Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
A new study that says it pays to go to K-State over KU; opening date set for another new south Iowa Street retailer
Perhaps you too stayed up later than you intended last night watching a magic show that was billed as a baseball game. Perhaps your alarm clock also did not survive the beating it took this morning from the miniature Alex Gordon bat that you slept with, and now you too are looking for a new job. If so, a Kansas State degree may be a bit more helpful to you than a KU degree, according to one new survey.
The folks at the financial website SmartAsset have compiled a list of average starting salaries for graduates of four-year universities in Kansas. They found graduates at Kansas State University topped the list, while Kansas University graduates finished sixth, about $3,100 behind. KU did not quite finish first in Douglas County in terms of top starting salaries for graduates. Baker University in Baldwin City finished with the third highest starting salary figure in the state, about $1,200 more than KU’s. Of course, Baker’s average tuition was about $15,000 higher than KU’s too.
That, however, wasn’t the case at K-State. The study found that K-State students pay less in tuition and receive a greater percentage of their tuition in scholarships and grants than KU students.
They do have to wear purple, though, which has to be factored into this equation somewhere.
KU fared well, however, in the overall ranking that SmartAsset puts together on universities in the state. It finished second in the “Best Value” category of all schools ranked in the state. Kansas State finished first. Pittsburg State, Emporia State and Wichita State rounded out the top five. Baker finished seventh.
It is always interesting to look at how KU stacks up against other colleges, because I can assure you prospective students are looking at such issues. It also is important, though, to keep the numbers in perspective. For example, average starting salaries aren’t necessarily a reflection of what the market thinks of the quality of the degrees being awarded by KU. Instead, it may be more of a reflection of the degree mix of a university. A university that awards a lot more English degrees probably will have a lower starting salary than a university that awards a lot of engineering degrees. It doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of degree. Instead, it is just a supply and demand thing. America needs lots of engineering but a quick look at Twitter confirms we have abandoned English as a language.
But, the numbers for KU are a little surprising, given that KU has the only medical school in the state. Plus, we have engineering, law, pharmacy and several other high-paying degrees at the university. (To be fair, I can't tell from the study whether the average starting salary is for all degrees or only undergraduate degrees.) We do have a very large liberal arts school, but so do some of the others that are ahead of KU on the list.
The study looks at a host of other statistics. It ranks tuition numbers, student living costs, the average amount of scholarships and grants and other statistics. The figures come from a 2013 report from the National Center for Educational Statistics, and a 2014 report from Payscale, a private company that says it tracks about 54 million individual salaries across the country.
Here’s a look at the chart for the 10 Kansas schools ranked:
I also did a little digging in SmartAsset’s study to see how KU stacked up with the other schools in the Big 12 that were ranked. The value rating is a subjective measure that SmartAsset puts together to measure the overall financial picture of the school. A score of 100 is best. Here’s a look at those numbers:
• University of Texas: $50,400 salary; $9,790 tuition; $15,602 student living costs; value rating 80.6
• Texas Tech: $49,000 salary; $7,517 tuition; $14,505 student living costs; value rating 71.65
• Iowa State: $47,800 salary; $7,726 tuition; $11,194 student living costs; value rating 84.84
• University of Oklahoma: $47,700 salary; $8,706 tuition, $14,584 student living costs; value rating 71.09
• Kansas State University: $45,200 salary; $8,047 tuition; $12,100 student living costs; value rating 70.63
• Oklahoma State: $44,400 salary; $7,442 tuition; $14,160 student living costs; value rating 66.08
• West Virginia: $43,800 salary; $6,090 tuition; $10,230 student living costs; value rating 77.46
• Kansas University: $42,100 salary; $9,678 tuition; $12,584 student living costs; value rating 64.02
When you compile the list that way, it doesn’t look too good for KU. The university has the lowest salary of the Big 12 schools that were ranked (I couldn’t find Baylor or TCU in the study), and it has the second-highest tuition of any of the schools ranked in the conference.
You’ll have to make what you will of the study’s “value ranking” — it clearly is subjective — but KU finished last in that category in terms of Big 12 schools. But remember, it finished second in Kansas.
SmartAsset apparently doesn’t think Kansas’ higher education strategy is that smart.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It likely won’t be long before another large retailer on south Iowa Street is open for business. The Boot Barn has set its ribbon-cutting date for Nov. 20, so it seems safe to assume the store will be open by then. Often stores hold soft openings before their ribbon cuttings, so keep that in mind.
If you have forgotten, The Boot Barn is going next to Dick’s Sporting Goods at 27th and Iowa streets. It looks like construction is largely complete, and I’ve seen signs that the store has been hiring employees. The business sells boots, if you can believe it. According to the company’s website, it also sells Western wear, work clothing and other such accessories. It has about 200 stores in 29 states. Its nearest store is in Olathe.
West Lawrence restaurant undergoes major expansion; a sneak peek at new Port Fonda restaurant in downtown
One day after Ellen DeGeneres gave away World Series tickets to Lawrence fans who could, at the spur of the moment, don royalty costumes, I’m still mad at my wife for excommunicating me from my role of king of the household. (Technically I was never king of the household, but I was allowed to rule over one corner of the basement, until she sold my scepter at a garage sale and feigned ignorance that my bedazzled robe was dry clean only.)
Oh well, at least I can still eat like a king and even hold a king-size banquet, thanks to a new project in west Lawrence. That’s right, a west Lawrence business is betting big on steak and becoming a new venue for banquets, wedding receptions and other large events.
If you remember, I briefly reported in July that the Six Mile Chop House at Sixth and Wakarusa was undertaking a major project by expanding into the adjacent space previously occupied by Famous Dave’s BBQ. Well, chop house owner Brad Ziegler has confirmed the project is complete, and the expanded steak house opened on Monday.
And when I say expanded, I do mean expanded. I think Lawrence is now home to one of the larger — if not largest — steakhouses in all of Kansas. Ziegler said the expansion added about 7,000 square feet to the restaurant. It increased seating capacity by about 200 diners on the main floor alone. In addition, the basement level can accommodate about 160 people for banquet events.
“We wanted more space for larger groups,” Ziegler said. “We have a lot of requests for rehearsal dinners, birthday parties, and groups of 12 to 30 that we didn’t have a place to seat them with without closing down the rest of the chop house.”
The new arrangement, in addition to the downstairs space that can host dinner, dancing and private bar service, has three smaller, private rooms that can be reserved for events.
The expansion also has allowed for a new lounge area. The lounge features leather couches, a fireplace and a large wine cooler/display that holds 240 bottles of wine.
The new lounge will be in addition to Six Mile Tavern, the existing bar and lounge that is connected to Six Mile Chop House.
As for the menu, there will be some changes, but not a lot.
“We’re still focusing on a traditional steakhouse menu, with some daily seafood items,” Ziegler said.
The restaurant serves basically three categories of beef: a selection of USDA prime-graded beef; Kansas-raised beef that has been dry-aged for six weeks; and certified Angus beef cuts. In addition the restaurant has several fish and seafood dishes such as salmon, lobster mac ’n cheese, and bacon-wrapped scallops.
The restaurant also has a brunch and bloody Mary menu that it serves on Saturdays and Sundays.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It can’t be long now before Port Fonda, the hip Mexican and Latino-inspired restaurant, will open in downtown Lawrence. The restaurant has removed the butcher block paper from the windows at its new location at 900 New Hampshire St. (That’s the ground floor of the new Marriott hotel, if you forgot your GPS.)
Take a look at a couple of shots I took through the windows.
The company operates the original Port Fonda in Westport. I called down there but haven’t had any luck in getting an official opening date. An employee at the restaurant, though, said Nov. 1 has been mentioned as an opening date. It sounds like, though, the restaurant will have a soft opening period before it really opens to the general public. But soon, it seems.
As for the food, I’m guessing it will have a similar menu to the Westport location, which includes everything from tacos to Mexican sandwiches, to specialty soups, to more elaborate dishes that are prepared in a wood-burning oven.
Let the fiesta continue on West 23rd Street. Another Mexican restaurant is coming to the corridor. The latest will be the national chain Qdoba Mexican Grill.
If you remember, I briefly mentioned in July that I had heard Qdoba was looking for a spot along the 23rd Street corridor. Well, the company has now made it official. The Denver-based chain has filed plans to go into the former Kwik Shop building at 1714 W. 23rd St., just a bit west of 23rd and Ousdahl. (The Qdoba at Ousdahl: There are a lot of opportunities for mispronunciations there.)
If you are not familiar with Qdoba, it is certainly one of the top five restaurant chains in America that start with the letter ‘Q.’ Beyond that, its claim to fame is that it is kind of a super-sized Chipotle. The store won’t be much bigger than a Chipotle, but the menu seems to be broader. Qdoba offers Mission-style burritos that you can eat with your hands, smothered burritos that you can eat with your hands and a garden hose, tacos, nachos, quesadillas, taco salads, kids meals and even something called Mexican Gumbo, which is very fun because it allows you to speak Spanish with a Cajun accent.
Some of you may remember that Qdoba previously was in Lawrence (I believe it occupied the downtown spot that now houses ingredient). That set up a showdown between Qdoba and Chipotle, which has a store just down Massachusetts Street. Qdoba closed that restaurant, I believe in the mid-to-late 2000s.
As far as a timeline goes to open the new restaurant, I’m uncertain. But plans call for a significant renovation of the existing convenience store building. You can see the new facade below, and plans also call for the construction of an outdoor dining area and improvements to the parking lot.
The project keeps alive the trend of Mexican food restaurants flocking to the 23rd Street corridor. As I’ve previously mentioned, there currently are four Mexican food restaurants — Taco Bell, Taco Johns, Chipotle and Border Bandido — within two-tenths of a mile on 23rd Street. Qdoba is just down the street, and there at one point was a plan filed to convert the old Pizza Hut location on 23rd into a fast-food Mexican restaurant called Panchos. I’m not sure if that idea is still alive, or if the development group became pollo with all the competition.
I’ll let you know if I hear more about a timeline for Qdoba.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of foreign cuisine, Lawrence diners now have the option of getting some Louisiana dishes. (Louisiana: The only foreign country that uses beads as a passport.) As we previously have reported, the popular Kansas City restaurant chain Jazz: A Louisiana Kitchen signed a deal to take over the downtown Lawrence space previously occupied by Buffalo Wild Wings.
Well, the location is now open, according to a post from the restaurant on Twitter. Menu items there include a lot of seafood, shrimp dishes, po’boy sandwiches, and a category they call “Voodoo Pasta.” Plans call for the location to also feature quite a bit of live music, including jazz, blues and Dixieland performers.
Lawrence loses once popular event to Topeka; questions about wind energy in Douglas County; Lawrence bakery wins top ranking in state
I’ll take a break from hand-sewing my Sluggerrr costume for tonight’s pivotal Game 6 Royals/Blue Jays match up to empty my notebook. Here are a few tidbits to close out the week:
• Lawrence, if you want to get your green on, you had better plan a trip to Topeka this weekend. That’s right, the Capital City — at least this weekend — is more of an environmental bastion than Lawrence.
Topeka is hosting the Mother Earth News Fair on Saturday and Sunday at the Topeka Expocentre. The fair is a gathering of experts and vendors on how to live environmentally sensitive and sustainable lives. It attracts about 10,000 people.
Perhaps some of this rings a bell to you because Lawrence played host to the fair two years ago. The event was hosted in downtown’s Watson Park, and people raved about how Lawrence was the perfect place to host an environmental celebration. (I can still envision the after-party: Wheat grass shots out of bamboo cups with people passed out on a cork floor.)
The event is put on by the Topeka-based magazine Mother Earth News, which is one of the larger magazines of its type in the country. Leaders with the company said they were pleased with the turnout the event got in Lawrence in 2013. And it seemed like it was a good deal for Lawrence. Bryan Welch, the publisher and editorial director for the parent company of Mother Earth News, told city commissioners at the time that about 10,000 people attended. He estimated about 4,500 of them had never been to Lawrence before, and most of those visitors came from more than 100 miles away. That’s a good formula for hotel and tourism spending.
But Welch also told city commissioners that it likely was going to have to find a larger venue in Lawrence to host the event. Welch suggested South Park. When we last reported on it in November 2013, it appeared the city was willing to accommodate a move to South Park. Then, I kind of forgot about the whole thing. (Sorry, a wheat grass hangover causes me to drop the ball on a lot of things.) But something happened because the fair didn’t return to Lawrence in 2014 and company officials seem pretty happy in their new home in Topeka.
“Bringing it back here (to Topeka), it is so close to our offices,” said Alec Weaver, marketing and publicity coordinator for the fair. “It is kind of easier on us.”
Weaver said Lawrence didn’t do anything wrong to lose the event, but rather that it just worked out better logistically in Topeka.
So, I guess throw a bottle of wheat grass in the glove box, and away you go. The fair is set to run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for a weekend pass are $30.
• Fans of wind energy in Douglas County also don’t have a lot to celebrate this week. As we reported earlier — and opined on in an editorial today — Douglas County commissioners have again extended a moratorium on wind development in the county. The moratorium dates back to December 2013, when some county residents became concerned that a large wind energy company — NextEra Energy Resources — wanted to install some meteorological towers in southwest Douglas County to monitor wind patterns.
The commissioners allowed the monitoring stations, but said they needed some time to get regulations on the books before allowing companies to propose actual wind farms in the county. Everyone kind of shrugged their shoulders because it was understood that NextEra was probably more than a year away from deciding whether it made sense to do a wind farm in Douglas County. Then, I kind of forgot about it. (The bamboo cup was really big.)
But now, we are going on two years for developing these regulations. The approval by county commissioners on Wednesday extends the moratorium until July 2016. Our editorial today opines about how that seems to be excessive, so I won’t pile on in that regard. I’m sure there are a lot of issues to think through when developing regulations for wind energy farms. Having them next to residential structures can be challenging.
What I’m more interested in is whether there’s actual interest on the part of wind energy companies to locate in Douglas County. And if so, where? The previous talk focused on southwest Douglas County, near the Osage County line and Overbrook. We’ll try to do some checking with NextEra in the coming days to see if they are still interested in the county.
When I first heard of NextEra’s interest in 2013, I was dubious that anything would ever come of it. I long had been told that wind energy doesn’t work in this part of the state. It is a western Kansas thing. But that seems to be changing. It hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity, but there is a wind farm developing not far from Douglas County.
An approximately 200-megawatt wind farm with 95 large turbines is under construction outside of Waverly in Coffey County. That’s less than an hour’s drive from here. (If you have ever been to Guy & Mae’s, the famous rib joint in Williamsburg, you are right next door to Waverly.) The next time you are on Interstate 35 between the Waverly and Melvern exits, look to the south and you can see some of the turbines. I’m not an expert on wind (hot air, yes; wind, no) but I grew up just a few miles from the site of the wind farm and the wind there seems a lot like the wind here.
There also once was a plan to build an approximately 200-MW wind farm near St. Joseph, Mo. That project was billed by its developers as a $400 million plan. That number seems hard to believe, but it certainly has me wondering how much value a wind farm does add to an area’s economy. We may try to look at what some of the communities out in western Kansas have experienced after allowing wind farms in their communities. It seems important to understand whether this moratorium is hampering significant economic development opportunities for Douglas County.
The St. Joseph area project, though, serves as a good reminder of how these projects can be controversial. My understanding is the project has been discontinued because there was concern the wind turbines would kill large numbers of birds near the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Wind turbines aren’t universally loved by environmentalists.
I think this issue does have the potential to be an interesting one to watch in Douglas County. Lawrence and Douglas County really do have a chance to become a green energy capital for the region. We already have a hydroelectric power company, we have at least two very active solar power companies, we have a handful of research-based companies, and importantly, we have KU researchers who are making progress on items such as biofuels and other renewable energy sources. This moratorium isn’t likely to cancel out any of that, but if not handled correctly, it is the type of thing that can give a community an unfavorable reputation in the industry.
• Speaking of reputations, there is a particular bakery in town that has a reputation of busting my elastic waistbands. It also has won some national kudos as well. Munchers Bakery at the Hillcrest Shopping Center at Ninth and Iowa streets, has been named the best bakery in Kansas in article published on MSN’s food and drink website.
The survey used results gathered by Foursquare, the city guide app that lets users save and highlight their favorite locations. Munchers ended up being the Kansas bakery that had the best Foursquare rating. The MSN article highlighted Munchers’ doughnuts, which the article said are both “cheap and fresh.”
Battle for control brewing in East Lawrence Neighborhood Association; look at renderings for proposed Ninth Street project
Get ready for a showdown, East Lawrence style. No, in this case, that doesn’t mean dueling muralists, drag races with Art Tougeau cars, or any of the other funky features that make East Lawrence such a hip place. Instead, we’re talking about an old-fashioned political showdown.
Word is circulating around the neighborhood and on social media sites that the Nov. 2 meeting of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association is going to feature a hotly-contested election for seats on the association’s board of directors. The big issue in the race is expected to be how candidates feel about the proposed plans to convert a portion of East Ninth Street into an arts corridor with a redesigned street that will accommodate more gathering places, more pedestrian and bicycle pathways, and other such features.
A Facebook group called Community and Culture on East Ninth Street announced on its page earlier this week that 13 new people will be running for the board of directors, and all of them support the East Ninth Street project.
“Clearly, residents are ready for a change,” the post states.
If you are confused, don’t feel bad. Somehow the East Ninth Street project has turned into a bit of a soap opera. It is odd because on its surface it looked like a project that would garner lots of support in East Lawrence because it involves art and a philosophy that reduces the importance of automobiles and increases the importance of pedestrian and bicycle activity. Those have all been items that traditionally have been high priorities for much of East Lawrence.
But there have been concerns expressed by some East Lawrence residents that the project creates too much potential for the area to become a linear entertainment district that links downtown and the East Lawrence Warehouse Arts District. There’s been concern about gentrification and property values too. Several of the people who have been most vocal in voicing those concerns are members of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association’s board of directors.
That has led some East Lawrence residents who support the project to say that the community is getting a wrong picture of how East Lawrence feels about the project. They say that there are lots of people in the neighborhood who support the project but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the East Lawrence board. It appears some board members have taken offense at that, saying that raising concerns doesn’t equate to opposition.
At some point, I think Bill Clinton arrives on the scene and starts questioning what the definition of “is” is. I don’t know. I may be wrong about that. But I think I’m correct in saying that it will be lively meeting on Nov. 2. As for how it will turn out, I don’t know. It will all depend on who shows up to vote.
Regardless, East Lawrence will elect whomever it elects. I’m pointing it out to all of you because the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association is a frequent participant in City Hall issues. East Lawrence is definitely one of the more politically active neighborhood associations in the city. A new board may have a new philosophy.
Whether it will really change much at City Hall, though, is debatable. Neighborhood associations have some power, but only if they are filled with a bunch of go-getters who know how to mobilize voters. Neighborhood associations — although they don’t officially do campaign work — are most powerful around election seasons. Neighborhood association leaders can help candidates win votes in their neighborhoods. But you don’t have to be on a board to mobilize people or to come out to City Commission meetings and speak out.
Look at what happened with the Oread Neighborhood Association. A couple of years ago, there were wholesale changes on that board. Landlords and tenants felt they were being underrepresented, and since landlords and tenants are the largest groups of people in Oread, they had plenty of votes to elect their own slate of candidates.
But several members of the long-term board didn’t stop being political forces once they were voted off the board. Instead, they formed a new association with a membership limited to “owner-occupants” of the Oread neighborhood. Now, when a contentious Oread issue comes before the commission, we all get the benefit of having two associations speak about it — the Oread Neighborhood Association and the Oread Residents Association.
It is almost like the division that existed in the neighborhood prior to the vote didn’t simply go away by changing the names on a board of directors sheet.
We’ll see how it all works out in East Lawrence. One issue that is significantly impacted by the vote is the association’s ability to apply for Community Development Block Grant money awarded by the city. The city recognizes only one official neighborhood association for an area. That association is the one that can apply for annual allocation of CDBG funds. So, that will be an issue to keep an eye on.
We don’t normally cover East Lawrence Neighborhood Association meetings, but we may go to this one. It is set for 7 p.m. on Nov. 2 in the library of New York Elementary School. You have to be a member of the association to vote, and presumably you have to live within the neighborhood to be a voting member.
No word on whether they’ll require voter ID at the polls. Whoops, sorry about that. That’s a different debate.
In other news and notes from around town:
• We had coverage earlier this week about the concept plan for the East Ninth Street project. Well, here’s some bonus coverage. I had a chance to go through the plan a bit, and thought it would be fun to share some images from the document. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. And in Lawrence, if you can figure out how to cut a thousand words out of a debate, you ought to do it. (I jest. Debate in Lawrence has kept me employed for a long time.)
Here’s one rendering that gives you an idea of just how much narrower the street would become, and how much more room would be devoted to bicycle and pedestrian uses. Sidewalks on each side of the street would be more than 20 feet wide — although not all of the area would be paved. Some would be greenspace. In total, there would be 31 feet of pavement devoted to vehicles — two 10 foot lanes and an 11-foot center turn lane. There would be about 49 feet devoted to bicycles and pedestrians. If approved, this street will be the most prominent example yet of Lawrence’s new philosophy on roads.
The city has started to implement that philosophy on the new 31st Street east of Haskell. It has narrower lanes, and wider sidewalks and multipurpose paths. The city also has been contemplating a design for Kasold that also seeks to implement some of the “road diet” ideas. It has met with some opposition. It will be interesting to see if this project is viewed differently. One difference is that with Kasold, the city is talking about an actual reduction in lanes. On Ninth Street, the number of lanes wouldn’t be reduced but rather the lanes would be narrowed. It may not reduce the capacity of the road much, but rather give the street a different feel and perhaps encourage slower speeds.
Here’s a rendering that shows how it may look in real life. Notice the area to the left with tables and chairs. That’s public property. Designers are referring to the area as a patio for the street.
Here’s one more. We ran it earlier in the week, but in case you missed it, this rendering shows how the area may look around the old Turnhalle building, which is just east of downtown. Notice the use of pavers on the road rather than traditional concrete or asphalt.
City hired consultants are expected to keep working on the design concept, with a goal of having a more definitive plan in February.
Another new retailer slated for 27th and Iowa intersection; seminar to help manufacturing start-up companies
I know I spend a lot of time figuring out what I’m going to wear to a KU sporting event. I have to figure out whether I’m more likely to drip nacho cheese sauce or ketchup on my chest, and then I have to color-coordinate appropriately. But my understanding is that females go through a bit different process. Now, there’s a new south Iowa Street store betting that KU women are looking for something different when it comes to game day apparel.
Sweet Tea and Caviar Boutique is set to open on Saturday in the shopping center on the northwest corner of 27th and Iowa streets. Owner Leslie Stauffer said her experience has been that women in other college markets have access to trendier game day clothing than what KU women have here.
“I grew up in southern Oklahoma, and game day dresses are really big down there,” Stauffer said. “There are tons of stores there that have really unique clothing for women. But when I go here, stores really just had the T-shirts. I didn’t find as many of the trendy items.”
Looking around at the store’s website, it looks like items will include a variety of KU dresses — long sleeve, short sleeve, with pockets, without pockets, tie neck, etc., etc., etc.. (Etc, of course, is Latin for an “extra hour of shopping.”) There are T-shirts too, including one brand that carries the tag line “Love me like you love football.” (OK, but we’re going to need more chips and nacho cheese sauce.) The store even has accessories like crocheted headbands, Mason jar beverage cups and a lot of jewelry.
The store also carries some gear from other schools, predominately Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The store, however, carries many items that aren’t branded collegiate merchandise but rather are just fashionable clothing that feature color schemes that women may like to wear to game day or other events.
The boutique also carries items that go beyond the game day theme. The store has a line of baby clothing and accessories, Among the baby lines carried is one called “bunch o’ bloomers” and “butterfly bloomers for fluttering bums.” The lines feature either big flowers or big butterflies strategically placed on the bottoms of baby pull-ups. (For heaven’s sake, I’m going to have to intentionally spill nacho cheese sauce on my shirt just to feel manly again after writing this article.)
“We try to carry a lot of cute stuff that you just won’t find at big box stores,” said Stauffer, who also owns the Something Blue Salon that is next door to the boutique.
The boutique, though, is located in the midst of Lawrence’s big box retailers. It is just across the street from the newly redeveloped shopping center that includes Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ulta, Chick-fil-A and coming soon The Boot Barn. In case you are confused about where the store is located, it is just west of the Hancock Fabrics store, and is near where the Douglas County Treasurer’s satellite office was located. (Don’t worry, the Treasurer’s office didn’t go out of business. As we previously have reported, it opened a satellite office in the retail building in front of Home Depot.)
The intersection of 27th and Iowa streets is becoming a significant retail and dining destination. (You may recall that Buffalo Wild Wings has located at the corner.) There certainly continues to be talk of the area around 25th and Iowa streets redeveloping with major retailers as well. Plus, as we’ve previously reported, the Tower Plaza shopping center already has filed plans to revamp itself, including modifications that will allow a Popeye’s chicken to locate near the intersection.
I think it will be a busy year for South Iowa Street. It is good to see that locally owned businesses are working to be a part of the corridor as well.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe your dream for a local business is more along the lines of manufacturing. (Non-staining nacho cheese sauce, perhaps.) If so, the city, Kansas University and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce are teaming up to host a seminar on Friday that talks about starting a local manufacturing company.
Leaders with three Lawrence-based businesses that are involved with manufacturing in one form or another will provide insight and answer questions about the process. Steve Bradt of Free State Brewing Company, Ben Farmer of Alchemy Coffee & Bake House and Brad Russell of Hilary’s Eat Well all will be part of the event.
The event — part of the community’s Biz Fuel initiative, which aims to spur new start-up firms in Lawrence — is set for 11 a.m Friday at the Peaslee Tech training center, 2920 Haskell Ave.
There is no charge to attend the event, but people are asked to pre-register at this website.
Deal in the works for KC firm to buy homegrown, Lawrence manufacturer; Ulta Beauty open on south Iowa
In one way, Lawrence is kind of a hot spot in the extreme sports world of off-road racing, and I’m not even talking about the white-knuckle trek my wife’s Ford Taurus takes when there is a sale on South Iowa Street. No, Lawrence is home to HiPer Technologies, a homegrown manufacturing firm that has become a leader in making high-performance racing wheels for the ATV market. Well, there’s big news on the horizon for HiPer, and also questions about whether its future will remain in Lawrence.
HiPer is close to finalizing a deal to be purchased by Kansas City-based Weld Wheels, which is generally regarded as the top manufacturer of racing wheels in America. News of the deal started to circulated around town, and Andy Harris, chief executive of Lawrence’s HiPer, confirmed to me that the shareholders of HiPer have approved the sale. Now, HiPer and Weld are working on finalizing the remaining details.
One detail that is unclear is whether HiPer will continue to operate its Lawrence manufacturing facility near 31st and Haskell, or whether the company’s production will move to Weld’s large facility in Kansas City.
As word started to make its way through certain circles of town, people were telling me that HiPer indeed would be moving to Kansas City. Harris, though, said that detail is still being worked out.
“Is there a possibility for that to happen? Of course,” Harris said. “But that decision hasn’t been made yet.”
Harris said a timeline for finalizing the sale to Weld hasn’t yet been determined.
HiPer has 11 employees at its Lawrence facility, which is at 2920 Haskell Ave. If that address sounds familiar to you, then you need to spend less time memorizing the phone book. But indeed, it is the same address as the Peaslee Tech vocational training center. HiPer and Peaslee Tech share space in the same building, which previously was occupied by Honeywell Avionics years ago. HiPer is a tenant of the building, and its lease payments go to help support the operations of Peaslee Tech. No word yet on how a move may impact that situation. UPDATE: I chatted with Hugh Carter of the Lawrence chamber of commerce, and he said the chamber has been aware of the pending sale. He said both parties have been in discussions about how Peaslee Tech will be made financially whole as part of any move by the HiPer, if it comes to that. Carter said if the HiPer space becomes vacant, he thinks there are some good possibilities to lease it to businesses that want to be near the new Peaslee Tech and the school district's College & Career Center that has developed on the site.
I’m not exactly sure what the fortunes of HiPer have been in recent years, but it at one point was a technology company that generated a lot of excitement in Lawrence. Lawrence native Tom Darnell Jr. was a founder of the company because he worked on developing this new carbon fiber product with DuPont in the early 2000s. I thought carbon fiber was just a new flavor for my Shredded Wheat, but I soon learned it actually is a material that is more resistant to impact than aluminum but also lighter than aluminum. The unique profile of being both lightweight and strong has caught the attention of racers and other high performance wheel users.
“The majority of top (ATV) drivers use our wheels,” Harris said.
I think the company also has been looking for other products that can be made using the carbon fiber material, and some of the intellectual property is probably part of the proposed deal with Weld.
But thus far, HiPer has mainly been able to focus only on the ATV and utility terrain vehicle market. Weld, on the other hand, is in a wide range of wheel markets.
“We are definitely trying to expand our product line, and Weld is a good strategic partner to do that,” Harris said.
I’ll keep you updated on how the deal progresses.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Some people are excited about Menards opening — its first official day is today — while others are excited about Ulta Beauty opening on south Iowa Street. (And I suppose there are many excited about both because I know a little rouge can be the perfect complement to a tool belt.) Well, Ulta has opened its new Lawrence location at 27th and Iowa streets. The store opened over the weekend, and is going through its soft opening currently.
Its grand opening is scheduled for this weekend. I’ve had difficulty catching up with Ulta officials to get the details, but keep an eye out at the location. The store, in case you have forgotten, is next to Dick's Sporting Goods at the southwest corner of 27th and Iowa streets.
Ulta lists itself as the largest beauty retailer in the country, and offers salon services in addition to cosmetics, fragrance, skin and hair care products.
UPDATE: The store will host grand opening festivities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m. each day. The store will provide a free gift valued at $5 to $100 for the first 100 people on each day of the grand opening. The store also will be giving away to select winners free hair and skin services at the store's full-service salon.
With Ulta open, three of the four major pieces of that retail development are now up and running. (Chick-fil-A is the third piece.) Now we’re waiting on an opening date for Boot Barn, which sells boots, jeans and other items. It is opening next door to Dick's Sporting Goods as well. I’ll let you know if I hear an opening date for that business.
Lawrence company begins manufacturing of specialty bicycles; Douglas County ranks as state’s best retirement community
The sport of bike polo always has confused me and frustrated my horse. (I don’t know if he’s madder about where I put the handlebars or how I lube the chain.) But the sport is becoming a big deal for a Lawrence-based company.
Lawrence-based Fixcraft has begun manufacturing a new bicycle that is specifically designed for bike polo players. Fixcraft — which is a division of Lawrence’s Blue Collar Press — went to market earlier this month with the bike, which it has branded Ad Astra.
What’s different about a bike polo bicycle? Well, it has some special features, like a system that allows both the front and back brakes to be operated with one hand — so the other hand can hold a mallet — and a shorter wheelbase that allows for quicker turns. But the main characteristic is just a heavy-duty design.
“It is a super-strong, overbuilt bike for anyone,” said Sean Ingram, president of Blue Collar. “It is just that bike polo people are notorious for breaking everything. A lot of folks get an old 10-speed and then rip it into pieces. We wanted to provide a bike that will last.”
Ingram said the design work for the Ad Astra occurred both in Lawrence and St. Louis, the headquarters for Tree Bicycle Company, whose founder has been a partner on the project. Sales and shipping operations, however, are based entirely in Lawrence, out of the company’s warehouse and headquarters in the 2200 block of Delaware Street.
Thus far, Ingram said he’s pleased with the early results of the effort. The bike sells for $499 online, and the company also has worked a deal to have it sold in 15 dealer locations across the United States, plus through a network in Germany.
The bicycle is the biggest bike polo venture for Fixcraft, but not the first. The company has been manufacturing a host of apparel and bike polo gear for quite some time. It produces uniforms, mallets, grips, and even is a partner in creating the official ball for the sport.
“We used to say we made everything but the bike, but now we do that too,” Ingram said.
Ingram got into the business after he started playing bike polo about six years ago. If you have never seen the sport, Journal-World photographer and writer Nick Krug did a recent article on it.
Ingram is not just having great fun with the sport, but thinks there’s a chance to grow it into a successful venture. In January, he organized a professional bike polo match in the Expo Center in Topeka. He’s in negotiations with a sports network to broadcast the match.
The bike polo venture has been an interesting evolution for Blue Collar, which primarily has been known as a T-shirt company. But the company has developed a niche as a supplier of a variety of goods for multiple Internet-based retailers. Now, Ingram thinks bike polo has a chance to be a significant part of the company too, once the sport develops a bit bigger following.
“For us, the future is to grow the sport, and we think Lawrence will become the home base of professional bike polo,” Ingram said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It has been my experience that nothing attract retirees in greater numbers than an activity that allows you to legally wield a mallet. Perhaps that is why Lawrence and Douglas County have fared so well in a new ranking of retirement communities.
Douglas County has been named the top retirement community in Kansas, according to a new study published on MSN.com and conducted by its partner FindTheHome.com. The real estate website looked at counties across the country, and then picked the best retirement community in each state based off of factors such as quality of healthcare, housing, entertainment options and other factors. Of the 50 top communities chosen, Douglas County ended up having the 11th best score.
Douglas County scored really well in the quality of healthcare category. It received a score of 92 out of 100, which helped move it up in the rankings. Here’s a look at Douglas County’s full score sheet, with 100 being the top score in each category:
— Care Score (quality of local hospitals, nursing homes and care centers): 92
— Housing Score (median sale prices, percentage of properties with rent under $1,500 per month): 82.5
— Convenience Score (walkability of the community and number of grocery stores and restaurants per capita): 86.7
— Entertainment Score (amount of universities, recreational facilities, libraries and parks per capita): 64.6
— Community Score (percent of the population over age 65 with college degrees): 84
I though you might be interested in seeing how some of our neighbors compare. Here’s a look at the top destinations in our border states. Note, I’m identifying them by the largest city in the county that was ranked because unless you are a geography nerd, you don’t know your counties:
— No. 39 Steamboat Springs, Colo. Care index: 40.5; Housing 85.1; Convenience: 88.6; Entertainment 76; Community 83.7
— No. 36 Stillwater, Okla.: Care index 82.6; Housing 82.8; Convenience 86.9; Entertainment 55.2; Community 81.9
— No. 33 Nebraska City, Neb.: Care index 88.1; Housing 80.4; Convenience 85.1; Entertainment 64.6; Community 81.2
— No. 23 Columbia, Mo.: Care index 91.7; Housing 84.8; Convenience 88.4; Entertainment 50.6; Community 83.7.
You’ll notice with Lawrence and Columbia, the two college towns were pretty close in every category except entertainment. Lawrence’s higher score in that category pushed Lawrence above Columbia in the rankings.
Poor Columbia. And soon basketball season will start, and there really will be a dearth of entertainment.
Eastern Lawrence building seeks to redevelop as medical office center; figuring out the latest downtown bicycle parking plan
Residents in eastern Lawrence may soon have better access to some health care providers. A project is in the works to convert an office building near 23rd and Harper streets into a medical office building.
DaVita Dialysis has signed a deal to locate in a portion of the vacant office building at 1918 E. 23rd St., which previously housed the offices of SurePoint, an online pharmacy company that is based in Lawrence.
DaVita will provide a full range of dialysis services for area patients, said Susie Mercer, a facility administrator for the company’s Lawrence operations. DaVita already operates a dialysis center at 330 Arkansas St. near Lawrence Memorial Hospital. But she said patient volume had grown to the point that a second facility was needed.
“We’re kind of busting at the seams right now,” Mercer said. “This will give us more capacity, and we certainly have patients on the east side of town that will appreciate a more convenient location.”
Dialysis — which is a treatment used for people suffering from a variety of kidney diseases or conditions — often is required to be performed three times per week, Mercer said. Growth in the number of people requiring dialysis has occurred, in part, because treatments are better and people are living longer.
“We have people in their late 80s doing dialysis now,” Mercer said. “When I started here 15 years ago, we had 35 patients. Now we have close to 60.”
DaVita, however is taking only 6,000 square feet of the approximately 10,000 square foot building. Ken Hayes, a commercial real estate agent with Lawrence’s Hedges Realty Executives, said the building is seeking another medical user or two for the remaining space. Hayes said he thinks there is potential for certain types of medical providers to tap into the east-side market of town.
Medical office development has been kind of a hot segment of Lawrence’s commercial real estate industry, but most of the activity of late has been in the northwest section of town. Two urgent care medical centers have projects along West Sixth Street — one is open near Sixth and Kasold and the other is slated for Sixth and Folks Road. A Topeka-based ear, nose and throat practice has opened in a new office building at Sixth and Folks Road, a new doctor’s office has opened near the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa and dentist offices also have been locating along the West Sixth Street portion.
We’ll see whether a similar trend gets started in eastern Lawrence.
As for DaVita, construction work has begun to remodel the office building. Mercer said the company hopes to occupy the building sometime in December. And in case you are worried about what happened to SurePoint, which has been a growing business for Lawrence, remember that we previously reported that it has moved its offices to a building just behind Kohl’s in south Lawrence.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Hayes also has another interesting eastern Lawrence property that he’s involved with. Hayes has the listing for the shopping center at 19th and Haskell streets. I have no major updates to pass along on that, but Hayes confirmed he’s not just trying to lease a few storefront spaces in the location. (Although he is doing that too.) He’s said the owners of the property are interested in a complete sale or total redevelopment of the property.
Hayes said some out-of-town buyers have expressed some interest in the property. Hayes said the property has an oversized parking lot, which would allow for the development of some out-parcels that could attract new businesses to the area.
“Redevelopment really could add value to the property, and really could add value to the entire area,” he said.
It may be an area to keep an eye on in the future.
• I remember the day when a proposal to take away downtown parking spaces on busy Massachusetts Street would require me to pack a tent, a case of beanie weenies, a portable generator for the chocolate fountain and all the other necessary survival gear. I would need it in order to endure the long City Commission meeting that would surely result from the proposal.
But perhaps the world has changed because city commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will begin the process of removing two prime parking spots near Massachusetts Street, and they’re scheduled to do so with a simple vote on their consent agenda.
As we previously have reported, the idea involves trying to create more parking spaces for bicycles in downtown Lawrence. A plan endorsed by the Lawrence-Douglas County Bicycle Advisory Committee calls for one vehicular parking space near Ninth and Massachusetts streets to be removed and one near Eighth and Massachusetts streets to be removed, among other things. The two spaces would be replaced with bike corrals that would each accommodate 10 bikes.
The idea is catching on in other places, and it may do so here as well. Commissioners aren’t slated to give final approval to the idea on Tuesday, but rather they are being asked to approve an application for an approximately $9,000 grant to fund the project.
It will be interesting to watch how the issue unfolds. You don’t have to spend much time reading the letters to the editor of the LJWorld to understand that there is some tension brewing between some folks who love their automobiles and some who desire a much more pedestrian/bicycle oriented future. Much of the tension has focused on the proposal to redesign a portion of Kasold Drive, but the tensions may not be limited to just that issue.
How you view this bike parking issue may boil down to whether you believe there is a shortage of bike parking in downtown Lawrence — or in particular on Massachusetts Street — or whether you think this effort is more about raising the visibility of bicycling as a form transportation in Lawrence.
City staff members that have proposed the idea have described it as a little bit of both. In a memo to commissioners, the city’s planning staff says there are 306 bicycle parking spaces in downtown Lawrence, compared to 4,083 spaces for vehicles. The memo notes that new developments in other areas of town would be required to have a greater percentage of parking spaces than what is currently provided in downtown.
But one thing to keep in mind is that the city’s count of bicycle parking spaces does not include the several hundred parking meter poles that line Massachusetts Street and various side streets. It is legal to lock your bike to those poles (as long as it is not a handicapped spot), and certainly many bicyclists do park their bikes on those poles. If those poles were included in the city’s analysis, the downtown bike parking numbers would look different.
It should be noted though that the parking meter poles aren’t perfect bike parking locations. Many of the poles don’t allow bicyclists to use a U-lock to lock their bike to the poles. Instead, they have to use a cable lock to secure their bikes. The cable locks are more susceptible to somebody carrying around a pair of bolt cutters, cutting the cable and making off with your bike. U-locks, I’m told, are preferred by some bikers. Of course, not all vehicle parking spaces are perfect either. As my insurance agent will tell you, a parallel parking space involves many imperfections for a hick with an F-150.
Thus far, there have been no discussions at City Hall about making it illegal for bicyclists to use the parking meter poles as parking spaces. In fact, the city has made accommodations to make some of the poles more accessible. You can add a special loop onto the poles to make them accessible for U-locks. Whether adding such loops to all parking meter poles would be more expensive than the proposed $9,000 plan, I don’t know. I have heard from some bikers that would be upset if the city did anything to make it illegal to park their bikes at the parking meter poles. It makes for convenient parking.
If you believe that the parking meter poles are legitimate bike parking spaces — and I realize perhaps some folks don’t — then it is hard to argue there is a shortage of parking spaces for bicyclists on Massachusetts Street, at least not a parking shortage comparable to what vehicles face. I’ve seen many occasions when every vehicle space on Massachusetts Street has been occupied. I’ve never seen every parking meter pole on Mass. Street occupied by a bike.
But as I mentioned earlier, staff members also have noted this plan is at least partially about increasing the visibility of bicycling in Lawrence. In the memo, the staff notes that replacing some vehicle parking spaces with bike corrals will help “advertise bike friendliness and bring legitimacy and visibility to bicycling for transportation.”
Let me be clear: I’m not saying that is inappropriate. It may be a really good goal, and it may be a really good use of public policy to promote that goal. But, it seems to me that if that is what we are doing here, then people need to understand that is what we are doing. I suspect there are some people who don’t want to reduce downtown parking spaces unless there is an actual shortage of bicycle parking spaces.
As I said, it will be interesting to watch not only what happens with this plan, but what proposals come forward in the future. The staff memo indicates this project is a pilot project that could lead to other downtown bike parking proposals in the future.
That noise you hear is me trying to whistle the theme music that played before the big showdown scene in High Noon. That’s right, get ready for the showdown that has been eagerly awaited by everyone with an empty toolbox, a broken ladder, and plans of grandeur to build a massive Royals monument in the living room. Lawrence’s Menards store — right next to the Home Depot at 31st and Iowa streets — will open on Tuesday.
We began reporting earlier this month that sources and employees at the store told us the mega retailer would open on Tuesday or Wednesday, but now Menards has made it official with a news release saying that Tuesday is the day.
In its release, the company said the new store at 1470 W. 31st St. will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
“We have noticed there is much excitement in the air with the anticipated store opening,” Rob Jones, general manager for the Lawrence Menards, said in a press release. “Our team has been working really hard, and we’re excited to show everyone what we’ve been working on starting Tuesday.”
For those of you not familiar with a Menards, it is a major home improvement retailer, selling a full line of building materials, but it also carries name brand appliances, pet products, lawn and garden supplies, and the store even carries what it calls “convenience groceries.” (I remember seeing one of those approximately 5 gallon jugs of cheese puffs at a Menards store. Combine that with one of those beverage can holders that you wear around your head with an easy-to-access straw, and that is both convenience and luxury defined.)
The opening of the store is the latest game changer for the south Iowa Street retail corridor — which has seen Dick’s Sporting Goods open at 27th and Iowa and a host of other smaller redevelopments up and down the corridor. Menards is the biggest single store — by square footage — to open in Lawrence in years. When you look at the size of Menards you have to look at what is both inside and outside. Unlike Home Depot, Menards has an outdoor lumber yard. That combination makes Menards more than twice as large as the Home Depot store, which was built to smaller-than-normal standards after Home Depot in the early 2000s failed to win approval from the City Commission for a full-sized store.
As I’ve said before, it will be interesting to see if Home Depot tries to expand its Lawrence store. It will be even more interesting to see if this current City Commission would approve an expansion. The majority of the commission has changed since the Menards plans were approved by City Hall in 2013.
We’ll have to wait and see on all of that. A more immediate issue to watch is whether more development begins to occur around the Menards site. Everybody has been focused on the big Menards store, but the development plans for the project allow for several other lots surrounding the Menards to be developed with retail uses. The last plans I saw showed six lots that could accommodate everything from typical chain restaurants to multi-tenant buildings similar to what exists in front of Best Buy and Home Depot. No specific plans have been filed for buildings yet, and it is a little hard to estimate how large of a store the sites could accommodate because there are some floodplain issues in play. But I’ve previously had some people familiar with development tell me that perhaps a 20,000 square foot building could be accommodated, which could bring several national retailers into play.
As for whether the opening of Menards will create high-pitched competition in the home improvement sector, we’ll have to wait and see on that too. Menards and Home Depot are obviously used to competing against each other in a lot of markets. I’m sure those two retailers know what they need to do to compete. It will be interesting to watch how the competition impacts other, smaller businesses that are in that segment. I thinking about everything from McCray Lumber on Sixth Street to the Ace Hardware stores in town. I even heard from some people associated with the wholesale building, plumbing and electrical supply businesses in town. Menards is expected to compete for some of that wholesale business too. We’ll see how that all shakes out.
Lawrence technology startup adds 15 employees, wins venture capital funding; a downtown parking question
A Lawrence start-up company that’s seeking to reduce the “creepiness” factor of Internet advertising has added 15 employees since January, and has landed another successful round of venture capital funding.
Bixy is a company we’ve told you about before. In January, we reported Lawrence resident Kyle Johnson had founded the company and had begun testing of a new platform that allows Internet advertisers to reach customers without the traditional targeting practices.
You are familiar with those targeting practices. Thanks to Google and others, advertisers have all types of insights into your web searching history, and then make inferences about what type of products you may be interested in purchasing.
Take, for example, the ads I was receiving during yesterday’s Royals game. Early in the game, when the Royals were ahead, I got ads for cheap champagne. Late in the game, when the Royals were behind, I got ads for cheap bourbon. In between, I got ads for cheap hot dogs. (That was mainly my fault. I was hungry and, of course, cheap.) By the end of the game, Google had become worn out by the back and forth, and reverted to its fallback for me: cheap Rogaine, which promises to grow hair but can’t guarantee the location.
Some people think such targeting is creepy (not to mention the places hair will grow), and Johnson’s company is trying to build a business around avoiding such ad targeting. The Bixy technology creates a system where people complete a form about their interests and can pick from a list of companies that they would be interested in receiving ads from. Advertisers then can buy access to that information and use it to deliver ads to those consumers. So, instead of having to infer what a person is interested in, consumers just tell advertisers what they’re interested in. Consumers can earn deals by voluntarily sharing their preferences.
When I chatted with Johnson in January, the company had about 10 employees and was seeking $750,000 in venture capital. Today, the company has 25 employees — a mix of full and part-time positions — has taken new office space in East Lawrence’s Cider Gallery, and has landed a significant portion of the $750,000 in funding, Johnson said.
“We have really been able to ramp up,” said Johnson, who said he couldn’t disclose the venture capital details, but described the amount raised as a “good six-figure amount.”
Johnson said the venture capital round included a number of local investors, but also some Silicon Valley money. Johnson, though, said the company is committed to remaining in Lawrence.
“We kind of have a chip on our shoulder about proving that people don’t have to move to Silicon Valley to make game-changing companies,” Johnson said. “Our cost structure here is a lot better than it would be if we moved to Silicon Valley.”
Johnson said the company has been using a variety of KU students to staff the company and has been converting some from part-time to full-time positions as they graduate. He said the company likely will get to 35 employees soon.
The company currently is doing its test marketing in Lawrence and Kansas City, but it has Dallas and Chicago on its near-term expansion list. The company also is developing a desktop system to go with its current technology, which focuses on advertising delivered to smartphones and other mobile devices.
The company also is in discussions with a national, publicly traded firm that Johnson said he couldn’t yet disclose.
“They’re a big company with millions of monthly customers, and that can help us reach a national audience faster,” Johnson said.
So, still early in the game for this company, but it is one of several in the Lawrence startup scene worth keeping an eye on.
In other news and notes from around town:
• During the euphoria of the Royals win, I decided to take a trip back in time by searching for George Brett’s famed 1980 postseason home run against the Yankees. Trust me, you don’t want to know what type of ads you get when you Google something called a Goose Gossage.
But that’s not the only time traveling I’ve been doing lately. I’ve had some readers pose a downtown parking question that has taken me back to 1997.
Some readers have noticed that the parking lot at the former Borders bookstore location at Seventh and New Hampshire streets has been posted as private parking. A few folks, though, remember that the city in 1997 helped pay for that parking lot when Borders was being constructed. The city for its $100,000 in funding got 67 public spaces in the lot as part of its contribution to the project. So, that led to the question of where are those public parking spaces?
The answer: They moved, but they’re still nearby. What some readers have forgotten is that in 2004 the owners of the Borders property came to the city and sought a modification of the parking arrangement. As the Hobbs-Taylor Lofts building was being constructed, the agreement was modified that all 67 public parking spaces would be located on the Hobbs-Taylor property instead of the Borders property. Indeed, there are public parking spaces behind the Hobbs-Taylor loft building and along the north edge of the building. I’m not sure I accurately counted every single space, but there are more than 60 of them, with a mix of metered spaces and long term spaces that require a city parking permit.
So, your days of parking in the Borders parking lot for free really may be numbered. There’s no loophole there that is going allow you to argue to the traffic court that this is really a public lot.
Now, I’ve got to get back to arguing with Google. That’s definitely not the Goose I was talking about.
There’s a new report out that says women in Kansas are getting a raw deal. I know I have heard a sentiment similar to that uttered in my house — sometimes with a bullhorn, which really is a rude thing to do to a fellow who is doing some closed-eye-thinking on the couch. But now there is a study based on a variety of statistical data that ranks Kansas as the 7th Worst State for Women in all of America.
The study is by the financial website 24/7 Wall Street, and, to be honest, I’m not sure the study is a great one. It attempts to tackle a pretty big topic: the overall environment for women, ranging from financial to health care to even the political environment.
So, I think there is plenty of reason to debate whether Kansas is the 7th Worst State in the country for women. Maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t. The study didn’t really convince me.
But some of the data the study used to describe Kansas did catch my attention. The study found — by compiling Census data — that Kansas has the 14th lowest earnings average for female workers when compared with male workers. Women, on average, earn only 77 percent of what men earn. (If you were wondering what that loud noise was, that is what it sounds like when someone in my house yells “Duh” through a bullhorn.)
In other words, that statistic isn’t shocking to some in the population, but it is interesting to note that we do rank nearly in the bottom quarter of the country. A more interesting number, though, is the percentage of management jobs held by women. The study found Kansas has the sixth lowest rate of management jobs held by women. The national average is about 40 percent, while in Kansas it is just over 35 percent.
What’s more, the report says a typical male manager in Kansas earns a median salary of $71,167 per year. The median annual income for a female manager in a similar position is $49,875, according to data the report gathered from the Census Bureau.
I thought it would be interesting to dive a little deeper and look at the pay equity issue at a city level. So, I looked at data from the Census Bureau’s five-year American Community Survey, which provides an estimate for median earnings of full-time, year-round workers by gender for a variety of cities. Here’s what I found:
— Lawrence: $36,865 for women; $45,359 for men. 81 percent of male earnings
— Topeka: $34,014 for women; $41,641 for men. About 82 percent of male earnings
— Olathe: $43,265 for women; $60,410 for men. About 72 percent of male earnings
— Overland Park: $45,426 for women; $67,205 for men. About 68 percent of male earnings
— Wichita: $33,908 for women; $45,288 for men. About 75 percent of male earnings
— Manhattan: $34,711 for women; $42,078 for men. 82 percent of male earnings
— Salina: $30,706 for women; $38,251 for men. 80 percent of male earnings
— Columbia, Mo.: $37,793 for women; $44,731 for men. 84 percent of male earnings
— Boulder, Colo.: $46,965 for women; $62,682 for men. About 75 percent of male earnings
All these numbers can be a bit tricky. You have to factor in that women and men aren’t drawn to the same professions in equal numbers. For instance, there may be more women interested in working in the field of social work than men. That’s a notoriously low-paying industry for both men and women, but if women make up a greater percentage of the social service workforce, it will drag down the overall average for female earnings more than it will for the male average.
The numbers, though, are interesting. The fact that Kansas ranks low compared with other states is worth more thought. It also is interesting to see how larger economies — Olathe, Overland Park, Wichita and Boulder — all have trouble maintaining equity rates. I’m not sure what that means. If I can just get some uninterrupted time to recline on my thinking couch, though, I'll get back to you on that.
Health club buys west Lawrence tennis center; plans advance for tennis expansion at Rock Chalk Park; more on Menards
This is indeed the weekend when many in Lawrence will start to shift their attention from that sport played with the funny shaped ball to one played with a round ball. That’s right. It is time to turn our focus to tennis. What? What were you thinking, and why do you have Beware of the Phog written on your forehead? Maybe you have something else on your mind, but tennis is where some multimillion dollar developments are occurring.
As we reported in July, KU Athletics is working on a deal to build a new 78,000-square-foot tennis center complete with six indoor courts and six outdoor courts at Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence. At the time, KU officials said they weren’t sure what they would do with the university’s existing tennis center at 5200 Clinton Parkway in west Lawrence.
Well, it now looks like Genesis Health Clubs is going to get into the tennis business in Lawrence. The company has bought the Jayhawk Tennis Center and a vacant piece of ground next to the tennis center, according to land transfer filings at the Douglas County Courthouse. I’ve been hearing for weeks that Genesis was working on a deal to purchase the tennis center, and I’ve tried to get folks to talk to me about it. But they’ve avoided my phone calls like John McEnroe avoids pleasantries with a line judge. I’ve got a call into them now that the sale has been completed, so hopefully I’ll hear back and have more information to report.
When I originally heard of the deal, I assumed Genesis was buying the building in order to convert it into a far west Lawrence fitness center. But members at Genesis say they’ve been told the idea is to use the building as a tennis center. Who knows, maybe there also will be a fitness center component to the facility as well, and the vacant land gives the company quite a few options.
If the idea is to maintain it as a tennis center, that could get interesting. KU officials tell me their plans very much include selling public memberships to the new tennis center at Rock Chalk Park. If Genesis does so as well at Clinton Parkway, Lawrence will have two public tennis centers. As I’ve long said, there’s a reason why the inventor of tennis is buried in Lawrence. Am I confused again?
In all seriousness, I am told Lawrence does have a pretty active tennis community. The new facility at Rock Chalk Park certainly could put Lawrence in the running to host some sizable tennis events. Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at KU, said the new facility would give the university a chance to host the Big 12 Championships in Lawrence. The last time KU won the right to host the Big 12 meet, it used courts in the Plaza area of Kansas City, Marchiony said.
Marchiony said KU would make the facility available to noncollegiate tennis tournaments and events as well. The new facility could be paired with the eight existing lighted, outdoor tennis courts that are owned by the city and are adjacent to the city’s recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.
KU’s tennis center basically will just be at the other end of the parking lot from those courts. Plans call for the tennis center to be on the southern end of Rock Chalk Park, just south of KU’s soccer field.
In addition to the six indoor courts and six outdoor courts, plans call for the center to have an elevated seating area that can accommodate about 500 spectators in the indoor facility. The center also will have an expanded locker room for the KU women’s tennis team, and a special members lounge and locker room, according to Paul Werner, the Lawrence-based architect designing the project.
The new facility will be a significant upgrade over the current facility at Clinton Parkway. That facility has five indoor courts, limited spectator seating, and spectators often can’t see the play that is happening on all courts.
Marchiony said KU hopes to be able to move into the new center in time for the start of the KU women’s spring 2017 season. Marchiony said KU has struck a deal to continue playing at the Clinton Parkway facility in the interim.
As we previously reported in July, the KU tennis center at Rock Chalk Park will be built using a public-private partnership that is similar to what KU used to build its track and field, soccer and softball facilities at Rock Chalk Park. The tennis facility will be owned by an entity led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel. The Fritzel entity — Bliss Sports — also owns the track and field, soccer and softball facilities, but leases them to KU Athletics, although the Fritzel entity retains some rights to use the facilities for private uses.
The sale of the Clinton Parkway property is reflective of that partnership. KU Athletics — and its related entity Jayhawk Tennis Center LLC — did not directly sell the center to Genesis Health Clubs. Instead KU Athletics sold the property to Fritzel’s Bliss Sports. Bliss Sports later that day then sold the property to Genesis Health Clubs.
Marchiony said KU Athletics made the decision to sell the property to Bliss, and left it to Bliss to decide what it wanted to do with the property. Terms of the deal between Bliss and KU Athletics weren’t disclosed, but Marchiony said it was a fair market transaction.
As for the Rock Chalk tennis center, it already has won a positive recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. It now needs to win special use permit approval from the Lawrence City Commission. That appears to be a pretty straightforward approval. There have been no requests for tax incentives or for financial participation from the city, which would complicate the approval process at City Hall. I look for the project to be on the City Commission’s agenda in the next few weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I reported earlier this week that I thought we would get an announcement from Menards soon on the opening date for its new store near 31st and Iowa. I also told you that I had heard from some folks that Oct. 20 was a likely date. Since that report, I have heard from more employees of the store who say they definitely have been told to prepare for an Oct. 21 opening, although there may be some activity of a special nature on Oct. 20 as well. Like I said earlier, we should get an official announcement next week.
Parking questions loom for Here @ Kansas apartment project as high-tech parking company files for bankruptcy, stops work on project
When the previous Lawrence City Commission approved a controversial set of financial incentives for the $75 million Here @ Kansas apartment project near Memorial Stadium, one of the selling points was a high-tech, robotic parking garage that would be a showpiece for the project.
Well, that high-tech garage now appears to be a high-tech problem, which may leave neighbors of the apartment project worried about where everyone is going to park. The manufacturer of the parking garage system, Boomerang Systems Inc., has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In addition, it is suing one of its primary lenders, and in that lawsuit it has confirmed it has had to stop work on the parking system for the Lawrence apartment project, according to a report by the legal website Law360.
Interim City Manager Diane Stoddard told me this morning that the city is aware of the situation and is monitoring it closely. The concern, of course, is how the apartment project will handle parking for its hundreds of tenants if the parking system isn’t available. It is a big question because the project has 237 apartments, or 624 bedrooms. The project at 1101 and 1115 Indiana St. doesn’t have a surface parking lot. All the parking for the apartments was to be provided in a below-ground garage that was specifically designed for the Boomerang system.
“At this point, I know we have touched base with the developers to understand the status of things,” Stoddard said. “I don’t know that we have received a definite answer.”
Jim Heffernan, the lead representative for the project’s development group, said his group is diligently working on finding another provider for the parking garage equipment. He said the project still intends to use an automated parking garage model, but he said it won't wait for Boomerang to sort out its issues.
"We were most surprised to hear about the bankruptcy," Heffernan said. "We are in discussions with other providers."
Heffernan said the unexpected parking problem is not expected to delay the opening of the project. The project is scheduled to open for the start of the 2016-2107 school year at KU.
Stoddard said the technical issues with the parking system don’t relieve the project of meeting its parking requirements.
“The project at this point is obligated to provide that parking,” Stoddard said. “That will be something they will need to determine. If there is any request for a modification to the parking requirements, that would have to go through a process.”
Stoddard said any modification to the parking plan would have to receive City Commission approval.
The Lawrence project isn’t the only one affected by the Boomerang bankruptcy. The company also had to stop work on an automated system for a Here apartment project in Champaign, Ill. The apartment complex has since opened, and Here officials have resorted to renting space in a city-owned parking lot a few blocks away, according to an article in the News-Gazette in Champaign-Urbana. That article also reported that the Champaign project opened with unpainted walls and ceilings, exposed wiring, an unfinished gym and several uncompleted amenities.
Heffernan told me the situation in Champaign is significantly different than what exists in Lawrence. Boomerang filed for bankruptcy the day before it was scheduled to deliver the parking system to the Champaign project.
"They gave us no indication," Heffernan said of the bankruptcy filing. "We were talking with them up until the day before they filed. We were most surprised and disappointed."
Stoddard said the city has not received a request from the development group seeking to use off-site parking for the project.
“I think the ball is in their court on how to propose how they are going to meet the parking requirements,” Stoddard said. “If that is a strategy they want to employ here, they will need to go through the appropriate processes to accomplish that.”
If you remember, the project previously did propose using off-site parking to meet some of its parking needs. The development group tried to cut a deal that would allow students to use nearby Kansas University parking spaces, but the city rejected that proposal after neighbors strongly opposed it. The company also sought to reduce the size of its parking garage fairly late in the development process. Commissioners rejected that plan too, after neighbors said they were growing worried that tenants of the project would end up parking on city streets in the already congested Oread neighborhood.
If the project has to ask for an exemption from the city’s parking code in Lawrence, watch out. The project already has been a political hot potato. The previous City Commission approved, on a 3-2 vote, an 85 percent, 10-year tax rebate for the project. The incentive package created a lot of debate over whether the city should offer incentives to attract an apartment project in a town where lots of apartments are being built without incentives. The three winning candidates in April’s City Commission elections — Leslie Soden, Stuart Boley and Matthew Herbert — all expressed concerns about the incentives package during their campaigns.
There is not a single person on the commission currently who supported the incentives package. If the development group is forced to use off-site parking to meet the parking demands of the project — as is being done in Champaign — it is unclear whether the current City Commission would allow that. It also seems likely that the current commission would have a problem with giving an 85 percent tax rebate to a project that needs an exemption from the city’s parking code.
Soden said she can foresee the commission having a debate about whether the incentives are still appropriate, if the project is unable to deliver on the robotic parking system or fails to provide the number of parking spaces called for in the plan.
“Absolutely the incentives could come into play again,” Soden said.
But based on Heffernan's comments, it may be a moot point. Heffernan expressed confidence in finding another vendor for the project.
If you are thinking that another option is the space dedicated to the robotic parking garage could be developed as a traditional parking garage, that would seem to be difficult. The big advantage to the robotic parking garage system — it uses an elevator and systems of tracks to move vehicles around — is that it can fit more vehicles in less square feet than a traditional garage because it doesn’t need entrance and exit ramps and such.
The plans approved by the city call for about 460 parking spaces.
The city ultimately holds the hammer on this project. The apartment project — and the retail development that is planned for the lower floors — can’t be used until the city issues an occupancy permit, which happens after the city has determined the project has met all city codes.
Another ‘escape room’ business likely to locate in Lawrence; rumors, rumblings and other speculation about an opening date for Menards
Years ago, when my wife suggested I start sleeping in the basement, and then she boarded shut the only exit, I thought we were just having fun. Little did I know that we were missing out on a business trend. Indeed, figuring out how to break out of a locked room is becoming quite the trend in Lawrence.
Last week, we told you about Breakout Lawrence, a new business venture that is in the works. The idea is people pay for the challenge of figuring out how to escape a themed room full of puzzles, quizzes and other mind-bending exercises. Shortly after our article about Breakout Lawrence appeared, I got a call from another group of entrepreneurs who said they also are opening a similar business in Lawrence. This one will be called Locked In.
Shannon Buerger and her daughter Camas House will own the new business. The pair have been negotiating for a second-floor space above a retail shop on Massachusetts Street, but I don’t think that has quite been finalized. So, it remains to be seen where the business will land.
These businesses are becoming a trend not just in Lawrence. They’re called escape rooms, and the idea that started in the Far East is starting to find its way to metro areas across the country. They each work a little differently, but the general concept is that you and a group of friends pay a fee, enter a themed room — everything from a faux motel room to a haunted house — then have to solve a variety of challenges that give you clues that ultimately lead you to discovering a code or a key that will allow you to unlock the room. Generally, you have about an hour to complete the task. If you haven’t, they’ll let you out anyway. (I have found basement rules are a little more strict.)
“I was reading a Time magazine, and there was a short article about an escape room in New York City,” Buerger said. “It talked about how it was such a booming business, and I thought it would be a great thing for Lawrence.”
Buerger said the business hopes to have about 1,200 square feet of space that can accommodate two escape rooms. She said the first one will be built around a zombie apocalypse theme. Much like Breakout Lawrence, she hopes to have the business open by Thanksgiving. (Full Disclosure: I too am opening one of these businesses, but it will be open only on Thanksgiving. It will be called Breakout Elastic Waistband.)
Buerger said Locked In will charge $25 per session. The business hopes to be downtown and have late-night hours that will appeal to the college crowd. But Buerger said the business also will seek to be family friendly. Groups will be limited to eight people, but she said the company will have a policy of not putting strangers in the room together, so some groups may be smaller. She said most of the puzzles and challenges will be geared toward ages 12 and up. (Forget zombies, as the parent of 12-year old boy, I can attest being locked in a room full of them will provide a special type of motivation to escape.)
We’ll keep an eye on how all of this progresses. Both businesses have left some details unsaid here. (Breakout Lawrence also had not finalized a location when I spoke with them.) Both businesses are obviously in a race to capture the public’s attention. It should be fun to watch. I’ll let you know if I see any new details — once I get out of the basement.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If somehow I were to be locked in a room with seven other people for an hour, I would field an hour’s worth of questions about when the Menards store in Lawrence will open. Everybody wants to know, and I wish I had a definitive answer.
I don’t, but I think we all will have one soon. I’ve been told by a Menards official that a press release with details about the opening is set to be issued in the middle of next week. I’ve also been told by others that employees at the store are preparing for an Oct. 20 opening. I’ve gotten no confirmation of that from Menards.
But there are plenty of signs that opening day is near. Lots of delivery trucks are accessing the site. And it is pretty easy to keep track of the progress. Unlike Home Depot next door, a good amount of Menards’ lumber yard is in a covered, outdoor area that is easy to see when you drive by. You can start to see products piling up in that yard.
It will be interesting to watch whether area residents become the recipients of price wars between Menards and Home Depot as the two battle to gain or keep market share in the early stages of this new competition. As I’ve said before, I think it also will be interesting to watch whether Home Depot files plans at City Hall to expand its Lawrence store. Menards is more than twice the size of Lawrence’s Home Depot. Officials with Home Depot previously wanted a larger store in Lawrence, but Home Depot was unsuccessful in the early 2000s in winning city approval for a larger store.
We’ll see how that all plays out. But in the meantime, I think it is a safe bet that we’ll be able to shop at the new Lawrence Menards before Halloween. That’s a scary thought for my credit card indeed.
Downtown retailer celebrates 30th anniversary; update on fun center, office expansion, other construction projects around town
Everyone knows that Massachusetts Street is where the action is in downtown Lawrence. I’ve got the parking tickets, the zombie photos and a headache from all the hemp honking to prove it. But there are retailers that figure out how to exist just off of Massachusetts Street as well, and one of them has hit the rare feat of reaching its 30th anniversary.
Adorned Boutique, the shop at 5 E. Seventh St. that specializes in ethnic jewelry and hand crafts, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month. Is Adorned the longest running retailer — not bar or restaurant — on a downtown side street? I don’t know. I’ve been too busy collating my parking tickets to do the exhaustive research. But the store has to rank high on the list.
For many years the store was named African Adorned, but the store has always been run by the same family.
“My mother was a young traveler and ended up in Nairobi, Kenya,” store owner Alia Sachedina said of her mother, Elizabeth Kurata. “She lived there for 10 years.”
But then she came back to Lawrence, where she previously had lived. And she returned with quite a few items that were made by locals from African villages.
“She started peddling them out of her car and from store to store,” Sachedina said.
From there, the venture became a brick and mortar store, then added a wholesale operation that sold imported goods to other stores across the country. That wholesale business has since closed, and the store changed its named in 2007 to better reflect that it no longer just focused on African goods.
The store carries items from Nepal, Bali, India, Thailand, Mexico, Niger, Mali and others, while also still carrying items from some of the same markets in Nairobi that got the business started.
“I would attribute the success of the business to the kind of collection that we have from all over the world,” Sachedina said. “We know how to find items of very high quality craftsmanship. We’ve worked very hard over the years to develop those relationships.”
For years, the business has best been known for its collection of silver jewelry and semi-precious stones. That’s still a large part of the store, Sachedina said, but the shop also has large lines of textiles, handbags, accessories and other hand-crafted items.
The Lawrence location is the only one for Adorned, and thus far the store has been only a bricks-and-mortar operation. But Sachedina said work is underway to develop a website that will allow the store to begin conducting e-commerce and expand the business’ reach.
“We already get a lot of folks who have lived in Lawrence but moved to other places but they still want to shop with us,” Sachedina said. “They tell us they prefer our shop to the shops in larger cities. That makes us feel really good.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• I reported yesterday on several large projects that have helped Lawrence set a new building record in 2015, and has the city on pace to top $200 million in new construction for the first time. There are also several smaller projects underway or recently completed worthy of an update. Here’s a look at a few, and on some of these I’ll work to get additional information for a more complete update in the near future.
— Back in May I reported that a new indoor family fun center — complete with laser tag and a video arcade — was set to open in July in the former Family Dollar space in The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana streets. Well, July came and went, the center was not open, and I resorted to wielding my laser pointer on unsuspecting pedestrians in the shopping center. But fear not, my laser pointer has somehow become broken, and there are signs that the fun center is indeed still moving forward. The business has been issued a commercial building permit. No word yet on when the business may open.
— Construction work was underway at the Walgreens at 23rd and Louisiana. You may have noticed what looked like the construction of an exam room, but that’s not a sign that the drugstore is adding a medical clinic similar to what Walgreens has at its west Lawrence store or what CVS has at its 23rd and Iowa store. Instead, Walgreen added a small clinical room to provide some privacy for flu shot, immunizations and other such services the store offers. One item to note, though, with the 23rd Street Walgreens is that there has been a change in hours for the store. The location is no longer open 24 hours but rather is open from 7 a.m. to midnight.
— We reported this summer that Lawrence-based Pennington & Company — a large fundraising company for fraternities, sororities and and other nonprofits across the country — was expanding into a new office building at 501 Gateway Drive. That project is moving forward. The company received a building permit for $75,000 worth of renovation work to convert the building into new offices. We previously reported the company is getting the new office space to accommodate employee growth. The company was expected to have 80 employees this year, up from about 45 five years ago.
– A building permit has been issued for a unique office building in west Lawrence. A permit for about $670,000 worth of construction has been issued for the site at 4205 W. Sixth St. That is property that is across the street and a bit west of the Sixth Street Hy-Vee shopping center. Planning documents label the project the Summer Tree Office building. What caught my eye about it, though, is that it using a concept in west Lawrence that has become popular in downtown. The building will have a second story, and will include three living units above the office space. I’ll do some more checking on this one and see if the units are being marketed as work-live type of spaces or some other sort of concept.
City breaks record for most construction projects in a year; senior living community breaks ground on $12 million campus
It is now official: Lawrence’s construction industry has had a record-breaking year, and the city is on pace in 2015 to issue building permits for more than $200 million worth of construction for the first time in its history.
The latest building report shows Lawrence City Hall has issued permits for $187.8 million worth of construction. That’s better than the old record of $171.9 million set in 2013. This latest report tracks building activity through August, so Lawrence still has four more months to add to its record-setting total.
My abacus tells me that Lawrence needs only about $13 million of additional construction to get to the $200 million mark. That’s $3.25 million a month, and, thus far in 2015, every single month has produced that level of construction, and most of the time much more. So, absent a significant slowdown to close the year, Lawrence is going to reach a new stratosphere in the construction world.
In August, construction of another retirement community helped push the city over the mark. As we previously reported, Missouri-based Americare is building a new assisted living facility at Peterson and Monterey Way. That construction is now underway. The company pulled permits for $12.5 million worth of construction, including a 16-unit assisted living center, a 30-unit multifamily, independent living center, two triplexes, four duplexes, eight carports and a clubhouse. The Americare project was the largest new building project of the month. Americare officials previously have told us they hope to have the project open about this time next year.
Single-family home construction also has helped add to the party. As we previously have reported, home sales in Lawrence recently experienced their sixth straight month of increases. Home builders are responding by picking up the pace of new construction, although new home construction is still not what I would consider booming. But, the city issued 18 permits for single family homes and duplexes in August. That’s the best August total in at least six years.
Year-to-date single-family and duplex construction is having its best year in recent memory. The city has issued 170 permits through August. That’s up from 66 at this point last year. The 170 permits are also well above the the five-year average of 87 permits.
Apartment construction also is having its best year in quite a while. The city has issued permits for 467 living units of apartments. That’s the highest total since 2008.
A pair of apartment projects indeed have been the biggest difference makers in Lawrence’s record-setting year. The Here @ Kansas project — the multistory apartment and retail building across from KU’s Memorial Stadium — has been the largest project of the year at $45 million. The multistory apartment and office building under construction at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets is No. 2 at $18.7 million.
In total, the city has had 14 projects that have come in at $1 million or more. Here’s a look:
— Here @ Kansas apartment/retail building: $45 million
— 100 E. Ninth St. apartment/office building: $18.7 million
— Wakarusa River wastewater treatment plant: $13.3 million
— Americare Assisted Living Campus: $12.5 million
— Pioneer Ridge Independent Living: $12 million
— Wakarusa wastewater pump station: $7.5 million
— Hutton Farms residential development: $6.2 million
— LMH fourth-floor renovation: $3.8 million
— Single-family home 116 N. Wilderness Way: $2.7 million
— Phi Delta Theta renovation: $2.6 million
— Phi Gamma Delta addition: $2 million
— Kansas River wastewater treatment plant addition: $1.9 million
— Peaslee Technical Career Center renovation: $1 million
— Single-family home 3642 Buck Brush Court: $1 million
The list is kind of interesting to analyze. It shows major activity on two fronts: construction geared toward the young and construction geared toward the old. As you may expect in a university town, construction geared toward the young — the Here project and the greek house expansions add up to about $50 million — is in the lead. But it is interesting to note that Lawrence has about $25 million worth of construction work underway related to senior living.
And don’t forget about the sewer plant improvements. Sewer plant improvements are now at about $23 million. (Coincidentally, that is about equal to the amount of senior living construction underway. At least I think it is a coincidence. Or maybe it is in response to aging prostates. I don’t know.)
One other thing to keep in mind is that the building permit totals don’t fully reflect all of the construction that has been going on in Lawrence. As we have noted, the millions of dollars worth of school district renovations have not received a building permit, and thus don’t show up in these construction totals. Future projects will, though. Plus, as has long been the case, KU projects also don’t show up in the totals. KU projects go through the state-approved building process. So, the millions of dollars in dormitory work and construction of the new business school building aren’t included. Roadwork also isn’t included in any totals, but the South Lawrence Trafficway construction is one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken in the city. That is approximately $130 million worth of construction.
I’ve always considered 1996 to be the biggest building year in the 25 years or so that I’ve covered Lawrence’s construction scene. That was the year when we built 972 new apartment units in town, 338 new single-family homes and 122 new duplexes. It is interesting to note how much more reliant that building boom was on residential construction.
In total, there was $167 million worth of new construction that took place in 1996. (I spent most of the year wearing my neon orange blazer just so I felt like I could fit in with the crowd of construction workers wearing their orange safety vests. It was marvelous, until I started dating my future wife and the blazer somehow got lost.)
The 1996 total of $167 million, when adjusted for inflation, would be about $253 million in today’s dollars. So, we’ll see what the rest of the year brings in terms of new construction projects. You certainly could make the case that this year may be the best construction year ever for Lawrence.
I know I’m certainly going to look for the blazer.
Local businessman files plans to open indoor firing range, gun shop; questions about when police headquarters debate will start again; signs an eco devo deal may be brewing
Gun enthusiasts in Lawrence may have a new reason to get excited in the near future. A longtime Lawrence businessman is working on plans to open an indoor firing range and gun shop.
Rick Sells, the former owner of Lawrence Athletic Club, has filed plans at City Hall for a new gun business to be located in an industrial building near the new intersection of 31st and Haskell.
The deal isn’t done yet, and Sells declined to discuss his plans, but he’s filed paperwork with the planning department seeking a zoning change that would accommodate the business. Plans call for the business to be located at 1021 E. 31st St., although my understanding is he’s also evaluating another location in town for the business.
According to the details provided in the plan, the “Shooters Gun Club” would provide an indoor shooting range, gun sales and a repair shop. Sells is seeking to go into a vacant industrial building, but its current general industrial zoning doesn’t allow for retail gun sales. He and the building’s owner are seeking rezoning to a lesser industrial zoning that would allow for retail gun sales.
Gun sales certainly have been big business in the U.S. economy the last few years. The trend has started to come to Lawrence. As we previously reported, a new gun shop and “tactical supply store,” opened in west Lawrence in late 2013. A gun shop and supply retailers also has opened on Kansas Highway 10 near Eudora’s Church Street interchange.
But the idea of a business with an indoor shooting range is new in Lawrence. The idea of a firing range open to the public is not. The city of Lawrence actually owns one. It is in the basement of the Community Building at 11th and Vermont streets. The nonprofit Douglas County Rifle/Pistol Club operates the range. It generally is open Monday through Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The range — I’ve shot there once — does give you a chance to practice, but it is limited in what it can offer. It has five shooting stations, and is limited to target shooting of no greater than 50 feet. Sells didn’t provide any details of what he hopes his range will include, but I’m assuming it will be more substantial than what the city currently has to offer.
It will be interesting to see if the range will be designed to accommodate some of the needs of the Lawrence Police Department. An indoor firing range was part of the approximately $25 million police headquarters plan that ultimately was rejected by voters. In his application, Sells alludes to the police needs. “The community would gain a safe, confined shooting range for local police, fire and military people to maintain their gun training requirements,” he wrote in the application materials.
The project will have to win several approvals to proceed at the 31st and Haskell location. The project will need to go before both the Planning Commission and City Commission. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, it is possible that Sells may pursue the business at another location. I’ll let you know of any updates.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of a new police headquarters, how many of you had forgotten about that project? When you talk about collateral damage from Jeremy Farmer’s alleged misdeeds at Just Food, the police project ranks high on the list of those that have been hurt.
Following the November election where voters rejected the sales tax proposal for the police HQ plan, all the talk in City Hall was about how the commission was going to regroup and find another path forward on that project.
Fast forward to today, and it has been quite awhile since the commission has even had a significant discussion about the project. Granted, the commission has plenty of other items to talk about: the search for a new city manager, and Farmer’s bombshell. So, it is understandable why the issue hasn’t moved forward in recent weeks.
But it also is noteworthy that the project hasn’t gotten much discussion as part of the vacancy process. In other words, there hasn’t been a lot of focus on what views the candidates have on the police headquarters issues. But the new commissioner certainly could have a large impact on the issue. (UPDATE: I've been reminded that there was one question about police headquarters during the VEC forum for candidates. So, there has been some discussion, although perhaps not real detailed discussion.)
From where I sat, it appeared the commission was pretty split on the police issue when it was last discussed. All seem to agree that the department has some real needs, but how to address those appears to have divided the commission. I think there are two commissioners — Mike Amyx and Matthew Herbert — who want to stay focused on facility needs related to the police department. I think the remaining two commissioners — Stuart Boley and Leslie Soden — want to take a broader look at the police department as a whole. That would include facility, personnel and other issues. That broader look likely would be more time consuming and may create more resource challenges.
Between now and Tuesday’s meeting, we will try to report on what views the finalists — Lisa Larsen and Scott Morgan — have on the issue.
But the larger question may be whether this new commission decides to tackle the issue anytime soon. Finding a city manager will take some time. Is the police headquarters issue next on the list after that? I had one respected City Hall observer tell me shortly after the Farmer resignation that the police headquarters issue would be a moot at City Hall for two to three years. I wasn’t sure I believed that at the time, but he may end up being right after all.
• It might be time for us to keep our eyes open again on a possible economic development announcement. City commissioners have an unusual executive session scheduled for Tuesday evening’s meeting. They’ll meet in a closed-door session to “discuss confidential data relating to the financial affairs or trade secrets of a corporation.” That explanation doesn’t do much to explain why the City Commission would be discussing such matters, but one assumption is because they are learning about a company that they may want to offer financial incentives to.
I don’t have any direct knowledge of what commissioners will be discussing on Tuesday, but we previously have reported that they are working to land a major new tenant for Lawrence VenturePark, the new industrial park on the eastern edge of the city. Perhaps this is a sign that deal is getting closer.
I know many folks are hoping the VenturePark deal materializes. We’ve previously reported a VenturePark site was on the “short list” for a manufacturing company that would employ about 125 people over the next five years, and invest about $20 million into the site. That has been the status of that project since late 2014, however.
I’ll keep you posted if I hear of any new developments.
Lawrence home sales rise for sixth consecutive month; update on housing values; more on Free State Festival funding
The stock market has been lousy for the last few months, so maybe Lawrence residents are putting their money into real estate. New homes with cry rooms, so you can read your 401(k) statements, perhaps are the rage. Whatever the case, Lawrence’s home buying market remains hot.
Home sales are up 18.5 percent for the year, according to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. The latest report tracked sales in August, and they were up nearly 18 percent from August 2014. That marked the sixth straight month of increasing home sales in Lawrence.
The market is hot enough that some real estate agents now have concerns about having enough homes to sell. The report shows the number of contracts written in August was down about 15 percent. That’s an indication that home sale numbers may fall in future months.
The number of active listings on the market fell to 322, down about 22 percent from levels a year ago. Crystal Swearingen, president of the local board of Realtors, said the declining inventory levels are putting pressure on the market.
“Inventory levels continue to be a concern and may very well be the lone reason for a decrease in the number of contracts written during August,” she said in the report.
The low inventory levels, though, have been a boon to home sellers. Homes are not staying on the market long. The median number of days a home is on the market is down to 23. That’s down from 34 a year ago and 42 days in 2013.
Swearingen said current inventory levels also will start producing upward pressure on prices. Pricing issues are more difficult to gauge from the board’s report because it only looks at overall pricing trends rather than a comparison of prices for similar homes. The overall pricing trend shows the median selling price is about $166,000, which is up about 1.5 percent from a year ago, but is still below the $170,000 median in 2013.
The August report also continues to show that sales of newly constructed homes are bouncing back somewhat in 2015. In August, 11 newly constructed homes were sold, up from nine in August 2014. For the year-to-date, newly constructed home sales are up to 57 sales, an increase of about 21 percent from the same time period a year ago. But new home sales continue to lag 2013’s pace by about 20 percent.
In other news and notes from around town:
• When it comes to tracking the price of homes in Lawrence, nobody does it more often than the Douglas County Appraiser’s office, the government agency responsible for setting a property tax value on your home.
The latest report from that office indicates homes prices are up just a bit in Lawrence and Douglas County. Through late August, the appraiser’s office has reviewed 870 home sales. The average price is up 1.8 percent compared with last year.
While that is not a huge gain, it is a turnaround of sorts for the market. At this point in 2014, the average selling price was down by about 1 percent.
The numbers from the appraiser’s office are always good to watch because that data is used to determine the tax value of your home. It is too early to guess whether home owners will see their property tax values rise much for the coming year. One number to watch is a measurement called the “median sales ratio.” (I know, it brings back memories of a back row of a high school math class.) The ratio measures how much a home sold for versus how much the county appraiser had it valued. The ratio currently stands at 96.7 percent. That means the value that the appraiser has on a piece of property is, on average, about 3 percent lower than what the property actually sold for.
When that ratio starts to get too low, that’s generally when the appraiser starts raising the tax values on homes. The goal is for the ratio to be 100 percent. At 96.7 percent, that’s still pretty close, although people who play horseshoes with me tell me my definition of close is flawed.
We still have a ways to go before we learn of any changes to the tax values of properties. Change of value notices will be sent out in early 2016.
• You will have to make of this one whatever you will. I had a reader ask me to check on whether the wife of City Commissioner Matthew Herbert works at the Lawrence Arts Center. Herbert told me she does, but only two hours a week as an instructor in a jewelry-making class.
The issue came up after the City Commission was fairly sharply divided last month over whether to provide $100,000 in funding to the Arts Center for the upcoming Free State Festival. Commissioners ended up giving the group $60,000, after the four-members of the commission couldn’t reach a consensus on the $100,000 request. Herbert advocated for the $100,000 request.
The issue will kind of come back up again tonight. Commissioners will be interviewing the six finalists to fill the vacant seat on the City Commission. Each commissioner gets to ask two questions of the candidates. They disclose their questions in advance. Herbert is using one of his two questions to ask candidates how they would have voted on this $100,000 issue.
The money is not much in the city’s overall budget — it also is worth noting the money would come from the city’s guest tax fund that is charged to hotel users, rather than from a general tax fund — but the issue has been contentious.
Following the meeting where commissioners failed to fund the $100,000 request, Herbert took to his Twitter account and said “Tonight was a sad night for Free State Fest. I never thought the Lawrence CC would wage war on Culture.”
I’m pretty sure the two commissioners who opposed the $100,000 request — but supported $60,000 in funding — didn’t think they were waging a war on culture. (They are Commissioners Stuart Boley and Leslie Soden, for the record.)
Herbert’s comments and his questioning tonight may open up a debate worth having at City Hall: What’s the right amount of funding for the arts in Lawrence? The city in recent years has made a push to fund more with the hiring of a new director of arts and culture position. The arts community also has been a strong advocate for greater arts funding, often noting the arts have positive spin-off benefits for the economy.
Whether the general public wants to see more arts funding is less clear. As part of its Citizen Survey, the city this year asked residents what three priorities they think the city should spend money on as part of its Capital Improvement Plan. The category of “support for arts and culture” was included as a top three priority by only 29 percent of respondents. That was the lowest score of the six priorities listed by the city. That is just one answer, though. Maintaining a high quality of life also scored high in the survey, and certainly the arts can play into quality of life issues.
So, like I said, it is unclear. But it seems like it is a debate that may be shaping up at City Hall.
As for the issue of Herbert’s wife working for the Arts Center, I think it is worth noting, but also worth keeping in perspective. It is two hours a week. It also is worth noting that Herbert hasn’t tried to conceal the fact that his wife is a full-time artist. That was known throughout the campaign, and he has mentioned it otherwise during his tenure on the commission. In a town the size of Lawrence, it is not uncommon for commissioners to have to vote on items that they have some tangential connection to. Downtown business owners, for example, vote on downtown items all the time. In the past, we have noted those connections, and moved on.
Consider this one now noted.
West Lawrence lands corporate headquarters for financial services firm; Lawrence, other Kansas cities mediocre in new economic ranking
A financial services firm with offices in Johnson County and Topeka is moving its corporate headquarters to Lawrence, and will be bringing about 20 jobs in the process.
DM Bruce Associates has completed a deal to buy a west Lawrence office building at 4911 Legends Drive to house its financial advisers, planners and administrative staff who provide financial planning services for families and small businesses across the country. The company plans to have 18 jobs in Lawrence when it opens later this year.
“Running two locations was quite the operation for us,” said Zach Stover, vice president of operations for the company. “There are a lot of things we feel like we can be more efficient at by consolidating. Lawrence is the halfway point, and it just made a lot of sense for us to make the move.”
The company is locating in the building that formerly was occupied by Harris Computer Systems. Stover said the approximately 6,500 square foot building was purchased with longterm plans in mind.
“I still feel like we have a lot of potential to grow,” Stover said. “We take on and launch new financial advisers when we see the opportunity. It is a nice piece of land, and we could build additional space if we need to down the line.”
Marilyn Bittenbender of Lawrence’s Colliers International brokered the sale of the building.
Stover said he hopes the company will be operating in the Lawrence office by December. The company plans to keep satellite offices open in Topeka and Overland Park.
The company has been in operation in one form or another since 1974, Stover said. The company provides services in investment management, insurance consulting, financial planning, and also has a company that provides consulting services to other, independent financial advisers, according to the company’s website.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I have more news from our friends at WalletHub, the financial website that as we reported yesterday ranked Kansas as the 9th best state in the country for teachers. This time, the company is ranking cities with the fastest growing economies. Despite all our teachers rolling in the dough, Lawrence didn’t fare that well. (Teachers, I jest. I would have thought six years of high school would have taught me that my humor is often lost on the education profession.)
Lawrence’s economy ranked No. 317 out of 515 communities that were studied.
The study looked at factors such as population growth, growth of working-age population, poverty rates, median household income growth rates; unemployment rates, job growth, the ratio of full-time to part-time jobs, growth in the number of business establishments, and median home prices. The report used data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Unfortunately, the report didn’t provide all the underlying statistics for each community, so I can’t tell you how Lawrence fared in each category.
But I can tell you how Lawrence did in comparison to other communities that we often track. Lawrence finished No. 118 out of the 211 small cities with populations of less than 100,000 people. Here is a look at how some regional cities did in the overall list of 515 cities:
— Columbia, Mo.: No. 32
— Lubbock, Texas: No 65
— Oklahoma City: No. 93
— Norman, Okla.: No. 103
— Boulder, Colo.: No. 123
— Iowa City: No. 165
— Lincoln, Neb.: No. 194
— Springfield Mo. : No. 238
— St. Joseph, Mo.: No. 243
— Olathe: No. 250
— Kansas City, Mo.: No. 255
— Wichita: No. 268
— Lawrence: No. 317
— Independence, Mo.: No. 321
— Des Moines, Iowa: No. 324
— Kansas City, Kan. : No. 342
— Overland Park: No. 363
— Topeka, No. 392
— St. Louis: No. 490
So, Lawrence wasn’t alone among Kansas cities that didn’t fare great in the rankings. Only one Kansas community — Olathe — finished in the top half of the rankings, and that wasn’t by much. One thing we have going against us, it appears, is we didn’t strike a lot of oil. Texas communities, which were booming as a result of a strong oil and gas economy, took nine of the top 10 spots. If the rankings were done on the current conditions, it likely would look much different as the oil industry is much weaker today.
I’ll throw in this reminder, as I often do with WalletHub studies: You have to figure out what you want to make of these. The ranking process is clearly subjective. The rankings are determined by how much weight you want to give any one statistic, and which statistics you want to look at to begin with. But I like passing along reports like this one because they are based on valid government statistics that are worth paying attention to.
Now, are the rankings a matter of debate? They appear to be, given some of the feedback I’ve gotten from teachers today who are not sure Kansas is the ninth best state in the U.S. for teachers. I had one invite me to a school lunch today to see firsthand how good teachers have it. I told her I may indeed come. Caviar and prime rib sounds good today.
All these years later, and they still don’t find me funny.