Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Spending outpaces revenues for key City Hall fund in 2015, and is projected to do so in 2016; city’s hotel tax sees big growth
Unlike in Topeka, there have not been late-night meetings, tossing the legislative couch cushions for loose change, manipulation of voodoo dolls or other such generally accepted state governmental accounting practices going on at Lawrence City Hall. Nonetheless, there is some interesting City Hall budget news to report: There was some deficit spending that occurred at City Hall in 2015.
According to preliminary numbers, Lawrence spent nearly $220,000 more than it received in revenue for its general fund in 2015. The general fund is the main account the city uses to fund a majority of public services — everything from police and fire service to administrative services. What’s more significant is that the city is projected to spend about $890,000 more than it receives in revenue in 2016, according to the latest report.
So, what does that mean? How does the city spend more money than it receives? Easy. You and I keep cash in our freezers to use in emergencies and for unexpectedly good deals on leftover Easter candy. Well, the city has a really big freezer. It has something called a “fund balance,” which is basically just an accumulation of unspent money from prior years. (Evidently, the city doesn’t donate plasma to build its fund. Daddy gets mighty woozy during candy clearance season.)
The city’s fund balance account for its general fund was $12.9 million at the beginning of 2015. By dipping into it a bit, the amount fell to $12.7 million at the end of the year.
But as I previously mentioned, more interesting are the current projections for 2016. The city’s finance department is projecting the city will partake in deficit spending to the tune of $891,000 in 2016. That will cause the general fund balance to drop to $11.8 million. That is a significant drop because the city’s general fund balance would then amount to 14.8 percent of the city’s annual general fund expenditures. The city has a budget policy that says the fund balance shouldn’t fall below the 15 percent level. The policy notes that the city relies heavily on sales tax revenue, which can be volatile, so the policy aims to ensure the city has an adequate hedge against a downturn at all times.
It will be interesting to see how city commissioners craft their 2017 budget, and whether they make any midyear adjustments in 2016. The budget process for 2017 officially begins Tuesday with a City Hall study session on the budget. The city will pass a 2017 budget by August. This should be one of the more interesting budget sessions in quite some time at City Hall. (That’s kind of like saying prepare to watch a really good game of Monopoly, but still . . . ) This will be the first year in the 20 some years I’ve covered City Hall that we might see a major change in budgeting philosophy. New City Manager Tom Markus may have different ideas about how to craft budgets, different ideas on appropriate fund balances and different ideas on spending decisions. Of course, ultimately it will be city commissioners who make the final decisions, but they pay a city manager to give them guidance on such important matters.
The issue of how much Lawrence ought to keep in reserve may be one to keep a particular eye on. There certainly have been arguments on both sides of that issue. Some have said Lawrence has kept too much in reserve, while others have argued those reserve amounts have helped the city keep an excellent credit rating.
Spending more than it receives in a year isn't unheard of by the city, but it doesn't happen frequently. I believe the last time the situation existed in the city's general fund was 2011, and I don't think at any point in the last decade has the city done two years in a row of deficit spending.
City Hall reporter Nikki Wentling will be covering the budget process extensively this summer, and I’ll be chiming in periodically, in between plasma runs. In the meantime, here’s a look at some budget numbers from the city’s most recent report.
Note: All numbers for 2015 are preliminary, which means they haven’t been audited yet and may be subject to slight changes. (That’s what “preliminary” means at City Hall. I just wanted to clarify because it seems to mean something different at the Statehouse.)
— In 2015, the city received $76.1 million in general fund revenue, up $2.5 million or a 3.3 percent increase Expenses, though, increased by $3 million, or an increase of 4 percent. In case you are wondering, inflation — as measured by the Consumer Price Index — was less than 1 percent in 2015, but City Hall leaders would point out that the type of expenses government has and a consumer has are different. In other words, governmental inflation is probably something different from consumer inflation.
— Sales tax collections in the city increased by $1.3 million or 3.7 percent in 2015. Sales tax collections made up 47 percent of the city’s total general fund budget in 2015.
— Property tax collections in the city increased by $1.3 million or 8.3 percent in 2015. Property tax collections made up 22 percent of the city’s general fund budget.
— Franchise fees, which are a special tax that utilities pay for the use of city right-of-ways and such, dropped significantly in 2015. Total franchise fee revenue dropped $500,000 or 6.5 percent. Franchise fees made up about 9 percent of the city’s general fund budget. A mild winter caused franchise fees for natural gas to drop by about $200,000, as less gas sold means fewer franchise fees for the city. The amount of franchise fees the city collected from land-line telephones also plummeted by about $200,000.
— The idea of attracting more people to Lawrence hotels through Rock Chalk Park, new hotel construction, and other ventures does appear to be paying off. The city’s guest tax fund collected $1.6 million in 2015, which was an increase of 45 percent compared with 2014 totals. The guest tax fund now has a $1 million fund balance. It will be interesting to see how the city treats that new money. Will it continue to invest guest tax dollars only into tourism-related activities, or will it try to use that newfound money as a way to offset some weakness in the general fund?
— One other fund that is showing some weakness is the city’s recreation fund, which runs the recreation centers, classes and other types of activities. The fund had a great year in collecting fees from users — fee revenue grew by 17 percent. But expenses also grew. The fund spent about $110,000 more than it received in revenues in 2015. That marked at least the second year in a row that fund has had deficit spending. The fund, however, still has about $900,000 in reserve.
— The city’s water and wastewater fund — the department that runs the city water and sewer service — had a good year. Revenues for that fund, which has benefited from higher water and sewer rates, were up 5.5 percent. The fund received about $1.5 million more in revenue than it had in expenses in 2015. The fund has a very large fund balance of $22.3 million, in part because the water and sewer system is preparing for some major expenditures. Remember that a new sewage treatment plant is being built south of the Wakarusa River, and the city believes it has significant work to do to upgrade other water and sewer infrastructure.
— The city’s trash service also had a good year. Revenues grew by 3.4 percent, and the division had revenues that exceeded expenses by about $385,000.
— The city’s golf course did not have such a good year. Revenue at the city-owned Eagle Bend Golf Course fell by about 5.5 percent in 2015. The golf course also cut expenditures to try to match revenues, but ended up having expenses exceed revenues by about $32,000. The golf fund, though, still has about $200,000 in reserve.
Commissioners will begin discussing all things budget-related at a study session at 3 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
Craft brewing operations have been known to take over a garage. (No, the scientists in the funny suits still haven’t determined why the paint is peeling off my F-150.) But now there are plans for a craft brewing operation to take over an entire lumberyard. Plans have been filed for a new microbrewery to locate in the former home of Lawrence Lumber on East 23rd Street.
An outfit called Lockwood Craft Brewing hopes to take over the approximately 5,000-square-foot building and the significant amount of outdoor space at 706 E. 23rd St. For those of you who don’t remember where the old Lawrence Lumber location is, you are either too new to town or have fallen off the ladder one too many times. The site is just west of 23rd and Haskell, just a couple of doors down from Lawrence Pawn and Jewelry.
Olathe resident Cory Johnston, who has a degree in milling and grain sciences but got into banking and real estate instead, has signed a deal to purchase the approximately 1.5 acre site along East 23rd Street. But first Johnston needs to win some city approvals, including rezoning the property from its current industrial category to a commercial retail category. That rezoning request has now been filed, and he’ll also have to file for a special use permit in the future.
If all goes according to plan, Johnston hopes to have the microbrewery opened sometime in late 2017. Johnston said there is significant work to do to install a 15-barrel brewing system that he plans to use for not only producing beer on site, but also producing beer to be sold in a few retail outlets in the Kansas City area.
In addition to housing he brewing equipment, the Lawrence site will have a taproom that will have four to five beers on tap at any given time. Johnston, who is in the process of hiring a master brewer, said he envisions both West Coast and East Coast IPAs, a traditional American pilsner, an American wheat beer with “some honey and botanicals,” and several speciality beers, including some that are called “sour beers.”
“I would say I’m somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to my beer, but everything I do I want it to be done to a high quality,” Johnston said.
The Lawrence site is large enough to allow for a couple of unique elements as well. Instead of having a kitchen inside the taproom, plans call for two pad sites that will house food trucks. Johnston envisions having several food truck operators that will serve at the establishment at various times.
Johnston said he’s also fascinated by the old three-sided storage areas that the lumberyard used to keep lumber out of the weather. He said he’s looking for a way to keep those units in place, and convert them into covered outdoor patio space.
“We could have a lot of really nice outdoor space,” Johnston said.
Johnston said he chose Lawrence for his first foray into the commercial brewing business — he’s been a home brewer for about a decade — because it is obvious that Lawrence appreciates the craft brewing industry. Plus he said the building is the right mix between industrial and commercial space on a high-traffic roadway.
The project still has several more approvals it needs before it can move forward — it will need both state and federal permits — but I’ll keep you updated as it moves along.
• I suspect this project may cause you to remember hearing something about a microbrewery in East Lawrence. Indeed, we reported in December that plans had been filed for a new brewery, restaurant and apartment building in the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence.
That venture is slated to be called the Lawrence Beer Company. I don’t have a full update for you on that project, but I did talk briefly with a partner in the development, and was told the venture still is moving forward. So, I’ll work to get you more information about that as well.
School district seeks to buy large property along 23rd Street; parade of trash trucks through East Lawrence may end
Perhaps you have noticed the Journal-World recently reported the Lawrence school district is on the cusp of buying some property. As is often the case with governments, they are tight-lipped about property acquisition until such deals are ready to be finalized. But fear not, I rescued my Magnum P.I. shirt from the burn pile and did a little investigating. It sure appears the school district is set to buy a nearly 8-acre piece of property along 23rd Street near Haskell Indian Nations University.
A request was recently filed at Lawrence City Hall seeking to rezone the property at 711 E. 23rd St. that is currently owned by Douglas County. It is the site the county previously used to house its snowplows and other public works equipment. It is just east of Haskell Indian Nations University. The rezoning request stated the Lawrence school district “is in the process of purchasing” the property from the county.
No, don’t expect Lawrence’s next new school to be built along 23rd Street. Instead, the school district is seeking to have the property rezoned from a general governmental use to industrial zoning. No, the school district does not have a plan to start making industrial-sized widgets, although let’s keep that idea in reserve pending further changes to the school finance formula. Rather, the rezoning request states the district may want to store “fleet vehicles” on the site, which would require the change in zoning.
Rochelle Valverde, the J-W reporter who covers the school district, tells me district officials have been considering options for running the district’s school bus service, which currently is run by a contractor. Even if the district doesn’t want to fully run the bus service — which district officials seemed to caution against — the 23rd Street site would provide enough room to store school buses. Having the buses stored on school district property rather than on a site owned by a third party, perhaps could save the district some money.
In case you have forgotten, the county no longer needs the property because it built a multimillion dollar public works facility near the Douglas County Jail. What will be interesting to figure out is how Douglas County goes about selling this property. I talked with Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug, and he confirmed the county and school district have reached a “verbal agreement that still needs to be publicly vetted.”
One part of the vetting process, he said, is an examination of state statutes that dictate how public governments can sell property. He said it is still being determined whether the county will have to put the property up for sale and sell it to the highest bidder. UPDATE: Weinaug told me this afternoon that the two parties do know that they don't have to put the properties up for bid to other buyers. But there are other details about the proposed agreement that are still being researched.
Weinaug said the current plan is for the school district to take over the county site and for the county to take over the school district’s current facilities and operations center, which is at the northeast corner of Second and Maine streets, caddy-corner from Lawrence Memorial Hospital. As we have reported, the county is interested in that site because it is near where the county hopes to build a Crisis Intervention Center to serve those with mental health needs.
Weinaug said as part of the deal, there would be some money changing hands between the two government entities. He didn’t provide any of those financial details, but they would become public before the two entities finalized any deal.
Whether the 23rd Street property has any value to other buyers is unknown. It is a large site along a heavily traveled thoroughfare. It is tough to know whether there would be any retail, apartment or other developers that would pay top dollar for the property. Weinaug said one thing pointing in favor of the school district being the best user for the site is that the district will be able to use many of the existing buildings on the property, which wouldn’t be the case with other types of development on the site.
I suppose it is worth asking whether there may be other parties interested in the school district property at Second and Maine, too. With it being so close to the hospital, there may be medical users interested in the site.
The county property on 23rd Street has an appraised value of $1.16 million, according to county records. The school district property at Second and Maine has an appraised value of $369,000, according to county records.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There is another piece of government property that you should look for changes on in the future. The large piece of city-owned land at 11th Street and Haskell Avenue will be losing its main user. The property currently houses all the city’s trash trucks.
But as we have reported, the city has plans for a new trash truck facility — in city parlance it is solid waste, not trash, although I’m not sure who is checking to determine how solid my trash is. The new facility is slated for about 10 acres of property near the Kmart distribution center in northern Lawrence.
Plans for that project are entering a new stage. In late 2015, the city completed renovations at the site — 2201 Kresge Road — to house the Household Hazardous Waste Drop-off program. That’s the program where you can drop off paint, batteries and other such things that shouldn’t go in the trash. My understanding is the program now is operating at the Kresge site. We’ll send a reporter and photographer out there at some point to give you a tour of the new facility. The program previously operated at the county public work site on 23rd Street.
Now, city officials want to start work on phase II of the project. That involves new office space, shop space and other things needed to move the approximately 70 trash trucks from the 11th and Haskell site.
The city currently is accepting proposals from design firms to oversee the project, which includes renovating an existing 6,500 square-foot maintenance shop, and adding a 9,000 square-foot building to house office, locker rooms and a conference space for the solid waste division.
But don’t look for the trash truck to move right away. The city is contemplating a 2017 construction of the facility. But at some point, the daily parade of trash trucks through East Lawrence will come to an end. As far as what the city proposes to do with the 11th and Haskell site once the trash trucks are gone, there has been talk about the city’s street maintenance division taking over the space, but no word yet on whether that is the official plan.
City commissioners withhold information about process for selecting new mayor; more info on pending movie theater upgrades
Call it a mayoral mystery, I guess. City commissioners are still trying to figure out who the next mayor of Lawrence should be and when that person should take over. A change in state law has made the normally simple matter more complicated, but now a pair of city commissioners are making it downright odd by withholding information.
As we reported Monday, commissioners this evening are scheduled to receive a recommendation on changing the process for how Lawrence chooses its mayor. What has become odd is that the two commissioners who have crafted that recommendation — Matthew Herbert and Lisa Larsen — are refusing to disclose to the public or fellow city commissioners what that recommendation is prior to tonight’s meeting.
Herbert said they’ll “announce” their recommendation near the end of tonight’s meeting. No word on whether there will be a drum roll.
Perhaps a quick bit of background is in order. Each April, the five city commissioners choose one of themselves to serve a one-year term as mayor. April was always the time to do so because April was when voters went to the polls to choose City Commissioners. The first meeting after those elections, the new commission would choose a mayor. Well, state lawmakers decided that system wasn’t working, and they have now said city elections will occur in November. The seating of the new commission also is being pushed back to January. So, electing a mayor in April doesn’t necessary make a lot of sense anymore. Current Mayor Mike Amyx appointed Herbert and Larsen to make a recommendation on when elections ought to be held.
Now that recommendation has become the sort of thing you put in a locked briefcase and hire Price Waterhouse Cooper to watch over. As you can probably sense, I find that odd.
City commissioners are being asked to change a city policy. How Lawrence chooses its top elected official will be changed for years to come. That is the sort of thing that the public has the right to provide comment on. Indeed, the public will be allowed to provide comment on the recommendation at tonight’s meeting. But certainly the public could make better informed comments if it actually knew what the recommendation was prior to tonight’s meeting. For that matter, city commissioners could have a better conversation among themselves, if all of them knew what the recommendation was. Some people like to think about a topic for more than a few minutes before they actually speak about it. I know some of the stupidest things I’ve ever said — a really long list — have come as I’ve tried to make an argument on the fly. I end up looking like an ignoramus. Whereas when I have a little time to prepare, I simply end up looking like a buffoon, which I’m told is much better.
I asked Herbert why the recommendation couldn’t be made public before the meeting. He said he didn’t want commissioners first reading about it in the newspaper. OK, that’s fine, but not particularly relevant. Herbert and Larsen came up with the recommendation on Wednesday, Herbert told me. The City Commission’s agenda is published on Thursday afternoon. All Herbert and Larsen had to do was write a one paragraph memo stating their recommendation, send it to the city manager’s office, and the memo would have been placed as a supporting document on the City Commission’s agenda when it was released on Thursday. Every City Commission agenda has dozens of those sorts of memos, normally from staff members or advisory boards. Their purpose is to provide the commission and the public information ahead of a meeting so that there can be more informed debate and discussion.
When I asked Herbert why the information couldn’t have been released in that manner, he said: “I don’t have a good answer on that.”
That’s fine. Such things happen from time to time. What’s important, though, is a recognition that when government has information it can share with the public it should do so. Why wait? It is Good Government 101 to seek public participation in public policy decisions. Providing timely information is part of that public participation process. As I freely tell anyone, the city of Lawrence — particularly as it relates to the City Commission — does a good job on that front. But in this instance, it has fallen short of the mark.
The good news, however, is that this is easy enough to correct. City commissioners at their meeting tonight should hear the recommendation, and then table the matter for a week. That will allow the public time to develop its thoughts and comments. Commissioners too. Maybe some members of the public next week will show up to discuss the topic of how we select our mayor, or perhaps none will. Either way, it is the right thing for good government to do.
In other news and notes from around town:
Speaking of mysteries, the next one in Lawrence likely will involve trying to figure out where that snoring is coming from inside the Southwind movie theater on south Iowa Street.
As we reported Monday, the Southwind is set to undergo a $1.5 million renovation that includes new recliner seating for all 12 of its theaters. Well, yesterday afternoon I found out a bit more information. Take a look below at the chairs that are slated to be installed in the theaters.
I, of course, tested the chairs out. They have a high-quality BarcaLounger feel. What is particularly cool is they have a button that controls a motor that reclines and lowers the chair. Watch out at the next "Star Wars" movies. I’ll bring my Han Solo jacket, my 13-year old son can be Chewbacca, and I’ll repeatedly push the button while whispering “engage the thrusters.”
As for other details of the project, I’m still working on those. I was instructed to call a corporate media line out of state, so I’ll work to do that. What I hear, though, is that construction hasn’t yet started. Portions of the theater will remain open during the construction period.
I think one of the larger questions is whether seating capacity in the theaters will be reduced to accommodate the new chairs. The chairs recline back very far, which leads me to believe there will need to be some reduction in capacity.
Lawrence movie theater to undergo million dollar-plus renovation; update on plans for large music venue in North Lawrence
Everybody has their wish list for improvements that could be made to Lawrence’s Southwind movie theater on south Iowa Street. Yes, wider concourses to accommodate the forklift to haul back the popcorn and soda would be nice. An on-site loan office to finance the purchase of said popcorn and soda would be useful, too. Well, I don’t know that either of those improvements are coming, but a million dollar-plus renovation is in store for the city’s largest movie theater.
The city has issued a building permit for $1.5 million worth of interior renovation work at the Regal Cinema Southwind Stadium theater at 3433 Iowa St. It sounds like a conversion to reclining seats in all 12 theaters is a big part of the work, according to the details filed on the building permit report.
I haven’t had a chance to to talk with Regal officials yet, but I’ll try to do so later today. My understanding is there are some signs of the work underway, so I’ll pop in once the theater opens this afternoon.
In terms of other details that were listed on the building permit application, it talks about installing new finishes in all the auditoriums, as well in other parts of the building. At the moment, none of the plans call for major changes to the exterior of the building.
The project does answer one question that had been floating around in certain circles: Was the theater committed to remaining in that location? As the South Lawrence Trafficway gets completed later this year, the theater site becomes an even more prime location. The theater, it sure appears, has been losing business to newer, more modern theaters in Johnson County and at The Legends development in western Wyandotte County.
Regal bought the Southwind chain in 2013, which caused folks to think that a renovation of the theater would soon be on the way. But then it didn’t come. In the meantime, talk about other locations for a theater in Lawrence got kicked around. I know at one point the folks who want to redevelop the area near the Kansas River levee near Johnny’s Tavern had said they thought a movie theater would fit in very well with that development. I know I had started to wonder whether the Southwind site — perhaps combined with the mobile home park next door to it — might get redeveloped into a major retail area with lots of visibility from the SLT.
But now, it looks like the theater is here to stay — and with reclining seats, I may stay there a long time, too. (After 12-pounds of popcorn and a two-hour chick-flick, it is going to be hard to wake me up.)
I’ll let you known when I hear more details.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of updates, I have a brief one on the North Lawrence events center that I reported on last week.
As you may remember, I reported that plans have been filed for a new events center to locate in the industrial buildings at the northwest corner of the Kansas Turnpike and North Third Street intersection.
I was short on details of what type of events the center hopes to host, but now I’ve heard back from the proposed operator of the facility. Music events will be the center’s bread and butter, said Michael Westheffer.
Westheffer said the facility — which needs to still win zoning approval from the city — will be called Northern Sands Venue. He said he hopes the venue can grow into something similar to Knuckleheads, an an events venue that is located in an industrial district near the Missouri River in Kansas City, Mo.
“We want to create a place that is not just your everyday place,” said Westheffer, who is part of the family that owns the property that formerly housed a surplus store. “We want a place where you can come eat some food, have a good time. We want to create a next-level environment.”
Step No. 1 is getting the necessary commercial zoning for the property, which currently is zoned industrial. But Westheffer said future steps will include getting a liquor license for the property.
Westheffer said plans definitely call for both indoor and outdoor shows at the site. Westheffer said the center — which will be called Northern Sands Venue — doesn’t plan to limit itself on the type of music acts it brings in. Westheffer, who has about three years in the music production business, said rock, country, bluegrass and other genres are likely. He said the venue also will be open to hosting wedding receptions and other types of private events.
Westheffer said the fire department hasn’t yet set occupancy limits for the venture, but he hopes to have some outdoor shows that could accommodate 1,000, and some indoor shows of about 300. I’ll let you know how the project progresses through the city approval process.
Happy Earth Day, although rankings show it could be happier in Kansas; parent company of major Lawrence employer announces cutbacks
Party like it is Earth Day because indeed it is. (I’m celebrating gravity by refusing to jump all day.) Here in Kansas, we certainly can celebrate Earth Day, but a new study found that we perhaps don’t have as much to cheer about as some other states.
The financial website WalletHub has released its list of the 2016 Greenest States. Kansas is found to be the 39th greenest state. I’m pretty sure “greenest” is a term to measure how environmentally friendly we are, not the color of our gills as we continue to watch Kansas revenue estimates come into the Statehouse.
As always, take these ranking for whatever you think they are worth. Being rankings and all, they are subjective. But these rankings do use reputable data sources, such as the U.S. Census, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Green Building Council and several others to measure categories such as air quality, soil quality, water quality, energy consumption, and other such measures.
Here’s a look at how Kansas and some other states in our region ranked overall:
— No. 23: Colorado
— No. 30: Missouri
— No. 39: Kansas
— No. 40: Iowa
— No. 45: Oklahoma
— No. 46: Nebraska
Top-ranked state: Vermont
Bottom-ranked state: Wyoming
The study ranked the states in three broad categories. The first is “environmental quality.” That measures items such as municipal solid waste per capita, air quality, water quality, soil quality, and energy efficiency. Here’s a look at how we did:
— No. 12: Missouri
— No. 14: Iowa
— No. 17: Kansas
— No. 28: Colorado
— No. 32: Nebraska
— No. 48: Oklahoma
So, if things like good soil, good air, and good water are the types of things you think of when you think of being Earth-friendly, Kansas actually is above average in those categories.
The second category is “eco-friendly behaviors,” and that includes items such as the number of LEED-certified buildings per capita, amount of renewable energy used, gasoline consumption per capita, water consumption per capita, and alternative fuel vehicles per capita. Here’s a look at how we did:
— No. 15: Colorado
— No. 30: Iowa
— No. 33: Kansas
— No. 37: Missouri
— No. 43: Nebraska
— No. 47: Oklahoma
The third category is “climate-change contributions,” and that includes items such as carbon dioxide emissions per capita, methane emissions per capita, nitrous oxide emissions per capita, and fluorinated greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Here’s how we did:
— No. 31: Colorado
— No. 33: Missouri
— No. 38: Oklahoma
— No. 43: Kansas
— No. 44: Iowa
— No. 47: Nebraska
As you can see, farm states didn’t fare particularly well in that category. Many of the things measured have a lot to do with crop and livestock production. If ever there is a ranking on feeding the world, however, we will do much better.
The report did provide several other individual rankings. Kansas showed up on one. We were No. 47 in the amount of LEED-certified buildings per capita. Only West Virginia, Nebraska and Iowa had fewer. I also noticed Missouri showed up on one. It has the least amount of municipal solid waste — trash in layman’s terms — per capita of any state in the country. For anybody who has ever been to an Ozark gift shop, this shouldn’t be a surprise. They throw nothing away, but rather just stamp “Welcome to the Ozarks” on it. Don’t get me wrong. I love my collection of such items.
Anyway, Happy Earth Day. Lawrence will celebrate formally tomorrow. Check out our Out & About column for details on the parade and party in the park.
In other news and notes from around town:
• We probably don’t spend enough time in Lawrence thinking about Kmart. Lawrence’s Kmart store closed in 2003, but the company is still a major part of our economy. Kmart operates a large distribution center along the Kansas Turnpike in northern Lawrence.
So, news on Thursday that Kmart is closing 68 more stores is not good news for Lawrence. I have no idea how, or if, the store closures will impact workforce levels at the Kmart distribution center in Lawrence. But I would think economic development leaders should be rooting for a Kmart turnaround pretty hard these days. Numbers from the Economic Development Council of Lawrence and Douglas County list the distribution center as having 320 employees, making it one of the 12 largest employers in the community. Perhaps even more significantly, the distribution center pays taxes on about 1.05 million square feet of industrial space along the turnpike. I think it is the largest building in Douglas County, but I’ve misplaced my tape measure, so I can’t say for sure.
Some of the news coverage yesterday about the Kmart closings — only one in Kansas, Hutchinson — was eye opening. Here’s some information as reported by Fortune:
— Kmart store totals will drop to just less than 900, down from about 1,400 in 2008.
— Kmart’s parent company, which includes Sears, has logged a total of $8 billion in net losses since 2010.
— 25 years ago, Kmart was larger than Wal-Mart.
— Sales during the key holiday quarter of 2015 were down 7.2 percent at Kmart.
Importantly, though, the company is projecting a return to profitability this year, according to the Fortune article. That certainly would be a good sign. The article also talked about how the company plans to transform itself into a “membership-based retailer that will be less reliant on physical stores.”
So, lots to keep an eye on. But this thought also struck me. I’m pretty certain I haven’t been in a Kmart since the one in Lawrence closed. That’s 13 years ago. More importantly, I don’t think my wife has been in one since then either. More than a decade that my wife hasn’t been to a Kmart: Trust me, that is not a metric any retailer wants to have.
Plans filed for events center along the Kansas Turnpike; get ready for pole vaulters in parking lots and shot putters in the streets
You bring up the idea of an event and North Lawrence, and you could be talking about a whole lot of different things. It might be a night on the town at Johnny’s, a fraternity party in a barn, or a Kaw River fishing trip that involves sand in places it shouldn’t be, a “misplaced” boat, and sworn statements to discuss this no further. Soon, the events may get a bit more formal. Plans have been filed for a new events center at North Lawrence’s largest intersection.
If plans are approved, a small indoor-outdoor events center will be allowed to develop right at the intersection of the Kansas Turnpike and North Third Street. Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners at their meeting on Monday will consider approving a rezoning request at 1235 North Third Street that would allow for the event center.
If that location isn’t ringing a bell, it is at the northwest corner of the turnpike and North Third intersection. The building on the property used to house a surplus store that sold tools and a variety of supplies. It also has housed operations for the Westheffer company that sells a variety of chemical spraying equipment.
The Westheffer folks own the property and are behind the idea of developing a new events center. I’ve put a call into them, but haven’t had any luck in reaching them. So, details on what type of events the center will host are a bit sketchy. But I know that the city has allowed the location to host some events on a temporary basis, including music concerts. A group called Attic Traffic Productions hosted a large event with about a dozen bands at the location last year at this time. The group even had come up with a name for the events venue: Northern Sands Warehouse.
So, perhaps we’ll see more concerts at the site. The location makes some sense for events that can draw a regional crowd, given that folks from Topeka or Kansas City could easily access the site via the turnpike. Perhaps wedding receptions and other such events could be on tap too.
The property’s owners currently are just trying to get the proper zoning for the site so the project can move forward. The approximately 4-acre site currently has industrial zoning. It is seeking commercial strip zoning, which allows for event centers.
Preliminary plans filed with the city indicated the project will use an existing 6,600-square-foot building to house the indoor portion of the event business. Plans also call for a 1,200-square-foot covered outdoor patio, plus significant open space that probably could accommodate events too. The site also includes 7,000 square feet of warehouse space that is connected to the 6,600 square feet of event venue space. Combine it all, and you could host some fair-sized events.
If the project moves forward, more detailed plans about parking and how the property will be used will be required. But I talked briefly with Lawrence-based architect Allen Belot, who is working on the project, and he indicated there likely would be some improvements made to the site, which would improve the appearance of that intersection.
The Planning Commission will consider the rezoning request at its 6:30 p.m. meeting on Monday at City Hall. City commissioners ultimately will have to decide whether to approve the rezoning. The city’s planning staff is recommending approval of the rezoning, noting that commercial zoning fits in with long-range plans that have already been approved for that intersection.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of events, don’t forget that there is a unique one on tap tonight, weather permitting. As part of the KU Relays, a unique pole vaulting competition will be held in the parking lot of the Salty Iguana at Sixth and Wakarusa. The event is set to be begin at 5:30 p.m.. Several national champion pole vaulters will be competing at the event, and heights of 18 feet or so are expected to be cleared. Keep an eye on the weather, though. Rain and pole vaulting do not mix.
The idea of unique track and field events then will shift to downtown. The annual downtown shot put competition is set for 6 p.m. Friday at Eighth and New Hampshire streets. As has been the case since its inception, that event attracts world class shot put competitors. If you have never gone before it is a sight to see. It is one of the few nights out of the year where you can see people throwing a shot put in the middle of an intersection in downtown Lawrence.
40-year-old business on 23rd Street changes hands, focus; Lawrence jobs up slightly in March, thanks mainly to the government
The main thing I know about vacuum cleaners is they make a lot of noise when I’m trying to watch a ballgame on TV (and that they sometimes get thrown at me when I make comments like that.) So, I may not be the best person to pass along vacuum cleaner news, but I have some nonetheless.
Steve Pinegar of Lawrence Vacuum and Sewing Center has sold the business after 40 years in Lawrence. The business has changed names but is still in its same location at 1449 W. 23rd Street. The company is now called Midwest Vacuums, and is part of a small chain based in Kansas City.
“Steve has done such a wonderful job with this business,” said Sarah Degondea, owner of Midwest Vacuums. “We were looking to open a store in Overland Park. The day we were ready to sign the lease, Steve called us and said he wanted to retire, and he didn’t want to sell the store to anybody but us.”
This is the third store for Midwest Vacuums, with the others in the Waldo district of Kansas City and in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. The store sells all types of vacuums, including uprights, canisters, central vacuums, and something called backpack vacuums. (That’s odd. My son’s backpack looks like it has a science project growing in it, but we just use a regular vacuum on it.) The store also sells steam mops, air purifiers, and a host of cleaning and vacuuming accessories.
A big part of the store’s business is vacuum cleaner repair. Degondea said the business repairs all brands of vacuum cleaners. She said often times customers who bring in vacuums for repairs eventually become the customers who buy new vacuums from her store. She said that’s how small vacuum shops have been able to stay in business despite big box retailers getting into the vacuum selling game.
“Our main customer is typically the customer who is tired of buying cheap vacuums and having them repaired,” Degondea said. “They sit down and do a little research and find out there are other options out there.”
The Lawrence store also continues to sell some sewing machines, but Degondea said she hasn’t made a decision about whether that will be a long-term part of the business. Her Kansas City stores do not sell sewing machines. She said Pinegar is working with the store part time to handle the sewing machine part of the business.
In other news and notes from around town:
• March brought some new jobs both for Kansas and Lawrence, although the new numbers show most of Lawrence’s job growth continues to come from government job growth rather than private sector gains.
Here’s a look at some job numbers as recently reported by the Kansas Department of Labor.
— Kansas: 4.0 percent in March, down from 4.5 percent in March 2015
— Lawrence: 3.4 percent in March, down from 3.9 percent in March 2015
— Topeka: 4.1 percent in March, down from 4.8 percent in March 2015
— Wichita: 4.5 percent in March, down from 5.0 percent in March 2015
— Kansas City: 3.8 percent in March, down from 4.3 percent in March 2015
— Manhattan: 3 percent in March, down from 3.6 percent in March 2015
Job totals (not seasonally adjusted)
— Kansas: 1.391 million, down 0.1 percent from March 2015
— Lawrence: 53,600, up 0.2 percent from March 2015
— Manhattan: 46,900, up 5.4 percent from March 2015
— Topeka: 109,700, down 0.2 percent from March 2015
— Wichita: 296,400, up 0.7 percent from March 2015
— Kansas City: 457,900, up 0.4 percent from March 2015
As you can see, Manhattan — Lawrence’s sister community in many ways — was the job engine for the state in March. Not only did it have the highest percentage growth by a lot, it added 2,400 jobs over the course of the year, which was more than any other metro area in the state. Lawrence added 100 jobs during that time period.
Goods producing jobs
Here’s a look at jobs that encompasses manufacturing and other industrial jobs that produce items.
— Kansas: 222,100, down 3.1 percent from March 2015
— Lawrence: 5,200, down 3.7 percent from March 2015
— Manhattan: 5,400, up 1.9 percent from March 2015
— Topeka: 12,700, down 0.8 percent from March 2015
— Wichita: 67,300, down 1.3 percent from March 2015
— Kansas City: 49,200, down 1 percent from March 2015
Service producing jobs
These are jobs in areas such as finance, leisure and hospitality, business services, trade and technical jobs, and other jobs that primarily provide a service rather than produce a good. These numbers also include government jobs, and I’ll provide more details on those in a moment.
— Kansas: 1.169 million, up 0.5 percent from March 2015
— Lawrence: 48,400, up 0.6 percent from March 2015
— Manhattan: 41,500, up 5.9 percent from March 2015
— Topeka: 97,000, down 0.1 percent from March 2015
— Wichita: 229,100, up 1.4 percent from March 2015
— Kansas City: 408,700, up 0.5 percent from March 2015
Remember that government jobs do include university jobs, so it is no surprise to see Lawrence and Manhattan have lots of them. But it is not clear what has caused the relatively large increase in the government jobs total over the last year.
— Kansas: 263,900, unchanged from March 2015
— Lawrence: 18,000, up 4.7 percent over March 2015
— Manhattan: 17,300, up 10.9 percent over March 2015
— Topeka: 27,200, unchanged from March 2015
— Wichita: 41,600, down 1 percent from March 2015
— Kansas City: 57,300, down 0.3 percent from March 2015
The state’s two largest university communities were the only metro areas to see government job growth in the last 12 months. Lawrence is glad for it too. Only two major categories in Lawrence showed job growth over the last 12 months: Government, and leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurant, hotel, bar employees and other such jobs. The leisure category grew by 100 jobs or 1.5 percent. All other categories saw job losses for the month. The largest was the professional and business services category, which includes a host of managerial and administrative jobs in the private sector. That category lost 400 jobs or 7.3 percent for the 12-month period. That was the largest percentage loss in that category for any metro area in the state.
You know something is going well when an industry built upon free breakfast bars and self-serve biscuits and gravy is flocking to your community. Yes, Lawrence is experiencing a hotel boom, and it appears to be continuing. I’ve learned plans are in the early stages for a new hotel to be built on the site of the old Ramada Inn near Sixth and Iowa streets.
Nav Patel, a principal with Kansas City-based Marquee Hospitality, has confirmed that his group has purchased the former Ramada Inn site at 2222 W. Sixth Street. If you don’t remember the Ramada, you evidently didn’t partake in my wedding buffet in 1999. (To clarify, the reception was at the TeePee Junction but we had Ramada truck the food in. Now do you remember?) Regardless, the site is just north and west of the Sixth and Iowa intersection, and more recently housed Rodeway Inn and a Howard Johnson.
Patel said plans haven’t yet been finalized, but he expects the new hotel to have 90 to 100 rooms. He said the group primarily is focusing on bringing either a Hilton or Marriott brand to the location.
“We want to put a nicer hotel in Lawrence,” Patel said. “We think there is good demand there. It is a good intersection. You make one turn and you go to the university, or you turn the other way and you go to downtown.”
Both Hilton and Marriott operate a variety of hotel brands that aren’t currently in Lawrence. Some of the more common ones are Hilton Garden, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Embassy Suites, Courtyard by Marriott, and Residence Inn by Marriott. And, don’t forget, Marriott operates the Ritz-Carlton chain and Hilton operates the Waldorf Astoria brand. Unless I have a cracker in hand, however, I’m not planning on putting on the Ritz anytime soon. The hotel brand I’ve heard mentioned with the site is a Fairfield Inn by Marriott, but there’s no confirmation with that.
Patel did confirm that his group has begun having conversations with City Hall about the project. He said he hopes to have plans submitted for the property in the next few months and to have construction underway by the middle of next year.
Marquee Hospitality operates about eight hotels, Patel said, with a couple in Kansas City and few in the Washington, D.C. area.
Lawrence has been an active place for hotel construction in recent years. First there was the The Oread hotel built near the KU campus, then the Marriott TownePlace at Ninth and New Hampshire, and then a Comfort Inn on McDonald Drive near the Kansas Turnpike. Most recently, the former Holiday Inn on McDonald Drive is undergoing a major renovation as it plans to become a DoubleTree by Hilton in the coming months.
One thing that will be interesting to watch with the former Ramada site is whether the new hotel seeks to have any conference space. Patel didn’t provide any details on that front, but he said several things that made it clear the firm is trying to gauge how much conference business can be had in Lawrence.
In other news and notes from around town:
• This one slipped under my radar, but The Oread hotel landed on a nice list last month. The hotel was ranked as the No. 22 best college hotel by the website College Rank, which provides information to students and parents on college choices. The Bluemont Hotel in Manhattan was ranked No. 11 on the list. The No. 1 college hotel is the Washington Duke Inn, which has three restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, a AAA four-diamond rating, but does have one drawback that seemingly can’t be overcome. It is at Duke University.
• Some readers have asked for an update on what the new construction is next to the Comfort Inn at McDonald Drive and Princeton Boulevard. As we have reported, that’s set to be a small warehouse complex. Plans filed in September showed four buildings on the site, ranging from about 17,000 square feet to 3,100 square feet. Lawrence-based architect Paul Werner previously told me that the space will accommodate, in part, some businesses that are part of Lawrence’s Fritzel construction entities, such as a cabinet shop, a rock business and other types of construction firms. I suspect some of the warehouse space also could be available for overflow storage for industrial firms that are in the area. It is always possible the plans have changed a bit, and if I hear anything new, I’ll let you know.
It is becoming a familiar issue for city commissioners to consider: Should a new multistory building in downtown Lawrence be offered some sort of financial incentive from the city?
It looks like the next project commissioners will be asked to consider is a proposed five-story commercial/residential building along Vermont Street that former City Commissioner Bob Schumm hopes to build.
Back in June, we reported that Schumm had plans for a major building on the vacant lot that is just south of the old Headmasters salon building in the 800 block of Vermont Street. Well, the proposal has changed a bit since then — we reported on some changes in August — and Schumm said he is getting closer to moving ahead with the project.
But Schumm told me he has decided he’s going to need a city incentive to make the project work as planned. Schumm said he plans to file this month an application for a property tax rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. No word yet on exactly how large of a rebate the project may seek. The city has given out rebates in the 50 percent range to 85 percent.
Schumm said there is one particular part of the project that makes the incentive needed.
“The project is going to have 22 underground parking spaces that are very expensive,” Schumm said.
That is becoming a theme with projects in the downtown area: Developers need help paying for parking.
Downtown is an interesting area when it comes to parking. For decades, the city’s code for parking in downtown has been different than it is in other areas of town. (My wife’s code for parking in downtown is different too, which is why you sometimes have to walk around a Ford Taurus on a sidewalk.) Along the key stretches of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, buildings can be constructed without having to provide any off-street parking for customers or tenants. The city long ago decided the downtown area would be served by public parking.
One thing that has changed in recent years, though, is the city is urging more development of a residential nature in downtown. As more people live in downtown, more of a strain gets put on the public parking supply. Developers — I’m specifically thinking of the development at Ninth and New Hampshire — have said they’re willing to put in their own private, below-ground parking garages to accommodate some of the new parking demand they are creating. But they often say they can’t put in the parking and still have a financially viable project without some assistance from the city.
The previous City Commission was pretty amenable to providing that assistance. Schumm’s project, though, is really the first such test for the new commission, so it should be interesting to watch.
I’ve heard some people say the city needs to just start requiring new construction in downtown to provide its own parking. I’ve heard others say that would be a momentum-killing strategy for downtown. It would create a two-tiered system in downtown: Hundreds of businesses get to take advantage of a code that doesn’t require them to provide for parking, while businesses that have come to the scene more lately have to take on the private expense of providing parking. And I have heard others, yet, say that instead of subsidizing developers to build private parking in downtown, the city simply needs to build more public parking. That, though, will take some new city resources, and perhaps some adjustments of parking rates. So, a lot to keep an ear open for on parking issues.
As for Schumm’s project, see below for some renderings from Lawrence-based architects Hernly Associates. The project is proposed to have a bank — the specific bank hasn’t been identified yet — on the ground floor, and 32 single offices of about 200 square feet each on the second floor, and 11 condos that will be for sale on the third and fourth floors. The fifth floor also will have a large condo, but don’t expect it to be for sale anytime soon. Schumm — who spent most of his career downtown as a restaurant owner — said he and his wife plan to sell their west Lawrence home and move into the top floor condo.
“When they take my keys away, I can walk to the senior center and everything else that is in downtown,” he said.
Any incentive request for the downtown project — which is being called Vermont Place — would first go to the city’s Public Incentives Review Commission for a recommendation and then to the City Commission for a final vote. The building's design already has won approval from the city's Historic Resources Commission, Schumm said.
Plans filed for nearly 2,000 new apartments near South Lawrence Trafficway; several hundred single-family homes may follow
West Lawrence soon may have a new meaning. Plans have been filed for the first major neighborhood to be built west of the South Lawrence Trafficway, and, if approved, it likely won't be the last.
Plans have been filed at City Hall for annexation and rezoning of about 160 acres of property southwest of the new Bob Billings Parkway and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange. The development in the near term could add about 2,000 apartment units, and in future phases could add about 600 single-family homes.
“It is an area that is ideally situated for residential development, and it is consistent with the community’s plans for the area as well,” said Lawrence attorney Dan Watkins, who is representing the ownership group, which is led by longtime Douglas County landowner Don Hazlett.
The map below shows a proposed master plan for the development, which is being dubbed Clinton Farms. The ownership group is seeking rezoning only for the apartment part of the development currently. Those show up as the dark brown and and orange units that are on the right-hand side of the map. The two shades of yellow are the proposed single-family development, which would be built in a future phase and would need to receive separate zoning approvals from the City Commission. The yellow areas also aren’t included in the current annexation request.
Here’s a look at what is proposed in the first phase:
— 416 units of apartments in four-story buildings spread out over 16 acres. That is the area labeled No. 18 on the map.
— 804 units of apartments in three-story buildings spread out over 30 acres. That area is labeled No. 17 on the map.
— A retirement campus that would include skilled nursing, assisted living, memory care services and independent living facilities. In total 270 units would be spread out over 18 acres. That area is labeled No. 16 on the map.
— 44 units of townhomes on 6 acres. That’s No. 15 on the map.
— 120 apartment units in two-story buildings spread out over 8 acres. That’s No. 14 on the map.
— 210 apartment units in two-story buildings spread out over 14 acres. That’s No. 13 on the map.
— 120 units of townhomes on 14 acres. That’s No. 12 on the map.
Here’s a look at what is proposed for a future phase of development:
— 219 low density single-family homes on 49 acres. That’s No. 10 on the map.
— 233 low density single-family homes on 47 acres. That’s No. 9 on the map.
— 34 very low density single-family homes on 18 acres. That’s No. 8 on the map.
— 92 very low density single-family homes on 29 acres. That’s No. 7 on the map.
— 40 apartment units in two-story buildings on 3 acres. That’s No. 11 on the map.
One thing to keep in mind is that the drawing above is a proposed master plan, which is subject to change. What the landowners really are seeking approval for is to convert two pieces of property from agricultural zoning to multifamily development zoning. One request is for about 53 acres for RM32 zoning, and another is for about 80 acres of RM15 zoning. Both of those zoning designations would allow for a variety of apartment and multifamily development.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this development will take some time. Watkins didn’t have a specific timeline, but he agreed that it would take multiple years to build out the project. But Watkins said he is convinced there is significant demand for new apartments in Lawrence.
“The market for multifamily housing in Lawrence is strong,” Watkins said. “Younger and older people both are trending toward leased property instead of owning it. And the studies we see show the absorption rate of new apartments over the last five years has kept pace with construction. Vacancy rates are pretty constant, and rents are rising.”
The issue of how many apartments the city needs is one that comes up at City Hall. I would suspect that it will get some discussion as part of this development request.
Another issue that sometimes comes up at City Hall is the idea of urban sprawl and whether the city can afford to extend infrastructure to new developments on the outer edge of town. That’s a complicated issue for sure, but sometimes it is overlooked that many of the traditional infrastructure costs are paid for by the private development group. In general, private developers pay for pretty much all streets, unless they are wide thoroughfares that are more than 31 feet across. In those cases, the developers pay to construct the street to a standard residential size, and the city pays for the portion of costs associated with widening it to a thoroughfare. The same concept applies to waterlines. The developers pay for water line construction, unless the waterline is a large main meant to serve a larger role in the city’s overall water distribution system. Sewer line extensions also are paid for by the private developer. Don't get me wrong, there are also costs that the city bears when a large new area develops, either directly or indirectly. But there's also significant new property tax revenue that comes with such development, especially if the project doesn't seek any financial incentives from the city.
Watkins said the ownership group doesn’t plan to ask for any special incentives from the city to help pay for the development.
Probably the bigger question to watch for is: What type of growth mindset does the City Commission have these days? This commission is serving in interesting times. The complete South Lawrence Trafficway is actually going to open to traffic this year. It is a more than $190 million investment in infrastructure by the state, and, not surprisingly, it has created development pressure along the SLT. Simply put, we’re in a period where the iron is hot, and some developers are looking to strike.
As we have reported, this City Commission already has turned down one major project that wanted to jump the South Lawrence Trafficway. That was a retail project that wanted to go south of the SLT at the Iowa Street interchange. The city is getting sued over that denial.
What will this commission think about going west of the trafficway? The idea certainly shouldn’t catch anybody by surprise. The school district already owns land in the area that was bought for a future school site. The city has a planning document called the West of K-10 Plan that envisions this property developing with a mix of high density and medium density residential uses. Take a look at the map below to see just how much new housing is envisioned for the area west of the SLT in the decades to come.
And there is another important fact about this property: Unlike the area near Rock Chalk Park at Sixth and the SLT, this property is largely flat and is in the Lawrence school district. That last reason has caused many in the development industry to speculate that this area will be the one that will really take off as the next new major housing area for Lawrence.
The question now seems to be how soon that will happen. City commissioners are getting closer to answering that question.
Look for this development to go to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in June or July and to the City Commission at some point after that.
Downtown spa set to add ‘sensory deprivation tank’; update on Dollar General store for eastern Lawrence
In a household with a 13-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, the idea of sensory deprivation sounds appealing. But just what am I willing to do to give my senses a break from the constant odor of Axe Body Spray and the looks of disbelief that I receive when I ask my kids about their MySpace pages? (Responsible parents monitor social media.) Would I put myself into a bath of saltwater in a darkened, soundproof tank? A new Lawrence business may soon give me the chance to figure that out.
Bodhi Tree Holistic Healing, 15 E. Seventh St., is in the process of installing a sensory deprivation tank, or as they are more commonly being called these days, a float tank. Bodhi Tree recently opened in the space above Java Break at Seventh and New Hampshire streets and already has its massage studio and acupuncture services up and running.
But what will make the business even more unique is its float tank. If you are not familiar with the idea of a float tank, don’t feel bad. I didn’t know anything about them either, and, despite what my kids say, I’m very hip.
Ally Goodman, owner of Bodhi Tree, told me plans call for the studio to have an 8-foot tank that will hold about 12 inches of heavily salted water that will be body temperature. The salt in the water will make it easy for you to lie in the tank and simply float. The tank also will be insulated to keep out any light or smell. Combine that with the feeling of weightlessness you get when floating in water, and you get a pretty unique environment, she said.
“You completely don’t have any senses coming in,” Goodman said. “There are a lot of different components to that. One of the big ones is meditative. Since you aren’t receiving all that sensory input, it makes it easier to get to a deep meditative state without years and years of practice.”
My understanding is the tanks were somewhat popular back in the 1970s, and more commonly were called sensory deprivation tanks. In today’s world, for some reason, that phrase doesn’t quite tickle the imagination the same way it did 1970s' brains. (1970s' brains were very ticklish, the handful of people who remember the ‘70s tell me.) Now they are called float tanks, and you can certainly find a lot of testimonials online from athletes and others who claim a number of benefits from a float. (The one I enjoyed the most was a first-person piece that showed up in New York Magazine a few months ago. Your experience may be different from the author’s, but it was entertaining nonetheless.)
Goodman said she is going through the process of getting the necessary plumbing permits to renovate the space — which used to house Astro Kitty Comics before it moved in with Game Nut at Ninth and Massachusetts. So, it may be a few weeks yet before the tank appears.
As for the other parts of the business, Goodman has started offering deep tissue massage, Swedish massage, prenatal massage and other types of massage. Goodman had previously worked at another Lawrence massage studio after receiving her massage degree in 2013. But she said she wanted her own location so she could implement some of her own ideas.
The float tank is one example, but Goodman also is planning to put a twist on acupuncture services in Lawrence. In addition to the traditional individual acupuncture services, Goodman also is offering “community” acupuncture services. The business has a studio with five acupuncture chairs set up side-by-side. If you are willing to have your acupuncture done in a group setting, you only pay $20 for the service, as opposed to the $65 to $100 that is more common for an individual setting, she said.
Maybe acupuncture parties are the next big thing. I’ll see if they are talking about it on MySpace.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Some of you have been asking whether the idea for a Dollar General store at 19th and Haskell is still alive. By all indications, it is.
We reported in January that plans had been filed at City Hall for a 9,100 square-foot Dollar General store to be built in the parking lot of the longtime shopping center that is on the southeast corner of 19th and Haskell.
I don’t have much new to report on the project, but I did check in with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department to see if anything new had arisen on the project. I was told the site plan for the project has been approved by the planning department staff. That really was the key approval needed for the project. Now, it must receive the standard building permits and such. Unless something unforeseen happens, I would expect construction to take place this spring and summer.
The store will be located on a portion of the parking lot just south of the existing convenience store. So, the Dollar General development won’t displace any of the existing businesses in the center. It will be interesting, though, to see whether the new investment sparks a long-talked-about revitalization of the shopping center.
See proposed facelift for large Massachusetts Street building; Kansas, Lawrence job totals off to slow start
On my desk, you may notice an oversized candy bowl and steel girders to support the weight. Those are leftovers from the days when I was confused about what Lawrence’s M&M Office Supply sold, and what I could get approved on an expense account. Well, that company has been gone for awhile, but its large downtown building remains, and there are now plans to make it look much different.
In case you have forgotten, the M&M building is at 623 Massachusetts, just a couple of doors to the south of Quinton’s bar and deli. The building is a unique one, in part, because it sets off Massachusetts Street a few feet, and as a result has its own private parking in front of its door.
It is also one of Massachusetts Street’s larger buildings and has a facade that looks quite a bit different from the others. It has a more modern look, although that is coming from a man who continues to argue that his Magnum P.I. shirt collection is not outdated.
Here’s what the building looks like today.
Plans have now been filed at City Hall to conduct about $175,000 worth of exterior renovations to the building. They are the first of several expected renovations. Based on the plans, it appears the building’s owners — a trust controlled by the Marsh family — wants to make the building a multitenant facility.
Here’s what the building is planned to looked like, according to renderings prepared by Lawrence-based Treanor Architects.
In their filings with City Hall, Treanor officials said they want to put windows back into the front of the building, that used to exist before the current facade was placed. The filings don’t give a date for when that facade was put on the building, but architects indicated it was done because the yellow-glazed brick that was part of the original building was spalling. Plans call for new brick to be put on the building rather than trying to rehabilitate the old brick.
What will be more interesting is what will end up inside the building. I put a call into Craig Marsh, who heads the building’s ownership group. I haven’t heard back from him yet. In their filings with City Hall, the architects said there are no current tenants for the building, but “it is anticipated that the ownership group will renovate the interior into a configuration that is suitable for a multi-tenant building.” With a basement, ground floor and second floor, the building is expected to have a little more than 20,000 square feet.
The proposed facade, which includes big letters declaring the structure as The Marsh Building, has the look of an office building to me. But, who knows, perhaps there will be an effort to put retail space on the ground floor. The front door parking certainly will attract the attention of some retailers.
The architects said there will be other exterior renovations, including a likely redesign of the backside of the building as plans progress to make it a multitenant facility. Interior renovations also will be needed.
I’ll let you know when I hear more about who may locate in the building.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps employers need to buy more M&Ms (hint, hint), or perhaps it is something else, but job growth numbers in Kansas weren’t too impressive in February, according to a new federal report. The numbers in Lawrence also were a bit stagnant in February and were off quite a bit in January.
The latest job figures are out from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they show Kansas lost 6,000 jobs in February 2016 compared with February 2015. That’s a 0.4 percent decline, which was in contrast to what was happening in other states in the central region. Here’s a look:
— Kansas: down 0.4 percent
— Iowa: up 1.2 percent
— Colorado: up 2.7 percent
— Missouri: up 0.8 percent
—Nebraska: up 1.3 percent
— Oklahoma: down 0.5 percent
This monthly report doesn’t provide specifics on which industry sectors gained or lost jobs during the month. But it does provide job totals for a host of metro areas, and it shows Lawrence was slightly on the losing side in February. Lawrence lost 100 jobs, which is a 0.2 percent decline compared with February 2015 numbers. Here’s a look at Lawrence and some other regional metro areas:
— Lawrence: down 0.2 percent
— Manhattan: up 3.4 percent
— Topeka: down 1.0 percent
— Wichita: up 0.3 percent
— Kansas City, Mo.-Kan.: up 1.6 percent
— Columbia, Mo.: up 2.7 percent
— Joplin, Mo.: up 0.5 percent
— St. Joseph: up 0.6 percent
— Lincoln, Neb.: up 1.6 percent
— Omaha, Neb.: up 1.1 percent
— Ames, Iowa: up 1.1 percent
— Iowa City: up 1.6 percent
— Des Moines, Iowa: up 0.9 percent
— Oklahoma City: up 0.9 percent
— Tulsa: down 0.5 percent
— Boulder, Colo.: up 1.7 percent
— Fort Collins, Colo.: up 4.3 percent
— Grand Junction, Colo.: up 0.5 percent
— Greeley, Colo.: down 1.3 percent
It is important to note that this is only one month’s worth of data, so it should be kept in perspective. The February numbers also are preliminary. The latest report did provide final numbers for January, and it showed Kansas added 900 jobs, or less than 0.1 percent, in January compared with the same period a year ago. The report showed Lawrence lost 1,200 jobs in January compared with January 2015. That was a decline of 2.3 percent. Just like in this month’s report, Lawrence and Topeka were the only Kansas metro areas to report job losses in January.
So, Lawrence isn’t off to a great start on the job front in 2016. It is still early, but also worth keeping an eye on.
I can now officially say there will be moose adventures in west Lawrence, although I’m still unclear on whether I need to continue practicing my moose calls. Regardless, Kansas City-based Blue Moose Bar & Grill indeed will open near Sixth and Wakarusa.
For a few months now, I’ve been reporting that speculation was pointing toward the Blue Moose opening a restaurant in the new building that is being constructed just east of the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa. Well, the president of the company has now confirmed it.
“With the high school, the theater, with Rock Chalk Park, we love the area,” said Ed Nelson, who is president of the Kansas City restaurant company KC Hopps, which is the parent company of Blue Moose. “We think it is going to be a really good fit for casual dining in Lawrence.”
Looking at the menu, it appears the restaurant is going for a niche that I’ve noticed more and more: fancy but not full-on fancy. (I think that means I still can wear my antlers, if I want.)
“Our goal is definitely to compete with a higher end restaurant on quality, but for price and atmosphere we are more casual," Nelson said.
That means the restaurant goes quite a bit beyond what you would expect from a sports bar menu, for example. Yes, the restaurant does serve items such as chicken wings, hamburgers, pizza — the flatbread variety — and even fried pickles. But you’ll also find more upscale items such as a baked brie appetizer, several salmon and fish dishes, a couple of pasta offerings, and a dish called lemon chicken saltimboca, which features parmesan cheese, spinach, zucchini, rice pilaf and multiple mispronunciations as the guy in the moose antlers tries to order the dish.
The restaurant even has several desserts, including cheesecakes, creme brûlée and a torte that does feature chocolate mousse — not moose. (My experience has been to steer clear of the chocolate moose desserts. Too chunky.)
Nelson said the restaurant will have about 6,000 square feet of space in the multitenant building that is now under construction. As we’ve reported, Kansas City’s Spin Neapolitan Pizza will be in one end of the building, and an undetermined retailer will be the third tenant.
Nelson said part of the space will be set aside for a banquet room for large parties or other events. This will be the fifth location for Blue Moose, with the original one in Prairie Village and more recent additions in Overland Park, Lenexa and Topeka. Nelson said the company also plans to open a restaurant in Manhattan.
Nelson said he hopes the restaurant can open in October or November of this year. As for the feel and vibe of the place, Nelson shared a few renderings of the proposed interior of the restaurant. He said the group is looking to be a bit contemporary in the design but also casual. He said one theme that will carry over from other Blue Moose restaurants is that the restaurant will be filled with photographs of local landmarks. Each photograph will have a blue moose in it somewhere. It will be kind of like a find Waldo situation. Here’s a look at some of the proposed designs for the building.
Blue Moose’s parent company, KC Hopps, also operates several other popular Kansas City chains, including Stroud’s fried chicken, the 810 Zone, Barley’s Brewhaus and several others. But Nelson, who is a KU graduate, told me his company didn’t have any other Lawrence projects on the radar screen.
“The Lawrence restaurant market right now is really competitive and really eclectic,” Nelson said. “From a consumer standpoint, I think it is a really fun place to be. For now, we are just focused on the Blue Moose project.”
Lawrence sales tax collections gain steam; details on upcoming pole vault event; possible move for chamber offices
Lawrence City Hall and I have something in common: We’re both rooting for a warm-up. I’m rooting for one after my wife a few weeks ago decreed that the furnace shall not be used again until after Labor Day. (She didn’t say which year.) City Hall is rooting for a warm-up of sales tax revenues. Well, one of us got what we were looking for, and the other is still trying to learn how to knit an afghan.
The city recently received its March sales tax check from the state, and collections were up 7.4 percent compared with the same period a year ago. The March check generally reflected sales that were made in February.
That was a good batch of news because January and February sales tax checks — which reflected sales made primarily during December and January— were middling at 0.8 percent and 1.2 percent increases, respectively. For whatever reason, post-holiday sales seemed to soar. (I know I had to go buy llama hair and a loom.)
Actually, it may not be traditional retail sales like those that are driving the higher numbers at all. I’m still waiting on the latest numbers from City Hall, but earlier this year the city said the two largest categories of sales tax growth were sales of building materials, which were up by 28 percent compared with the same period a year ago, and sales taxes charged on hotel rooms, which were up 19 percent over the same time period a year ago. The building materials could be a sign of the new Menards store, and increased hotel activity could be a sign of events taking place at Rock Chalk Park and elsewhere around town. It is tough to know exactly what is driving the increases in either category, but they are noteworthy.
The March sales tax check now has Lawrence’s year-to-date sales tax collections up by 2.9 percent for the year-to-date. The city still needs that number to grow to meet its budget projections for 2016, but thus far the city is not expressing much concern. The city needs sales tax growth to check in closer to 4 percent to 5 percent in 2016.
What’s most interesting about Lawrence’s sales tax numbers is that Lawrence is outpacing all of the other large retail communities in the state thus far. Here’s a look at growth percentages for some of the state’s larger retail centers:
— Lawrence: up 2.9 percent
— Kansas City: down 2.1 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 0.2 percent
— Johnson County: down 1.1 percent
— Salina: down 4.5 percent
— Manhattan: down 0.6 percent
— Lenexa: down 14.6 percent
— Topeka: down 0.3 percent
— Overland Park: down 1.0 percent
— Olathe: up 1.1 percent
In other news and notes from around town:
• For those of you who missed it in the J-W’s sports section, we now have more details about a unique pole vaulting event slated for later this month.
I reported last month that plans were in the works for a pole vault exhibition to be held in the parking lot of Salty Iguana Mexican restaurant at Sixth and Wakarusa. Now, KU officials have confirmed the event will be held as part of the Kansas Relays.
KU officials also have announced that the event will attract professional pole vaulters who will be competing for cash prizes based on how high they vault.
Among those competing will be former KU standout Jordan Scott, a seven-time Big 12 champion. The field will feature four men and four women.
The event is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. on April 21 at the Salty Iguana parking lot. In addition to the pole vaulting, there will be a bit of a parking lot party, with food and drink being sold at the event.
The pole vaulting event hopes to replicate the success of the Downtown Lawrence Olympic Shot Put event that is now in its fifth year. That event — which features some of the world’s best shot putters competing in a ring at the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire — is set for 6 p.m. on April 22. That event is organized by eXplore Lawrence, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, but is held in conjunction with the Kansas Relays.
• File this one in the category of something to keep an eye on: The Lawrence chamber of commerce is in the process of looking for a new home for its offices and the KU Small Business Development Center. Bonnie Lowe, chief operating officer for the chamber, confirmed that the organization is shopping around for a new office as its current lease at Seventh and Vermont streets has expired. The Chamber — which has its offices above the Jos. A. Bank retail store — has signed a short-term extension while it looks for space.
Lowe said the chamber may decide to sign a new long-term lease at it current location, but she said The Chamber does have some interest in ground floor office space somewhere in downtown.
"That would probably be my preference," Lowe said of ground floor space. "From a visibility standpoint, that would really help."
Lowe didn't get into any locations that The Chamber is considering, so I don't know if the group is looking at ground floor space on busy Massachusetts Street or in one of the many office buildings, like the Hobbs Taylor Loft building, that is on New Hampshire Street. There also are probably some options on Vermont, as well.
Lowe did confirm that The Chamber is confining its search to the downtown area. I'll let you know when I hear more.
Big changes on tap for Lawrence’s Fourth of July celebration; Lawrence manufacturing firm relocates to K.C.
How Lawrence celebrates the Fourth of July is set for a major change this year. No, the fireworks ban isn’t being lifted, but the community party and fireworks show is moving to more spacious Burcham Park. But organizers of the community event are facing funding problems to make the show bigger and better.
For the last several years, Watson Park near Sixth and Kentucky streets has been the site of Party in the Park, a July 4 celebration that culminated with a fireworks show by the Lawrence Jaycees. The party was hosted and organized by a group of locally owned restaurants. This year, the restaurant owners have turned the party over to Lawrence resident Richard Renner, who is best known in Lawrence for organizing the community busker festival in downtown. Renner has rebranded the event as GoFourth!
“Really, I’m just hoping to pull off a bigger, better Fourth of July festival,” Renner said.
Step No. 1 was finding a larger venue than Watson Park. Renner said Burcham Park — located at Second and Indiana streets along the Kansas River — fits the bill. Not only is the park larger than Watson Park, it is adjacent to two other parks near the river — Constant Park and the new Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park. Some of you may remember that Lawrence's July 4 celebration used to be held in Burcham Park years ago.
The extra room will allow for some new events. Renner said a car show will be part of the party, a larger kids zone area, more vendors, a beer garden and more robust musical offerings. Renner has recruited Mike Logan with The Granada to book acts for the event.
“We’ll have better music,” Renner said. “We’re going to bring in paid performers this year.”
But as we all know, you don’t show your patriotism with better music. You show your love of country by lighting off fireworks with your four-fingered friend and occasionally patriotically maiming yourself with a sparkler. Or perhaps some of you prefer to let others take care of the fireworks displays. That’s generally the case in Lawrence, which bans the use of most fireworks by individuals.
Renner would like to improve the quality of the show, but that won’t come cheaply, he said. Renner said it takes $10,000 to $20,000 to produce a high-quality show. Thus far, he has commitments for $7,000, with the city providing $5,000 and the Lawrence Jaycees committing $2,000.
Renner had hoped the city would provide more funding through its new Transient Guest Tax Grant Fund program. The GoFourth! festival sought $19,200 in funding from the transient guest tax program, which is funded through the special tax that hotel patrons pay. But the city decided to provide $5,000 instead, which is consistent with what the city has provided to the fireworks show in the past, Renner was told.
As a result, Renner has started a fundraising effort on the website GoFundMe. He’s seeking $5,000 by June 1 to fund the fireworks show.
“I just hope that the citizens of Lawrence want to blow up their money in the air like the rest of us do,” Renner said.
Renner even has a slogan for the effort: More bucks for the bang.
As for other details of the festival, it will continue to be free to the public to attend, Renner said. Plans call for the event to begin at 3 p.m. and end at 10 p.m. The fireworks show is scheduled to begin about 9:30 p.m. Renner has arranged for shuttles to take people from two city parking garages — the one near the library and the one near the arts center — to Burcham Park. First Student will be providing the buses, and Renner said he’s secured funding for the shuttles from the convention and visitors bureau.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Renner said his GoFourth! efforts aren’t interfering with his production of the Lawrence Busker Festival. The wacky downtown event that features street performers of many different types is set for May 27-29, which is Memorial Day weekend. Last year was the first year for the event to be held at the beginning of summer instead of the end, and Renner said it was a no-brainer to keep the event in May this year.
“The event just got so much better, and so many people showed up,” Renner said.
Renner is estimating about 20,000 people over three days will attend the festival. He has 20 acts booked for five stages that will be operating in downtown.
The Busker Festival, which started nine years ago, has turned into a real business for Renner. He has a company — Busker Festivals Inc. — that organizes the events around the country. Thus far, he’s produced busker festivals in Tulsa and Austin, and he’s working on a project in Kansas City, and has been approached by Columbia, Mo.
• Lawrence has lost a once-promising manufacturing company to Kansas City. As we reported in October, Lawrence-based HiPer Technologies — which makes racing wheels for the ATV market — was close to signing a deal to be bought by Kansas City-based Weld, one of the leading manufactures of high-performance wheels.
Well, that deal has come to fruition, and Weld has announced that it has moved HiPer’s Lawrence operations to Kansas City. We reported in October that was a possibility but wasn’t a certainty with the deal.
In a release, Weld president and CEO Norm Young said the move made sense to maximize many business functions, including finance, sales, engineering, marketing and customer support. The move to Weld’s 200,000 square-foot production center in Kansas City, Mo., also gives HiPer better access to Weld’s forging technologies.
The release didn’t state how many jobs were involved in the move, but in October, HiPer employed 11 people in Lawrence.
HiPer was located at 2920 Haskell Ave. It shared space with the new Peaslee Tech vocational training center. HiPer was a tenant in the building, and its lease payments are a key part of the finances of the nonprofit Peaslee Tech center. I need to check in with Peaslee Tech officials to find out how the move has affected the center’s finances, but I know they have been planning for the move. In October, an official with the center told me the center’s leaders were aware of the possible move, and were in discussions to ensure the center would be made whole. Peaslee Tech leaders were optimistic that another tenant could be found for the space. I’ll let you know what I hear on that front.
As for HiPer, it once created a buzz in Lawrence business circles. Its business was based off of breakthroughs with carbon fiber technology. Carbon fiber is a material that is lighter than aluminum but tougher than aluminum. Company officials at one time had many plans for products to be made out of carbon fiber, but ATV racing wheels became the company’s primary product.
By becoming part of Weld, HiPer likely has a chance to grow that business. Weld generally is considered to be the leader in racing wheels. In its release, Weld said it has planned an “aggressive production build schedule for 2016” for HiPer wheels.
See renderings of big building project in west Lawrence; update on construction near Sixth and Wakarusa; city building totals off to strong start
You’ve probably noticed a major construction project is underway at Sixth and Folks Road. I know I’ve certainly received questions about the big pile of dirt that is being created on site, and my attorney tells me I can actually answer questions about this dirt pile. (Let’s just say an aggressive dandelion eradication program has left some difficult dirt pile questions in my past.) As we have reported, a multimillion dollar apartment complex is being built at the intersection, and now I have renderings of the project to share.
City officials have issued a building permit for $6 million worth of multifamily apartment construction as part of the Bauer Farm commercial development at the northwest corner of Sixth and Folks Road. The project will add 100 apartment units to the area. We previously reported on the apartment complex when plans for the project were filed several months ago. But I know you have forgotten that, and now you want to know what the project will look like. I do have renderings of the project now, courtesy of Lawrence-based Treanor Architects, which is designing the project.
Here's a look at one of the large apartment buildings that will be part of the project:
Here's a look at one of the smaller apartment buildings:
Here's a look at the clubhouse facility:
Here's a look at the overall complex:
Bill Fleming, an attorney with Treanor, told me the project is expected to have a 10-month construction timeline, which means apartments should be leasing by next spring. Also, much of the dirt work you are seeing out there isn’t just for the apartments but also is for a new road that is being constructed in the Bauer Farm area. Bauer Farm Drive currently dead ends in the development. But the apartment project calls for the completion of Bauer Farm Drive, which means there will be a new way to travel from one of the developments to the other.
Look for more development to happen near the intersection as well. At one point plans were filed for XpressWellness Urgent Care to build a medical facility near the northwest corner of the Sixth and Folks intersection. But as we previously reported, those plans have been scrapped, perhaps because MedExpress beat them to the punch and built a facility at the old Spangles location near Sixth and Kasold. My understanding now is that a bank or credit union has purchased the property for a new facility. I’m still trying to gather details about that project, however.
I’ve also received some questions from readers about a couple of other projects underway in northwest Lawrence. People have inquired about construction that is underway behind the CVS drug store at Sixth and Wakarusa. As we reported in September, Mid American Credit Union is building a new Lawrence headquarters there. City officials have issued a $1.5 million building permit for the new credit union, and work has begun on the project. If you are confused about who Mid American Credit union is, as we’ve reported, it is a Wichita-based firm that took over the operations of Lawrence-based Jayhawk Federal Credit Union, which has it sole branch near the Lawrence Paper Company in northern Lawrence.
I’ve also received questions about the construction underway just east of the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa. As we’ve reported a few times, that is a multitenant building that will house Spin Neapolitan Pizza. The building also is planned to house one other restaurant. There’s certainly been speculation that it will be the Blue Moose Bar & Grill, a Kansas City-based chain, but there’s been no confirmation on that.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The city has released its building permit report for February. It shows construction activity is off to a slower start in 2016 compared with a year ago, but it is important to remember that 2015 was a record year for Lawrence construction.
City officials in the first two months of 2016 have issued permits for $36.2 million worth of construction. That’s down from the $53.5 million issued in the same period a year ago. But the $36.2 million total is still the second highest total since at least 2009. In other words, the construction scene isn’t as busy as it was last year, but it is still off to a very strong start.
The $6 million Bauer Farm apartment project is thus far the largest single project started in the city in 2016.
One area to keep an eye on is single family home and duplex construction. As I reported earlier, real estate agents are expressing concern about the falling inventory levels in the single-family home market. The market has become tight due to a lower number of houses on the market. That may be a cue for builders to start building new homes at a faster rate. Thus far, though, we haven’t seen that in the numbers.
The city has issued 18 permits for single-family and duplex construction thus far in 2016. That’s down 20 from the same period a year ago. The 18 permits basically are in line with the five-year average of housing starts. So, no homebuilding spike yet. We’ll see if one is to come.
One of Lawrence’s older restaurants set to close at end of month; report says Kansas taxpayers getting good value on taxes paid
At an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, you know you have gotten your money’s worth when they replace the general’s chicken with a peace treaty. I’m not sure I ever quite got to that point at Lawrence’s Panda Garden restaurant, and now we have little time left to get there. After 30 years in business, Panda Garden is closing at the end of the month.
Owner Lucy White told me a deal has been struck to sell the Panda Garden property at 1500 W. Sixth St. to an out-of-town buyer who plans to open another restaurant at the location. I didn’t get other details from White about the pending restaurant. White, to be honest, was having a hard enough time discussing the decision to close Panda Garden after three decades in business.
“I have been very emotional,” White said. “We’ve had such a good run. We have so many, many, many loyal friends that have come from this business.”
White came to America from Taiwan more than 30 years ago. Eventually, she would bring her family members to America. Brothers, a sister and other relatives of White’s all work at the business, and also used to work at the Plum Tree, a restaurant on south Iowa Street that the family also operated until it closed in 2008.
White said that while the decision to sell was not easy, she said the family made the decision for the right reasons.
“It is really hard work,” she said of running the restaurant. “It takes a lot of dedication and devotion, and we want to do it well or we don’t want to do it.”
For those of you not familiar with Panda Garden, it is not your traditional Chinese buffet restaurant. Indeed, the buffet has been offered at times, but it has gained a following from its extensive made-to-order menu. The restaurant offers up some Americanized dishes, but also has a menu that is more focused on traditional Chinese dishes, or so I’m told. (I’ll be honest, my Chinese dining usually involves arming myself with a half-dozen egg rolls and going into battle with General Tso’s chicken.)
The Panda Garden’s closing will mark the end of one of the older restaurants in Lawrence. Over the years, I’ve had occasion to try to keep track of what restaurants have some of the older lineage. Panda Garden is part of a group that certainly qualifies as an old-timer, but it is not the oldest. The last time I did any real research on this topic was back in 2014 when Buffalo Bob’s Smokehouse closed in downtown Lawrence. It was perhaps the oldest downtown restaurant at the time, and one of the older in the city. For that story, I checked out an old Polk City Directory from 1977 to see what restaurants were listed then that still exist today. Before you read the next paragraph, make your guesses on the five oldest restaurants I found in Lawrence at that time.
In no particular order, they are: La Tropicana in North Lawrence; The Flamingo Club (yes, it serves food) in North Lawrence; the Wagon Wheel Cafe in the Oread neighborhood, the Taco Bell on 23rd Street and the McDonald’s on 23rd Street.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Not that folks in political circles need anything more to argue about, but this report probably will provide more fodder nonetheless. A new ranking is out that shows Kansas taxpayers have one of the best returns on investments of state tax dollars of any state in the country.
The folks at the financial website WalletHub have been doing a series of reports related to taxes and state governments. They came out with one today that tries to tie it all together and tries to measure the bang for the buck that residents get from their state and local taxes.
As I frequently caution, these rankings have a lot of subjectivity in them. But WalletHub generally uses good data sources, and it is a nonpartisan group. It is not trying to make one party look good or bad, so I think it is worth passing along.
The WalletHub study found Kansas has the 11th best return on investment of any state in the country. WalletHub looked at about 20 factors and other rankings to determine the quality level of state services. Those included rankings of the state’s public school system, its universities, its hospitals, life expectancy averages, health insurance premiums, crime rates, vehicle accident rates, incarceration rates, unemployment rates, household incomes, job growth totals, poverty rates, rankings of road conditions, commute times, air pollution measures, and a few other factors. It weighted those and combined those to come up with an overall “government services rank.” The study found Kansas had the 16th highest government services rank.
In case you are wondering, middle America was a mixed bag when it came to good government service. Here’s a look at how some other states from our region scored in the government services category:
— No. 4: Iowa
— No. 6. Nebraska
— No. 14. Colorado
— No. 16 Kansas
— No. 34 Missouri
— No. 45 Oklahoma
The WalletHub folks then looked at the total amount of taxes paid in each state and calculated a per capita tax number by using the adult population of each state. They call that their “total taxes per capita rank.” Despite Kansas making significant changes to reduce the amount of taxes business owners pay, Kansas was still middle of the pack on that ranking. Kansas ranked No. 24. Here’s a look at others in the region, with the lower the number meaning the lower amount of taxes per capita:
— No. 4: Missouri
— No. 12: Colorado
— No. 17: Oklahoma
— No. 24: Kansas
— No. 29: Iowa
— No. 28 Nebraska
So, if you are scoring at home, Missouri collects a lot less tax per person than Kansas does, but its quality of government service also is deemed to be less than what is offered in Kansas.
Next, WalletHub combined the two measurements — quality of service and amount of taxes paid — to create a return on investment ranking for each state. As I noted earlier, Kansas ranked No. 11 in that category. That is good, but it wasn’t good enough to be ranked top in our region. Many in our region fared well. Here’s a look:
— No. 3: Colorado
— No. 7: Missouri
— No. 9: Iowa
— No. 10: Nebraska
— No. 11: Kansas
— No. 33: Oklahoma
So, make of that what you will. There are a number of things the ranking didn’t measure — budget deficits, bond ratings and other measures of financial soundness come to mind — but it is interesting to see where Kansas and our neighbors rank, and to think about the tax policies and spending decisions that play into those rankings.
In case you are wondering, the top five states in the ranking are:
— No. 1: New Hampshire
— No. 2: South Dakota
— No. 3: Colorado
— No. 4: Virginia
— No. 5: Florida
The bottom five are:
— No. 46: Delaware
— No. 47: New York
— No. 48: Hawaii
— No. 49: Alaska
— No. 50: North Dakota
AT&T begins offering gigabit Internet service to select Lawrence neighborhoods; south Iowa retailer closing as part of bankruptcy plan
For those of you who want faster Internet speeds at your Lawrence home, here’s something to keep an eye on: AT&T has quietly begun offering gigabit Internet service in a few select Lawrence neighborhoods.
AT&T officials told me that the company recently began offering the service in a couple of newer neighborhoods on the western side of town, but they didn’t give me more precise details. Instead, the company has a website — att.com/gigapower — that allows you to check your address to see if the gigabit service is offered.
Most of you in Lawrence will find that it is not offered, yet. Chris Lester, a spokesman for AT&T, told me the Lawrence project is a more of a testing-of-the-waters type of effort rather than a large scale launch.
“It is in the hundreds,” Lester said of the number of Lawrence homes that are eligible for the super fast broadband speeds.
I realize some of you still may be confused about gigabit. (I saw Tom Silva on "This Old House" use one of them gigabits to drill through titanium bathroom tiles.) Gigabit service is the same type of super fast Internet speed that the much-touted Google Fiber project brought to parts of Kansas City. AT&T notes that with gigabit service that you can do things like download 25 songs in a single second, download your favorite TV show in about 3 seconds, and download an HD movie in about 35 seconds.
Quick download speeds and live streaming of video are a big selling point for the service right now. But home-based businesses that upload lots of content to the Web also have been clamoring for the service. Eventually, people believe the super fast Internet speeds also will lead to consumers having better access to things such as telemedicine, distance learning and other advancements that we haven’t even thought about yet.
If you remember, though, one of the debates at Lawrence City Hall is whether we’re on the cusp of another digital divide. In other words, will only the rich neighborhoods get access to this high-speed broadband service? Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband worked to get an incentives package to install gigabit service in parts of East Lawrence. Commissioners, though, balked at that idea after questions about the financial arrangement kept emerging. Some community leaders have mentioned the idea of the city providing broadband service, which has been done in a few communities. Others, though, have said to be patient and see if the large telecom utilities start offering the service on their own.
That’s why watching what AT&T does next will be important. Company officials didn’t provide me any details on how broadly they may offer the service in Lawrence in the future. But they did note that they have expanded the service in several other communities. The company has announced it is bringing the gigabit service to parts of Wichita, and is expanding its current offerings in the KC metro area to include parts of Belton, Blue Springs, Grain Valley, Lee’s Summit and Raymore. The company already offers the service in parts of Fairway, Leawood, Lenexa, Mission Hills, Olathe, Overland Park, Prairie Village and Shawnee.
One thing that seems likely is that Lawrence won’t be forgotten by company officials. AT&T’s Kansas president is a Lawrence resident.
“We think the service will get good use in Lawrence,” said Mike Scott, president of AT&T Kansas. “We certainly will keep our eyes open for other opportunities in Lawrence. We’re looking to expand, but it will depend on the response we get.”
AT&T officials said one of the reasons they chose the particular west Lawrence neighborhoods for the service is because they are newer neighborhoods that were built with fiber optic cable leading to each home. That’s not the case with some older neighborhoods. But as more neighborhoods are built with fiber to the home, the chances of gigabit service being expanded seem to increase. That, however, may lead some to become concerned again about that digital divide question. Will only newly built neighborhoods have that high-speed service?
There certainly has been talk by some companies, though, of retrofitting existing neighborhoods with the needed fiber. That is what is going in Baldwin City by RG Fiber. That Baldwin City-based company has agreements in place to do that type of work in Lawrence as well, but company officials have said Eudora is next on its list for expansion, in part because Eudora helped the company find a route for its key piece of fiber while Lawrence officials got caught up in a broader debate about what type of help it should provide to RG Fiber and Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband. RG Fiber has said it still plans to offer service in Lawrence, but not until it gets underway in Eudora.
As for AT&T’s current project — brand name GigaPower — it is advertising gigabit service for $120 month. That price includes a large package of cable television channels.
• I certainly do hear questions about gigabit service and its availability in Lawrence, but what I hear more frequently are questions about other options for cable television service. It looks like later this year that a significant option is going to arrive in the city.
Perhaps you remember something in the national news about AT&T and DirectTV merging. That happened a few months ago, but last month the combined company made another announcement that I didn’t fully grasp the significance of: AT&T plans on streaming DirectTV content.
What that means is that most of the channels you can get through a DirectTV subscription will be available without having to put up the DirectTV satellite dish. Instead, the channels simply will be delivered to your home through your Internet connection. The Internet connection doesn’t have to be one provided by AT&T. Some pundits are calling it BYOB: Bring your own broadband.
AT&T already offers cable television service in parts of Lawrence through its U-verse service. But that service is available only in select locations of the community. That has meant that WOW continues to be the dominant cable television and broadband provider in the city. But once this new program begins, you could use WOW broadband service to get AT&T cable television service.
The big question, though, is which cable networks will be part of the package. AT&T officials have said the channel offerings will be broad and large. But they haven’t provided details such as whether ESPN and other premium channels will be part of the package. Keep an eye out for those details, because depending on how they develop, Lawrence’s cable television market could be changing significantly.
AT&T plans to roll out the new service in the fourth quarter of this year.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waited in a hot car outside the Hancock Fabrics location in south Lawrence. I can’t tell you because I usually black out. My water dish usually runs dry before my wife’s fabric shopping spree does.
Well, that scene soon will come to an end. Hancock Fabrics is closing its Lawrence store at 2108 W. 27th St. Those of you who read Town Talk perhaps were prepared for this. We reported in February that the Hancock Fabrics chain filed for bankruptcy protection and was closing 70 stores. The Lawrence store was not on that list of 70 store closures. But we also noted that there was speculation that the bankruptcy process would take a nasty turn and become a complete liquidation.
That is indeed what has happened. Great American Group, a company that specializes in liquidating failing businesses, ended up with the winning bid in the bankruptcy auction for Hancock. Great American Group has announced that it will close all 185 stores in the Hancock chain.
Going-out-of-business signs showed up in Lawrence over the weekend, and the store has begun discounting its merchandise. The company said it expects the going-out-of-business sales to last for “several weeks” before all the merchandise is gone.
One cigar shop closes, while another plans to open premium lounge downtown; art event set to close portion of Mass. Street
I don’t have to remind fellow KU fans that we won’t be needing a celebratory cigar for this weekend’s Final Four — unless we want to stick it up the nose of a Sooner fan. (My apologies, as you may have sensed, I haven’t quite figured out whether to root for our fellow Big 12 member.) Regardless, west Lawrence’s upscale cigar shop and lounge has closed, but there is word of a new one heading to downtown.
Centro Cigars at 4811 Bob Billings Parkway has closed. I went to the location, and it was locked up, and a fellow at an adjacent business also confirmed the closing, although he said he’d been informed people were looking at the location with some hope of reopening the cigar shop and lounge in future months.
More certain is that plans are underway to open Issachar Cigar Shop at 726 Massachusetts St. Owner Michael McNellis, a Johnson County private equity firm manager, said the business will be a “premier cigar lounge.”
“Unfortunately, we are nowhere near opening,” McNellis said. “I wish we were.”
If you are confused about where the business is locating, it is going into the space that formerly housed Creation Station. (That still may leave some of you confused, as eliminating confusion wasn’t exactly the eclectic Creation Station’s calling card.)
The new business venture allows McNellis to combine a couple of things he really enjoys: cigars and downtown Lawrence.
“This is a flat-out homer call for me,” said McNellis, who grew up in Lawrence. “I’m a fan and love the downtown, and I just want to be part of that culture.”
McNellis said he plans on hiring several cigar experts to staff the business. Plans call for people to be able to purchase cigars there and also to be able to smoke them on the premises with other aficionados.
You may be confused again, since Lawrence does have an indoor smoking ban. But the ban does allow for smoking to take place at businesses that are designated as tobacco shops. Tobacco shops, though, have to meet some pretty strict definitions and have limitations on what they can sell. For example, the cigar lounge won’t be able to sell you a nice glass of wine or bourbon to go along with that cigar.
McNellis said patrons also won’t be able to bring their own bottle of wine or alcoholic beverage to consume on-site. He said the site will offer coffee and soft drinks, comfortable furniture and other amenities for cigar fans.
“It will be a very nice environment to enjoy a cigar,” McNellis said. “Unfortunately, it is still several months away.”
McNellis said he hopes construction work to remodel the building begins in earnest in April. Among the changes planned for the building is a new patio area on the back side of the building.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As I told you a couple of weeks ago, we are entering the season when street parties and road-closed signs will start popping up in downtown like dandelions in a Lawhorn lawn. The latest event to receive City Hall approval is a longtime Lawrence tradition. Art in the Park has received a permit to hold its annual event on May 1.
Plans call for the portion of Massachusetts Street that runs through South Park to be closed to traffic from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on May 1. The event will include vendors on the street, but also spread out through South Park.
The event is hosted by the Lawrence Art Guild, and as we have reported, that nonprofit has had some organizational troubles. But this permit seems to be a good sign that those troubles will not derail the popular Art in the Park event.