Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Chamber of commerce wants chance to run convention and visitors bureau; longtime Lawrence security company purchased
Figuring out who is best at selling Lawrence to tourists and visitors may become a hot topic at City Hall.
As we reported last month, there’s a proposal out there that the convention and visitors bureau should become an official department of Lawrence City Hall. Currently it is a standalone entity that is run by the nonprofit board of Destination Management Inc., which also oversees the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.
Now I’ve gotten word that the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce is making a pitch to have the CVB become part of the chamber’s organization.
“We feel Lawrence could lose a competitive edge if it becomes a part of City Hall,” Larry McElwain, president and CEO of the chamber told me. “We don’t feel Lawrence is as competitive for conferences and workshops — especially during that Sunday night to Thursday morning timeframe — as we could be.”
McElwain said if the CVB is part of City Hall, many of the bids it submits for conferences and conventions and such will be subject to open records law. If competitors have access to that sort of information, it may be tougher for Lawrence to produce winning bids for conferences and such.
City officials told me they wanted to better understand that concern. From their viewpoint, there are some efficiencies to be gained by having the CVB join the city’s ranks. Diane Stoddard, assistant city manager, said the CVB already works closely with the Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments on hosting a variety of events. The city’s communications office works closely with the organization to publicize many events, and the city’s communications staff also includes graphic designers and web producers who would be able to provide services to the CVB.
“There are a lot of issues to look at,” Stoddard said.
McElwain confirmed that the chamber brought up the idea of the CVB becoming part of the chamber about three months ago, which is about the time that director of Destination Management Inc. resigned. McElwain said City Manager David Corliss wasn’t in favor of the idea. Corliss, however, is leaving for a new position in Colorado at the end of the month, Stoddard is taking over as interim city manager, and the make-up of the City Commission has changed since then too. So, a new discussion may produce new results. The CVB was part of the chamber of commerce for decades until Destination Management Inc. was formed in 2008.
Stoddard said she doesn’t have a specific timeframe for a decision to be made on the CVB future. How long it drags out will be interesting to watch. McElwain said he's talked to multiple operators who are concerned that the number events their hotels have been asked to bid on has slowed significantly in the last six months.
Ultimately the City Commission holds the hammer on this issue. The CVB is funded through proceeds of the city’s 6 percent guest tax that is charged on all hotel rooms in the city. The City Commission directly controls that funding.
Under the chamber’s proposal, the city would continue to control that funding, but the city would create a contract with the chamber to manage the CVB operations for a fee. That’s similar to how the city has a contract with the chamber for economic development marketing activities. UPDATE: A chamber representative called me. They don't really like the word 'fee.' The chamber wanted to make it clear that none of the transient guest tax money would be used to fund other chamber operations. That funding would be segregated from the rest of the chamber's funding.
We’ll see what happens, but I think the issue of tourism is going to be a surprisingly active one during this summer’s budget season. I definitely got the impression from last night’s budget forum that there is city commissioner interest in raising the guest tax rate. I also picked up on some interest in using portions of the guest tax revenue to fund items that you normally wouldn’t think of as tourism related. For instance, maybe some of the money could be used to help parks and recreation maintenance, with the idea that parks and their various amenities are certainly important to the tourism industry.
All in all, the 2016 budget process could be one of the more interesting ones in years because of how many new people will be involved. (That means it will be more like watching grass grow rather than watching paint dry, but you take your City Hall excitement where you can get it.) There will be three new commissioners, an interim city manager and a new finance director all involved with the budget this year.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There has been a change in the world of Lawrence security, but no, that doesn’t mean my wife has given me access to our ATM code. The longtime Lawrence firm of Overfield Security has been purchased by Select One Security.
Overfield had been in business for 20 years in Lawrence. SelectOne also is a Lawrence-based firm that dates back to 2003. It is owned by Ryan Kruse. He said the purchase of Overfield’s business triples the size of SelectOne. He said the purchase will allow the company to continue to expand with is mobile platform security business that allows homeowners or business owners to monitor their property through mobile devices.
“These are very exciting times for our customer base and the future of our company,” Kruse said in a statement.
Overfield owner Scott Overfield said he plans to temporarily stay on with the SelectOne as an adviser.
“Thank you for all of the memories and dedication from my first customer to my last, and all of my staff over the years,” Overfield said.
Lawrence’s retail sales growth near the top in the state; update on Dale Willey expansion on South Iowa; city commissioners seek more info on solar power
Whether it be new events held in town or just a new outlook on life, Lawrence shoppers continue to spend more these days, according to the state’s latest report.
According to the Kansas Department of Revenue, taxable sales in Lawrence were up 6.4 percent for the April reporting period. That period generally covers sales made from about mid-March to mid-April.
For the year, sales tax collections are up 5.8 percent compared with the same period a year ago. That puts the Lawrence market near the top of the list when it comes to growth totals for major retail areas in the state. Here’s a look at several other large markets:
— Johnson County: up 2.9 percent
— Kansas City: up 5 percent
— Lenexa: up 7.5 percent
— Manhattan: up 3.8 percent
— Overland Park: down 0.1 percent
— Salina: up 4. 4 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 2.7 percent
— Topeka: up 1.7 percent
Retail sales have been on a hot streak in Lawrence lately. In 2014, retail sales grew by 4.1 percent. It is still early, but if Lawrence stays on its current pace, 2015 will be the fourth time in the last five years that the city has posted retail sales growth above 4 percent. I would think chances are good that Lawrence will see strong retail sales growth throughout 2015. Menards is set to open at some point this year (I’m still guessing late summer), and that will be one of the largest new retail stores built in the city in recent years. Plus, 2015 is the first full year for tournaments and other events being held at Rock Chalk Park.
The city expects to host more than 30 tournaments or camps at Sports Pavilion Lawrence in 2015. It is tough to estimate how much new retail spending those events are creating, but they’re certainly adding some. I’ve heard talk that city officials have been seeking some information from tournament organizers about how many of their families are spending the night in Lawrence and other information such as how often they eat out while attending a tournament. I’ll do some looking to see if any of that information has been compiled yet. I’ve also heard talk at City Hall that more efforts are on the way — through signs or other means — to make sure tournament participants known they have plenty of time to get downtown or elsewhere in the community while they are at these daylong tournaments.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Some of you may be wondering about more changes you are seeing on South Iowa Street. Demolition work has begun at the car wash between Dale Willey Automotive and the now defunct Payless Furniture building.
As we previously have reported, Dale Willey Automotive is going to use the property to expand its dealership. I’ve recently confirmed with Dale Willey officials, however, that they’ve decided to keep the two automatic car wash bays that are located at the site. They’ll continue to be open to the public after the dealership takes over the property.
The dealership also has bought the Payless Furniture building. Expect renovations to begin on that site in a matter of days. The building will become a showroom and offices for the dealership’s used car headquarters. Yes, the change in ownership will mean an end to the bright red and blue paint job on the building. Managers at Dale Willey said the exterior of the building will be remodeled to closely resemble Dale Willey’s main showroom just down the street.
The big open space where the car wash currently sits will be used to store more cars. General Manager Jeff Hornbeck told me the new space will allow the dealership to stock both more new and used cars. Hornbeck is hopeful renovation work will be completed by July 1, but certainly by the time students start arriving again in early August.
By the way, when it comes to the strong growth in sales tax receipts, don’t forget the local car dealers. If I had to bet on the one factor that is the strongest contributor to sales tax growth in the last year or two, it would be increased car sales. Car dealers have pointed to a lot of numbers that show the average age of vehicles on the road are the highest they have been in decades. Combine that with the fact most of the Lawrence car dealers have undertaken major renovations to become more attractive, and you have to figure auto sales in Lawrence have been on the rise.
• Someday, the sun will shine again, and when it does there may be a larger discussion at City Hall about whether solar panels on city buildings make sense. City Commissioner Leslie Soden made a point at Tuesday’s meeting to question city staff about whether any city buildings use solar panels today. She did so after noticing that the city’s payment to Westar Energy was about $270,000.
The city has a pilot project, funded by Westar, that has placed solar panels at the Prairie Park Nature Center. But other than that, the city doesn’t have any of its other buildings using solar panels.
The city, however, has been looking at whether some of its street lighting projects could be powered via solar. City engineers have considered using solar powered street lamps for a lighting project along 23rd Street. They did so after Lawrence school board member Kristie Adair came to a meeting and suggested the city was missing an opportunity to use solar powered lights.
The city last week got bids back for that project. The city hasn’t yet brought those bid totals to city commissioners for consideration, but public works director Chuck Soules told commissioners on Tuesday the solar option didn’t look too promising.
“That didn’t come back too well,” Soules said. “The lighting isn’t as powerful as we want for street lights, and the costs are significant.”
Soden said she would like staff members to look at whether there are opportunities to add solar panels to existing city buildings.
As for the street light project, it proposes to add new LED street lights to the north side of 23rd Street, roughly from Iowa Street to Alabama Street. If the project proceeds, work likely would begin in July, and some temporary lane closures would occur on 23rd Street while the work is underway.
Lawrence-based fundraising company buys building to accommodate expansion; Minuteman Press moving to east side; Sixth Street to get another traffic signal
Fraternities and sororities are big business in Lawrence, and I’m not just talking about T-shirts and tutoring lessons in the Greek alphabet. Lawrence-based Pennington & Company is one of the larger fundraisers for fraternities and sororities in the country, and now the firm has inked a deal to buy the office building at 501 Gateway Drive that houses Minuteman Press.
The deal continues a trend of the company grabbing office space in the area just north and east of Sixth and Kasold. Pennington already has office space in part of the 501 Gateway building and also leases an entire building across the street on Mesa Way. The company plans to keep that space as well.
Patrick Alderdice, president and CEO of the company, said the company needs more space because employee totals continue to grow. By June 1, the company will have 80 employees. That’s up from 46 employees in 2010 and six employees in 2000. The company has been one of Lawrence’s hidden growth stories, and Alderdice said he expects the growth to continue.
“We got our start working with organizations here at KU, but now we’re really coast to coast,” Alderdice said.
The company works with more than 550 fraternities and sororities across the country. (Can you imagine what his T-shirt drawer looks like?) The company primarily assists the organizations with raising funds to build new houses, expand existing ones, or to help the organizations boost their endowment or scholarship funds.
The company, though, has started to expand into new markets. Alderdice said it is beginning to work with private schools and churches on their fundraising needs.
The office deal does mean changes are in store for Minuteman Press. But don’t worry; the company is going to remain in business. Owner Dee Bisel has signed a lease for space at 1404 E. 24th St. That is one of the industrial buildings right near the Lawrence Kia dealership on 23rd Street. Bisel said the printing shop will be moving on May 28-29, and will be open in the new location shortly thereafter.
“Everything will remain the same with the type of services we’re offering,” Bisel said.
The company is a digital print shop that does postcards, business cards, banners, direct mail pieces, stationery, envelopes, posters and other such items that businesses rely on.
Bisel has been at the 501 Gateway location for 18 years. She said she decided to sell the building because the opportunity was just too good to pass up. She said business at the shop has bounced back strong since the economic downturn of 2008-2010.
“The last three years have been outstanding,” Bisel said. “We just recently got a new contract that we’ll be doing from that location. We’re excited about that. We think we’re going to have another banner year.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Motorists on West Sixth Street are likely going to have a new traffic signal to deal with in the future. City officials are starting the process to install a traffic signal at Sixth Street and Champion Lane. If you don’t know where Champion Lane is, you’ve evidently never had a Starbucks coffee in one hand and a Taco Bell biscuit taco in the other while driving with your knee and somehow still texting your buddy to ask him if he knew you could now get a taco in a biscuit. In other words, Champion Lane is the road that leads to Starbucks in the Bauer Farm development, and is just east of the Taco Bell on Sixth Street.
City officials say that as traffic volumes into and out of the Bauer Farm development grow — Sprouts, the new grocery store, is set to open July 1 — the need for a traffic signal is increasing. It will take awhile, though, for a traffic signal to emerge on the site. The project is estimated to cost about $400,000. The city will fund $250,000 of the project, primarily with one-time funds the state provided the city as part of an agreement in which the city will take over the full maintenance responsibilities for Sixth Street. The state previously provided some annual maintenance dollars for Sixth Street because it served as U.S. Highway 40. The remaining $150,000 is set to come from property owners near the intersection. The city is establishing a benefit district where property owners can pay their share of the project through a special assessment on their tax bills.
It looks like it will be mid-August before the process to create that benefit district is completed. No word yet on whether the city will install the traffic signal shortly thereafter, or whether it will wait until later in 2015 or early 2016. The project also is scheduled to include some new sidewalks and a crosswalk.
• While we’re talking about Sixth Street, I’ll throw in this reminder about what is going on at the former Spangles location. The former fast food diner at 3420 W. Sixth St. has been demolished. As we reported in April, the location is set to become a MedExpress urgent care center. You’ll be able to walk into the clinic to receive treatment for all types of ailments, presumably including an unfortunate mishap while creating your own Mexican breakfast sensation, the Pop-Tart chalupa.
A waffle house coming to downtown Lawrence; city engineers seeking money to rebuild 23rd and Haskell
I’m getting that paranoid feeling that I’m assuming cattle sometimes get: Someone is trying to sell me by the pound. All this is to say that I’ve gotten news that a waffle house is opening in downtown, right across the street from the Journal-World offices.
Back in January, we reported that the Waffle Iron was opening inside the East Lawrence coffee shop Decade. Well, that experiment was met with success and a whole lot of maple syrup in a fellow’s whiskers. Proprietor Sam Donnell, though, said it was becoming clear the Waffle Iron was outgrowing the relatively small spaces of Decade. So, Donnell has signed a deal to move the restaurant into larger space at 7 E. Seventh St.
If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is in that stretch of buildings between the Java Break and Hobbs. More specifically, it is the space that is directly above John Brown Underground, which is the speakeasy-style bar and restaurant that I wrote of back in August. John Brown Underground and the Waffle Iron will both use the space. John Brown uses the space — which has old wood floors and giant windows overlooking Seventh Street — for private events. Like at Decade, the Waffle Iron will be open only three days per week — from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday through Sunday. But the new space also will give the Waffle Iron a chance to do some nighttime waffle events. Donnell said he hopes to do at least one per month, and he may partner up with other local chefs for those projects. One other thing the move will do: Brunch-like cocktails will be available with the waffles. John Brown Underground will be serving some of the specialty cocktails in the space. (That’s not helping with the feeling of paranoia, by the way.)
As for the waffles, Donnell said he’s plans to stick with the same strategy that worked at Decade. He’ll offer three types: A leavened, a buttermilk and a gluten-free. He’ll have eight to 10 toppings available each week, and the toppings frequently will change. And the toppings go well beyond just your traditional fruits and butters. Donnell said one of the more popular waffle dishes he offers is called the Benedict, which involves a leavened waffle, grilled ham from Hank Charcuterie, and two farm-fresh poached eggs with a whipped hollandaise sauce. He’s also offered waffles with smoked salmon and capers, and also one called the French dip that features roast beef, horseradish sauce and au jus.
Don’t worry, though, the restaurant also offers a lot for people who like their waffles on the sweet side. Donnell has a house-made Nutella, and something that he calls cookie butter.
Donnell hopes to have the restaurant open by this weekend, but renovations and preparations are still underway on the space. Hopefully by the time it does open, this sense of paranoia will have gone away. I’m just being silly. I’m sure it is nothing. And look. Someone left me a piece of cake for breakfast. I’m feeling better already.
In other news and notes from around town:
• When the South Lawrence Trafficway is completed next year, traffic patterns are going to change significantly in Lawrence. One intersection that may become even more prominent than it is today is 23rd and Haskell. The only interchange on the SLT between Iowa Street and its eastern end will be at Haskell Avenue.
So, city engineers have added the intersection of 23rd and Haskell to their list of areas that may need some beefing up. City commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider applying for a state grant that would allow for the entire 23rd and Haskell intersection to be rebuilt in the summer of 2017.
Preliminary ideas call for the entire intersection to be rebuilt with durable concrete, and for eastbound and westbound right turn lanes to be added on 23rd Street. Plans also call for the portion of Haskell just south of 23rd Street to be widened a bit. That would make it easier to eventually widen Haskell Avenue, if traffic volumes in the future call for it. New traffic signals and handicapped-accessible sidewalk ramps also are included in the project's plans.
The city is seeking a $1 million grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation. Engineers estimate that the city would have to come up with an additional $760,000 to complete the project.
The city, however, is expected to ask for more money from the state when it comes to 23rd Street. Currently, 23rd Street serves as Kansas Highway 10, and the city receives some state money for annual maintenance of the highway. When the SLT is completed, 23rd Street no longer will be designated as K-10. The city is hoping the state will provide a one-time payment to bring the street up to good condition before it is turned over to the city.
City commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. tonight at City Hall. If they agree to submit the grant application, the city expects to hear whether it has received funding for the project in late summer.
A prominent goodbye sign from defunct Payless Furniture that labels Lawrence ‘Obamaville’ and much more
Well, the folks at Payless Furniture at 2800 Iowa St. long have been famous for their crazy signs and the dancing fellows who hold them. As the company closes its doors, it has one final set of signs for the community that it did business in for around two decades: “Lawrence: Commie and Candy Ass Capitol of Kansas. Goodbye Obamaville.”
That’s the big sign that thousands of motorists driving on South Iowa Street will see today. The sign is pasted to the side of the furniture store’s delivery truck and is prominently displayed in the business’ parking lot.
That’s the most visible side of the truck. But if you use your KGB sleuthing skills, you can see what else is written on the truck if you pull into the parking lot. One side of the truck says: “Restore Freedom. Even Retards Want to be Free.” Of course, that sign displays the American flag as well. (Actually, if you look closely, it is not the U.S. flag. It has too many stars.)
Then’s there the third side of the truck. You’re going to have to put down your hammer and sickle and restock your candy supply because that side takes awhile to read. Among the highlights: One panel titled “Lawrence City Lib Facts” touts Lawrence as the No. 1 “city in the U.S. to be a homeless bum,” and being a “magnet for urban rats from Chicago & East Coast.” Not to be a geographic snob, though, the panel also points out that Lawrence is a “refuge for welfare lowlifes from KCK and Topeka.”
There’s a second panel on that side that is titled “Lawrence Lib Profile.” It talks about “urban snobs who have never done any real work but expect redistribution from those who do real work.” It also has language about “unpatriotic, amoral, materialistic, self-centered judgmental, busy bodies” and “brainwashed Marxist zombies.” (Geez, we wish. Have you seen how much zombies are making on TV these days?)
I went out to the site this morning to see all of it firsthand. While I was there taking notes, a man comes up behind me and tells me one thing on there is a misprint. One of the signs talks about how Lawrence voted 61 percent Obama in the 2012 elections. The man said that was actually the Douglas County number. Lawrence was higher than that.
I asked the fellow if he was associated with the store. He said he wasn’t, and then pulled a set of keys out of his pocket and opened the door to the locked store. I told him I thought that might be a sign he was associated with the store. I asked him about his signs, and he said he thought they spoke for themselves.
A man from a nearby business who saw our conversation said that was Bob, the owner of the place. Indeed, the going out of business permit from the city lists a Robert Fyfe as the owner of the store. I’ve got his cell number, so I’ll try to call him shortly for additional comment.
As for how long the signs may be up on South Iowa Street, it looks like it may be a few more days. As we previously have reported, Dale Willey Automotive has purchased the building at 2800 Iowa St. and will convert it into a new used car sales center. But officials at the auto dealership told me the Payless folks have a lease on the property that runs through Friday. They said there obviously won’t be any such signs on the property once they take control of the site.
As for what’s next for Fyfe, I’ve heard multiple things from multiple people. Some have said he’s moving to Texas, some have said he’s moving to a different state, but everyone I’ve talked to has said he’s moving. Imagine that.
— When reached, Fyfe explained why he would send such a message to a community where he had done business since 1978: “I appreciate the business they gave me. It is not everybody, but it is a majority in Lawrence. It is not the young people’s fault. They are just so brainwashed.”
— Lawrence's Ladybird Diner quickly baked up a "Candy Ass Donut" in response to the Payless signs.
— A steady stream of Lawrence residents stopped by the truck throughout the day, including several folks with signs of their own.
— And a "Last Dance of Obamaville" protest/flash mob broke out at 5:30 p.m.
Soul food restaurant opens in eastern Lawrence; don’t let signs of redevelopment worry you at The Bottleneck; more than $200K of traffic calming considered for 27th Street
I try to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to new restaurants in town, and now I’ve found one where you can keep an ear to your mouth too. A soul food restaurant has opened in the shopping center at 19th and Haskell, and one of its menu items is a unique pig ear sandwich.
Kingfish Soul Food and Bistro opened a couple of months ago at 1910 Haskell. The owner simply gives his name as Kingfish, and who am I to press harder? (Ask the pig how well that works. Just be sure to speak really loudly.) He said he had worked for about 20 years with the noted soul food restaurant Niecie’s in Kansas City, Mo. He said he was looking for an opportunity of his own, and his wife had connections to the Lawrence area.
“And you guys have never had soul food here before,” Kingfish said. “People are catching on to it.”
Don’t worry, you don’t have to embrace the idea of a pig ear sandwich in order to be a soul food fan. The menu includes a lot of other dishes you may be more familiar with. Among the top sellers are catfish nuggets and filets, meatloaf, fried chicken, and a specialty dish called the Kansas City Po Boy. That involves a sandwich stuffed with catfish, tomato, shredded lettuce and Louisiana sauce.
Other dishes that you may not commonly find at other restaurants include liver and onions, a neck bone entree, grits, greens, yams, and sweet potato pie for dessert.
Kingfish said many of the recipes he learned from his grandmother and uncle, who both were longtime cooks. He said what’s really neat about the recipes, though, is how they’ve been passed down through the generations.
“Soul food has been around for at least 400 years,” Kingfish said. “People used to call it slave food, and now it has grown into a great American culinary tradition.”
The restaurant is open from noon to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Let’s face it: There have been times all of us have wished we had an extra ear when we’ve attended a really loud concert at The Bottleneck.
Some of you may have noticed recently that there is a city-issued sign in the window alerting folks of pending development coming to the site. No need to worry, though. Nothing major is happening to the longtime bar and music venue at 737 New Hampshire St.
Instead, the venue has applied to add sidewalk seating to the establishment. New Hampshire Street is undergoing significant redevelopment, so I wanted to stop rumors before they got started. It used to be that only restaurants were eligible for sidewalk seating areas in downtown. But the city changed that requirement a few years ago. Bars now are eligible in some instances, and there are a few who have taken advantage of it.
In case you are keeping a scorecard of sidewalk seating issues in downtown, I might as well note that the city also has received an application from KC Smoke Burgers, the relatively new restaurant at 1008 Massachusetts St. City commissioners are expected to hear that request in the next week or so.
• Some speed humps and traffic calming circles may be in the future for a busy section of 27th Street in southern Lawrence.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will receive a report on how much it would cost to build some traffic calming devices on 27th Street between Iowa and Louisiana streets. The estimate: $170,000 to $230,000. None of the money currently is in the city’s budget.
But the issue of traffic on 27th Street has become a hot one ever since the Kansas Department of Transportation temporarily closed 31st Street west of Ousdahl as part of the South Lawrence Trafficway project. The amount of traffic on 27th Street has increased substantially as motorists have looked for other ways to get between Iowa and Louisiana streets. How substantial? Well, in 2012 — prior to the 31st Street closing — average traffic volumes were about 3,300 cars per day, I believe. The report didn’t specify per day but I think that is the case, and am working to confirm it. The city rechecked the street a few days ago and found average traffic volumes had grown to 9,450 vehicles. Average speeds were around 35 mph on the street, which is surrounded by residences.
City engineers report that a number of traffic calming devices could be appropriate for the street. There are traffic calming circles, which are smaller than roundabouts, but they cost about $50,000 apiece. The city said traffic calming circles may be appropriate at 27th and Ridge Court and 27th and Alabama. Speed cushions, a man-made bump in the road, also could work on the street, at the price of about $8,000 per cushion. Engineers have identified five locations for cushions on 27th Street.
Although not technically traffic calming devices, engineers said there are other improvements that could be made to improve pedestrian safety in the neighborhood. Those include a $60,000 pedestrian hybrid beacon, which allows pedestrians to push a button and activate a traffic signal. That would be near the area where the Naismith Park trail intersects with 27th Street. Another improvement would be to construct a sidewalk on the north side of 27th Street between Belle Haven and Arkansas Street. That has an estimated cost of $80,000.
One issue to keep in mind, though, is that it is unlikely any of these improvements could be constructed prior to 31st Street reopening to traffic. KDOT has estimated that 31st Street west of Louisiana Street will reopen midsummer. City engineers estimate it would take a “couple of months” to design the improvements on 27th Street and “several months” to construct the improvements.
There has been a suggestion that the city simply add some stop signs along the 27th Street route. City engineers, though, have offered some caution on that strategy. “Stop signs are not considered a traffic calming device since they do not physically require a motorist to adjust their driving,” David Woosley, the city’s traffic engineer wrote in a memo to commissioners. “In fact, studies have shown that they can have the opposite effect by increasing midblock speeds.”
I’ll work to check in with some city commissioners and residents in the neighborhood to find out what they’re thinking about the latest proposal.
New proposal for 120-foot tall tower in eastern Lawrence; hotel owner confirms Holiday Inn to become DoubleTree by Hilton
Representatives with Verizon have filed plans to build a 120-foot tall communications tower just a few blocks from the site of a previous proposal that brought strong opposition from neighbors and landed City Hall in a federal lawsuit.
According to paperwork filed at the city’s planning office, Verizon is seeking permission to build a new tower on the site of the Ottawa Co-op grain elevators at 2001 Moodie Road. I don’t know if Verizon still uses the catch phrase “Can you hear me now?” but if it does, the company may be hearing from east Lawrence residents, “We told you so.”
If you remember, in late 2014 Verizon and neighbors sparred over a proposal to build a 120-foot tall tower at 1725 Bullene Ave. That’s about three blocks away from the Ottawa Co-op site. Neighbors during the debate frequently said the co-op site would be a more appropriate location for the tower, but Verizon officials insisted they studied the site and it wouldn’t work.
Now, in fairness to Verizon, perhaps they are trying to do something a little different with this new tower, and that has changed the analysis. It is unclear from the application whether this tower is meant to replace the previously proposed tower on Bullene Avenue. City commissioners in December rejected the plans for the Bullene site. A few weeks later, Verizon filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking an order requiring the city to approve the plans. City Attorney Toni Wheeler told me that the federal lawsuit is still pending. So, it is going to take a little more time to sort all this out.
As for the new tower, a Verizon official said in a letter to City Hall that the tower will help ease capacity problems at surrounding towers, including a primary one that serves the KU campus.
“Without the addition of this communications facility Verizon could realize significantly reduced services and very possibly lack of services in an emergency situation,” the company wrote in its application to the city.
The debate over the Bullene site largely centered on how close the tower would be to houses. The co-op site is in more of an industrial area. But the project will involve building a new tower rather than putting an antenna on top of of the co-op’s existing grain elevator. Engineers for Verizon previously said they were not comfortable that the grain elevator could adequately host the antennas. We’ll see whether anybody has a problem with tall structures in that area. The area has long been home to one of the taller structures in the city. The grain elevator is 130 feet tall, according to information submitted to the city. If you remember, the co-op also has filed plans to build a new 75-foot tall grain bin at the site. Here’s a look at the proposed location.
As required by city code, the proposed tower would have space for at least two other wireless phone companies to place their antennas on the tower as well. The tower proposal will seek approval from the planning commission and ultimately the City Commission in the next several weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• A couple of weeks ago, we reported there was a lot of speculation that Lawrence’s Holiday Inn and Convention Center was going to become a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel. Well, it is speculation no longer. The ownership group of the hotel has confirmed that it will change the brand in March.
Hulsing Hotels — the Asheville, N.C.-based company that operates the Holiday Inn — said in a release that it plans a “multimillion dollar” renovation of the entire property. The release didn’t provide many details about what will change with the property, other than an extensive renovation.
“The dramatic changes are expected to raise the standard for all hotels and convention centers in the area,” the release states. “The total renovation of the hotel will provide the city with a modern convention facility. Every aspect of the property will be upgraded, including an expansion of the majority of the guest rooms to better accommodate guests.”
Management at the Holiday Inn previously has confirmed that the project won’t involve an expansion of the convention center or banquet space, which currently can host events of around 600 people. Currently, the hotel has 192 guest rooms, which makes it the largest in the city. No word on whether that number will change, given that it sounds like some of the room sizes will expand. The hotel also has 15,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, which is the largest hotel-based conference and event space in the city.
The DoubleTree brand will bring another upper scale hotel offering to the city. DoubleTree by Hilton has 415 properties across the globe. It is best known for providing guests with a chocolate chip cookie upon their arrival.
The remodel continues a trend by Hulsing Hotels. Although based in North Carolina, its ownership has its roots in Topeka and Manhattan. CEO Dennis Hulsing grew up in Topeka and attended Kansas State. The company owns about 10 hotels, with several of them in the northeast Kansas area. Those include: the Four Points by Sheraton at the Kansas City Sports Complex in KCMO, the Four Points by Sheraton in Manhattan and the Four Points by Sheraton at KCI.
It will be interesting to see how the changes at the Holiday Inn affect the discussion about whether to build a new conference center downtown. Full Disclosure: Owners of The World Company, which publishes the Journal-World and LJWorld.com, have proposed building a conference center, hotel and mixed-use project on downtown property owned by the company.
The city in recent weeks received a report from its conference center consultant that reviewed the Holiday Inn and other conference spaces in town. The report found the community could support 30,000 to 37,500 square feet of new conference center space. Further, the report said the downtown area is where many event planners have expressed an interest in new space. As part of that conference center space, the report estimated the city needed 10,000 to 12,500 square feet of meeting room space to host modern-day conferences. The Holiday Inn, the report noted, has only about 600 square feet of meeting room space. No word yet on whether the renovation will reallocate space within the hotel to address that issue. (Some clarification on the meeting room issue: The Holiday Inn clearly has more than 600 square feet of space to host events. As we noted earlier in this article, it has around 15,000 square feet. But the consultant's report also tried to differentiate that space between exhibit space, banquet space, breakout meeting room space and other such uses. The city-hired consultant listed the amount of meeting space at the Holiday Inn at 600 square feet. Stephen Horton, general manager at the Holiday Inn, though told me this morning that he disagrees with that assessment. He said the hotel has the ability to configure space in a way that has much more room for breakout meeting space than that. So, we'll see, perhaps the consultant's report will be updated with different numbers. You can see the current report here. )
But the City Hall report also noted that some level of public support would likely be needed to build a downtown conference center of 30,000 square feet or more. Given other budget issues the city is dealing with, that will be a major point of discussion at City Hall — assuming commissioners choose to have the discussion at all. The next step in the process is for the City Commission to decide whether it wants to hire the consulting firm to do a phase II report. That report would produce cost estimates for a facility, and give the city a better idea of what type of assistance may be sought. The city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board has recommended the phase II study be conducted, but there is no word yet on when that issue will get a vote by the City Commission.
Pet food, pet supply chain locating in northwest Lawrence; city decides to make North Lawrence project smaller
A deal has been struck for Earthwise Pet Supply to go into the multi-tenant building in the Bauer Farm Development in northwest Lawrence.
Earthwise will be located in the building that also houses Starbucks and Sports Clips at 4701 Bauer Farm Drive.
Earthwise will sell a variety of natural pet food products, primarily for dogs and cats. The business also will have a professional pet groomer on staff and will feature two self-service wash tubs. (For pets. If you misunderstand that, it'll get really embarrassing in a hurry.)
“Self-wash stations are a growing trend,” Funk said, as many people are realizing that a pet wash may produce a bigger mess than they want at their homes. “We want to be there when people realize it is a great service. We’ll provide the tubs and everything they need, and we intend for it to be kind of a spa feel.” (When German Shepherds start offering massages, that is when I’ll be impressed.)
Funk said the store’s pet food business is expected to be big, as well. He said the natural pet food segment of the industry is growing quickly. He said pet owners are recognizing that animals also need higher protein, lower carb diets than what is being provided by many of the standard pet food brands.
“We try to focus on biologically appropriate food,” Funk said. “Big protein and low carbs because dogs and cats are carnivores.”
As for the Earthwise chain, it touts itself as the fastest growing natural pet supply chain in the country. But the Lawrence store will be the first in the northeast Kansas area. The nearest location is in Wichita. Funk said he’s signed up to open three stores in total. He said he is looking for locations in the Kansas City metro area.
But he said he jumped at the chance to first open a store in Lawrence because of the community’s attitudes about health and because a prime location was available in the growing northwest part of the community.
“We’re really excited about the location,” Funk said.
The location is in the same shopping center as the new natural foods grocer Sprouts, although not next door to it. (In a previous version of this article, I was wrong about the exact location.) Sprouts is set to open July 1, and Funk said he thinks the two businesses will be compatible because they'll both attract a health conscious demographic.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you’ve played softball at Lyons Park in North Lawrence, you’ve probably got some stories to tell. Like the time you blew out your knee, or the time you blew out your elbow, and those are just the injuries from the post-game revelry in the parking lot. Let’s not even get started about actual on-field injuries. One other story you may have about Lyons Park is the time you needed an armada to play a softball game.
Indeed, Lyons Park is prone to flooding. City commissioners soon may have to figure out how much it is worth to them to correct that problem. At their meeting on Tuesday, commissioners agreed to redesign a multimillion dollar project for a pump station near Sixth and Maple streets. The pump station is designed to alleviate storm water flooding issues for a large area north of Maple Street between roughly North Fourth and North Seventh streets.
Thus far, though, the project has struggled to come in on budget. In March, the city received a low bid of $7.5 million to complete the project. That was more than $2 million above the engineer’s estimate of $5.1 million.
On Tuesday night, commissioners agreed to reduce the scope of the project and eventually rebid it. In basic terms, the project will use smaller pumps. The project as now proposed will be able to move about 100 cubic feet of water per second compared with an original design of 195 cubic feet per second. The city’s storm water engineer told commissioners he’s still confident the pumps will be big enough to handle flooding in a typical 10-year storm event. Thus far, the leader of the North Lawrence Improvement Association said he’s fine with the reduction in size as well.
But where the neighborhood association and City Hall may clash is on whether the project also should be further reduced to eliminate a section of piping that would serve Lyons Park. The city is bidding that portion of the project as an alternate, meaning if prices don’t come in to their liking, they can scrap that part of the project.
Ted Boyle, president of the North Lawrence Improvement Association, already has begun lobbying city commissioners to find additional money to fund the Lyons Park portion of the project. How much money will be needed is still unknown. Previously, engineers had estimated that portion of the project to cost about $1 million. It will be several weeks before we know. Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $75,000 contract with Bartlett & West Engineers to redesign the project to accommodate the smaller pumps. That will take about eight weeks, at which point the project will be rebid.
“We’re willing to have some give and take here,” Boyle said. “If we are going to live with the smaller pumps, then give us the rest of the project. We’ve waited 20 years for this project. We started advocating for this pump station right after the 1993 flood.”
Commissioners on Tuesday did not make any commitments about how much of the project they would support, but rather decided to wait and see bid totals later this summer.
Free State Brewing Company creates new beer series; AT&T expanding broadband service; City Hall creates new online public forum
I don’t think I have to wear Spandex to drink this new beer from Lawrence-based Free State Brewing Company, but perhaps I shouldn’t take any chances. Free State has announced it has created a new limited-release brew in honor of the Dirty Kanza 200, a 200-mile bike ride along the gravel roads of the Flint Hills.
Free State has released its Dirty Kanza Kolsch as part of its new Front Porch Series. Unlike past limited-edition releases, the Dirty Kanza Kolsch has been released in bottles, and it is available at liquor stores across the region.
It is part of a new effort by Free State to showcase its brewing talents through the new Front Porch series. The downtown restaurant-based brewery long has created special, limited-edition brews that have been sold by the glass or by the keg at the restaurant. But the company’s East Lawrence bottling plant and brewery has not done as much with the specialty brews.
Free State founder Chuck Magerl told me the company plans to release six to seven specialty beers per year as part of its Front Porch Series. The new series is another sign of the company’s growing success in the bottled beer market. For some, it may seem like Free State has been a staple on the shelves of liquor stores forever. But the company is still relatively new in the bottled beer market.
It was five years ago this month that Free State began producing bottled beer out of its Lawrence production center. Back then, the bottled brew mainly was being sold in Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City markets. But it wasn’t long before the company had a presence in every Kansas county that has a liquor store. Today, the company is in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and soon will restart distribution in Nebraska as it switches distribution companies.
The company’s bottling plant near 19th and Haskell, which employs 14 people, is now producing about 10,000 barrels a year, up from less than 3,000 barrels in its first year. Magerl said he thinks the company’s region of distribution “will be a little bit greater” in the future, but Magerl said he’s still not trying to position Free State as regional brewer that goes national, much like how Kansas City-based Boulevard has done.
“We want to find that scale that works well,” Magerl said. “We want to remain in close contact with our customers. We don’t want to feel like we have to go coast to coast.”
As for the newest Free State creation, the Dirty Kanza Kolsch is being described as a classic German style beer that has a light body. (I can also report it doesn't stain the Spandex, although it unfortunately doesn't eliminate chaffing, either.) The beer is further described as having a "bready malt aroma," and Saphir hops that provide a hint of spiciness and a slightly herbal character. I know what you’re thinking. It would take a full herbal character to get you to go on a 200-mile bike ride. But don’t worry, you don’t have to sign up for the Dirty Kanza 200 to get access to the beer, although the bike event has plenty of takers.
The Dirty Kanza is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The event, held the first weekend after Memorial Day, starts and finishes in downtown Emporia. It takes riders along a challenging course through the Flint Hills that has riders climbing up and down about 10,000 feet of terrain surrounded by the largest remaining tract of tall grass prairie in the world. Bikers work to complete the event in less than 20 hours. The event has become one of the premiere “gravel grinder” biking events in the entire country.
“It’s truly emerging as a legendary event in Kansas,” Magerl said. “We’re honored to play a small role contributing to the celebration.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• It will be interesting to watch whether all the talk about the need for gigabit, high-speed broadband service in Lawrence causes AT&T to become more aggressive in the market. There are signs that it will. The giant telecom has announced that Lawrence now has its AT&T Business Fiber service. That service provides Internet upload and download speeds of 300 megabits per second to business customers.
The service, however, is not available community-wide. The company says it currently can offer the service to about 50 multi-tenant office buildings across the city. I don’t have more specifics on exactly where the service is available in Lawrence. Your best bet for more information is to go to website corp.att.com/businessfiber/ and enter your address to see if the service is available.
Chris Lester, a spokesman for AT&T, said he expects the availability of the service to grow in Lawrence.
“Typically when we launch something like this, once you are green in the market, it tends to grow,” Lester said. “This is just the initial launch. I’m pretty confident it will expand.”
The company also is expressing optimism that the business fiber service eventually will be scaled up to a full gigabit service. At 300 megabits per second, though, the service is still pretty fast. Lester notes that with 300 megabit service, you can download 25 songs in three seconds, download two hours of high definition video in two minutes, and restore one terabyte of data in the cloud in seven hours compared to about seven days with more traditional copper-line based Internet service.
We’ll see what comes next from AT&T. We’ll also see what comes next from Lawrence City Hall. The City Commission has passed its fiber policy that spells out how companies can lease unused fiber cable from the city. But that policy by itself doesn’t do anything to bring the gigabit service to town. It will be interesting to what the new commission does to try to get a project started in town.
• You now have a new way to spend some time online: Telling Lawrence City Hall what it ought to do. The city has created a new section of its website called Lawrence Listens. Go to lawrenceks.org/lawrence-listens to check it out.
Basically, the section will be an online public forum to communicate with city commissioners and other city officials. City leaders plan to post some questions on the website to get the discussion started. For example, the question they currently are posing is: What do you think should be Lawrence’s top three priorities for the coming year?
Staff members plan on monitoring the responses, and will provide them to city commissioners during budget hearings. Part of the idea is that the city wants to provide a forum for people who may not feel comfortable going to a City Commission meeting. The site does require you to register, and asks for a bit of basic information, such as your email address, although you can also sign in via your Facebook account.
See if your neighborhood is included in $130K worth of sidewalk repairs; meeting about fantasy city government set; city to seek budget comments tonight
I know I hate it when I’m out running in Lawrence neighborhoods and all of a sudden the sidewalk stops. When you run as fast as I do, you have to be cognizant of fire hazards if you run through grass. So, gaps in the sidewalk system are bad for lots of reasons, and now the city has plans to make more than $130,000 worth of sidewalk improvements this summer.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are set to approve a list of 13 locations that are scheduled to receive new sidewalks in the coming months. Commissioners propose to use federal Community Development Block Grant funds to pay for the sidewalk work.
Here’s a look at the proposed locations:
— 16th Street between Rhode Island and Barker, north side of the street. The sidewalk will improve access to nearby Liberty Memorial Central Middle School.
— Winona Avenue west of Barker Avenue on both the north and south sides of the street. The sidewalk will improve access to Haskell Indian Nations University and a nearby transit stop.
— Naismith Drive south of 23rd Street on the east side of the street. The sidewalk will improve access to area grocery stores and a nearby transit stop.
— West 27th Street from the Naismith Bridge to Arkansas Street on the north side of the street. The sidewalk will improve access to the Naismith Valley Park.
— Ridge Court from 26th to 27th streets on the west side. The sidewalk will improve access to the United Way building.
— 26th Street east of Iowa on both sides of the street. The sidewalk will improve access to businesses along Iowa Street.
— 19th Terrace from Ousdahl to Naismith Drive on the north side of the street. The sidewalk will improve access to the KU campus.
— Arkansas Street from Ninth to 10th streets on the west side. The sidewalk will improve access to the KU campus.
— Michigan Street from Sixth to Seventh streets on the west side. The sidewalk will improve access to businesses along Sixth Street.
— Ridge Court in front of the United Way building on the east side of the street.
— Cedarwood Avenue south of 25th Street. The sidewalk will improve access to the Cedarwood housing development.
— Iowa Street at the southeast corner of Ninth and Iowa and sidewalk ramp will be installed.
For the past several years, city officials have used a portion of their CDBG funds to do sidewalk work in town. In fact, at Tuesday’s meeting commissioners are scheduled to set the budget for the 2016 CDBG sidewalk program. In 2016, the city is proposing to spend $142,500 on the sidewalk gap program. In addition, the budget calls for $60,000 to be spent on a pair of pedestrian hybrid beacons. One would be a pedestrian beacon on 31st Street near the Cottonwood Inc. facility, which is just east of the 31st and Kasold curve. The second one would be near Fifth and Maine streets, which is near Clinton Park and a couple of blocks away from the hospital and Pinckney Elementary.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe your fantasy baseball team just isn’t providing you the excitement you had hoped for. (When I drafted my Royals-heavy team, I was under the impression that there would be points awarded for ejections.) Well, you are in luck because now you can participate in a fantasy city government game, at least for a day.
Bonnie Johnson, an associate professor in the department of urban planning at KU, has a class that is presenting a Fantasy Government event on Thursday at the Union Pacific Depot building in North Lawrence. (Fantasy Government? I vote for warm chocolate chip cookies at every meeting, and a device that delivers a small electrical charge when I think someone has talked long enough.) Members of the audience will get a chance to put together their own form of city government that they think will work best. That means choosing from options about whether a mayor should be elected directly by the people or whether the mayor should be elected by fellow city commissioners, which is the current case in Lawrence. It also looks at issues about whether the mayor should have expanded powers. For example, in some cities the mayor has the sole authority to hire and fire department heads. Other issues include using mail-in ballots to elect city commissioners, which isn’t currently legal in the state, partisan versus nonpartisan elections and other topics.
The event begins at 6 p.m. and is scheduled to last until 8 p.m. The event comes at an interesting time because there was some discussion during the City Commission campaigns about changing Lawrence’s system of government to include a directly elected mayor that would have a term greater than the current one-year term. So far, the new City Commission hasn’t had much discussion about that topic.
• If you are looking for a double shot of government fun, don’t forget about tonight’s meeting about the 2016 city budget. City officials want to hear what residents think should be included in the 2016 budget, which will be crafted this summer. Or, conversely, what ought to be cut from the budget.
The meeting is set from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at the Union Pacific Depot 402 N. Second St. Another meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on May 14 at Fire Station No. 5, 1911 Stewart Ave.
Update on reopening plans for Ladybird, Jefferson’s, Biggs on Mass following fires; a guess on when Menards will open
If anything good comes out of the fires that have temporarily closed three downtown restaurants, it is that the pairing of doughnuts and bourbon may finally get its due. I have updates on reopening plans for the three eateries — Jefferson’s, Biggs on Mass, and Ladybird Diner — and yes, one of them really does involve doughnuts. (Also known in my house as the Breakfast of 18th Place. We’re fine with being middle of the pack if it means we can skip the Wheaties and instead have a chocolate glaze every morning.)
“I tell people that several years from now people are going to look back on the fire at Biggs, and say ‘that was the best thing that ever happened to doughnuts in Lawrence,’” said Meg Heriford, an owner of Ladybird Diner at 721 Massachusetts St.
If you remember, on March 3 a fire started in the smoking pit area of Biggs on Mass, and ever since that barbecue restaurant and the adjacent Ladybird Diner have been closed while crews work on removing smoke damage and replacing interior furnishings.
Heriford hopes to have Ladybird reopened sometime this summer. “I just don’t know if it is going to be the beginning of summer or near the end,” she said.
In the meantime Heriford has rented a commercial kitchen in town to work on new recipes for artisan doughnuts, which she said will be a larger part of the business when the diner reopens. Heriford said she recently was experimenting with a salted caramel popcorn doughnut with bourbon icing, another one that featured mango and chiles, and one that had espresso icing with cornflakes and bacon. Given the circumstances, I think one certainly should be the Fire in the Hole Doughnut, my own personal creation where you have the doughnut of your choice, while sitting in the hole is a round ball of Tabasco infused dough fried in Tabasco sauce. (Well, maybe there is a reason why I’m not yet on The Food Network, and perhaps even a reason why Bobby Flay sought that restraining order.)
Regardless, Heriford said work is continuing on the building rehabilitation, and she said it is much more extensive than she ever thought.
“The extent of the smoke damage caught us all off guard,” Heriford said. “I walked in after the fire and saw that we didn’t have any structural damage. We had a basement full of water, but I thought we would have everything cleaned up in a couple of days.”
Instead, Heriford has found that removing the smoke odor from the restaurant is complicated. The entire ceiling had to be removed, and new duct work also is required. Once the smoke issue is taken care of, there is a lot of work for the restaurant to reopen. Furnishings will have to be reinstalled, and a staff will have to be hired and trained again, Heriford said.
Heriford is trying to keep the Ladybird in the Lawrence food scene in the interim by selling pie from her sidewalk dining area every couple of weeks. She also has reached a deal where The Bourgeois Pig, 6 E. Ninth St., is selling Ladybird pies on the weekend.
Next door at Biggs on Mass, the latest plans are for the barbecue restaurant to reopen sometime in June. Owner Doug Holiday said he’s received a building permit from city officials, and work is underway to rebuild the back area of the building where the fire started. A major part of the renovation work at Biggs involves replacing all the electrical panels in the building, which were damaged by the water.
“There are no winners in this deal,” Holiday said. “Well, maybe the cleaning companies.”
Jefferson’s, 743 Massachusetts St., is the third business that is closed due to fire damage. Fire struck that building on Jan. 15, but it appears it may still have the most work to do to reopen.
Brandon Graham, an owner of Jefferson’s, told me that he hopes to reopen sometime in August, but said it is still too early to know whether that timetable is feasible.
“It is a complete remodel at this point,” Graham said.
Graham said the rebuilding process was complicated by the fact he did not have access to the building for a full month after the fire. Insurance officials were still investigating the cause of the fire. Graham said he still doesn’t know exactly what happened. An old air make-up unit on the roof played a role in the fire, but Graham said a transformer near the building also blew up near the time of the fire. Graham said he’s not yet learned whether a surge from the transformer caused a problem in the rooftop unit, or if something else occurred that caused the fire and the transformer problems.
At this point, Graham is focused on getting the restaurant reopened. He said the restaurant — which was known for burgers, wings and other sports bar fare — will come back with much of the same look and feel. One thing that won’t be back, though, are the thousands of decorated dollar bills that adorned the walls of the restaurant.
“They were ruined,” Graham said. “Everything stunk. We took them down and took them to the bank.”
How many were there? Well, you’ll get a chance to guess that. The restaurant plans to hold a contest where patrons guess how many dollar bills were on the wall. The winner will receive free wings for a year. Graham said the restaurant will restart the tradition where patrons can decorate a dollar and have it posted on the wall.
Graham said he’s optimistic the crowds will return to the restaurant once it reopens.
“We get quite a few questions about when we are going to reopen,” Graham said. “That makes us feel good that people in the community care about what is going on with us. I feel for our neighbors up the street who are going through it too. It is a difficult thing to deal with.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• High on the list of questions I receive — somewhere near the ones about tongue ointments for Tabasco burns — is: When is Menards going to open?
Well, I’ve received no information from Menards about its Lawrence opening date. But I get the question enough that I thought I should remind you what I’ve previously reported. Menards officials during the planning process told me it takes about nine to 10 months to build a Menards store. The company received a building permit from the city in September. I think that means there is a good chance the store could be open by the time the next school year starts in late August. Menards and Sprouts, the grocery store near Wakarusa and Overland drives, both started construction near the same time. Sprouts is set to open on July 1, although that building is significantly smaller than Menards.
If you have been near the 31st and Iowa area lately, perhaps you have gotten a sense of how big Menards is going to be, especially in comparison to the Home Depot that is next door. According to information filed with the city, Menards will have about 250,000 square feet of space under roof. That’s compared to about 94,000 square feet for Home Depot. Plus, Menards will have an approximately 150,000-square-foot outdoor lumber yard.
Home Depot certainly didn’t want to have such a small store in Lawrence, but that is all they could get approved by city commissioners in the early 2000s. I will not be surprise if Home Depot files plans for an expansion in Lawrence. I have no inside information on that, but I have noted that Home Depot has sought something called a zoning certification from the city. That’s just a piece of paperwork that confirms what the zoning is for a particular piece of property. Sometimes it is just for a lender or tax purposes, but other times it is the first step in a company putting together plans to build on a piece of property. It will be interesting to see how big of a home improvement battle we have at 31st and Iowa.
• Town Talk will be off tomorrow. Contrary to the rumors, I will not be recovering from doughnut experimentation. I will be parking cars at the Lawrence Swap Meet at the Douglas County Fairgrounds as part of a fundraiser for my kids’ 4-H club.
Lawrence based advertising agency sold to new owner; get ready for ‘Unmistakably Lawrence’; plans in the works for City Hall to take over Convention and Visitors Bureau
A Lawrence-based advertising agency that does work for everybody from Free State Brewing Company to Westar Energy has been sold.
Leaders at Callahan Creek have announced that longtime CEO Cindy Maude has sold her majority ownership interest in the company to Callahan Creek President Chris Marshall. With the purchase, Marshall now takes over as president and CEO of the company.
But local officials shouldn’t worry that the company will leave Lawrence for a more traditional ad agency type of market. Marshall is a Lawrence native, and he said plans are for the company to keep its corporate headquarters in downtown Lawrence.
“Lawrence has a great creative culture,” Marshall said. “Who I am today is built around the people and this city. I definitely want to continue to leverage that culture.”
Callahan Creek came to Lawrence in 1999 after Maude bought the company and moved it from Topeka. The company has about 65 employees, with most of them at the headquarters at 805 New Hampshire St. The company has 11 employees based in California who work on a national account for Toyota.
Maude said it was simply time for her to sell the company and move into more of a retirement role, although she’ll serve a CEO emeritus and consult with several clients.
“It has been a really easy and smooth transition,” Maude said. “Chris is going to be a great leader for the company.”
Marshall has been with Callahan Creek for 10 years. He said the company is poised to grow by focusing on its expertise in helping clients understand the growing number of advertising options, including print, broadcast, digital, social media and other emerging channels.
“We focus on success through simplicity,” Marshall said. “There are so many mediums out there, and that means there are more messages, and more pressure to show a return on investment. Marketers are thirsty for people to make sense of all that.”
Maude said she thinks the company is well-positioned in Lawrence to grow. The company added about 20 employees after Maude moved the company to Lawrence.
“It has been a great decision for us,” Maude said of the company’s move to Lawrence. “It enabled us to do what we needed to do, which was attract employees. Lawrence is a creative community, and being downtown has been really important. To me that is where creative energy of Lawrence is.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• When it comes to marketing, the folks at the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau have been busy lately. We previously reported the group has changed its name to Explore Lawrence. Now, I also have word that the organization is set to launch a new branding campaign for the city.
Next month expect to see pint glasses, T-shirts and other items with a new marketing slogan of “Unmistakably Lawrence.” The campaign is expected to be launched on the weekend of Kansas University graduation ceremonies. Several bars and restaurants across the city will be using the pint glasses with the “Unmistakably Lawrence” logo on it.
The slogan is designed to highlight that Lawrence has many events and attractions that aren’t common to other communities in the area. Think of the downtown shot put event recently, or in the original rules of basketball that will be displayed in the new center adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse.
• A bigger change may be on tap for the convention and visitors bureau, however. There is serious consideration of Lawrence City Hall taking over the organization. Currently the agency is overseen by a non-profit board — Destination Management Inc. — that oversees both the CVB and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. That board is appointed by a host of different organizations, including the city and the county.
The plan currently being floated by local leaders would involve splitting those two organizations. DMI would be responsible for overseeing the national heritage area, while the convention and visitors bureau would be overseen by the City Manager’s office. As currently envisioned, Communications Manager Megan Gilliland would be the executive overseeing the agency. although a new director would be hired for the CVB, and that person would report to Gilliland. The current employees of the organization would become city of Lawrence employees under the plan.
An argument can be made that City Hall should have more direct control over the CVB because city tax dollars provide the major funding for the agency. It receives about $860,000 a year in transient guest tax money, which is the special sales tax charged on hotel rooms. Currently that money goes to DMI and is used to support both the CVB and Freedom’s Frontier. The bulk of the money, though, goes to the CVB function.
If the city does bring the CVB inside City Hall and allows DMI to exist on its own, city commissioners likely will be asked to provide some funding to DMI. Figuring out what that amount should be likely will be the big issue to determine. Thus far, the Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board has been supportive of the idea of moving the organization into City Hall. (To be clear, the offices for the CVB would not actually move to City Hall. The organization has relatively new offices inside the Carnegie Building at Ninth and Vermont streets.)
The CVB board likely would take on an enhanced role under the new structure. Gilliland is proposing that the new structure include a formal grant program through which organizers of community events would apply for transient guest tax dollars. Currently, groups periodically ask for support from the City Commission, and the requests are handled on a case-by-case basis.
Gilliland said a new process would require event organizers to go through a more formal application process. That process would include the CVB board making recommendations on whether an event should receive funding. Ultimately, city commissioners would still have the final say on spending decisions. But the new process might do a better job of ensuring that the guest tax dollars are being used on events that are likely to attract overnight visitors, which in turn attracts more guest tax dollars.
I expect discussion about the proposal to happen this summer as city commissioners are crafting the 2016 budget.
Home sales soar in March; proof that a Chick-fil-A is coming to Lawrence; plans for East Lawrence bar/bistro
I’m sure we all spent some of our time last weekend watching the Kansas University spring football game, and we all came to the same conclusion about the upcoming season: I’m going to have to buy a bigger house to host all these fantastic watch parties. Well, some people evidently had already figured that out before Saturday’s game because the latest report for the Lawrence real estate market showed sales soared in March.
To be fair, I also did hear one other sentiment from KU’s spring football game: Until further notice, the spring game should be played only on . . . Nintendo. Regardless, home sales in March — which is the beginning of the important spring buying season — were up nearly 30 percent compared to March 2014, according to a report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. There also were signs that April will be a solid month. The number of sales contracts written in March was up 31 percent. Sales contracts usually are a good way to predict sales totals for future months.
The strong March has 2015 off to a good start. Through the first quarter of the year, Lawrence home sales are up about 14 percent from the same period a year ago. About the only number that wasn’t stellar in the most recent report was the number of newly constructed homes that have sold: nine. That’s equal to the total for the first quarter of 2014, but is below the 2013 and 2012 totals.
Most of the report, though, was positive. In fact, the market is beginning to show signs of struggling to keep up with the pace of buyers. In March, there were 326 active listings on the market, down from 374 last year and down from 408 in 2013. One way real estate agents measure the housing supply is to weigh the number of houses on the market versus the number of houses being bought per month. In March, that calculation was a 3.9 month supply. That’s down sharply from the 5.8 months and 5.4 months in 2014 and 2013. Anything less than a 5 month supply normally is a sign that a market is becoming tight in terms of available homes.
“Many homes are selling very quickly right now, and we really need more homes on the market,” said Crystal Swearingen, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
Here’s a look at other figures from the recent report:
• The median number of days a home is remaining on the market is 69, down from 77 in 2015.
• The type of homes selling in 2015 are a bit less expensive than in past years. The median sale price is $155,750, down $165,000 in 2014.
• Newly-constructed homes that are selling, however, are going in the opposite direction. The median sale price for a newly constructed home is up to $357,090. That’s up nearly 17 percent from the 2014 median. It is up about 25 percent from the 2013 median of $283,000. But take caution with these numbers. The sample size is small since only nine newly constructed homes have been sold all year.
• The total value of homes sold in the Lawrence market stands at $34.7 million, up about 10 percent from the same period in 2014.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The photo above should cause the arteries in your chest to tingle in a certain way. If the photo doesn’t, the restaurant that will soon be on the site certainly will. This photo is proof that a Chick-fil-A is indeed coming to Lawrence.
As we have reported several times, Chick-fil-A has plans to locate in the parking lot of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Shopping center at 27th and Iowa streets. Well, construction has now started on the pad site, which is just north of the Midas auto repair shop.
You can see in the photo, which is a couple of days old at this point, that work on the slab has begun, and piping is coming out of the ground. For those of you not familiar with all the technical details of construction, the piping is for the peanut oil, barbecue sauce and perhaps even the massive amounts of pickles needed to run a Chick-Fil-A. (Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that. It is a very technical business, and I probably someday will start my own company building fast food restaurants.) As for how long it takes to build this restaurant and get it open, I have not been given an estimate by anyone associated with the project. But I’ve clearly established my credentials as an expert in the subject, so I would estimate three to six months of construction for the project. I’ll keep you posted.
• Another area that I’m an expert on is food trucks. If you don’t believe me, you could look in the creases of the seat of my F150 pickup and almost certainly find a french fry or two from yesterday’s lunch.
So, I bring you news about a food truck venture we’ve previously reported on. Tony Krsnich, the developer of the popular Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, has long had plans to turn the small building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets into a bistro that serves food from several food trucks that will be just outside the building.
The project has received the necessary approvals from City Hall, but those approvals came with a condition: At least 55 percent of the business’ revenues had to come from food sales. The city placed that requirement on the zoning of the property after some neighbors were concerned the location could be come a tavern.
Krsnich, though, will be back at City Hall tonight to ask that the 55 percent condition be removed. Krsnich said he’s tried to find an operator for the business on multiple occasions, and each time the 55 percent requirement has been a deal killer.
Krsnich said the plans still call for food to be a large part of the business. He said he doesn’t have any desire to allow a traditional tavern or a rowdy establishment to locate in the building. The building is just west of his multimillion dollar Poehler Lofts building and his new 9 Del Lofts apartment building under construction at Ninth and Delaware streets. So, he notes, he has a lot of incentive to keep the neighborhood healthy. He said several potential operators have not wanted to take the risk of starting the business knowing that the city would have the legal right to shut it down if the business comes up a bit short on the food sales.
The 55 percent food requirement is the target new downtown drinking establishments have to meet. We’ll see what commissioners and neighbors think of the latest proposal. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission last month recommended removal of the 55 percent requirement on a 6-2 vote. City commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
Report says Lawrence could use more conference space; city set to move ahead with $45 million sewer plant
Lawrence could use some extra conference space, and it probably ought to be located in a place like downtown, a new City Hall report has found.
As I told you last week, a new conference center report commissioned by the city and Kansas University has been completed. Among the findings by the firm Convention Sports & Leisure are:
— “Unmet market demand exists to support new convention/conference center development.” The report estimates that Lawrence could support 30,000 to 37,500 square feet of new conference center space. (The low end of the range is an event without my wife’s chocolate fountain, while the high end is with it.) More specifically, the space should include a 20,000- to 25,000-square-foot multipurpose room with 30-foot ceilings that could support exhibitions and other types of large events. It also should include 10,000 to 12,500 square feet of meeting room space.
— A full-service hotel with at least 150 rooms should be attached to the conference center. In addition, a parking garage of at least 650 spaces would be required.
— Another study is required to determine how much a conference center would cost to build and operate. The study, though, does forecast that a 30,000- to 37,500-square-foot conference center probably would have to receive some level of public subsidy. If a project were to move ahead with only private financing, the project might have to be reduced to 23,000 to 27,000 square feet.
Near as I can tell, the report doesn’t provide any estimates of how many events a conference center would host, or how much additional visitor spending it would create.
The report also looks at issues surrounding the location of the center. Before we get into that, it is time for the full disclosure moment: Owners of The World Company — which publish the Journal-World and LJWorld.com — have proposed redeveloping property owned by the company into a conference center, hotel and mixed-use project. Specifically, the proposal involves the property at Sixth and New Hampshire and Sixth and Massachusetts streets that formerly housed the printing plant for the Journal-World.
The report looked at three general areas that could house a conference center: Downtown, the KU campus or Clinton Lake. The report determined that “a greater opportunity is believed to exist for an off-campus project.”
The report doesn’t come right out and say that downtown is the best spot for a project, but it certainly implies that: “The concentrated visitor amenity infrastructure on Massachusetts Street is the designation’s strongest appeal to non-local groups.” I think that is a politically correct way to say that people don’t come to conferences for the conferences. They come for the bars and restaurants.
The authors of the report also noted they interviewed dozen of event planners, and all event planners said they preferred a downtown location to a campus location.
So we’ll see what comes next. There may be questions about whether KU officials want to continue with the study. From a City Hall standpoint, a second phase of the study that comes up with costs estimates will be important before commissioners could figure out how the project fits into the city’s plans. Whether that study happens soon is a big question. The commission has a city manager’s search to complete, and it seems likely that discussion on a police headquarters project will continue. As supporters of a conference center project have noted, however, increased visitor spending generated by a conference center could help pay for projects like a police headquarters.
As far as price goes, the report did look at about 20 other conference center projects across the country. Prices vary widely. One project that has gotten talk in Lawrence is a conference center project in downtown Manhattan. The report states the Manhattan project cost $9.5 million to build, and an adjacent 135-bed Hilton hotel cost another $12.5 million. The hotel was privately funded, while the conference center was publicly funded, although the city is receiving lease payments from the hotel operator, which also operates the conference center. But one thing to keep in mind: The Manhattan project is quite a bit smaller than what is proposed here. The Manhattan project has just less than 1,900 square feet of meeting space and about 15,000 square feet of ballroom space.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The city is ready to spend $45 million on a new project, but I don’t think it will be a great place to host a convention. Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are set to approve the low bid for a new sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.
City officials last month received a $47.15 million bid from Garney Construction to build the main portion of the sewage treatment plant, which will be just south of the Wakarusa River where O’Connell Road dead ends. That price, though, made it difficult for the city to proceed with the project without further increasing sewer rates.
Engineers are now recommending about $2 million worth of cuts to the project, which brings the bid amount down to $45.2 million. City officials are confident they can build the treatment plant for that amount without increasing sewer rates more than already planned. Make no mistake: Sewer rates are going up as a result of this project, but those increases were approved months ago. Most users will see rate increases of about 6 percent.
Among the items that are being cut from the project are: $753,000 to build a vehicle storage and maintenance facility at the site; $117,000 related to making portions of the project LEED certified, which is an energy efficiency and environmental standard; $224,000 to eliminate some back-up processing equipment; and $459,000 to reduce the sludge storage area. (That’s the way it always works in my house. When times get tough, my wife tells me I can live with less sludge.)
Commissioners are being strongly urged by engineers to accept the bid. The plant will increase the city’s sewage treatment capacity by about 20 percent. Without the new plant, the city is concerned about its ability to accommodate future west Lawrence development. Engineers say the plant also will help the city meet treatment requirements during heavy rainstorms, which is a time when the current plant in East Lawrence struggles. Without a plan to improve treatment practices during those heavy rain events, the city could be at risk of federal regulators taking action against the city.
If the bid is approved on Tuesday, engineers estimate construction could begin in early June. The project is expected to be completed in March 2018.
The $45 million construction of the plant is the largest part of the project, but the other portions of the project are significant as well. Construction of roads, force mains, land acquisition, engineering fees and other material acquisition is expected to add another $29 million to the project. In total, the project is now estimated at $74.3 million, which likely makes it the largest construction project ever undertaken by City Hall.
City set to select Stoddard to serve as interim city manager; speculation that Holiday Inn will become a DoubleTree by Hilton
Lawrence city commissioners are now off and running in their process to find a replacement for departing City Manager David Corliss. As expected, commissioners are turning to current Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard to serve as an interim replacement for Corliss, who has taken a job in Colorado.
Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider approving an employment contract to pay Stoddard $145,000 a year to serve as the interim city manager. The contract is open ended in terms of length. Stoddard will serve as interim city manager until a permanent replacement is found. The contract allows Stoddard to apply for the permanent position. It also calls for her to be reinstated as an assistant city manager if she is not selected as Corliss’ replacement. It provides a severance package of six months' pay if she is dismissed from her duties by the City Commission or by a new city manager within one year of the new manager's start date. All in all, the contract seems to be pretty standard for an interim position.
Stoddard has deep ties to Lawrence. She was born and raised here, and received both her graduate and undergraduate degrees from Kansas University. Stoddard was hired in 2007 to become an assistant city manager. She previously had worked as a deputy city manager for the city of Manhattan. She has expertise in working on economic development issues. She’s led City Hall’s efforts on many of the downtown redevelopment projects in recent years.
Stoddard’s appointment as interim city manager was largely expected. She’s the most experienced assistant city manager on the staff. Both Mayor Jeremy Farmer and City Commissioner Mike Amyx already had publicly endorsed her for the position.
I haven’t yet talked with Stoddard about whether she plans to apply to become Corliss’ permanent replacement. I would suspect that she’ll give it strong consideration. The position likely will attract a large number of applicants. KU is home to a top-ranked graduate program in public administration, which means there is an unusually large number of city managers across the country that have a personal connection with Lawrence.
City commissioners still haven’t provided details on when they plan to begin the formal search process to find a new City Manager. Hiring an interim, though, was seen as the first step.
Corliss’ last day with the city will be May 28. Stoddard’s tenure as interim city manager will begin May 29. City Hall is hosting a public reception for Corliss at 5:30 p.m. May 11 at the Carnegie Building in downtown. Corliss is leaving Lawrence to become town manager for Castle Rock, Colo.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It appears a major change is coming to Lawrence’s largest hotel as the community gets more serious about attracting conferences and conventions. I’m hearing a lot of speculation that the Lawrence Holiday Inn and Convention Center is set to drop the Holiday Inn brand and become a DoubleTree Hotel, which is part of the Hilton chain.
Holiday Inn General Manager Stephen Horton said he couldn’t comment on possible brand changes. But he said a formal announcement about “very significant changes” for the hotel is expected within the next few days.
We previously have reported that a major renovation project for the Holiday Inn, located off the Kansas Turnpike on McDonald Drive, is in the works. In January we reported that the ballroom and convention center would be closed in June for a complete renovation. But the idea that the hotel is going to become part of the prominent Hilton system is new.
The DoubleTree by Hilton chain has more than 400 hotels in 33 countries, according to its website. It is perhaps best known for providing guests a warm cookie upon arrival. (It is chocolate chip, and the chain uses 950,000 pounds of chocolate chips each year, which also is known as a smidgen in the Lawhorn household.)
Horton told me some renovation work on rooms has begun. He said several rooms will be larger. It was unclear to me whether the total room count at the hotel would remain the same. With 192 rooms, the Holiday Inn is the largest hotel in the city. With a little less than 15,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, the hotel also is the largest hotel-based conference and event space in the city. Many of the renovations will be focused on that meeting and banquet space, Horton said. He said the total amount of space won’t change, but everything else about it will.
“This won’t just put a new shine on it,” Horton said. “We’ll basically be doing everything from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling.”
I expect to get more details about the renovations in the next few days. I suspect we’re talking about major changes in style, design, amenities and technology. A lot has changed in the conference and event world since the space was last renovated. (For example, if you want to host the Kansas City Royals Caravan, you now need a full first aid station and the ability to bolt chairs to the floor.)
We’ll see how the changes to the Holiday Inn impact the discussion about whether to build a new conference center downtown. Full Disclosure: Owners of The World Company, which publishes the Journal-World and LJWorld.com, have proposed building a conference center, hotel and mixed-use project on downtown property owned by the company.
I suspect city commissioners in the next few weeks will have some conversations about where a downtown conference center falls on their list of priorities. A preliminary report by a city-hired consultant is now complete, and it finds that there is some unmet demand for conference center space in the city. I’ll bring you more details on that report as I wade through it.
New center for business startups opens near Ninth and Iowa; city plans to discuss gigabit Internet again
Figuring out how to help Lawrence residents build new companies is the big talk in local economic development circles these days. Now, there is a new private effort underway to help budding entrepreneurs as well. The Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship has recently opened near Ninth and Iowa streets.
If you remember, we reported back in October that Lawrence school board member Kristie Adair was opening the new venture. Adair, who also is a co-owner of Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband, said construction work has been completed and the center is fully operational.
The center, which is in one of the office buildings west of The Merc, offers both office space and access to a workshop that is stocked with several specialized tools that can help in the creation of prototype products. We’re talking about devices like 3-D printers that meld plastic material together to create new objects and a CNC machine that uses computer-generated designs to cut and shape material into new objects. Plus, there’s traditional woodworking tools, an electronics repair station and other such tools. The center also offers classes in how to use some of the more advanced equipment. (That sounds handy because I can’t get my 3-D printer to work. But I suspect I’m just wearing the glasses wrong.)
On the office side of the business, there are shared worked spaces, a conference room, a lounge, desktop publishing software and, importantly, high-speed gigabit Internet service. That means businesses have the same type of ballyhooed Internet speeds that are being offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City. The center sells memberships to businesses for $50 a month, which gives members 24-hour access to the facility, Adair said.
The center also offers a secure computer server room that companies can rent space in to house their own servers or back-up servers.
Adair is serving as executive director of the new center, which is a private venture owned by Adair and her husband, Joshua Montgomery. Adair said it is important for communities to have centers like this one, if communities are serious about being friendly to new startups.
“We really remember what it is like to start out in a small business,” Adair said. “It was challenging, and one of our bigger challenges was finding space.”
Adair said she’s come to learn that sharing space with other startup businesses also can be beneficial.
“You realize you need space, but you don’t always realize that you need somebody to bounce some ideas off to and talk shop with,” Adair said. “Starting a business can be a lonely venture.”
While the center is geared toward business startups, Adair said membership also is available to people who haven’t yet gotten to that stage, but are interested in learning more about 3-D printers and some of the other “maker space” technology.
The Center for Entrepreneurship isn’t alone in trying to reach out to Lawrence startups or home-based businesses that are looking to make the transition into office space. We’ve previously reported on Lawrence Creates, a nonprofit venture in East Lawrence, that offers some of the same types of services but also does more outreach to the artist community as well. The Cider Gallery in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District also offers shared office space and other business services for startups. Adair, though, said she thought the various business centers all would carve out their unique niches in the marketplace.
“I think people are really starting to see the need in Lawrence for this type of service,” Adair said. “Businesses that build jobs one or two at a time really are the backbone of an economy.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re speaking of high-tech things, there’s an update on Lawrence’s quest to get widespread gigabit Internet service in Lawrence. Perhaps you recall that last week I reported that Eudora was about to jump ahead of Lawrence in its efforts to get the super fast Internet service that is similar to Google Fiber in Kansas City. Eudora is close to signing an agreement with Baldwin City-based RG Fiber that would bring the service to that Douglas County community just east of Lawrence. If the Eudora project proceeds, RG’s leader has said it likely would delay the company’s plans to install the service in parts of Lawrence.
RG Fiber has been interested in installing service in parts of Lawrence for more than a year, but the City Commission has been slow in approving a “fiber policy.” (This one is different from the standard three bowls of Shredded Wheat per morning.) This fiber policy would allow companies like RG to lease unused portions of city-owned fiber optic cable to help complete a network in the city.
Well, perhaps it is all just coincidence, but shortly after Lawrence officials learned that RG was talking with Eudora, city commissioners are now saying they’re ready to pass this fiber policy. Expect it to be on Tuesday’s agenda. New Commissioner Matthew Herbert also forecast that the policy shouldn’t have any problem winning approval.
“I think it is pretty close to just needing a rubber stamp,” Herbert said. “People in the industry are happy with it.”
We’ll see whether Lawrence’s approval of the policy causes RG Fiber to reconsider its timing for entering the Lawrence market.
How paychecks, pickup trucks and guns fit into the city’s budget deliberations; name change on tap for Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau
Paychecks, pickup trucks and guns: They’re not just the beginning of a Jeff Foxworthy joke. They’re also items to keep an eye on as city commissioners begin crafting a 2016 budget.
The new City Commission yesterday spent some time talking about budget issues and other spending matters. As we reported, the police headquarters topic certainly garnered some discussion. But that wasn’t all that got discussed. City Manager David Corliss said there are at least three big topics that commissioners need to be aware of as they figure out the spending plan. Here’s a look:
— Paychecks: Corliss said he believes compensation issues — i.e. how much city employees are paid — is going to be a “dominant” issue in the city’s budget discussions for 2016. The city has held wages relatively steady for most employees for the last several years. Corliss said he thinks changes in the marketplace will make it difficult for the city to take that approach and still keep valued city employees.
“I have seen wages start to move over the last 18 months in this region,” Corliss said. “We’re going to have to raise our wages to be more competitive.”
— Pickup trucks. Well, really we’re talking about equipment in general, but pickup trucks certainly are included in that category. Corliss, who is in the final weeks of his job here before he takes a town manager position in Colorado, was straightforward in his assessment of how city commissioners have treated the city’s equipment budget over the last few years.
“I don’t want to get too preachy as I leave here, but generally we have said let’s cut back on some of our maintenance or delay some equipment purchases, because we haven’t said no to a lot of things,” Corliss said.
For what it is worth, Corliss wasn’t chastising commissioners for those decisions. Lawrence isn’t the only place that has taken that strategy during tight budgets, but he was pointing out that there is a limit to how often you can go to that well. Corliss said he is concerned that the city’s equipment fleet needs some significant upgrades.
— Guns. Members of the public bringing guns into Municipal Court and City Hall is a concern for staff members. If you remember, legislators in 2013 passed a law that says cities can’t stop licensed concealed carry holders from bringing their weapons into government buildings, unless those building have extensive security systems such as metal detectors. If you also remember, the Legislature this year passed a law saying you will no longer have to have a license in order to carry a concealed firearm.
Cities were given a four-year grace period from the 2013 law. In other words, City Hall and Municipal Court can still be a no-gun zone, even though neither has the required metal detectors or security systems in place. That exemption will expire at the end of 2017.
City Attorney Toni Wheeler said it is not too early for commissioners to begin thinking about how they want to deal with that pending issue. She oversees the city’s Municipal Court, and she said she has real concerns about allowing defendants to enter a court building with a loaded weapon.
“We often deal with people who aren’t happy to be there or are angry,” Wheeler told commissioners. “We deal with a high percentage of defendants who have a mental illness. I am very concerned about security and safety at the building.”
We’ll see whether the issue really gets much discussion during this budget session, or whether commissioners wait another year and see if the law changes.
As far as potential costs, they are significant but not crippling to the city. Back in 2013, the city estimated it would cost about $5,000 for every metal detector it required for a building. The larger cost would be for employees to staff the detectors. The police department has said a proper security plan may require two people at a detector. Back in 2013, the city estimated it would take $42,000 per person to staff a metal detector. To implement such a system at Municipal Court and City Hall would mean a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, each and every year. I’m sure those numbers probably haven’t gone down since 2013 either, so look for new numbers if the issue indeed does become a topic of conversation this budget season.
An interesting twist to the conversation will be whether city commissioners think other city-owned buildings also should have metal detectors. The public access area of the police department building at Bob Billings and Wakarusa certainly will get some discussion. Recreation centers are another one that may get debated. If the city decides it needs metal detectors at recreation centers, the costs could approach $1 million a year.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Get ready to Explore Lawrence. I’ve gotten word that the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau is scrapping its longtime name, and soon will be known as Explore Lawrence.
That is just one of several changes that are taking place at the organization. Fred Conboy, the director for Destination Management Inc. — the nonprofit group that oversees the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area — resigned in February. I haven’t been given any particular details about why he resigned, other than it was just a decision that he made. Megan Gilliland, the city’s communications manager, has been serving as the interim director for DMI.
Gilliland said the idea of changing the name of the CVB has been in the works for awhile. She said the idea of a convention and visitors bureau can sometimes be hard for the average traveler to understand.
“Explore Lawrence is an action-oriented phrase,” Gilliland said. “It calls people to do something.”
A major part of the new name will be a new website. Gilliland said the new site will make it much easier for visitors and Lawrence residents alike to find out information about events and attractions in Lawrence and Douglas County. Look for that website to be launched in the next few weeks.
I plan to write more about the new direction at the CVB later today, so check back for more details.
Bridal shop to take over space of longtime downtown retailer; city considering issuing new citizen survey; project to honor Langston Hughes
Someday soon, a man going to downtown Lawrence is going to be confused. (Women all over the city are saying, “I’ve already heard this one.”) A man will go into the storefront at 731 Massachusetts St. and expect to revel in the comfort of bats, balls, jerseys and other macho merchandise that was the hallmark of Francis Sporting Goods. Instead, he’s soon going to find wedding dresses and everything else brides are looking for to make a perfect day.
As we reported in November, Francis Sporting Goods has closed its downtown retail location, and now is focusing on its warehouse business with teams and colleges. Now, we can tell you a deal has been struck for Lawrence-based J. Lynn Bridal to move into the spot this June. The bridal store is moving from its location at 2449 South Iowa St. in the Holiday Plaza shopping center.
J. Lynn owner Jena Dick said she decided to move the two-year old business because she wanted a location with better visibility. Plus, she thinks there are plenty of brides who will want to bring all their bridesmaids downtown for a day of shopping and strolling on Massachusetts Street.
“It is going to be more of an experience than where I’m at right now,” Dick said.
J. Lynn focuses mainly on wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses, tuxedos and all the fashion accoutrements necessary to cause two people to say “I do.” The bridal shop will be next door to Ruff House Art, which is a specialty letterpress shop that produces wedding invitations. And within a short walk of the shop are several jewelry stores. And shoe shops. And hair salons. And flower shops. So, while some men may be confused about the changes at 731 Mass., there are others who may be downright scared: fathers of the bride. At least there are several banks and cocktail purveyors within walking distance as well.
“We feel like it is going to be an ideal spot,” Dick said. “When I first opened, I always dreamed it would be on Mass.”
Dick is closing the store on South Iowa Street at the end of May and hopes to be in the downtown space in early June.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I can only hope that one of the new Lawrence city commissioners takes on the personality of the late-great "Family Feud" game show host Richard Dawson by frequently yelling during the meeting “Survey says . . .” Perhaps the odds aren’t great, but regardless the city is poised to get a new survey.
Commissioners at their meeting tonight are scheduled to discuss creating a citizen survey that will be conducted by a scientific polling group. The idea is not a new one. The city has conducted these surveys every few years for the last decade or so. I think the last time the city conducted the survey was back in 2011. Back then, the main finding was that residents weren’t too happy with the condition of city streets, but were relatively pleased with other City Hall service levels.
The city created a draft list of questions for commissioners to consider using this time. Many of them are the same as past surveys, which allows the city to monitor changing attitudes of residents. Among the questions are those that ask residents to rank their satisfaction with basic city services such as police, fire, water, sewer, streets, sidewalks, parks and recreation, planning, trash collection and other such basic City Hall functions. The survey also delves into downtown issues such as availability of parking, downtown safety and downtown beautification. Also proposed is a section on city taxes and what type of value residents believe they’re receiving in that category.
One section also gives residents the ability to control how city money is spent, for at least a moment. The survey ask residents to assume they have $100 to spend. How would they divide it among the following city issues: develop public safety facilities for police and fire; support for economic development initiatives such as “a conference center, tax incentives, etc.”; reconstruction efforts for the Ninth Street Corridor project; develop parks and recreation facilities such as trails, athletic fields, pools, etc.; repair and restore deteriorating infrastructure such as streets, city buildings, sidewalks; bike lanes, sidewalks and other nonmotorized transportation infrastructure; or other.
Commissioners are expected to discuss whether to move ahead with the survey at their 5:45 p.m. meeting this evening. A cost estimate for the survey hasn’t been provided yet, but in 2011, we reported the survey cost about $30,000.
• We should take a survey someday to figure out how many Lawrence residents understand the importance of the late-great American poet Langston Hughes. Hughes grew up in Lawrence, and there is a new effort underway to highlight his time here.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider writing a letter of support for an approximately $60,000 grant being sought by a Kansas University associate professor and several other community members. The grant would pay to have about 20 bronze plaques or signs posted around town recognizing places that were important in the young life of Hughes. The grant also would pay for several guided tours of the community for people who wanted to learn more about the poet and his formative years in Lawrence. The group — which is led by Jacob Dorman in KU’s history and American studies department — is seeking the grant from the Douglas County Natural & Cultural Heritage Grant Program.
According to the grant application, sites that likely would receive a marker are:
— New York Elementary School, which Hughes attended.
— St. Luke AME Church at Ninth and New York, which Hughes attended.
— The former Central middle school site at 901 Kentucky, which Hughes attended.
— The Lawrence Public Library
— The Carnegie Building, which used to serve as the public library, a site Hughes often spent time at.
— Kansas Union, which was the site of a 1958 poetry reading by Hughes.
—The Eldridge Hotel, which is a location Hughes is thought to have worked at.
— The former Barteldes Seed Company building at 804 Massachusetts St., which is likely where Hughes had his first job.
— The former Bowersock Opera House, which is where Liberty Hall is today. Hughes often attended shows at this location and had to sit in segregated seating.
— A site near the Kansas River. Hughes wrote a famous poem titled “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”
— Homesite of grandparents Mary and Charles Langston, 732 Alabama St.
— Memorial Stadium. Hughes would attend KU football games at McCook Athletic field, which was near the current day stadium site.
— The site of a former grocery store at 820 Massachusetts St. The grocery store at the location was partially owned by Hughes’ grandfather.
— Ninth Street Missionary Baptist Church, 901 Tennessee St. Hughes’ family occasionally attended church at the site.
— The former Patee Theater site at 828 Massachusetts St. The site, which is now home to the Lawrence Antique Mall, previously was a movie theater that allowed blacks for a short period of time during Hughes’ time in Lawrence. The theater burned in 1955 and was replaced with the current structure.
— Pinckney School, where Hughes attended elementary school for a year.
— Watkins Community Museum of History, which previously was home to Watkins Bank. Hughes’ grandmother faced the constant threat of foreclosure by the bank, according to the grant application.
— Douglas County Courthouse, where Hughes’ mother briefly worked.
— Homesite of Hughes’ uncle Desalines Langston, 726 Alabama St.
— Homesite of Mary and James Reed, 731 New York St. The Reeds were family friends with whom Hughes stayed for a time.
The Douglas County grant committee is expected to make a recommendation on funding within the next few days.
Police and fire put together list of more than $33 million in funding needs for 2016; Sprouts sets new opening date for Lawrence store; former KU basketball player says deal is near on wing restaurant
So much for a nice welcome basket or even a tin with that wonderful nacho cheese-flavored popcorn. New city commissioners will get none of that when they dig into their first full meeting on Tuesday. Instead, they’ll get memos detailing how the police and fire department need millions of dollars in new funding.
City commissioners meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday for a study session to get up to speed on budgetary matters at City Hall. During the campaign, the winning candidates spent a lot of time talking about public safety needs. So you want to talk about public safety needs, do you? Bam. Here are two memos detailing more than $33 million in unfunded items for the police and fire departments. (I knew candidates should have spent more time talking about nacho cheese-flavored popcorn.)
The biggest item is hardly a surprise: $26 million for a new police headquarters facility. But what is interesting to note is that police and fire department leaders are making sure that city commissioners understand that facility isn’t the only pressing public safety need. If you remember, leading vote-winner Leslie Soden talked a lot about looking at the entire public safety system — police, fire, jail, mental health — rather than just focusing all attention on a new police headquarters building. Tuesday’s study session may be the first glimpse at whether other commissioners want to take a broad look or instead focus on the headquarters project.
Here’s a look at some of the other funding issues identified by the chiefs for the police and fire departments:
— $1.3 million in year No. 1 to hire and equip one new sergeant, six detective positions, two police officers, and one administrative support position at the police department. Police Chief Tarik Khatib notes that the number of detectives in the department has basically remained unchanged for about 10 years. This $1.3 million in funding would just get the expansion started. The city would have to dedicate a similar amount to future budgets to sustain the new positions.
— $43,000 for additional training for the police department. The department receives only $17,000 in city funding for the training of its 185-person staff. The department has won some grant money to do additional training, but Khatib notes it is difficult to rely on grant funding because the department is not assured of receiving the grants in the future.
— About $550,000 to replace 18 vehicles that the police department has identified as nearing the end of their useful lives. The department normally gets about $225,000 for vehicle replacement, but that amount has not kept up with the aging fleet of the department, Khatib said.
— About $163,000 per year to add an extra firefighter per shift to the fire department’s current work roster. Chief Mark Bradford said the extra firefighter would be a good investment because the city currently is paying overtime or using employees from its “extra board” program to fill in for full-time firefighters that are on vacation or have taken other types of leave
— $2.3 million to renovate Fire Station No. 1, which is located in downtown. This project was scheduled to get started in 2015-2016, but one proposal calls for pushing the project to 2018-2019 to accommodate a plan to build a police headquarters without needing a tax increase.
— $725,000 to replace the training tower near 19th and Haskell.
— $1.7 million for repairs to failing concrete in front of multiple fire stations.
— $27,345 for various maintenance items at Fire Station No. 2, which is at 2128 Harper St.
— $98,750 for various maintenance items at Fire Station No. 3, which is at 3708 W. Sixth Street.
— $32,950 for various repairs at Fire Station No. 4, which is at 2121 Wakarusa Drive.
— $15,285 for various repairs at Fire Station No. 5, which is at 1911 Stewart Ave.
— $6,350 for maintenance at the training center near 19th and Haskell.
— $18,000 for drainage issues at Fire Station No. 5.
— $30,000 a year to increase training operations of the fire department, including additional training for structural collapse emergencies, extrications, hazardous materials, domestic terrorism events and emergency medical service training.
There are other items on the list that don’t have a specific price tag attached, but they are significant. They include:
— Fire truck replacement. The city has been using money from the infrastructure sales tax to replace fire trucks since 2010. But the sales tax is scheduled to expire in 2019, and only $100,000 of sales tax money is budgeted in the future for fire engine replacement. (Most trucks cost $500,000 or more.) Certainly, the city may ask voters to renew the sales tax before it expires. Absent that, the department will need to find another funding source, because Bradford has said continuing to replaced aged equipment will be critical.
— New fire stations. Bradford says in his memo to commissioners that “it is becoming difficult” for the department to meet its response time goals with the current system of fire stations. The department strives to have fire stations that are within 4 minutes driving time of most structures in the community. “Discussions should begin to identify future fire station location requirements,” Bradford says in the memo.
— Firefighter pay. Although not mentioned specifically in the memo, everyone at City Hall is bracing for negotiations with the union that represents Lawrence firefighters. The union believes a study will show that pay for Lawrence firefighters has fallen behind that of peer communities, which puts the city at risk of losing firefighters to other cities in the region. If you remember, the city and fire union went to impasse in negotiations last year. This year’s negotiations are expected to begin soon.
— Police officer pay. The city also will be negotiating with the association that represents police officers. Khatib, though, notes that sergeants and captains aren’t represented by that association when it comes to wage and salary matters. He said salary ranges for those positions have been capped for four years, which he said is “exasperating an already existing compensation compression problem.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’ve been telling you for months now that west Lawrence is getting a new grocery store near Wakarusa and Overland drives. Now, I can tell you that it is opening July 1. Sprouts has announced that’s the opening date for its new 27,000 square-foot Lawrence store.
In case you have forgotten, the Phoenix-based company touts itself as a “farmers market style” grocer. The stores have a variety of departments including meat, dairy, frozen foods, grocery, bulk items, bakery, deli, seafood, supplements and other health care products. As a farmers market style grocer, produce is a big part of the store as well.
In a new release, the company said it is hiring about 100 full- and part-time employees to staff the store. Positions will range from cashiers to managers.
• You also may remember way back in October 2013 that we reported former KU basketball player Keith Langford was going to open a Wing Stop restaurant in Lawrence. Well, that plan has been a bit like the alley-oop play in my pick-up basketball game: slow developing. But there’s indication the idea is still alive. Langford posted information on his Twitter account that indicates a Lawrence store will open in October. He has indicated the locations will be at 23rd and Louisiana, next to Mr. Goodcents.
Bill Self and Scot Pollard team up to buy Mass. Street property; BBQ event coming to Rock Chalk Park
Well, here’s a property to keep an eye on, and a partnership that sets the mind to racing. Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self and former KU basketball star Scot Pollard have bought a Massachusetts Street commercial property.
Documents filed with the Kansas Secretary of State’s office confirm that Self and Pollard are the members of a corporation that bought the former Performance Tire and Wheel building at 1828 Massachusetts St. That’s right. We’re talking about south Mass. here. In case you left your map of former tire shops at home, the building is just north of Cottin’s Hardware or a couple doors south of Dillons.
No plans have been filed at City Hall yet that give any clues about how the duo plans to use the property. The rumor that Self bought the property has been floating around for quite awhile now. Indeed, the property was purchased some time ago, but until recently the only information I had was the name of the corporation that bought it. But in recent weeks the corporation had to file an annual report that listed its shareholders. Self and Pollard were the only ones listed as owning more than 5 percent of the company.
The most common speculation I've heard is about a restaurant going into the location. But I don’t have confirmation. I’m doubtful that Self is going to give up his clipboard for an apron, so any restaurant venture likely will involve someone else.
I’ve got a call into Ted McDonald, a Kansas City-area attorney listed on a lot of the paperwork for the project, but haven’t yet heard back.
But, of course, the idea of Bill Self lending his name to a venture is intriguing. For that matter, Pollard’s involvement is intriguing as well. Pollard is nothing if not intriguing, although it has been reported that he’s mellowed over the years. For those of you who have forgotten Pollard, think back to the KU basketball player who got attention for painting his fingernails, and then wore a Mohawk and muttonchops in the NBA.
The possibilities of a Scot Pollard-themed club are fun to think about. But the possibilities of a Bill Self-themed club — again, I don’t know that's going to happen — are even more fun. Ponder this for a second: The corporation Bill Self formed to buy this property is BS, LLC. How about the BS Club? Anyone interested in that? Referee blows a call. Rehash it at the BS Club. Iowa State fan has too much of a liquid corn product and charges our head coach. Mock him at the BS Club. KU football season . . . well, the BS Club may need an expansion.
Again, I don’t know what the future holds for the property. I’ll ask the good folks on our sports desk to reach out to Coach Self, and we’ll let you know if we hear more. (UPDATE: They got in touch with Self. He said he didn't have any comment at the moment.) It certainly could just be that Self and Pollard bought the property as a real estate investment.
If so, they may be finding that some real estate investments can be as much fun as a road trip to Ames. This property used to be an old gas station, and it had an underground storage tank that had to be removed. In fact, I think it had two underground storage tanks, which may have been a surprise, according to some people I have talked to. The latest paperwork filed at City Hall is for a demolition permit for one of the small buildings on the site. The permit application indicates the work is related to an underground storage tank remediation project.
In other news and notes from around town:
• For what it is worth, it looks like Scot Pollard may be building a new home out in the neighborhood where Bill Self lives. City commissioners a couple of weeks ago approved as part of their consent agenda a variance request for Pollard so that he could build at 4520 Bauer Brook Court, which is the upscale subdivision on the northern portions of Folks Road in northwest Lawrence. As has been the case with several of the houses in that subdivision, it has needed permission to install a septic tank, since the property has difficulty accessing a city sewer line.
• Well, if you haven’t gotten your spring shipment of Wet Wipes, you had better get busy. It is BBQ season, and there is a change coming to one of the larger barbecue events in Lawrence. The Sertoma Club of Lawrence is moving its annual barbecue competition to Rock Chalk Park, from Broken Arrow Park.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are set to approve a permit that will allow the competition to use one of the large parking lots at Rock Chalk Park on May 8-9. Plans call for 48 teams and about 400 members of the public to participate in the event. Teams will start cooking at 8 a.m. on Friday, May 8 and continue into May 9. The event will be open for the public to go out and sample barbecue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 9.
So, if you are planning ahead, you may want to be prepared to hunt for different parking spot if you are heading to the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park on that day. Depending on how long you stay and sample, you may also want to plan a little extra time on the treadmill too.
No word yet on whether the move to Rock Chalk Park is a permanent one for the event, or if perhaps the group is just trying out the venue given that there is so much construction work around Broken Arrow Park because of the South Lawrence Trafficway project.