Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”

More details on proposed PetSmart on south Iowa Street; city gets incentives request for $75 million apartment project

It is going to be a different type of one-stop shopping at 27th and Iowa streets. All of us youth-league coaches will be able to load up on our sporting goods gear at the new Dick's and be able to walk next door to PetSmart to pick up the feed for our team's mascot. (We all do buy mascots, don't we? What do you guys feed your lions, by the way?)

We briefly reported on Friday that plans have been filed for PetSmart to go into a space next to the Dick's Sporting Goods store. Well, I've had a chance to review those plans a little more closely, and it appears PetSmart may be just the beginning of the new retail development at the corner.

The plans filed at City Hall also show space for two new retailers not originally envisioned as part of the redevelopment of the former Sears site. No word on who those retailers may be, but the fact that the site's Wichita-based development group is adding space surely is a sign that interest levels have been strong for the location.

PetSmart is taking about 15,000 square feet of space on the southern end of the approximately 85,000 square foot building that used to house Sears. But the plans also call for a small expansion on the southern end of the building. That would allow for another 5,000 square-foot retail space to be added to the addition. That retail space is new from the last time plans were filed at the site. In addition, the development still has about 9,000 square feet of retail space available on the north end of the building. Dick's Sporting Goods, which recently opened, is in the center portion of the building. See below for the latest rendering of what the building is expected to look like when fully developed.

The original plans for the site did include a restaurant building that would be located in the southeast corner of the parking lot, kind of near the Midas automotive repair shop. But now the new plans show that portion of the project has expanded. Not only will it include 4,000 square feet of space for a restaurant, but it also will include 4,000 square feet of space for a retailer.

So, if you are keeping track at home, the corner that once just used to house Sears now is slated to house five retailers and a restaurant. I'll keep my ears open for other possible tenants. For what it is worth, I've really only heard two rumors about this site in the past several months. One was PetSmart, which I first reported on in January. That rumor ended up being true, so perhaps there is some validity to the second one as well. Or maybe not.

Regardless, the second piece of speculation surrounding the site has been Chick-fil-A. As we reported in December, Chick-fil-A representatives filed paperwork at City Hall inquiring about the zoning status of the 27th and Iowa site. What Chick-fil-A asked for from City Hall was a zoning certification letter, which is a piece of paperwork often required before a company's lawyers will sign off on a new project. But I've heard nothing of Chick-fil-A and that site since December, so I've been having to put a quarter cup of mayonnaise and sliced pickles on my own sandwiches. But I'll continue to keep an ear out.

In the meantime, I've got a couple of other problems to figure out: Why does my team keep choosing an elephant, and how the heck am I going to get it in the gym?

In other news and notes from around town:

• City commissioners soon will get to decide how serious they want to become in providing financial incentives to spur new apartment development in Lawrence. As we have been telling you for weeks, the Chicago-based development firm proposing a large new apartment complex across from KU's Memorial Stadium will be seeking financial incentives from the city. Well, the group — HERE Kansas, LLC — has filed its request. It is seeking essentially a 95 percent tax rebate for 12 years on the new construction. It is asking for the rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act, which is a program designed to spur the rehabilitation of downtrodden properties.

The request will go to the city's Public Incentives Review Commission for a recommendation, but ultimately the decision will be up to city commissioners. The request did provide new information about the project. Namely, it estimates the seven-story, 239-unit apartment complex with ground floor retail space will be about a $75 million project. So, even with a 95 percent tax abatement, local governments still would stand to get some new tax money from the project, although not nearly as much if no incentive were offered. But the development company says the project without a financial incentive is "on the borderline of acceptable financial risk."

The project as proposed includes what would be the state's first automated parking garage that uses robotics and lifts and other such devices to tightly park cars without the aid of a driver. The system, however, is one of the key drivers of cost for the project, but the development group says it is a key to maximizing the density of the site.

The project is proposed for the current site of the Berkeley Flats apartment complex and an adjacent single-family home at 1101 and 1115 Indiana Street.

The city has provided some financial incentives for apartment development in the past. But generally commissioners have touted the unique nature of those projects. Specifically, they have given financial incentives for the proposed apartments at Ninth and New Hampshire because they cited a city goal of adding living units to downtown. They also have given financial incentives to the Poehler Lofts project in East Lawrence, citing the goal to revitalize that rundown warehouse district and adding rent-controlled housing units to the area.

This project does have some uniqueness to it. There is the new parking technology. But it also is an example of a mixed-use project — about 14,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor with apartments above. The city has said it wants to see more mixed-use projects. But the biggest characteristic of this project seems to be that it is redeveloping a downtrodden apartment complex. There are lots of those in Lawrence, and I've heard people say that figuring out how to redevelop the multitude of old apartment complexes around town will be one of the bigger development issues in the city during the next decade or so.

There are some interesting numbers going on here in the Lawrence apartment industry. Since 2011, the city has added 921 units of new apartments compared with 408 units of new single-family homes. In other words, the number of apartments has grown at more than twice the rate than single-family home construction. That seems to be an important trend to take note of.

This is just back of the napkin type of stuff, but the Census Bureau estimates the average apartment unit in Lawrence has 2.11 people in it. The average owner-occupied home has 2.56 people in it. If you do the math, we've added enough living units for about 3,000 people but added only about 2,000 in population. Of course, the city believes we have more people living in Lawrence than the Census Bureau does, so you have to factor that in too.

I'm not saying those numbers should sway commissioners one way or another, but I do think we're at an interesting time in the community's residential development.

Rendering of proposed development at 27th and Iowa streets.

Rendering of proposed development at 27th and Iowa streets. by Chad Lawhorn

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Town Talk: New West Lawrence restaurant aims to bring Chipotle concept to Italian food; UPDATE PetSmart files plans for Lawrence store

UPDATE: Plans have been filed at City Hall for PetSmart to move into vacant space next to the recently opened Dick's Sporting Goods Store at 27th and Iowa streets.

Drawings show the national retailer taking the southern portion of the large building, which used to house Sears. The plans also show a small expansion of about 800 square feet to the building. In addition, plans call for a new 8,000 square foot building in the southeast corner of the parking lot. The drawings show a 4,000 square foot restaurant in part of the building and 4,000 square foot retailer in the other part. No tenant names are given, but previously documents were filed that indicated Chick fil A had at least preliminary interest in the site, although I haven't heard whether that interest has remained strong.

Phoenix-based PetSmart operates about 1,300 stores across the country, selling everything from small pets to pet food, grooming and health care supplies.

I haven't yet gotten a hold of the Wichita-based development group that owns the site at 27th and Iowa, but as I get more details about their development plans, I'll pass them along.

There's not only a new restaurant coming to West Lawrence, but a whole new restaurant concept. Get ready for Italian meets Chipotle.

Dan Blomgren, who for 20 years owned the Lawrence Cork & Barrel liquor stores, is opening up Cibo Sano Italian Grill in the space formerly occupied by Quiznos near Sixth and Wakarusa.

So, what does Italian meets Chipotle look like? (I don't know why, but I keep picturing The Godfather with a Chihuahua.) Blomgrem's vision is this: Instead of a flour tortilla, you start with thin flatbread that can be rolled. Instead of rice, you get orzo pasta. Instead of your traditional Mexican-style beans, you get a choice of cannellini beans or Italian black beans. When it comes to your protein, Cibo Sano (which is Italian for "healthy food") will offer a choice of salmon, grilled chicken, steak or Italian sausage. (I knew my cardiologist was a quack when he tried to convince me sausage wasn't healthy. He even showed me pictures of my arteries. Whatever, like they can take pictures of your arteries.) Instead of salsas, the restaurant will offer a choice of an Italian sauce: marinara, spicy marinara or Alfredo sauce. Instead of sour cream and such, the restaurant will offer pestos, and toppings will include items such as squash, zucchini, artichoke hearts, pancetta, olives, feta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and other Italian staples.

Just like Chipotle, Cibo Sano will offer its creations in salad or bowl form, for those who don't want the wrap.

Blomgren began making the Italian flatbread creations in his family's kitchen after he sold the liquor stores about five years ago. He came up with the concept for a restaurant about three years ago, but said he wanted to wait for the economy to improve. Now, he said, the timing is right.

"We'll be priced competitively with Chipotle," Blomgren said. "It will be inexpensive, quick service, but the most important thing is that the food is really good. The concept isn't anything that is around here. I think people will really like it."

The restaurant will serve a selection of wine and beers, but won't have a full bar. Look for the restaurant to open in mid-July, Blomgren said.

In other news and notes from around town:

• I suppose if you really want to be "healthy," you could do what the witch doctors call "exercise." (They're the ones telling me to run on a machine that keeps me in one spot, yet I'm the crazy one? Sure.) Regardless, there is news on the exercise front at the new Lawrence recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.

When I was touring the facility earlier this week, I learned that the fitness and weight rooms will be controlled by a key card system. That will be a first for a Lawrence Parks and Recreation facility. My understanding is that when you go to use the fitness and weight room at the Rock Chalk center, you'll fill out some paperwork and be issued a key card. That's similar to what happens at a private athletic club.

But unlike a private athletic club, the city won't charge you a membership fee for the card. Parks and recreation officials I talked with said they wanted to be clear that the card idea isn't a precursor to charging a fee to use the facilities. Instead, the card idea came about because the Rock Chalk center is expected to attract a lot of out-of-town visitors who will be there for youth sports tournaments.

City officials are sensitive to the possibility that out-of-town visitors may flood the fitness areas during down times in the tournaments, leaving Lawrence taxpayers forced to wait for workout equipment. Thus, the key card system. One detail to watch for as this system evolves is who will be able to sign up for the free key-card. Will it only be Lawrence residents? Douglas County residents? What about people who live in nearby Tonganoxie but work in Lawrence? I didn't get many details on that part of the system, so I'll check back in on it. But it will be interesting because the center largely is being paid for through sales tax dollars, which of course, are paid by both residents and nonresidents alike.

• As for exercise today, I'm all over it. I'm stretching both my arteries and my stomach. Come out and see me tomorrow when I'll be serving as a judge for both a barbecue contest and a pie contest. It is part of a charity event to benefit the Toys for Tots program and the Lawrence Police Blue Santa program, which helps families in need. The event is called Fire in the Hole BBQ, and the judging will begin around noon on Saturday in the parking lot of The Eagles club, 1803 W. Sixth Street. The public can buy a barbecue lunch for $10 for adults or $5 for children. Pie from the pie contest also will be available for purchase. Kelly Driscoll, chair of the event, tells me that 11 barbecue teams cooking pork, brisket, chicken and a side dish have signed up to participate. In past years, the event — which has a lot of Lawrence police officers and firefighters as volunteers — has raised about $7,000 for the charities.

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    New economic numbers show Kansas, Missouri laggards; Eudora ranks high in study of best places to own a home, Lawrence ranks not so well

    Maybe we've spent all our energy arguing about whether a football game ought to be played in Arrowhead Stadium. Or maybe we've spent all our money trying to lure businesses from one side of the street in Kansas City to the other. Whatever the case, Kansas and Missouri have missed out on the party, according to the latest batch of economic statistics.

    Both states saw their gross domestic products grow at rates much slower than their peers in the Great Plains and central portion of the country. Missouri, at 0.8 percent, had the slowest rate of GDP growth of any state west of the Mississippi River. What's worse for the Show Me State is this latest batch of numbers continues a dismal four-year trend. When Missourians talk about the foundation of their economy, I'm beginning to think they're really talking about the cement blocks that hold up all their vehicles.

    Kansas' numbers weren't as bad. It had a growth rate of 1.9 percent, which actually is slightly above the national average of 1.8 percent. But before you unfurl the Mission Accomplished banner, know that Kansas ranked second to last in the Great Plains region — behind Missouri — and had the sixth lowest rate of growth of any state west of the Mississippi. (Why didn't you just ask? There are 22 continental states west of the Mississippi. Now you have to figure out how to fold that map back up.)

    These numbers are important because GDP is basically the broadest measure of how a state's economy is performing. It looks at the value of products being produced in essentially every industry operating in a state, from agriculture to manufacturing to tourism. Huh, who would have guessed it, Missouri? Maybe SEC aren't the three most important letters in the alphabet.

    Kansas and Missouri are in the Plains region, as defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The average growth rate in the Plains region was 2.5 percent. Kansas and Missouri were the only states in the region to be below average. Here's a look:

    — North Dakota: 9.7 percent

    — South Dakota: 3.1 percent

    — Nebraska: 3.0 percent

    — Iowa: 2.9 percent

    — Minnesota: 2.8 percent

    — Kansas: 1.9 percent

    — Missouri: 0.8 percent.

    Our other neighbors, Oklahoma and Colorado, aren't in the Plains region, but I see you peering through the drapes. You want to know what they are up to as well. Oklahoma grew by 4.2 percent and Colorado by 3.8 percent.

    Sometimes it's useful to look at longer-term trends. The latest report provided GDP growth numbers dating back to 2010, and they show two things: North Dakotans strike another batch of oil every time they flush the toilet, and I'm really not unduly picking on Missouri. Missouri's numbers, as distinguished economists would say, really stink. Kansas' numbers, in economic parlance, are moderately trending towards stinkyness. Here's a look at the average, annual growth rate since 2010:

    — North Dakota: 11.6 percent

    — Nebraska: 3.1 percent

    — Minnesota 2.75 percent

    — South Dakota: 2.75

    — Iowa: 2.4 percent

    — Kansas: 2.3 percent

    — Missouri: 0.75 percent

    In terms of why Kansas didn't fare better in 2013, the report provides some clues. Kansas was the only state in the Plains Region that saw its construction industry and its durable-goods manufacturing industry shrink. Those are two parts of the recovery that didn't find Kansas. Interestingly, Kansas' agriculture industry also didn't add as much to the state's GDP as you might expect. It added 0.6 percent, while the average growth for agriculture in the Plains states was 0.81.

    There are probably other factors at play here as well, but I don't have the time to find them. I have to help you fold up that map, and then I need to go buy a toilet in North Dakota.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • One community in the area did recently fare well in a report involving numbers. Eudora has made the list of best places for homeownership in Kansas, according to the researchers at NerdWallet, a financial website.

    Eudora ranked No. 13 on the list. A big driver of its ranking was that the average homeowner in Eudora spends just 26.7 percent of their household income on homeowner costs (things such as mortgages, taxes, insurance and such). Generally, anything under 30 percent is considered affordable.

    The best city in the state for homeownership was Andover, a suburb of Wichita. The average homeowner there spends only 22.2 percent of the household income on homeowner costs.

    There was one area city that did not fare so well on the list. I think you know it. The survey measured only those communities with 5,000 or more people, which in Kansas totals 59 communities. Lawrence ranked No. 59 on NerdWallet's list. Lawrence partially was hurt because of the methodology. The homeownership rate is part of what NerdWallet looks at, and Lawrence's college community status results in a low homeownership rate. More people rent in Lawrence than own.

    But Lawrence's homeowner costs also weren't good. The average Lawrence homeowner spends 39.2 percent of his household income on homeowner costs. It looks like Manhattan was the only city that had a higher homeowner cost percentage. It checked in at 40.4 percent. But the NerdWallet folks gave Manhattan the No. 58 ranking, I believe because its median home price was lower than Lawrence's and its population growth rate is higher than Lawrence's.

    In terms of other area cities, here's a look at their rank and the homeowner cost percentage:

    No. 2: Spring Hill, 25.6 percent

    No. 5: Gardner: 29 percent

    No. 9: Leawood: 23.5 percent

    No. 10: Olathe: 26.2 percent

    No. 13: Eudora: 26.7 percent

    No. 17 Shawnee: 27.5 percent

    No. 25 Overland Park: 28.6 percent

    No. 41: Lenexa: 28.1 percent

    No. 50: Topeka: 32.2 percent

    No. 51: Ottawa: 32 percent

    No. 52 Kansas City: 37.9 percent

    No. 54 Leavenworth: 29.9 percent

    No. 58 Manhattan: 40.4 percent

    No. 59: Lawrence: 39.2 percent

    You can see the full set of rankings here.

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    Plans filed for restaurant to go into former Round Corner Drug space downtown; city seeks comments on police headquarters location

    I'm not sure it will involve coal, but it almost certainly will involve beer. While we could be talking about my stocking on Christmas morning, we're not. Instead, we're trying to determine the latest restaurant that will go into the former Round Corner Drug building at Eighth and Massachusetts streets.

    There has been speculation the owners of Coal Vines, a pizza and wine bar that operates on the Country Club Plaza, will open a restaurant in the space at 801 Massachusetts. Well, plans indeed have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for a new restaurant to go into the space. The plans, however, don't identify the tenant, but strong indications are that Zach Marten, a KU graduate and owner of Coal Vines, is involved in the project.

    I've got a message into Marten, but haven't yet heard back. But I did hear from an employee at Coal Vines in recent weeks that a Lawrence plan was in the works, but I was told it is possible the new establishment may not carry the Coal Vines name.

    As for Coal Vines, if you are not familiar, its specialty is New York-style pizza that is cooked in a coal-burning oven. But it also is a big brunch spot on the plaza, serves several whole wheat pastas and, of course, a big selection of wines and beers. (I've always thought coal and beer go well together, which by the way, is evidently not the right conversation-starter to use with the HR person at the coal-fired power plant just outside of town.)

    But the owners of Coal Vines also have branched out into other restaurant ventures in Kansas City. According to the Kansas City Star, Marten and his business partner are behind the new Westport Ale House that opened in March. That concept involves a sports bar theme, more than 50 different beers and a menu that includes items like hamburgers with fried eggs on them and apple pie that somehow involves bourbon. (There's also a dish that involves doughnut holes and beer, but I hardly thought that was worth mentioning. That's just called Saturday morning.)

    The plans filed at City Hall don't give a good clue to what the concept may be in Lawrence. The plans simply state the establishment will provide Lawrence with a "unique dining/drinking experience not otherwise available."

    The plans do show one feature, however, that will be interesting to watch. Architects are proposing that a new window system be installed on the ground floor of the restaurant. The plan calls for large tilt-up windows that would basically open the dining area up to the fresh air of Massachusetts Street. It also would allow for a big walk-through area between the bar and a new sidewalk seating area that is proposed for the Massachusetts Street sidewalk in front of the business.

    There have been other downtown establishments that have proposed similar ideas of creating an open-air space along Massachusetts Street. The former Mexican restaurant Tapas is the one that I remember most. That plan, however, never got approval, so it will be interesting to see how city planners view this proposal. Like pretty much all downtown redevelopment, the plan must pass muster with certain historic preservation guidelines.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • All right, you caught me. I'm still thinking about a hamburger with a fried egg on it. Dempsey's Burger Pub, 623 Vermont St., long has offered that combination. Well, there's news out of that restaurant. It is continuing to become one of Lawrence's larger exports.

    Dempsey's owner Steve Gaudreau told me recently that Dempsey's is set to open its third location in the region. He has signed a lease to open in the College Hill area of Wichita. The location is in the Clifton Square development of the district. It is a bit of a homecoming for Gaudreau. He grew up just blocks away from the location. Gaudreau, who is probably best known in Lawrence for being the founder of Quinton's, opened up a Dempsey's in Lincoln, Neb., last year.

    The opening of a Dempsey's in Wichita squares with what Gaudreau told me back then. He said he thinks the upscale burger trend is one with staying power because a whole new generation of foodies is looking for an affordable way to eat gourmet.

    "The future is having a chain of Dempsey's," Gaudreau told me last year. "I want to go where the market takes me."

    Gaudreau tells me that he currently is looking for a location to open a Dempsey's in Kansas City.

    • Some of us have hamburgers with fried eggs on our minds, while others have thoughts of a potential $30 million police headquarters building on theirs. City officials want to hear your thoughts on the latter. They have set up a website to take comments on locations for a potential headquarters building.

    Earlier this month, city commissioners said they wanted to study four locations for the headquarters building:

    — About 15 acres of city-owned land in VenturePark, the new industrial park that formerly was Farmland Industries. The property is along Kansas Highway 10 on the eastern edge of the city, near the Douglas County Jail.

    — About 29 acres of city-owned property at Overland and Wakarusa drives. The property is essentially behind the Walmart on Sixth Street. The site is near Free State High School and once was considered to house a city recreation center.

    — About 47 acres of property on the east side of McDonald Drive, north of the school district's administrative building. The property is near the west Lawrence interchange of the Kansas Turnpike. It's currently listed for $3.2 million, more than double what the city has budgeted for land acquisition. But the site also is much larger than the 15 acres needed for the project. City officials have said they would look at the possibility of selling off parcels of the property to recoup some of their costs.

    — Up to 50 acres of property along West 31st Street between Ousdahl Road and Louisiana Street. The property has some floodplain concerns but would be adjacent to the new South Lawrence Trafficway.

    You can go to lawrenceks.org/police-facility-comment to give your opinion about the potential sites. The city will accept comments until July 1.

    There may still be one wildcard to consider with the police headquarters location, however. I'm hearing some discussion about potentially expanding the facility to house Municipal Court. Currently the city pays just under $95,000 a year to lease the building at 1006 New Hampshire St. that currently houses Municipal Court.

    In recent days, the city has renewed that lease with Berkeley Plaza Inc. But instead of renewing for the standard three-year term, the city renewed for only one year. That was done to give city officials flexibility in case a decision is made to incorporate Municipal Court into the police headquarters building.

    The idea is getting some consideration because police officers do have to spend some time testifying in Municipal Court. Having the court as part of the headquarters may create some time savings for officers.

    I don't think the addition of Municipal Court would require a significantly larger site, but it would mean that the site would be visited by members of the public more frequently. City Manager David Corliss, though, has said in the age of smartphones and GPS, he's not too worried about choosing a site that residents will have a hard time finding. All four under consideration seem pretty easy to find anyway.

    We'll see where the conversation leads. I expect a lot of discussion in July about how much this police headquarters building should cost and what type of tax increase should be presented to voters in November.

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    More details on proposed East Lawrence bistro/bar and growing tensions in the neighborhood; KDOT awards $18 million bid for west Lawrence interchange

    Maybe it will be street tacos. Maybe it will be Texas barbecue. Maybe it even will be Cajun. It is still unknown what type of food truck will be featured at an East Lawrence bistro/bar proposed for a spot next to the Poehler Lofts.

    But one thing is clear: Already there's no shortage of spice in the area around the Poehler Lofts these days..

    In short, I've got a few more details about the proposed bistro/bar/food truck venture we reported on last week. I also have a few details about a dispute that seems to be brewing around the Poehler and the popular Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence.

    First, the bistro/bar:

    — Developer Tony Krsnich tells me he doesn't yet have an operator for the business. He plans to begin within a month about $250,000 worth of renovations to the small stone building that is just west of the Poehler building at Eighth and Pennsylvania. Once renovation work begins, he's optimistic an operator will be found. If not, he said he's prepared to operate the facility.

    — He hopes the establishment will have the feel of both a bistro and a bar. He cites the Bourgeois Pig in downtown as an example. He wants the business to sell coffee and pastries beginning at 6 a.m., but he also envisions the business selling cocktails until 2 in the morning.

    — Plans show the small building almost surrounded by outdoor seating areas that also are adjacent to a parking stall for a food truck. The food truck would be the only on-site kitchen for the establishment. Krsnich said he hasn't yet reached a deal with any food truck operators, but said he thinks it is possible that several food trucks may operate at the establishment on a rotating basis. It is a new concept in Lawrence, and Krsnich needs it to work. City commissioners previously have said a traditional bar cannot be located at the site. Instead, the business must make at least 55 percent of its sales from food, although the new establishment will be given two years to reach that total.

    – Krsnich said he'll be sensitive to concerns by neighbors that the business not create a noise nuisance. He said he doesn't see a need to have amplified music on the patio area, but he does hope to have some acoustic performers or some jazz quartets occasionally featured outside the establishment.

    "We're in the process of creating a vibrant arts district," Krsnich said of the area surrounding the Poehler. "Some noise is OK in that type of setting."

    Some noise of a different type has been surrounding the area lately. City officials have gotten an earful of concerns from some East Lawrence residents who previously were big fans of Krsnich and the Warehouse Arts District development.

    Longtime East Lawrence neighborhood resident KT Walsh recently told Lawrence city commissioners that the relationship between Krsnich and the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association has soured.

    "There have been a lot of bridges burned here," Walsh said. "There is no trust between the neighborhood association and Mr. Krsnich."

    Krsnich disagrees with that assessment. He said the concerns voiced have been from a handful of individual members of the association, but his relationship with the group as a whole is solid.

    This is all noteworthy because previously there was more "Kumbaya" singing in the Warehouse Arts District than at a Girl Scout campfire. So, what's caused the change in tone?

    I'm not sure I fully understand it. But some of the larger issues I hear have to do with concerns about gentrification and lack of communication.

    I believe a lot of this began when rumors surfaced that several owners of property along East Ninth Street had been approached about selling. That created the impression in some that a major redevelopment plan was in the works that East Lawrence leaders had no knowledge of.

    A little-known west Lawrence investor was the one approaching property owners, but Krsnich confirmed he had discussions with the investor. Further, Krsnich told me he definitely has interest in buying more property in the area.

    "I would love to buy everything along Ninth Street to protect and preserve the historic buildings and to further the arts movement," Krsnich said.

    But Krsnich said the key point is he doesn't have any deals pending, and he first would need to find more capital before he could complete any deals. Such talk, though, is creating unease with some — although not all — in the neighborhood. Walsh has talked about the concern of gentrification, the idea that as development occurs in an area, property values rise and longtime residents are priced out of the neighborhood.

    The issue of gentrification is a sticky wicket. Some note there are worse problems for a neighborhood to have, but if you are one of the residents who get priced out of your rental, you may disagree. But Krsnich notes the Poehler Lofts and the proposed 9 Del Lofts apartment buildings are both largely rent-controlled properties that can only rent to individuals who meet certain income guidelines.

    Walsh and a few other neighborhood leaders have called on Krsnich to be more open about his plans for the neighborhood. They have lobbied for Krsnich to hold a neighborhood meeting to discuss his plans. But Krsnich said he is being open by saying he has hopes, but no plans, for future development in the neighborhood.

    "If there is a big plan, my contractors, my architect, my engineers and, most importantly, my wife have no idea about it," Krsnich said. "These plans just don't exist."

    Important to note is that city commissioners have seem unfazed by all of this. Commissioners at their meeting last week approved another round of financial incentives for the area, specifically the 9 Del Lofts project. As part of the approval, Commissioner Jeremy Farmer unloaded on the issue. He said some residents are asking for "inane and completely unnecessary meetings" and that some of this is being done in the spirit of simply trying to "stir up trouble" and to dissuade development. He said he finds it "quite sickening."

    As I mentioned earlier, there is no shortage of spice in the neighborhood currently.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • There is another reason to keep your eye on the eastern reaches of Ninth Street. City officials are expecting word any day now on a $500,000 grant that would remake Ninth Street between Massachusetts and Delaware streets. The idea involves adding public art along the corridor, multimodal pathways and events that highlight the "iconoclastic, free-thinking past and present" of the area.

    Lawrence is one of 97 finalists for the ArtPlace America grant program. This is the second year in a row the city has been a finalist. I'm not a handicapper of such things, but I would tell you that optimism levels are very high in certain circles that Lawrence will be among the winners announced in the coming days. I don't know if they have received some preliminary communication or what is fueling the optimism, but community leaders believe they have a substantially stronger proposal than they did a year ago.

    • Don't forget to look at west Lawrence every now and then. Soon, there will be a major new road project underway. The Kansas Department of Transportation recently awarded an $18.2 million bid to Perry-based Hamm Inc. to build an interchange for the South Lawrence Trafficway and Bob Billings Parkway. Now that the bid has been awarded, look for construction to begin soon. I've got a call into KDOT on a more exact start date. Previously, KDOT leaders have said the interchange will be open prior to the eastern leg of the SLT being completed in 2016. When opened, Bob Billings Parkway will become a major new gateway into Lawrence and the KU campus.

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  • Reply 4 comments from Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Scott Quenette Clark Coan Keith Richards

    Large e-cigarette store opens on 23rd Street; part of Iowa street, multiple crosswalks approved for new pavement markings

    I still don't have this e-cigarette trend figured out. I would think it would take an awful long extension cord to make it convenient.

    Actually, I'm told that's not how it works. If you want to figure out how it does work, there's no shortage of locations in town where you can learn. We reported on the city's first stand-alone e-cigarette store, Juice-E-Vapes on East 23rd Street, in November. Several more have popped up since then, and it now appears there is a large new player in the market.

    Aqueous Vapor has opened up in a large new space next to Myers Liquor at 23rd and Alabama streets. Co-owner Jay Yeager told me the 2,000-square-foot store is the largest in his chain of seven stores. The location carries 250 different flavors of vaping juice that mimic the taste of everything from traditional cigarettes to soda pop to coffee to banana nut bread.

    In addition to selling the product, the store also has a large lounge area, complete with video games, where customers can relax and enjoy an e-cigarette.

    If you are not familiar with the product, an e-cigarette is a battery-operated, flameless device that heats a juice mixture that can contain flavors and nicotine. When heated, it produces a water vapor that can be inhaled to simulate tobacco smoke. But because the device doesn't have a flame, e-cigarettes aren't covered under the state's smoking ban. They also aren't covered under the city of Lawrence's smoking ban.

    Some advocates have touted e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative than smoking. Some have said they are a good way to wean people off of tobacco. But there have been articles saying that the potential negative health impacts of e-cigarettes aren't well understood. I'll let you figure all that out on your own.

    But I think it will be an interesting industry to watch. As I mentioned, the stores seemingly are popping up everywhere. In addition to Aqueous, there is a new retailer that has opened on second-floor space in the 700 block of New Hampshire Street in downtown.

    Those retailers perhaps are making a bet that Lawrence won't take any action to include e-cigarettes in its smoking ban. Thus far, I haven't heard any talk at City Hall that indicates such an addition is likely. But, as we previously have reported, Kansas University and Lawrence public schools both have taken steps to include e-cigarettes as part of their smoking bans.

    And according to a new article I read from a website published by The Atlantic, it appears cities are starting to add e-cigarettes to their smoking bans. As of late April, 172 cities had included electronic smoking devices as part of their smoking bans. That was up from 100 in January. Thus far, it doesn't appear any city in Kansas has taken such action. According to a list compiled by the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, it appears the closest city to Lawrence that has included e-cigarettes as part of their ban is Jefferson City, Mo.

    I honestly can't say that I have heard any complaints about e-cigarettes showing up in bars or restaurants around town. But, we'll see what the future brings.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Now that I understand e-cigarettes better, perhaps I'll use my really long extension cord to power a homemade, eye-in-the-sky traffic helicopter. (I'm telling you, I need a traffic helicopter this summer, and one of those cool Air Force hats that says "Chopper Chad" on it.)

    In the meantime, I'll just do my best to report on the latest traffic projects the old fashioned way. Look for a little bit more work to take place on Iowa Street near 15th and Bob Billings Parkway. I know what you are thinking: There is already major work at 23rd and Iowa, and activity is ramping up for a reconstruction of the intersection at Sixth and Iowa street. But don't worry, this project shouldn't take long, and it will address an issue some of you have been complaining about.

    City commissioners have approved a bid to add better pavement markings on the part of Iowa Street that was reconstructed last year. Area company C-HAWKK won a nearly $85,000 bid to conduct the work on Iowa Street, plus improve the markings of several crosswalks around town.

    Look for the work on the Iowa Street pavement markings to begin this month. Work on the crosswalks is expected to last into July.

    As for why pavement markings are needed on a new stretch of road, that's because weather conditions at the end of the reconstruction project last year prevented the city from installing the permanent lane markings and such. Temporary lines were painted, and they have begun to fade badly.

    In terms of the crosswalks, here's a list of intersections slated for new markings: Second and McDonald; Third and Kansas Turnpike; 19th and Haskell; 19th and Kentucky; 23rd and Massachusetts; 25th and Iowa, 27th and Iowa; 31st and U.S. Post Office; Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa.

    That's all I have at the moment, but I'll keep my eyes open. Who knows, maybe from a chopper at some point. Although, should I be worried that my wife is enthusiastically offering to buy me the parts for my homemade helicopter?

    Reply

    Tea and juice shop to open at Sixth and Wakarusa; West Lawrence grocer making progress

    Soon, the only thing northwest Lawrence residents will be missing to ensure they wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is the crow of a cock.

    Already there is enough coffee near Sixth and Wakarusa — think Starbucks, J&S, Big Biscuit, Dillons and others — to make my bladder hop like a rabbit whenever I get within a quarter-mile of the intersection.

    But if you need a jolt with a slightly different flavor get ready for a new establishment that will fluff your tail with items such as coconut creme white tea and sweet potato brownies.

    The Kansas City-based restaurant t. Loft has reached a deal to open in vacant space at Sixth and Wakarusa. According to a sign in the window, it is moving into the multi-tenant retail building that includes Burgers by Biggs, Alterations by Sarah and several other businesses.

    An employee at t. Loft's State Line Road location in Kansas City confirmed the Lawrence project is moving forward, and I've reached out to the pair of Lawrence residents who are leading the effort.

    But the restaurant's website gives a good feel for the place. It promotes tea, juice and clean eats. According to its online menu, it has about 50 teas — white, green, black, matcha, iced, caffeine free, wellness-based and tea lattes. The menu includes about 15 juices, including those designed to give a boost to your energy levels, immune systems and mental capabilities. (Remember, this is right near Free State High, so that last one can come in handy. There is a tea called brainberry, and if such a thing was available when I was in school, I would have soaked my head in it daily to avoid listening in Algebra class.)

    The food, however, may be as interesting as anything the restaurant has to offer. The menu doesn't give as many details on the food, but it says there is a bakery case filled with gluten-free and preservative-free items. Some that are mentioned include fresh salads, veggie boxes, fruit and cheese boxes, and some outside-the-box items such as sweet potato brownies and something called apple nachos.

    It appears this will be t. Loft's third store, although the first one outside the Kansas City metro area. I don't yet have an estimate on when the Lawrence location will open. But a building permit has been issued to begin renovation work. I'll let you know when I hear more.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Plans for a new "farmers market style grocer" near the northeast corner of Sixth and Wakarusa are still moving forward. But, no, we still don't have an official word on who the grocer will be. Certainly, there is much speculation that it will be Sprouts, a grocery chain that has opened in Overland Park and is expanding in the region.

    Final development plans for the site recently were filed at City Hall, but those plans did not list the name of the grocery tenant. But they did provide some color renderings of the proposed grocery building, and also of another multi-tenant retail building that will be next to the grocer. Check out the renderings below.

    It looks like that in addition to the grocery store, there will be room for at least four other businesses at the site. After years of waiting, the Sixth and Wakarusa area is beginning to pick up steam. Now, we'll see if the numerous out lots that sit vacant around the Wal-Mart store begin attracting tenants.

    Rendering of a proposed grocery store at the Bauer Farm Development near Sixth and Wakarusa. Courtesy: City of Lawrence

    Rendering of a proposed grocery store at the Bauer Farm Development near Sixth and Wakarusa. Courtesy: City of Lawrence by Chad Lawhorn

    A rendering of a proposed multi-tenant retail building in the Bauer Farm development near Sixth and Wakarusa. Courtesy: City of Lawrence.

    A rendering of a proposed multi-tenant retail building in the Bauer Farm development near Sixth and Wakarusa. Courtesy: City of Lawrence. by Chad Lawhorn

    Reply 5 comments from Richard Heckler Kevin Heath Arnie Bunkers Eddie Muñoz Dorothy Hoyt-Reed

    Bigg’s BBQ to open in former Buffalo Bob’s space downtown; study finds Douglas County residents get best bang for the buck on taxes paid

    Don't worry downtown co-workers, I once again will have barbecue sauce on my tie for those one o'clock meetings. (Obviously, I mean fresh barbecue sauce.) I've gotten confirmation that Bigg's Barbecue is taking over the downtown space formerly occupied by Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse.

    Doug Holiday, owner of Bigg's, told me the new restaurant, 719 Massachusetts St., will be called Bigg's on Mass. Renovation work will begin soon, and he hopes to have the restaurant open in August.

    The new restaurant will be in addition to the two that Holiday already operates — the original Bigg's BBQ on south Iowa, and Burgers by Bigg's near Sixth and Wakarusa.

    "I've had a lot of people tell me that downtown is a good place to be," Holiday said. "I think we're missing some people by not being downtown."

    Holiday said Bigg's on Mass will be focused on barbecue rather than the burger menu he serves in West Lawrence. That means pulled pork, brisket, a couple of styles of ribs, turkey, smoked Italian sausage and some Bigg's favorites such as pulled pork nachos.

    The restaurant, though, will have the same type of quick-service model that is used at Burgers by Bigg's. That means you'll order at the counter, and then staff members will bring the food to you at your table.

    "We're really going to concentrate on high-quality barbecue, and getting it out quick to the customer," Holiday said.

    The restaurant will seat about 90 people, Biggs said, but he also plans to offer a boxed-lunch delivery service for at least the downtown area.

    The space became available after Lawrence City Commissioner Bob Schumm retired from the restaurant business in April and closed Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse after 37 years in downtown.

    "This was just the right place at the right time for us," Holiday said. "We're excited about the opportunity."

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Well, here's news that may cause you to do something odd with your barbecue turkey leg: In all of Kansas, Douglas County provides the best bang for the buck when it comes to property taxes levied. In all of the U.S., Douglas County ranks as the 42nd best property tax value.

    At least, that's according to a new study by the financial assistance website SmartAssett.com. But there are some caveats here. For one, the study doesn't rank every county in Kansas. It ranks only five — Douglas, Saline, Leavenworth, Butler and Shawnee. The study only looked at counties with populations of 50,000 and above, but I'm not sure why Johnson, Sedgwick, Wyandotte and Riley counties weren't ranked.

    The other thing to remember is that the study is trying to rank value. Are you getting a lot for what you pay? That is key in Douglas County's case because the study did find that the per capita amount of property tax paid in Douglas County is higher than any of the other counties studied in Kansas. It also found that the per capita tax in Douglas County was about $240 per year higher than the national average.

    But in the study, Douglas County received an 'A' grade, and a high national ranking. It looks like our relatively low crime rate and good public schools moved us up the rankings.

    Of the five Kansas counties studied, Douglas had the lowest number of violent crimes per 100,000 people at 22. That was less than second-place finisher Saline County at 40.9 and well less than the high-water mark of 81.9 in Leavenworth County. Douglas also had the lowest number of property crimes per 100,000 people with 151.4. That's less than runner-up Saline at 250.7. Butler had the highest figure at 905.8. All those numbers are taken from a 2012 FBI Crime Statistics report.

    A spokeswoman at SmartAsset told me that Douglas County's schools ranked in the top 30 percent of the state, according to a U.S. Department of Education report that is based off state assessment scores. She didn't provide me rankings for the other counties.

    On the matter of taxes paid, the study found a census number that estimated the amount of taxes collected by each county. It then divided that by the number of households in the county, and then divided that number by the median home value in the county. The result is a property tax rate expressed as a percentage. In Douglas County, the rate was 1.3 percent, which tied for the lowest rate with Saline and Leavenworth. Butler was the highest at 1.6 percent and Shawnee was at 1.5 percent. The national average, however, was 1.1 percent.

    So, if you are keeping track, Douglas County was on the wrong side of the national average in all the taxes-paid categories, but was on the right side of the national average on all the quality-of life-categories. This study is a bit incomplete — it doesn't factor average incomes into the equation at all, for example — but it is a good reminder that when evaluating taxes, there is more than just a dollar amount to consider.

    It was unclear to me exactly how many counties were ranked nationally, but it looks like about 1,500.

    As for the grades other Kansas counties received, here's a look at the report card: Douglas, A, $915 in property taxes per capita; Saline, A, $635 per capita; Leavenworth, C, $793 per capita; Butler, D, $805 per capita; Shawnee D, $771 per capita.

    Reply 8 comments from Tara Painter Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Arnie Bunkers Chad Lawhorn Nathan Wycoff Cimmy Redmond Tom Thomson Rae Hudspeth Keith Richards

    As 31st Street closes, Lawrence traffic woes in full bloom; funding battle over K-10 Connector looms

    A handful of city officials yesterday attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Dick's Sporting Goods Store at 27th and Iowa streets. As they travelled to the store and saw the lines of vehicles backed up at 23rd and Iowa streets due to city construction, I wonder if they had second thoughts about going to an event that featured baseball bats, 2-irons and other blunt objects.

    In other words, traffic in south Lawrence yesterday was horrendous, and there were more than a few motorists who were fuming about it.

    The project to rebuild 23rd and Iowa streets has been underway for more than a week now. It has reduced traffic to one lane in each direction on 23rd Street, which is bound to cause a certain amount of backlog. But on Tuesday, Lawrence's traffic landscape changed significantly. That's because Tuesday was the first day that a major section of 31st Street was closed. The part of 31st Street west of Louisiana and just east of Ousdahl closed as part of the South Lawrence Trafficway project. It will remain closed until probably the summer of 2015. Soon — probably next month — the portion of 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana also will close for about a year.

    The closure has made a tough situation tougher. At about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, southbound traffic on Iowa Street was a solid line of stop-and-go traffic from 23rd Street to about 19th Street, and it looked like the line was growing as rush hour traffic increased.

    Delays on a major street like Iowa are to be expected during large construction projects. But the area that is getting more than it bargained for is on 27th Street. At about 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, there was a line of westbound vehicles that stretched along 27th Street from Iowa through the area where the road intersects with Naismith Valley Park. That is about a half-mile stretch of bumper-to-bumper cars, which is unusual on any Lawrence street, but especially on a rather pedestrian street that cuts through a neighborhood. It also looked like that line was growing at 4:45 p.m.

    As we predicted several days ago, it didn't take long for motorists to realize that 27th Street would be one of the prime ways to avoid the 31st Street closure. But now motorists may be realizing that if everybody takes that route, it won't be much of a shortcut. In fact, yesterday, I'm not sure anybody saved any time by going on 27th Street as opposed to just biting the bullet and traveling through the construction zone at 23rd and Iowa.

    I talked with Public Works Director Chuck Soules last evening, and he said his department was going to investigate tweaking the timing of the traffic signal at 27th and Iowa. But he wasn't optimistic that was going to help a lot.

    "Moving the traffic on Iowa Street is going to have to remain the priority," Soules said.

    Soules is urging motorists to approach the situation as if there were a lot of snow in south Lawrence: Plan ahead and give yourself extra time, just like you would if you awoke to a snowy morning. But this is one snowstorm that has some serious staying power. In addition to 31st Street being closed until next summer, work on 23rd and Iowa is expected to last into November.

    As for other routes to take, it does get tricky. The city has urged people to avoid using 27th Street as a cut-through route. City officials are still insisting that going through the construction zone at 23rd and Iowa is the most prudent course.

    I, however, am not a city official. I'll mention some other routes, but I'm not sure they are good alternatives. This may be just a list of areas where more problems are about to spring up. But here it is:

    • If you are heading south on Iowa Street and want to avoid the 23rd and Iowa intersection, a lot of vehicles yesterday were turning west onto 21st Street, which almost immediately turns into Becker Drive on Kansas University's West Campus. You'll wind through the KU Park and Ride lot and land at the intersection of Clinton Parkway and Crestline. There is a traffic light there. If your destination is to get to south Iowa shopping, you could continue south on Crestline until you hit 25th Street, and then reconnect with Iowa. That route has some twists and turns to it. An alternative to Crestline is to go west just a bit and get on Lawrence Avenue. It provides a straight shot to 27th Street, which connects to Iowa. Yesterday, the portion of 27th Street west of Iowa didn't seem to have as many delays as the portion east of Iowa. But beware, that may change.

    (By the way, if I am going to give this type of traffic advice, I really do feel like I'm entitled to a helicopter and those really cool headphones, and maybe a neat nickname too.)

    • 21st Street east of Iowa also should expect more traffic. It can connect you to Ousdahl or Naismith, both of which can lead you to 23rd Street. Really, it can take you all the way to Massachusetts Street. But be warned, crossing Louisiana Street can be might tricky during arrival and dismissal times at Lawrence High. If you plan to take 21st Street westbound, remember that there is no traffic light at 21st and Iowa, so turning onto Iowa may be difficult. If you plan to turn south on Iowa from there, just know that the hand gesture all your fellow motorists are giving you is not a sign that they think your are No. 1.

    • If you are on 23rd Street and trying to head to the south Iowa shopping district, you may be tempted to turn south on Ousdahl. Based on what I saw yesterday, however, you may want to think twice about going all the way to 27th Street. For one, Ousdahl doesn't directly connect to 27th Street. You'll likely end up on Ridge Court. Yesterday, it looked like the only place worse to be than 27th Street was on Ridge Court. Cars were lined up there, hoping that some motorist on 27th Street would take pity and let them in line. There is no light or four-way stop at the intersection. Ridge Court may get renamed Ledge Court because you may be looking for one as long as you may wait on that street. Instead, Ousdahl to 25th may be a better option. Although if everyone starts using it, 25th also will become overwhelmed. Don't take Ousdahl to 26th Street. There is no traffic signal at 26th and Iowa. All you will get there is a good, long view of the Dairy Queen across the street.

    • Don't rule out a drive in the country. Wells Overlook Road — also known as North 1000 Road or County Route 458 — is a few miles south of 31st and Iowa. It connects with U.S. Highway 59. That is a bit of a trip, and I, too, am worried about traveling on a road that feels like it needs so many aliases, but it likely will create less frustration. Well, maybe. At the moment, even that route is hard to access, but once Haskell reopens — probably in July — you'll have a pretty straight shot to Wells Overlook via East 1500. To access it today, you'll need to take Louisiana, go to the portion of 31st that remains open, and then connect with East 1500 Road.

    • If you are in West Lawrence, you have a great advantage. You can take the South Lawrence Trafficway to get to the south Iowa Street shopping district. Man, I wonder if anyone has thought about building a South Lawrence Trafficway on the east side of Iowa Street?

    I'll let you ponder that and other roads, tunnels, dusty paths and whatever else you can find on Google maps. I have other matters to attend to. Come to find out, there is a lot of paperwork involved in filing an expense report for a helicopter.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Days like these bring up the question of how we can reduce the number of cars on the city's streets. Well, the K-10 Connector bus service between Johnson County and Lawrence has been an answer for the past several years. But now it looks like that service could be in some peril.

    At their Tuesday evening meeting, city commissioners agreed to follow through on a previously-approved request to provide $120,000 in funding to Johnson County to help cover the approximately $1 million operating budget of the connector.

    That money is for 2014. But commissioners weren't ready to make a commitment for 2015. And some commissioners raised questions about whether they should provide funding in 2015. Some clearly were disappointed that leaders at KU and Johnson County Community College have again declined to provide funding for the commuter service.

    A ridership survey has again found that students and employees of the two educational institutions are by far the largest users of the system. Johnson County officials agree that it would be ideal if those two schools started paying for part of the operational costs of the system. But Johnson County leaders say they would hate for the service to be reduced or eliminated because those institutions don't participate financially. Almost 160,000 riders used the service in 2013, which JoCo leaders note takes quite a few vehicles off of already busy Kansas Highway 10.

    The K-10 Connector, though, has not been well loved by Lawrence transit leaders. The city's Public Transit Advisory Board has recommending not providing city funding to the service. The group has never liked the idea of sending local tax dollars to the Johnson County transit service, which operates the system.

    But the route is popular with a certain segment of Lawrence residents. The new survey found that 53 percent of riders are from Lawrence. The rest are largely from Johnson County. Some commissioners did the math, and urged support for the funding. Johnson County is asking the city to consider increasing its support for the system to about $320,000 a year, although that higher level of funding could be phased in over several years.

    "You are asking us to get to $320,000 or 32 percent of the route's operating budget, when we have 53 percent of the riders?" Commissioner Jeremy Farmer asked.

    Farmer indicated that was a pretty good deal for Lawrence. I think a sticking point with other commissioners is that KU isn't providing operating funds for the service, even though it directly benefits the university. It is easy to see how that might be frustrating, but then again there has long been an understanding that the city provides certain services without being directly reimbursed by the university. Think of police service, fire service and, more recently, millions of dollars in infrastructure for the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. But in turn, KU acts as a major economic engine for the local economy and partners with the city in other ways.

    How this one transit route fits into the equation will be determined as part of the city's budget process in the coming weeks.

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    KC’s Port Fonda is looking for Lawrence location; home building numbers down; report shows size of local apartment boom

    I haven't dusted off my special sombrero yet — just my ordinary one — but I have gotten word that one of Kansas City's hipper Mexican restaurants is seriously considering a Lawrence expansion.

    I know some of you have heard rumors that Kansas City's Port Fonda is going to open a location in Lawrence soon. Well, that information is a bit like when you get salsa all over your chin: You're a bit off, but you are in the right neighborhood.

    Jamie Davila, a co-owner of Port Fonda, told me the company hasn't yet signed a deal for a Lawrence location, but has looked at about four spots so far.

    "We have been flirting in Lawrence, but there is nothing to go on as of yet," said Davila. "But we are definitely flirting in a serious way about it."

    Davila said he expects the company to make a decision on its Lawrence future in the next month.

    For those of you not familiar with Port Fonda, it has become a favorite for some of the Westport crowd. Patrick Ryan, the other co-owner of the business, started in a food truck in Kansas City and then transitioned to a full-scale restaurant about two years ago.

    "I would describe it like Mexican street food with polish," Davila said.

    A quick look at Port Fonda's menu gives you an idea that involves being creative with ingredients. For example, the restaurant's beef tacos come with all the normal ingredients such as cilantro, onion and lime. But it also includes fried potatoes, green olives and raisins. Other dishes feature ingredients such as cabbage, radishes, fried avocado, and a sandwich that has a combination that allows cardiologists to dream of bigger beach homes: pork belly and bacon on a single sandwich.

    At the moment, though, I would continue to file all of this under the category of a development to keep an eye on. Lots of restaurants take a look at Lawrence for an expansion, but do not ever make the move. But I wanted to pass this one along because I had heard a decent amount of discussion on the street about it.

    Plus, I really do love wearing that sombrero.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The latest numbers from City Hall show that local homebuilders have slowed down just a bit in 2014. There have been 42 building permits issued for single-family and duplex projects through April. That's down from 59 during the same time period a year ago. Single-family home numbers have been on the rise for the past two years in Lawrence, but builders will have some work to do if they want to stretch that to a three-year streak. But it is worth noting that 2014 numbers, so far, are still tracking ahead of 2012 and 2011 numbers.

    The total value of construction projects underway in Lawrence is way down compared to a year ago. The city thus far hasn't seen the large projects like the downtown hotel or the Rock Chalk Park facilities that pushed totals up to near highs in 2013. Through April, the city has issued permits for $25.7 million worth of projects. That's down from the $54.8 million issued at the same time a year ago. This year's total of $25.7 million ranks fifth out of the last six years.

    • One noteworthy building permit trend is that the city hasn't issued any permits for new apartment construction this year. The city put out a new report that looks more deeply into building permit trends, and it shows just how rare that is. The report produced a statistic that shows just how prevalent apartment construction has become in Lawrence. It found that 2013 was the seventh consecutive year that the number of new apartment units built in the city exceeded the number of single-family and duplex units constructed.

    Not to be overdramatic, but that's a contender for stat of the year. That's the type of trend that will change a city in a lot of ways. If plans for a new apartment building near Memorial Stadium move forward, that trend may well continue in 2014.

    The report also compared Lawrence to 10 other area communities. In general, Lawrence fared OK in that comparison. The city's housing rebound seems to be in the middle of the pack or slightly above.

    But there was one area that seemed curious. Lawrence has the fourth-largest population of the 11 communities studied. But the number of commercial building permits — permits for new business construction — ranked eighth on the list. Only Emporia, Baldwin City and Eudora ranked below Lawrence. Smaller communities such as Manhattan, Lenexa, Salina, and even unincorporated Douglas County ranked ahead of Lawrence.

    You can read the full report here.

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  • Reply 1 comment from Terrylee Richard Andrade

    Plans filed for East Lawrence bistro/bar that will feature food truck fare; more incentives requested for Warehouse Arts District; charity BBQ contest on tap

    Perhaps you think driving a truck on to the patio of a bar/bistro is a mistake. (Technically, I think the officer called it a "borderline felony," but I believe I still have the right to remain silent on that.) A proposed East Lawrence business, though, is aiming to show that a truck and a patio mix well.

    New plans have been filed at City Hall for a bar/bistro in the small building just west of the Poehler Lofts at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets. And according to the plans, the development will include a special area near the patio that has room for a food truck to regularly park and serve to customers.

    The Warehouse Arts District at Eighth and Pennsylvania was the site of the recent Kansas Food Truck Festival. Organizers of that event were thrilled with its success. The festival, which was in its first year, raised $7,342 for the local food bank Just Food. This new plan would allow for a regular location for food truck fare. Plus, as we reported in October, the planned bistro building is on the small side, which makes putting in a full kitchen challenging.

    I haven't yet made connections with the proposed developer of the bistro, but the plans on file give an idea of what the business is aiming for. According to the plans, the business will be a "neighborhood bistro/bar establishment where people from the neighborhood and beyond can gather in the morning, evening and night."

    The business plans to capitalize on the feel of the old stone building, which in the early 1900s served as a warehouse for ammunition and gunpowder sold by the adjacent Poehler Mercantile Co. Inside, dark woods will be used to "provide the old library feel where people will be able to unwind." Plans call for about $250,000 worth of renovations. Details on what type of food and drink will be featured weren't included in the plans.

    The project must win site plan approval from City Hall. As more details become available, I'll pass them along.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The area near Eighth and Pennsylvania just makes all types of news these days, and some of it doesn't even involve what happens when at the Kansas Food Truck Festival you eat 14 tacos from a food truck with "chaos" in its name.

    As we have been reporting for months, Tony Krsnich, the lead developer of the Warehouse Arts District, plans to build a new four-story, loft-style apartment building just south and east of the Poehler Lofts building.

    The land use approvals for the project already have been granted by City Hall, but now city commissioners will have to decide whether they want to provide some requested financial incentives. Commissioners will begin that discussion on Tuesday. The project — which, like the Poehler building, will feature rent-controlled units that are set aside for low- to moderate-income residents — is asking the city for infrastructure improvements and some fee waivers.

    Specifically, the development group is asking the city to pay for about $226,000 to relocate a sanitary sewer line, add a water line for fire protection, connect the sewage line to the new building, build storm water drains for the project, bury an overhead utility line and construct a private drive leading to the building.

    The development group also is asking that the city waive about $45,000 worth of city development fees related to water and sewer charges.

    Those items will all be up for approval at Tuesday's City Commission meeting. The city manager's office is recommending some of the request, but not all. Staff is recommending that the request be reduced by about $98,000, due to budgetary concerns in certain line items of the city's budget.

    Tuesday's request is just the first round of incentives request for the project. Krsnich has said he plans to file for a 95 percent property tax rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. Commissioners will consider that request at a later time.

    It is a brave new world for the city when it comes to public incentives. A decade ago, the city would have been hard pressed to offer tax breaks to anything other than industrial development that produced new jobs. But the city has become more willing to offer incentives to residential development. The pending residential development at Ninth and New Hampshire streets has qualified for some tax assistance. The renovation of the Poehler building, plus the adjacent Cider Gallery, received significant city assistance. The city has spent about $1.7 million on infrastructure improvements in the area, which is a different type of assistance than a property tax rebate.

    The city likely also will have to decide whether to offer an incentives package for a large apartment complex that has been proposed for property across the street from Memorial Stadium. I haven't yet seen a formal incentives request at City Hall, but the developer has said one is forthcoming.

    Apartment construction is big business in Lawrence, and it also is a big taxpayer. It will be interesting to see what criteria the city uses in offering tax assistance to some apartment projects, but not others.

    • Since food is still on my mind (and perhaps on my face), I might as well mention one other event that is up for approval at Tuesday's City Commission meeting. A barbecue competition and pie competition is set for June 13 and June 14 at the parking lot of the Eagles club, 1803 W. Sixth St. It looks like the public part of the event will be near noon on June 14, when the meat that comes off the smokers will be available for tasting. The pie also will be available for purchase.

    All proceeds from the event, dubbed Fire in the Hole BBQ, will benefit the Douglas County Toys for Tots program and the Blue Santa Program, which is a group founded by Lawrence Police Department employees to provide food and toys to those in need.

    The event can have up to 25 barbecue teams. Organizers still have team spaces available. Teams that are interested should call the Eagles Lodge — which is back open again after a previous administrative problem with its charter — at 843-9690. Teams must register by June 9.

    So, to recap, this is an event that involves both barbecue and pie. You can guess who will be there. In fact, I'm actually serving as a judge for the competition. If you see me, be sure to say hello. I'll be the guy with more food than normal on his face.

    Reply 1 comment from Keith Richards Kingfisher

    Town Talk: City may locate police headquarters in new industrial park

    I pity the poor guy who occasionally speeds a bit to get to work on time at the East Hills Business Park. There's a chance that he may not have to avoid just a single patrol car, but rather the whole Lawrence police force. There are new signs that the city's proposed police headquarters building may go on industrial land adjacent to East Hills Business Park.

    City Hall officials have released a report updating their search for property to house the potentially 100,000-square-foot police headquarters building. A site at the city's newest industrial park, VenturePark, is getting a serious look. For those of you not up on your industrial park names, VenturePark is the former Farmland Industries site, which is just west of East Hills Business Park.

    The city is evaluating anywhere from two to five lots that are basically at the northwest corner of 23rd and O'Connell. The city hasn't decided to move forward with the site, but the recent report said "One site that may be most favorable is on land already owned by the city at VenturePark." That may be what the folks in the literary business call foreshadowing. (Calm down, English majors. That was not your cue to start a lecture on To Kill a Mockingbird.)

    The city is looking for a site of at least 13 acres. That would require at least two lots in VenturePark to be taken out of circulation for industrial purposes. The park, however, still would have about 15 other lots that could serve a variety of business and industrial users.

    It will be interesting to see if the city commissioners pull the trigger on the site. It would save the city potentially $1 million or more on land acquisition costs. The site also is across the street from the Douglas County Jail, has easy access to not only 23rd Street, but soon to the South Lawrence Trafficway. It is also close to the Humane Society, which will make it handy for police department's animal control division.

    City officials will have to consider whether having a police station in an industrial park would sour any potential industrial tenants. In some cases it may be a benefit. Some businesses may like the knowing that there is 24/7 police presence just down the street.

    Commissioners also have other options, including another city owned site. The report says the 29-acres of city-owned property at Overland Drive and Wakarusa Drive are being evaluated. The property is basically behind the Wal-Mart, and once was considered as a potential site for a city recreation center.

    If you remember, the city also received seven proposals from local landowners earlier this year. City staff is recommending a majority of those proposals be rejected for reasons ranging from size problems, geography problems or access issues. But staff members are recommending three of the sites receive further consideration. They are:

    • Up to 50 acres along the southern edge of 31st Street between Ousdahl and Louisiana. The property would be adjacent to the South Lawrence Trafficway. Staff is recommending the site remaining in the running, but noted there could be potential floodplain concerns.

    • Two sites in the Fairfield Farms commercial development near 23rd and O'Connell Road also are receiving further review. Both sites are around 15 acres and generally are near the area where Tractor Supply is located. Both sites have good access to 23rd Street and the future South Lawrence Trafficway, and are near the Douglas County Jail.

    • About 14 acres along Franklin Road in what is known as the Mt. Blue Addition. The property is near the Douglas County Jail. Staff is recommending this site receive further study, as a potential alternative to the Fairfield Farms site.

    The city report also said there has been some interest shown in the vacant property that is just east of the Hallmark Cards plant and adjacent to the administration building. But that property, which is along the Kansas Turnpike, is 47 acres, and thus far the property is only being offered as a single piece. The report notes the city may have interest in that property if a smaller tract could be purchased.

    The city also acknowledged that early in the process it unsuccessfully tried to strike a deal with Kansas University Endowment for a piece of well-situated West Lawrence property. The city was interested in vacant property at the southeast corner of Kasold Drive and Bob Billings Parkway. They city and the university have a history of striking some deals, including the use of university property to house Fire Station No. 5 near 19th and Iowa streets. More recently, the city agreed to a deal to pay for substantially all the needed infrastructure for the Rock Chalk Park sports complex that will be primarily used by KU. But the city was notified that the university's "long-term plans for the property made it unwise to commit to a non-university related use at this time."

    There's been no timeline announced for how quickly the city may make a decision on a site for the police headquarters, but the issue has picked up considerable momentum in the last few weeks. Commissioners will receive the report at their Tuesday evening meeting, so it is conceivable they may direct staff to begin focusing on a particular site.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Earlier this week, we reported on an expansion project at API Foils in the East Hills Business Park. Well, I now have more details, and it appears the project could produce five to 15 new jobs at the manufacturer in the near term.

    Currently, API's Lawrence operations have about 70 jobs, with a mix of administrative and production positions. The new jobs largely would be production jobs, Brad Mueller, president of API Foils, told me.

    Mueller said the expansion project — which already has begun construction — is designed to improve the capacity and quality of foils produced at the plant. The foils are used in a variety of consumer packaging applications, ranging from greetings cards to candy to health care products.

    The expansion product is expected to cost $4 million and increase the plant's production capacity by about 25 percent, Mueller said.

    "Ultimately, we have found some customers that we can grow with," said Mueller. "It is a service-oriented business, and we have been blessed to form some good relationships."

    Mueller said he expects the expansion project to be completed by mid-July. He said the company could start hiring in the fourth quarter or in early 2015.

    • Get ready for a longterm traffic disruption on 31st Street. The Kansas Department of Transportation has announced that the portion of 31st Street between Louisiana Street and a point just a bit east of Ousdahl will close on Tuesday. The road is expected to be closed through the summer of 2015.

    As previously reported, the closing is part of the work on the South Lawrence Trafficway. Eventually — perhaps in July — the portion of 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana also will be closed for a long period.

    This most recent closing also means that motorists won't be able to cross 31st Street at Louisiana. There is one small business area south of 31st Street that will be impacted by the closure. Visitors to the area — which includes Steve's Place, a meeting and reception hall — will need to take a series of county roads to access the business.

    According to a representative of the business, motorists will need to travel south on Iowa Street to North 1100 Road, then travel east on North 1100 to East 1400 Road, then travel north on North 1400 Road to the business.

    Reply 7 comments from Lawrence Morgan Leslie Swearingen Richard Heckler Curtis Lange Fred Mion Sarah Humbert Floyd Craig

    Some merchants may be asked to pay higher fee to be part of Downtown Lawrence sidewalk sale; fun center idea still alive; Wal-Mart plans to reopen recycling center

    I am used to the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale costing me significant money. (How significant? I find it is easier to measure it in Brinks trucks rather than actual dollars.) But now costs may be rising for some businesses that participate in the sale as well.

    Downtown Lawrence Inc. is looking to crack down on businesses that are participating in the sale but aren't registering and paying the accompanying fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc.

    But the nonprofit downtown group will need some help from Lawrence City Hall to tighten the rules. City commissioners in the next few weeks are expected to decide whether to wade into the thicket. Whether it gets as messy as that "disagreement" regarding who had the last 40 percent off Jayhawk golf shirt, I can't say. (Really, my attorney tells me to never talk about that "incident" any more.)

    The issue, though, seems to have the makings of a debate. On one hand it involves the ability of some businesses to cheaply use the sidewalks they help pay for. On the other hand, it involves some businesses taking advantage of a bunch of money spent by Downtown Lawrence Inc. without being a member of that group.

    Here's the situation: Downtown Lawrence Inc. is the official sponsor of the sidewalk sale. The group spends about $4,000 per year on advertising for the event, plus other money for portable toilets, cooling stations, event insurance, and other such items. The expenses are paid for through $400 per year membership dues that downtown businesses pay to be a part of Downtown Lawrence Inc.

    Not all merchants downtown, however, choose to be a member of Downtown Lawrence Inc. But on sidewalk sale day, those merchants can simply go to City Hall and buy a sidewalk sale permit for $10. Technically, you don't even have to be a downtown merchant to get the permit, although there is some language that you need to have permission from the adjacent property owner to set up a sidewalk booth. At least a dozen businesses last year used that $10 permit process to set up a booth on sidewalk sale day, said Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc. Zogry said several other businesses simply skipped the permit process and set up a booth on their own.

    What Zogry and her members are proposing is that Downtown Lawrence Inc. be granted exclusive use of the city's right-of-way on sidewalk sale day. In other words, the city would not issue any $10 sidewalk sale permits for that day. Instead, if a business wants to have a booth, it would need to pay a $200 fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc. Zogry said that fee would be applied to membership dues to the organization. But if the business for whatever reason doesn't want to be a member, it can be treated as a one-time sidewalk sale fee.

    Zogry said Downtown Lawrence Inc. also wants to limit the business that can participate in the sale to only those that are based in downtown.

    "It is not called the Lawrence sidewalk sale," Zogry said, explaining a major goal of the event is to highlight downtown businesses.

    Nonprofit groups from outside downtown would continue to be a part of the event. They pay a $100 sidewalk sale fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc.

    Zogry said the $200 fee is not unreasonable, given the amount of shoppers the event attracts. The crowd is normally measured in the tens of thousands.

    "The event is huge," Zogry said. "There are people who make $50,000 or $60,000 that day."

    (And then they make even more when the people in line behind my wife get to check out.)

    We'll see how commissioners react to the request. The proposal will create situations where some downtown merchants won't be allowed to set up a booth on the sidewalk in front of their store unless they pay the $200 fee to Downtown Lawrence Inc.

    Zogry said she understands some merchants may be upset by that. She said she'll remind those merchants that they can get the $10 sidewalk permit from City Hall any other day of the year.

    "They want to have their sale that day because they want to take advantage of the event we pay to put on," Zogry said. "The event has to be paid for, and it is expensive."

    Perhaps complicating the matter is that Downtown Lawrence Inc. does receive some public taxpayer subsidy. The city provides about $42,000 in general funding to Downtown Lawrence Inc.

    Commissioners will sort it out in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, mark your calendars for the sale. It will be July 17 from sunup to sundown. I've already begun making my preparations: Brinks has been called, and my attorney is on retainer.

    In other news and notes around town:

    • It may not be as much fun as picking through the sidewalk sale items of Ernst & Son Hardware, but I've heard from many of you that a mini-golf course, go-karts, and other such items would be a welcome addition to town. In other words, a "family fun center" type of business.

    Well, although a proposal for a family fun center near Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive has been scuttled after neighbors in the areas expressed concerns, I'm told the idea is not yet dead. Mike Riling, a Lawrence attorney for the development group that proposed the West Lawrence project, says the developers are actively looking for another Lawrence site.

    No word yet on where the project may land. Riling indicated the search process is difficult. Land prices are high in Lawrence, and the city's zoning code does place some significant restriction on where such outdoor centers can be located.

    At Tuesday's City Commission meeting, commissioners declined to make a change to the city's zoning code that would make it easier to locate an outdoor fun center in neighborhood shopping centers. But commissioners also urged the group to keep looking for a site. Commissioners indicated they may be willing to make some changes to the zoning code to accommodate a well-planned project.

    Commissioner Mike Dever went so far as to lament the lack of entertainment options for kids in the city. He said he has frequently heard about that issue from his two daughters during his seven years on the commission.

    "Any outdoor activity would be great in this town," Dever said. "Thank goodness we have parks and recreation, but there isn't much of anything else for kids to do."

    • These days you can't even have the kids go play in the recycling pile at the Wal-Mart recycling center. The center has been closed for several days. But before you start to worry that the center has shut down in anticipation of the city of Lawrence starting its curbside recycling service in October, don't. A manager at Wal-Mart told me the center had a mechanical problem, and it has taken longer than expected to get it fixed. However, I did inquire about what the long-term future for the recycling center was, but I didn't get much of an answer. That probably will involve a call to Bentonville, Ark. I would expect the center to reopen shortly, but its long-term prospects are something to keep an eye on.

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  • Reply 14 comments from Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Andrew Dufour Bob Forer Ned Wolfsosoon Amy Varoli Elliott Richard Heckler Rick Masters Leslie Swearingen Kingfisher Brock Masters

    Dick’s Sporting Goods to have ribbon cutting Tuesday, grand opening June 6-8; Massachusetts Street named top tourist attraction in state

    It soon will be a new ballgame for Lawrence sports and outdoor enthusiasts.

    Dick's Sporting Goods has announced the dates for its grand opening in Lawrence, and as expected, it is coming right up. The national retailer will host a grand opening celebration from Friday, June 6 to Sunday June 8 at its new location at 27th and Iowa streets.

    And as we told you last week, Dick's has been planning for a special in-store appearance to mark the occasion, and now we have details on that too. Former KU standout Danny Manning will be at the store to sign autographs from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. June 7.

    The company also will host several giveaways, including free gift cards ranging from $5 to $500 for the first 100 adults in line June 7 and June 8. The store opens at 8 a.m. June 6-7 and at 9 a.m. June 8.

    But also keep your eyes open for the store to do a soft opening early next week. I haven't gotten an announcement from the company about a soft opening, but I note that a ribbon cutting with city officials has been scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. I would think the store would be open after the ribbon has been cut.

    The store's opening has been much anticipated because it will be the city's first sports-oriented big box retailer. It will go into competition with more locally-oriented retailers such as Francis Sporting Goods downtown and the Jock's Nitch chain, which recently expanded with a store near 23rd Street and Naismith Drive.

    There will be others they compete with too. The company is touting its wide range of services that stretch from firearms to golf equipment. The company says it will have more than 40 in-store services, such as golf club repair and fitting; bike tune-ups; racquet stringing; scope mounting and boresighting for firearms; CO2 cartridge filling; glove steaming for baseball and softball; line winding for fishing; and archery services.

    Perhaps you have been trying to do your own glove steaming or racquet stringing, and are just getting up to speed on Dick's entrance into the Lawrence market. The store is taking space in the former Sears building at 2727 Iowa St. Dick's is taking the center portion of the building, but space remains for two other significant retailers in the building. No word yet on who those will be, but a representative with the commercial firm marketing the property reports that interest in the space is strong.

    I don't doubt them. Retail activity on south Iowa Street has picked up. A new Buffalo Wild Wings building is under construction caddy-corner from the Dick's Sporting Goods location. That building also will have space for an additional retailer not yet named. Plans for a new Menard's store just east of Home Depot at 31st and Iowa also are still moving along, although slowly. That site will include space for about a half-dozen smaller retailers and restaurants.

    Plus, developers are still pursuing plans for a major new retail center that would be at the southeast corner of the intersection of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Iowa Street. My understanding is that plan is probably still a couple of months away from having a hearing before the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • We'll have to wait and see whether Lawrence's Dick's Sporting Goods becomes the top tourist destination in Kansas. If it does, it will have to unseat another Lawrence shopping area, at least according to the folks at the travel Web site Trip Advisor. Massachusetts Street was selected as the top destination in Kansas.

    The company has compiled user data from its site to come up with the most popular attraction in each of the 50 states. The site uses something called its "TripAdvisor Popularity Index" to determine the top destinations. The index uses information such as the quality and quantity of reviews a destination has received, and it also looks at how recent the reviews are for a destination. So, I guess all those glowing reviews of the Honk for Hemp guy are paying off.

    Click here to see a list of the top 50.

    Reply 2 comments from Chris Bohling Steve Jacob

    API Foils files plans for expansion in East Hills Business Park; latest timetable for Wakarusa roundabout; more news on super-fast broadband

    Coming out of this Memorial Day weekend, there are at least two things to keep an eye on: the bathroom scale, after copious amounts of potato salad, and the check-engine light, after I used the Taurus to demonstrate how I would have run the Indy 500.

    Well, let's add a third: An expansion project for a manufacturer in Lawrence's East Hills business park. A building permit has been issued for API Foils at 3841 Greenway Circle. I have reached out, but haven't yet caught up with the company's leadership to learn more details.

    Information from the permit application, though, indicates the project consists of a 4,000-square-foot expansion, primarily for additional manufacturing space. The permit lists the amount of construction work at about $980,000.

    The big question I hope to answer in the coming days is whether the expansion will result in any new jobs. Perhaps your big question is what does API Foils do? No, it doesn't involve the tin foil you used to wrap the ribs from this weekend. It doesn't even involve the tin foil you used to create your fireproof driver's suit for the Indy 500.

    Instead, API Foils makes foils that are used in multiple ways in the packaging industry. Think of the shiny type of packaging used in a variety of products. The company's website lists the alcohol, tobacco, perfume, cosmetics, candy and health care industries as major users of their products. The company also is in the holographic printing business, providing the complex holographic seals that are often used on tickets, credit cards and other items that are at risk of being counterfeited.

    The company is based in England, but in 2012 the firm's North American headquarters were moved to Lawrence from New Jersey. Prior to the move, the company had 52 employees in Lawrence, and the headquarters operations were expected to add another 17. I don't have a current employee total for the company.

    Regardless of what the job impact is from this latest expansion, the project appears to be good news for Lawrence because it further strengthen's the company's local presence. API Foils operates 15 locations across the globe, but Lawrence is one of only five manufacturing locations for the company.

    When I get more information about the project, I'll pass it along.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • My neighbors will appreciate that by this time next year there will be a new location in the area for me to go round and round as I demonstrate my Indy 500 prowess. I'm talking about the proposed dual-lane roundabout at Wakarusa Drive and Inverness/Legends Drive.

    Well, now we have a few more details about the timeline for the project. A new report from the city engineer indicates design work is complete, and the project is expected to be put out to bid on June 4. That would allow for construction to begin in July, with an estimated completion date of November. During the construction project, the city plans to keep one lane of traffic open in each direction on Wakarusa.

    As for the roundabout design, the plans call for each lane of the roundabout to be 15 feet wide, which is a bit wider than normal traffic lanes the city builds these days. Also planned for the roundabout is a 12-foot "truck apron," perhaps in response to the number of times large trucks have driven over the center island of existing roundabouts in town. But, if I'm reading the plans right, the two wide lanes plus the truck apron will provide quite a bit of room for motorists to navigate the roundabout. Perhaps that will ease some concerns the public has had with the city's first foray into dual-lane roundabouts.

    The project recently did get a positive recommendation from the city-county Bicycle Advisory Committee. There have been concerns expressed about bicycle safety in dual-lane roundabouts, but the group was convinced those concerns can be overcome. Bicyclists will have the option of taking an "exit ramp" of sorts that will allow them to leave the street and enter an 8-foot sidewalk that will take them through the intersection. Bicyclists, however, also will be allowed to stay on the street and go through the intersection as a vehicle. The bicycle advisory board asked city engineers to find signs that make it clear that bicyclists are not expected to share the lane of traffic with other vehicles while in the roundabout. In other words, bicyclists should drive down the middle of the lane so motorists aren't tempted to pull up alongside them.

    There is one more hurdle that could affect the timing of the project. City engineers have confirmed that the eminent domain process may be needed to secure the necessary right-of-way from one of the four property owners at the intersection. Engineers haven't yet identified which property owner is holding out, but city commissioners at their Tuesday meeting will be asked to begin the eminent domain process. Engineers note that the eminent domain process can take two to three months to play out in court. Conceivably that could push back the proposed start date of the project. The roundabout project isn't expected to affect any buildings near the intersection, but it will require some changes to the landscaping in the area. Click here to see an overlay of the project.

    As we reported last week, Lawrence came one step closer to having a project that will bring super-fast one-gigabit broadband service to the city. A proposed public-private pilot project with Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband received a positive recommendation from a city advisory board.

    The idea behind the project is to give Lawrence a competitive advantage by having Internet service that is far faster than most communities. How long that competitive advantage lasts will be an interesting question to monitor. Look no further than a recent article in the Wichita Eagle to get a sense of how serious some other communities are becoming about adding the super-fast broadband service.

    The article details a project in Chanute, a town of a little more than 9,000 people in southeast Kansas. City officials there have tentatively decided to deliver gigabit service to every home in the city. But unlike the proposal in Lawrence, Chanute is planning to offer the service simply as part of its city utilities package. It is not partnering with a private provider, in part, because it looked for one and was not able to find a company that thought it made economic sense.

    The city plans to offer the 1 gigabit service — the same speed offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City — for $40 per month. The city plans to spend $13 million to build out the system, although I believe the city already has spent some money to build a basic network that is in place currently.

    For comparison purposes, Wicked Broadband is estimating it will cost $30 million to build out Lawrence — some companies have estimated $70 million. For its pilot project, which would cover downtown and parts of East Lawrence — Wicked is projecting the 1 gigabit service would be available for $99 per month.

    Reply

    Lawrence-based company launches salad dressing line, set to make QVC appearance; city commissioners to discuss fun center and police headquarters

    The area near 23rd and Haskell is quickly becoming one of the more important food centers in Lawrence. I know what you're thinking: That's obvious. The ability to start your day with a handful of donuts, a bag of Doritios and a two-litter bottle of Mountain Dew at QuikTrip is certainly critical. But these days, the area's importance goes even beyond that.

    Just west of the QT, in a converted machine shop, is the headquarters and production facility for Hilary's Eat Well, the veggie burger company formed by the owner of the former downtown restaurant Local Burger. Keep an eye on that location because Hilary's Eat Well is quickly transforming from a little veggie burger company into a full-fledged natural foods company with a national footprint.

    There's two pieces of news with Hilary's Eat Well these days: The company earlier this month launched a new line of health-conscious salad dressings, and in the coming days, the company will be making its first appearance on the television shopping network QVC.

    "I think the perception locally is that we're just a cute little local company, but we really are becoming a national brand," said Becky Harpstrite, creative director and brand manager for the company.

    The salad dressing line is a good example. Right out of the gate, the company landed a nationwide deal to put the line of dressings in Whole Foods stores. In fact, until Aug. 1, Whole Foods has an exclusive deal to sell the dressings. After that point, Harpstrite said the dressings will be in a host of major grocery retailers.

    With the salad dressings the company is capitalizing on its philosophy to produce only allergen-free products. That means no gluten, no soy, no dairy, no eggs, no corn, no nuts and no yeast. But the dressings also may have some ingredients that you wouldn't expect, like dandelion root and eyebright, which fall into the medicinal herb category. Eyebright promotes eye health, and dandelion root may help reduce inflammation. (That's good to know. When you see me rolling around in my yard, you'll know my joints are sore.)

    The dressings may seem familiar to some Lawrence residents because they are based off recipes founder Hilary Brown used at her Local Burger restaurant in downtown.

    The company launched four dressing flavors earlier this month: Apple Fennel with Dandelion Root; Ranch Chia with Omega 3's; Balsamic Thyme with EyeBright, and Creamy Remoulade with Dill Pickles. All four are made with a specially-processed grape seed oil that also is designed to cut down on allergic reactions.

    As for the company's appearance on QVC, look for that at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Brown, who is the company's founder and CEO, will be on for about an hour demonstrating different ways to use the company's veggie bites, which along with the veggie burgers are among the company's more popular products.

    Harpstrite said Brown has already been out to QVC to do some training for the live, national television performance. So far, Harpstrite said nerves haven't seemed to be a problem for Brown.

    "She is such a firecracker, that I think this type of pressure just pumps her up," Harpstrite said.

    Harpstrite said the company is optimistic that both the QVC appearance and the new line of salad dressings will spark further expansion. Harpstrite said Brown has several more product lines in the development stage. Thus far, the new products haven't produced new jobs at the Lawrence headquarters. The company is using a contracted factory in Nebraska to produce the salad dressings, although the veggie burgers and veggie bites are made at the Haskell Avenue facility.

    The company's sales and marketing force also is based at the Haskell facility. In total, there are 25 employees at the location, and Harpstrite said additions to the sales force are likely in the near future.

    "I think you'll see us grow quite a bit in the next couple of years," Harpstrite said.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Sometimes we have been known to go round and round in circles at Lawrence City Hall, but on Tuesday, we'll actually have a good reason. Commissioners will be discussing the proposal for a family fun center and go-kart track near Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive. Well, technically, they will be discussing a portion of that proposal.

    We've reported on this project multiple times. Plans call for an electric go-kart track, batting cages, putt-putt golf and a clubhouse. A separate part of the property could house a fast-food or drive-thru type of business.

    But neighbors became very organized and very concerned about the project. They raised a host of concerns related to traffic, lighting, and noise that would be associated with the fun center. The city's planning staff thought all those issues could be mitigated and has recommended approval of the project. But in April, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission saw differently. It voted 9-1 to recommend denial of the project.

    At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners will discuss just one part of the recommendation. Up for debate is an amendment to the city's development code that would allow for such fun centers in the city's CN2 Neighborhood Shopping Center zoning designation. The actual plan for the proposed fun center at Clinton Parkway and Inverness is not up for approval on Tuesday.

    I'm not sure what that is all about yet. The amendment to the development code would be needed in order for the Clinton Parkway and Inverness development to proceed. But the amendment also would open the door to fun centers in other areas of town. Perhaps the developers of the project have decided not proceed with the project at Clinton and Inverness, but perhaps there are other locations around town that may be on their radar. I'll do some checking.

    Regardless, planning commissioners didn't like the idea of fun centers in any neighborhood zoned shopping areas. City commissioners could overturn that recommendation, but I'm not sure how likely that is. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday.

    UPDATE: I chatted with an official at the planning department. She confirmed the actual plans for the fun center at Inverness and Clinton Parkway have been officially withdrawn. They are no longer moving through the process. The text amendment, though, couldn't simply be withdrawn, so it is going to the City Commission to "finish its due process." In other words, the text amendment doesn't appear to have a champion supporting it at this moment.

    • An important City Hall discussion will take place before that meeting. Commissioners will have a study session at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to go over possible plans for a new police headquarters building and a November sales tax election to fund it.

    Look for commissioners to bring out their sharpened pencils. I expect there to be considerable discussion about whether a proposed $30 million price tag is appropriate for a police headquarters building. I think commissioners will want to hear from the police chief and others about what features can be cut from the building to save some money, but still make it functional.

    Commissioners also will get more information about how a sales tax could be structured to pay for the facility. Earlier this week, the commission was given some preliminary information about sales taxes that ranged from 0.2 percent to 1 percent, and would last anywhere from 20 years to about 4 years. Commissioner Jeremy Farmer has thrown into the mix the idea of making the sales tax about more than just the police facility. He said a portion could also be used to address quality of life issues such as sidewalks, bike paths, trails, and perhaps other things as well.

    Courtesy: Hilary's Eat Well

    Courtesy: Hilary's Eat Well by Chad Lawhorn

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    Lawrence home sales and prices fall in April; new numbers suggest local tax base is growing; city to be featured in True West magazine

    Lawrence's spring real estate market is a bit like my lawn this season: There are a few dandelions out there, but you still can convince yourself that those are just pretty flowers.

    The most recent report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors confirms a trend that has been developing over the last few months: Home sales in Lawrence are on the decline. Home sales in April, usually one of the busier months of the year, were down 12.6 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

    The latest numbers pushed the year-to-date numbers further into negative territory. For the year, home sales are down 6.8 percent, totaling 247 compared with 265 through April 2013.

    But as I frequently tell my neighbor, you have to keep these dandelions in perspective. Lawrence's housing market is still performing significantly better than it did in 2012, and it is much healthier than it was during the dark days following the housing bubble. Home sales in 2014 are about 25 percent higher than they were at this point in 2012.

    But sales will have to pick up in a hurry if Lawrence is to post its third straight year of increasing home sales, after hitting bottom in 2011. A similar theme is being struck across the country. After gaining strength in recent years, U.S. home sales began to slow in mid-2013. Economists, ever the two-handed beasts, are split on where sales are headed in the future.

    Susan Bonham, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, said the local market is mixed right now. She said homes in the $100,000 to $300,000 range are still selling reasonably well, but homes outside that price range have struggled.

    The latest numbers do create a couple of questions about what lies ahead, particularly when it comes to home prices and the amount of new home construction.

    With four months in the books, the median selling price of homes in Lawrence is down about 5 percent to $159,000. These numbers are tough to interpret. It could mean that buyers are simply interested in different types and sizes of houses than they have been in the past, or it could mean that housing prices in general are starting to fall in the city. It is an issue to keep an eye on.

    Lawrence homebuilders also will be keeping a close eye on the demand for new houses in the city. Thus far, it has been a poor year in terms of people buying newly constructed homes. In fact, those may be the most disappointing numbers in the report. Through April, only 13 newly constructed homes have been sold. That's down from 26 at the same point in 2013. It also is down from 17 sales at this point in 2012. Sales of newly constructed homes are important because they can provide a real boost to the local economy. Historically, some of Lawrence's best economic years have come when builders are constructing a significant number of new homes.

    Other numbers from the report included:

    — The total dollar volume of homes sold in the Lawrence area is down 11.8 percent to $47.7 million.

    — The number of homes on the market has grown slightly to 429, up from 418 at this point in 2013. The number is down significantly from the 613 listing in April 2012.

    — The median number of days a home is on the market has fallen to 59, down from 65 a year earlier. Usually, such a decline would point to market where buyers are becoming more active.

    — The number of pending contracts has fallen significantly from a year ago. At the end of April there were 199 pending contracts in the system, down nearly 20 percent from April 2013 totals. That may be an indicator that home sale numbers are unlikely to bounce back in the next month or two.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • There is a set of new numbers that do point to a recovery of sorts in the Lawrence economy. Douglas County officials are in the process of tallying the assessed valuation for the city of Lawrence, meaning the taxable value of all property in the city limits.

    The preliminary numbers show 2014 is set to post the largest increase since 2007. But be warned, that is a bit like me bragging that the brown spots in my yard are no longer toxic. (Long story, but as I've told the EPA, I really did think it was fertilizer in that bag.) The point is, assessed valuation growth in Lawrence has been pretty anemic since 2007. In fact in 2009, 2010, and 2012 it actually declined.

    But the estimate for 2014 shows that it has increased by 1.6 percent. For comparison purposes, during the late 1990s and even into the early 2000s, the city was experiencing growth in its tax base 5 percent to 8 percent fairly regularly. But the 1.6 percent growth rate is welcome news at City Hall because if the tax base grows, the city's property tax revenue automatically increases, unless the City Commission decides to reduce the property tax mill levy. In case you are wondering, I've seen no indication that a property tax mill levy reduction is in the offing for the city's next budget.

    The assessed valuation also is important to watch because it is a reasonable indicator of economic health. Tax bases usually grow either because property values are rising or significant new construction is occurring in the community. This latest increase likely is a result of a little bit of both.

    • I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for an opportunity to get out my chaps, my 10-gallon and my best rootin-tootin outfit. Perhaps we'll all have an opportunity soon. I've been told by the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau that Lawrence's Old West and frontier history is going to be in the national spotlight.

    True West magazine has chosen Lawrence as the community it will feature in its August 2014 edition. I don't have details yet on exactly what elements of our history will be featured, but local tourism leaders are hopeful that recognition will spur some new visitors to check out the community. True West touts that it reaches about 300,000 "heritage travelers."

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    Haskell Avenue may reopen earlier than expected; Dick’s Sporting Goods expected to announce opening date soon

    The Haskell Hassle may be over sooner than we expected. If you aren't familiar with the Haskell Hassle, that's the phrase I've coined to describe the traffic mess that has resulted from the closure of a key portion of Haskell Avenue south of 23rd Street. (I thought for sure the Haskell Hassle T-shirts were going to fund my kids' college education. I guess I should have set the T-shirt stand up on a part of the road that wasn't closed.)

    Regardless, the word at City Hall these days is that the closed part of Haskell Avenue is scheduled to reopen in July. That's different than what has been reported previously. The city's official infrastructure report warns motorists that the road may be closed until the spring of 2015.

    But City Engineer David Cronin has told city commissioners that the latest information he has from the Kansas Department of Transportation is that the road likely will open in July. Even though Haskell is a city street, KDOT is the boss on this project because the closure is part of the South Lawrence Trafficway construction.

    This may mean our little trips in the country may be coming to an end. Perhaps those of you on the western side of the city aren't familiar with this, but motorists on the eastern edge of the city have been taking some pretty creative routes to get to the 31st and Haskell area. A popular one has been to take O'Connell Road and then hook up with a gravel road that is officially known as North 1250. Unofficially it is known as the Retirement Plan for Every Shock and Alignment Shop in Town. The road has become a bit bumpy. As traffic congestion has grown at 23rd and Louisiana, this route has become particularly popular for some people in my house looking for a short cut to get to the shopping shrine known as South Iowa Street. (There are also some other routes. Through the cow pasture, cut the barbed wire, hit the ramp at 30 miles an hour to get over the creek . . . wait, I'm probably not supposed to talk about this.)

    But don't worry, once Haskell Avenue opens, you'll still have opportunities to take some circuitous routes through Lawrence. That's because, as we've previously reported, the eastern part of 31st Street is set to close once Haskell reopens. Perhaps you are confused: 31st Street is being closed because it is being relocated to the south as part of the SLT project. When it reopens — perhaps in mid 2015 — it will be in its new location, and it won't end at Haskell Avenue. The new 31st Street will stretch all the way to O'Connell Road.

    But there will be closures in the meantime. If you suffer from low blood pressure, look at the map below to get a sense of what closures will be in place for probably about a year. Or click on this link to get a larger view.

    The takeaway from that map is that my wife is shopping for a four-wheeler with a U-Haul trailer to get back and forth from the South Iowa Shopping district. Cronin said his understanding is that 31st Street between Louisiana and Ousdahl will close sometime in June. The rest of 31st Street between Louisiana and Haskell will close in July, after Haskell Avenue has been reopened. So, you'll be able to travel on Haskell, but you won't be able to turn onto 31st Street. You'll also be able to travel on Louisiana, but you won't be able to turn onto 31st Street.

    If you are on the eastern side of the city, you could drive down 23rd Street and turn at Iowa, but you may want to remember that 23rd and Iowa is the site of a major reconstruction project into November. But city officials are still going to encourage motorists to take that route. Cronin said it may not be as bad as you think. During much of the project — but not all — westbound 23rd Street will have two lanes of traffic and one left-hand turn lane open.

    Another option Cronin has suggest is to take Haskell Avenue extended to County Route 458 just south of Lawrence. Then take County Route 458 over to U.S. Highway 59, which leads right into the South Iowa Street shopping district.

    So, maybe our drives in the country aren't over yet, but I wouldn't count on it. When city commissioners were being briefed on the situation, Commissioner Terry Riordan interjected. He pointed out that 27th Street will still be open. Indeed, 27th Street between Louisiana and Iowa Street will be open. But City Manager David Corliss jumped in and said city officials wouldn't want to do anything to encourage that as a detour. The area along 27th Street is residential, and homeowners there probably wouldn't appreciate the thousands of extra cars per day.

    But whether city officials encourage it or not, I suspect residents along 27th Street ought to brace themselves for what could be heavier than normal traffic for the next several months. But don't worry, I'll do my part: I'll ask my wife to put a better muffler on the four-wheeler.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • I don't yet have an opening date for Dick's Sporting Goods at 27th and Iowa street, but I'm getting a certain tingling in my cleats that suggests news on that front is coming soon. (I hope that is what the tingling is.)

    Actually, I got a note from a Dick's Sporting Goods representative that said they expect to announce the grand opening date for the store next week. That doesn't mean the store is opening next week, but it is probably a good indication that we're only a few weeks away. Company officials have said they'll have a big three-day grand opening celebration that will include a "variety of giveaways and special appearances in-store." I will let you know when I hear the date.

    Courtesy: City of Lawrence

    Courtesy: City of Lawrence by Chad Lawhorn

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    New four-story East Lawrence lofts building to have distinctive design; city to add recycling containers downtown

    East Lawrence's Warehouse Arts District already has provided us some interesting things to look at. The district's Cider Gallery and the host of art studios adjacent to it put out a lot of distinctive work.

    But now, we'll find out if Lawrence is ready for four-stories of distinctive. As we have previously reported, plans are in the works for a new four-story loft-style apartment building at 900 Delaware Street. That's just a bit south and east of the Poehler lofts, the converted four-story warehouse that served as the impetus for the Warehouse Arts District.

    Even though they will be similar in size, don't expect the new 43-unit apartment building to look anything like the old Poehler building, which has that classic, turn-of-the-20th-century brick warehouse look.

    Instead, plans call for the new building, which is being dubbed 9 Del Lofts, to be a bit unlike any other apartment building in Lawrence. I don't have an architecture degree (you build one garden shed without a door . . . ), so I don't know how to describe the style. But it seems more modern, to me, than what is normally built in Lawrence. You can see some renderings of the project below.

    The Kansas City-based architecture firm el dorado inc. has designed the building. In a letter to city officials, the company said it was looking for a design that evoked the "authentic expression of the light industrial nature of the surrounding Warehouse Arts District."

    The result is that the two most visible facades of the building will be covered in "standing seam metal" of various shades and widths. The architects tout the material as being low maintenance, and said the material will gain an interesting patina as it ages.

    As you can see in the rendering below, there also will be small areas of bright colors on the building, which the architects said "will reveal themselves from oblique angles and will also reflect colored light on the metal panels as the sun moves across the sky.)

    The project already has received its major approvals from City Hall, and construction is set to begin soon. But this design wasn't what was proposed when commissioners last saw the building, so city commissioners are being asked to approve the new renderings tonight. Approval is expected — the item is on the city's consent agenda — and the city code doesn't really regulate the exterior aesthetics of residential buildings.

    I haven't had a chance to talk with the project's lead developer Tony Krsnich, since these renderings came out, but I'm not surprised that it is a more contemporary design. When we first reported on the project back in August, Krsnich said he would take a different architectural approach.

    "I can always tell when somebody builds something new and tries to make it look like it was built at the turn of the century," Krsnich said back then. "I think it is important that all development be true to the time that it was built in."

    Other details of the 9 Del Lofts project are mostly unchanged since we last reported. The development will have 43 units: 23 one-bedroom lofts, 16 two-bedroom lofts, and 4 three-bedroom lofts. The project has received housing tax credits from the state of Kansas, which means that the majority of the units will be rent-controlled. The system will be similar to the one at the Poehler Lofts, which is also owned Krsnich's development group: Residents will have to meet certain income guidelines to rent one of the rent-controlled units.

    I hope to get in touch with Krsnich soon to get more details about the timeline for the project, and I believe he also is close to announcing a tenant for a small bistro/wine bar space adjacent to the Poehler building.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Today is like the day I got ahold of the Polaroid when I was a kid: I've got lots of photos to share with you. (Hopefully, I don't end up passing out from the wonderful smell of that developing fluid this time. And hopefully you don't ground me for three weeks either.)

    Regardless, look below and you'll find another photo, this one showing the latest thing slated to come to downtown Lawrence.

    City officials have provided an update on their plans to launch the citywide, curbside recycling program in mid-October. All is going well on that front, we're told. Automated trucks have been ordered, and Hamm Inc. is in the process of rehabilitating an existing industrial building at the intersection of U.S. Highway 24/40 and Kansas 32 into a collection and recovery facility for the curbside program.

    But one piece of information that is new is the plan to make downtown Lawrence a more recycling-friendly place. In November, the city plans to install 20 dual-use trash and recycling containers throughout downtown. They'll replace the existing trash cans on the sidewalks. One side of the container will be for trash, and the other will be for all types of recyclable materials, such as paper receipts, plastic sacks, aluminum pop cans, water bottles, and other such things that you may have on you while downtown. (This is good news to a special someone in my house: Now she can be more environmentally friendly in how she ignores her parking tickets.)

    The city will spend about $30,000 to purchase the dual-use containers. They'll start with 20 containers, but may expand the number in 2015, depending on usage patterns.

    In the grand scheme of things, this is a small part of a large program, but I know it will please some folks. I have heard from people that it was becoming difficult to call Lawrence progressive when it was lacking recycling containers in its showcase area of town.

    • Don't worry when you notice in the future that the Hertz On Demand self-service rent-a-car disappears from its designated space in the city-owned parking lot. A special someone in my house did not illegally park it and cause it to be impounded. Instead, Hertz is pulling the plug on its Hertz On Demand rent-a-car program in Lawrence.

    Back in February we reported on the new program. It allows people to sign up for the program and get a swipe card that will unlock the doors to the car, which had a dedicated parking spot at Eighth and New Hampshire. When you needed the car to run an errand around town or such, you signed up and paid online, and then could take the car with your card.

    City officials were glad to give use of the parking spot because they thought it was a good example of a green program. But for whatever reason, the program hasn't taken off here or elsewhere, it appears. According to a city memo, Hertz will soon be removing the car due to "technology and participation challenges." The memo notes that the challenges were system-wide and not just specific to the Lawrence location.

    Rendering of proposed 9 Del Lofts project at Ninth and Delaware. Courtesy of el dorado inc. and city of Lawrence.

    Rendering of proposed 9 Del Lofts project at Ninth and Delaware. Courtesy of el dorado inc. and city of Lawrence. by Chad Lawhorn

    An example of the proposed dual trash/recycling containers for downtown Lawrence. Courtesy: city of Lawrence.

    An example of the proposed dual trash/recycling containers for downtown Lawrence. Courtesy: city of Lawrence. by Chad Lawhorn

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    City to consider higher rates to fund project to combat taste and odor issues with drinking water; gun and knife laws to change in city; Corliss to receive raise

    Pick your flavor: An occasional funky taste and odor in the city's drinking water or a water rate increase that will be 10 percent or more in some cases.

    Tuesday night at City Hall could be dubbed "Taste and Odor Night," as commissioners are being asked to make some big decisions on whether to spend money and raise rates to address a taste and odor problem that sometimes occurs when algae levels spike in Clinton Lake and the Kansas River.

    (It also was Taste and Odor night at my home last night. Today is Day 1 of summer vacation for my kids, and my 11-year old son had four of his friends over for a sleepover. On the taste front, they ate all my doughnuts. And a herd of 11-year old boys is going to create some odor issues.)

    Commissioners will have an interesting choice in front of them. City officials now have a long-awaited report on addressing the taste and odor issues. But it seems like one big question remains: How certain are we that making these improvements will eliminate future taste and odor issues?

    I haven't yet chatted with leaders in the city's Utilities Department about the findings, but the memo on the subject isn't crystal clear on that point. The report is recommending a phase I and a phase II solution. At the moment, commissioners are just being asked to implement phase I. If phase I doesn't work, then phase II would need to be implemented. Phase II would require even steeper increases in rates.

    Already, the increases proposed for Phase I are significant. How significant? Well, it depends on who you are. Here's a look at some scenarios:

    — A single-family residential resident who uses 6,000 gallons of water a month would see her bill increase to $32.27, up from $30.31 currently. That's an increase of 6.4 percent. If you use 20,000 gallons per month — perhaps you sprinkle your yard or have a herd of five 11-year olds who must frequently be hosed off — the percentage increase is about 6.7 percent.

    — Someone who lives in an apartment complex actually will see a decline in the water bill, based on information included in the city memo. A multifamily user of 6,000 gallons will pay $22.55 compared with $23.23 today. No, I don't have an explanation for that decrease, but I will inquire.

    — The owner of a commercial business will see the largest rate increase. A commercial user of 300,000 gallons per month will have a water bill of $1,207, up from $1,092 currently. That's an increase of 10.5 percent.

    — An industrial user of 2,500,000 gallons will have a water bill of 8,498, up from $7,872. That's an increase of 7.9 percent.

    Larger increases could be on the way, if city officials decide that the projects in phase I aren't fixing the problem. The phase II improvements — which would include things such as ozone oxidation and ultraviolet/hydrogen peroxide treatment systems — would raise rates by 11 percent to 15.4 percent, depending on your usage category.

    How likely is it that phase I improvements will take care of the problem? I'll work to talk to some of the experts on that today. The city memo states the phase I improvements are expected to effectively treat the "historic levels" of taste and odor compounds.

    But the memo also states: "Presently, algal bloom events related to the generation of geosmin, MIB and/or algal toxins are not well understood."

    Given that, it is unclear whether the "historic levels" of taste and odor compounds are what we should expect in the future. It also is unclear how often we should expect Clinton Lake or the Kansas River to have algae spikes that result in taste and odor problems. The city memo notes that the last such incident was in June 2012.

    The sporadic nature of these outbreaks may make it more difficult for commissioners to determine how much to spend on the problem. If the issue were deemed to be a health hazard, that would be a major consideration, but currently city officials say the algae don't pose a health hazard to humans.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Lawrence City Hall may need to get a bigger door. Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday may decide whether to add another gun-related sticker to the front door of City Hall and other public buildings.

    The city already has signs prohibiting licensed concealed carry holders from bringing their firearms into the building. But now city staff is asking the commission to consider putting a sign that prohibits the open carrying of firearms into City Hall and other buildings. In other words, a sign making it clear that someone can't carry a handgun on their hip, Old West style.

    Changes in state gun laws now give the city the option of placing a sign on city buildings prohibiting the open carrying of firearms into such facilities.

    The law, though, removes the city's ability to regulate firearms and knives in many other ways. A city memo states the commission will need to repeal two laws to be in conformity with the new state regulations. One is a city law that made it illegal to carry in the city limits a "dagger, dirk, billy, blackjack, slungshot, danger knife, straight-edged razor, stiletto or any other dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument of like character." The change in state law makes it illegal to carry such items only if it can be proven that they are being carried "with the intent to use" such weapons.

    The second city ordinance up for repeal involves the carrying of concealed firearms "in drinking establishments or on publicly accessible property in close proximity to the premises of any drinking establishment." My understanding, however, is that concealed carry licensees can still be prohibited from bringing their firearms into an establishment. But such prohibition will require the bar's owner to make a decision to post the no guns sign at the business' entrances.

    • City Manager David Corliss is set to get a raise on Tuesday. As we previously reported, Corliss received good marks from city commissioners during his annual performance review a few weeks ago. But commissioners at that time did not make any announcements about Corliss' salary.

    On Tuesday's consent agenda, commissioners are asked to approve a new contract for Corliss that increases his annual salary to $145,000 a year, up from $140,000 currently. That's a 3.5 percent pay increase. The contract also calls for the city contribution to Corliss' retirement plan to increase to $23,000 per year, up from $19,000 currently. That's a 21 percent increase, although if you figure it as a percentage of his salary, the increase is quite a bit less. At $23,000 per year, the city is contributing an amount equal to 15.8 percent of Corliss' $145,000 salary to the retirement fund. Under the current contract, the city is contributing 13.5 percent. If you look at the total compensation package, it represents a 5.6 percent increase.

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