Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
With weather like this, it soon will be time to hit the golf course. (For my golfing buddy, that also means it will be time to hit course-side houses, vehicles passing by the course, and innocent bystanders in the next fairway over.)
Now, you have a new option to do all of that — sort of. The Orchards Golf Course — in between Kasold and Iowa on Bob Billings Parkway — has been sold and changed its name. It is now operating as CobbleStone Golf Course. (That sounds appropriate for my buddy. He is constantly trying to cobble together a swing, and the people who have the misfortune of playing behind us often want to stone him.)
Richard McGhee, a Topeka resident and retired executive from Blue Cross Blue Shield, finalized his purchase of the course from longtime owner Ed White last week.
McGhee — who owns the course with his wife, Chris — said his plans simply are to keep the course in as nice a shape as possible and market the facility to people who are looking for a quicker round of golf.
The course is a short, nine-hole facility that was built to serve as an “executive golf course.” Depending on your skill, the course is designed to be played in less than two hours.
“We are interested in catering to people who like a shorter course,” McGhee said. “That might be youth or high school players or senior citizens or anybody in the middle. I’ve had some people tell me they go in a half-hour early to work, stay a half-hour late, take an extra 45 minutes for lunch and they can justify playing a round of golf out here over their lunch break.” (My buddy tried combining eating and golfing once. A golf ball ended up in a living room, and, well, I won’t even tell you where the hot dog ended up.)
Rates at the new course are $16 for weekend play, walking. On weekdays, the rate drops to $11, and McGhee is offering a $10 weekday rate for high school students and seniors.
Terms of the Orchards sale weren't disclosed, but the property previously had an asking price of $385,000.
McGhee, who is new to the business of owning a golf course, said he bought the property to operate as a golf course. That’s a good thing because there is a covenant on the course’s property that calls for it to forever be a golf course or else become open space.
Neighbors around the course several years ago banded together to pay former owner White development rights for the course. At the time, White had put the property on the market and was considering offers from developers who wanted to convert the course into a residential development.
The golf business may get interesting in Lawrence again. Business has picked up at the city’s Eagle Bend Golf Course. The course below the Clinton Lake Dam turned an operating profit in 2012 of $27,000 — which means its revenue was that much above its expenses, not including its debt payment.
But I think everybody in the local golf industry will be watching with interest what happens in northwest Lawrence. As we previously have reported, the Arkansas-based company that has proposed The Links project seems serious about actually building it this year. The property would be just east of the proposed Rock Chalk Park sports village at Sixth and the SLT. The project would include a nine-hole golf course surrounded by 630 apartments.
Tenants of the apartment will have green fees included in their rent. What will be interesting to see is if The Links also allows public play on the course. The company has allowed that at some of their other properties around the country. Either way, it seems like the new course will take some rounds away from some area courses.
The project has its necessary zoning and major development approvals, so if the company is serious, I would think work would begin in the near future.
Hallmark now believes about 200 jobs will be added to Lawrence plant when work moves from shuttered Topeka facility
Officials with Hallmark have revealed more details about their ongoing efforts to close their Topeka plant and transfer the work to the company’s Lawrence facility.
And it is more good news for Lawrence.
The greeting card company is now estimating there will be about 700 jobs at the Lawrence production center, 101 McDonald Drive, when the transition is complete at the end of the year.
That’s up from the about 500 employees the Lawrence plant has had over the past several years, and it also is more than what Hallmark officials indicated when they made the consolidation announcement in October. Back then, Hallmark officials estimated it would have about 1,000 employees in northeast Kansas and that they would be about evenly split between the company’s Lawrence and Leavenworth plants.
Hallmark officials now are estimating the Leavenworth plant will have about 300 employees.
“I would caution everyone that there is still a big ‘about’ in front of all those statements, but those are the numbers we’re planning on right now,” Linda Odell, a Hallmark spokeswoman, said.
Hallmark officials said they now expect the Topeka plant, which has been open since 1966, to close by the end of the year. Work to ready the Lawrence plant for the new employees already is under way.
As we previously reported, city officials in January issued a $600,000 building permit for interior modifications at the Hallmark plant. In February, city officials issued permits for another $556,500, bringing total construction work at the site to $1.15 million.
Odell said the company is not planning a physical expansion of the building, but rather is making modifications to the interior to accommodate additional equipment.
When the transition is complete, the Lawrence production center will produce all domestic Hallmark greeting cards and envelopes. Previously, the Topeka plant was responsible for all domestic production of envelopes, and Lawrence and Topeka shared in the greeting card production.
Lawrence’s ribbon and sticker production lines are being moved to the company’s Leavenworth plant. Odell said she didn’t yet have an estimate of how many of the new Lawrence jobs will be transfers from Topeka versus new hires to the company.
She said over the last several months Hallmark has been offering voluntary buyouts to employees who have shown an interest in leaving the company. Odell said nearly 300 employees have taken advantage of the program. Hallmark is reducing its workforce in northeast Kansas from about 1,300 to 1,000 people in an effort to improve the company’s cost structure.
Odell also didn’t have an estimate on the wages for the new positions, but she said the new Lawrence jobs would be very similar to the production positions that already exist at the plant.
Also on Tuesday, the company made two management announcements for the Lawrence plant. Lawrence resident David Millen has been appointed to oversee domestic greeting card production for Hallmark.
Millen previously had been the general manager for Hallmark’s Topeka plant. He now will oversee operations in Lawrence as part of his new job.
Keith Kennedy, who has been the general manager of the Lawrence plant since 2010, is now overseeing the consolidation efforts for Hallmark in northeast Kansas.
Dandelions are the sure sign of spring in some communities. In Lawrence, it is street parties. During the last several years, closing a city street to host an event has grown in popularity. This year will be no exception. City officials are processing a bunch of requests for upcoming events. Here’s a look:
• For the third straight year, the Kansas Relays plans to use downtown Lawrence as a venue for two of its top events. From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17 the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire streets will become the site of the Relays top-flight shot put competition. About 10 world class shot putters are expected to compete. The intersection and the 100 block of East Eighth Street will be closed from 6 a.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday while city crews build and then dismantle the shot put venue. As in past years, the 100 block of East Eighth Street also will be an entertainment zone, which will have a special permit from City Hall to allow outdoor beer sales. The shot put event gets rave reviews and draws large crowds. But when you write it down, it does sound a bit odd: The combination of shot putters, a city street and a party. Sounds to me like we have the plot for a hit cable television reality show.
• The following day — from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 18 — the relays will be in another part of downtown for its annual top-tier women’s long jump competition. That competition, in the 100 block of West Eighth Street, will close that block from 11 a.m. to midnight. Like the shot put event, there will be an entertainment zone surrounding the competition, including outdoor alcohol sales. Eight to 10 athletes are expected to compete. I haven’t heard yet who that group will include, but it could be particularly exciting. As of last week, KU has the NCAA Indoor National Champion long jumper in Andrea Geubelle.
• Watching an athlete run and jump more than 20 feet in the air seems like an artistic event to me — especially if I can do it while having an adult beverage — but if you are looking for a more traditional art event, one is on the way. The Lawrence Art Guild will host its annual Art in the Park art fair in South Park on May 5. The Sunday event will close Massachusetts Street from North Park Street to South Park Street from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on May 5.
• This one isn’t in a city street, but it is a rite of spring for those of us who have grease under our fingernails from time to time. The local chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America on May 3-5 will host its annual swap meet at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. This event is your chance to walk through rows and rows of auto parts and amaze your friends by pointing at items and saying things such as: “Timing belt for a ’49 Ford.” What? You can do that, right? (I certainly can, as long as no one with me knows what a timing belt off a ’49 Ford looks like.)
In case you are keeping track at home, the city is involved with this event just a bit because it is allowing a portion of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant to be used as parking for the event. Some readers in the past have asked whether a portion of the Farmland property will be used to permanently expand the adjacent Douglas County Fairgrounds. That was a plan at one point in time. There are maps at City Hall that show a portion of the Farmland property being used for the fairgrounds. But it appears as the project has evolved, that idea has fallen by the wayside. The more recent plans for the property show the spot once set aside for the fairgrounds being used for industrial lots, which is how the bulk of the 400-plus acre property will be used.
This year’s event will be the 50th anniversary for the swap meet.
• If fixed up cars, rather than ones in parts and pieces are more your style, there’s an event for you. On Saturday, Sept. 28, downtown will host the Rev it Up Hot Rod Hullabaloo car show. The Saturday event will close Massachusetts Street from 11th to 13th streets from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
If none of those events is quite your style, don’t worry. There will be plenty more. Lawrence provides almost everyone an opportunity to stand in the middle of a street and partake in something.
Mexican restaurant Tapas closes as it loses lease on downtown building; Mexquisito expands into Eudora
The Trail of Margaritas — you may know it is as Massachusetts Street — now has one less waypoint.
Tapas, 724 Massachusetts St., has closed. Its last day in business was Saturday, general manager Dorothy Hopkins told me.
But fret not, all you folks who are worried about becoming dehydrated as you trek through downtown. Hopkins told me the restaurant is working hard to reopen in another location.
Hopkins said business was good at the restaurant, which had been open a little more than a year. But she said its building recently sold. Actually, I think it is under contract to be sold. Regardless, the new owners have other plans, and Tapas lost its lease.
Hopkins said the restaurant is in early discussions for another spot on Massachusetts Street, but it also is considering the Wakarusa Street corridor.
“I know some other restaurants are struggling in downtown, but our business has been excellent,” Hopkins said. “That is what is really sad about having to close.”
The potential move — which Hopkins said will take at least a month — has left the restaurant’s 26 employees in limbo.
As for what may be on tap for Tapas’ old building, I’ve heard another restaurant is the leading contender. I have a call into a person who I believe will be part of the new ownership group. If I hear back, I’ll let you know.
Perhaps there is a rule or something that when one Mexican restaurant goes out of business, another must open.
The folks who have Mexquisito, 712 Massachusetts St., have expanded into Eudora. The new restaurant opened on Friday, occupying a spot near 10th and Locust streets — kind of catty-corner from the Casey’s — in a spot formerly occupied by . . . a Mexican restaurant.
I had occasion to check it out this weekend, and it brings some of the same — what I would call, slightly upscale — Mexican dishes that it serves at Mexquisito in downtown. You’ll have to decide whether my description is accurate. All I know is that when you order salsa, you get both the red and the green type, which provides the answer to a riddle: What do you get when you combine red and green? Another margarita.
Maybe my blood is running blue these days, but I have more country club news. Last week, we reported on news of management changes at Alvamar Country Club. Today, we have news about what a former local country club executive is up to.
Brent Boyle, who at various times over the last decade has worked as food and beverage director at Lawrence Country Club and also was club manager at Alvamar Country Club, has opened an Italian restaurant in Baldwin City.
Antonucci’s is at 519 Ames Street, which is across the street from the Kwik Shop. (All directions in Baldwin City originate from the Kwik Shop.)
Boyle said the restaurant focuses on classic Italian dishes. The restaurant has a culinary school-trained chef — Tad Ingles — who has prepared a menu that focuses on dishes made from scratch. That includes, homemade meatballs, a peppers and sausage dish that incoporates restaurant-made sausage, and made-from-scratch pizzas.
Boyle, who also owns the Baldwin Diner, said he was looking to create a bit more of a destination style restaurant in Baldwin City.
“I got to looking around and realized there really wasn’t a restaurant to take a date in Baldwin City,” Boyle said. The restaurant held its grand opening in late January, and Boyle said the restaurant is starting to attract Lawrence and Ottawa customers who want to take a bit of an evening drive.
“The new Highway 59 at 70 miles an hour really makes it pretty easy for people to get down here to Baldwin,” Boyle said.
There have been some changes at Alvamar Country Club that executives with the business say are designed to solidify its future as a locally owned golf and country club.
On March 1, the club ended its relationship with Billy Casper Golf, a management company that widely was viewed as preparing Alvamar for a sale.
At the beginning of the month, Alvamar brought in a new management team, led by former Alvamar executive Bryan Minnis, and signed an agreement with Leawood-based Orion Management Solutions to help with operations of the 36-hole golf and country club in west Lawrence.
Minnis said that with the change Alvamar no longer is listing the courses and club for sale with brokers and is no longer actively marketing the property.
“We’re going to operate it in a way that we may very well own it for the next 25 years,” Minnis said.
The club is owned by Alvamar Inc., the company founded by the late powerhouse Lawrence developer Bob Billings. The company has about 100 shareholders, including Minnis, who has served on Alvamar’s board. Minnis said that as those shareholders die and leave their shares to heirs, that is not the ideal ownership situation for the club. He said ultimately the ownership situation of the club likely will change, but the new philosophy is to let that process evolve more naturally.
“Alvamar is not for sale, but it could be bought,” Minnis said. “If the right buyer came along, we would have those discussions.”
But Minnis said he hopes the new direction of the club proves that the business isn’t in a holding pattern. Renovations are under way on the Alvamar clubhouse, including a complete remodel of the bar, and a new Bob Billings Banquet Room and a new “fireside lounge” honoring Charlie Oldfather, another of the club’s founders. The club also is examining the feasibility of an expansion that would add a new pool and fitness area.
On the golf course, new white silica sand is being added to the sand traps. (Alvamar has sand traps? I’ve never gotten out of the trees and the ponds.)
Minnis, who once served as Alvamar’s director of golf and sales/marketing before Billy Casper took over about two years ago, said there are no current plans to convert the 18-hole public course over to a fully private facility.
Alvamar has one private course and one public course, and there had been discussion under Billy Casper’s management to convert the public course to a members-only facility. But Minnis said he doesn’t believe that will be necessary until the club reaches about 800 golfing members. Currently, it has about 500 golfing members.
Minnis also confirmed that the company has been approached by developers interested in developing some types of retirement communities near the course. Minnis said Alvamar hasn’t ruled out the idea but isn’t actively pursuing it at the moment.
“The question really is whether it is possible.” Minnis said. “Do we have enough developable land internally, could it be approved, what would the impact be on Alvamar and the surrounding neighborhood? We don’t have plans of initiating anything ourselves, but we know their is interest from some developers in the community.”
In addition to Minnis, the new management team includes several other people who have worked in the area golf industry. They include:
• Eric Magnuson, director of golf, who previously was worked at Moila Shrine Country Club in St. Joseph, Mo., and was an assistant professional at Lawrence Country Club.
• Paul Hooser, director of instruction, who came from Overland Park’s city-owned golf courses.
• Jen Nuessen, dining and event services director, who previously has been with Adams Pointe Golf Club in Blue Springs, Mo., and the Shawnee Country Club in Topeka.
You’ve probably noticed a couple of SUV police vehicles on the streets.
Well, you will see more of them in the coming months. (Or perhaps you are a terrible driver and don’t notice police vehicles, in which case I predict higher numbers for the city’s ticket totals in 2013.)
City commissioners at their Tuesday meeting are set to set to approve a bid for eight more of the Ford Police Utility Interceptors. Commissioners are set to approve a bid from Shawnee Mission Ford of $25,700 each for the vehicles.
As we reported last month, police officials said the utility vehicles performed very well in the snow storms, and the purchase price of the SUVs is about the same as the more traditional models.
I’m not sure how the SUVs — they are actually fairly small for a utility vehicle — do on fuel mileage compared to the standard police car, but some reviews I’ve read indicate that SUV police vehicles are about 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the old Crown Victoria Police Interceptor vehicles that are still a part of many fleets.
No word yet on what percentage of Lawrence police fleet is expected to be comprised of the SUVs in the future.
You all must have been a bunch of angels in 2012.
There’s a new report out at City Hall, and it shows city police officers in 2012 issued the fewest number of citations — everything from speeding to noise violations — in at least five years
The Municipal Court’s annual report total citation activity checked in at 28,707 citations, down 7.6 percent from the approximately 31,000 tickets issued in 2011. The new totals mark the first time in at least five years that ticket volume has fallen below the 30,000-ticket level. The city’s recent high was 2010, when 39,699 tickets were issued.
One area where you perhaps weren’t so good is feeding that parking meter downtown. The city issued 94,064 parking meter tickets, an increase of about 5 percent from a year ago.
Here are some other facts figures from the recent report:
• Speeding tickets checked in at 2,268, up slightly from the 2,221 issued in 2011. But the city is issuing far fewer speeding tickets than it used to. In 2008, for example, the city issued more than 6,000 speeding tickets. It issued more than 5,000 tickets in 2009 and 2010, and then the totals plummeted.
In past years, city officials have said the decline has been caused in part because there have been several vacant positions in the city’s Police Department, although the past couple of city budgets have included funding to hire additional police officers. Still, Police Chief Tarik Khatib has told city commissioners on multiple occasions that the department still has serious staffing needs, and he says the department is having to shuffle its priorities in order to respond to the number of emergency calls coming into the city’s dispatch center.
I haven’t had a chance to talk to city officials yet about the report, but perhaps that is what is going on here. Or, maybe, everybody is just being so safe and courteous out on the roadways these days.
• Tickets for operating under the influence of alcohol hit a five-year low at 394. That’s down from the recent high of 798 in 2010. Minor-in-possession tickets also declined to 341, which is below the five-year average of about 375 tickets.
• Noise violations hit a new low at 176 tickets, down from the five-year high of 286 in 2008. I went a bit further back on this one to see how it compared to the days when the issue of party houses was a major topic of discussion at City Hall. The numbers are way off from that time. In 2006, for example, the city issued 449 noise violations.
• Apparently, even the animals are being better behaved. Cases for animals at-large (insert your own college student joke here) fell to a new five-year low at 303. That’s down from a five-year high of 513 in 2010.
• I don’t have past years to compare this with, but I found it interesting nonetheless: The number of downtown parkers who received a special habitual violator ticket — in other words, they had five or more parking meter violations within a 30-day period — was 1,502.
• The top traffic-related offenses in 2012 were: — Speeding: 2,268 — Seat belt violation: 1,684 — No proof of insurance: 1,617 — Stop sign violation: 754 — Driving while suspended: 701
• The top public-offense-related violations in 2012 were: — Theft: 394 — Minor in possession: 341 — Animal at large: 260 — Disorderly conduct: 212 — Battery: 208 — Criminal trespass: 208
I know some of the numbers above don’t match the ticket numbers reported earlier in the article. I believe the difference is that these are offense numbers and the others are ticket numbers. In other words, I think these numbers only reflect those cases that have been closed.
• The last statistic from the report is the one the budget-makers care about. Declining ticket volume did produce a decline in city revenue. Total revenue collected by the court was down 7 percent from a year ago, to $3.58 million.
Home sales up in January; new numbers on county’s property tax base; median home values fall sharply in Baldwin, Eudora, rural areas; weekly land transfers
The signs of spring are starting to show up: morning sunlight and chirping birds, an article in the newspaper about crabgrass prevention, and me looking for my hidey-hole when my wife starts talking about the spring cleaning of the garage.
Of course, one other sign of spring soon will be the banners, balloons, pyrotechnic displays and whatever else real estate agents are using these days to attract attention to the large number of spring open houses. So, with that, how about some real estate news today? There are a few new reports of interest out.
• Lawrence home sales in January continued to show signs of improvement. A new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors found home sales in January were up 44 percent compared to January 2012, rising to 36 from 25. It continues a multimonth streak of sales increases on a year-over-year basis, which has given real estate professionals cautious optimism that a recovery is starting to take hold in Lawrence.
One of the more interesting numbers in the report is that there has been a significant decline in the number of homes on the market, which real estate agents say is a sign the market is starting to get more balanced between buyers and sellers. In January, there were 380 homes on the market, down from 460 during the same period a year ago.
The number of days a home is sitting on the market, though, hasn’t yet started to show that trend. The median days on market: 81, up from 72 a year ago.
• The Douglas County Appraiser’s office has new information out about the county’s real estate tax base. It appears Douglas County and the city of Lawrence once will again will avoid a major hit to their property tax bases.
The numbers aren’t final yet because property owners can still file appeals related to their properties’ assessed values, but the appraiser’s office shows a decline of 0.29 percent for 2013. The total assessed valuation — remember, assessed value is the taxable value, not the market value — checks in at $1.024 billion in 2013, down from $1.027 billion in 2012.
The county is not used to declines but it has avoided the 5 percent or more declines in values that many other markets across the country have experienced.
Just for some historical perspective, I looked up some past numbers. Since 2008, the county’s tax base has grown just 1.3 percent during the tough economic times. Since 2003, the county’s tax base has grown 36.7 percent. To put an even finer point on how the last decade has been a tale of two halves, the numbers show that in the last half of the decade, the county’s tax base has grown by less than 2 percent total. For the first half of the decade, the numbers show that from 2003 to 2008, the tax base grew by 35.8 percent. In case you are wondering, the rate of inflation for that time period was about 17 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index.
The housing bubble was fun for governments who rely on property tax dollars. Now, the question they’re all still trying to figure out: What is the new normal?
• The appraiser’s office hasn’t provided a report that shows the assessed valuation by community yet, but normally Lawrence tracks closely with the overall county total — since Lawrence has most of the county’s tax base within its boundaries.
But there may be real questions about what happens to the tax base in some of the smaller communities and townships in Douglas County.
The appraiser’s office has put together a report estimating the median market values for residential property in each city in the county. The report shows significant drops everywhere but Lawrence. The median value in Lawrence in 2013 is $159,625, down 0.6 percent from the median of 2012.
That’s nothing compared with what the report shows for the other areas of Douglas County. Here’s a look:
• Eudora: the median market value has dropped 10.2 percent to $125,600, down from $140,000. • Baldwin City: Down 7.4 percent to $132,700 from $143,400. • Lecompton: Down 16.6 percent to $83,950 from $100,670 • Rural Douglas County: Down 22.8 percent to $153,400 from $198,805.
I haven’t had a chance to talk to the appraiser yet about these numbers, but it seems to indicate the real estate market outside of Lawrence hasn’t held up as well as the market inside of Lawrence.
• Finally, I have fallen behind on our weekly updates of land transfers and property sales as recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds. Click here to see listings for the last couple of weeks.
Lawrence’s latest retail chain store is about to make its debut.
Officials with Ross Dress for Less have confirmed that they will hold their grand opening celebration at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The store is going into the location at 3234 Iowa Street that previously was occupied by Old Navy. In other words, it will be in the building right next to Kohl’s department store near 33rd and Iowa.
It looks to me, though, that shoppers will get their first chance at the new retailer on Friday. I drove by the location yesterday. (I bought a $4 tie at Kohl’s after a Sertoma club luncheon created a battle between some pasta salad and the tie I wore to the event. The pasta salad won.) There was a sign on the Ross building that said the store was opening Friday.
I never have been successful in actually talking with a Ross official on the phone, so I don’t know much about why the retailer chose to come to the Lawrence market or why it took it almost a year to open the store once it filed its plans with City Hall.
But they are here now, and according to a release from the company, this will be its third new store in the “Kansas City area” since October 2012. It is opening 20 other stores, in addition to the Lawrence store, this week. Overall, the company has about 1,000 stores across the country, and it bills itself as the “nation’s largest off-price apparel and home fashion chain.”
I don’t know exactly what that means, other than I can probably expect to see a new addition to my monthly credit card bill. But according to the company’s Web site, it carries a large line of women’s clothing, in addition to some clothing or men and children, plus some shoes, accessories and home decor items.
We’ll see whether it carries $4 ties because I’m pretty sure my battles with pasta salad aren’t done. Or with BBQ sauce or with grape jelly or with chocolate pudding or with . . .
City’s Public Incentives Review Committee to consider Rock Chalk Park property tax abatement today; member raises questions about city’s analysis
The proposed Rock Chalk Park sports village in northwest Lawrence will create all types of exercises. Today, it will be a math exercise.
The city’s Public Incentives Review Committee will meet at 4 p.m. today to consider making a recommendation on a request for $40 million in industrial revenue bonds for the KU facilities that will be at Rock Chalk Park. The $40 million in IRBs come with a 10-year, 100 percent property tax abatement for the project.
It appears today’s meeting of the Public Incentives Review Committee won’t be without questions. Former City Commissioner Rob Chestnut, who also is a candidate for City Commission in this year’s race, is a member of PIRC. His full-time job is as a chief financial officer for a Topeka-based company, and he was appointed to PIRC to fill the position reserved for a financial analyst.
He seems to be taking that job seriously because he has put together a memo questioning whether the city’s financial analysis of the project is accurate. In short, Chestnut raises questions about whether the amount of incentives the city will be providing to the project will be greater than what it will receive in return.
“I believe the city could lose money on the proposed project,” Chestnut writes in his memo.
That runs counter to what the city’s financial analysis has shown. The city has run a “cost-benefit analysis” that shows for every $1 in incentives offered to the project that it will receive $1.62 back in benefits. That’s important because the city has an economic development policy that says projects receiving tax abatements should have a cost-benefit ratio of at least 1 to 1.25.
But Chestnut makes two major points about the city’s analysis:
• The city’s analysis assumes the $50 million project will start paying property taxes after the 10-year tax abatement has expired. But that does not appear to be the plan in reality. I’ve heard from multiple people that the developers of the project — Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Foundation, and various KU entities — believe the project should receive the automatic property tax exemption Kansas University receives for its property. The state has not granted that exemption because the facilities will be owned by Bliss — a private, for-profit company — rather than KU. I believe the plan is to use the next 10 years to win such an exemption from Kansas lawmakers.
According to Chestnut’s memo, the city’s model assumes property tax payments in years 11 through 15, and counts them as a benefit that will be received by the city. With those property tax payments, the city’s cost benefit ratio reaches the $1.62 in benefits for every $1 in incentives. Without the property tax payments, though, Chestnut says the project falls into negative territory. His calculation is that the project receives 98 cents in benefits for every $1 in incentives.
• The city’s analysis doesn’t count one item that could feasibly be considered an incentive to the project: the amount of infrastructure the city will pay for Rock Chalk Park.
How much money the city will pay in infrastructure costs for the project isn’t yet known, but it very easily could be several million dollars. The amount the city will pay in infrastructure costs will be determined by how much the city pays to build its recreation center building. The city will pay $25 million for its share of the Rock Chalk Park project, which includes the recreation center building. If the bid for the recreation center building comes in at $22 million, the city’s current estimate, it will pay $3 million in infrastructure costs. Some of that infrastructure is expected to serve both the recreation center and the KU portion of Rock Chalk Park.
But for the purposes of the cost-benefit analysis, the city did not input any infrastructure number into the model. Chestnut notes that if the city even included just $1 million of infrastructure costs in the cost-benefit model, it would create a significant reduction in the city’s cost-benefit ratio.
It will be interesting to see how the PIRC meeting goes today. The committee has some members who are known for asking tough questions. In addition to Chestnut, former City Commissioner Boog Highberger also is on the committee.
Much of this discussion probably hinges on how people view the nature of the project. Most of the city commissioners I have talked to have viewed this property tax abatement issue as more of a technicality than anything else.
They’ve noted that if KU Athletics owned the facilities, rather than leased them, the property automatically would be property tax exempt.
But in recent weeks, new questions have arisen about how much Fritzel’s Bliss Foundation will be able to use the facilities as a privately run, for-profit events venue. The agreements between Bliss and the various KU entities seem to give Bliss much leeway in hosting events at the facilities.
It has been unclear how many and what type of non-KU events Bliss may seek to host at the facility. When I asked KU Athletics about it last week, the response was that the issue was still a matter of “ongoing discussion.”
Another issue to keep in mind is that the model the city uses may not be the best for capturing all the possible benefits of the proposed Rock Chalk Park.
The city’s model seems to be pretty heavily weighted toward measuring how many new jobs will be created by a project. That number has been uncertain with this project. The original application for the IRBs used a jobs figure of two jobs for the project. Then Bliss filed an amended application that says the project will involve 17 jobs. I’m not up to speed on what led to the difference.
But the main economic development part of this project long has been considered to be the amount of visitor spending it can attract to the community. I’m not sure how much the city’s traditional model accounts for that type of benefit.
Plus, supporters of the project would argue an immeasurable benefit is what this project does for Kansas University. It can help with recruitment, it can free up funding to do other improvements — such as at Memorial Stadium or Allen Fieldhouse — and it possibly can solidify KU’s position as a member in good standing with the Big 12 Conference.
Those benefits are hard to measure in any type of model.
So, we’ll see how it goes at this afternoon’s meeting. Ultimately, the PIRC recommendation will only matter so much. The City Commission still makes the final decision on the IRB request.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on that IRB request just hours after the PIRC meeting. City Commissioners meet at 6:35 tonight at City Hall.
If you are a gardener, you know finding the right location for your garden is critical, and sometimes it's a bit difficult. Well, it appears that can be the case for finding the right location for your farmers’ market too.
The Downtown Lawrence Farmers' Market will be back for a second week at Lawrence City Hall, seeking a location for its Tuesday Farmers' Market. But finding a spot for the market is turning into as much of a chore as teaching my wife how to run the rototiller.
The market wants to move its Tuesday market — in case you missed it last week, the market has decided to discontinue its Thursday market — into the city-owned parking lot in the 800 block of New Hampshire Street. That parking lot is the home of the very popular Saturday Farmers’ Market.
But commissioners have balked at that idea. Commissioners have heard from some businesses in the area that the weekday market may take too many valuable parking spots on a Tuesday afternoon. In fact, the board for Downtown Lawrence Inc. now has sent a letter asking commissioners to reject the proposed Tuesday location.
Mayor Bob Schumm has tried to broker a deal for the Farmers’ Market to go into a little-used private parking lot that is near the requested city lot.
US Bank owns a small lot on the northwest corner of Ninth and Rhode Island streets that is sparsely used. City officials have checked and US Bank has an interest in allowing the lot to be used as a Farmers’ Market location. In fact, bank executives have expressed some genuine enthusiasm about the idea.
But that doesn’t appear to be the case with leaders of the Farmers’ Market. Avery Lominska, a board member for the market and a vendor at the Tuesday market, said it is critical for the weekday and Saturday markets to be in the same location. Otherwise, marketing the events becomes too burdensome.
“It is close to the location, but it is not the same location,” Lominska said.
Plus, Lominska said, the weekday market once was located on private property in west Lawrence, and they found that relationship to be more difficult than dealing with a public entity like the city.
Lominska is proposing that the city ask US Bank to open up its lot to public parking on Tuesday so that the downtown won’t lose any public parking spaces when the Farmers’ Market is in operation.
I’m not sure how well that idea will go over at City Hall. Commissioners will discuss the subject at their 6:35 p.m. meeting tonight at City Hall. I’ll report back when I learn of the location for the Tuesday Farmers’ Market.
In the meantime, I’m going to try to come up with a more simplified rototiller lesson.
Snow costs us all something. In my household, massive amounts of snow shoveling usually require an increase in both the Ben Gay and adult-beverage budgets.
At Lawrence City Hall, the expenses are a bit more significant. A new report shows the city has spent $277,216 on snow removal so far this winter, and those expenses are certain to grow because the city is still awaiting invoices from private contractors it hired to help with the two latest snow storms.
That’s already nearly more than triple the $95,000 the city spent in snow removal in the 2011-2012 snow season, when the city only had 2.5 inches of snow to clear. But the city is still well behind its most recent high-(frozen) water mark: 2009-2010, when the city spent $700,312 to remove 42.5 inches of snow.
Here are some other facts and figures from the city’s new report:
• By the city’s count, Lawrence received 17.6 inches of snowfall from Feb. 21 through Feb. 28 — 10.6 inches in the first storm and 7 inches in the second storm.
• For the entire season — the city’s first snow was on Dec. 19 — the city has received 22.6 inches of snow. Lawrence’s historic average, according to the city, is about 21 inches for a season.
• Someone with a City Hall calculator determined that they pushed 77.6 million cubic feet of snow. Of that total, about 270,000 cubic feet actually had to be hauled away by crews, with most of that snow coming from the downtown area and cul-de-sacs. The calculator must have been working overtime, because the report also noted that amount of snow was the equivalent of filling the basketball court at Allen Fieldhouse to a depth of 57 feet. (Ben McLemore’s hot hand would just melt it.)
• The city has used 1,300 tons of sand and 2,258 tons of salt on the streets this winter season. Salt and sand, of course, are staples in the street treatment business. But there also is another staple that has emerged in the past couple of years: Water. The city recently has begun using a brine solution — basically salt water — to pre-treat streets in an attempt to cut down on the amount of accumulation. Thus far, the city has used 48,860 gallons of the brine solution.
• Costs for materials — such as the sand and salt — are the largest expense in snow removal. The city has spent $136,263 on materials thus far. Labor is second at $99,018, while equipment and fuel is third at $41,935. But, remember, the city still has a significant bill to pay private contractors that were used to help speed up the snow removal process.
• Perhaps you are like me and work hard to forget the winter. If so, here’s a reminder of how much snow we’ve had over the past five years:
— 2008-2009: 10.6 inches of snow that required city crews to be out plowing 20 days;
— 2009-2010: 42.5 inches of snow that required crews to work 37 days;
— 2010-2011: 33.8 inches of snow that required crews to work 27 days;
— 2011-2012: 2.5 inches of snow that required crews to work nine days. (Like all these totals, some of the days also were devoted to ice.)
— 2012-2013: 22.6 inches of snow that required crews to work 15 days. So far.
If you are a confused Kansas University football fan (and that trait sometimes goes with the territory), who still travels to Lincoln to see the ‘Hawks and the Huskers square off, all is not lost.
A taste of Lawrence soon will be opening up in Lincoln. Dempsey’s Burger Pub, 623 Vermont Street, is expanding into the Nebraska city.
Dempsey’s owner Steve Gaudureau recently told me the company has signed a lease to take over about a 4,500-square-foot restaurant space in downtown Lincoln. The restaurant will be about a block and a half from another taste of Lawrence, BisonWitches Bar & Deli, which is a spin-off of Gaudureau’s popular Quinton’s Bar & Deli in Lawrence.
Gaudureau has had Dempsey’s in Lawrence for about five years, but has added the gourmet burger side of the business within the past three years. Before that, Lawrence’s The Burger Stand got its start out of Dempsey’s, before the two establishments ended up parting ways and splitting off to create a burger rivalry in the city. Gaudureau said Dempsey’s has found its stride, and now he wants to see how large it can become.
“Dempsey’s is my new passion,” Gaudureau said. “This is my future. I’m still selling Quinton’s franchises, but I’m done opening them up. The future is having a chain of Dempsey’s. I want to go where the market takes me.”
Gaudureau — who has grown the Quinton’s and BisonWitches franchise into a multi-state operation — believes upscale burgers are a food trend that has some staying power because a whole new generation of “foodies” is looking for an affordable way to eat gourmet.
What does a gourmet burger look like? Well, Dempsey’s has three burgers made from high-end Kobe beef, and the rest are made from local grinds, and may include ingredients such as Bordelaise sauce, arugula greens, aioli, Gruyere cheese and something called a pretzel bun. (I would think it would leak with all those holes in it, but I guess that's why I'm not a gourmet chef.)
Gaudureau hopes to have the Lincoln restaurant open by mid-April.
He also has a few minor changes on tap for the Lawrence Dempsey’s location. He’s filed plans at Lawrence City Hall to add a new patio onto the north side of the building. It will replace a patio that currently is on the backside of the building.
“I’ve never really liked that patio,” Gaudureau said. “This one will give us a little less occupancy, but I think our usage will go way up because it will be much nicer.”
Look for that project sometime this spring.
As my trucker buddies and NASCAR friends say, those fellows down at Lawrence City Hall have the “pedal to the metal” these days.
Every City Commission is different in how it goes about its business as the April City Commission elections approach. Some go into a mode where they tackle very few significant issues in the final weeks. Others take the approach that they want to get as much done as possible so the next commission can have a clean slate.
This commission run by Mayor Bob Schumm falls into the latter category. He’s pressing hard to get several issues decided — think the $25 million recreation center, a possible $55 million decision on a new sewer plant and now a major expansion of the city’s rental licensing program.
Commissioners are being asked to approve a new rental licensing and registration ordinance at their Tuesday evening meeting. I’ll bring you a more detailed report, probably on Monday, but until then mark your calendars and here’s a glimpse at the proposal:
• As previously reported, the program would require registration and inspection of all rental properties in the city. Currently, the city’s program only covers rental properties that are in single-family zoned neighborhoods. That means large areas of town — like the Oread neighborhood — don’t have rental inspections, even though they house large numbers of renters.
• Rental units would be inspected once every three years. The city, however, is proposing a system where larger complexes wouldn’t be required to have every unit inspected, but rather a sampling of units could be inspected. For apartment complexes that have 51 units or more, 26 units or 33 percent — whichever is greater — would be inspected once every three years. Apartment complexes with 11 to 50 units would have 11 units or 50 percent — whichever is greater — inspected every three years.
• The inspections would check for several items related to the city’s health and safety code. Importantly, though, the inspection could also be used to issue a citation related to the city’s occupancy code. No more than four unrelated people are supposed to live in an apartment in the city, or no more than three unrelated people in single-family zoned rentals. The code also covers a range of other issues: BBQ grills on decks; leaky roofs; wobbly hand rails; improper egress; and dirty furnace filters, among other things.
• Every apartment in the city would pay a $15 annual license fee. Apartments also would pay a $50 inspection fee in the year that they are due for an inspection. The city is offering a partial rebate on that fee: If a complex averages fewer than five minor violations per unit, the facility would pay a $25 inspection fee the next time it is scheduled to be inspected.
• The city previously has estimated it will cost about $370,000 to expand the rental licensing and inspection program. The proposed fees are designed to allow the program to break even. The city anticipates it will need to hire five new code enforcement officers and two new administrative assistants to staff the program.
• The rental licensing process requires landlords who live more than 40 miles from the city to appoint a resident agent who can be contacted about problems at the landlord’s Lawrence apartments.
• If approved, the city would start hiring new staff members in the second and third quarters of this year, and would start the expanded inspection program in the fourth quarter.
The commission already has expressed some preliminary support for the program. But it will be worth watching because the idea has brought some strong responses from the landlord community. And while this City Commission is working to get this project finalized before the elections, it also is worth remembering that anything can be changed by the new commission to be elected in April. Ask Manhattan about that. Manhattan implemented an expanded rental inspection program, only to see it be discontinued after a new group of commissioners took office.
Lawrence city commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
File this under the category of a location to keep an eye on. (Or perhaps under the category of late-night, drunken donut memories.)
But it looks like there may be a new business coming to the former location of Joe’s Bakery — which for those of you who weren’t in town years ago, was a late-night institution that served many a student a donut after a night on the town.
Brad Ziegler, a local bar owner, recently purchased the vacant building near Ninth and Mississippi streets. But Ziegler told me the building definitely won’t become a bar.
“It probably will become some sort of restaurant,” Ziegler said.
He said he’s had about 20 inquiries since he bought the building in December, and all but one of them have been interested in using the building for some sort of restaurant. Most ideas have been centered on quick-service, in and out type of restaurants for the location, which is just off the edge of KU’s campus.
Ziegler doesn’t yet have a deal for the building, but hopes to have one signed in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, some work already has begun on the building.
“It definitely needed a good scrubbing,” Ziegler said. “We took out the duct work so it doesn’t smell like a donut shop forever.”
I’ll let you know if I hear more specifics.
City moving ahead with $24K study on how to improve broadband service in Lawrence; city agrees on contract with nonprofit to provide Internet service to City Hall; AT&T launches 4G network in Lawrence
I know when you think of technology news, the first place you think to turn is Town Talk. After all, what other local journalist has an Apex 100 computer with a five and quarter-inch floppy drive in his basement? And indeed I do have some technology news to deliver today. Here’s a look at some recent developments I’ve noticed at City Hall.
• City commissioners still seem pretty intent on perhaps shaking up the city’s broadband market. Commissioners this week did give approval for a $24,000 consulting contract with CTC Technology and Energy to study ways to improve the community’s broadband service.
If you remember, the City Commission is interested in seeing if there are ways to capitalize off the several miles of fiber optic cable and conduit that the city owns. The city uses that fiber optic cable to connect city buildings and also to run the city’s traffic signal system, but it could be put to use for general broadband purposes as well.
This new study will look at ways to do that. But I get the sense it won’t stop there. The city memo describing the scope of the study says it will look at ways to “encourage better Internet/broadband services and prices for Lawrence residents and businesses.”
CTC, based out of Maryland, specializes in helping communities do that. It has been working a similar project with the University of Illinois in Urbana and Champaign, and it also was recently hired by the state of Kansas to conduct a statewide broadband analysis.
In a letter to commissioners, CTC officials said the company looks for ways to “enhance economic development and increase broadband competition by lowering barriers to entry for private sector providers.” Obviously, there are private sector providers in Lawrence today, so it will be interesting to see how they react to this. The study is expected to be completed in about six weeks.
• Indeed, it does appear the city is learning more about the pricing of Internet service all the time. Commissioners earlier this week approved a new contract with a new provider for the primary Internet connection for City Hall and other city offices.
After going through a bidding process, the city has agreed to drop its service with AT&T and switch over to service provided by the Lawrence-based nonprofit KanREN.
What the city found through the bid process is that the internet market has changed so much in the last several years that the city can now get internet service that is about five times faster than what it currently has for less money than what it has been paying.
For the past few years, the city has been paying AT&T about $25,200 per year for internet service that has a 20Mb bi-directional rating. With the city’s Internet usage growing, the city asked for a minimum of 100Mb bi-directional service, and ended up getting two bids less than what the city has been paying for the slower service.
KanREN had the low bid at $22,800 per year. KanREN, which has its headquarters on Wakarusa Drive, is nonprofit Internet provider that has focused on serving educational institutions. It provides the ISP services for KU, K-State, the KU Medical Center, Johnson County Community College and many other educational institutions.
But now the nonprofit has received approval from its governing board to expand its offerings into the city and county government arena. My understanding is that Lawrence will be their first venture into that market. So, KanREN may be a Lawrence company worth watching.
The city did receive bids from Lawrence’s three other major players in the Internet service provider market. AT&T’s bid came in at $25,526 a year. Knology had a bid of $24,000 a year. Wicked Broadband, which previously was known as Community Wireless or Lawrence Freenet, came it at $47,988 per year. The city has an option to renew the service at the current price for two additional years.
• There is good news for fans of AT&T in Lawrence. The company has announced that it has activated its 4G LTE service in Lawrence. The company claims the new service is 10 times faster than the 3G service it has offered in the area.
AT&T has invested about $725 million in its Kansas networks as part of the upgrade. The company launched 4G LTE in Wichita in July and in Kansas City in November 2011.
Probably not coincidentally, the company is in the process of opening a new wireless phone store at 33rd and Iowa streets in the new commercial building in the Walmart parking lot.
Surely I’m not alone in rummaging through the closet to find those stylish floral print shirts, knee-length shorts, black socks and flip-flops.
Yes, if nothing else, I’m day-dreaming of heading south.
Well, south as in south of the Wakarusa River, may be a direction to keep an eye on in future months. Plans have been filed at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office for a new commercial development south of the Wakarusa River.
Douglas County property owner Michael Flory has filed plans to rezone 29 acres of property at the southwest corner of U.S. Highway 59 and Leary Road (or North 1100, for those of you who don’t know the Learys) to commercial from agricultural.
For those of you still needing some help with the geography, North 1100 Road is about a mile south of the Wakarusa River. The road basically intersects with U.S. 59 at the point where the highway used to switch from four lanes down to two lanes.
Thus far, the development plans aren’t grand, but they are notable. Flory said he envisions the property developing in phases. The first phase would be a unique type of storage unit development. Flory said he has acquired plans to build storage units that look like typical suburban houses. The portion of the storage units visible from the highway and from North 1100 Road would look like the back of a home with a fenced-in yard. A second phase of the development would call for a neighborhood-oriented convenience store, Flory said. A third phase of the development would be left unplanned for future commercial development.
The plans are notable because they are one of the first signs that development speculation south of the Wakarusa River may be entering a new phase.
Lawrence city commissioners in the coming weeks again will revive discussions of starting construction of a $55 million sewage treatment plant just south of the river.
When that plant gets built, the city will have the ability to provide sewer service to large portions of ground south of the Wakarusa River. Add the fact that a new four-lane highway is running through the area — and the South Lawrence Trafficway just north of the river will be completed — and you’ve got an area that would appear ripe for development.
Flory told me he has owned this 29 acres of property for 10 years in anticipation of the sewage treatment plant being constructed. He’s grown tired of waiting. Flory is applying for the new rezoning through the Douglas County Commission rather than waiting for the property to eventually be annexed into the city limits. But if the county rezones the property to commercial use, then when the day comes that the property gets annexed into the city, it likely automatically would convert over to one of the city’s commercial zoning categories.
The rezoning request will need to win approval from both the Planning Commission and the Douglas County Commission. Assuming those approvals, Flory said he would like to get started on the storage unit development in the next year.
As for the bigger decision on the $55 million sewage treatment plant, I expect city commissioners to have a discussion on that in March. I believe this current city commission would like to make some decisions about the future of water and sewer rates before the new commission is sworn into office in early April.
But the sewage issue will be worth watching closely. (Aren’t you jealous of my job? “What did you do today, Chad? I kept an eye on the sewage situation.”) Even if this current group of city commissioners decides to move forward with the $55 million plant, there still will be plenty of time for the next batch of city commissioners to change course on the project.
The rate implications of the new plant — along with other improvements — are expected to cost the average Lawrence homeowner about $500 in extra water and sewer bills over the next five years. If the city doesn’t get the new plant built in time, though, the city likely would have to place limits on new construction in the future. I expect water and sewer rates will become an issue in the current City Commission campaign. In other words, our politics and our sewer are going to mix.
Now, I bet you are really jealous of my job. Soon, when I find what I’m looking for in my closet, you’ll be jealous of my wardrobe too.
Taking stock of Tuesday’s City Commission election and wondering how school bond and recreation center issues will affect the general election
I think I’ve finally shaken the snow from my ballot box, so, how about some news and notes left over from Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission primary election?
• Getting it Done Early: For the first time in memory, there were more people who cast advance ballots than who went to the polls on Election Day. According to the unofficial numbers, 2,910 cast advance ballots, while 2,480 cast ballots on Election Day.
• A Bond Bounce: The talk at the Courthouse Tuesday night quickly turned to how different the April 2 General Election will be from the lightly attended primary election. The main reason is because there will be a $92.5 million school bond issue. Everyone expects that issue to do far more to drive voters to the polls than anything the City Commission is expected to do in the coming weeks.
How big of a bounce may it create in terms of voters? Well, there were 5,390 voters in Tuesday’s primary. The last time the Lawrence school district had a bond issue election was in April 2005. That bond issue drew nearly 21,000 voters. There easily could be 15,000 new voters coming to the polls in April. It could be argued that Tuesday’s primary election may be a poor predictor of how the general election will shape up. But primary elections traditionally have had a pretty good crystal ball quality to them. In 2005 — despite more than 10,000 new voters coming to the polls in the general election — the top three winners in the primary election all ended up in the top three in the general election.
But the possible scenarios this time around will be good for political conversation over the next several weeks.
• A Geography Lesson: I’ve put together a very quick and lazy analysis of voter returns. (Descriptions like that are why a career in marketing has never worked out for me.) Last night I got a breakdown of the vote by precincts. I’ve quickly made a list of how many precincts each candidate won. That’s interesting but don’t read too much into it because several of the precincts were only separated by three or four votes. It also is worth remembering that the precinct totals only include Election Day votes. Advance votes have been counted but haven’t yet been added in on a precinct by precinct basis.
Anyway, here’s what I found: Mike Amyx, the top vote winner, won or tied for first in 24 precincts. They were spread out all over the city. Just try finding an area of town that Amyx didn’t have some success in. Jeremy Farmer, the second place winner, won or tied for first in eight precincts. He also had victories in a wide area, including both in eastern and western Lawrence. Scott Criqui, the fifth-place winner, won or tied for first in five precincts. They all appeared to be in either central or East Lawrence. Rob Chestnut, the fourth-place winner, won four precincts. They all appeared to be in west Lawrence. Leslie Soden, the sixth-place winner, won or tied for first in three precincts. East and central Lawrence were her wheelhouse. Terry Riordan, the third-place vote winner, won or tied for first in just two precincts. But as the overall results would suggest, he didn’t do poorly in really any region.
• The Recreation Center: So, what did this primary election say about how voters feel about the proposed $25 million city recreation center? Beats me. Amyx was the top vote winner, and he has been expressing a lot of concerns about the project. He has called for a public vote on the issue. But the second- and third-place winners, Farmer and Riordan, both have been generally supportive of the project.
Chestnut, in fourth, hasn’t really landed in one camp or the other, although he has raised some questions about the financial aspects of the proposal.
The fifth- and sixth-place finishers, Criqui and Soden, both have expressed multiple concerns with the recreation center project and the lack of a public election on the issue.
What will be interesting to see is how big of an issue the recreation center will be in the general election. Here’s one thought: Historically, fifth- and sixth-place finishers have had a tough row to hoe to break into the top three of the general election. I wonder if Criqui and Soden will try to make the recreation center issue more prominent to give their campaigns a jolt of momentum with new voters. I have no clue what their strategies will be, but I’ll be watching to see if candidates start running ads and such around the issue.
Amyx told me last night that he’s confident the recreation center will be an issue, even though the City Commission is expected to issue bids for the project before the April 2 election. But here’s an important thing to remember about that: It will be the next City Commission that will be asked to approve those construction bids for the project.
“You can’t have something that has been all the talk for the last several months to suddenly just not be an issue,” Amyx said. “It needs to be an issue because the next commission will be involved with it a lot.”
Who would have thought that the most politically powerful class of people in Lawrence are the folks who own four-wheel-drive vehicles?
Just think if candidates would have known a few weeks ago how important a heavy duty truck would be to get voters to the polls. Political rallies at monster truck pulls, campaign promises of South Park becoming a mud pit for giant truck rallies, and Larry the Cable Guy jokes at every campaign event.
Yeah, I’m just mad that I sold my four-wheel drive vehicle several years ago. (I have told my wife many times that I should never sell a vehicle. Just build a bigger garage.)
Normally, I’m out and about on Election Day trying to get the sense of voters, trying to determine turnout, trying to see if there is a big issue on the minds of voters. Today, not so much. I’m mainly trying to convince my 9-year-old son that shoveling the driveway is fun.
I plan to be on the scene tonight covering the election returns, but until then, I’ll let you guys be my eyes and ears. If you been to the polls today, tell me your experience in the comment section below.
As we’ve already reported this morning, all polling places are open, and voting runs to 7 p.m. I spent some time hanging out at the Douglas County Courthouse yesterday, and it was interesting to see just how many people are determined to vote in a Lawrence City Commission Primary. Turnout for a city primary election usually isn’t good — below 15 percent often — but the ones who do vote are serious about voting. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew told me that he has observed that there is a core group of about 9,500 voters who come to vote anytime there is an election in Lawrence. We’ll see whether we get to that number in this election.
I’ll tell you who else is devoted to this election: Poll workers. Shew said he has had a few Lawrence residents call him and volunteer to get the quick course training in becoming a poll worker because they happen to live across the street from a polling place. They figured they were going to be off work anyway, so they may as well help out at the polls. Shew said he even had one poll worker offer to walk to the polling place.
“He said he only lives about three miles away,” Shew said. “I told him I thought we could come up with a better plan.”
Poll workers and election watchers will need to be dedicated tonight. Shew told me to warn everybody that counting the votes tonight will be slower than normal. Not only will it take longer to get the ballots to the courthouse — in some cases Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies may be dispatched to get the ballots and poll workers safely back to the courthouse.
“It took us about two hours to get our workers to the polls this morning,” Shew told me today. “We’ll have to reverse that process tonight.”
But there also is a technological issue to consider this evening.
Shew’s staff did not deliver the electronic ballot machines to the polling stations because they were rushed to get all the essentials, such as ballot boxes, polling booths and other items to the sites due to the weather. Douglas County uses a paper ballot system, but each polling place has an electronic machine that voters put the ballot into when they are done. That machine actually tabulates the ballots as they are entered. Normally, after the polls close, Shew and his staff can pull the electronic cards from those machines and download the results into their computers. After doing a bit of cross checking, Shew can crank out results pretty quickly.
But those machines never made it to the polling sites, so each individual ballot will have to be slid into machines at the courthouse this evening.
But even after that process is complete, I’m not sure we’ll have a clear picture of the winners and losers tonight. It seems likely that we’ll have a high number of provisional ballots in this election. Anybody who can’t make it to their designated polling place, can request a ballot at any polling place in the city and vote today. But those ballots will be what is called “provisional ballots.” Those ballots, I believe, won’t be counted tonight. Instead, those ballots normally aren’t counted until Monday, when election officials will do what is called the “canvass” of ballots. Each provisional ballot has to be ruled upon as to whether it is a valid vote.
Normally, there aren’t enough provisional ballots to make much of a difference in the outcome. But this primary is shaping up to be a close contest. I think the race to determine who gets that sixth and final spot will be pretty close. If there are 100 or so provisional ballots outstanding at the end of the evening, that will be significant.
We’ll just have to wait and see — and of course, in the meantime, shovel.