Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
A conversation with Lawrence’s tourism leader; city set to give $150K to local events; advocate selling KU basketball tickets for affordable housing cause
When about 1,000 clarinetists descended upon Lawrence this summer for ClarinetFest 2016, they left more than $800,000 in the Lawrence economy.
When Lawrence CVB director Michael Davidson told me that figure, my first thought was I knew I should have followed through on that vision of opening a store that sells nothing but clarinet reeds. Then I realized most of the spending came from items like food, gasoline, lodging and maybe some retail spending, such as T-shirts with the slogan “Where clarinets go . . . Treble follows.”
What I mainly realized, though, is there are a lot of different ways Lawrence can attract visitors.
“Sporting events are great, and they have a high profile, but they are just one of the types of events we should be trying to bring into the community,” said Davidson, who began his job as director of ExploreLawrence in April.
In some ways, a clarinet festival may be an even bigger boon to the economy than some of the sporting events. That’s because the festival took place on weekdays, while many sporting events are limited to the weekends. Lawrence hotel operators love both types of business, but generally local hotels don’t have much trouble filling their rooms on an ordinary weekend. Filling rooms on an ordinary weekday, however, can be a struggle.
That’s why Davidson thinks a major strategy for Lawrence tourism needs to be working with KU, Baker and Haskell to bring more academic conferences and events to the community. Davidson said the lack of a true conference center limits the size of conferences the community can attract, but he said places like the renovated DoubleTree and other hotels in town can still accommodate sizable events.
“I think KU may have some low-hanging fruit,” Davidson said of the potential for conference business.
That was one takeaway I got from my recent conversation with Davidson. And that is the purpose of today’s article: To share a few takeaways from a relatively new community leader. I hope this becomes a semi-regular feature of Town Talk in 2017. I get a chance to chat with a lot of community leaders, and I hope to share some of those conversations with you. Here’s a look at a few other takeaways from Davidson:
— Lawrence will need to get comfortable with the idea of creating partnerships with Topeka, Overland Park and other area communities, if we ever want Rock Chalk Park to be all that it can be. Davidson — who previously led convention and tourism operations in Newark, N.J., and Walla Walla, Wash. — said Rock Chalk Park has great sporting facilities, but the Lawrence hotel market is not always in the best position to take full advantage of it. That goes back to the idea that hotels generally didn’t have high amounts of weekend vacancy prior to Rock Chalk Park’s construction. But, the park can still be a great host for large events, if some participants are willing to stay in other nearby communities.
“To take full advantage of Rock Chalk, we need to build regional partnerships because we don’t have enough rooms, and we shouldn’t build new rooms just for that because it is a seasonal business,” Davidson said.
But make no mistake, Davidson is impressed with the facility. He said the track at Rock Chalk Park particularly could be a national selling point for the community. He believes the facility is of high enough quality to host Olympic trials, but even with area partnerships we may be hard pressed to provide enough rooms for such an event. However, as a reminder, big time events already are booked for the track facility, including the U.S. Junior Olympics in July 2017, and the Big 12 Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May.
— Davidson said he would love to have a major attraction like the outdoor adventure park and whitewater rafting facility proposed for a portion of Clinton Lake State Park. He said he’s talked with friends in the Charlotte area — where the proposed developers operate the U.S. National Whitewater Center — and they attest to the quality of that facility, although also noted some of the financial challenges the development had early on.
“I would love to have a destination attraction to market,” Davidson said.
But, like many other people, he’s not sure whether all the details will work out to make a good deal for the community. The project easily could be $70 million or more, and what amount would come from government assistance is unclear at the moment.
“Is Lawrence prepared for a project like this?” Davidson asked. “I don’t know. It is a lot of money. But we definitely should look at it.”
— Expect Downtown Lawrence’s monthly art event Final Fridays to get a marketing boost. ExploreLawrence has taken over the marketing of the art walk event. Plans for 2017 include an interactive map of artists that will be on the ExploreLawrence website, a program to promote Final Fridays in Topeka and Kansas City during those communities’ First Fridays art events, and high tech online marketing.
Davidson said ExploreLawrence will start using “geo fence” marketing techniques. That is where people who click on a Final Fridays online advertisement would have a cookie installed on their phone. That cookie would allow ExploreLawrence to see how many people who viewed their advertisement actually came to the downtown area during a Final Fridays event. Davidson admitted it all sounds a little Big Brotherish, but it is becoming a more common marketing device. He said he’s interested in it because he understands the local tourism industry needs good data to grow.
“We know we have to show a return on our investment,” said Davidson, whose agency relies heavily on transient guest tax revenues generated by hotel stays. “We want to try to do a better job of quantifying how much visitor spending we’re creating.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of events, the city sets aside $150,000 from the transient guest taxes it collects from local hotel stays. It uses the $150,000 to fund local events. At their meeting on Tuesday, city commissioners are scheduled to approve the list of events to receive funding for 2017. Here’s a look at the events slated to get grant funding from the city, and a look at those that lost out:
— Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade (Dec. 1-2): $10,000
— Dedication of the Haskell Stadium and Arch (May 25-28): $15,000
— BuskerFest 2017 (May 25-28): $15,000
— Free State Foundations (unspecified): $15,000
— Lied Center: First Nations Student Association Pow Wow (April 1-2): $5,000
— The Lawrence Art Guild Art in the Park (May 7): $6,325
— Lawrence Downtown Olympic Shot Put (April 21): $15,000
— Theatre Lawrence 2017 Holiday Show (December): $15,000
— Lawrence Children’s Choir Concerts (April 2 and Nov. 19): $8,000
— Live on Mass concert event (Summer 2017): $15,000
— Roger Hill Memorial Invitational swimming meet (June 17-18): $5,000
— Lawrence Opera Theatre 2017 season: $9,000
— Spencer Museum’s Power and Pleasures of Possessions exhibit (April-June): $7,000
— Lawrence Art Walk 2017 (Oct. 21-22): $7,950
— Experience Haskell: Native Lawrence event (Oct. 15): $1,725
Events that didn’t get funded include:
— African American Quilt Conference, July 12-15
— Tails and Traditions event, Dec. 2
— St. John’s Mexican Fiesta, June 23-24
— Civil War on the Western Frontier, Aug. 19
— 2017 Lawrence Festival of Trees, Nov. 27-30
Apparently Lawrence also was in the running to host the Young Democrats of America Spring 2017 National Conference. The advisory board had recommended the conference get a $15,000 grant, but it was learned earlier this month that Phoenix was chosen as the host site for the conference.
Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
• I’ve gotten word of a way to go to a KU basketball game and make a donation to the city’s efforts to improve affordable housing options.
Longtime affordable housing advocate Steve Ozark once again has donated a pair of his KU basketball tickets to an online auction that begins today and runs through Christmas. Ozark is using eBay to auction off two home basketball tickets. The winner of the auction can select two tickets to any of KU’s home basketball games this season. Ozark said 100 percent of the proceeds from the auction will be donated to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Ozark is active with the city’s affordable housing advisory board, which is working to provide recommendations for how the city could spend approximately $1.65 million worth of city funding on affordable housing over the next several years.
“In most every single conversation and meeting I’ve been involved with over the past 17 years, the lack of safe and permanent affordable housing is the central reason people's lives continue in crisis,” Ozark said. “If you think about it, we can’t have a true community without the people who work here being able to afford to live here.”
This concept may sound familiar to you. Ozark last year donated his tickets to the KU vs. Kentucky game for the same cause.
In case you are curious, the tickets this year are in Section 3, Row 7, Seats 12 and 13. The auction is being conducted here. When I last checked, the winning bid was at $150.
Unique downtown Lawrence retailer to close by end of January; sporting goods store may be on the move
When it comes to the idea of “nonprofit,” I have always found the “non” is the easiest part of that equation. A unique nonprofit retailer in downtown Lawrence indeed has found the “profit” is hard to come by, and is closing by the end of January.
The retailer Ten Thousand Villages is closing its store at 835 Massachusetts after about four years in business.
“It is just very expensive to operate downtown,” said Scott Stutler, store manager. “We just weren’t making enough to support the business operations down here.”
The closing will create more than just a vacant space in downtown Lawrence’s retail scene. The closing also is a hit to the fair trade movement in Lawrence. In case you have forgotten, Ten Thousand Villages is unique because it is a certified Fair Trade Retailer. That means it carries only goods that have been produced in a way that allows them to be labeled as fair trade friendly. Those requirements include that the people who produce the product are paid a fair living wage, work in safe conditions, and that no free or child labor is used in the production of the product.
Promoting the idea of fair trade really was the overriding mission of the store. The business was set up as a nonprofit entity and is governed by a local board of directors, Stutler said. The organization will remain active, and will continue to promote the importance of fair trade, but without the store it will lose one of its most visible selling points.
However, the good news is that more Lawrence shoppers are aware of fair trade than before the store opened, Stutler said. He said the idea has spread to other shops as well. The Merc carries items that meet the fair trade definition. So does the downtown store Third Planet, as well as a few other retailers.
Lawrence’s Ten Thousand Villages store worked with about 40 artisans, mainly from Third World countries in Africa and South America. Stutler said it is important for the public to know that none of those artisans will get left holding the bag as a result of the sale. The store pays for all its items upfront, so the artisans aren’t owed any money by the store.
“We are sad for our artisans, though,” said Shannon VanLandingham, a part-time employee at the store and one of about 50 volunteers for the local nonprofit.
In terms of the types of products you can find at the store, they are varied. Chocolate and coffee, however, are among the largest sellers, in part because the public has begun to learn how brutal the working conditions can be in the coffee and chocolate industries, Stutler said. Other items include clothing, baskets, home decor and a lot of jewelry.
Stutler said the store doesn’t have any plans to reopen in another location in downtown. Instead, it is just focusing on selling its remaining inventory. The store will close when inventory levels become sufficiently depleted, but no later than the end of January, he said.
There also is a Ten Thousand Villages store in downtown Overland Park. It will remain open. It is run by a separate nonprofit board, Stutler said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Some of you may have noticed there is a "for lease" sign in front of the sporting goods retailer Jock's Nitch at 1116 W. 23rd St. That is not an indication that the company is closing down its Lawrence store, but it indeed may move.
Jock's Nitch executive Ryan Owens told me the landlord of the 23rd Street building — which is just a bit east of 23rd and Naismith — has an interest in subdividing the space. Owens said Jock's Nitch is still determining whether it wants to be part of the reconfigured space or whether it wants to find a new location.
Owens, though, said business remains good, and the company — which also has a store in downtown — remains committed to the Lawrence market. The sporting goods store, which stocks a lot of apparel, does strong business in the uniform market, selling to many area high schools and other teams.
Yes, those may be tears of salsa running down the cheeks of downtown Lawrence diners. Word came out this afternoon that La Familia Cafe, the longtime Mexican restaurant at 733 New Hampshire St., is closing.
A post on the restaurant’s Facebook page announced that the restaurant won’t have its lease renewed because there is interest on the part of the building’s owner to possibly sell or redevelop the property. And I just got off the phone with one of the owners of La Familia who confirmed the news: The restaurant’s last day of business will be Dec. 31. It does not plan to find a new location to reopen in Lawrence, at least not in the near future.
“My husband has been doing this pretty much his entire adult life,” said Keri Rodriquez, who owns the business with Phil Rodriquez, who is the son of the restaurant’s founder. “We’re not saying never. We’re just saying not right this minute. He deserves to take a break and see if there is something else he wants to do in life.”
La Familia dates back to 1987 when Phil’s mother, Jenny Reyes-Hepner, opened the restaurant in North Lawrence. It moved to its New Hampshire Street location in 1991. Reyes-Hepner retired in 2003, and Phil and Keri have owned the restaurant since then.
My math says the restaurant has been open 29 years, which is a long, long time in the fast-changing world of Mexican restaurants in Lawrence. La Familia is somewhat related to El Matador restaurant in North Lawrence. Reyes-Hepner’s family opened that business. Keri said that is one of the reasons La Familia has stayed open so long — there was no shortage of good recipes in the family.
“She really came from that environment,” Keri said.
And the restaurant hasn’t tried to change it much through the years either.
“Anybody who has been in the restaurant knows we have that shabby-chic thing going on,” Keri said. “We have just focused on having home-cooked meals.”
As for what is next with the property, I’ll keep my ears open for that. There certainly is talk that the redevelopment wouldn’t just involve the La Familia building but also would involve the two vacant storefronts on either side of La Familia. (Don’t worry, music fans. I haven’t heard of any talk of The Bottleneck being involved.) There certainly have been rumblings that it will be another food type concept, but that information is all pretty speculative at the moment.
In terms of the final days of La Familia, Keri said she and Phil just hope lots of longtime customers come by at least one more time before the restaurant closes.
“We would love to see everybody,” she said. “We greatly appreciate everything Lawrence has done for us. We have so many loyal customers. Our employees and our regular customers are what we will miss most of all.
“We have loved serving Lawrence all this time — and who knows, we’ll see what happens in the future.”
Lawrence shoppers slow spending pace a bit, but city still hottest retail market in the state; where Lawrence ranks as a great college town
It is a little early yet for data to show how retail spending is going this holiday season in Lawrence. But my family’s credit card statement must be encouraging. President-elect Trump somehow saw it and tried to appoint me Secretary of Commerce. All this is to say I have the latest report on local retail sales, and it shows that shoppers are still spending more than they did last year, but their pace has slowed a bit.
City officials have received their November sales tax check. The money represents sales taxes collected primarily in September, so it is still a bit early to say this report provides an indication of holiday shopping (unless you count the pre-Halloween candy sales, which I know some people who do.) The latest report shows sales tax collections were up by 1.7 percent compared with the same month a year ago. That growth is positive, but it is not nearly as large a number as what the city has been posting for most of the year. Many of the monthly reports have shown increases of 5 percent or 6 percent, and some even have been double-digit increases.
It will be interesting to watch whether Lawrence’s retail spending flattens out to end the year. Retailers already know whether that’s the case or not, but we can’t really know until we see the reports that will be released over the next few months. (I used to ask retailers for updates on how holiday sales were going, but they inevitably reported everything was going well. In their defense, they had just seen my credit card walk through their front door, so they had reason to be optimistic.)
Thus far for 2016, the city is sitting pretty when it comes to sales tax collections. The state report shows Lawrence sales tax collections year-to-date are up 5.7 percent compared with the same period a year ago. If the city can at least maintain that pace for the rest of the year, the city’s budget will have some unexpected money coming its way. City officials had projected a 3.7 percent increase for the year. Thus far, the city already has collected $1.2 million more in sales tax revenues than it did during the same period of 2015.
The question, though, is whether Lawrence can continue on this pace? Time will tell on that, but in the meantime, something is happening in Lawrence that has it near the top of the charts in terms of retail activity among the big markets in the state. Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s year-to-date growth totals stack up:
— Lawrence: up 5.7 percent
— Olathe: up 3.8 percent
— Topeka: up 3.4 percent
— Overland Park: up 2.7 percent
— Kansas City: up 1.8 percent
— Johnson County: up 1.9 percent
— Manhattan: up 1.7 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 1.3 percent
— Lenexa: down 3 percent
As has been the case most of the year, city officials point to three areas that have spurred the significant increase in sales tax collections: a 25 percent increase in the sales of building materials; a 7 percent increase in the sales of motor vehicles and parts; and 6 percent increase in sales at food and beverage stores, i.e., grocery stores, not restaurants and bars.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Whatever is happening in Lawrence, a new report that ranks the best college towns in America found it only mildly impressive.
The financial website WalletHub has released its annual list of the best college towns in America, and Lawrence ranks No. 69 out of the 415 cities studied.
Obviously, a ranking of No. 69 puts Lawrence solidly in the top quartile of the rankings, but I guess I’m still a bit ho-hum about it because the report ranks a lot of communities that you wouldn’t consider college communities. For instance, Olathe — home to MidAmerica Nazarene University — is ranked as part of the report. Yes, it has a university, but, gentlemen, paint your school’s mascot on your bare chest and walk through downtown Olathe, and you’ll find it is not really a college town.
What’s more notable about this ranking is where Lawrence compares with other big time college communities. Here’s a look at some regional college communities:
— No. 14: Ames, Iowa, home to Iowa State
— No. 17: Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa
— No. 18: Austin, Texas, home to the University of Texas
— No. 28: Morgantown, W. Va., home to the University of West Virgina
— No. 37: Manhattan, home to Kansas State
— No. 48: Boulder, Colo, home to the University of Colorado
— No. 49: Stillwater, Okla, home to Oklahoma State
— No. 51: Columbia, Mo., home to the University of Missouri
— No. 57: Fort Collins, Colo., home to Colorado State
— No. 63: Norman, Okla., home to the University of Oklahoma
— No. 69: Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas
— No. 78: Waco, Texas, home to Baylor University
— No. 82: Lincoln, Neb., home to the University of Nebraska
— No. 110: Fort Worth, Texas, home to Texas Christian
— No. 112: Lubbock, Texas, home to Texas Tech
If you are interested in the top 5 overall, they are:
— No. 1: Oxford, Ohio, home to Miami University
— No. 2: East Lansing Mich., home to Michigan State
— No. 3: West Lafayette, Ind., home to Purdue
— No. 4: Athens, Ohio, home to Ohio University
— No. 5: Amherst Center, Mass., home to University of Massachusetts
So, as the list above demonstrates, there is a reason to allow Texas schools to be in our conference. Without Waco, Fort Worth and Lubbock, Lawrence would have been last of the Big 12 towns in this study.
But, of course, it is just one study and, like all rankings, it is highly subjective. But WalletHub does generally use solid data from the Census Bureau and other government agencies to compile its rankings, so that is why I pass some of them along.
Unfortunately, this report doesn’t provide a lot of specifics about what areas Lawrence excelled in or struggled in as part of the ranking. It does rate Lawrence as No. 138 in ‘wallet fitness” rank, which includes items such as housing and living costs. Lawrence scored worse in the “social and environmental” rank, coming in at No. 212. That category includes everything from number of bars and restaurants per capita to crime rate statistics. Lawrence’s best area was “academic and economic opportunities” rank, at No. 76. That includes, among other topics, a look at rankings of the university itself, unemployment rates and job growth numbers.
So, make whatever you will of it. My takeaway is it probably is still going to be awhile before I can return to downtown Olathe.
More information about the group behind the proposal to build large whitewater rafting, outdoor adventure park at Clinton Lake State Park
I’ve been getting questions about whitewater rafting, and for once, they don’t involve the phrase “can you swim to the lifeline?” No, this is about a 1,500-acre outdoor recreation facility that would feature a man-made whitewater rafting course, kayaking, zip lines and other outdoor activities at Clinton Lake State Park.
In case you missed it, City Hall reporter Rochelle Valverde reported on the project in today’s paper, and alerted us that developers will be in town Tuesday to pitch the concept to city commissioners.
The question I’ve been getting is: Who are these developers?
The simple answer is they are part of a company — Plei — that developed the large U.S. National Whitewater Center on the Catawba River near Charlotte, N.C.
More on that project in a second, but first I should remind you that this whitewater idea didn’t just suddenly materialize. You may remember that the secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism has brought the idea up before. We reported back in August of 2014 that state leaders were hosting officials with the U.S. National Whitewater Center. At the time, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison said such a development “probably would be the second biggest thing the state has done for tourism, next to the NASCAR track.”
So, that’s how we got here.
Jennison, at the time, also said the state needed to get more aggressive in offering nontraditional outdoor activities to keep up with the changing tastes of tourists. That may be where this discussion is headed next.
If you start searching for information about the U.S. National Whitewater Center, you’ll find quite a few news articles out of North Carolina. Certainly there have been some good reviews of the project. Parks and recreation officials in the Charlotte area call it a world-class recreational attraction.
Most of the recent articles, however, were about how the park this summer drained its whitewater course for a time period in response to reports that a rafter had the facility had died from a brain-eating amoeba.
But it also doesn’t take much reading to determine the project has been in the news for financial reasons too. The project has been heavily subsidized by local governments there, and still has had some financial difficulties. The last such article I found was in March 2014 when The Charlotte Observer wrote about county officials there debating whether to make a final $1 million subsidy payment to the development.
According to the article, a combination of six local governments agreed to provide the project up to $12 million in “service fees” as part of the project, which opened in 2006. In addition, the article noted that a group of lenders in 2010 ended up forgiving about $38 million in debt — or about two-third’s of the project’s mortgage — after the development suffered during the Great Recession.
But, if you also carefully read The Observer article, there are signs the development had begun to turn around its financial performance. In 2014, the article indicated the development turned a $4 million operating profit.
So, none of this is to say that the idea behind this development is good or bad. I mainly was interested in finding out whether Tuesday’s study session is the beginning of what could turn into a request for a large subsidy or incentive package from local governments.
City Manager Tom Markus told me that is not necessarily the case. The project may need some incentives, but he has other thoughts about who could provide them.
“This really is an initiative by the state, and the state came to us with it,” Markus said. “Quite frankly, they may be in search of a partner on this. I would like to see the state take the lead on this. Maybe more of the funding could be provided on their (the state’s) end.”
City officials likely would have a role to play in the development, though. The project, which is proposed to include a conference center with about 6,000 square feet of meeting space, a restaurant beer garden and other amenities, likely will need city water and sewer service.
Extending city utilities to the site will come with a cost, but Markus said his staff hasn’t yet begun to make any analysis of whether it would be beneficial for the city to extend those services.
“The only objective I have at this point,” Marcus said of Tuesday’s study session, “is to expose the concept in a very public way. We haven’t figured out anything in terms of whether we participate or not.”
Markus, though, said the idea is intriguing.
“I think it is the type of project that could be an attractor for the whole state,” Markus said. “I actually like the idea of going to a more natural setting for this type of activity. Obviously there will be persons who will push back that they don’t want this much activity in the natural areas. But if we are going to get people interested in our wild areas, you have to have things to bring them there.”
Members of the U.S. National Whitewater Center are expected to be at Tuesday’s study session to present the concept and answer questions from commissioners.
Douglas County visitor spending grows to $244 million; a look at how Lawrence compares to state’s top tourism spots
With the polar vortex arriving, the top tourist attraction in Douglas County may be watching me jump-start my electric long johns. But most times of the year there is far more than that on the local tourism front, and a new report shows the industry has been growing.
The Lawrence convention and visitors bureau — officially the group is called eXplore Lawrence — has commissioned a report to measure how much impact tourism spending had on the local economy in 2015. Perhaps not surprisingly the commissioned report found that tourism has a lot of impact on the local economy. But the report does contain some specifics, so let’s take a look:
— Visitor spending increased by 7.6 percent — or about $17 million — in 2015. That was a significantly better growth rate than the statewide tourism industry. According to the report by Tourism Economics, the state as a whole saw visitor spending increase by 4.2 percent. In total, the report estimates there was $244 million in visitor spending in Douglas County in 2015.
— 2015 was the first full year of operation for Rock Chalk Park, which was designed, in part, to attract out-of-town visitors to youth sporting events and such. So, perhaps Rock Chalk is responsible for the strong 2015 showing. No doubt the facility played a role in the overall numbers, but it is worth noting that Douglas County’s tourism industry actually grew at a quicker pace in 2014. Visitor spending grew at 7.8 percent in 2014, which was also well above the statewide average of about 4.5 percent.
— The report provides a glimpse at how some specific sectors of the tourism industry are growing: Visitor spending on lodging grew by $4 million — or about 10 percent — in 2015. That was a slightly slower growth rate than what was posted in 2014, when the industry grew by $4.4 million or about 13 percent. But a 10 percent growth rate isn’t too shabby. That number is probably one of the reasons why we are seeing several hotel projects in the city. Visitor spending on recreation, which includes the arts, grew by about $1.8 million, or about 7 percent in 2015. That compares to 4.2 percent growth in 2014.
— The report also breaks down how much visitors spend on various types of goods and services. Shockingly, spending on Honk for Hemp bumper stickers did not take the top spot. That distinction went to food and something to wash it down with. Restaurants probably are the biggest winners when tourism surges. The report found 27.4 percent of all visitor spending (about $67 million) goes toward food and beverages. Gas stations, though, aren’t far behind. The transportation category accounts for 27.3 percent of visitor spending. Here’s a look at the other categories: Lodging 17.4 percent; retail 16.7 percent; recreation 10.9 percent; and the report even measures the amount of spending on second homes in Douglas County. The report estimates that 0.3 percent of visitor spending goes toward buying a vacation home in the county. (I know every time I go on vacation I set aside 0.3 percent to buy a vacation home, which is why I own cardboard boxes in some of the best locales in America.) In case you are curious, the report estimates about $700,000 was spent in 2015 on second homes in Douglas County, which actually seems a bit low considering the price of some of the condos on the market.
— The report estimates that about 2,700 jobs in the county are directly linked to the tourism industry. It estimates those job totals grew by 5.1 percent in 2015. The report also calculated that the tourism industry generated $22.5 million in taxes that went to state and local governments.
— The report also ranks Douglas County’s tourism industry against all the others in the state. Douglas County has the fifth largest amount of visitor spending of any county in the state. Douglas County captures about 3.8 percent of all the visitor spending in the state of Kansas. That’s up from about 3.5 percent in 2013. I find this an interesting number. I frequently harp on the community setting goals, and this seems like one measurement where a goal could be set. Being the fifth largest tourism county in the state is nice enough, but we are, after all, the fifth largest county in the state in terms of population.
It may be tough for Douglas County to ever become the top tourist destination in the state. We would have to knock off Johnson County, which of course attracts SUV-aficionados by the millions. Actually visitor spending also includes the spending of business travelers, so both Johnson and Sedgwick counties get boosts in that regard. But could Douglas County be something better than No. 5? After all, it has three universities, a unique downtown, a federal reservoir, unmatched basketball history, important Civil War history, and several other amenities. It will be interesting to watch what type of discussion tourism receives as the city embarks upon its strategic planning process. On the one hand, you may have some people say tourism doesn’t produce the type of high-paying jobs the community wants. But on the other hand, we have some attributes, and it should be noted the community already has invested quite a bit of money for incentives. Part of the $25 million spent on Rock Chalk Park certainly was done with attracting visitors in mind, and the city has provided tax breaks to at least two hotel projects in recent years.
In case you are curious, here is a look at the nine counties that have more than $100 million in visitor spending, and their growth rates for 2015, according to a statewide report from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism.
Johnson County: $1.6 billion visitor spending, up 6.2 percent
Sedgwick County: $1.4 billion, up 5 percent
Wyandotte County: $451.4 million, up 9.1 percent
Shawnee County: $323.6 million, down 5.3 percent
Douglas County: $244.4 million, up 7.6 percent
Saline County: $196.9 million, up 6.7 percent
Riley County: $140.3 million, up 11.2 percent
Ellis County: $122.0 million, up 7.1 percent
Ford County: $120.8 million, up 0.4 percent
A law that would make the city’s incentive process more transparent; trying to figure out the City Commission’s new take on incentives
I’ve never been exactly sure what “deck the halls” means, which became abundantly clear with that unfortunate incident in study hall. So, I think I’ll just stick with passing along some notes from City Hall.
• City commissioners on Tuesday approved the city's legislative priorities statement for the upcoming year. The headline item in our recent article was about the city’s support for making the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway four lanes. That indeed should be a top item for local officials to lobby for during the next several years.
The statement also included a general topic titled “greater transparency in the legislative process.” While city officials primarily were urging lawmakers to stop the practice of passing tax bills in the wee hours of the morning, I have a more specific proposal I hope city officials will advocate for: The city should seek a change in the law that would allow for greater transparency with the special taxing districts that have become a common part of Lawrence’s development scene.
The Oread hotel incident serves as a perfect conversation starter on this issue. Long before the Oread incident came to light publicly, I received a tip from an anonymous source that a company called Oread Wholesale was operating out of the hotel and was inappropriately taking advantage of the TIF and TDD tax districts that exist at the hotel site.
The first thing I tried to do in confirming the tip was to request a list of every business that filed a sales tax return with a business address of 1200 Oread, the site of the hotel and the special taxing districts. I was told by city officials that state law prohibits the release of such information.
I went ahead and told my city contact what my anonymous source was alleging, and a few months later the city did publicly announce that it had found some troubling things at The Oread. City staff followed up on the tip, and for that we should be thankful. I’m not sure it would work that way in every city.
The question seems to be this: What harm would be caused by the public knowing what businesses operate at a particular address? Perhaps you can argue that a business has some right to privacy as well, but does that argument apply to a project where the public is a partner? That is the case in the instance of projects that receive public incentives. The public is forgoing the collection of some future tax revenues in order to help the project succeed. Oftentimes, the amount of tax runs into the millions of dollars. Anyone making that type of investment in a project should be entitled to basic information such as who is operating there.
This may be just one example where we learn that as incentives become more commonplace, the law needs to be tweaked to keep pace.
• On the incentive front, local developers probably are trying to figure out what to make of City Hall policy right now. The last 30 days or so have provided an interesting opportunity to compare and contrast how the city handles incentives request.
On Nov. 1, the City Commission approved a 50 percent tax rebate for an East Lawrence project that would convert an old warehouse building into a microbrewery, a restaurant and 14 apartments. Two of those apartments will be enrolled into an affordable housing program, although it has been noted the projected rent rates for the new one-bedroom apartments will still be greater than median rent rates charged in the city. The project also included the creation of 33 new angled parking spaces in front of the building.
The project initially asked for an 85 percent tax rebate, but commissioners cut it to 50 percent. When the outside consultants hired by the city reviewed the project, it said the 85 percent abatement request penciled out OK for the city. The project would return $1.36 in benefits to the city for every $1 in public incentives that was granted. The city’s threshold is $1.25 in benefits for every $1 of incentives.
Commissioners approved the 50 percent rebate on a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Matthew Herbert voting against it.
Contrast that with this week’s denial of a tax rebate for a downtown office and condo project that former City Commissioner Bob Schumm had proposed. Schumm was seeking a 75 percent tax rebate for a project that would include office space on the first two floors and 12 condominiums on floors three through five. One of the one-bedroom condos would be enrolled in an affordable housing program, selling for about $95,000. Outside consultants hired by the city gave Schumm’s project a thumbs up. The consultants said the project would deliver $1.78 in benefits for every $1 in incentives.
Importantly, the project included a 22-space, underground parking garage for use by the condo owners and other tenants of the building. That’s important because downtown zoning doesn’t require projects to provide any off-street parking. It is legal for new projects to be built and simply fight for the spaces in the existing public parking lots and garages.
The Vermont Street project got rejected on a 3-2 vote, with Herbert, Lisa Larsen and Leslie Soden voting against. The projects in many ways seem pretty similar, so you may be wondering why one got an incentive and the other didn’t. The answer likely is in the percentage. Commissioners reduced the amount of incentive in the East Lawrence project from 85 percent to 50 percent. I’m told by City Hall reporter Rochelle Valverde that Schumm’s attorney early in the meeting said his client wasn’t willing to go below the 75 percent level. Commissioner Lisa Larsen had inquired about whether Schumm was willing to go below the 75 percent level. There also was some concern that one of the condos was set to be Schumm’s personal residence, but that seemed like an easy problem to fix: Just reduce the amount of the rebate by the projected tax value of that one particular condo, if you don't want to give someone a tax break on his personal residence.
The takeaway from the rejection seems to be the price sheet has changed with this commission. It used to be that a residential project in downtown Lawrence that provided its own parking garage was worth about an 85 percent tax rebate. Look at the development at Ninth and New Hampshire for example. That’s how bad the past city commissions wanted additional residential development in downtown, and they placed a high value on projects that provided their own parking. It now looks like 50 percent is closer to the going rate.
Good, bad or indifferent, getting people to live downtown, and getting private developers to help add to the parking inventory in downtown, isn’t worth as much as it once was. Maybe the commission has just seen there is no shortage of apartment construction going on in the city without incentives.
Still, adding living units to downtown has been a major policy goal of past commissions. It will be interesting to see if this change in practice is a sign of other changes in downtown thinking from the commission. At some point, the city may get asked to support a fairly significant incentive request for a downtown grocery store. The downtown grocery store has been an important project, in part, because it would attract more residences downtown. I’ve long thought that a downtown grocery project probably would have the easiest time of any project in the city when it comes to garnering incentives. But, maybe not. There is no denying this City Commission is taking a harder line on the issue.
Marwan Chebaro thinks the future of gas stations is food, and he’s set to test it out in Lawrence. ( I once thought that too, but then changed course after realizing a Slim Jim diet really wasn’t the weight loss plan its name suggests.) Don’t worry, though, Chebaro has a much better plan. He’s converting a Lawrence convenience store into a Mediterranean grill.
“It will be a serious eatery,” Chebaro said of his plans to open Chebaro Fresh Mediterranean Grill in the Cenex gas station across the street from the Dillons on 23rd Street.
Chebaro, whose background is in the restaurant and food-processing industry, has partnered with a friend who has experience in the convenience store industry. They have gutted the old Cenex store and installed all new fixtures and a brand new commercial kitchen and food service area. That food service area will be the basis for a new concept that Chebaro hopes to eventually roll out in convenience stores across the country.
The concept will involve us Slim Jim eating Americans to perhaps learn a new name: shawarma. If you don’t know what shawarma is, look for a man with a big, long knife cutting juicy meat off a vertical spit. That may be shawarma. (I say may be because there are other types of cooking styles that use a vertical spit.) Chebaro described the method as a Turkish/Arabic style of cooking. He plans to use the meat — most often beef, lamb and chicken — to make sandwiches that could be called a Turkish version of a Greek gyro.
The sandwiches are served either in pita pockets or flatbread, and they’ll come with a choice of five sauces, Chebaro said. Those include a traditional Lebanese garlic sauce called toum, a Jewish, Yemen jalapeño cilantro sauce, a harissa red chile sauce, and tahini sauce that involves sesame seeds, garlic and lemon juice.
But Chebaro said what will set the sandwiches apart is how the meat is prepared. Chebaro’s background is as a food scientist, which he said helped him learn that there is only one good way to marinate meat. You must use a food tumbler. He said simply mixing spices, oil and vinegar and coating the meat with such a marinade does little to cause the spices to penetrate the meat. But a food tumbler creates a vacuum that opens the pores of the meat, all while tumbling it in a machine that looks a bit like a cement mixer with a sealed door. (I too am a bit of a food scientist, and I have contributed greatly to the field by proving that sticking a brisket in the dryer — even on the delicate cycle — is not a great substitute for a food tumbler. It also is not good for the whites.)
Chebaro said many restaurants that serve shawarma don't take the time to marinate the meat with a tumbler. He thinks that and other attention to detail will be his recipe for success.
“We are going back to square one and the origin of this type of food,” Chebaro said. “We’re going to give the public what it deserves: the real thing.”
The Cenex station will continue to operate as a gasoline station and convenience store, so seating in the food area will be limited. There will be a communal table, but Chebaro said all the food items will be designed to be grab-and-go meals.
In addition to the shawarma, the menu also will include falafel — a deep fried ball of chickpeas or beans — and about five Mediterranean salads. Chebaro said he has a successful Kansas City business that serves about 3,000 meals per week on the Sprint and KU Med Center campuses, and he said the salads are his biggest sellers.
He said he thinks Lawrence will take to all the ethnic dishes.
“It was time to clean up that gas station, and I think it is the right time for this type of food,” Chebaro said. “Everyone is looking for diversity in food. When I first came to America in 1978 there were probably only two cooking shows on TV. Now look at it. The American public is looking for new and fresh stuff.”
As for a timeline, the gas station portion of the business is now open. Chebaro said he expects the Mediterranean grill to open in the next two to three weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While one food venture is starting in a Lawrence gas station, another is closing. I confirmed this morning that Amici Italian Market and Deli, located in the convenience store at 3300 W. Sixth St. is closing. Importantly, so is the gas station and convenience store part of the business.
Owner Jess Maceli told me the business likely will close no later than the end of next week. He’s selling off the remaining meats and cheeses out of his Italian deli case at a 25 percent discount. Once those inventories are depleted, he’ll shut the doors for good. Maceli said demand for the business just wasn’t enough to keep the operation going.
The business already has shut down the gas station. No word yet on whether another convenience store company will move into the building.
Report shows Lawrence sets new record for apartment construction; more than 1,000 apartment units set to open in city
The boom you heard in September was Lawrence exploding with new apartments. We have been reporting all year about new apartment construction in Lawrence, but a new report from City Hall delivers a nice, easy to understand number: For the first time in its history, Lawrence has built more than 1,000 new apartments in a single year.
September is the month that pushed Lawrence over the top. The city recently released its building permit report for September and it included $40 million worth of new apartment construction. Permits were pulled for two projects that we have been reporting on for quite some time: The Links at Lawrence apartment development just east of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex and a new set of apartments being constructed along the Alvamar golf course.
Through September, the city has issued building permits for 1,191 apartment units. Never has that number been so high. The new total beats the record of 972 apartment units built in 1996. And don’t forget, this year’s number is just through September, so it's a lot like a credit card bill in November — subject to grow.
The Links project was the big one. In case you have forgotten, it is an apartment development that will be constructed around a private nine-hole golf course that is just east of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. Arkansas-based Lindsey Management has these types of developments around the country where the selling point is your monthly rent includes unlimited greens fees on the golf course. The company in September pulled building permits for 30 apartment buildings, plus a clubhouse. All 30 apartment buildings are three stories tall and have 18 to 24 living units apiece. The city issued permits for construction totaling $26.4 million.
The other big project was an upscale residential development along the Alvamar golf course, which has been bought and is being redeveloped by a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel. A project labeled Alvamar Apartments pulled permits for three apartment buildings, each four stories tall with 56 living units apiece. Each apartment building also has underground parking. The city has issued permits for $14.4 million worth of construction for that complex. And, remember, that won’t be the last of the building that occurs around Alvamar.
Between them, the two projects add 762 new apartment units to the city. To put that in perspective, the city has only had one year in it history where it ever issued permits for more than 762 apartment units That was in 1996 when 972 were issued. But, remember, that was over the course of an entire year. This happened in one month.
The Links project and the Alvamar project rank No. 1 and No. 2 on the city’s list of largest building permits for 2016. It is worth remembering that the city’s list doesn’t include any building projects on the KU campus, since those projects are permitted by the state rather than the city. It is worth noting that all of the top 5 projects on the city’s list are apartment projects, although one is more a retirement complex than a traditional apartment. Here’s a look at the top 10:
— The Links at Lawrence Apartments, 5400-5401 Rock Chalk Drive: $26.48 million
— Alvamar Apartments, 1575-1675-1775 Birdie Way: $14.4 million
— West End Apartments, 5400 Overland Drive: $14.22 million
— Village Cooperative retirement complex, 5325 W. Sixth Street: $8.35 million
— Bauer Farms Residential, 4541 Bauer Farm Drive: $6 million
— Maple Street Pump Station, 547 Maple St.: $5.93 million
— Pinckney Elementary School additions and renovation, 810 W. Sixth St.: $5.7 million
— Bethel Estates of Lawrence, 2140 E. 25th Terrace: $5.51 million
— 800 New Hampshire multifamily addition, 800 New Hampshire: $4 million
— KU Tennis Facility, 6100 Rock Chalk Drive: $3.965 million.
There are a few other numbers of note in the report:
— Perhaps Lawrence now is routinely going to be a $200 million city. Last year was the first time in the city’s history that more than $200 million worth of building permits were issued by City Hall.But it looks like it won’t be the last time. The September report shows the city has issued permits for $190.6 million worth of construction. That puts the city on pace to top the $200 million mark in 2016.
— Lawrence is posting record numbers without a lot of activity in what used to be the city’s bread-and-butter industry: Single family home construction. Through September the city has issued 128 permits for single family or duplex construction. That is actually a slowdown from the 181 permits the city had issued at this point in 2015. Still, this year’s showing is a little above average. The five-year average at this point in the year is about 111 units. The city’s single-family housing industry, though, has not bounced back from the housing bubble of the 2000s. As we have been reporting, real estate agents report the number of homes for sale is getting tight, so we’ll see if 2017 is the year that single-family builders start to pick up the pace.
Or, maybe we all will just live in apartments. Apartment builders tell me the majority of these units aren’t being built for students anymore. The tenants are people who traditionally would be buying a starter home, or perhaps downsizing to a smaller retirement home. There are many people who are choosing to pass on home ownership for whatever reason. Whether that is a trend that continues is uncertain. What is certain is that the look of Lawrence is being changed dramatically. In the 1990s and early 2000s it used to be that single-family home construction routinely outpaced apartment construction. But that is no longer the case. Now, it is not even a contest. From 2016 to 2012, Lawrence has built 2,279 apartments compared with 665 single-family homes.
I’m not saying that is a good or a bad change. But it certainly is a change, and one that will leave its mark for a long time.
There are a variety of reasons we ought to care about a new orthopedic clinic that is opening in west Lawrence: klutziness on a ladder, ill-advised attempts to actually jump while grabbing a rebound in pick-up basketball, and a disturbing trend of hurting ourselves while rising from an afternoon nap. But there is one reason that may trump them all: The clinic will be affiliated with the University of Kansas Hospital, marking the first time the giant KU medical complex has expanded into Lawrence.
I have confirmed that construction work that's underway at the Wakarusa Corporate Centre at 18th and Wakarusa is indeed for a new KU facility. A building permit from the city lists the location as the future home of University of Kansas Orthopedic Clinic, although I’m not sure if that is the official name or just a placeholder for building permit purposes. Folks in the local development industry also are talking privately about the KU project.
It is a buzzworthy project. On the one hand it is just an orthopedic clinic. It is not like KU Hospital has announced plans to create a satellite hospital in the community. But, it is notable that KU Hospital has decided to have a fairly significant facility in Lawrence. For whatever reason, KU’s medical center operations have stayed out of Lawrence proper.
Over the years, KU Hospital has become the regional behemoth in the health care industry. More recently, the hospital has become more aggressive in expanding its footprint. In September KU Hospital announced that it had reached a preliminary agreement with the leaders of the Hays Medical Center to jointly operate that key hospital in western Kansas. Then in November the KU Hospital announced a partnership with Stormont-Vail Health of Topeka. That “collaborative partnership” will allow KU Hospital to enhance and expand its radiation oncology services in Topeka.
There are a couple of reasons the clinic is attracting attention. One is that the facility apparently has wooed a big-time name in Lawrence orthopedic medicine. My understanding is that Dr. Jeffrey Randall, who often does orthopedic work for KU athletes and others, will be part of the new practice. An official at OrthoKansas, has confirmed that Randall has left that practice. I have a call into Randall.
UPDATE: I have received some information from KU Hospital, and the spokesman there has confirmed that Randall will be part of the new clinic. Here is the complete statement from KU Hospital spokesman Dennis McCullough: "Dr. Jeff Randall, an Orthopedic Sports Medicine physician in Lawrence, Kansas, will be joining The University of Kansas Health System in mid-December, fulfilling a career goal to practice and teach at an academic medical center. We have identified clinic space at 18th and Wakarusa and are working with other health care organizations in Lawrence to identify collaborative practice opportunities."
Another reason the deal is attracting attention is it is unclear just how big of a presence KU Hospital wants to have in Lawrence. The building permit filed at Lawrence City Hall notes that the work underway is phase one of a three-phase project. My understanding is that KU officials are building a temporary orthopedic office in one part of the building so that the practice can open quickly, perhaps later this month. A larger portion of the Wakarusa Corporate Centre also will be renovated to house the permanent facility. The temporary orthopedic offices then can be converted into other space, perhaps a physical rehabilitation facility. In all, I think the KU operation will have about 6,000 square feet of space, but I’ve heard rumblings that the group was interested in even more space.
I did talk briefly with the office manager for OrthoKansas. She said the Lawrence practice is gearing up for the new competition.
“We are always growing,” said Dani Aitken. “We just added two new surgeons in August, and we’re looking to expand our services here in town. We want to make sure people understand there are plenty of options to have their procedures done here in Lawrence.”
Where people choose to get their ACLs repaired and their hips replaced is big business. I don’t know how the new facility will operate, but, given its ties to KU Hospital, I would think it is possible that it would try to steer its patients to have procedures done at the KU Hospital facility in Kansas City, Kan.
For that reason, I’m certain that Lawrence Memorial Hospital leaders are watching this new development closely. I’ve got a call into LMH leadership. I, of course, asked the KU Hospital spokesman about what KU Hospital's broader plans were for the Lawrence market. All I got was the statement that is printed above. However, the part of the statement that says KU is "working with other health care organizations in Lawrence to identify collaborative practice opportunities" is intriguing. I'll let you know if there is anything interesting to report on that front.
• While we’re talking about health care issues, let me pass along this article: It talks about how the concept of “micro hospitals” is coming to Johnson County.
The only thing I have ever found to be micro in a hospital is the gown in certain places that it shouldn’t be. But evidently there is a new concept in the hospital world: hospitals that have an emergency room and eight to 10 beds for patients who need overnight stays.
The Kansas City Star reports that St. Luke’s Health System of Kansas City has plans for at least four micro hospitals — in Roeland Park, Overland Park, Leawood and Kansas City, Kan.
I’m not suggesting that Lawrence is poised to get another hospital or needs another hospital. But the idea has come up before. The longest and largest meeting I’ve ever covered as a reporter was actually 20 years ago this month. It was a 1996 City Commission meeting about a plan for Columbia HCA to build a hospital in west Lawrence near Sixth and Folks Road. The City Commission meeting attracted such a crowd that it was held in the ballroom of the Holidome. The idea of a new for-profit hospital to compete with LMH sharply divided the community. HCA had first proposed a partnership with LMH, but when that was rejected it sought to build its own $20 million hospital. City commissioners, though, ultimately rejected the development proposal.
The article from The Star highlights that the micro hospitals cost about $10 million to $30 million to build, and can be brought to market much quicker than a traditional hospital. The micro hospitals often are located in areas where residents have good health insurance. They often have emergency rooms because the smaller hospitals sometimes can avoid the long lines that are frequent at larger ER departments.
Again, none of this means the Lawrence market 20 years later is poised to have another such debate about a second hospital, but it is worth noting how the hospital market is changing. Perhaps the most important aspect to note is that two very large players — KU Hospital and St. Luke’s Health System — appear to be in particularly active modes right now.
Fried chicken and guns may have something in common in Lawrence. You remember, I’m sure, the recent proliferation of fried chicken restaurants in town. Such a proliferation with gun shops may be coming.
Well, it may be a bit early to go that far, but I do have news of another gun shop that says it plans to open in Lawrence. We previously reported that Lawrence businessman Rick Sells was planning to open a gun shop and indoor gun range in a portion of the building that formerly housed Bargain Depot near 23rd and Harper. Now, I’ve also heard from another Lawrence businessman who says he is working on an even bigger gun range project.
Steve Robson, who owns both Ace Self Storage and Ace Bail Bonds, said he is working on plans to build a new 12,000 square-foot gun range and gun store on vacant property next to the bail bond business. The business would have 10 target practice lanes and would have about 6,000 square feet of space for gun and ammunition sales.
“I think the city should be all about us doing this,” Robson said. “There are no schools or houses or anything like that out here.”
In case you are confused about where Ace Bail Bonds is (if you know the location well, I’ll let you explain), it is just across the street from the Douglas County Jail in eastern Lawrence. Robson said that actually could end up being a selling point for the location too. The jail naturally attracts a large number of law enforcement officers to the area. Robson said the gun range would be built to meet the standards required for law enforcement training. Lawrence police officers currently have to leave the city to practice at an indoor gun range. The city of Lawrence closed the gun range that operated in the basement of the Community Building after they determined it did not meet the city’s own zoning codes.
The fact the city doesn’t have a gun range is the main reason Robson is working on the venture. He said it only makes sense that every city of a certain size have such a business these days. After all, the state of Kansas now allows essentially any adult to carry a concealed handgun with no license or required training. Robson said if people are going to carry a gun, they ought to know how to use it.
“If you don’t know how to use it, you might as well take the bullets out and throw it like a rock,” he said. “I think it gives everybody a safe place to come and shoot. We are going to have classes for beginners, and probably will do some hunter safety training too.”
Robson said he plans to carry a full range of ammunition and guns, including hand guns, hunting rifles and the legal assault rifles that have become quite the item with some gun enthusiasts.
Robson said he hopes to break ground around June on the building. There are still some hurdles for the project to clear, though. While Robson has taken the step of announcing the project, he doesn’t have necessary city approvals for the venture. In fact, he hasn’t yet filed the necessary plans with the city, although he said he has been in discussion with city officials to start that process.
I’m still a little unclear on what approvals will be required. The property is zoned for industrial uses. Some types of light industrial zoning categories allow for gun ranges, while other heavier industrial zoning categories do not. If the zoning allows for the gun range, it is possible that it could be administratively approved by planning officials.
I did talk with Sells briefly today, and he said he is still raising funds to get his venture started at 23rd and Harper. He previously had looked at opening a business in a smaller space in the The Malls Shopping Center near 23rd and Louisiana. When he switched to the 23rd and Harper site, the project became bigger and needed more financing, he said. Sells did not have a start date on the project, but he said his plans call for about 16,000 square feet of space, with 10 shooting lanes with the potential to expand to 18.
Whether both projects — they are only about two miles apart — would move forward is uncertain. That seems like a lot of gun ranges in a small area, but there is no denying that gun sales have been booming. There has been plenty of national reports about how people have feared stricter gun regulations were always on the horizon with the Obama administration. Whether that will trend will continue under a Trump administration is one of just a few things worth watching over the next four years.
But, who knows, perhaps both businesses will end up moving forward. Perhaps East 23rd Street will become to gun ranges what south Iowa Street has become to fried chicken restaurants. It makes no difference to me. I would just urge this: If you are going to combine the two activities, please, please use the wet wipes before you do your quick draw.
A look at what a downtown grocery store would look like and details of a new lawsuit aiming to stop it
Lawrence residents can now get a glimpse of what a downtown grocery store may look like, but it also is becoming clearer what the legal fight to stop the project may look like too.
As we have reported several times, a local development group has strong interest in converting the former Borders bookstore site into a multistory building that would house a grocery store on the ground floor. The development group, led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, have now released renderings of what the building would look like. It would be three stories tall, with a grocery store on the ground floor and 82 apartments on the upper floors, including some that are set aside for low-to-moderate income tenants. A parking garage would be built below ground. The footprint of the building would be about 43,000 square feet, which is twice as large a footprint as the old bookstore building currently on the site.
That larger footprint is a factor in another new development with the project: A lawsuit has been filed by two condo owners in the adjacent Hobbs Taylor Loft building. Condo owners Brian Russell and Brent Flanders have filed a lawsuit alleging that the development group is trying to do an “end run” around a set of covenants that limit the footprint of any building on the property to approximately 20,000 square feet. The lawsuit also contends the covenants prohibit a traditional grocery store from being built on the property.
Look for the lawsuit to spark a spirited fight.
Bill Fleming, an attorney for the development group, said the lawsuit has little to no merit and the development group will fight it and prevail. He also added another detail.
“They (the plaintiffs) also have taken the position that if we pay them twice what their condo units are worth, they would go away,” Fleming said.
Brian Russell and Brent Flanders are the plaintiffs in the suit. Russell also is the attorney in the suit. He too minced no words.
“The arrogance of these guys is just stunning,” Russell said of the development group.
He said Fleming’s characterization of what has been proposed is inaccurate. But he said he and Flanders are worried about a decline in property values if the grocery store project goes forward. He said the project would dramatically change the character of the block. He said the project would replace a fairly low volume retail site with a very high-volume retailer, plus it would add low-income apartments next door to the upscale condo development.
“We are just trying to protect our rights, and I hope people understand that even if they want a grocery store in downtown,” Russell said.
It doesn’t appear that the issue in the case will be whether the covenants limit the size of the building or prohibit a grocery store. Instead, it appears the disagreement centers on who can change the covenants. Russell argues that changes to the covenants must be approved by every condo owner in the building. There are a little more than 30 residential condo owners, plus other commercial condo owners, Russell said. The development group is expected to argue that a company by the name of 8th and New Hampshire LLC, which is led by Lawrence businessman Stephen Craig, has the ability to change the covenants. 8th and New Hampshire, LLC is the successor company to the group that originally developed the Hobbs Taylor Lofts.
That legal argument has not yet been settled. The lawsuit seeks an injunction stopping the project from moving forward. The development group has not yet filed its answer to the lawsuit.
Fleming said the development group has been holding meetings with residents of Hobbs Taylor, and has begun to make some changes to the development plans based upon their feedback. For example, he said residents were concerned about grocery carts being strewn about the neighborhood. As a result, the development has committed to using high-tech grocery carts that won’t allow the user to take them outside the building. Other modifications have related to parking plans, screening, lighting and methods to reduce noise from the development.
“I think we are going to get a green light from the residents to move forward, and then we’ll make an application with the city,” Fleming said.
The project would require multiple city approvals, and it is expected that the development will seek economic development incentives from the city.
As for the grocery store itself, we have reported that a Price Chopper is a likely candidate to operate the store. That is appearing more likely. Fleming confirmed that Barry Queen of Kansas City’s Queen’s Price Choppers has been speaking to the Hobbs Taylor group about how a grocery store at the site would operate. The plans also show that a drive-thru pharmacy would be part of the project.
We’ll keep you updated as the lawsuit moves through the process and also if the project makes any development filings with the city.
• Everybody have a good weekend and start preparing for the holiday season. I’ll be out at the 24th annual Gingerbread Auction for Big Brothers Big Sisters tonight at Abe & Jake’s Landing. If you remember, last year I made a gingerbread house — well, technically a gingerbread lean-to. This year I am a judge. I can’t wait. Those houses are going to taste so good. I assume that is how this works.
Downtown convenience store set to close; where Kansas ranks on list of states most likely to lose college graduates
There soon will be one less convenience in downtown Lawrence. No, you can still get a cup of coffee every 12 feet, and if you like a beverage that is colder with more suds, that’s available about every six feet. But if you are just looking for a bag of chips or a pack of gum, the idea of a downtown convenience store has taken a hit.
The Sandbar sub shop and convenience store is closing its location at Eighth and New Hampshire streets perhaps as early as next week, owner and operator Peach Madl said. Sandbar recently became the food vendor for several facilities of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department, including the sports pavilion at Rock Chalk Park and the indoor aquatic center. Madl said that contract is keeping her crew plenty busy, and she’s decided to close the downtown store.
The decision means one less sandwich shop in downtown, but more significantly it marks the end of an interesting experiment in downtown. The business was meant to serve as a downtown convenience store where you could pick up items like candy, corn nuts, aspirin, corn nuts, chips, bottles of pop, corn nuts, beef jerky and, of course, corn nuts.
“The convenience store concept has not been a strong point of the business,” Madl said.
The idea had some fanfare when it opened. A convenience store was touted as the type of business that would be useful in an area that is trying to add more living units. But, for whatever reason, the idea did not take off with residents and others. Madl speculated that the business may have come just a bit too early in the development of downtown as a living area. Or, it may be that the concept wasn’t quite right, she said.
“Downtown might be a little more upscale than we are,” Madl said.
Sandbar shares space with the downtown location of Peoples Bank. The bank will remain in the building, Madl said. Sandbar actually has the lease for the entire building, and Madl said a search for a tenant to fill the Sandbar portion of the building has begun.
It also is worth noting that the idea of corn nuts at 10 a.m. is not entirely dead in downtown. Just a couple of doors down from Sandbar’s location at Eighth and New Hampshire is Tobacco Bazaar, 14 E. Eighth Street. It primarily is a tobacco shop, but it also is marketing itself as a small convenience store. It has chips, drinks, frozen sandwiches, some basic medicines and even some dairy products. Owner Raju Ahmed said the majority of his business still comes from the tobacco side of the business, but said he still is optimistic about the convenience store concept.
“It is growing a little bit,” Ahmed said. “We have a loyal group of customers, mainly people who work in downtown.”
As for Sandbar, it will continue to operate its sandwich shop inside the Zarco convenience store on 23rd Street, Madl said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don’t know if corn nut availability has anything to do with it, but Kansas isn’t doing a very good job of keeping or attracting young college graduates. At least that was the upshot of a recent article in The New York Times. You can read the full article, but the most interesting part was the map that is below.
It shows from 2000 to 2015 which states have seen a net increase in college graduates under the age of 40 and which states have seen a decline. Kansas is in the category that has declined, which fits with what we have generally been hearing about the “brain drain” over the years.
But I thought I would pass along this graphic because it is interesting to see how we stack up with others. We are performing better than places like the Dakotas and Iowa. We are performing worse than almost any state along a coast. But what is surprising is that we are performing worse than state’s like Oklahoma, Arkansas and Wyoming.
What does Oklahoma have that we don’t?
Discussion of more signs for Kasold-SLT intersection on tap; thoughts of a Crossgate Drive interchange for the SLT
Perhaps there is a yin and yang involved with the South Lawrence Trafficway. As arguments die down with the opening of the long-debated eastern leg of the trafficway, new ones rise on the western leg of the trafficway. Lawrence’s world is not in balance if we don’t argue about a road.
I do have a couple of updates on debates that are brewing on the western portion of the the SLT, which is the part of the road west of Iowa Street: A county official has confirmed a meeting has been set with KDOT officials to discuss ways to improve safety at the Kasold/SLT intersection; and a Douglas County resident has begun pitching a new multimillion dollar plan to improve the safety of the road.
First, the meeting: Douglas County Public Works Director Keith Browning confirmed that a meeting between county officials and Kansas Department of Transportation officials has been set to discuss how to improve the safety of the intersection of the SLT and what is commonly called Kasold Drive, although it actually is county road East 1200, but it aligns with Kasold.
The intersection was the site of a multivehicle, injury accident last week. Although it is just one accident, tensions are raised around the intersection. There is a fear more are to come because the accident occurred shortly after the intersection was configured to become a right-in, right-out only intersection. It also occurred shortly after traffic volumes increased significantly because of the opening of the east leg of the SLT.
Residents of southern Douglas County have contended that the intersection is a vital link to the western part of Lawrence. Some have argued that a traffic signal should be put at the intersection. Browning worked to douse those hopes when I talked with him. He said the upcoming discussion with KDOT — which he said would happen “very soon” — won’t be to discuss a traffic signal. Instead it will discuss adding more signs to make it clearer that the intersection is right-in and right-out.
Browning said more signs could be useful, but he stopped short of saying the intersection is confusing without them. The intersection is marked with double yellow lines, which are illegal to cross, and the configuration of the intersection naturally makes it difficult to go straight across the SLT. (Anybody doing so would have to first turn right and then turn back to the left in order to cross.)
Browning’s main message is if you are thinking of trying to cross the SLT — technically Kansas Highway 10 — at Kasold, don’t do it.
“It is hard for me to imagine that people think crossing K-10 at Kasold is now a safe alternative,” Browning said. “I can’t comprehend that.”
But, additional signs making that clear would not hurt anything. KDOT has placed a large, temporary electronic sign just north of the intersection alerting motorists that only right turns are allowed at the intersection.
What type of permanent signs may be put in place is one question. The bigger question, though, is how many wrecks will it take at the intersection before KDOT goes back to its original thinking, which was that the intersection should be closed entirely?
That brings me to the second update: an idea for a new multimillion dollar interchange that would make the Kasold intersection unnecessary. The idea is being floated by Lawrence businessman Frank Male. He is the owner of a landscape company that has a facility just south of the Kasold and SLT intersection.
Male also is active in county politics, and he indicated to me that he is going try to start lobbying support for a new plan that he hopes could be implemented in a few years. The idea essentially is a Crossgate Drive interchange for the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Crossgate is the next major street west of Kasold Drive. Male is proposing that Crossgate Drive be extended southward to connect with the SLT. Instead of connecting with an intersection, Crossgate would connect to an interchange with on and off ramps. South of the SLT, a new road would be built to connect Crossgate to the existing county route of East 1150. The East 1150 road already has a bridge across the Wakarusa River and already connects with County Route 458.
The debate here is probably not whether another interchange is needed for the South Lawrence Trafficway but where it ought to be. Douglas County officials, as we have reported, already have begun planning for the day when there would be an interchange at Wakarusa Drive, near the entrance to the Youth Sports Complex. It also would extend to the south to connect to County Route 458. The county already has put the project on its long range capital improvement plan. It estimates it would cost about $8 million just to build the local roads. KDOT would be responsible for building the actual interchange, and that easily could be more than $10 million.
Male’s lobbying efforts likely will be to get the county — and to a degree, the city because it likely will be asked to share in the cost — to consider Crossgate Drive. Male said the big selling point for a Crossgate alignment is that it could use the existing Wakarusa River bridge on East 1150. The Wakarusa alignment would require a new bridge in order to connect to County Route 458.
Male may have his work cut out for him to get the county to change its mind. Browning said the point about the bridge is a valid one, but he said the wide floodplain near a Crossgate alignment may make building a road more difficult and expensive there. Plus, he said Wakarusa Drive just seems like a more natural fit as a western entrance into Lawrence. It puts the interchange closer to the entrance to the Youth Sports Complex, which is a major generator of traffic during certain times of the year. Under Male’s plan, a frontage road would be built from the Crossgate interchange to the sports complex.
Whatever the case, don’t expect an interchange to emerge anytime soon. Browning said the environmental study required for KDOT to undertake a project of this nature likely would take about three years. Then there is the question of where KDOT would get the money to build the project. Then there is the question of whether the city of Lawrence would contribute any money to help pay for the local portion of the project.
All of that could lead to several more debates.
It may be the oldest new store to ever locate in downtown Lawrence. A clothing store that has been owned by the same family for the last 119 years has signed a deal to locate along Massachusetts Street.
Glik’s — a store that bills itself with the tagline of “hot fashions, preppy clothing and your denim destination” — has signed a deal to locate in the spot formerly occupied by the baking store Sweet at 717 Massachusetts St.
“Our best foot forward really is fashion,” said Jeff Glik, president and CEO of the company that is based in Granite City, Ill. “We are the first with fashion. That is really what has made us.”
The store carries men’s and women’s clothing, and major categories include outerwear, jeans, knits, woven items, dresses, footwear and other apparel. Top brands include Silver Jeans, The North Face, Yeti, Simply Southern, Flying Monkey Jeans, Alex and Ani and others.
Glik’s got its start in 1897 when Jeff Glik’s great grandfather opened a department store in downtown St. Louis. The company’s first expansion came when Jeff’s grandfather opened a store in Madison, Ill. Jeff’s father, Joe Glik, began to expand the business even more when he took over ownership, expanding in Missouri, Illinois and the upper Midwest. Jeff Glik now runs the company with his brother Jim, and their father remains active at 90 years old and frequently hits the road to visit stores. The company now has about 65 stores in 10 states. It only recently has come to Kansas, though.
The company recently opened a store in Hays. Jeff Glik, Joe Glik and other family members travel to each ribbon-cutting for a new store. The family flew into Kansas City and started its drive to Hays, but first stopped in Lawrence. By the time they left Lawrence later that day, they had a deal to locate in the former Sweet space, which is owned by longtime businessman Bob Schumm.
“We fell in love with your town,” Jeff Glik said. “I mean triple somersaults over that town. We struck a deal in 30 minutes.”
Glik said downtown Lawrence is the type of shopping district the store loves to be in.
“Probably the most exciting thing about Lawrence is we like to be in a unique shopping environment,” Glik said. “If Massachusetts Street isn’t one of the most unique shopping environments in North America, I don’t know what is. The fact that you don’t have a mall, and the environment of Massachusetts Street really intrigued us.”
Glik’s will compete with several apparel retailers in downtown. (It, however, won’t be the oldest. Downtown Lawrence icon Weaver’s Department Store has been in business since 1857.) Glik said the store will fit in well with other downtown retailers and won’t be a “me too store,” but rather will bring new products and merchandise to help broaden the appeal of downtown. He said the store will be involved in the local community in significant ways, including joining the local chamber, the downtown Lawrence association and partnering on community events. Glik said that is a business strategy he learned at a young age sitting around the dinner table listening to his father and grandfather talk about the retail business.
“The secret sauce is we were raised in the retail business,” Glik said. “We have a passion for it, and we cultivate that passion in all our associates. My earliest memories are of working in the store during Christmas season. I tell people that if I were a doctor and my dad started teaching me at 5 years old how to be a doctor, I’d probably be pretty good at it. That is how it is for us but with retail.”
Glik said the company will do some renovation work to the interior of the approximately 2,800 square-foot store. He said he hopes the Lawrence store will open in the spring of 2017. He said the store likely will employ about a dozen people.
Restaurant files plans to become first in downtown to have rooftop dining; popular KC restaurant closes its Lawrence location
I won’t even tell you how I got assigned rooftop dining-for-one this Thanksgiving. (I will say I thought it was well understood that certain rules of civility were temporarily suspended when only one scoop of potatoes remained.) Rooftop dining, however, isn’t always a banishment, but rather is big business for many downtowns. A Lawrence restaurant has filed plans with City Hall in hopes of bringing the concept here.
The folks at Ramen Bowls have filed plans to add rooftop dining to their building at 125 E. 10th St. If all goes according to plan, the restaurant hopes by spring to have a dining area to accommodate around 40 people, and a full bar area. The idea was sparked by a need to expand but a desire to stay in its current location, said co-owner Shantel Grace.
“We thought, what do they do in other cities?” Grace said. “They just go up.”
Indeed many downtowns do allow rooftop dining. I know I once spent a good part of a football weekend atop a Boulder, Colo., bar and restaurant. I even came to an unmistakable conclusion: Boulder is more beautiful during basketball season.
The idea of rooftop dining has come up before in Lawrence, but it has never made its way out of City Hall. We will see whether city officials give their approval to this plan, but it looks like it has a chance.
Longtime Lawrence businessman and developer Jeff Shmalberg is the driving force behind the idea. Shmalberg, who is the landlord for Ramen Bowls, was one of the key developers who got the ball rolling years ago on the idea of a TIF district to build a parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street, which eventually helped spur the dense development that has happened recently in the block.
Shmalberg said rooftop dining just seems to make sense in Lawrence, given that expanding the footprint of downtown outward is never easy.
“I think a lot of people are excited about it,” Shmalberg said. “That is why we have to do it right because other people will want to do this too. I think it would be amazing. There are so many rooftops that have an amazing view, but you have to do it safely. You have to do it structurally sound. You have to do it right.”
Indeed, this project will be closely watched. If Ramen Bowls is allowed to have rooftop dining, many other restaurants will follow suit. Look at sidewalk dining as an example of the proliferation that could come. Eventually, the city probably will have to decide whether it wants to limit rooftop seating areas only to restaurants or whether it should be open for bars too.
I didn’t get into that issue, but I did trade messages with Lynne Braddock Zollner, the historic preservation planner who is reviewing the rooftop request. She did not raise many red flags with the application, but also noted that the request must still be reviewed by the city’s Historic Resources Commission. Zollner said some key elements to the request are that the dining area would be setback from the edge of the building considerably and the profile of the dining area would be low. Both of those are important because those factors will limit the visibility of the dining area from the street. Historic preservationists likely will balk at the idea of rooftop dining, if it significantly changes the look of downtown buildings.
Shmalberg said Lawrence-based architect Lance Adams has been working on the design plans for months, and also has been working closely with the Lawrence fire department on other safety considerations. The project will involve much more than just putting some tables and chairs on the roof. New stairways that can serve as fire exits will be required, and new steel beams will be put in place to carry the additional load, rather than relying on the roof to do so. In addition, the roof will be plumbed for a bathroom and, importantly, the bar area.
Grace said having the full bar on the roof will be a selling point for customers. She and her husband, Tim, hope to convert the rooftop area into a space that has a bit of a Hawaiian feel, similar to some of the classier establishments they were familiar with when they lived on the islands.
“Tiki drinks and cocktails. Rum will be a part of what we do,” Grace said, although she said the restaurant won’t try to create a stereotypical tiki bar atmosphere. “But our vision is a space that is very connected to Hawaii.”
Hawaiian sunshine may be tough to come by year-around, though. Grace said figuring out how to make the rooftop usable as much as possible is requiring a lot of thought. She said plans call for part of the dining area to be under cover. She said heating devices also can be used to help on cold days. She said really hot and windy Kansas summer days may be the greater challenge. Figuring out how to deal with those seasonal issues probably will determine how prevalent rooftop dining becomes in downtown Lawrence. Compared with sidewalk dining, adding a rooftop space is going to cost a restaurant a lot more money. Grace, though, thinks people will be surprised at what they find once they are allowed on the rooftops.
“It is really beautiful up there,” she said. “You can see Mount Oread and all the red rooftops on campus. I think people are going to love it.”
In case you are not familiar with Ramen Bowls, the restaurant has been open for just more than three years. As you probably already have determined, it serves a different class of Ramen than the 33 cent packages of dried noodles you can buy from area grocery stores. The restaurant makes its own miso and tonkotsu broth each morning. In addition to the Ramen, the menu also includes homemade egg rolls, wontons, dumplings and sautéed soybeans.
“We’re thrilled with how business has been,” Grace said. “We just need more space.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• If your holiday dining plans included crayfish in Lawrence, you may want to rethink — or else get your net and start staking out your spot along the Kaw. The New Orleans style restaurant Jazz has closed its Lawrence location.
According to a sign on the door, the Jazz restaurant at 1012 Massachusetts St. is permanently closed. Jazz is a longtime Kansas City restaurant, featuring a variety of seafood and Creole dishes, plus live music. Its slogan is “Let the good times roll,” which normally is a pretty good attitude for a Lawrence establishment because if there is one thing the university crowd knows how to do, it is roll.
But, for whatever reason, the restaurant didn’t work out in Lawrence. The business had been open only a year before its closing this week. Jazz’s two other restaurants in Kansas City — including the one in The Legends shopping center near the Kansas Speedway — remain open, according to the sign in the door.
Jazz had occupied the downtown building that formerly housed Buffalo Wild Wings. That is a larger than average building for downtown, so it will be interesting to watch what comes in to take its place. If I hear any more on the subject, I’ll let you know.
I once tried to buy my wife a new house for Christmas, but I ran out of wrapping paper and called the whole thing off. Well, if you are in the market for a holiday home purchase this year, you will need more than a large supply of gift wrap. You’ll also need more money, as prices have taken a significant jump in 2016, according to a new report.
The latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows the Lawrence market continues to be defined by a shortage of homes for sale, which is resulting in an increase in prices for those properties on the market.
The board’s latest report, which tracks activity through October, shows the median selling price for Lawrence homes is now $177,700, which is up nearly 6 percent from the $168,000 mark of a year ago.
A figure from the Douglas County Appraiser’s office is more striking, and shows some types of homes have seen more than a 6 percent increase. In his October report, the Douglas County appraiser notes that through August, the average selling price for a three-bedroom, two-bath house with 1300 to 1800 square feet of space is now $184,987. That’s up from $168,295 during the same period a year ago, which is an increase of nearly 10 percent.
Numbers from the Board of Realtors suggest a shortage of homes on the market is contributing to the upward pricing pressure. The number of active listings on the market in October stood at 275, down from 317 during the same period a year ago, and down from 373 in October 2014. Local real estate leaders are now expecting such inventory shortages to continue throughout 2017, board president Carl Cline said in the most recent report.
The low supply of homes on the market has caused the market to struggle to meet past sales totals. For the year, home sales total 1,048, which is down by just less than 1 percent compared with the same period in 2015. A bright spot, however, has been the sale of newly constructed homes. Real estate agents have sold 79 newly constructed homes, which is an increase of 8.2 percent. If that trend continues, this would be the second straight year that the sales of newly constructed homes have increased.
Whether those numbers will spur an increase in new home construction in Lawrence, however, is still an open question. The report includes one figure that suggests not: The Lawrence market still has 53 unsold newly constructed homes on the market. With sales averaging a little less than eight per month, that is still more than a six-month supply of homes.
But the report also includes a figure that is heading in the right direction for home builders: The price difference between a new home and an existing home is shrinking. One theory holds that as the price difference between a newly constructed home and an existing home shrinks, buyers will start favoring newly constructed homes. That difference in price has started to occur in the Lawrence market. The median price of existing homes has increased by 5.8 percent in 2016, while the price for new homes has increased by just 1.8 percent. For the year, the median price spread between new and existing homes is about $137,000, which is down from about $141,000 in 2015. The spread also is probably a bit inflated, as the median price for existing homes is brought down by smaller older two-bedroom homes, while most new homes are considerably larger. But whether that spread has dwindled enough to cause builders to pick up their pace of new construction is uncertain.
Here’s a look at some other real estate statistics from Lawrence and the region:
• Lawrence home sales for the month of October were basically unchanged from a year ago. For the month 81 homes were sold compared with 83 in October 2015.
• While the total number of homes sold in Lawrence is down by 0.8 percent for the year, the total dollar value of all real estate sold — due to higher prices — is up 4.9 percent to $223.2 million.
• The median number of days a home sits on the market before it is sold is now down to 18. That’s down from 24 at the same point in 2015 and down from 33 in 2014.
• The real estate market looks a bit different just outside of the Lawrence city limits. The Lawrence Board of Realtors also puts together a report that shows total for Douglas County home sales outside of the Lawrence city limits. Year-to-date numbers show 201 sales have closed, an increase of about 14 percent over the same time period a year ago. Prices are on the rise too, with the median price checking in at $183,000, which is up 7.7 percent for the year.
• The Kansas City metro real estate market is mixed. According to the October report of the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors, the total number of homes sold in the Kansas City region is up 5.3 percent to just under 33,000 for the year. Median selling prices are up about 6 percent. However, the upturn isn’t uniform throughout the KC region. Johnson County, for instance, has seen home sales increase only by about 0.2 percent for the year. Median sales prices are up about 6.5 percent.
Town Talk will be off for the next couple of days. Here’s wishing all of you a happy and safe Thanksgiving.
From dominoes to origami, new Lawrence business plans to teach it all; gasoline really cheap locally, new report finds
I have known many masters of dollar bill origami. Wait. I’m now told “origami” is not a French word for “to make disappear.” In that case, I know nothing about dollar bill origami. But there is a new business in Lawrence that will teach me lots about that topic, plus many others.
Lawrence resident Katie Winter has started a new venture called The Lawrence Laboratory. It aims to figure out what area residents are interested in and then teach it to them quickly and for not much money.
“I think we ought to do something to make learning a bit easier for people these days,” Winter said.
So, if you want to learn about dollar bill origami — apparently it involves folding dollar bills into neat shapes — you can sign up for an upcoming class at The Lawrence Laboratory. Other examples on the laboratory’s roster include calligraphy, holiday postcard making, embroidery, a class on essential oils, how to play dominoes three ways and something called “Cocktail Mixer & Drinking Vinegar.” (Perhaps “vinegar” is also a French word I don’t know the meaning of.)
Winter said each class will only take one evening, and prices are generally about $10 to $20 per person, plus materials, when needed.
“The tag line is informal and accessible classes with low cost and low commitment,” Winter said. “It is meant to be fun. The teachers come from the community. Anybody is welcome to teach. You don’t have to be connected with any sort of organization.”
Most classes will be held in the community room of the Peoples bank and Sandbar Subs location at Eighth and New Hampshire streets. Winter, who is part of the family that owns Peoples bank, has returned to Lawrence after having moved away for about 15 years. She worked in New Mexico, New York and Seattle doing education advocacy and other nonprofit work.
Winter said the The Lawrence Laboratory isn’t a true nonprofit, but it also isn’t meant to be a traditional business either. Winter said the venture doesn’t have much of a revenue model at the moment, since the class fees basically just cover expenses, including paying the community instructors a bit for their time.
“My baby is 18 months old, and I knew I always wanted to come back to Lawrence,” Winter said of her decision to start the business. “I’m really interested in learning things, and hopefully other people are too and will bring their friends. There are some models for this idea around the country. I think this could be a growing trend.”
People can see what classes are being offered by logging onto thelawrencelab.com. They also can makes suggestions for future classes. Winter said she has heard a lot of interest in classes related to home and garden, food and drink, construction and mechanics, and wellness. The website also allows people to sign up to be an instructor for a class.
Winter said the next phase for the venture is to begin partnering with community organizations. She said with that idea The Lawrence Laboratory could begin hosting classes for various organizations or using their facilities to host larger classes.
“I really want to see if people are interested in having The Lawrence Laboratory become a hub of learning in Lawrence,” Winter said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• One thing I’ve learned over the years is that Thanksgiving can be a time when you go through a lot of gasoline. Pulling the trailer full of mashed potatoes to grandma’s house can really put a dent in the fuel mileage.
Maybe you are going to do some traveling as well, so here’s a look at some news on gasoline prices. The biggest news is that gasoline prices in Lawrence aren’t nearly what they used to be. Yes, gasoline prices have fallen nearly everywhere in the past year, but Lawrence has seen the largest one-year decline of any Kansas community, according to one recent report.
AAA Kansas tracks the average price per gallon in 10 Kansas communities, plus the statewide average. Based on prices from Monday, Lawrence had seen a 7 percent drop in gasoline prices since the same time a year ago. That compares with a 2 percent drop in the statewide average and a 2 percent increase in the national average. On Monday, the Lawrence average was $1.81 per gallon compared with the statewide average of $1.90 and the national average of $2.14.
Yet, I still hear somewhat frequently from readers about how gasoline prices are out of whack in Lawrence. Well, here is a number that will cause those folks to have cranberry sauce come out their ears: Lawrence has the eighth lowest average gasoline price of any city in the country, according to the folks at AAA.
But the readers who complain about gasoline prices aren’t without some basis. Frequently, they point to gasoline prices in Topeka, or along the turnpike on the way to Topeka, or in small towns between here and Topeka. Well, the same report does show that Topeka does have an extraordinarily odd gasoline market right now. For some reason, Topeka has the fourth lowest average price of any city in the country, according to AAA.
Odds are, though, you will do pretty well anywhere you buy gasoline in Kansas. The study says Kansas has the fourth lowest average gasoline price of any state in the country. But wait, before filling up for the trip to Aunt Bessie’s, you may want to consider whether she lives in Missouri. There are probably several good reasons to know whether Aunt Bessie lives in Missouri, and only one of them involves opossum for Thanksgiving dinner. The other one is that Missouri has the lowest average price of any state in the country — $1.85 per gallon — as of Monday’s AAA report. Oklahoma was at the second lowest at about $1.90 per gallon. Colorado and Nebraska both were significantly higher at about $2.07 per gallon.
The report notes that Kansas’ statewide average for the Thanksgiving holiday is at lowest point since 2008, when the price per gallon was $1.81. The report also notes that gas prices for the Thanksgiving travel were $3.21 back in 2012.
But maybe you are going to stay closer to home. If so, here’s a look at gasoline prices, based on Monday’s price, for the 10 Kansas communities tracked by AAA.
— Emporia: $1.86, down 5 percent from a year ago.
— Garden City: $1.94, down 3 percent from a year ago.
— Hays: $2.01, down 6 percent from a year ago.
— Kansas City, Kan.: $1.89, 2 percent from a year ago.
— Lawrence: $1.81, down 7 percent from a year ago.
— Manhattan: $1.95, down 2 percent from a year ago.
— Pittsburg: $1.87, down 2 percent from a year ago.
— Salina: $1.83, down 6 percent from a year ago.
— Topeka: $1.77, down 6 percent from a year ago.
— Wichita: $1.89, up 1 percent from a year ago.
The numbers above really do show that there has been a significant change in Lawrence gasoline prices over the last year. At this time last year, Lawrence was a penny above the statewide average. Now it is 9 cents below the statewide average. Last year it had the fourth highest average price of the 10 cities on the list. This year it has the second lowest average price. What has happened? I don’t know. Perhaps impacts from Topeka’s extraordinarily low prices are starting to bleed into Lawrence. Maybe it is something else.
Something is causing downward pressure on gas prices, and not just in Lawrence. One of the more eye-opening statistics from the AAA report was this: The average price per gallon in Kansas has dropped for 41 consecutive days.
You know what that means? I can afford a bigger wagon.
For some people, turkey makes them sleepy. For me, it makes me forgetful — as in I forget to breathe in between bites. I don’t know what makes you forgetful, but evidently it is something because I’ve had several requests to remind people about a couple of 23rd Street projects that we’ve already reported on.
So, here we go. Question No. 1 is: What’s happening to the building that used to house Dunn Brothers Coffee at 1618 W. 23rd St.? The answer: It is set to become a Potbelly’s. I know what you are thinking. Lots of us are set to become Potbelly, but this is in reference to an actual restaurant chain.
As we reported in June, Potbelly Sandwich Shop filed plans to locate in the former coffee house, which is just a bit east of 23rd and Ousdahl. The restaurant serves a large menu of toasted sandwiches ranging from a traditional roast beef to a less traditional chicken Mediterranean with hummus, artichoke hearts, feta cheese and several other ingredients.
Desserts also are a big deal at the restaurant. Perhaps this will spark your memory of when we wrote about the restaurant in June: I briefly hyperventilated while reporting that the restaurant serves a milkshake that comes with a straw that has actual cookies on it. (What can I say? I get very excited about innovation.)
As for the Potbelly in its name, that comes from the fact each restaurant has a potbelly stove in it. I believe that harkens back to the restaurant’s beginnings, which were in a Chicago antique store.
No official word on when the Lawrence restaurant will open, but construction work is now well underway. I would guess an early 2017 opening is likely. I’ll try to let you know if I hear an official date.
• Question No 2 is: What are they building next to QuikTrip at 23rd and Haskell? Unfortunately, it is not an addition for a giant Slurpee machine. (Everybody, calm down. I do know that only 7-Eleven sells the actual Slurpee brand. The 1000-foot restraining order requires me to know this.) Instead, a new tunnel car wash is being built next to QuikTrip.
Back in September we reported that plans had been filed at this location for the latest in a bevy of high-tech car washes coming to the city. Well, construction work has begun on a 5,000 square-foot, 150-foot long automated tunnel car wash on the site. The plans also call for 32 stalls equipped with vacuum cleaners.
An Illinois-based firm, Peak Inc., is the developer of the project. Look for other tunnel car washes to pop up elsewhere in the city. Construction equipment has been delivered to the site near Ninth and Iowa streets. As we have reported, the locally owned Zarco convenience store/fuel center company plans to tear down the old Sandbar sub shop and replace it with a tunnel car wash. Zarco also plans to install a 150-foot tunnel car wash at the Zarco station at 1500 E. 23rd St. Yes, that is just up the street from the tunnel car wash being built next to QuikTrip.
Forget everything else that is going on in the news. 2017 is most likely to be the year of tunnel car washes.
Here I was worried about my physique, but apparently it was just my wallet that had gotten fatter. New numbers out from the federal government suggest several wallets got fatter in 2015 as Douglas County had one of the best income growth rates in the state.
In particular it looks like it was a big year for small business in Douglas County in 2015, as incomes for business owners particularly soared. But before you call the yacht broker, know that the figures also show, that while Douglas County incomes grew, they are still about $8,500 behind the average Kansas income.
The latest numbers came from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and measured all types of income that Douglas County residents receive. That means everything from wages to business profits to rental income to Social Security payments.
Here is a look at some of the key numbers:
— Per capita income in Douglas County checked in at $38,686. That’s up 4.9 percent from 2014 levels. The 4.9 percent growth rate was the 12th fastest growth rate of the 105 counties in Kansas.
— Douglas County’s per capita income continues to lag well behind the statewide average. In 2015, Kansas average per capita income was $47,161. That was up 1.2 percent from 2014 totals. Douglas County’s per capita income of $38,686 ranks No. 76 out of the 105 Kansas Counties. Some of that has to do with the number of university students in the community, who earn very little and push the per capita numbers down. Indeed, Riley County, the other university-oriented community ranks No. 77 in the state with a per capita income of $38,499.
— Douglas County incomes are catching up to the state somewhat. Douglas County’s growth rate of 4.9 percent was much better than the statewide growth rate of 1.7 percent.
— It paid to be a small business owner in Douglas County in 2015. The BEA numbers show that properties of nonfarm businesses saw their income increase by 21.8 percent. It, however, was not a good year to be a farmer. Farm proprietors’ income declined by 30.4 percent in 2015.
— Douglas County wage and salary workers at businesses saw their income increase by an average of 4.3 percent in 2015, according to the data.
— That data shows that the number of jobs in Douglas County grew by 1.6 percent in 2015. The number of proprietors — people who owned a business or partnership — was up 2.9 percent.
Here’s a look at how some of Douglas County’s key statistics compare with other counties in the region.
— Douglas: $38,686 per capita income, up 4.9 percent; 1.6 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.9 percent.
— Franklin: $37,872 per capita income, up 3.5 percent; 1.4 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 1.9 percent.
— Jefferson: $39,884 per capita income, up 1.8 percent; 0.6 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 1.6 percent
— Johnson: $65,050 per capita income, up 5.5 percent; 2.2 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.7 percent
— Leavenworth: $39,477 per capita income, up 4.3 percent; 0.1 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.3 percent.
— Riley: $38,499 per capita income, up 2.6 percent: 1.0 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.6 percent.
— Shawnee: $43,216 per capita income, up 3.2 percent; 0.4 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.5 percent
— Sedgwick: $50,448 per capita income, up 1.4 percent; 1.5 percent job growth; proprietorship growth up 2.4 percent.
So, the news was fairly positive for Douglas County. The news was a bit more mixed for the state of Kansas. Here is a quick comparison of how Kansas performed against other states in the region.
— Kansas: $47,161 per capita income, up 1.7 percent
— Colorado: $50,899 per capita income, up 2.3 percent
— Iowa: $45,902 per capita income, up 3.3 percent
— Missouri: $42,300 per capita income, up 2.9 percent
— Nebraska: $48,544 per capita income, up 0.5 percent
— Oklahoma: $45,573 per capita income, up 1.0 percent