non-proliferation treaty.")
The event, which is dubbed Party in the Park 2014, has three major organizers: Lawrencehits.com, the restaurant marketing group Lawrence Originals, and the Lawrence Jaycees, which is the organizational force behind the actual fireworks display.
This year the Fourth of July is on a Friday, so Wachs is expecting large crowds. Wachs estimated about 15,000 people attended last year's event, and he believes a crowd of near 20,000 is possible this year.
It won't be the only event downtown either. Abe & Jake's Landing, which is right next to City Hall along the Kansas River, will be hosting a viewing party. The event will have a $5 entry fee, which will benefit Ballard Community Services. The landing is well situated to see the fireworks display, which is shot off from the Kansas River levee. The event also will provide you a chance to partake in the other Independence Day display of colors — barbecue sauce all over your shirt. Mr. Bacon BBQ will be serving at the event.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Fireworks aren't the only beauty Lawrence produces. The city is home to several renowned artists, and one recently has made a major sale to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Twenty screen prints by Lawrence artist Roger Shimomura recently were acquired by the museum for its permanent collection. The prints are Oriental Masterprint #6 through Oriental Masterprint # 25. They were hand printed by Shimomura in his Kansas University faculty studio from 1974 to 1976.
Shimomura, who is a Lawrence resident, taught art at KU from 1969 to 2004, when he retired as a distinguished professor. Shimomura has gained international recognition as an artist who addresses sociopolitical issues, especially related to Japanese-Americans. Shimomura and his family were confined to a concentration camp for Japanese-Americans during part of World War II. I interviewed Shimomura about that experience in 2011.
Shimomura continues to be active in the art world. He is currently working on a mural for a Seattle low-income housing project.
Perhaps my wife has infiltrated the Lawrence construction industry and convinced the builders of her motto: Summer is for shopping (And in case you are wondering, the calendars that show summer beginning on June 21 are sneered at in my house.)
As we told you yesterday, current retail sales numbers are painting a positive picture of the Lawrence economy. Recent building permit numbers, however, aren't quite as rosy.
The latest report from City Hall shows that the total value of construction projects underway in Lawrence is at its lowest level since at least 2009. Through May, the city has issued permits for $31.5 million worth of building projects, which is more than a 55 percent drop from the same period a year ago.
That's not too surprising. Last year was a monster year for the local building industry, at least when it came to big projects. There was the downtown hotel, Rock Chalk Park and the library, which all contributed mightily to construction totals. But what is surprising is that this year's construction totals are lagging behind more ordinary years. From 2009 to 2012, the average number of projects underway through May was about $39 million. We're 20 percent below that average, so it seems safe to say that we're off to a slow start in 2014.
Home builders, apparently, are among those out shopping with my wife. (That explains the pink hammers and the "bedazzled" tool belts.) Builders in May started only nine new homes in the city. That's the lowest May total since at least 2009, although the average since 2009 has been only 13. For the year, builders through May have started 51 homes, down from 74 started at this time last year.
The five year average number of home starts is 55. So, the numbers aren't that bad for home builders, but the 2013 totals had created some optimism that 2014 would be the year the industry really started to sustain some momentum. That doesn't seem to be happening in Lawrence, although early totals suggest it is occurring in the Kansas City metro area. May numbers haven't been released yet, but through April the eight-county KC metro area was off to its best start since 2007. In case you are wondering, builders in KC have started 1,304 homes through the first four months of the year. More specifically, Olathe has issued 174 permits, Overland Park 142, Lenexa 63 and Shawnee 55. Again, all of those numbers are through April.
Lawrence's numbers also have one other oddity to them thus far: No permits have been issued for apartment units. This is the first time since 2010 that the city has started the first five months of the year without new apartment construction.
But things change quickly in the construction industry. Plans have been approved for at least two large apartment projects that could begin construction later this year: a multistory loft-style development near Ninth and Delaware streets in East Lawrence, and a huge seven-story apartment/retail project across the street from Memorial Stadium. Developers with that project recently announced that it is expected to be a $75 million project. That single project would be more than double all the construction that has taken place thus far in the city.
So, the picture may look a bit different in a few months. Maybe the motto should be wait until fall. Maybe fall will provide some relief for the construction industry, but not for me. Where I reside, the motto is Fall is for Fashion. Winter? No. Winter is for Waterford. Spring? Surely you jest. Everyone knows Spring is for Second Mortgages.
In other news and notes from around town:
• We've also been reporting lately on the potential for a property tax increase at Lawrence City Hall. Commissioners had their latest budget study session yesterday, and while no decisions were made, I didn't hear anything to make me believe a tax increase isn't likely. It appears the discussion will start around a 1.5 mill increase and grow from there.
Part of the numbers provided by City Hall on Tuesday was a history of the local property tax rates. You can look at the chart here . The quick takeaway from the numbers is that during good economic times, the city was fairly successful at holding the property tax rate stable or even allowing it to decline. From 2003 to 2008, the city's property tax mlll levy dropped by 1.44 mills. During tougher economic times, the city's mill levy has increased. From 2009 to today, the mill levy has increased by 3.36 mills. During that time period, the city also added three sales taxes that increase the sales tax rate by 0.55 percent.
Increasing taxes during tough economic times isn't uncommon. When growth slows, government still has to pay its overhead. Paying overhead costs — like salaries, health insurance and pension costs — has been a theme of this latest proposed tax increase. But the period since 2009 also has been one of significant new projects as well. They have included an $18 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library and $22.5 million of expenditures related to the Rock Chalk Park recreation center and the adjacent privately developed sports facilities that will be leased to KU.
Voters approved the library expansion at the ballot box, and that has been the single largest increase in the city's mill levy during the time period. Voters also approved the sales tax increases, which fund public transit and infrastructure repairs. The recreation center never was put to a public vote, and it hasn't technically caused an increase in any tax rates. City officials are using sales tax money that previously was dedicated to paying off debt that has since been retired. But I mention it in this context because the option existed for those sales tax dollars to have been used to help fund the existing budget as opposed to funding a new building project.
Of course, the city is not the only tax game in town. The chart shows the tax rates for the city, the school district, the county and the state of Kansas. When you add up all the tax rates, you'll see that the total mill levy paid by Lawrence residents has increased 10 out of the last 13 years.
Since the end of 2008, which is when the economy really started to sour, the mill levy has increased by 8.11 mills. For the owner of an average $170,000 home, that means the property tax bill currently is $158 more than it was in 2008. Another way to look at it is to compare how the tax bill has increased compared with inflation. In 2008, a $170,000 home paid $2,314 in taxes. Today, it pays $2,472. If the tax bill would have grown at the rate of inflation during that time period, the bill would be $2,547. So, in that scenario, taxes have increased less than inflation.
Before you throw your shoe at me, though, let me note another scenario. Perhaps the value of your house also grew at the rate of inflation. If so, your $170,000 home in 2008 is now worth about $187,000. The tax bill on a $187,000 home is $2,719, or about 7 percent greater than the rate of inflation. Of course, the key variant there is whether your home increased at the rate of inflation or not. I'm not sure that all did, given the downturn in the real estate market. But some certainly did.
As for the sales tax, that is kind of easier to understand. For every $10,000 of taxable goods you purchase in Lawrence, you are now paying an extra $55 in taxes because of the increased sales tax rate.
Make of that what you will, but this is the season that City Hall is awash in numbers, so I thought I would let you swim around with us for a bit.
Retail sales grow for sixth consecutive month in Lawrence; KU launches 25th startup company; city receives another incentive request
March Madness. You all remember those days in Lawrence. We were all mad. Stupid doctors who can't fix Joel Embiid's back. Stupid Stanford mascot. Stupid television screen that can't withstand a platter of 23 pounds of bean dip being thrown at it.
Well, evidently we weren't so mad that it stopped us from shopping. In fact, perhaps nothing in 2014 will stop us from spending our dollars in Lawrence. The latest sales tax report from City Hall shows that spending for the period from mid-March to mid-April was up nearly 4 percent compared with the same period a year ago. The bigger news is that this is the sixth consecutive report that has shown an increase in spending by Lawrence consumers.
For the year, sales tax collections are up 3.8 percent. That's a welcome sight to those who watch the Lawrence economy. The 3.8 percent growth rate is better than the 2.1 percent growth rate posted in 2013. Retail sales activity in 2013 began to show some signs of slowing, but the 2014 numbers should be easing those concerns.
Even though state revenue figures have been less-than-stellar lately, the sales tax numbers show a retail rebound is underway in several of the state's larger communities. Lawrence's 3.8 percent growth rate is just middle-of-the-pack compared with several other communities. Here's a look at the growth rates in other major shopping areas in Kansas:
• Emporia: 5.1 percent
• Garden City: 5.7 percent
• Hays: down 23.4 percent
• Hutchinson: 2.4 percent
• Junction City: down 0.3 percent
• Kansas City: 4.2 percent
• Leawood: down 1 percent
• Lenexa: 5.1 percent
• Manhattan: 0.8 percent
• Ottawa: 6.3 percent
• Overland Park: 5.5 percent
• Salina: 2.1 percent
• City of Shawnee: 3.9 percent
• Topeka: 1.5 percent
• Sedgwick County: 3.1 percent
So, the numbers are good, but it is important to keep them in perspective. Two other closely watched sets of numbers haven't gotten off to as strong of a start in 2014: home sales and local building permits. We'll have an update on the latest numbers from those sectors in the coming days.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Here is another Lawrence number to take note of: 25. Kansas University has recently announced that its 25th startup company has been formed. This one is all about protein. Yes, I have a platter of bean dip that would seem to make me an expert on protein. (Well, I have pieces of the platter.) Regardless, that's not really the type of protein we're talking about.
KanPro Research is a company that produces laboratory proteins that are used by other research companies. KU biochemist Philip Gao is the founder of the company. The firm currently has two employees and is located in the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on KU's West Campus. Gao said he believes the company could grow to 10 employees by 2017.
The company expects to sell its proteins — it specializes in hard-to-produce proteins — to other universities and to the private sector. In particular, Gao expects the large and growing animal health sciences industry that is centered on the Kansas City area to be a major source of industrial companies.
Currently, the company is producing smaller, laboratory-scale batches of proteins, but Gao said he thinks there's potential to grow into a larger regional facility that would produce large batches for manufacturing purposes.
"Our goals are long-term," Gao said. "We want to create a lasting company in Lawrence with a focus on serving regional scientists and benefiting the biotech community."
• Yesterday we told you about a financial incentives request city commissioners have received for a $75 million apartment project. Commissioners also have received another request for a smaller scale project.
As expected, local architect Stan Hernly is requesting a partial property tax rebate and fee waivers to facilitate the rehabilitation of an old home and barn at 1106 Rhode Island St.
In case you have forgotten, 1106 Rhode Island St. is the property the city bought through the eminent domain process earlier this year. The house and barn are historic structures that had fallen into disrepair under previous ownership. The city's plan was to purchase the property and then make it available for redevelopment by the private sector.
Hernly's group has proposed renovating the structures to accommodate residential and office uses. But Hernly sad the numbers clearly show that project isn't feasible without financial incentives. Hernly is asking for the city to waive about $26,000 in development fees, such as building permit fees and utility connection fees.
As for tax incentives, Hernly is asking for a property tax rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. The project is seeking an 85 percent abatement on new property taxes generated by the project for a 10-year period.
City staff members are recommending that the request be forwarded to the Public Incentives Review Committee for study and recommendation.
More details on proposed PetSmart on south Iowa Street; city gets incentives request for $75 million apartment project
It is going to be a different type of one-stop shopping at 27th and Iowa streets. All of us youth-league coaches will be able to load up on our sporting goods gear at the new Dick's and be able to walk next door to PetSmart to pick up the feed for our team's mascot. (We all do buy mascots, don't we? What do you guys feed your lions, by the way?)
We briefly reported on Friday that plans have been filed for PetSmart to go into a space next to the Dick's Sporting Goods store. Well, I've had a chance to review those plans a little more closely, and it appears PetSmart may be just the beginning of the new retail development at the corner.
The plans filed at City Hall also show space for two new retailers not originally envisioned as part of the redevelopment of the former Sears site. No word on who those retailers may be, but the fact that the site's Wichita-based development group is adding space surely is a sign that interest levels have been strong for the location.
PetSmart is taking about 15,000 square feet of space on the southern end of the approximately 85,000 square foot building that used to house Sears. But the plans also call for a small expansion on the southern end of the building. That would allow for another 5,000 square-foot retail space to be added to the addition. That retail space is new from the last time plans were filed at the site. In addition, the development still has about 9,000 square feet of retail space available on the north end of the building. Dick's Sporting Goods, which recently opened, is in the center portion of the building. See below for the latest rendering of what the building is expected to look like when fully developed.
The original plans for the site did include a restaurant building that would be located in the southeast corner of the parking lot, kind of near the Midas automotive repair shop. But now the new plans show that portion of the project has expanded. Not only will it include 4,000 square feet of space for a restaurant, but it also will include 4,000 square feet of space for a retailer.
So, if you are keeping track at home, the corner that once just used to house Sears now is slated to house five retailers and a restaurant. I'll keep my ears open for other possible tenants. For what it is worth, I've really only heard two rumors about this site in the past several months. One was PetSmart, which I first reported on in January. That rumor ended up being true, so perhaps there is some validity to the second one as well. Or maybe not.
Regardless, the second piece of speculation surrounding the site has been Chick-fil-A. As we reported in December, Chick-fil-A representatives filed paperwork at City Hall inquiring about the zoning status of the 27th and Iowa site. What Chick-fil-A asked for from City Hall was a zoning certification letter, which is a piece of paperwork often required before a company's lawyers will sign off on a new project. But I've heard nothing of Chick-fil-A and that site since December, so I've been having to put a quarter cup of mayonnaise and sliced pickles on my own sandwiches. But I'll continue to keep an ear out.
In the meantime, I've got a couple of other problems to figure out: Why does my team keep choosing an elephant, and how the heck am I going to get it in the gym?
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners soon will get to decide how serious they want to become in providing financial incentives to spur new apartment development in Lawrence. As we have been telling you for weeks, the Chicago-based development firm proposing a large new apartment complex across from KU's Memorial Stadium will be seeking financial incentives from the city. Well, the group — HERE Kansas, LLC — has filed its request. It is seeking essentially a 95 percent tax rebate for 12 years on the new construction. It is asking for the rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act, which is a program designed to spur the rehabilitation of downtrodden properties.
The request will go to the city's Public Incentives Review Commission for a recommendation, but ultimately the decision will be up to city commissioners. The request did provide new information about the project. Namely, it estimates the seven-story, 239-unit apartment complex with ground floor retail space will be about a $75 million project. So, even with a 95 percent tax abatement, local governments still would stand to get some new tax money from the project, although not nearly as much if no incentive were offered. But the development company says the project without a financial incentive is "on the borderline of acceptable financial risk."
The project as proposed includes what would be the state's first automated parking garage that uses robotics and lifts and other such devices to tightly park cars without the aid of a driver. The system, however, is one of the key drivers of cost for the project, but the development group says it is a key to maximizing the density of the site.
The project is proposed for the current site of the Berkeley Flats apartment complex and an adjacent single-family home at 1101 and 1115 Indiana Street.
The city has provided some financial incentives for apartment development in the past. But generally commissioners have touted the unique nature of those projects. Specifically, they have given financial incentives for the proposed apartments at Ninth and New Hampshire because they cited a city goal of adding living units to downtown. They also have given financial incentives to the Poehler Lofts project in East Lawrence, citing the goal to revitalize that rundown warehouse district and adding rent-controlled housing units to the area.
This project does have some uniqueness to it. There is the new parking technology. But it also is an example of a mixed-use project — about 14,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor with apartments above. The city has said it wants to see more mixed-use projects. But the biggest characteristic of this project seems to be that it is redeveloping a downtrodden apartment complex. There are lots of those in Lawrence, and I've heard people say that figuring out how to redevelop the multitude of old apartment complexes around town will be one of the bigger development issues in the city during the next decade or so.
There are some interesting numbers going on here in the Lawrence apartment industry. Since 2011, the city has added 921 units of new apartments compared with 408 units of new single-family homes. In other words, the number of apartments has grown at more than twice the rate than single-family home construction. That seems to be an important trend to take note of.
This is just back of the napkin type of stuff, but the Census Bureau estimates the average apartment unit in Lawrence has 2.11 people in it. The average owner-occupied home has 2.56 people in it. If you do the math, we've added enough living units for about 3,000 people but added only about 2,000 in population. Of course, the city believes we have more people living in Lawrence than the Census Bureau does, so you have to factor that in too.
I'm not saying those numbers should sway commissioners one way or another, but I do think we're at an interesting time in the community's residential development.