Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Urgent care medical facility slated for Sixth and Folks Road; KDOT wants feedback on possible SLT expansion; leaders launch survey on pedestrian issues
It won’t be a full-fledged emergency room, but a deal has been struck to bring a major new medical provider to West Lawrence. Oklahoma-based XpressWellness Urgent Care has signed a deal to build at Sixth and Folks Road.
Plans call for a nearly 4,300-square-foot building at the northwest corner of the intersection. The property is in front of the Meadowlark Estates retirement community, and is in the growing Bauer Farms development.
XpressWellness, which operates eight centers in Oklahoma, provides walk-in care for a variety conditions that people sometimes turn to an emergency room for. Those include minor fractures, flu symptoms, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, bite or puncture wounds and some work-related injuries. Urgent care centers have become a significant trend in the health care industry as emergency rooms and traditional doctors offices have become busier.
“We try to make the wait as short as possible,” said Don Rose, an executive with HammerWilliams Co., which is part of the team developing the wellness centers. “We’re seeing Kansas has not quite caught up to the urgent care trend like several other states have. We see several possibilities in Kansas.”
The Lawrence location will be the company’s first in Kansas, but Rose said it is exploring sites in three other Kansas cities.
The center will be open seven days a week. According to information on its website, normal hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-7 p.m. on Sunday. Appointments aren’t required, although the centers offer an online check-in service that allows you to reserve your space in line and be notified a few minutes before a medical professional is ready to see you.
Rose said each center is overseen by a medical doctor, and the facilities also use nurse practitioners and other licensed medical professionals to provide care.
As for a timeline, expect construction to begin this summer. The zoning for the site is largely in place, but the project does still need some approvals from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. The project is expected to have a hearing in May, and construction would begin thereafter.
The project continues a trend of new medical facilities in the northwest part of the city. As we reported last week, Topeka ENT has signed a deal to open an ear, nose and throat practice at the southwest corner of Sixth and Folks Road. We’ve also previously reported that Lawrence physician Stephanie Suber has opened Family Centered Medicine in a new building just east of the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa.
I’m also keeping my eye out for at least one other health care-related development near the Sixth and Folks Road intersection. A vacant piece of ground just east of the Central Bank of the Midwest branch there has sold. I’m hearing word of a specialty dentist office, but I haven’t yet seen plans filed. I’ll check in with the players and report back.
“We definitely think it is a great corner for the business,” Rose said. “And we’re planning on making this our showcase facility. It will be the nicest clinic we have built to date.”
Here’s a look at the proposed design for the corner.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re talking about west side development, the granddaddy of West Lawrence projects could be an expansion of the South Lawrence Trafficway. As we’ve previously reported, the Kansas Department of Transportation is working on a concept plan to expand the existing SLT to four lanes west of Iowa Street. The portion of the SLT east of Iowa Street that is currently under construction will be four lanes when it opens in 2016.
KDOT doesn’t have money to build the four lanes west of Iowa, but it has identified the expansion as a definite need, and it hopes to have a plan in place to take advantage of any funding that becomes available in future years.
With that in mind, KDOT is seeking comments from the public. KDOT will host an open house from 5-7 p.m. March 31 at Southwest Middle School, 2511 Inverness Drive. The open house is a come-and-go type of affair where people can see a few displays about the concept plan and ask questions of KDOT officials.
• Pedestrians shouldn’t feel left out of the fun, though. In the business world, I hear the phrase frequently that “people vote with their feet.” I don’t know about that. I got a nasty paper cut on my big toe during the primary, so I don’t advise it. Regardless, local officials want pedestrians to vote, sort of, on a variety of issues.
Officials with the Lawrence-Douglas County planning office are urging pedestrians to take an online survey as leaders work to develop a Regional Pedestrian Plan. You can find a link to the survey here. The deadline to participate in the survey is April 25. I just took the survey, and it takes about 10 minutes. It asks you a variety of questions about what type of sidewalk improvements, crosswalk improvements and other such issues are important to you. (Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really need to use some Lysol wipes on my computer keyboard.)
One last thing though. If you really like to talk about pedestrian issues, there is a Safe Routes for All Town Hall Forum scheduled from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence.
Parks and recreation on pace to set record in 2015; get ready for closure of key Ninth Street intersection; parking changes on tap near Hillcrest school
There was an extra amount of fun at Lawrence Parks and Recreation in January and February, and I’m not even talking about the time I was woefully confused about what’s involved with a sow cow at the city’s new outdoor ice rink. (Sure, now they tell me it is spelled “Salchow.”) No, I’m talking about the department setting new records when it comes to people signing up for classes and courses.
The latest figures from the department show that enrollment numbers for everything from fitness classes to basketball leagues to wine tastings hit 4,211 in the January/February enrollment period. That’s a 42 percent increase from the same period a year ago. It also crushes any of the previous numbers for at least the last five years.
Department leaders said people heading to the new Sports Pavilion Lawrence at Rock Chalk Park were a “major driver” in the numbers. The 181,000-square-foot recreation center has allowed more youth basketball sessions, more sessions of youth and adult soccer leagues, more fitness classes and a large expansion of the department’s gymnastics program.
Plus, department leaders think the center has given residents another reason to think about getting more active.
“People go out there and see other people doing activities, and they think, ‘I want to give that a try,’” said Roger Steinbrock, the department’s director of marketing.
The department needs to have a record-type of year for class enrollments to keep the operating budget for Sports Pavilion Lawrence on track, and thus far it is off to a good start. But the new recreation center isn’t the only factor pushing up enrollment numbers.
Department leaders said the new “lifelong recreation” classes designed for people 50 and older are really gaining in popularity. About 8 months ago, the department hired a new program specialist, Gayle Sigurdson, to focus on developing classes and activities for the senior set. The program has allowed the department to begin offering some daytime, weekday classes that previously would have been tough to fill if the primary audience were people still in the workforce.
The classes have included traditional fitness classes such as aerobics, “Silver Steppers,” and something called yogilates, which I would have sworn was something my health-conscious wife was trying to get me to eat more of for breakfast.
But the program also includes classes on card games, computer workshops, nature journaling and travel clubs. In fact, the travel portion of the program has gotten rather ambitious. Parks and Recreation is organizing what leaders think may be the first overseas trip for the department. The department is advertising a trip to Ireland that will take place from Oct. 7 to Oct. 16. The department is working with professional travel planners to create the trip, but city officials are handling the marketing and promotion. The department also is offering several day trips, including a series of winery tours in Miami County, a trip to the Garden of Eden in Lucas, and a tour of the World War I museum in Kansas City.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is that time of year where the heart gets all warm at the thought of future dandelions in the yard and summer road construction detours. I’ve got news on the latter. Motorists should expect a portion of Ninth Street to be completely closed for several days this summer.
A waterline replacement project near Ninth and Avalon will close that portion of Ninth Street to thru traffic while crews connect the new waterline to an existing waterline that runs through the middle of the Ninth Street intersection.
Current plans call for the street closure to begin on May 26 and last until June 7. Ninth Street will be closed to thru traffic from a point just west of Hilltop Drive and just east of Avalon Road. The official detour for the route essentially will be for motorists to take Sixth Street for their east-west travel. Expect some additional traffic on Maine Street as well, as motorists likely will use that street to exit Ninth and get to Sixth.
The city wants some public input on the idea. The City Commission will be holding a public hearing on the project at its 5:45 p.m. March 31 commission meeting at City Hall.
In case you are wondering, the May 26 start date does avoid KU’s commencement ceremonies. Commencement is scheduled for May 17 this year.
• While we’re in the neighborhood, I’ve also got an update about some work that will be happening at Hillcrest Elementary School at 1045 Hilltop Drive. The school is set to have a shakeup in parking as part of a renovation and addition at the school.
The school district and the city have reached an agreement where the school will be allowed to use city-owned right-of-way along Hilltop Drive and Harvard Road to install new parking stalls. The plan calls for 30 parking spaces to built along Harvard Road in front of the school and 37 spaces to be built along Hilltop Drive. You can kind of see on this site plan where the new parking spaces will be constructed.
Report contends that Chapel Hill, Orlando, many other cities better basketball towns than Lawrence; National Geographic highlights Lawrence
I guess having the inventor of the game of basketball buried in your cemetery doesn’t get you as far as it used to. While our basketball team is a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, our city doesn’t even merit a top 20 ranking in a new list of the best basketball cities in the country.
That’s right, let me give you a minute while you clean up the green St. Patrick’s Day beer that just shot through your nose. (Happy St. Patrick’s Day, by the way.) The folks at the financial website WalletHub have attempted to rank the “Best and Worst Cities for Basketball Fans.” Lawrence comes in at No. 22 on the list, right behind Lexington, Ky., which undoubtedly was knocked down because fans there are constantly having to learn the names of new McDonald’s All-Americans.
In terms of who took home the coveted top prize: Storrs, Conn., home to the defending NCAA National Champion University of Connecticut Huskies, who are very busy right now selling tickets to an NIT game. In case you are wondering, UConn’s powerhouse women’s basketball team wasn’t used to create the rankings for this report by WalletHub. In case you also are wondering, James Naismith has never been buried there, and his rules of basketball won’t be displayed in a multimillion dollar building on UConn’s campus.
No. 2 on the list is Chapel Hill, N.C., a fine college basketball community that also has never had James Naismith buried there. However, we can not entirely rule out the possibility that James Naismith has been “teaching” classes at UNC for the last decade or so. Rounding out the top five are: No. 3 San Antonio, Texas; No. 4 Memphis, Tenn.; and No. 5 Orlando, Fla. (That explains why Orlando is such a tourist destination. I still don’t understand why they wear such funny ears down there, though.)
As you may have guessed from the list, the report doesn’t just look at cities with college basketball teams, but also looks at NBA cities, too.
Lawrence did rank as the top basketball city in Kansas. Manhattan came in at No. 45, and Wichita was ranked No. 142 among the 300 cities examined. Lawrence, though, was not the top ranked city in the region. Oklahoma City was No. 12, Fayetteville, Ark., was No. 14 and Denver, Colo. was No. 16.
The report's authors looked at a number of factors, including the past three season’s worth of win-loss records for teams in each city. I’m not sure where KU ranked, but Wichita was the top-ranked city in the college category. They also looked at national championships, division/league championships, number of sports bars per capita, arena sizes, and the average ticket price for season tickets. In that category, Lawrence finished last. According to the data that WalletHub used, of the 205 cities that host a college basketball team, Lawrence had the “highest minimum season ticket prices for a college basketball game.” I think what that means is that the cheapest season ticket for a KU game is higher than the cheapest season ticket for any of the other schools studied in this report. In case you are wondering, Conway, Ark. — home to the University of Central Arkansas Bears — has the cheapest season ticket prices. (The Bears take hibernation seriously during the basketball season. They were 2-27 this season.)
So, keep that in mind as you pack your bags for Conway. It ranked No. 247 overall. But that is better than one other area city: Kansas City, Mo. KC ranked No. 298 on the list. Kansas City — the city that has hosted more NCAA national championship games than any other — is the third worst basketball city in the country, according to WalletHub. Only Riverside, Calif., and Jersey City, N.J., ranked worse. I assume KC fared so poorly because it doesn’t have an NBA team, so its rankings probably were based off of the UMKC basketball program.
Still, I can’t think that Kansas City leaders are going to be too happy about this ranking. The city just recently hosted another wildly successful Big 12 Tournament.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I know, that news has left your shamrock a bit droopy today, so perhaps this will lift your spirits. A recent edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine has listed Lawrence as one of its Final 4: Our Picks for Slam Dunk College Towns. Lawrence made the list along with Chapel Hill, Spokane, Wash., home to Gonzaga, and Syracuse, N.Y., although don’t expect Jim Boeheim to hold a press conference about it.
The brief write up on Lawrence includes the tradition of “waving the wheat,” Free State Brewery, our abolitionist beginnings, the Eldridge Hotel, and, of course, Frosted Flakes and tequila at The Roost. If that doesn’t bring people flocking to town, I don’t know what will.
If you have ever wanted to watch someone canvass a group of city commission candidates, you missed your chance recently. (No, it didn’t involve bundling them tightly in heavy cloth. I learned years ago that there is a reason there’s an extra ’s’ on canvass.)
Instead, what I’m talking about is the process to certify the March 3 city commission and school board vote totals as official. Douglas County commissioners, under the supervision of the Douglas County Clerk, go through a process called a canvass in which they look at provisional ballots and other disputed ballots to come up with a final vote total. That was done last week, so now we have the official vote totals from the primary.
As was almost certain, none of the top six vote winners in the city commission changed their order in the race. To keep this short and sweet (which is not the most common of combinations in politics) the canvass basically gave top vote winner Leslie Soden a slightly greater victory than the unofficial vote totals on election night indicated. She ended up having a 719 vote lead over second-place finisher Stan Rasmussen rather than the 709 vote lead reported on election night.
That’s not all that significant because every candidate starts over at zero in the general election anyway. But normally, if people take the time to vote for you in a primary election, they’ll take the time to vote for you again in a general election. So, Soden goes into the April 7 election with good momentum.
But the more interesting numbers are the precinct-by-precinct vote totals. The Douglas County Clerk’s office has released those totals now that the results have become official. I always like to analyze those results a bit to see what they tell us. (Normally, they tell us that I need a better hobby.) Anyway, here’s a look:
— Soden was the clear-cut winner in large areas of the community. She was the top vote winner in 28 of 49 precincts. Second-place finisher Rasmussen won 10 precincts, third-place finisher Stuart Boley won 6, fifth-place finisher Matthew Herbert won 3, and fourth-place finisher and current City Commissioner Terry Riordan won 2. City Commissioner Bob Schumm, who won the sixth and final spot that moves onto the general election, didn’t win a single precinct. That was quite a change from his election four years ago when he was the top vote-winner in the city.
– The neighborhoods east of Iowa Street were very united in their support of Soden. She won 20 of the 26 precincts east of Iowa Street. Rasmussen, on the other hand, won just a single precinct east of Iowa. (Point of clarification: Some of these precincts, I believe, straddle the Iowa Street line. I count them east or west of Iowa based on the location of the polling place.)
— Rasmussen was the big winner in western Lawrence, but not by huge margins. Western portions of the city were much more divided. Rasmussen won 9 of the 23 precincts west of Iowa Street. Soden won 8 of the precincts west of Iowa Street. This continues a bit of a trend we saw in the November election for a sales tax to support a police headquarters. Eastern Lawrence was very united in its vote against the sales tax, while western Lawrence was generally supportive, but more divided.
– In what has been a trend for quite awhile, voters west of Iowa Street outnumber voters east of Iowa Street. By my tally, there were 4,958 ballots cast west of Iowa compared to 3,508 east of Iowa. It is tough for a candidate to win an election without winning some significant levels of support from west Lawrence voters. (A quick note: I used Iowa Street as the dividing line because that is the way a lot of people divide Lawrence in their minds. But Iowa Street doesn’t represent the center of the city any more from a geographic or demographic standpoint. The east-west dividing line would be farther west. Someday I plan to figure out exactly where that line is — Lawrence Avenue may be a good guess — but that day is not today.)
– The precincts with the largest voter turnout by percentage were: Brandon Woods, 4730 Brandon Woods Terrace, 25.98 percent; Lawrence Heights Christian Church, 2321 Peterson Road, 25.33; Pioneer Ridge, 4851 Harvard Road, 25.32 percent; Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 2211 Inverness Drive, 25.2 percent; American Legion, 3408 W. Sixth St., 24.67 percent. All of those precincts are in the western half of the city. Rasmussen won three of those, while Soden and Boley each won one.
– Students who live in Kansas University residence halls apparently haven’t yet caught city commission fever. There are 1,020 registered voters in Precinct 10, but it had only 1 ballot cast during the primary election. That is a voter turnout of 0.1 percent.
— Voter turnout in the primary election finished at 13.85 percent. The big question on the minds of candidates probably is how much higher voter turnout will be for the general election. If history is a good predictor of the future, we probably all are still wearing powdered wigs. (I don’t think that is the case.) But perhaps some historical numbers are useful here. Over the last 15 years, the highest voter turnout for an April election that did not involve school bonds was in 2007. A whopping 19.1 percent of voters went to the polls. More recently, the April 2013 elections produced a 16.5 percent turnout. It looks like a 5 percent to 6 percent increase in voters in April would be near the top end of what to expect.
But who knows, maybe voter turnout will be higher. Voters certainly do know how to get to the polls in April, when they want to. When we've had school bond elections in April, voter turnout has been just under 40 percent.
The general election will be April 7. Advance voting begins Wednesday. The top three voter winners from the field of six will win a seat on the five-member commission.
New apartment complex slated for Sixth and Folks Road area; Topeka ENT moving into West Lawrence space; world champion Clydesdale team coming for St. Patty’s parade
The latest thing slated to grow in West Lawrence’s Bauer Farm development is a new apartment complex. Plans have been filed for a 145-unit apartment development near Sixth Street and Folks Road.
According to plans filed at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, the apartment complex wouldn’t be right on the corner of Sixth and Folks, but just west of it. Look for six apartment buildings that will house a mix of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments. The plans also call for a nearly 12,000-square-foot clubhouse and a full-length outdoor basketball court.
A big part of the development is finishing Bauer Farm Drive. That is the east-west road immediately north of Sixth Street. The road is only about three-quarters completed. A large gap prevents motorists from taking it all the way from Wakarusa Drive to Folks Road. (Well, prevent may be too strong of a word, but you’ll want to have your shocks adjusted just right and the proper amount of bail money in the glove box.) The plans call for that final stretch of Bauer Farm to be completed, which may spur other development.
The development still has a few lots along Sixth Street to fill, but development is certainly on the upswing with the project. Sprouts, the natural foods grocery store, is under construction. Officials with the chain have said they plan to open the Lawrence store, at Wakarusa and Overland, in the second quarter of this year. There also will be several other retail spaces available next to the grocery store. I haven’t yet heard of deals signed, but I believe interest has been strong.
I’m also hearing a medical-related user also has plans for another portion of the Bauer Farm development. So keep your eyes open for news on that in the future.
As for the apartment development, the property is owned by a group led by Lawrence businessmen Mike Treanor and Doug Compton, but information on the plans indicate the apartment complex will be developed by a Colorado-based group Wakarusa Investors, LLC, led by David Geist.
The property already has the necessary zoning for apartment development, so it just needs to win some technical approvals from City Hall. It seems likely that it will have the necessary permits to begin construction this summer.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re in the neighborhood of Sixth and Folks, it looks like a new medical office also is coming to that intersection. For months you perhaps have noticed advertisements that say Topeka Ear Nose and Throat — or Topeka ENT — is coming to Lawrence. Well, now we know where. The company has signed a lease to go into the new office building that houses Capital City Bank at the southwest corner of Sixth and Folks, according to information provided by the broker on the deal, Allison Vance Moore of the local Colliers International office. No word yet on when the office plans to open.
• There will be a world champion in Tuesday’s Lawrence St. Patrick’s Day Parade — six of them actually — and I dare you to give them a hard time about not being green enough. The Express Clydesdales, a team of six black and white Clydesdales that have been in parades and competitions throughout North America, have been added to the parade’s roster.
In addition, Lawrence residents will have a chance to see the horses up close. The team will be providing wagon rides from noon to 4 p.m. Monday at the Pine Landscape Center, 1783 E. 1500 Road in North Lawrence. The wagon rides are free, although donations will be taken to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.
The horses then will be part of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday and runs through downtown and North Lawrence.
The team, sponsored by the personnel services firm Express Employment Professionals, won the Six-Horse Hitch World Championships at the Calgary Stampede in 2013, and have won several other international competitions. Admittedly, the team isn’t as famous as the Budweiser Clydesdales, but they’re plenty big, just like the Budweiser animals.
“It is hard to appreciate just how big they are until you see them in person,” said Barry Kingery, a co-owner of the local Expres Employment Professionals office. “Just try to throw your arm around one of them, and you’ll se how big they really are.”
According to the horses’ website (don’t ask me how they type HTML code with those big hoofs), each horse is about 6 feet tall at the shoulder, weighs between 1,700 and 2,300 pounds, eats about 12 pounds of food and 15 pounds of hay per day, and drinks about 30 gallons of water daily. As for the size of those hoofs, the website simply says: “Size of dinner plates.”
The horses are participating in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade this weekend and are stopping in Lawrence as they make their way to their home base near Oklahoma City.
Knights of Columbus to close E. 23rd Street events hall; new food cart slated for downtown; SLT project to create long-term lane reductions on K-10
For decades, the Knights of Columbus building on east 23rd Street has been home to bird shows, gun shows (not at the same time), wedding receptions and a host of other events. I even have been known to put on my best Western dancing shirt and head to the Knights of Columbus for its live country dance bands. But all that is changing. (Clarification: I’m keeping the shirt.) The organization is in the process of closing the building and finding a new owner for the large piece of property.
Kevin Oneslager, an officer with the group that owns the building, said the Knights have stopped taking reservations for the use of the building and the fraternal organization is no longer holding its meetings there, either. Some of you may have noticed that all of the Knights of Columbus signs have been removed in recent days.
Oneslager said events that already have been booked would go on as planned. Oneslager said the Knights of Columbus organization also is still very much alive and well. It is holding its meetings at the St. John’s Catholic Church. Members of the Knights, however, decided they were just spending too much time managing the large building.
“We would rather focus our time on the charity. Our main focus is on charity,” Oneslager said.
Plus, now is probably a good time to sell the building. It's on the far eastern edge of Lawrence and is adjacent to the city’s VenturePark property, which is the new business/industrial park on the former Farmland Industries site. The building, which dates to the mid-1960s, sits on about 2 acres of commercial zoned property, and is highly visible from 23rd Street. It also is adjacent to two other pieces of 23rd Street property that could be candidates for redevelopment — the former Don’s Steakhouse building and the former Diamond Everley Roofing building.
Those three properties combined would create a large area for redevelopment on 23rd Street. I haven’t heard of any specific plan to do so, but certainly the idea has come up among some in the commercial real estate business.
Oneslager said the ownership group is in the process of getting an appraisal and expects to start fielding interest in the property later in 2015.
“It is a great location,” Oneslager said. “Obviously sitting right next to VenturePark, we hope that may draw some interest.”
Speaking of interest, I know you want to see the beautiful shirt. So, let the wonderment begin . . .
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of things we would like to torch . . . (Wait a minute, how did my wife get ahold of the keyboard?) Regardless, there is news that involves torches. Torched Goodness, the unique food truck that serves a whole host of Creme Brûlée dishes, has received a city permit for a food cart in downtown Lawrence. The cart will be on the northeast corner of Seventh and Massachusetts street, in front of Liberty Hall. I’m not entirely sure whether the food cart will focus on Creme Brûlée or whether it will be more traditional street food. I’m also not sure how I’m going to sneak Creme Brûlée into a movie at Liberty Hall, but I’m working on answers to both of those questions. I’ve got a call into the Torched Goodness folks and will report back any details I learn.
• What I do know is that traffic on Kansas Highway 10 just east of Lawrence will be a bit different for the rest of 2015. Crews working on the South Lawrence Trafficway project are slated to close one lane in each direction on the busy highway beginning on Monday. The lane closures are expected to last into December.
Information from the state says the lane restrictions will run from a point near the East Hills Business Park entrance and go all the way to the County Route 1057 interchange between Eudora and Lawrence. So, that’s about a 2.5-mile stretch. The speed limit in the area will be reduced to 55 miles per hour.
The lane reductions will give crews room to build a number of bridges over K-10 as part of the SLT project. A lot of the work will be near the area where K-10 curves and previously intersected with Noria Road. That road intersection won’t be part of the new SLT configuration. Instead, Noria road will travel over K-10 via an overpass. Work also will be near the ski lake just south of K-10.
We’ll see how bad traffic becomes on K-10. The Kansas Department of Transportation said motorists should expect “minor delays.” I travel that road a lot, and there have been some temporary lane reductions before. Traffic still moves pretty well even with one lane. Just hope there is not an accident that impacts that one lane. If so, you had better hope you packed an extra Creme Brûlée.
As for the SLT work, it will be interesting to watch the interchange being constructed. It is not your standard interchange with a bridge and a couple of entrance and exit ramps. I’m not sure I have all of it figured out, but look at the map below for some details. It shows the Noria Road overpass, and it looks like there will be a few other overpasses as well. And there’s also an area — the spot where all the green lines are twisted up — that looks a bit like my eyeglasses after a spaghetti dinner with one too many glasses of wine. But I’m sure it all will become clearer in the next few months. And, if for some reason you haven’t driven through that area in awhile, you should. It is changing tremendously.
Local health advocate raises idea of smoking ban in city parks, e-cigarette ban in certain city facilities
Walk your dog in the park? Sure. Toss a Frisbee around in the park? You bet. Conduct catapult-like experiments on a park Teeter Totter? Well . . . I’ll just say it unfortunately isn’t covered under my insurance policy. But what about smoking a cigarette in a Lawrence park? That may become the next interesting question for Lawrence city commissioners to tackle.
Smoking your standard tobacco cigarette in a city park is legal today. But an official with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department is now suggesting the city ought to debate whether it should remain so. The question is also likely to expand to whether spectators at outdoor sporting events on city-owned property should be allowed to smoke, and whether e-cigarettes also should be banned at city facilities.
Erica Anderson, a new health promotion specialist with the health department, has begun asking about the issue at Lawrence City Hall, and earlier this week talked briefly with the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board about the topic. She hasn’t submitted a specific proposal for the city to consider yet, but said she’s working to develop one.
“For sure we want to get rid of e-cigarettes in recreation centers,” Anderson said. “We really want to look at changing the social norms around tobacco use.”
Anderson said the health department has received a grant related to the e-cigarette issue, and she expects that to be the group’s first area of focus. But she said banning smoking in parks is also on the list of areas she would like considered.
“That probably will be in our long-term plans,” Anderson said. “It would do a lot to help change the social norm.”
Anderson said a primary thought is that if children see fewer adults using tobacco or e-cigarettes, that perhaps they’ll be less likely to take up the smoking habit in the future. That’s why areas such as recreation centers, ball fields, parks and other areas that attract a lot of children are high on the list of places where she wants the city to consider tougher smoking policies.
The city’s current smoking ban, enacted in 2004, doesn’t really address e-cigarettes. Retailers of the devices have said that since the “smoke” emitted by the devices is actually water vapor, that they don’t create the same second-hand smoke type of concerns that cigarettes do. But Anderson, who previously was the program coordinator for Tobacco Free Kansas, said the science and possible health impacts of e-cigarettes aren’t yet very well understood.
As for smoking at an outdoor ball field, such as at soccer games or baseball games sponsored by the city, that currently is allowed, as long as you are not on the field of play, said Ernie Shaw, the leader of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. That means spectators along the sidelines or in the stands can smoke.
Where the issue goes from here will be interesting to watch. Anderson said she’s had a conversation with the city attorney’s office seeking more information about the city’s policies regarding smoking and e-cigarettes.
If any changes are to be made — such as banning smoking in parks — ultimately it will be up to the City Commission to make them. And given the time of year that we’re in, we’re in all likelihood talking about the next City Commission that will be elected at the April 7 elections.
Lawrence taxi cab drivers soon may have to get a new type of license, and, no, it isn’t one to take your taxi cab confession. City Hall officials are contemplating a new ordinance that would require criminal background checks for drivers.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider a new taxi cab licensing ordinance that will allow the city to deny a taxi cab license to any person who has any of the following convictions within the last five years: a felony; crime of dishonesty; crime against a person; driving under the influence; or driving with a suspended license. Anyone who has an outstanding warrant also will be denied a license.
The proposed changes haven’t come about because the city has heard of dangerous situations occurring with taxi cab drivers. (Well, there have been some trips back from the 24-hour burrito stand that have been a bit troubling, but that’s probably unavoidable.) Instead, the changes are proposed because a pair of taxi cab companies asked the city to look at its antiquated taxi cab ordinance.
It is unclear, though, whether these proposed changes are going to address the concerns those two taxi cab companies have. Jayhawk Taxi and Ground Transportation Services — two of the larger taxi cab companies in the city — have expressed concern about the number of independent taxi cab companies that are receiving licenses from the city.
Representatives from Jayhawk and GTS have told City Hall officials that the most lucrative part of the Lawrence taxi cab market is the late-night bar crowd. Both companies say the service they provide in those late-night/early-morning hours subsidizes the service they provide during the daytime weekday hours. But they contend that small, single operator companies are getting city licenses and are only operating during the lucrative late-night bar scene. As that market becomes split, it is becoming more difficult to keep the daytime, weekday service operating.
Both Jayhawk and GTS have proposed that the city create a requirement that tax cab companies only be allowed to operate in Lawrence if they have a certain number of cabs and agree to operate a certain number of hours per week. Both Wichita and Topeka have such requirements in their taxi cab ordinances, but several other cities do not. As proposed, the Lawrence ordinance would not create those requirements.
But the city is proposing several changes to the code, as the review found the language was pretty antiquated. Among the changes is an increased requirement for insurance. The current code requires a company to have only $25,000 worth of insurance to protect against the death or injury of a single person and just $50,000 for deaths or injuries to multiple people. The new code would raise those levels to $300,000 and $500,000.
The city also is proposing an increase in the fees charged to taxi cab operators. The city is proposing a $100 taxicab business permit license and then additional $50 per vehicle fee. Currently the city does not charge for a business permit license but rather has a fee structure that charges $100 for the first vehicle, $50 for the second and third, and $25 for each additional vehicle.
In case you are wondering, there currently are 32 licensed taxi cabs in the city, which are owned by eight different companies.
Local butcher to open sausage shop and restaurant near Ninth and Iowa; Kansas Food Truck Festival to make Lawrence return; city getting high bids for big projects
It won’t be long before it is time to fire up the grill, double up on the cholesterol medicine and stock up on the meat. Well, plans are in the works for a new Lawrence business that can help with the meat part, especially if you are a fan of homemade sausages and frankfurters.
Lee Meisel, the butcher for the popular downtown restaurant 715, has filed plans to open Leeway Franks in the shopping center at Ninth and Iowa streets. The shop is going into the building at 935 Iowa that is just east of the bowling alley. The space formerly housed Daylight Donuts, which appears to have left the Lawrence market. (Yes, I feel like I should deliver a soliloquy on how we must take the bitter with the sweet in this life. But I’m too busy drawing on eyebrows after this year’s pre-season experiments with lighter fluid.)
Leeway Franks will produce a variety of sausages, including an all-beef frankfurter, classic bratwursts, Polish sausage, and several daily specials that could include some items made from bison or game meats. The shop will sell its creations out of a butcher case for people to take home to prepare themselves.
“We think we’ll get a lot of business on game days from tailgaters,” Meisel said.
But the business also will have a kitchen and a small dining area for about 20 people.
“The food is going to be really casual and approachable for everyone,” Meisel said. “The whole idea is to have a place where you can get a really good hot dog and a cold beer.”
Meisel said he also plans to offer a few side items that he became accustomed to while growing up in North Dakota: french fries with brown gravy, and Tater Tots with cheese sauce. (I thought he said this place was going to be casual. I think that was two thirds of the normal menu for a Bill Clinton state dinner.)
The frankfurters, though, are expected to be the speciality at Leeway Franks. Meisel said they’ll be an all-natural product, made with area beef and won’t include fillers. They’ll also feature a natural casing that provides a certain crispness when you bite into it. And Meisel said they’ll have a blend of spices that goes beyond just the large amount of salt you get with the 99 cent packages of hot dogs.
“Unless you grew up in a place like Wisconsin or Chicago where they do a lot of traditional frankfurters, I don’t think a lot of people have had them quite like this,” Meisel said.
Meisel hopes to have the restaurant up and running by late spring or sometime this summer.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Get ready for the second annual Kansas Food Truck Festival, which will be hosted again in East Lawrence. (How awesome would it be if one of the trucks was a tanker truck filled with brown gravy for all the french fries?) Organizers have announced that the food truck festival is set for May 2 in the warehouse arts district in East Lawrence. Tickets for the event go on sale today.
As was the case last year, proceeds from the event will benefit Just Food, the nonprofit food bank that serves Douglas County.
Organizers expect about 20 food trucks from across the state to set up shop in the 800 block of Pennsylvania Street from 5-10 p.m. May 2. The event also is expected to feature live music, art and activities for the kids.
For more information about the festival, go to the event’s website at ksfoodtruckfest.com
• It looks like the days of building contractors really sharpening their pencils to win bids for city construction projects may be coming to an end. At their meeting on Tuesday, city commissioners are poised to reject bids for two major projects because they came in significantly over the cost estimates of engineers.
I previously alerted you to the fact that bids for the city’s sewer plant project south of the Wakarusa River came in at about $50 million instead of the estimated $46 million. Well, commissioners at their weekly meeting will be asked to reject those bids, and direct engineers to come up with some ways to reduce the scope of the project slightly to save some money. But city officials warn that even then the project may come in above the previously estimated $45.9 million engineer’s estimate. The city-hired engineering firm said there appears to be a fairly simple reason for the higher-than-expected costs.
“It appears that higher bid costs can be attributed in part to a strong construction market and a general trend upwards in construction costs,” John Keller, a project manager for Black & Veatch, said in a letter to city officials.
Further evidence of that trend can be found in North Lawrence. City officials in late February received bids for the Maple Street Pump Station, which is designed to reduce storm water flooding in North Lawrence.
The low bid came in at $5.9 million compared to an engineer’s estimate of $4.1 million. Engineers are recommending that the bids be rejected, and that the scope of the project be reviewed. Engineers don’t yet have a date in mind for when the project could be re-bid.
As for the sewer plant project, engineers expect to open new bids on that project in early April.
Update on 25th and Iowa development; building totals start slowly in 2015; Lawrence lands on list of ‘coolest towns’
Let’s face it: After a night that included the excitement of both an overtime KU basketball game and the thrilling spectacle known as a City Commission primary, we’re all just going to spend today refueling our bodies with Cap ’N Crunch and Mountain Dew. So, I’m going to give you an abbreviated news and notes version of Town Talk. Here we go:
• Some of you have been asking me what development is underway at the former gas station at 25th and Iowa streets. Signs are pointing toward a financial service company that specializes in title or payday loans. A building permit has been issued for $125,000 worth of renovations at the site. The tenant on the building permit application is listed as Anderson Financial Services, LLC. A little research online shows that the company operates several LoanMax locations across the country. The company specializes in providing cash loans secured by a vehicle title. The company already is listing the location at 2434 Iowa on its website, so I would say that is a pretty good sign that a LoanMax is coming to Lawrence soon. The company has about 25 other locations across the state.
• While we are speaking of building permits, 2015 got off to a slow start in January, according to the latest report from City Hall. But that is not unusual for January. (It takes a lot of Cap ’N Crunch to get motivated in January.) The city issued permits for $3.4 million worth of work in January, which is below the previous five-year average of about $6 million. The number of permits for single-family living units also were pretty unremarkable. Permits for five new units were issued, which technically is the lowest January number since 2011. But not by much. Every January for the past five years has seen fewer than 10 new housing starts. So, January numbers don’t tell us much, but we will want to keep an eye on housing numbers in 2015. (Really, we do, so get it on your schedule and factor it in when you’re making vacation plans.) Home building numbers struggled in 2014, and it will be interesting to see if they bounce back.
The January report does provide some information about a couple of smaller projects you have noticed while driving around town. Work that is underway at 721 Wakarusa Drive is to renovate the space for Pinot’s Palette, a business that brings people together to participate in an art class while also sharing wine. We reported on the business back in October, so plans are now progressing on that business.
The January report also shows that construction work at the shopping center at 23rd and Harper is for a new Nail City. That location in fact may or may not already be open. My nails can attest that we do not know. The report also notes activity at one of the condo units on the top floor of the Marriott Hotel building at Ninth and New Hampshire. About $125,000 worth of interior finish work is underway on the condo unit.
• Perhaps it is because we have made a point to keep an eye on housing numbers in 2015, but Lawrence has landed on an Internet list of the coolest cities in America. A website called the MatadorNetwork.com ranks Lawrence as the ninth “Coolest Town in the U.S.” As if you didn’t already know, Lawrence is cool — according to Matador — because many shops and bars sell records or used CDs, plus we have several venues that attract “legit musical acts.”
The site goes on to list a perfect day in Lawrence as shopping for some antiques at Amy’s Attic or Blue Heron in North Lawrence, grabbing an early meal at Zen Zero in downtown and then “just drink your way up and down Massachusetts Street, mingling with underagers and recent grads who haven’t figured out the next move.”
The other towns that joined Lawrence in the top 10:
Laguna Beach, Calif.
North Charleston, S.C.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Mount Desert Island, Maine
What does the MatadorNetwork know about cool towns? I’m not sure, but I felt like it was my duty to alert you, in case you start noticing a marked increase in cape-wearing individuals staggering along Massachusetts Street.
There has been plenty of “new” on New Hampshire Street lately, and now we have pictures to go with the latest proposed development along the downtown corridor. As we reported last month, a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton is planning to build four stories on top of the former Pachamama’s restaurant building at Eighth and New Hampshire streets. The group now has filed its plans with City Hall.
The plans show pretty much what Compton described last month when he confirmed that he had reached a deal to purchase the building: The ground floor will remain available for restaurant or retail uses, while the four new floors built atop the building will house 55 apartments. The project will include a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. Plans call for 42 percent of the project to be studio units, while 29 will be devoted to one-bedroom units and 29 percent to two-bedroom units.
But you didn’t come here to do math. You want to see what the building will look like.
Take a look at the picture below. It is what the building will look like if you are standing in the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire. (Why are you standing in the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire, by the way?)
This one below shows what the northern facade of the building will look like.
This rendering below shows the western face of the building, which is the portion that has frontage along New Hampshire Street. You’ll notice that the plan calls for the building to be expanded over the little parking area that exists to the south of the building.
Lawrence-based Treanor Architects — which has done the design for the the multistory apartment building and the new Marriott hotel building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets — is the designer on this project. The company also has designed the new multistory apartment/office building that is under construction at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire, which is also a project led by Compton.
Compton has said he wants to have the Pachamama’s project under construction this summer. The project will have to win some approvals — primarily for its design — from City Hall. Thus far, I’ve seen no request for financial incentives from the city. Compton has used tax increment financing and some other incentives on the hotel project and the new apartment project underway at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. But both of those projects involved constructing a new underground parking garage, which added considerable expense to the projects. Compton is not proposing a parking garage as part of this project. Downtown zoning codes don’t require the project to provide any off-street parking, and thus far the plans call for the building to rely on parking options that already exist in the downtown area.
Plans being developed for former Sunrise Garden Center in eastern Lawrence; sales tax numbers show local holiday spending down slightly
Plans are in the works between a new nonprofit and a private business to take over the vacant eastern Lawrence property that formerly housed the Sunrise Garden Center.
This spring will be another season that Lawrence green thumbs won’t be able to go to Sunrise Garden Center for bulbs, plants or just advice on what this green stuff is on their thumbs. If you remember, Sunrise closed its doors in late 2013, and the 3.5 acre site at 15th and New York streets has been vacant ever since.
But a new nonprofit is putting together a plan to buy the property, along with a Lawrence-based business that manufactures tofu. Melissa Freiburger is the co-founder of The Sunrise Project. She said her nonprofit has teamed up with Central Soy Foods in an effort to purchase the site. Central Soy Foods would use the site to manufacture its tofu and tempeh products, and the nonprofit would use the greenhouses and other assets to host youth programs and other events that educate about the importance of locally grown foods and other issues of sustainability. Freiburger envisions the site serving as a community greenhouse and also hosting cooking, gardening and similar workshops.
“We really just want to create a very vibrant green space in the community,” Freiburger said.
Central Soy Foods is led by longtime Lawrence businessman David Millstein. If you remember, we reported back in August that Millstein was seeking a new location for the company’s production plant. But a plan to move the operation to a rural homestead didn’t win the necessary approvals. Currently, the company — which has been around since 1978 — operates on a fairly small scale. It produces about 2,000 pounds of tofu and tempeh per week. It primarily sells its products in local grocery stores and a few chains in the Kansas City area.
Millstein told me he thought the site would work very well for the project. He’s proposing to keep the two gabled greenhouses, in part, because he considers those structures to have historical value. Millstein has been a longtime historic preservationist with several buildings in downtown Lawrence. He said he’s contemplating removing the one hoop greenhouse on the site and replacing it with a production facility. He said one other food producer in the area has expressed an interest in sharing the space. He also said he thinks there could be someone who would want to operate the greenhouses to sell micro greens or other such products to area restaurants and grocery stores.
“It has a chance to be a really symbiotic green project,” Millstein said.
The project, though, does have to win some approvals from City Hall. Millstein said he is hopeful neighbors will find the project compatible with the neighborhood.
“I think there probably would be less commotion with this project than when it was Sunrise,” said Millstein, who said the most of the time the site would have fewer than 10 employees at it.
The project also still has some financial questions. Freiburger said the nonprofit is seeking to raise $250,000 to meet its share of the purchase price of the property. The nonprofit — whose legal 501(c)3 name is Lawrence Community Food Alliance — has started a fundraising drive. Freiburger said one neighbor of the site already has pledged $25,000 to the project.
“We feel like it really can become something amazing for the neighborhood,” said Freiburger, who lives near the property. “And the longer the site sits vacant, I know there is a fear that it will become apartments or something like that.”
People can find out more information about how to donate at the group’s website, sunriseprojectks.org.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have much tofu in my stocking this past holiday season. (I once did ruin a good pair of shoes, though, trying to hide tofu in my stockings at a dinner party.) Regardless, there are new numbers out about retail sales in Lawrence during the holiday season, and they suggest stockings may have been a touch light this year.
The city has received its latest sales tax report from the Kansas Department of Revenue. Technically, the report is the first one for the 2015 calendar year, but since sales taxes are paid in arrears, the numbers provide a picture of sales activity during the holiday season. This report generally shows sales from about mid-November to mid-December.
The report found sales tax collections in Lawrence fell by 1.4 percent, compared with the same period a year ago. Lawrence seemed to be on the wrong side of the trend this past season. Of the other large retail markets in the state, only one other posted a decline. Here’s a look:
— Kansas City: up 1.8 percent
— Lenexa: up 2.2 percent
— Manhattan: up 2.3 percent
— Overland Park: down 3.5 percent
— Salina: up 5.1 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 0.4 percent
— Topeka: up 0.8 percent
But we don’t yet have a full picture of the holiday spending. The next report will more fully capture that last two weeks before Christmas, so perhaps here in Lawrence we were just later in getting our holiday shopping started.
As always, City Hall officials will keep a close eye on sales tax collections this year. Healthy sales tax growth is an important part of the city’s budget. It will become an even more important aspect if commissioners are serious about trying to figure out how to build a new police headquarters without increasing taxes.
Sales tax revenues in 2014 grew by a very healthy 4.1 percent. One month isn’t anything to fret about, but if Lawrence wants to match or exceed that pace in 2015, it won’t want many more reports like this most recent one.
Ulta Beauty, Boot Barn file plans to locate on south Iowa Street; rumors of Academy Sports; update on south of SLT development
Cowboy boots, a new pair of Wranglers and some fancy lipstick: A Saturday night destined to end poorly on Facebook. No, that’s not what I’m talking about at all. I’m talking about the newest national retailers that are coming to Lawrence. Ulta Beauty and Boot Barn have filed plans to go into the Dick’s Sporting Goods development at 27th and Iowa streets.
Ulta touts itself as the largest retailer of beauty products in the country. It sells about 20,000 different beauty products including brands such as Revlon, Maybelline, Neutrogena, Clinique, Lancome and several others that I have not heard of but perhaps have unknowingly paid for. The company’s website says every store also includes a full-service salon.
You may be less familiar with Boot Barn. Its website says the company has about 150 stores in 24 states, with the closest location to Lawrence being a store in Blue Springs, Mo. The company advertises that it carries more than 8,000 styles of boots, jeans, shirts, hats, belts, jewelry and other items. But boots clearly are a big deal here. The company lists multiple categories of boots, including: western boots, work boots, motorcycle boots, casual boots (you’ve got to have a good pair for the beach), equestrian boots, outdoor boots and some unfamiliar category called “shoes.” (I think it is French.)
No word yet on when the retailers will open in Lawrence. The plans do call for additional construction work at the 27th and Iowa location. It appears about 5,000 square feet of additional space will be added to the building to accommodate the two retailers. Both stores will be about 9,500 square feet in size. Plans call for Ulta to be on the south end of the building, next to the PetSmart that currently is under construction. Boot Barn will be on the north end of the building, next to the existing Dick’s Sporting Goods.
If you remember, the 27th and Iowa street location also is the site where Chick-fil-A is supposed to be locating. We reported in November that the company had filed a plan to open a restaurant in the parking lot of the Dick’s Sporting Goods development. These latest plans don’t provide many details on that portion of the development, but a location for a restaurant is still shown on the plan. In case you are wondering exactly where it will be, the plans show it just north of the Midas automotive repair shop. My understanding is the Chick-fil-A application is moving through City Hall without any problems, but I’ll let you know if I find out differently.
In other news and notes from around town:
• You might remember that Ulta Beauty was once slated for a proposed retail project southeast of the Iowa Street and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange. So, the exodus from the project has officially begun.
There’s certainly a lot of speculation — although no confirmation yet — that one of the other big tenants that had been announced for that development is close to signing a deal to locate elsewhere on south Iowa Street. Multiple sources have told me that Academy Sports is looking seriously at the 25th and Iowa area where Discovery Furniture is closing down its Lawrence location.
We’ll have to wait and see if that deal happens. But it is now clear that a 300,000 square foot shopping center is not going to be built south of the SLT. Chris Challis, a representative of the North Carolina group seeking to develop the property, confirmed to me that they’ve officially withdrawn their plans for city consideration.
But that doesn’t mean the group is going away. Challis said the development group is still very interested in building retail on the site. He said he expects to file plans for a development that would be a little more than half the size of the original 300,000 square foot proposal.
At one point we had reported the group was trying to revive the project by landing Sam’s Club for the site. Challis said the group indeed was in discussion with Sam’s, but never could get the company to provide the level of assurances that would have been necessary to win City Hall support.
Challis said city regulations will require the group to wait until the third quarter of 2015 until the new plans can be filed for the site. He said he is hopeful that a smaller project will gain more acceptance from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. If you remember, the Planning Commission recommended denial of the project on a 4-2 vote in July. But only six of the 10 planning commissioners participated in the meeting. The project never did get a hearing before the City Commission. The tea leaves were pretty clear at City Hall that the project did not have the votes needed to win at the City Commission level. Several commissioners made it known that they wanted to give the already-zoned retail area near Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence more time to develop.
So, this delay of about six months before a new plan can be filed on the SLT site will be interesting. Will city attitudes change if the Rock Chalk Park development has not attracted a major tenant in that six-month period? Tough to say because at this point it is tough to say who will be on the City Commission in six months.
Challis said the process has been frustrating, but he hopes the development group has gained some credibility with local leaders. He noted that Ulta is locating in Lawrence, and that all signs point to Academy wanting to do so as well.
“The only positive I can take out of this so far is that I think we have been shown to be committed to the market and truthful about the tenants that are interested in being here,” Challis said. “We are confident there are still other retailers that are very interested in being in Lawrence and on south Iowa Street.”
In case you have forgotten, the other tenants that Challis’ group had publicly disclosed for the development were Old Navy, Designer Shoe Warehouse and Marshalls/Home Goods. So, it may be worth keeping an eye out for those retailers in the future.
Kansas City’s Spin Pizza coming to Sixth and Wakarusa area; rumor of another restaurant for South Iowa; Mojo’s chicken wings make a return
One half of Lawrence’s great restaurant mystery is solved. (No, I haven’t found where the top button of my slacks went after all-you-can eat chicken fried steak night.) But now we do know the identity of one of the two restaurants locating next to the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa: Spin Neapolitan Pizza.
The popular Kansas City-based artisan pizza joint confirmed it has inked a deal and hopes to be open in Lawrence by the fall. The restaurant will be just east of the Wal-Mart store on vacant land that will be the site of a new building that will house two restaurants separated by a retail shop. Other tenants for the building haven’t been identified yet.
“Lawrence has been on Spin’s radar for a long time,” said Brent Boles, the managing partner of the franchise group that will open the Lawrence restaurant.
If you are not familiar with Spin Neapolitan Pizza, you probably are wondering how they ever came up with the idea of putting that delicious combination of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream on pizza. Well, come to find out, I’m an idiot when it comes to understanding things Neapolitan because I just ruined four gallons of perfectly good ice cream. The Neapolitan, of course, refers to the style of pizza and its crust. So, we’re talking hand-spun, thin crusts that are cooked in a stone oven.
The restaurant touts itself as an artisan-style pizzeria, which means it has a variety of toppings that you may not necessarily think of for pizza. For example, cheeses range from the traditional mozzarella to asiago, feta and something called taleggio. Meats include staples like Italian sausage and pepperoni, but also Italian bacon, Scimeca’s meatballs, and salami. In addition there are things like arugula, pine nuts, crushed glazed pecans, fig onion marmalade and sun-dried tomato relish that you can put on your pizza. The menu also touts a wide selection of “verdure arrosti,” which I think means, “you speak Italian and I don’t.” (Quit playing with Google translator or else you’ll never get any work done today. It means roasted veggies.)
The restaurant has been popular in Kansas City since it opened its first restaurant in 2005. We’ll see how the Lawrence market responds. Upscale pizza is a part of the dining market that has some momentum right now. Local chef Rick Martin got the trend going in Lawrence with his popular Limestone Pizza Kitchen and Bar, which opened in downtown Lawrence last year. A deal also was in the works by the owners of Coal Vines, another Kansas City artisan pizza joint, to locate a restaurant in downtown in the former Round Corner Drug building. But that project has been very slow to develop, and from people I talk with, it seems uncertain whether it will.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re talking restaurant news, I’ll pass along the latest bit of speculation I’ve heard. A restaurant chain called Raising Cane’s has plans to locate in Lawrence. But don’t look for it to be the other restaurant locating at Sixth and Wakarusa. My understanding is it plans to locate on South Iowa Street. I’ll do a little more work to confirm the location, and then report back.
As far as what Raising Cane’s is all about, that is simple: chicken fingers. Its menu consists of always fresh, never frozen chicken fingers with a special dipping sauce. I think it also serves a chicken sandwich with the sauce, but don’t go looking for any beef there.
• Since we’re talking about restaurants and chicken, I might as well mention this blast from the past as well. How many of you remember Mojo’s, the once popular chicken wing restaurant that was located on Vermont Street? Well, the owners of that now defunct restaurant have signed a deal with the barbecue restaurant Biggs on Mass to bring back the restaurant's popular selection of wing sauces.
Doug Holiday, owner of Biggs on Mass, told me the restaurant has started serving its smoked chicken wings with Mojo’s Bayou Burn sauce. The plan is for the restaurant to feature a sauce of the month. Mojo’s had more than a dozen sauces for its wings, including one called Phat Elvis.
There were many a night that I went to bed dreaming about Phat Elvis. Now that I see that in print, I realize it may require more explanation. But I have no time for that. I’m off to be part of a panel for Leadership Lawrence this morning, which indeed should cause all of you to worry about the future of Lawrence leadership.
These past couple of weeks have been a little bit like the days leading up to Christmas: There has been a lot of guessing going on about what’s in the package. (80 percent chance of a pea green tie, in my experience.) The package I’m talking about today is the audit on Rock Chalk Park infrastructure costs. It is due to be released on Thursday.
My best advice has been to be patient because we’ll find out soon enough (but, of course, if I was so smart I wouldn’t have an abundance of pea green ties but a paucity of lime sherbet slacks to complete the outfit.) Regardless, I understand the curiosity. There is a multitude of paths the auditing firm could have travelled down in this audit, but a limited amount of time for them to do so. It does create natural questions about what got examined and what was left largely unreviewed.
Here’s my best effort to spell out some of the issues that may be worthy of examination:
• The Value Question. One issue that seems highly likely to be included in the audit is whether the city was charged a reasonable amount for the work done at the project. In other words, is the approximately $12 million that was billed to the city roughly in the ballpark of what similar infrastructure projects are costing elsewhere? It is an important question to ask, but in a way, the city is really in a lose-lose situation on this one. If the audit finds it is not a reasonable number, lock up the mayoral china because there are lots of things that are going to get broken at City Hall. But if the audit finds it is a reasonable price, that is still not going to satisfy many members of the public because they aren’t interested in whether the city got a reasonable price. They’re interested in finding out whether the city got the best price. They want to know whether the city would have gotten a better price by simply following the city’s standard bidding practice. If you remember, much of the controversy surrounding this project is because the city allowed the $12 million worth of infrastructure work to be completed without going through the normal bidding process. That question became heightened when the city decided to bid the recreation center after the public objected to the proposed no-bid process for that building. The low bid came in at $10.5 million versus the $18 million that the city had projected. Yet, city officials stuck with the no bid process for the infrastructure because their partner in the project — KU Endowment — was convinced the bid process would add too much time to the process, and it felt it was important that a construction group led by Thomas Fritzel build the infrastructure to ensure that it met their quality standards.
• This pot of money and that pot of money. A natural question on this project has been whether funds meant to pay for infrastructure — roads, parking lots, utilities and such — were used to pay only for infrastructure costs, or whether some of those funds also were used in the construction of the stadiums that will be leased by KU Athletics. The city is responsible for reimbursing Fritzel’s Bliss Sports II for its costs associated with building the infrastructure. The city is not responsible for reimbursing Fritzel’s Bliss Sports for any of the costs to build the stadiums. In many cases, the same contractors working on the infrastructure project were the same contractors working on the stadium project. For both projects, they were sending their bills to groups led by Fritzel.
As public uproar on the project grew, the city requested more and more documents related to how contractors were getting paid. Those documents showed several checks were written by Bliss Sports to pay for work that was related to the infrastructure. It is unclear why the company that is responsible for building the stadiums would be paying for infrastructure costs. The more important question, however, is did Bliss Sports II — the company responsible for paying for the infrastructure costs — ever write any checks related to the stadium project? I asked KU Endowment officials last month whether they had ever taken the relatively simple step of looking at the check book register of Bliss Sports II to determine what checks had been written on that account. They told me they had not, and that they didn’t find such an exercise relevant.
What does seem to be relevant is the use of a construction loan that was to be used specifically for the construction of the infrastructure. The city is paying the interest cost on that loan, so it has a strong desire to ensure that the construction loan wasn’t used to help even out dips in cash flow on the stadium project. I have yet to see any documents that clearly show how the withdrawals from the construction loan match up to the payments made to infrastructure contractors. I’m not saying they don’t match up, but it isn’t clear that they do.
• Inaccurate documents. One of KU Endowment’s roles in the process has been to review the amount that Bliss Sports II is seeking reimbursement for on the infrastructure project. The main vetting process has relied on subcontractors of Bliss Sports II signing documents attesting to how much they have been paid by Bliss Sports II. But looking at those documents, it did not take long to realize that there were several technical inaccuracies in the documents.
Some of the documents were backdated, which isn’t a great practice. Several of the documents said the contractors were paid by Bliss Sports II, when in fact the cancelled checks showed they were paid by Bliss Sports or other parties. Some architects and engineers who worked on the project didn’t sign the documents at all. Are these just technical glitches, or are they a sign that KU Endowment’s vetting process was inadequate?
• All in the family. Some of the subcontractors on the infrastructure project are other firms that also are controlled by Fritzel. Those subcontractors signed documents attesting that they too had been paid certain amounts — more than $1.4 million. But when it came time to see the cancelled checks for those payments, they couldn’t be produced. KU Endowment officials later said that the companies, since they were related, didn’t actually make payments but rather made notations of receivables and payables on their books.
I have green ties, not green eye shades, so I don’t know all the ins and outs of accounting practices in such instances. But there seems to be a basic question of how much documentation the city should require from the Fritzel-related subcontractors. Think about it for a moment: Fritzel is the entity asking to be reimbursed by the city. Fritzel also is essentially the entity, in the case of this $1.4 million, who is attesting to how much the work cost. Would it be wise for the city to ask for some cancelled checks that the Fritzel subcontractor paid to its employees and suppliers to help verify that the costs are what they have been purported to be?
For example, documents submitted to the city show the Fritzel controlled entity DFC Company of Lawrence paid one employee $60 an hour to do staking work at the site. That one employee worked 863 hours, or more than 70 hours a week, during one period of time. Another was paid $40 an hour and work over 800 hours in the same time period. Are there cancelled payroll checks that verify that?
Some people have said it is inappropriate for me to raise such questions because it insinuates that Fritzel is being dishonest. I have found that argument irksome. I’m not insinuating Fritzel has done anything wrong. I’m asking a question about whether the city has done its job in verifying the costs. The public was promised a robust effort in verifying the cost of this project since it was not going through the city’s normal bidding process. Now is the time where the rubber meets the road on that promise.
Missing documents. And finally, there is the simple question of seeing some documents that the city has been unsuccessful in obtaining from Bliss Sports II. For example, it has been acknowledged that Alpha Omega Geotech did inspection work for both the city-funded infrastructure project and the privately funded stadium facilities. But the city has yet to ever see an actual invoice from Alpha Omega. The parties have acknowledged that such an invoice exists. This seems to be the type of invoice the city would want to particularly look at to ensure that the costs are being accurately allocated to the appropriate projects. Why has there been such reluctance to turn that invoice over to the city?
So, those questions may or may not get answered in the forthcoming audit. We won’t have to wait long now. Keep an eye on the LJWorld web site on Thursday for information following the audit’s release.
Compton purchases former Borders Bookstore site; Incumbents, Rasmussen leading the pack in City Commission fundraising
Dreams of a downtown grocery store in the former Borders bookstore building at Seventh and New Hampshire appear to be much like the milk in my refrigerator: expired. Lawrence businessman Doug Compton has signed a deal to purchase the building, and he has no plans to move his proposed downtown grocery from 11th and Massachusetts to the site.
Compton confirmed to me that he has a contract to take over ownership of the building in late May. He said he didn’t purchase the building to squelch the plans of a grassroots organization that has been working to bring a grocer into the 20,000 square foot space. But, that will be the end result.
“I will dictate what goes in there,” Compton said.
Compton said he purchased the building because it makes sense for him to own it given the amount of investment he is making along New Hampshire Street. Compton is the developer behind both the multistory apartment/office building at the southwest corner of Ninth and New Hampshire and the hotel/retail building at the southeast corner of the intersection. His company is beginning work this week on another multistory apartment/office building at the northeast corner of the intersection. He also has filed plans to build an apartment project atop the existing Pachamamas building at Eighth and New Hampshire.
Compton said he doesn’t have any particular tenant lined up to take the Borders space.
“I’m not afraid to own it and lease it,” Compton said. “It won’t sit empty that long. I’ll find a tenant for it. I think interest is going to get stronger in downtown.”
The building comes with its own private parking lot, a rarity in downtown. Compton said he thinks the building has good potential as a retail site, but said he’ll also explore the idea of converting it over to an office building.
“I have heard there was an office tenant looking for 6,000 to 7,000 square feet of space in downtown recently,” Compton said. “That would be a good place for something like that because it is hard to find downtown office space with parking right outside the door.”
Compton also said he may need the building to relocate some tenants from other projects that he would be constructing in downtown.
We’ll have to wait and see who eventually ends up in the Borders building, but there is an even more interesting question emerging: Will the grassroots supporters of a downtown grocery store now get behind the idea of a grocery store at 11th and Massachusetts? Some of the group members — led by City Commission candidate David Crawford — have opposed the plan because they thought the Borders site would be a quicker and better solution. The two sites are pretty close to each other — about a minute by car and just a few minutes by foot — so that likely isn’t the issue.
Compton’s plans call for the grocery store — which would be run by the Lawrence-based Checkers company — to be the anchor tenant for a seven-story building that would also house offices and apartments. The project also would include a parking garage to serve the development.
There is still a big question about whether historic preservationists will object to a seven-story building being constructed across the street from the historic Douglas County Courthouse and the Watkins Museum of History. The project will have to work through that, and the community will have to decide whether a tall building detracts from the character of an adjacent historic building. I know that is a common concern with historic preservationists, but I’m not sure it is with the common man. We’re poised to find out.
The idea of a downtown grocery store has been a rallying cry for many groups for many years. When Lawrence often can’t agree on much of anything, the idea that downtown needs a grocery store has been the one thing that brought us together like a bag of Doritos in front of the television set. It will be interesting to see if the downtown grocery crowd now fully throws its support behind the 11th and Massachusetts plan.
Who knows if that will happen, though? I swear each morning that I’m going to stand up to my wife and tell her that buying milk on its expiration date isn’t worth the nickel we save. Yet, here I am, chewing my milk.
In other news and notes from around town:
• One area where you often don’t find a thrifty nickel is in the world of campaign finance. Even in the world of Lawrence City Commission politics, candidates will spend thousands of dollars to win a seat on the commission. Many times — although not always — they are spending the money of campaign contributors. It usually is interesting to see how much money candidates have raised, and where it is coming from.
The latest campaign reports have been filed, and they do tell a story. There has been speculation that this may be a rough year for incumbents, but thus far that hasn’t been the case in the world of fundraising. Incumbent Bob Schumm is the leader of the pack in the most recent campaign finance reporting period. Terry Riordan, the other incumbent seeking re-election, came in third. In between the two is Stan Rasmussen, who was the leader in the previous reporting period and has raised more than $19,000 since late 2014.
These latest reports measure how much candidates have raised from Jan. 1 through Feb. 19. Here’s a look at the entire field:
— Schumm, a city commissioner and retired restaurant owner, raised $14,155 during the time period. The contributions came from 87 individuals or companies, including a $500 donation from himself.
— Rasmussen, an attorney for the U.S. Army, raised $10,975 during the time period. The contributions came from 85 individuals or companies, including a $300 donation from the PAC Lawrence United. In case you have forgotten, Lawrence United is the political action committee that became active in City Commission elections two years ago, and supports a growth-oriented agenda for the city. During the last election, the PAC — in addition to contributing directly to candidates — did a significant amount of advertising supporting candidates as well.
— Riordan, a city commissioner and Lawrence pediatrician, raised $8,665 during the time period. The contributions came from 67 individuals or businesses, including a $600 from himself.
— Mike Anderson, a local television talk show host, raised $5,430 during the time period. The contributions came from nine individuals, including $2,500 from himself.
— Matthew Herbert, a Lawrence High teacher, raised $3,795 during the time period. The contributions came from 51 individuals and businesses. Herbert also had raised $3,030 during the previous reporting period, which ran from March 21 to December 31.
— Stuart Boley, a retired IRS auditor, raised $3,430 during the time period. The contributions came from 16 individuals, including a $300 contribution from the political action committee of the Plumbers & Pipefitters union. Boley also raised $1,600 during the previous reporting period.
— Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet sitting company, raised $2,144 during the time period. The contributions came from 17 individuals plus an unitemized number of contributors who gave less than $50 apiece.
— Kristie Adair, a Lawrence school board member and co-owner of Wicked Broadband, raised $1,655 from 22 individuals. Adair also raised $5,050 during the previous reporting period.
— David Crawford, a retired instructor for the boilermakers union, raised $1,250 during the time period from 19 individuals, including $300 from himself.
— Cori Viola, a KU law student, raised $1,217 from nine individuals plus an unitemized number of contributors who gave less than $50 apiece.
— Rob Sands, a full-time officer in the Kansas National Guard, raised $1,035 from three individuals, including $500 from himself.
Campaign finance reports from candidates Greg Robinson, Gary Williams and Justin Priest had not yet been received at the County Clerk’s office as of this morning.
You can see all the reports and the lists of who is contributing money to each candidate here.
During these cold days of winter, I try to think of all the standard summer scenes to warm me up: baseball, a day at the lake, a hot tub full of bratwursts. But you know it is really cold when the thought of orange construction cones warms my cockles. But find your cockles and prepare them to be warmed, because the city has its list of summer road projects in hand.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are set to approve the city’s game plan for 2015 road construction. It won’t be nearly as aggressive as the last two seasons, when much of Iowa Street was only accessible by hovercraft. Here’s a look at some of the larger projects:
— 31st Street just east of Ousdahl Road. The city will spend about $280,000 to rebuild the base and pavement. It's the section of road that will run in front of the new Menards home improvement center. Currently, the street is closed due to the South Lawrence Trafficway project. Kansas Department of Transportation officials hope to have 31st Street west of Louisiana open by mid-summer. I’m sure city officials will seek to have their portion of the project done before then.
— Bob Billings Parkway from Wakarusa Drive to Foxfire. The $1.2 million project will install new pavement, improve the medians, add bicycle lanes, add conduit to accommodate future fiber optic cables and repair deteriorating sidewalks on the north and south sides of the street. The median of the four-lane street will be reduced in width to accommodate the bike lanes. Look for construction to run from about May through August.
— Bob Billings Parkway and George Williams Way. City officials will install a traffic signal and turn lanes at the far west Lawrence intersection, which is bound to get much busier in the near future. Work is underway to complete the new Bob Billings interchange on the South Lawrence Trafficway. KDOT plans to have that interchange open by November. When the interchange opens, a lot more traffic will start traveling on Bob Billings Parkway, as it likely will become the major gateway road leading to the KU campus. In addition to the traffic signal, the project also will include a center turn lane to accommodate traffic turning onto Legend Trail Drive. The project is expected to cost about $775,000. Work is expected to be completed this summer.
City officials, though, expect additional improvements ultimately will have to be made on Bob Billings Parkway to accommodate the additional traffic. But don’t look for those in 2015. City officials hope to use this year to figure out what the improvements ought to be. Additional traffic signals or roundabouts on the corridor are definitely in the mix. So are additional left-turn lanes. A more immediate concern is that the section of Bob Billings Parkway between Kasold and Wakarusa undergoes significant maintenance every year due to base failures and pavement cracking. The city has about $2.25 million in its capital improvement plan for Bob Billings Parkway improvements. But rebuilding the section from Kasold to Wakarusa would eat up all of that money, leaving none for the other traffic upgrades that are likely necessary.
The current thinking in City Hall is to hold another round of meetings with neighbors this spring and determine whether a short-term plan could be ready by 2016. That could include restriping the street to accommodate some turn lanes and limiting turning movements at some intersections. City engineers believe a longer-term plan to replace sections of the road and add sidewalks, bike lanes and other intersection improvements will be needed, but figuring out when it will fit into the city’s budget will be the trick. When the city starts talking about building a police headquarters without raising taxes, remember projects like this one. This is the type of project that may get delayed a bit to accommodate a no-tax-increase police plan.
— The city will repave or “microsurface” a number of streets in the central part of Lawrence. A large number of streets west of Mississippi Street, east of Iowa Street, south of Sixth Street and north of 15th Street will get a new coat of pavement this summer. There are a few other pockets of town that will receive some planned street maintenance work. See the map below for details.
— One of the larger infrastructure projects that will be underway this summer isn’t really a road project. It will be the building of a new storm water pump station near Sixth and Maple streets in North Lawrence. The $4 million project, which is designed to reduce flooding in parts of North Lawrence, has been on the list of city improvements for a long time. Voters were promised as part of the 2008 campaign for a new infrastructure sales tax that the pump station would be completed. Look for construction to start in April and last into December.
Operator of The Cave admits liquor violations, but state drops fine to $2,000 as part of settlement; dates set for city and school board forums
The operator of The Cave, the large nightclub inside The Oread hotel, has pleaded guilty to four counts of violating the state law prohibiting establishments from giving away free liquor or advertising free liquor. But information from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control division shows the nightclub received a smaller penalty than once envisioned.
According to the details of a recently released settlement, the operator of The Cave — Kangaroo LLC — was required to pay a $2,000 fine. State prosecutors agreed to drop their previous penalty recommendation that the nightclub be forced to close for two weekend days of business.
If you remember, the allegations against The Cave came to light after the bar posted a series of tweets that caused local officials to bemoan that the bar was promoting irresponsible drinking. The Journal-World in March reported that The Cave’s Twitter account repeatedly posted a photo of a man who appears to have passed out in a bar booth and wet his pants. The photo was accompanied by language promoting the bar’s frequent $1 drink nights.
Other posts by the establishment included one that said “alcoholism isn’t a real thing until after college,” and about the need for “blackout buckets” at the nightclub. Those posts sparked concern from leaders who are concerned about alcohol abuse, but other tweets advertising free liquor may have been more at the heart of the ABC investigation.
The Cave’s social media accounts on multiple occasions advertised that “ladies drink free” until 10:30 p.m. on Fridays. Other postings announced the winners of free punch cards that could be redeemed for alcoholic drinks. State law doesn’t allow nightclubs to provide free drinks.
According to the settlement agreement, ABC officials dropped their demand that The Cave be shut down for two days after it became clear that the case was going to proceed to an evidentiary hearing stage. As reported by the Journal-World in December, officials with ABC and the nightclub reached a tentative settlement just prior to a Dec. 11 evidentiary hearing. ABC officials at that time declined to release the details of the settlement. The department provided the Journal-World a copy of the settlement late Wednesday.
The news of the settlement comes at the same time that the Oread hotel’s sister property — The Eldridge — is seeking a 95 percent, 15-year property tax abatement for an expansion of its downtown hotel. The expansion will include new rooms, but also will include additional restaurant and drinking establishment space.
Members of the public have asked whether the city will take any steps to ensure that public tax breaks aren’t used to support drinking establishments that violate the law in ways that The Cave did. So far, city commissioners have not publicly addressed the issue.
Lawrence resident Dan Dannenberg at the City Commission’s Feb. 10 meeting asked a series of questions about how the city could assure the public that tax abatements wouldn’t be used to support a drinking establishment like The Cave, which he noted had required a high level of police calls in recent years. Commissioners indicated that they would get answers to Dannenberg’s questions, but they never addressed the subject again during their Feb. 10 meeting, and they also did not address the subject when they again discussed The Eldridge incentives at this week’s meeting.
The idea of whether the city should have some ability to withhold tax incentives when a business breaks the law or is the site of frequent unruly behavior — The Cave has required several large scale deployments of the city’s police force to break up fights outside the establishment — came up last year. The Oread and The Cave receive significant tax breaks. The Oread property receives about $500,000 a year in public tax incentives, and is scheduled to receive city-approved tax breaks for about 15 more years.
After the allegations against The Cave emerged in March, several city commissioners expressed interest in adding language to the city’s tax incentive policies that would allow the city to reduce or cancel tax incentives for projects that have caused public safety problems.
City staff members in April did propose language that would give the city the ability to reduce or cancel incentives for projects that cause public safety problems. The language was inserted into a proposed agreement for a seven-story apartment and office building that is proposed for the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. But commissioners removed the language after the development group objected that it could jeopardize the financing of the project. Commissioners agreed that the new language was too much of a last-minute addition to the project, but commissioners said they were still interested in adding the language to future projects. Commissioners directed the city’s Public Incentive Review Committee to study the issue. The PIRC did have a discussion on the topic, and some concerns were raised that the language could have a chilling effect on the ability of developers to finance future projects.
But the debate, to my recollection, ended there. Normally, items discussed at PIRC make their way to the City Commission for discussion. I don’t believe that has ever been the case with that topic. As noted previously, the topic hasn’t gotten any discussion by city commissioners as they have debated the incentives package for The Eldridge.
But the process isn’t quite done yet. City commissioners must still give final approval to the tax incentive package at their March 10 meeting.
• That March 10 vote of the commission was thought to be primarily procedural in nature. Ordinances have to get read to two times at City Hall. Normally the first reading is when all the debate takes place, and the second reading is pretty much just a technicality. But now commissioners may want to reopen the debate. Douglas County commissioners last night approved an 85 percent, 15-year tax abatement for the project. City commissioners approved a 95 percent tax abatement.
Nancy Longhurst, general manager for The Eldridge, was quoted after last night’s meeting as saying she thought the 85 percent abatement “will work for us.” That is a different message than what she delivered to city commissioners a day earlier. On Tuesday, Mayor Mike Amyx asked if the 95 percent abatement was absolutely critical to the project.
“For the scope of this project, that is what it is absolutely going to take to make this happen,” Longhurst said. “We’re firm on that.”
Maybe Longhurst just meant that 95 percent from the city was critical. Why the project would need a larger tax abatement from the city than the county, however, is unclear. The property tax bill from the county actually is larger on the project than the property tax bill from the city. The county has a significantly higher mill levy than the city.
Amyx did ask Longhurst specifically what would happen if the county or the school board — which will debate the issue on Monday — decided on a lower tax abatement percentage. Longhurst said she wasn’t sure. We’ll see if the question comes up again at the commission’s March 10 meeting.
• Speaking of questions, Lawrence city commission and school board candidates will start answering them at candidate forums. The largest city commission candidate forum of the primary season is set for Monday. The Voter Education Coalition and Channel 6 will host a forum at 6 p.m. on Monday at the Lawrence Public Library. The forum will be taped and rebroadcast on Channel 6 several times before the March 3 primary.
At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Merchants Pub & Plate, 746 Massachusetts, the VEC and the online radio station LawrenceHits.com will host a forum for school board candidates.
The date also has been set for a large city commission candidate forum after the primary. The six remaining candidates in the race will be asked to participate in a forum hosted by the VEC at 8:45 a.m. on March 7 at Maceli’s, 1031 New Hampshire.
When it comes to numbers and the South Lawrence Trafficway, we can all make jokes about the number of years it has taken to complete, or the number of arguments it has sparked. But when city, county and school board officials got briefed on the project Tuesday, one number was nothing to laugh about: The number of fatalities on the western leg of the SLT is about 55 percent higher than the average for similar Kansas roads.
From 2009 to 2013, there have been three fatalities on the SLT, which runs from Iowa Street to the Kansas Turnpike on the western edge of Lawrence. (Hopefully you’ve noticed the other half of the project, from Iowa Street to Kansas Highway 10 on the eastern edge of Lawrence, is under construction.) If you go back to 2000, the number of fatality accidents on the SLT grows to nine.
Engineers said one of the reasons for the higher-than-average fatality rate is that the road is two lanes instead of four. Another is because the road has some dangerous at-grade intersections, including one at Kasold Drive and another at 27th and Wakarusa. That one is particularly busy as users of the adjacent sports complex enter and leave the facility. That intersection was the site of a fatality when a motorist struck a bicyclist in July 2013.
Eliminating those at-grade intersections and expanding the road from two lanes to four lanes are major goals of the Kansas Department of Transportation. The department has a study underway that aims to create a concept plan for adding two lanes to the western portion of the SLT; the eastern portion is being built with four lanes. The $1.5 million KDOT study was funded before the state’s fiscal crisis really took hold, so KDOT leaders are optimistic the study will be completed. Finding money to design and then build whatever concept the study comes up with is another issue. There is no funding in future budgets to build the expansion, and it's tough to say when that may change, given that the current “concept plan” at the Statehouse involves shaking couch cushions for loose change.
The public should keep its eyes open for a public meeting in late March or early April where KDOT starts revealing ideas for how it could expand the road to four-lanes. Of particular interest to the development community and motorists will be whether KDOT proposes any additional interchanges on the western portion of the SLT.
The idea of an interchange at Kasold seems pretty remote based on comments from engineers on Tuesday. An interchange near the city’s ball fields near Wakarusa and 27th seems more feasible. Engineers also indicated that they might want to make significant changes to the interchange where the SLT connects to the Kansas Turnpike, commonly called the Lecompton interchange.
Tuesday’s meeting also produced a host of other facts and figures about the SLT project, so here’s a look at a few:
— Get ready for a lot more traffic once the eastern leg of the trafficway opens in the fall of 2016. The western leg of the SLT currently carries about 6,000 to 12,000 cars per day. When the eastern leg of the trafficway opens, those numbers are expected to grow fairly immediately to 15,000 to 20,000 vehicles per day.
— Here’s one reason engineers want to make the western portion of the SLT four lanes: Today it takes about 8 minutes to drive from Iowa Street to the Lecompton interchange on the western end of the road. In 2040, if the road remains two lanes, engineers estimate it will take 28 minutes to make the same trip. By 2040, the road is expected to have about 29,000 vehicles per day.
— Construction is well underway on the Bob Billings Parkway and SLT interchange. Steve Baalman, area engineer for KDOT, said the interchange is expected to be completed by November. Once completed, that will be an area to keep an eye on. That’s the place where the city’s growth probably will first truly jump the trafficway, at least when it comes to large amounts of residential development. How quickly that jump happens will be the big question. Another big question will be how quickly retail develops around the interchange. The city already has approved some retail zoning on the eastern side of the SLT.
— Lots of work has been happening on the eastern leg of the SLT. In terms of dollars spent, about 60 percent of the project is complete. Thus far, contractors only have used 40 percent of their allotted contract days.
— Twenty-four bridges have to be built as part of the project. Work is underway on all but three of them.
— If you remember, the SLT project also includes a project to build a new 31st Street that will run from Haskell Avenue to O’Connell Road. That road is basically 95 percent completed, Baalman said. But it isn’t opened to traffic because the connection to 31st Street east of Haskell can’t yet be made. Baalman said he expects 31st Street to open to traffic before the entire trafficway opens in fall 2016, but he said he can’t estimate yet when that opening will be.
Large apartment complex files plans for major renovation; the mystery numbers surrounding renters in Lawrence
One of the city’s larger apartment complexes is set to get an upgrade. Plans have been filed for a significant remodeling of the apartment complex near 24th and Ousdahl that used to be known as Colony Woods.
Paperwork filed at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department shows the complex has been purchased by a new owner, and it looks like the ownership group wants to increase the amenities offered at the complex.
Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects is doing the design for the new project, and it includes a complete renovation of the clubhouse, including a new fitness center, student lounge, pool table area, computer lab, study room, and new outdoor space that will include a patio, pool, hot tub, fire pit and barbecue area. Plans also call for the complex to have security entrance gates added, and a whole new landscaping package. My understanding is some interior renovations of the apartment already have taken place.
As for the ownership group, it looks like a Florida-based company has purchased the property. The property is owned by an LLC that is registered to individuals with Calidus Holdings, a Florida-based investment group that was formed in 2011 and has started purchasing student housing properties throughout the Midwest and southeastern U.S.
Although I’m not entirely sure, it looks like there also may be a name change in store for the complex. Even though a lot of folks have still thought of the property as Colony Woods, I think it has been operating under the name of Campus Court for awhile. The plans filed at City Hall are titled The Rockland, and I'm told the complex is transitioning over to the name The Rockland.
A little distance between the complex and its Colony Woods past probably is a good thing. I know there’s a whole generation of KU alumni who are quite thankful that party pics and Facebook didn’t exist during Colony Woods’ heyday.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Some readers told me they noticed a national article that talked about how the percentage of renters in many U.S cities continues to grow, and they wondered what the situation was in Lawrence. So, now seems as good as any to go over the latest numbers.
First, a new report by New York University’s Furman Center found that nine of the 11 largest U.S. cities now have more renters than homeowners. That’s up from just five of the largest U.S. cities being rental dominated in 2006. Among the new cities where renters have become the new majority are Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Washington, D.C.
Lawrence, of course, wasn’t included in the study. But renters being the majority in a town is old hat for Lawrence. The latest numbers are from the 2013, five-year American Community Survey by the Census Bureau. That report found that 53.9 percent of all occupied housing units in Lawrence are rentals. That equates to 18,592 rental units in Lawrence compared with 16,399 owner-occupied units.
What people, I think, are more interested in is how much that percentage has been growing. When it comes to interpreting those numbers, here is my takeaway: I need some of that fine punch I used to get at Colony Woods. The numbers show that the percentage of renters in Lawrence has held steady or actually decreased slightly over the years. In 2010, the percentage of renters was 53.2 percent, according to the 2010 Census. In the 2000 Census, it was 54.1 percent.
But for those of you who track apartment construction in Lawrence, we know two things: 1. We really need a better hobby than tracking apartment construction. 2. There have been a lot of apartments built in Lawrence since 2000. But you wouldn’t know it by the Census numbers.
The 2010 Census showed that there were 18,623 rental units in Lawrence. The 2013 Census survey estimated that there were 18,592 rental units in the city, a decline of 31 rental units. But if you look at building permit numbers from the city, they show that 921 new multifamily apartment units were built between the end of 2010 and the end of 2013. Sure, some apartment units have been torn down in that time period too, but not that many.
One key to remember is that the Census Bureau is measuring occupied housing units. Vacant housing units is another calculation. Now, clearly, apartment developers aren’t building tons of new units in Lawrence to watch them sit empty. I’m guessing a fairly small percentage of the 921 new apartment units built in that time are sitting vacant. But the bigger question is, how many older apartment units are sitting vacant in Lawrence as the result of those newer units coming online?
One way to interpret the Census Bureau’s numbers is that apartment demand in Lawrence has held about steady, and what has been taking place is that newly constructed units have been filling that demand at the expense of older units. Or, an alternate theory is there are a lot of single family homes sitting vacant that used to be occupied by homeowners who are now renters.
It is tough to say for sure what is happening, however, without really knowing the rental vacancy rate in Lawrence. The Census Bureau has figures on that, but I don’t know a lot of people in the rental industry that rely on those numbers too heavily. A group of private apartment owners in town used to commission a local study of the apartment vacancy rate, and they used to share that number with me. But that hasn’t happened for years now. The study may still happen, but the sharing part doesn’t.
The rental vacancy rate is a number that city planners also struggle to determine. As far as I know, there is no real city-generated number that estimates the rental vacancy rate in the community. That is different from the retail vacancy rate. City planners do work to create a retail vacancy rate, which is used in helping determine whether new retail zoning projects should be approved. But that approach isn’t taken in determining whether new apartment development should be approved.
So, to answer the original question posed, I would make three points about the status of renters in Lawrence: 1. As has long been the case, renters continue to be the majority in Lawrence. 2. It is not clear that the number of renters in Lawrence is growing, although it is clear the number of apartment units in the city is growing. 3. I really need to find that punch recipe.