Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”

Latest retail sales numbers post big gains in Lawrence and across the state

Please pardon the smoke trail that seems to be following me. That's just residue from the very warm credit card in my wallet. There are new numbers out that suggest many of us are dealing with that issue these days.

The latest numbers from the state of Kansas show that retail spending during the late-winter period was up in Lawrence and many other cities across the state.

The April sales tax report — which covers spending that took place from mid-February to mid-March — shows taxable sales in Lawrence rose by 5.8 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

That is the best monthly showing Lawrence has posted thus far in 2014, and it is particularly a nice bounce back from the March report when sales numbers grew by only about 0.5 percent.

For the year-to-date, the numbers also are looking better. Lawrence has now received four of the 12 sales tax payments it will receive from the state in 2014, and thus far taxable sales in Lawrence are up 3.8 percent compared to the same four-month period a year ago.

It is still early, but Lawrence is on pace to have better retail sales growth in 2014 than in 2013, when totals grew by 2.1 percent.

Across the state, several other cities have posted significant increases in retail sales for the year. At 3.8 percent, Lawrence falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. Here's a look at year-to-date totals for several of the larger retail areas in the state:

• Dodge City: 1.2 percent

• Emporia: 5.8 percent

• Garden City: 4.7 percent

• Hays: down 23.2 percent

• Hutchinson: 3.1 percent

• Junction City: 1.0 percent

• Kansas City: 4.5 percent

• Leawood: down 0.2 percent

• Lenexa: 6.5 percent

• Manhattan: 1.4 percent

• Ottawa: 5.8 percent

• Overland Park: 6.9 percent

• Salina: 3.2 percent

• City of Shawnee: 4.5 percent

• Topeka: 2.3 percent

• Sedgwick County: 4.2 percent

This is usually the point in the report, however, where I tell you that you can't have your cake and eat it too, by noting that when adjusted for inflation, our retail sales totals are still lagging the pre-recession days of 2008. But guess what? Feel free to shove that cake right down your gullet, smear the chocolate on your forehead and get those crumbs all the way up to your ears (Sorry, I sometimes get overly-enthusiastic about cake.) But the point is, even when adjusted for inflation, Lawrence's numbers look pretty decent.

Here's a look. The first number is just the actual sales dollars received by the city year-to-date. The second number is adjusted for inflation, or in other words, it represents how much those collections would be worth in 2014 dollars.

2014: $4.73 million

2013: $4.56 million ($4.63 million)

2012: $4.42 million ($4.55 million)

2011: $4.22 million ($4.43 million)

2010: $4.06 million ($4.40 million)

2009: $4.21 million ($4.64 million)

2008: $4.21 million ($4.62 million)

The numbers show that we're starting to put some distance between us and the pre-recession totals of 2008. We've passed that threshold a few previous times, but haven't been able to really sustain those levels. Perhaps 2014 will be the year that we finally put the great recession in our rear view mirror.

I'll keep an eye out for that, although my view to the rear isn't so clear at the moment. There's a lot of smoke back there.

• A quick note for the record. Last month when we reported on sales tax numbers, there was an error in the data we received from the state of Kansas. It showed Olathe had a decline in its sales tax numbers for the year-to-date period. It rather had a slight increase. The state has since corrected the data.


Bakery planned at 19th and Barker; KU moving ahead on intergenerational neighborhood; city handing out grants

I don't know about you, but I would rather eat bread than do laundry, which explains why an increasing number of my pants have broken elastic waistbands and have to be stored in a garden shed downwind from the house.

But if you are like me in this regard, there is good news. A longtime East Lawrence laundromat is being replaced with a bakery that will specialize in homemade breads. As I mentioned last week, I had gotten wind of a rumor that East Lawrence was going to get a new bakery, and now I've confirmed that it is going into the former laundromat building at East 19th Street and Barker Avenue.

A Lawrence resident who makes his living as a pastry chef in Kansas City will open the establishment with his brother later this year.

"We want to be a neighborhood bakery and cafe that makes great artisan bread and great coffee," said Taylor Petrehn, who currently is a pastry chef for Kansas City's Parisi Coffee.

The new establishment will be called 1900 Barker Bakery and Cafe. If you are not familiar with the location, it is the bungalow-style laundromat at the southeast corner of 19th and Barker. (A question to ponder over four or five loaves of sourdough, cheese and stout: Does an intersection with a roundabout still have corners?)

Petrehn said he plans to bake a variety of breads daily, but he expects them to have some common characteristics: a sourdough-method of leavening, lots of whole grains, and "substantial" crusts that are perhaps a bit darker and more caramelized that many traditional breads.

He also plans one other curveball for the bread industry. Instead of focusing his baking on the early-morning hours, he plans to do his baking during the day, so the loaves are fresh out of the oven in the afternoon.

"We want people to stop by and get fresh bread for dinner, rather than buying bread that has been sitting around all day," Petrehn said.

Petrehn, who lives in the Barker neighborhood, said his brother, Reagan Petrehn, will be in charge of the coffee side of the business. Reagan has won an award in a regional barista competition, Petrehn said, and he currently is in China as part of a coffee-related project.

Petrehn said the shop also will have some pastries, such as croissants and chocolate chip cookies, but he said the focus very much will be on breads.

Although I'm excited about another bread option, the new business does spell the end for a bit of a Lawrence institution. The building at 1900 Barker has served as a laundromat for at least the last 60 years, Petrehn said, according to records he has researched from the city. The building has had some interesting history, including a time when a newborn child was abandoned there by her mother. I wrote about that piece of history back in early 2013.

As for when the bakery will open, Petrehn said he doesn't have an exact date. He's wrapping up obligations with Parisi Coffee, and renovation work on the building is just now getting underway. But he said the new business will be up and running by the end of 2014.

"We have a lot of work to do on the building," Petrehn said. "But being in the neighborhood is going to be great."

In other news and notes from around town:

• Speaking of neighborhoods, there has been talk off and on of an effort by the private sector and the university to build something called an "intergenerational neighborhood." Part of the idea is to attract more retirees to Lawrence, but the neighborhood would be built on the premise that today's retirees don't want to be entirely surrounded by other retirees. They want to be in a neighborhood of mixed ages and family types.

At one point, there was some discussion about property south and east of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex being used to house the intergenerational neighborhood. Then news on the project became a bit quiet. Well, it is not because the idea has disappeared like a loaf of sourdough and a pound of butter. Rather, it simply has been because Kansas University officials have been dotting their i's and crossing their t's.

The university last last week officially issued a request for qualifications to partner with KU on an "Intergenerational Living Laboratory." What that means is that any experienced development group is encouraged to submit a proposal on building an intergenerational neighborhood in Lawrence.

As far as what KU would bring to the partnership, it appears to be programming, classes and other unique experiences available to residents of the neighborhood. There also may be the use of the KU brand name, which could be important from a developer's standpoint.

More specifically, the university states in the request for qualifications that it "intends to provide support for the residence by offering programs or opportunities for KU students, staff and faculty of various KU departments, schools and disciplines, including but not limited to: nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, music therapy, architecture, sustainability, design and planning, preventative and public health, psychology and sociology to engage in hands on training, research and education at the residence and in collaboration with staff and residents of the facility for appropriate fees."

From what I've gathered, the university is interested in the project, in part, because it thinks these intergenerational neighborhoods are going to be a big deal as the American population grows older. Being able to do research in such a neighborhood in its own backyard should lead to multiple opportunities for research grants and other collaborations.

Now, determining exactly what part of KU's backyard this will be located in, will be interesting. As I mentioned, the area around Rock Chalk Park already has been proposed. We'll see if ideas for other parts of the city also come forward. Developers have until June 6 to submit their concepts. No word on when KU officials expect to make a decision on whether to proceed with a partnership.

• This is the time of year where the city of Lawrence hands out thousands of dollars worth of grants to local social service agencies, housing organizations and neighborhood associations. The money comes via the federal government through the Community Development Block Grant program and housing assistance program commonly known as HOME funds. Click here to see a full list of those groups recommended to receive funding.

Many of the associations and agencies that are scheduled to receive funding in 2014 are the same groups as in past years. But there are some exceptions.

A notable one is that the Oread Neighborhood Association is not scheduled to receive any money to support its neighborhood coordinator position and programming. In the past, the city has used a portion of the approximately $700,000 in federal CDBG funds it receives to provide funding to five neighborhood associations that serve areas of predominately low-to-middle income residents. The neighborhoods are Brook Creek, East Lawrence, North Lawrence, Pinckney and Oread. All the neighborhoods other than Oread are receiving funding this year, with several of them receiving some nice increases compared with 2013. The amounts range from a low of about $4,800 for North Lawrence to about $7,900 for East Lawrence.

Oread submitted an application for about $12,500 in funding, but the city-appointed advisory board overseeing the applications is recommending no funding for the neighborhood association.

The memo to city commissioners doesn't explain why the group's funding application was denied, but I noted in its application that the association in its 2012-2013 budget listed about $8,100 of unspent CDBG funds that it previously had been awarded.

The issue of neighborhood associations in Oread, which is the neighborhood primarily north and east of KU's main campus, has been a contentious one recently. Several years ago, there was wholesale change in leadership with the Oread Neighborhood Association. Several landlords were elected to the officer positions on the board, much to the chagrin of several residents who lived in the neighborhood and had served on the board. The landlords, however, noted that most of the property in Oread is rental-based, so having landlords lead the association has some logic to it. But several residents formed an alternative neighborhood association called the Oread Residents Association. It is not receiving any city funding in 2014 either.

Currently, the Oread Neighborhood Association is led by president Serina Hearn, who is a local landlord who has had some run-ins with City Hall.

• Neighborhood associations aren't the only group seeking money through the CDBG program. The money is also used to build things, and the city in recent years has been submitting its own applications to build projects. After taking a year off, the city once again is seeking grant money for a sidewalk gap program. The program aims to fill in sidewalk gaps in a variety of neighborhoods. The city advisory board is recommending that the city's Public Works Department receive $85,900 in CDBG funds for a sidewalk gap program.

The department has identified a list of 12 locations it will consider for work: 16th Street, north side Rhode Island to Barker; Winona Street, both sides from Barker west to existing sidewalk; Naismith Drive, east side from Campus Court to 23rd Street; Crescent Street, south side near Naismith Drive; 27th Street, north side from Arkansas to Naismith bridge; Ridge Court, west side from 25th to 27th streets; 26th Street, south side near Ridge Court; 19th Terrace north side between Naismith and Ousdahl; west side of 900 block of Arkansas; west side of 600 block of Michigan; wheelchair ramp at southeast corner of Ninth and Iowa.

Whether the city will be able to do work in all the locations, however, isn't yet clear. The recommended funding amount is about $35,000 less than what the department had requested.

Sidewalk and pedestrian issues will be an interesting issue to watch in coming months. I'm hearing word that there may even be a proposal to raise property taxes in the 2015 budget to allow for more work on sidewalk issues. As I get more information on that, I'll pass it along.

City commissioners at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday will consider approving the CDBG and HOME funding amounts.

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    Burger King promises it still has plans to reopen on Sixth Street; homeless shelter seeks winter expansion

    A scepter just doesn't get you as far in this town as it used to. The King — the Burger King, that is — is finding that out.

    I know many of you are wondering whether the Burger King at 1107 W. Sixth St. is ever going to reopen following a fire at the restaurant in August. Back in late February, we reported that the restaurant was expected to reopen in about eight weeks. I don't even have to take off my boots to know that those eight weeks are now up, and there hasn't been any visible sign of remodeling at the location.

    But that is not for a lack of want on the King's part, I'm told. Lance Zach, regional manager for Burger King, has once again told me that the company is fully committed to reopening the location, which he said has produced good sales for a number of years.

    The delay, however, is that the restaurant hasn't yet been successful in getting a building permit from Lawrence City Hall.

    "I think we're getting close, though," Zach said. "My construction team has been hired. Everything is just sitting in a warehouse. We're ready to go."

    City officials confirmed that the restaurant filed for a building permit in March. I don't have full details, but it sounds like there are just still a few technical issues that the city is seeking more information on from Burger King. And it is worth noting that projects like these go beyond fixing up what's inside the four walls. I think because of its age, the property has to have some exterior changes as well. I know Burger King recently has filed a site plan to make changes to the parking lot, and Zach said the Kansas Department of Transportation had to review some plans as well related to the store's entrance on Sixth Street, which is also U.S. Highway 40.

    As for the building itself, it is expected to look more like the relatively new Burger King at the Bauer Farms development near Sixth and Wakarusa. The inside also will have a more modern look, with a lot more emphasis on area for people to use their wireless devices while they dine.

    Zach said he still believes construction work should take only eight to 10 weeks, once it begins.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • If you see me swerving in between lanes near the intersection of Bob Billings and Iowa Street, it probably is due to one of two reasons: 1. I've dropped approximately four pounds of very hot Burger King breakfast hashbrown patties on my lap; 2. I simply can't figure out where one lane ends and the next one begins because the pavement markings have worn off at the recently reconstructed intersection.

    Well, City Hall is working on a solution to No. 2. City officials later this month will open bids for a project to install permanent pavement markings at the intersection. You may be wondering why the intersection already is in need of new lane lines and such, considering that the intersection was rebuilt just last year. Well, last year's project wrapped up during a time when the weather was cold, so city engineers made the decision to simply paint lines on the pavement and wait for warmer weather to install the more permanent pavement markings, which are kind of like a thick, weather-proof tape that is applied to the pavement.

    Bottom line: Expect new pavement markings at the intersection in June. The city also will be installing new crosswalk markings at nine intersections around town: Second and McDonald; Third and the Kansas Turnpike; 19th and Haskell; 19th and Kentucky; 23rd and Massachusetts; 25th and Iowa; 27th and Iowa; 31st at the post office; Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.

    City crews also will be going around with the city's specialty painting machine to refresh the markings at several locations around town. Click here to see the locations.

    • You may not be thinking of cold weather at the moment, but the city's homeless shelter is. The Lawrence Community Shelter spent its first winter at its new location in eastern Lawrence and evidently found that demand for a bed at the facility was strong.

    The shelter is asking the City Commission to change the occupancy limit on the shelter to 160 people, up from 125 currently. The shelter says it only needs the additional occupancy during cold weather periods, which it defines as 32 degrees or below.

    The fire department has determined that the shelter has enough space to allow that level of occupancy, shelter leaders said, but the building is short on showers for that number of people. Shelter leaders are asking that the facility be granted an exemption to operate with a slightly reduced number of showers during the cold weather periods.

    City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday aren't expected to make a decision on the occupancy issues. Instead, they're expected to refer the issue to city staff for further review.

    • Just think about lugging 770 pounds of food around. That is a good 50 pounds more than I have to unload after my wife has hit the post-Easter candy sales. But on Saturday, there hopefully will be postal carriers all throughout Lawrence lugging around that amount of food and more.

    As we have been reminding you this week, Saturday is the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, where postal carriers are encouraging all residents to place nonperishable food items in their mailboxes or near their mailboxes. Postal carriers will pick up the food, and it will be donated to Just Food, the local food bank.

    We've chatted with the folks at Just Food a few times during the week, but it is the postal carriers who really are the engine that make this drive go. I chatted with Lawrence postal carrier Andy Tuttle, who is the state president of the letter carriers union and one of the organizers of the drive. He said the Lawrence carriers, who are part of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch No. 104, hope to collect 50,000 pounds of food this year. Tuttle said about 40 city letter carriers and 25 rural carriers will be on the streets Saturday collecting the food. So, 50,000 pounds divided by 26 carriers is about 770 pounds per carrier. Tuttle said the extra load adds at least a half hour onto a carrier's route, but they don't mind.

    "We're out in the neighborhoods every day," Tuttle said. "We see people up close and personal, and we see how some people struggle and suffer in the community. We know this is a way to help."

    Cereal, peanut butter, tomato products, canned fruit and canned meat are some of the items most needed, Tuttle said. And lots of it. Letter carriers will have some work to do to meet their goal of 50,000 pounds. Their previous high came last year when they collected 26,000 pounds, Tuttle said.

    Reply 3 comments from Joe Blackford II Merrill Littlefuzzy

    Philly cheesesteak street vendor coming to downtown Lawrence; Cork & Barrel hosting new charity wine event

    Soon, you'll once again be able to call me a whiz kid. You'll have the opportunity while I'm standing along a Massachusetts Street sidewalk pouring Cheez Whiz directly down my gullet.

    Yes, downtown Lawrence is getting a new street cart vendor. Goodness Steaks will be serving classic Philly cheesesteaks from its location on the west side of Massachusetts Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. The cheesesteaks will come complete with Cheez Whiz.

    Perhaps you think Cheez Whiz is some type of shortcut, but the processed product is quite popular on traditional cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. If you don't believe me, just ask a few Philadelphians and they'll tell you so in their polite and genteel way. After you get the Cheez Whiz out of your nose, you may be inclined to believe them. (My wife used to live in Philadelphia, so my nose knows of what it speaks.)

    Eric and Julia Ireland, a husband and wife duo who ran an acclaimed food truck in Phoenix for several years, will operate the cart. Eric, who is from Topeka, wanted to get back closer to home, and the Philly cheesesteak cart is just one of the food ventures he has planned for the area.

    The cart is expected to open on Tuesday. Hours initially will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Julia said the cart hopes to sell sandwiches, complete with grilled onions, peppers and other fixings for around $5 or a little more. (Although pouring Cheez Whiz down your throat likely will cost more.)

    The Irelands, however, also have plans for a food truck. In Phoenix, they operated Torched Goodness, a dessert and coffee food truck that specialized in creme brulee. The truck became a hit, and actually was ranked by Smithsonian.com as one of the 20 best food trucks in America.

    Julia said their plans were to reopen the food truck in Lawrence, but soon learned that city regulations do not allow for a food truck — even once they've received the necessary food preparation licenses — to simply find a public parking spot and start selling. Instead, food trucks in Lawrence more commonly have to be invited by the owner of a private parking lot to set up and sell, or take part in a festival that has the appropriate permits. The city created the food truck rules back in 2011, and technically the rules prohibit a food truck from operating for more than three hours in a day even on private property, unless the food truck operator gets a special permit from the city.

    Julia said the city regulations are a big reason why the food truck craze hasn't caught on in Lawrence. But on the other side of the coin, city commissioners previously have been reluctant to loosen the regulations because they worry about creating unfair competition with brick and mortar restaurants, which they note, pay a lot more in property taxes than a food truck.

    Julia said Torched Goodness will operate at some festivals, although not at the upcoming Kansas Food Truck Festival in East Lawrence. But she said the truck also hopes to cater events such as weddings, corporate outings and others.

    "We've even done funerals," Julia noted. "We've done about everything."

    The food truck offers 30 different varieties of creme brulee, including traditional vanilla, lemon and raspberry. But it also offers flavors such as root beer float, lavender, eggnog and maple bacon. No word on whether they have one with Cheez Whiz.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • I'm not exactly sure what wine goes best with Cheez Whiz, but I'm prepared to do extensive research. Or perhaps I could just ask around at a new charity wine event that will take place this weekend. The folks at the Cork & Barrel liquor store are presenting a new fundraiser called IMBIBE. Its grand tasting event is set from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday at Abe & Jake's Landing in downtown Lawrence. Proceeds from the event benefit Family Promise of Lawrence, the organization that helps homeless families. (A charity wine dinner is taking place at Pachamamas tonight as part of the event, but I can't promise that there are still tickets available.)

    Tickets are available for the grand tasting event. They start at $45 per person and can be bought at Cork & Barrel, Abe & Jake's and the Granada or online. The event will have about 120 wines available for sampling, plus food and jazz music.

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    Tensions between city and county flare at Tuesday night’s meeting; city won’t inspect school district building projects

    You know at a family reunion how your cousin throws a chair at you because of a dispute over the last deviled egg? I knew you did. Well, the Lawrence City Commission meeting on Tuesday kind of had that feel to it.

    Certainly no chairs were thrown, but there was a good amount of tension between city and county officials, and just like at the family reunion, there was some history fueling it.

    As I reported in Tuesday's Town Talk, there was a dispute brewing between the city and the county over whether the city should waive about about $265,000 in sewer and water impact fees that the city is entitled to charge the county as part of its new Public Works facility in eastern Lawrence. Lawrence school district officials also were involved because they had a similar request to waive about $280,000 in building permit fees related to building improvements as part of the $92.5 million bond issue. There was some tension between city and school officials Tuesday, but it kind of paled in comparison to city-county issues.

    Bottom line: City commissioners ended up waiving both sets of fees, but not until Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug delivered a lengthy commentary criticizing the city's hesitancy to do so. In particular, Weinaug really was upset about a memo written by Lawrence City Manager David Corliss. That memo recommended that if the city waived the impact fees for the county, then city staff should negotiate with the county for "an appropriate level of consideration or compromise and direct staff accordingly."

    Upon reading that, Weinaug came to Tuesday's meeting with six pages worth of testimony about how the county has helped pay for projects that directly benefit the city of Lawrence. Weinaug also issued a warning, of sorts.

    "Requests between the city and the county and the school district should be considered in good faith based on whether the citizens we all serve benefit from saying yes to each other, not based on whether each body receives an appropriate quid pro quo," Weinaug said. "To apply this as a new standard virtually assures that future opportunities to support each other will be much more limited than they have been in the past."

    It was clear Weinaug also was peeved by a statement in Corliss' memo that said the county's public works facility will be used "for work in the unincorporated county without substantial direct economic benefit to the city of Lawrence."

    Weinaug reminded city commissioners of several projects the county has or will contribute to that clearly have benefited Lawrence residents. They include: more than $6 million in expenditures on the South Lawrence Trafficway; more than $600,000 in improvements to 31st Street; $600,000 for improvements to the Kasold Drive bridge over the Kansas Turnpike; more than $1.7 million to help build Clinton Parkway in the 1990s; and recently more than $400,000 to help keep a major warehouse project by Berry Plastics in Douglas County after the city's efforts to provide a site for the project became entangled in litigation.

    As someone who has been paid to watch the City Commission for about 20 years now, it came as no surprise that there is tension between the city and the county over matters of joint funding. It is not hard to pick up on comments from city commissioners and from Corliss about how they don't believe the county is paying an appropriate share for this or that. Funding related to the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department has been a point of contention for years. Funding for the SLT interchange at Bob Billings Parkway has been a more recent one, and there are certainly others.

    Some disagreements have been more concealed, it appears. It was revealed by Weinaug on Tuesday that the county was rebuffed in its request to get a portion of the former Farmland Industries property now owned by the city to expand the adjacent Douglas County Fairgrounds. Weinaug said Corliss told him the city would only consider it if the county was willing to pay for the property. That request by the county was never discussed by the City Commission in a public meeting, at least according to my records.

    Corliss told commissioners that he certainly has his views on funding and equity issues between the city and the county, but he said Tuesday's meeting probably wasn't the time to reiterate them.

    Regardless the tensions between the city and county rose to a new level on Tuesday. City commissioners weren't pleased by it.

    "This was one of the most embarrassing interactions I have been a part of in the last seven years," City Commissioner Mike Dever said. "I felt like we were defending ourselves, the school district felt like it had to defend itself, and the county felt like it had to defend itself. The reason I am embarrassed is because we're all here to serve the public."

    City Commissioner Jermey Farmer said he supported the fee waivers because they are the sort of assistance that "makes us a good partner." He also indicated that all the governing bodies need to keep that idea of partnership close at hand.

    "I think collaboration is not about being best friends," Farmer said. "It is not about liking everybody you work with. It is about putting everything aside and working towards the best common goal."

    By the end of the meeting, both city and county officials were trying to accentuate the positive. They noted the county and city have worked together successfully on many projects and would continue to do so in the future.

    Weinaug, who has been the county administrator for 22 years, compared the relationship to a marriage. He said it has been a good one where 99 percent of the time the two parties work out their differences. He noted this was the first time in his tenure that he had ever addressed the City Commission in such a manner.

    "For a marriage of that long, having one public spat is a pretty good record," Weinaug said.

    Corliss largely agreed, although not with the terminology.

    "I don't consider it a spat," Corliss said.

    • As for the school board, the discussion wasn't as lengthy, but school board member Shannon Kimball was direct with city commissioners about one point. She noted that the city waived the building permit fees for Bliss Sports as it builds the privately owned sports facilities at Rock Chalk Park. The city did so as part of an economic development grant. She felt like that set a precedent that the city should waive the fees for the school projects.

    "Undertaking $92.5 million worth of projects to improve our schools quite directly impacts our community's economic development," Kimball said. "We're talking about public-owned facilities here. We think we're on equal footing, if not more deserving, of that type of consideration."

    Commissioners ultimately unanimously agreed to forgo the building permits fees for the school project. But the way they chose to do so creates questions about what happens next. City commissioners decided that city building inspectors will not inspect the school district projects. Superintendent Rick Doll said Tuesday night that the projects absolutely would undergo a building inspection.

    School district buildings are required to meet a state building code. But it was unclear Tuesday whether there are state inspectors who will inspect the buildings, or whether the school district will now be responsible for hiring private inspectors.

    If it is the latter, it brings up the question of whether the school district can hire private inspectors at a cost less than what the city was going to charge in building permit fees. If so, that brings up the question of why a private inspector would be cheaper than a city-provided service that has no profit margin built into its costs?

    In other news and notes:

    • Commissioners on a 4-1 vote also approved the rezoning that will allow a 27,000 square-foot farmer market-style grocery store to be built near Sixth Street and Overland Drive in northwest Lawrence.

    Commissioner Terry Riordan voted against the plan, in part because he said he is very disappointed that the Bauer Farm development that the store will be a part of has changed so dramatically from its original idea. For years, the local development group — which is led by Lawrence businessmen Mike Treanor and Doug Compton — has touted the development as an example of new urbanism, which is the idea of creating places where people will live, work and play in a very walkable development reminiscent of a traditional urban center.

    The idea for the project dates back to 2003, but over the years the concept has changed. What was approved Tuesday night included several design features typical of a suburban style shopping center.

    "I saw new urbanism and that is what we were sold on in the beginning," Riordan said. "I saw lots of neat things planned, and now they are all gone."

    Riordan even went so far as to say the city had been led down a "prim rose path."

    Developers disagreed with that assessment. They said the project did have to change to respond to the economic downturn and, frankly, far less demand for office space than they had expected. But they said the project still has a lot of the elements originally proposed. The development has a mix of uses with retail, arts activities with Theatre Lawrence, and residential with a retirement community and more living units planned for the future.

    Dever also defended the project by saying it had far more sidewalks than was required by city code and estimated that it was a more walkable, pedestrian-friendly development than 95 percent of all shopping centers in the U.S.

    All that was interesting, but more so was what commissioners had to say about retail development in general. The city in future months will take action on a large proposed retail center just southeast of the intersection of the SLT and Iowa Street.

    Commissioner Bob Schumm reiterated his concern that the city is allowing too much retail development on south Iowa Street, and he predicted it will start causing problems for other areas of town.

    "I'm deeply concerned about the excessive amount of commercial development we are putting along south Iowa Street," Schumm said. "We are going to be completely out of balance before long."

    Commissioners also heard from some residents that the city was becoming overbuilt. Most notably, Kirk McClure, a professor of urban planning, again told commissioners that the city was allowing retail development at a rate far faster than what local retail spending could support.

    But there was some visible pushback from at least one commissioner on that point. City Commissioner Farmer made it a point to remind everyone that McClure had predicted that when Walmart was built at Sixth and Wakarusa it would greatly damage the Dillons store across the street. But as Farmer noted, the Dillons store has since expanded.

    "It doesn't mean any of the projections on the retail market were wrong, though," McClure said.

    I'll leave that for others to debate, but what does seem clear is that future retail discussions at City Hall are likely to be divided.

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  • Reply 2 comments from Melinda Henderson Terrylee

    City set to approve plans for new West Lawrence grocery store; county and school district ask for more than $500k in fee waivers from city

    In the future, please pay no mind to the woman at the intersection of Sixth and Wakarusa pushing a filing cabinet on wheels and muttering about 5 cents off yogurt cups. That will be my wife with her grocery coupons, and you really can't blame her for appearing a bit disoriented. If all goes according to plan, many a grocery shopper soon may be overwhelmed with options at that intersection.

    City commissioners at their meeting tonight are scheduled to approve a plan that will allow for a new specialty grocery store to be built in the Bauer Farm development at the northeast corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. That will make for the third grocery store at the intersection, joining Dillons and Walmart, which operates a grocery department.

    As we reported in February, the plans call for a 27,000 square-foot building that would house a "farmers' market-style" grocer. The development group, which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, haven't released the identity of the specialty grocer, at the request of the grocer. The best information I have from sources is that it is not a Trader Joe's, which for whatever reason is a store I always get asked when it is coming to Lawrence. The speculation around town is that a chain called Sprouts Farmers Market is the most likely tenant for the spot, but take that for whatever you think it is worth.

    But there is some good reason to think Sprouts is on the way. The company has been on an expansion path, and it has opened a store in Overland Park. The company's website describes Sprouts as a "healthy grocery store offering fresh, natural and organic foods." The company was founded in 2002 in Arizona, and now has more than 170 stores in nine states. Again, there is nothing official on this, but we'll see if lips begin to loosen once plans for the project receive City Commission approval.

    The project comes to the commission tonight with a positive recommendation from both the planning staff and the planning commission. The grocery store development has been the headline grabber, but there are other interesting elements to the plan. They include:

    • The development group wants the master development plan for the area to show a 108-room hotel near the corner of Wakarusa Drive and Overland Drive. When I last talked to a representative of the development group, there was no tenant for such a hotel, but the group wanted to show it on the plan so marketing for such a tenant could begin. I was told developers think the site may have some potential for a hotel as more visitors come to the Rock Chalk Park area.

    • A changing of the plans to allow for an 11,623 square-foot retail building that could house several smaller tenants. It would be next to the grocery store development.

    • The addition of six multifamily apartment buildings to the plans. The buildings would be on property east of the current Lawrence Community Theatre property.

    In total, the changes would allow for 122,000 square feet of retail development at that corner of the intersection, up from a previously approved cap of 72,000 square feet. Retail caps at the intersection have been a contentious issue in the past. Neighbors have opposed some retail development at the intersection because of fears that the area will become overwhelmed with traffic and other issues that come with big-box retailers. The most recent opposition was when the City Commission rejected a plan for Lowe's to locate in Bauer Farm. There have been some letters of opposition related to this current proposal, but thus far the amount of opposition has not approached what was seen with the Lowe's development, or the Walmart development before that.

    On the apartment side of things, the proposed changes would allow for 342 dwelling units on the property, up from a previously approved cap of 272.

    A change that is tougher to quantify is how the overall feel of the Bauer Farms development will change. The project was originally touted as an example new urbanism, a development philosophy that really mixes residential and commercial uses and promotes pedestrian activity and other features that you would be more likely to see in an urban, rather than suburban, environment.

    The development as it has been built does have a mix of uses, and it does have a bit of a different look than traditional developments. For example, many of the commercial buildings are closer to the street and often have their parking more out of view from the main thoroughfare. But the planning staff's recent report notes that these proposed changes move the project closer to a "more conventional retail development form."

    The Bauer Farm development in its beginning years certainly had to deal with a national economic downturn that caused a lot of plans to be changed. But I think it also is fair to say that the project has created the question of how large of an appetite Lawrence currently has for new urbanism development.

    The city several years ago spent a lot of time, and some money, exploring the idea of new urbanism and traditional neighborhood designs. It will be interesting to see if community leaders continue to push for that type of development in the future.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • City commissioners will have an interesting decision to make tonight that will affect two of its fellow local governments: Douglas County and the Lawrence school district.

    Both governments are asking the city to waive some fees that are charged as part of development projects. City staff members are recommending against the fee waivers.

    Douglas County is building a new public works facility on East 25th Street near the Douglas County Jail. As part of the project, the county is asking for a waiver of an approximately $265,000 sewer and water system development charge, or more commonly known as an impact fee. The city has been charging such fees since 1996, when new projects hook onto the sewer and water system. It is designed to help the city keep up with expanding water and sewer plants and other big-ticket items that are necessitated by a growing number of users.

    The school district is asking for a waiver of about $280,000 in building permit fees associated with a variety of expansion and remodeling projects related to the $92.5 million school bond issue.

    City Manager David Corliss is recommending that the fee waivers be denied. The general argument is that even though these are public projects, they still will be creating costs for the city. In the case of the public works facility, the city says it is another connection point on the city's system, and thus must be accounted for in future capital improvement planning. As for the school district project, the city will be sending building inspectors to the construction sites, and there is a cost to do that.

    The school district issue, however, has an interesting twist. School district officials note that Kansas University isn't required to even go through the city's building inspection process. The school district believes it has found a lawsuit that says it is not required to go through the city's full building inspection process either, although it says it does want to do so. The city, however, doesn't agree with that legal analysis. Regardless, the school district says it wants to spend as much of the $92.5 million in bond money on children as possible.

    "Like KU, USD 497 is an educational institution seeking to spend public monies to educate kids," Superintendent Rick Doll wrote in a letter to the city.

    Although neither party mentioned it, it does seem the matter has been complicated by another decision by the City Commission. The commission last year agreed to rebate a whole host of building permit fees and other fees as part of the Rock Chalk Park project. The city was under no obligation to do so, but decided to offer the rebate as part of an "economic development grant" to the project. That grant was in addition to the city ultimately agreeing to pay for the vast majority of all the infrastructure needed to serve the privately owned softball, soccer and track and field facilities that will be leased by KU. I suppose the school district could make an argument that $92.5 million worth of improvements to the education system in the city will have a positive impact on economic development, and thus is worthy of a similar grant. We'll see how it goes tonight, and whether any of the three governments leave City Hall with hard feelings.

    Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall.

    Reply 15 comments from Keith Richards Merrill Samo Steve Jacob Andrea Zuercher Gregdivilbiss Terrylee Littlefuzzy Alan Baker Lee Saylor and 1 others

    Saints Pub + Patio closes near 23rd and Iowa as speculation heats up that 810 Zone set to take the space

    Get out that giant foam finger, the crimson and blue body paint, and all the other accessories required to be a self-respecting patron of a sports bar. The speculation is certainly heating up that one of Kansas City's larger sports bar chains is coming to Lawrence.

    As we reported last week, there's a lot of talk on the street that 810 Zone, the sports bar chain that is part of the sports talk radio station 810 WHB, is interested in coming to Lawrence, especially along south Iowa Street. Well, a large spot has become available. Saints Pub + Patio, near the southwest corner of 23rd and Iowa, has officially closed its doors. The Saints spot certainly was the location most frequently mentioned by sources as a spot for 810 Zone to locate. There's still no official word from 810 Zone on its Lawrence plans, but I suggest you keep your foam finger on the pulse of this one.

    "I don't want to say anything is 100 percent certain, but that definitely is the rumor I'm hearing," said Josh Thomas, who was the manager for the Saints operation in Lawrence.

    Thomas added he expects to see the location, which can accommodate about 500 people, to be operating again in about a month's time.

    Thomas said Saints had been open in Lawrence for almost three years.

    "Business wasn't too bad, but of course, everybody would like to be busier," Thomas said.

    As for 810 Zone, the bar and restaurant operates three locations in Kansas City — in the Leawood Town Center, the Harrah's Casino in North Kansas City and in Lee's Summit. The restaurant serves a variety of sandwiches, steak, fish, barbecue and even some fried chicken, according to the menu online. But it also is selling atmosphere. The Leawood location, for example, touts that it has 7 high-definition television screens of 100 inches, plus many of the booths have their own individual televisions as well. It also promotes a family fun area, "in-wall digital entertainment," and a 55-inch widescreen video golf area. The restaurants also include areas for 810 WHB to host live broadcasts. 810 WHB isn't one of the stations that carries KU football and basketball, but it extensively covers it. One of the station's top personalities, Kevin Kietzman, has deep K-State roots, and he's been known to rile a few KU fans over the years — which of course means that a regular feature with Kietzman coming to Lawrence probably would produce some good radio.

    I'll let you know if I receive any official announcements from 810 Zone about their Lawrence plans. If 810 Zone, however, does move into the market, it will make for an interesting time in the sports bar scene. Noted radio personality David Lawrence, who is the color commentator for KU football, is in the process of opening his own sports restaurant and bar at Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive. As we reported last month, Lawrence has partnered with longtime restaurant owner Matt Llewellyn of 23rd Street Brewery to go into the former Bambino's Italian restaurant space.

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  • Reply 16 comments from Lee_go_hawks Jessie C. Tom Hilger Elizabeth Newman Matthew Herbert Sean Robinson Steve Jacob Merrill Terrylee Richard Andrade and 1 others

    Housing and self-storage units planned for area north of Rock Chalk Park; city to host budget sessions next week

    Plans for a major new residential area north of Rock Chalk Park are in the works, and the first signs of commercial development near the sports complex also are showing up at City Hall. But the commercial plans may not be what you expect.

    Plans have been filed for about 13 acres of self-storage units just north and west of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex.

    If that leaves you scratching your head, that shows you don't understand all that will be going on at the city's new recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. In addition to it being a magnet for youth tournaments, it also will host a variety of adult leagues. And if you have ever seen a group of 40-year old men play basketball, you know it looks like a medical device aisle has exploded: Knee braces, ankle braces, elbow braces, and braces for parts that we didn't even know we had until we hit 40.

    It only make sense to store all those braces in a nearby self-storage unit because the trucking costs to haul all that gear back and forth eats a fellow alive.

    Well, maybe that is not the main thinking behind the proposal. It may have more to do with the approximately 600 homes that could be built north and northwest of the sports complex.

    Plans at City Hall have been filed to rezone about 115 acres of property from agricultural to a mix of single-family and industrial zoning. Specifically, 25.2 acres would be zoned for 5,000 square-foot single family lots, 76.2 acres for 7,000 square-foot single family lots, and 13.3 acres for light industrial, which would house the storage units.

    The property is south of North 1750 Road and east of the South Lawrence Trafficway. An entity led by Lawrence businessman Michael Garber owns the property and has filed the plans. Basically, the property is the next piece of property north of the city's recreation center, and it also includes property to the northwest of the recreation center as well. But any new houses won't be directly adjacent to the recreation center. The city and Kansas University Endowment own some wooded property north of the recreation center that will be used for trails and nature areas. That area will be a buffer between the recreation center and the new neighborhood.

    That's assuming that there will be a new neighborhood. This project has some significant approvals to win from City Hall yet. In addition to the rezoning, it also likely will need an amendment to the city and county's comprehensive plan, Horizon 2020. The plan doesn't provide a lot of guidance for how the area should develop, but there are indications that it doesn't envision it developing with as much residential density as proposed.

    In terms of the number of 600 new homes, that is a true estimate at this point. David Hamby, the engineer with Lawrence's BG Consultants, told me his firm hasn't yet drawn plans showing that level of detail. But based on the acreage and proposed zoning, I believe 600 is at least in the right ballpark.

    The storage unit development will be an interesting part of the discussion at City Hall too. The zoning requested for the units is light industrial, which would allow a lot of other uses besides a storage unit. The proposed site is basically between the South Lawrence Trafficway and a Westar electric substation. (More on that substation in a moment.)

    Hamby said Garber's long-term plans for the industrial zoning are storage units. In other words, the storage units aren't just a mechanism to bide some time. Hamby said he expected there would be some use restrictions placed on any zoning to ensure that whatever happens there is compatible with the proposed residential and also with the recreation uses at Rock Chalk Park. Hamby said current plans call for a lot of landscaping, which would basically make the storage units tough to view from the busy South Lawrence Trafficway.

    We'll see what type of reception the project receives at City Hall, but it was always in the back of people's minds that the Rock Chalk Park project was supposed to spur development in the area. Thus far, it is spurring quite a bit of interest in new homes in the area.

    • One company that is certainly betting on new development in the area is Westar Energy. It has filed plans at City Hall to expand the existing electrical substation that is just northwest of Rock Chalk Park. As I've said many time before, the only thing I know about electricity is to not touch the red wire, so I don't have technical details on the project. But the application listed it as a $10 million expansion and said it was being designed to handle additional demand for electricity in the northwest area of Lawrence.

    • I know several of you are wondering when the hotels and gas stations and restaurants are going to start showing up around Rock Chalk Park. Well, none of that has been filed yet at City Hall, and I haven't heard it blowing in the wind either, although I may just be standing in the wrong place.

    The property immediately south of Rock Chalk Park, the Mercato development, is zoned for a lot of commercial development, but it is not exactly designed for hotels and gas stations. It is designed to be a more traditional development to house a couple of big-box retailers. That is one of the reasons why the owners of that property — a group led by the Schwada family — were successful in getting commercial zoning for property just west of the South Lawrence Trafficway. It was argued it could more easily accommodate the type of businesses needed to support the Rock Chalk development. But there will be significant expense to extend city water and sewer service to the site west of the SLT.

    Certainly Mercato could change its plans to accommodate more Rock Chalk Park-oriented development. There is a significant amount of housing included in the Mercato development, and some of it is very near the track and field stadium. We'll see whether that develops residentially, or whether there is a push to make that more commercial oriented. I really have no idea how it will shake out, but it should be an interesting area to watch.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Creating the city's 2015 budget will include discussions on everything from spending tens of millions of dollars for a new police headquarters building to finding money to repaint the crosswalks on city streets.

    City Hall leaders now want to find out what else is on your minds. The city will be hosting two public listening sessions next week to get input on the 2015 budget. They are set for:

    — 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Union Pacific Depot, 402 N. Second St.;

    — 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Fire Station No. 5, 1901 Stewart Ave.

    Commissioners will begin deliberating on the budget in earnest in June and will approve a budget by early August. This will be the first year in recent memory that the city has hosted these budget hearings out in the community. Traditionally, they've set aside some time at a City Commission meeting to take general comments on the budget, but usually not many people show up to speak.

    • A brief housekeeping note: Town Talk will be off tomorrow. My kids' summer fun with 4-H pigs is pulling me away from the office. I'll be helping park cars and direct traffic at the large antique auto swap meet at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. The parking is part of a fundraiser for my kids' 4-H club. Come see me — as long as your brakes work.

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  • Reply 3 comments from Merrill Chad Lawhorn Michael Rowland

    New East Lawrence coffee shop opens; annual report shows homeless shelter served more than 800 in 2013

    Oh my, if you thought East Lawrence was funky already, just wait until you see it after it has had a double espresso.

    We reported in February that plans were in the works for a new coffee shop in the heart of East Lawrence, and now they've become reality. Decade has opened at 920 Delaware St. in a small industrial building that once used to house an ice plant.

    "I love the space," said owner Louis Wigen-Toccalino. "It is nice and open with lots of natural light. It is a reclaimed building and it has a lot of reclaimed lumber in it. We've used old barn wood for the countertops."

    If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is right along the west edge of the Allen Press printing plant, which is right next to Hobbs Park. See below for a photo of the space.

    The business opened last week but is having its grand opening on Saturday. The coffee shop features beans roasted by the specialty San Francisco-based roaster Fourbarrell, and it sells pastries made by The Merc. Wigen-Toccalino said he plans to expand into soups and sandwiches in the next couple of months.

    Wigen-Toccalino is a former barista at Henry's, the downtown Lawrence coffee shop. Henry's was the first food-service job Wigen-Toccalino ever had, and that was 10 years ago. He spent the next decade working at a variety of coffee shops and restaurants in places such as San Francisco and Salt Lake City, with the goal of finding the right opportunity to open his own shop. It took him a decade to find it, thus the name Decade for his new business.

    It may be fitting in other ways. This may end up being one of the more important decades for East Lawrence. In recent years, the area has seen a boom in redevelopment, led by the Poehler Lofts building, which is about a block north of the coffee shop. The redevelopment of the four-story Poehler building helped spur the creation of the adjacent Warehouse Arts District, which includes the Cider Gallery, a new art gallery and event space.

    As we previously have reported, the area around the Poehler building isn't done developing yet. The same group that rehabilitated the Poehler building also won approval to built another approximately 40-unit loft style apartment building near the site of the Poehler. I'm hoping to get renderings of that building in the coming days. Look for work to begin soon at the site. I spoke briefly with the lead developer, and he said he expects to break ground in the next two weeks. He also told me he's made progress in finding a tenant to open a new food and drink establishment in a smaller space next to the Poehler building. So, hopefully soon I'll have an update for you on that project.

    In addition, I'm checking out a rumor of a neighborhood-style bakery that may be opening near the 19th Street corridor in eastern Lawrence. I'm still trying to gather details on that one, but certainly there is a lot going on in the area.

    It will be interesting to watch if other development plans also emerge. There are some prime redevelopment candidates still left in East Lawrence. The one I occasionally hear talk about is the Black Hills Energy maintenance yard, which is right across the street from the Poehler building. I don't think anything is imminent, but it will be interesting to see if the natural gas company continues to hold onto the property if the surrounding area continues to develop into an arts district/urban neighborhood.

    As for the coffee shop, Wigen-Toccalino said there clearly is some pent-up demand for local, neighborhood-oriented businesses.

    "We have been open a week, and already we feel like it has been here 10 years," Wigen-Toccalino said. "The residents have been so inviting. We've had lots of artists, lots of residents, lots of workers in the area come in."

    Decade is open from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • As we recently reported, the Lawrence Community Shelter has hired a new director to replacing retiring director Loring Henderson. Well, Henderson also recently submitted the homeless shelter's annual report to the city, and it shows the shelter continues to be a busy place. Here's a look at some of the numbers for 2013:

    — The shelter served 672 new people in 2013, which was up from 665 in 2012.

    — When you add existing guests into the mix, the shelter, which has the capacity to sleep 125 people per night, provided service to 836 individuals. That's up from 815 in 2012.

    — The shelter served 78 families, which included 102 adults and 142 children. Those numbers are roughly double the 2012 totals.

    — 254 guests moved into permanent housing during the year, 97 guests started permanent jobs, and 42 applied for disability assistance.

    — On the health front, 23 guests entered substance abuse programs, 59 received treatment at the emergency room, 79 received a mental health assessment or treatment, and 847 prescriptions were filled through the shelter's prescription assistance program.

    — Demographically, 62 percent of the guests were male, 75 percent were between the ages of 18 and 60, and 74 percent were white.

    — Financially, the shelter reported operating expenses of $933,628 for the year. It finished the year with $100,741 in operating cash. The shelter received 35 percent of its funding from government sources, with 14 percent from the city, 8 percent from the county and 13 percent from the federal government. The remaining funds: 36 percent from private donations; 7 percent from the United Way; 6 percent from foundations; 12 percent from fundraisers; and 4 percent from the shelter's Good Dog! program, which sells dog treats and pet supplies that are manufactured by shelter guests.

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  • Decade, 920 Delaware Street. Photo: Courtesy of Decade.

    Decade, 920 Delaware Street. Photo: Courtesy of Decade. by Chad Lawhorn

    Reply 2 comments from Melinda Henderson Clark Coan

    Menards says plans for Lawrence store still on track, but no date for construction announced

    Maybe Menards has gotten busy plowing a garden, building a potpourri room or connecting a back-up generator to the chocolate fountain. I know those are all projects that have caused me delay in completing the real work I would like to get done around the house. So, maybe that's why work hasn't yet started on a new Menards store near 31st and Iowa streets.

    Whatever the case, construction work hasn't started and doesn't appear likely to start in the next few weeks. But a Menards official told me in recent days the store project is still moving forward, and I tend to believe him because Menards has actually purchased all the property needed for the development. If there were a chance they weren't going to build the store, I think it would be more likely they simply would have the ground under option to purchase.

    But I don't have a good explanation on why it is taking this much time to get the project started. As a reminder, Menards won its zoning approval from the City Commission in June. At that point, the project just became a matter of a few technical approvals before a building permit could be issued.

    "Nothing is changing," said Tyler Edwards, the Menards official who has been securing the approvals for the Lawrence project. "We're just getting through all the little technical details."

    A planning department official told me that is the case. The department is waiting to receive the public improvement plans for the project. Those are the plans that show the designs and other technical specifications of streets, utility lines, storm sewers and other pieces of infrastructure. I've been told by city officials that there are no big challenges that Menards faces with those plans. Rather, the city simply is waiting to receive them so that they can be reviewed. In other words, I don't think it is the city that is holding this project up.

    That being said, it will take a little bit of time for city officials to review the necessary plans before a building permit can be issued. These things vary, but it easily could take four weeks from the time the plans are received to the time they are reviewed and approved by the various departments. So those of you, like me, who thought Menards would surely want to get started this spring, may be wrong.

    I couldn't get Edwards to offer a date — or a season — when construction is likely to begin on the project. (He, too, evidently has read the essential guide for married handymen, "I'll $%!# Get to It, Dear." Rule No. 3: Never, ever, ever commit to a date. If you are pressured, immediately begin talking about an idea you have to remove a wall, and that usually will result in a subject change.)

    Edwards previously has said the store likely will take nine to 10 months to build. One would think Menards would want to be open by next spring to take advantage of all the home improvement purchases that happen during that season. If so, it would seem construction would need to start in the next two to three months. But, as I've been told on many a home improvement project, I should leave the thinking to someone else.

    If you remember, the last news we reported on the project was that the design of the store had been changed. Most significantly, Menards changed the location of its outdoor lumberyard and reduced it size from 90,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet. The speculation is that was done to allow for more room for other retailers on the development site. In addition to Menards, there is room for about a half dozen other buildings. But the reduction in lumberyard space has caused some to worry that Menards has decided to put in a scaled-down store in Lawrence. But Edwards insisted that wasn't the case, although I didn't get any details about why Menards decided to make the changes.

    "It will be a 100 percent normal Menards," Edwards said.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Lawrence Memorial Hospital has landed on another best-of list. This time the financial healthcare website NerdWallet Health has ranked LMH as the third-most affordable hospital in the state of Kansas. The website says it ranked 54 Kansas hospitals based the 100 most common procedures performed at hospitals. It got its cost information from CMS Medicare Provider Charge Data.

    The results found that Galichia Heart Hospital in Wichita was ranked No. 1 in affordability, while Topeka's St. Francis Health Center was ranked No. 2. LMH was No. 3. In terms of other area hospitals in the Top 10, Olathe Medical Center was No. 7 and Shawnee Mission Medical Center was No. 10.

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  • Reply 2 comments from Richard Andrade Merrill

    Lawrence home sales take dip in March; city releases dates and attendance estimates for Rock Chalk Park tourneys; library closed through Friday

    All the signs of spring have sprung at my house: dandelions in the yard, 4-H pigs in the driveway, and three closets full of Easter candy bought on clearance. So, in other words, normal stuff. But there is one spring quirk to keep an eye on right now: the Lawrence housing market.

    Home sales in March fell by 15.8 percent compared with March 2013 totals, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. That's no reason to panic, though. (In other words, step away from the pig and put the barbecue sauce down.) What that means in real numbers is that agents sold 64 Lawrence homes in March compared with 76 in March 2013.

    But the trend is one to keep an eye on. March's poor performance turned the year-to-date home sale numbers into negative territory. For the year, Lawrence home sales total 157, which is down 3.1 percent from the same time a year ago. Lawrence's real estate market hit bottom in 2011 and has been on the upswing since then. Local real estate agents certainly are hoping for a third straight year of increasing sales.

    The 3.1 percent decline isn't a big number to make up, but it is noteworthy because of where we are in the season. April, May and June are important months for the Lawrence real estate market. April is often considered the height of the spring-selling season, so about this time next month we'll have a report that will show whether March was a blip or the beginning of a new trend.

    There is one number in the most recent report that creates some concern for April sales. The number of pending contracts in March was down 8 percent compared with the same period a year earlier. Those pending contracts sometimes are a good indicator of what to expect in the next month.

    Here are some other numbers from the most recent report:

    — Sales volume in Lawrence — measured by the total dollar amount of residential real estate sold in the city — is down 6.4 percent compared with the same period a year ago. It stands at $31.3 million at the end of March. That, however, is still a significant increase from 2012 totals, when $22.1 million had been sold.

    — Most of the decline in home sales has come on the new construction front. Thus far in 2014, only nine newly constructed homes have sold, down from 13 a year earlier.

    — The median selling price of a home is largely unchanged from a year ago at $165,000.

    — The median number of days a house sits on the market has increased to 75 days, up from 68 a year ago.

    — The number of active listings on the Lawrence market stood at 374 at the end of March, down about 8 percent from the 408 in March 2013.

    As I said earlier, next month's report will be one to keep an eye on — just like that pig in the house. If he figures out how to get that closet door open, we're going to have a real mess.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • We reported a few weeks ago that officials with the city's Parks and Recreation Department had started booking tournaments for the new 181,000-square-foot recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. Well, now we have more details about when those tournaments will be and just how many people they may draw to town.

    Here's a look at the information available thus far:

    — Nov. 16: Mid America Youth Basketball Tournament: estimated attendance 750 people;

    — Dec. 7: Mid America Youth Basketball Tournament: estimated attendance not provided;

    — Dec. 12-14: AGAPE Hoops Productions Basketball Tournament: estimated attendance 1,000 people:

    — Dec. 27: Blue Valley Juniors Athletic Association Volleyball Tournament: estimated attendance 1,200 people;

    — Jan. 3-4 Heart of America Volleyball Tournament: estimated attendance 1,500 people.

    Obviously, a couple of those tournaments involve the possibility of overnight visitors to Lawrence. What isn't known currently is how far of a geographic reach these tournaments are designed to have. But what is clear is that interest is high in the new facility, which is scheduled to be open in September. Officials with Parks and Recreation have told me that in addition to the chance to play in a new facility, tournament organizers like the facility's location between Topeka and Kansas City.

    • If you are hoping to find your favorite book about spring or leftover Easter candy or 4-H pigs, you'll need to look somewhere other than the Lawrence Public Library this week. The library will be closed Monday through Friday for a major project to add RFID tags to the approximately 200,000 items in its collection. The RFID system will increase the speed of checkout at the new library and also should decrease the amount of time it takes library staff members to reshelve books. Library officials are noting that people who have books due during this week won't accrue any late fines if they are not returned this week, although I think you can still return them via the outdoor drop box.

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  • Reply 1 comment from Bob Forer

    Plans for golf course/apartment development near Rock Chalk Park re-emerge; rumor mill hot with talk of Lawrence 810 Zone sports bar

    Plans for an apartment/golf course development in northwest Lawrence have re-emerged, and they're growing faster than my golf score.

    An Arkansas-based development company has filed a revised set of plans for The Links, a proposed 81-acre development that would include a nine-hole golf course surrounded by apartments on a site that is just east of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex near Sixth Street and George Williams Way.

    The latest version of the plans calls for 882 apartment units that will be spread across 52 buildings on the site. That's a substantial growth in the number of apartments from when the development was first proposed in 2007. Back then, plans called for 480 units of apartments. Then in 2012, after the project remained unbuilt for years, the company submitted new plans that called for 630 units. That project didn't get built either. No word yet from the company on what they're seeing to cause the jump in apartment units. (But I do understand how numbers can change when golf is involved. I always consider the first number I write down on my scorecard to be a draft. That's why they give you a pencil.)

    The new plans mean significant changes for the proposed golf course. The latest plans call for the course to be a true par 3, executive-style course. All the holes range from 100 to 150 yards in length. That's different from the proposal in 2012, when the course included several holes more than 300 yards and a couple more than 400 yards.

    The golfing part of the project has been touted to be a major part of the development. The concept is that residents of the apartment have rounds of golf included in their monthly rents. In other communities where the company — Lindsey Management — has similar developments, the golf course has also been open to the public at certain times. It will be interesting to see how the golfing community takes to a new par 3 course. The community has five golf courses currently, with one of them, The Orchards, being an executive style course. Just outside the city at Kansas Highway 10 and County Route 1057, Twin Oaks also operates a par 3 course.

    The development will continue a trend of apartment development in northwest Lawrence. Two apartment complexes have been built just west of Walmart near Sixth and Wakarusa, the large Hunter's Ridge apartment complex is adjacent to The Links site, and plans last year were filed for a 40-acre development at the northwest corner of Queens Road and Overland Drive that would have a mix of single family homes and apartments. Look for more news soon on other filings for residential development around the Rock Chalk Park site.

    At more than 800 units, The Links development has the potential to really shake up the Lawrence apartment scene. But all that is assuming the development gets built. At this point, the plans have been a bit like my golfing buddy who says he is going to buy the drinks after the round. It may well happen, but the timeline is pretty broad. But I haven't yet heard what the timeline is for this most specific proposal. The project will have to win some approvals at City Hall. It is worth noting, though, that the development company does own the ground of the proposed site. That's usually a sign of seriousness on the part of a developer.

    In other news and notes:

    • There is definitely a lot of speculation around town that there may be a large new bar coming to the city. (Large would be good. I need a place to lie down while I wait for my buddy to pick up the tab.) There's lots of talk that Kansas City-based 810 Zone is going to open a location in Lawrence. You sports fans probably are aware that the Kansas City sports talk radio station WHB 810 operates a trio of sports bars and restaurants in the Kansas City area.

    I got in touch with a representative of the sports bar company and she said the company didn't have any announcements to make at the moment, but she took my information on how to get back in touch. Take that for whatever you think it is worth. But I have talked to others in local commercial real estate circles who have said that 810 Zone has been known to be looking for locations in Lawrence.

    Those sources said downtown has been mentioned, but the speculation on the street more recently has centered on a South Iowa Street location. There obviously is some available space on the corridor currently, and there may be some more that opens up in the near future. If that comes to be, I'll pass that information along.

    But, of course, speculation by its nature is uncertain, so we'll see what comes of it. In the meantime, my buddy and I will just keep staring at this ticket.

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    Updates on Mr. Bacon BBQ, Hog Wild BBQ and Gran-Daddy’s Q; family fun center loses key vote at City Hall

    Don't let the name fool you. Mr. Bacon BBQ Bistro is not the city's newest black-tie establishment. But I can see how you would be confused. Bacon, after all, is the most distinguished of meats. To throw Mr. in front of it, takes it to a whole new level. And Bistro sounds like one of those restaurants where my wife makes me leave my toothpick at home.

    So while it is not accurate to call Mr. Bacon BBQ Bistro a black-tie establishment, it is accurate to say the company that started out as a Lawrence catering firm has taken its biggest step yet to becoming a full-fledged barbecue restaurant.

    Back in July 2012, we reported Mr. Bacon had moved its catering business into space at 846 Illinois St., next to Rick's Place tavern. From that spot, the company operated "pop-up barbecue" events that were open to the public. The business would put word out on Facebook or Twitter that it was going to smoke a bunch of meat and throw the doors open to the public.

    But now Mr. Bacon owner Jeff Frye said customer demand has dictated that the business have a more standard restaurant format. So, Mr. Bacon is now open 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Plus the business will be open for Friday dinner from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Plans also call for the restaurant to be open every KU home football game since the restaurant is along a popular walking route to the stadium.

    "We're committed to it," Frye said of the new hours. "We've put the lettering on the door."

    More hours may be coming in the future.

    "This definitely is a chance for us to put our toe in the water on a full-fledged restaurant," Frye said. "A big part of the reason we have stayed this size is because we can completely control the experience. We're not turning the customer experience over to people who don't care as much. But we're finding great people to help us out, and that will allow us to expand."

    And talk about an experience; the menu changes frequently and has a few items that will cause you to experience warm and fuzzy feelings deep inside your chest. Like Pig Pie. As the menu says, it is a "perfectly balanced meal in a boat" that includes pulled pork, beans and Fritos chips. Just thinking about it warms the grease in my arteries.

    There also are a host of sandwiches, including The Boss, which has brisket, pork and bacon; a pulled pork sandwich; a brisket sandwich that includes an espresso-based dry rub; a smoked chicken sandwich; and one called Here Piggy Piggy Piggy, which features pulled pork, ham and bacon. The restaurant also offers some less traditional items such as a brisket-based chili and a pulled-pork green chile burrito.

    The restaurant also provides a unique experience when it comes to alcohol. The business doesn't have a liquor license, so Frye said he is fine with customers bringing in their own craft beers or wine to enjoy in his dining room. Plus, the restaurant is right next door to Rick's Place, so Frye said many customers buy barbecue and then take it to Rick's and purchase beverages there.

    That may be an important option to remember because Mr. Bacon's dining room is relatively small. It seats about 10 people, although Frye notes that a tattoo place that previously operated in the shopping center left him two picnic tables underneath a tree near the restaurant.

    I know, it is hard to believe that you can leave your black tie at home. Or, wear it if you want, but if you eat barbecue anything like I do, rest assured that it won't leave black.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • There is a lot of barbecue news out there these days, and some of it doesn't involve me setting my deck on fire.

    We reported in December that Wichita-based Hog Wild Pit Bar B-Q is set to occupy a portion of the old Blockbuster building on 23rd Street. You may have wondered whatever happened to the plan. Well, rest assured that you'll soon have a chance to drip barbecue sauce all over your shirt at that location

    Work to improve the site around the building is underway. Hog Wild owner T.D. O'Connell told me recently that he hopes to have the restaurant open by June, although he conceded developing in Lawrence is taking longer than he had expected.

    But O'Connell said his company is excited about expanding into the city.

    "It is a great expansion for us," O'Connell said. "There are a lot of people from Wichita who have kids up there in school. And there is just a good population base to serve."

    As for the barbecue, O'Connell said the company strives to simply produce consistent, hickory smoked barbecue that uses high-quality meats. The menu shows a lot of traditional items such as brisket, pulled pork, hot links, turkey, chicken and ham. It also has an offering of giant stuffed potatoes and some exotic dish that I've never sampled called garden salads.

    This will be the 15-year old company's ninth restaurant, with locations in Wichita, Hutchinson, Salina and El Dorado.

    We also reported in December that a mattress retailer was slated to take the remaining space in the old Blockbuster building, which is at 1516 W. 23rd St. I checked in with the Wichita-based company that owns the building, and a representative there said that part of the development is still on track. But he said he wasn't yet able to release the name of the company, though he confirmed it is a retailer with multiple outlets around the region. I've certainly heard speculation that the large retailer Mattress Hub has an interest in Lawrence, but I can't say with any certainty that is the tenant. Look for the new mattress business to open this summer.

    • Some of you were fans of what could best be described as the old-school style of Gran-Daddy's Q on 23rd Street. Well it looks like school is out for good for the restaurant. The restaurant has shut down at 1447 W. 23rd St. There is a sign in the window touting that a place called Fieldhouse BBQ will be coming soon. But thus far, I haven't been able to track down the folks who are behind that venture. As for Gran-Daddy's, it had a run of many years in the barbecue business. If my meat memory serves me, the business got started by selling slabs of ribs in the parking lot of the Checker's grocery store. For several weeks there had been a sign in the window of Gran-Daddy's that said the business was temporarily closed due to an illness. I hope to find out more about what is in store for the location and pass it along.

    • As we have been reporting over the last several months and days, a plan for a family fun center near Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive in West Lawrence has been facing stiff opposition from neighbors in the area. Now it appears that the plan — which includes putt-putt golf, batting cages, an electric go-kart track and a clubhouse — is really on the ropes. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission recommended denial of a key text amendment that is needed for the plan to move forward. And it wasn't even close. Planners recommended denial on a 9-1 vote. City commissioners could overturn the recommendation, but I'm not sure how likely that is. Neighbors in the area have become very organized on the issue, and have raised a host of concerns related to traffic, lighting and noise issues that would be associated with the fun center. The city's planning staff felt all those issues could be mitigated and recommended approval of the plan.

    If the fun center doesn't proceed, it will be interesting to see what is proposed for the vacant piece of property. Adjacent pieces of property have been developed with apartments, but neighbors have been strongly opposed to more apartment development.

    One last note on the project. In the past I've said the identity of the developer of the park hasn't been known. But recently an attorney for the development group shared with neighbors that area businessman Glen Lemesany is the developer of the proposed project. Lemesany owns several town homes and other residential property in Lawrence.

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    Eldridge Hotel proposes major expansion; Lawrence lands on startup list; family fun center update

    Somewhere, the Missouri knickers of William Quantrill must be in quite a bunch right now. More than 150 years after Quantrill burned it to the ground, the venerable Eldridge Hotel in downtown Lawrence has filed plans for a major expansion.

    The hotel's Lawrence-based ownership group has filed plans to expand into the vacant lot directly south of the hotel at Seventh and Massachusetts streets. Plans call for 38 new rooms/suites to be built as part of the six-story expansion. That will almost double the amount of rooms the hotel can offer. Currently, The Eldridge has 48 rooms.

    Lawrence-based architect Paul Werner tells me that most of the new rooms will be equipped with two queen beds. Currently, The Eldridge is an all suite hotel, which can make it more difficult for the hotel to book sports teams, which are expected to become a bigger part of the Lawrence hotel market.

    "Teams are already trying to book rooms for upcoming events at Rock Chalk Park," Werner said via e-mail.

    The expansion also will include a much larger ground-floor restaurant space, larger kitchen, new meeting and reception facilities, and a banquet hall that will be twice the size of the existing ballroom.

    Renderings, which you can see below, show the expansion being approximately the same height as the existing Eldridge building. The plans also show what looks to be a fairly large balcony area about two stories up that will serve as a place for people to gather and overlook bustling Massachusetts Street.

    If some of this sounds familiar to you, it might be because you are remembering plans filed back in 2010. The hotel group — which is led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel — filed plans back then to expand onto the vacant lot. Then the economy slowed down (I think the technical term is it went in the toilet), and the expansion never got built. It appears this expansion is a larger one. My article from 2010 had that expansion only adding about 16 rooms to the hotel.

    The 2010 expansion had some neat features, though, including a retractable roof over a portion of the dining/reception area. Werner, though, tells me that the idea isn't included in this version, mainly because the hotel decided it needed to increase the number of rooms in the expansion project.

    The expansion plans certainly continue a multiyear trend to add more hotel space in Lawrence. Fritzel's group built The Oread near the Kansas University campus, and work currently is underway on a multistory Marriott hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. And the city and KU are in discussions that could dwarf both of those projects. They are in the process of hiring a consultant to study the feasibility of building a conference center — either downtown or elsewhere — which would include hotel space. That follows up on a broader trend of smaller cities adding convention or conference center space. Manhattan created such a center in recent years, which really got the attention of some Lawrence movers and shakers. But the nearby project that may be worth watching now is a new 10-story, 200-room conference center that is being built at Ridgeview Road and Kansas Highway 10, which technically is in Olathe and is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Lawrence.

    What will be interesting to watch is whether The Eldridge expansion seeks any city incentives, such as tax increment financing, a special sales tax with a transportation development district, or other such mechanisms. Both The Oread and the Marriott project have received such incentives, and any conference center project likely would have a large city incentive package. This project may not be as large as those, but it certainly will be prominent. It will be one of the more significant pieces of new construction on Massachusetts Street in several years.

    Werner said he hopes construction can begin in the next several months.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Maybe the early bird doesn't get the worm anymore. Or maybe Lawrence just doesn't have an appetite for worms. Yesterday Lawrence landed on a national list as one of the top places for sleeping in and getting your workday started late. But now I've gotten word that Lawrence has landed on another national list that is a bit more business-friendly: The city has been ranked the fifth fastest-growing emerging startup hub in the U.S. That is a lot of modifiers there, but I believe it means that among small cities, Lawrence is a standout for startup businesses.

    But before you go out and celebrate by building your own hotel, it should be mentioned that this study doesn't come from the likes of the Wall Street Journal or Forbes or such. It comes from SpareFoot, which is a company that helps people find self-storage units. Whew, that's a relief. I thought we may have landed on the list because of our infamous article about a guy who kept an actual foot in a bucket on his porch. (By the way, if you are a startup company considering Lawrence, there is no need to click on that link. Really, please don't.)

    The folks at SpareFoot, however, did have a methodology for determining the top emerging startup hubs, and Lawrence did well. It included: having a population less than 1 million people; a population growth rate of more than 1 percent in 2012, and a top 20 ranking in the Martin Prosperity Institute index that ranks per capita venture capital funding.

    When you put all those together — Lawrence had a 1.1 percent population growth rate and ranks No. 6 in the country for per capita venture capital with $40.8 million per 100,000 residents — we're the fifth best emerging startup hub.

    We were just ahead of Madison, Wis., but trailed the No. 1 city . . . Provo, Utah, which is home to Brigham Young University. It also is the Polyglot Capital of the World, and, no, I won't get fired for saying that. Polyglot means knowing several languages, and Provo officials claim more languages are spoken in Provo than any other city in the world. That's thanks to the Mormon Church's worldwide mission program.

    Two other cities in the region also made the list: Fort Collins, Colo., at No 2 and Boulder, Colo., at No. 3. But I'm sure Lawrence could catapult those communities, if we could just come up with some sort of Poly Capital of the World type of designation. Perhaps the Polysnoozhoopus Capital of the World, which of course means we have the most number of excuses for coming into work late because we we stayed up watching basketball.

    I'm sure there is a list for that, and we'll soon be on it.

    • It seems unlikely that we are going to land on any list from the go-kart lovers of America. (It is a more innocent group than it sounds.) If you remember, a proposal for a family fun center near Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive in west Lawrence includes plans for an electric go-kart track, a putt-putt golf course, batting cages and indoor clubhouse. You also may remember that neighbors and some nearby schools in the area have come out strongly against the proposed development. Well, that project has another hearing tonight.

    Planning commissioners will consider a host of approvals for the site. The city's planning staff is recommending approval of the project, with several conditions. But neighbors have flooded the planning office with letters and petitions against the project, with concerns ranging from traffic generated by the project to noise and light generated by all the outdoor activities.

    The development group, which hasn't been publicly identified but is being represented by Lawrence architect Paul Werner, has made some changes to the project since it was last considered. They include eliminating the idea of a 3.2 beer bar on the upper level of the clubhouse, and moving the batting cages farther from single-family residential structures. As for the go-karts, the developers continue to emphasize that the go-karts would be electric and are expected to make no more noise than a car driving down the road at 20 to 30 miles per hour.

    We'll see how it goes tonight. Regardless of what happens at the Planning Commission, the project will still need approval from the City Commission before it could move forward.

    The Planning Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.

    Rendering for the proposed expansion of The Eldridge Hotel. Courtesy: City of Lawrence/Paul Werner Architects

    Rendering for the proposed expansion of The Eldridge Hotel. Courtesy: City of Lawrence/Paul Werner Architects by Chad Lawhorn

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    Lawrence’s sleepy heads land city on national top 10 list; medical office development underway near west Walmart

    Lawrence has made another national top 10 list, and, if the results are any indication, we'll likely comprehend its meaning sometime around noon. You see, there's data suggesting Lawrence is not much of a morning town.

    Data guru Nate Silver of the website fivethirtyeight.com published a new analysis today that found Lawrence is the sixth most nocturnal metro area in the country.

    Well, kind of. What Silver measured was the median time people arrive to work in the various metro areas across the country. The American Community Survey, which is part of the Census Bureau, asks such questions.

    Silver found that Lawrence's median arrival time is 8:15 a.m. That is a full 20 minutes later than the U.S. median of 7:55 a.m. Only five other cities in the country had later average start times than Lawrence. They were:

    — New York, 8:24 a.m.

    — Atlantic City, N.J. 8:23 a.m.

    — San Jose, Calif.: 8:21 a.m.

    — Ithaca, N.Y.: 8:19 a.m.

    — San Francisco: 8:17 a.m

    Silver provided a list of the top 20, and a few university communities showed up on that list. In addition to Ithaca and Lawrence, there also was Logan, Utah, 8:12 a.m; Boulder, Colo., 8:11 a.m.; Bloomington, Ind., 8:09 a.m.; and Champaign, Ill.; 8:09 a.m.

    But one thing that was striking on the list is that Lawrence was really the only community from Middle America that made it. So, I think it is safe for Lawrence to tout itself as the Sleepy Head of the Plains. (We could have a parade and everything, but geez, you have to get up so early for parades.)

    Silver did look at a few select metro areas and found that Kansas City gets its workday started at 7:51 a.m.; St. Louis at 7:50 a.m; Denver at 7:55 a.m.; Chicago at 8:02 a.m. Even Seattle, which has made an entire industry out of having an extra cup of coffee, gets started at 7:57 a.m.

    As far as the earliest rising community, Hinesville, Ga., wins that distinction. In case you are wondering, Hinesville is home to Fort Stewart and the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

    Nate Silver is clearly smarter than I am because he found all this information in some ream of American Community Survey Data. I looked because I wanted to share with you what the start times were fro some other communities such as Topeka and Manhattan and Columbia, Mo. But I couldn't find such data, which has made me feel very inferior. (I have gone and registered the Web domain negativefivethirtyeight.info.)

    But if I happen to stumble upon it, I'll share it — right after my workday nap.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The approximately seven to eight people who get out of bed before the sun goes down in Lawrence have noticed that there is some earth-moving work underway just north of the Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive intersection. And they have wanted to know what will be built there.

    Well, plans at City Hall indicate it will be a new outpatient medical office. Plans have been filed to build a new one-story, 9,500 square-foot medical office building at 4930 Overland Drive. That is basically just north and east of the Walmart near Sixth and Wakarusa.

    A development group out of Tonganoxie owns the property and is constructing the building. But I don't yet have any information on what medical office will be locating in the spot. I've got a call into the Tonganoxie company, however, and hope to have more information to report.

    It will be interesting to watch whether the numerous vacant lots around the Wakarusa Walmart finally begin to see some development activity. There are multiple locations around Walmart to house restaurants or smaller retailers.

    • People also have noticed dirt work underway at the former Phillips 66 gasoline station near 25th and Iowa streets. Don't look for a new development to spring up at the location right away, however.

    But Brandon Haverty, the owner of the property, recently told me that the work is being done as part of an agreement with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to remove the old fuel tanks and fuel canopy from the site. Plans don't call for the property to become a gasoline station again.

    But Haverty said the location is getting good interest from retailers, restaurants and others who want to redevelop the site.

    "It is a great corridor," Haverty said of the south Iowa Street stretch. "Markets like Lawrence, Manhattan and even Columbia, Mo., are great retail markets right now."

    Haverty said the site would accommodate about a 3,000 square-foot building, which could house businesses such as small restaurant users (he mentioned Qdoba just as an example of the size and type of restaurant), cellphone stores, or an office user who is looking for high visibility.

    Haverty said he hadn't yet reached a deal with a tenant, but said discussions are underway.

    "We have options to choose from at this point," Haverty said.

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    City set to clear way for test of legalized hitchhiking program; engineers propose unique design for pump station near 31st and Louisiana

    At the moment, my thumb is still multicolored from a mishap with Easter egg dye, melted chocolate bunnies and several exploding marshmallow Peeps. But soon enough, it will be all clean and ready to participate in a new legalized hitchhiking program that city commissioners are set to advance.

    If you remember back in December, we reported on an idea by a new group who wants to create a ride-sharing program around the idea of hitchhiking. Back then, city commissioners told staff to research ways to allow the program to fit into a city law that technically makes it illegal to stand alongside a road for the purpose of soliciting a ride.

    Well, commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider granting a six-month exemption from that law to the group Lawrence OnBoard. The exemption will give Lawrence OnBoard the time to conduct a test of the idea, using about 30 volunteers.

    As previously reported, the program is built around a couple of ideas:

    — The basic concept is that hitchhiking will become a more reliable form of ride sharing. But instead of simply sticking your thumb out and hoping for the best, members of Lawrence OnBoard will be equipped with a folding white board with a logo. The rider will write his or her destination on the white board, and then pick a safe place to stand alongside a city street. — Riders will be asked to register with Lawrence OnBoard before they begin using the system. They'll be issued a photo I.D., and a background check will be run on each member. As for the drivers, people also can register to be a driver, but any motorist can choose to pick up someone holding a whiteboard. For security purposes, Lawrence OnBoard suggests that riders send a text message to the Lawrence OnBoard office when they get into a vehicle. The text message could include the membership number of the driver — if the driver is a member of Lawrence OnBoard— or the license plate of the vehicle. The test program will give Lawrence OnBoard organizers a chance to see what type of locations work best for catching rides, what other guidelines need to be put in place and what safety concerns riders had using the system. Jenny O'Brien, founder of the Lawrence OnBoard program, told me in December she often uses the method to get from her home in rural Jefferson County to her office near downtown Lawrence. She said the program covers a greater geographic area and allows more flexibility than the city's bus system, for example. "We think it not only is going to be a great way to get people to where they need to be, but also a great way to build trust, community connectedness and neighborliness," she said in December.

    City staff members said they are fine with granting a temporary exemption to allow the program to be further studied, but noted that the police department stressed "safety should be a priority in conducting any such ride-sharing program."

    Back in December, police spokesman Sgt. Trent McKinley said the concept does go against a common piece of safety advice.

    "We wouldn't suggest people taking a ride with people they don't know," McKinley said.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Maybe they'll call it Mt. Wastewater. I doubt it, but a project near 31st and Louisiana streets could be called one of the first signs that construction is nearing on a new $75 million sewer treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.

    Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday evening will consider approving the design of a sewage pump station that will be built near the northwest corner of 31st and Louisiana streets. Staff members are recommending a unique berm design that essentially will hide the station from the view of the residences to the north of the site. See below for some renderings. As you can see, it will create a bit of a hill in what is otherwise a flat area that the city recently purchased.

    The pump station will be a key piece of infrastructure that will transfer sewage to the new treatment plant. If you are confused about where the new sewage treatment plant will be, here's what I've been telling people lately: Go south on O'Connell Road. When you get to the Wakarusa River, keep going. You'll fall into the river, because there is no bridge there. But when you get out of your car and wade across, you'll basically be about where the city plans to build its new sewer plant.

    If approved, construction work on the pump station isn't expected to begin until spring 2015. Work is expected to last until the end of 2016. But a new memo from city engineers suggests we'll soon start seeing construction work at the site of the sewage treatment plant south of the river.

    Plans call for access roads and fill work to begin at the site in June. The entire construction project for the plant is expected to last through 2017. As part of their meeting on Tuesday, commissioners are scheduled to approve a $4.6 million contract with Black & Veatch Corp. to conduct several engineering tasks for the project.

    • Now that your car is in the Wakarusa River, you may care more about this next project: A new transit hub for the city and university's public bus system. The city and KU are considering a site at 21st and Iowa streets. The city will be hosting an informational meeting on the project at 6 p.m. Monday at Fire Station No. 5, 1901 Stewart Ave.

    A view from the southwest of the proposed pump station near 31st and Louisiana streets Photo:Courtesy City of Lawrence and PEC

    A view from the southwest of the proposed pump station near 31st and Louisiana streets Photo:Courtesy City of Lawrence and PEC by Chad Lawhorn

    A view from the northeast of the proposed pump station near 31st and Louisiana streets. Rendering courtesy of City of Lawrence and PEC

    A view from the northeast of the proposed pump station near 31st and Louisiana streets. Rendering courtesy of City of Lawrence and PEC by Chad Lawhorn

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    Lawrence retail sales numbers up for fifth straight month; church buys former Lawrence Community Theater building

    Lawrence retail sales numbers are up for their fifth straight month, according to a new report from City Hall. The reason? Perhaps shoppers were stocking up for this very day.

    Surely you know what today is. It is National High Five Day, and that means you better have stocked up on hand sanitizer. If you work at an elementary school — as my wife does — where approximately umpteen students and staff members vomited yesterday, you doubly want to stock up on hand sanitizer. Consequently, my wife soaked in a vat of it for several hours, and now leaves a gooey trail behind her, much like an eel. (I mean that in the most endearing way, dear.)

    So, maybe that is why retail sales were up for this most recent period, or maybe there is a less logical explanation. Regardless, the latest report — which measures taxable sales from mid-January to mid-February — were up 0.4 percent compared to the same period a year ago. I never said they were up a lot, but it lends credence to my theory. Hand sanitizer comes in really small bottles. (Don't feel bad if you didn't see that. I'm widely considered an amateur economist.)

    Thus far in 2014, Lawrence's retail sales totals are up 1.6 percent for the year. On most days that wouldn't be anything to give a high-five about, but . . . actually, the number is pretty good compared to what's happening in some other large retail centers in the state. Places like Topeka, Overland Park and Olathe have gotten off to slower starts in 2014. Here's a look at the sales tax growth or decline in some of the larger markets in the state:

    — Dodge City: down 6 percent

    — Emporia: up 3.4 percent

    — Garden City: down 0.4 percent

    — Hays: down 26.9 percent

    — Hutchinson: down 2.1 percent

    — Kansas City: down 1.2 percent

    — Leavenworth: up 6.2 percent

    — Leawood: down 6.9 percent

    — Lenexa: up 4.4 percent

    — Manhattan: down 0.2 percent

    — Olathe: down 5.7 percent

    — Overland Park: up 1.3 percent

    — Salina: down 2.5 percent

    — Shawnee: up 1.6 percent

    — Topeka: down 2.1 percent

    The list shows two things: 1. Perhaps a meteor has hit Hays and news hasn't made it back this far east yet. (Hays' sales tax numbers have been awful for several months, and I really have meant to call out there because I'm curious about what has happened.) 2. Lawrence performed better than several other large markets.

    This is always an interesting time of the year for sales tax numbers because the budget-makers at City Hall soon will have to put together their best estimates on what sales tax numbers will do in 2015. The city's budget process will begin this summer, and an estimate of how much sales taxes will generate in 2015 is a key number in the budget process.

    Taxable sales in Lawrence have grown three straight years, after falling in 2009 and 2010. Taxable sales grew by 4.5 percent in 2011, 5.2 percent in 2012 and 2.1 percent in 2013. I know budget makers would like to count on a 2 percent increase in retail sales, but was 2013 the beginning of a moderation? I don't know.

    What I do know is my hand hurts. For some reason, each high five I asked for from my wife this morning got a little harder: The one after she brushed her teeth, the one after she brushed her hair, the one after she packed her lunch, the one after she loaded dirty clothes in the washing machine. After that one, I kept my hands in my pockets.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Easter is almost upon us, and there is a local church making a little bit of news in the real estate industry. Vintage Church has purchased the building at 15th and New Hampshire streets that formerly housed the Lawrence Community Theatre.

    Vintage Church has been meeting in space at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School for about the last five years. Deacon Godsey, the lead pastor, said the congregation of about 250 people is excited to have a location to call its own.

    "It has great seating and great children's ministries space for us," Godsey said. "And we love the fact that we're in a residential neighborhood."

    Godsey said his research indicates the building was originally built to be a church. He said telephone records indicated the building housed a church from about 1949 to 1984, when the community theater took over the building.

    Vintage, a non-denominational Christian church, plans to begin holding services in the building on May 11. Some minor renovation work is currently underway at the site.

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  • Reply 11 comments from Mommatocharlie Merrill Lee Saylor Leslie Swearingen Rick Masters Clark Coan Steve Jacob

    Library seeking partner to open coffee shop in new library space; as weather warms up, downtown events begin to pile up

    A coffee shop in the new Lawrence Public Library: Maybe it could be called The Java Code, and the menu board could be written in a da Vinci-style code. Or maybe it could be called Mugs and Muggles, and the menu board could be written in Harry Potter-esque incantations. Or maybe it could be called 50 Shades of Black, and the menu board could be written in, well, uh, maybe there is a reason I'm not in the library coffee business.

    But leaders of the Lawrence Public Library are looking for someone to be their coffee partner. When the library in July moves back to the expanded and refurbished library building at Seventh and Vermont streets, plans call for a privately operated coffee bar to be located in the main lobby of the building. Library leaders now have put out a request for proposals, hoping to find an experienced coffee operator.

    As currently planned, the library will provide a couple of cafe tables, a built-in bar, a sink and a basic food preparation area. All this will be located right near the main entrance to the library. The big thing the library will provide, however, is foot traffic. Before its move, the library was attracting a little more than 40,000 visitors per month, and leaders expect that number to grow significantly in the new building. The other thing the library brings to the table is a policy that will allow snacks and drinks — with lids — to be consumed throughout the library.

    As for the menu, the library is fine with a menu that includes a variety of drinks, as long as they are nonalcoholic.(How is anyone supposed to finish a "Twilight" novel with a nonalcoholic drink?) The RFP also says pastries and snacks can be sold at the coffee bar, but it does prohibit any type of grilling, frying and other cooking, except that which can be done with a microwave. (As Ron Popeil and three easy payments of $19.99 can attest, that really is no limitation at all.)

    But if you are thinking of quitting your day job and starting a coffee shop in the library, you may want to think again — unless your day job is in the coffee business. The RFP states that the library committee only will consider proposals from people who have two or more years of continuous experience in the specialty coffee business or other such concessionaire experience.

    The library is not asking for any specific rent amount for the space, but rather is requiring interested parties to state how much they would be willing to pay per month, either in the form of a flat fee or through a percentage of sales.

    The library has set a deadline of May 2 to receive proposals. Ultimately, the library's board of directors will make the final decision on how to proceed. People interested in more information can see the library's complete RFP on its website.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The library yesterday gave you a date to circle on your calendar: July 26, which will be the opening day for the new library. Well, here are a few more that I've seen come through City Hall.

    — Sports editor Tom Keegan already has profiled Friday's downtown shot put competition and how much fun that ought to be. But maybe next year it can be even more fun. How? Three words: Celebrity Shot Put Competition. (Wait, that's four words. Dang shot put.) Think of the possibilities. Charlie Weis versus Bill Self, Tom Keegan versus 6News sports director Kevin Romary, Mayor Mike Amyx versus Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman. Well, that one may not be fair (I'll let you determine who would have the advantage) but the possibilities are endless. I'm sure some charity could benefit from it, and surely there is a chiropractor who would sponsor it.

    — May 10 the first Kansas Food Truck Festival will take place place on the portion of Pennsylvania Street from Eighth to Ninth streets in East Lawrence.

    — May 30 a portion of the 900 block of New Hampshire Street will be closed to accommodate the Art Togeau parade and a street party that is part of the Final Friday arts event. The street party will include live music, vendors, games and some art demonstrations.

    — June 27-29 the city's Tour of Lawrence bike races will return to downtown and the KU campus. The Street Sprint portion of the event will take place on the evening of Friday, June 27, on Vermont Street in downtown Lawrence. The multimile race will take place on and around the KU campus on Saturday, June 28. The fast-paced criterium racing will take place downtown on the morning of Sunday, June 29. The city is providing $10,000 in transient guest tax funds to support the event. Look for more details as the event nears.

    — That will be a busy weekend for downtown because the Lawrence Arts Center and others will be hosting the Free State Arts Festival from June 25 to June 29. That event will involve several outdoor screenings of films, plus a couple of street parties in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street. The city is providing $20,000 in transient guest tax funds to support the event. Again, look for more details as the event gets closer.

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    KU broadcaster David Lawrence to open West Lawrence sports restaurant and bar; update on Limestone pizza restaurant downtown

    Due to a host of oddities that no one ever could have predicted, I never did make it into uniform for the Kansas Jayhawks football team, which means KU broadcaster David Lawrence never did get to use his colorful phrases to describe my talents. But perhaps that soon will change. I'm 80 percent certain I'm not going to plow through a Big 12 defensive line anytime soon, but I can still plow through a double bacon cheeseburger and fries, and perhaps Lawrence will be there to see it. Lawrence and a partner are in the process of opening a new West Lawrence sports-themed restaurant and bar.

    Lawrence and successful restaurateur Matt Llewellyn of 23rd Street Brewery are opening Legends at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive in West Lawrence. The business will be in the location that formerly housed Bambino's Italian restaurant. The look of the space, however, will be completely remade.

    Lawrence — who was an all-conference performer for the Jayhawk football team in the early 1980s — has been part of the KU radio broadcasts since 1993 and has been the color commentator for football since 2006. He'll be in charge of creating the sports ambiance of the restaurant. The Legends name means the restaurant and bar will have photos and memorabilia from a host of local legends. Lawrence said that will include a lot of Jayhawk athletes, but also some high school performers who have reached that legendary status, including those days when Lawrence High football was the king of the state and the region. Lawrence said the restaurant also will look for some local people who are legends in fields other than athletics.

    Also expect to see some live radio broadcasts from the restaurant. Lawrence hosts a variety of sports talk radio programs, and he said he is in the process of arranging for some of that type of work to occur at the new location.

    As for the food and drink portion of the business, Llewellyn will be leading that side of the business. Lawrence said it is important to both he and Llewellyn that the business will be more than your typical sports bar.

    "We feel like it is a great location, and we know it is a great neighborhood," Lawrence said. "We want to be a restaurant for the neighborhood to go to. That is right at the very top of our list."

    Lawrence said in addition to the pizza, wings and burger baskets that are staples of sports bar menus, the restaurant also will serve some steaks, seafood and other higher-end fare.

    Lawrence said he and Llewellyn have known each other for many years, in part because Lawrence has done several of his radio shows at 23rd Street Brewery.

    "Matt and I have talked about doing this for quite some time," Lawrence said. "I'm at a stage in my life that if I'm going to do it, I need to do it now. Being able to do it with a pro like Matt was the key for me."

    Remodeling work on the space is just getting under way, but Lawrence said he's holding out hope that the restaurant can be open sometime in June. The remodeling work includes creating a new area of the restaurant that will be called the Phog's Den, that will serve as a private viewing area for up to 65 people to watch a game or host an event.

    Maybe that will be the spot where Lawrence can set up his radio booth and do some color commentary on my talents. Trust me, they will be colorful. Anybody who has seen my shirt after eating a bacon double cheeseburger can attest to that.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • I've been getting questions about Limestone Pizza + Kitchen + Bar in downtown Lawrence. (Don't let the plus signs worry you. I don't think there are any math tests involved with a visit to the restaurant.) The restaurant at 814 Massachusetts opened over the weekend.

    We reported on the plans for the restaurant back in January. But now we have more details about how the menu of the restaurant has come together. Rick Martin, longtime Lawrence chef and part owner of the establishment, sent me a menu recently.

    As we reported, a Neopolitian style, thin crust, crispy pizza is a big part of the menu. The restaurant calls it "Neoprairie" pizza and serves it in a 12-inch size. And it looks like it intends to be creative with the toppings. The most traditional pizzas, it appears, are a sausage pizza, and a margherita pizza with local ground tomatoes, house-made mozzarella and basil oil. But there also will be pies like the Farmer, which has bacon, local eggs, spinach and gruyere. And there's also The Spud, which includes ingredients such as creme fraiche, bacon and rosemary.

    Outside of pizza, the restaurant will have appetizers such as local chicken wings, calamari, egg and pita toast, and roasted roots such as radishes, turnips, carrots and onions. Also on the menu are sandwiches such as house-made pastrami, a local beef hamburger, pork rapini, and larger dishes such as ham and beans and fresh linguini and sauce.

    Hours are 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. on Sundays.

    • As part of my duties yesterday, I visited what we call the "morgue" here at the J-W. It is our room where we keep old newspaper clippings, and old reference materials. I was digging through a 1977 Polk City Directory to confirm that indeed Buffalo Bob's restaurant — which announced it is closing on April 29 — is the oldest current restaurant in downtown. So just for fun, I thought I would pass along some of the other restaurants I saw on that list from 1977. It might bring back some good memories.

    As far as far as restaurants that are still in business, there are a handful. They include: La Tropicana in North Lawrence; The Flamingo Club in North Lawrence; the Wagon Wheel Cafe in the Oread neighborhood; Taco Bell on 23rd Street, and the McDonald's on 23rd Street.

    But particularly fun are some of the names of ones that have departed us. They include: the Campus Hideway on North Park Street in downtown; Cornucopia near 18th and Mass.; Drake's Snack Shop at Ninth and Mass.; Heavy Eddy's on W. 14th Street; J-B's Big Boy Family Restaurant on Iowa Street; Shorty's Cafe on Massachusetts Street; a whole host of Taco Grandes and a Taco Tico, and the Vista Drive In on Sixth Street. And of course there is one that I know many people dearly miss: Don's Steakhouse on East 23rd Street.

    I know I do. There are times that I get this sharp pain in the left side of my chest and down my arm, and I know what that is. It is my body saying it misses the fried chicken and slabs of ribeye at Don's Steakhouse. Of course that is what it is. What else could it be?

    Reply 19 comments from Scott  Morgan Sherry Warren Fred Mion Terrylee Ron Holzwarth Richard Andrade Cimmy Redmond Merrill Mike Edson Arnie Bunkers and 4 others

    UPDATE: Buffalo Bob’s to close at end of month; Ladybird Diner plans to open along Mass. Street in June; city, county hosting Horizon 2020 meetings

    UPDATE: Since posting the original column this morning, I've had a chance to talk with Bob Schumm, owner of both the Dynamite Saloon and Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse, and he dropped a BBQ bombshell: He's closing Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse after 37 years in business. The last day of business will be April 29. As reported below, he's leased the Dynamite Saloon portion of the building to the Ladybird Cafe. He's in discussions to lease the remaining 3,000 square feet to another restaurant user.

    Schumm, 67, who also is a Lawrence city commissioner, said it simply was time to do something else.

    "I have employees who are children of past employees of the restaurant," Schumm said. "I always said when I started employing their grandchildren, it would be time for me to move on. We're getting pretty close to that point."

    Check back in for a more complete story later today.


    As I briefly mentioned on Friday, a new diner is coming to downtown Lawrence, and now I have details. What I don't have at the moment is the money to pay the increased health insurance premium that is sure to come. We're talking about breakfast meat and pie within walking distance of the Journal-World newsroom.

    Ladybird Diner will be taking over the spot currently occupied by the Dynamite Saloon, 721 Massachusetts St., and will be operated by a partnership that includes owners of the popular downtown restaurant 715.

    Meg Heriford, a server and pie maker at 715, will be an owner and operator of Ladybird Diner. She said plans call for the restaurant to be open in June, once some remodeling work is done at the Dynamite spot. Heriford said she's not releasing many details of the menu quite yet, but said it will be "classic diner fare" inspired by diner foods that she and other members of the ownership group have sampled from across the country.

    "I'm the type of person that when somebody has a bad day, my first reaction is to cook a chicken pot pie," Heriford said. "When somebody has something to celebrate, I run to cook a pot roast. I just want to share that with the broader community."

    I don't know what type of news you have to share with her to get homemade pie, but I don't think it will take much. She said 715 recently added her homemade pies to its menu, and the response has been strong.

    "It is hard to keep pie in that place," Heriford said. "I think a lot of it is that it is hard to find a slice of pie in Lawrence that is not corporate pie."

    (I had corporate pie once. I ordered it with extra stock options and a golden parachute, but it left me with heartburn and an IRS audit.)

    Heriford said the diner will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • I can't promise there will be any pie involved (in fact, I'm almost certain there won't be), but city and county officials want to hear your opinion on how Lawrence and the surrounding parts of Douglas County should grow. The city and county are hosting eight public forums to get feedback on Horizon 2020, the city and county's comprehensive plan. City and county officials are in the process of updating the plan, and getting some basic feedback from residents is one of the first steps. Here's a list of the upcoming meetings:

    — 6 p.m to 8 p.m.., April 16, Lawrence High School Cafeteria

    — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., April 29, Lawrence City Hall

    — 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., May 7, Lecompton Community Building

    — 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., May 29, Lawrence Indoor Aquatics Center

    — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 4, Lumberyard Arts Center in Baldwin City

    — 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., June 19, Eudora Recreation Center

    — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., June 30, Douglas County Courthouse

    — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., July 16, Dreher Family 4-H Building, Douglas County Fairgrounds

    The meetings will provide a chance for residents to discuss with city and county planners issues such as growth and development, transportation, preservation of historic and natural resources, and infrastructure needs.

    Reply 12 comments from Rae Hudspeth Leslie Swearingen Clark Coan Matthew Herbert Cimmy Redmond Edgeofbaldwin Arnie Bunkers Terrylee Rick Masters

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