Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”

Lawrence no longer second-worst performing small city, new report concludes; rental registration supporter accuses landlord of ‘dirty politics’

It is not exactly the type of thing you put on a banner, but Lawrence is no longer the second-worst performing small city in America. We're now a middle-of-the-pack community.

If you remember, we previously reported on a report by the Milken Institute that found Lawrence ranked 178 out of 179 small metro areas in terms of its economic performance in its 2012 report.

Well, the Milken Institute now has put together its 2013 report, and Lawrence checks in at No. 105 out of 179 small metro areas. The report measures communities based on a number of economic statistics compiled mainly by the federal government.

Lawrence continues to suffer in the categories that measure job growth and wages. Lawrence ranked 87th in job growth for the period of 2007 to 2012. But from July 2012 to July 2013, Lawrence ranked 69th in job growth, so perhaps that is a sign the local economy is picking up.

The numbers are less encouraging on the wage front. Lawrence ranked 115th in wage growth for the period between 2006 and 2011. The report also measured wage growth for the 2010 to 2011 period. Lawrence came in 160th in the category.

But there are some notable improvements in Lawrence's numbers. In the 2012 report, Lawrence didn't crack the top 100 in any of the categories. This year, Lawrence ranks high in two categories that will please economic development leaders. Lawrence was ranked No. 2 in the category of high-tech GDP growth for the 2010 to 2011 period. Lawrence also ranked No. 34 in high-tech GDP growth for the period of 2007 to 2012. There wasn't any one big new company that has caused that spike, but it is worth noting that most of the jobs that have been created out at the incubator facility on KU's West Campus probably fall into that high-tech GDP category.

It also is worth noting what community took the top spot in this year's report. (It certainly isn't anything to put on a banner.) Columbia, Mo., was ranked as the No. 1 small performing metro in the country, up from No. 10 in the 2012 report.

Other regional cities of note included:

— Iowa City: No. 15

— Waco, Texas: No. 22

— Joplin, Mo.: No. 61

— Ames, Iowa: No. 71

— Topeka: No. 121 (up from 144 last year)

The report also ranks the top performing large metro areas. Austin, Texas, ranked No. 1. The Kansas City metro area ranked No. 68, up from No. 104 last year. Wichita ranked No. 183, down from No. 146 a year ago. The report ranked 200 large metro areas.

People can make whatever they want of the rankings. The Milken name — remember Michael Milken and junk bonds in the 1980s — sometimes raises eyebrows, but this Milken report is generally well-respected. Regardless, Lawrence's near-bottom ranking last year had a lot of locals talking, so I wanted to pass along this year's numbers.

In other news and notes from around town:

• I'll tell you what else has people talking these days: the late surge in opposition to the city's proposed rental licensing and inspection program. As we reported last week, the city received about 40 letters of opposition, mainly from tenants, who were concerned about the program possibly violating their privacy.

Now, it appears landlords have been doing their fair share of letter writing as well, sending out letters to their tenants that paint a scary — and city officials say inaccurate — picture of what city inspectors will do once in a tenant's home.

An official at the large northwest Lawrence apartment complex Hutton Farms confirmed leaders there sent out an email to all its residents last week. It included the following paragraph:

"If approved, a city inspector, trained by a former police officer, will enter your apartment and document and photograph their findings. This documentation will include not only code issues but your personal information and photographs of your personal items."

City officials have taken exception to that language. When I shared the letter with city officials, Scott McCullough, the city's director of planning and neighborhood resources, crafted a response to make it clear that any photographs that would be taken as part of a rental unit inspection, won't include photos of personal items. Instead,the photos are close-up shots of code violations — anything from mold on a wall to an improperly wired outlet. Plus, city officials said the tenant or the property owner is always welcome to accompany inspectors, and monitor what photos are being taken.

The letter really has created hard feelings with some supporters of the proposed rental inspection program.

"I would characterize it as a scare tactic that is most unfortunate," said Candice Davis, an Oread neighborhood leader who has been a longtime supporter of a rental inspection program in the city. "I think they are playing dirty politics. It was an extreme distortion of the truth."

She noted the city has run an inspection program for rental properties that are in single-family zoned neighborhoods for about 11 years. The issue of inspectors taking improper photographs of personal items has not seemed to create many concerns as part of that program.

I've got a message into an executive with Hutton Farms' management group for further comment on the letter.

What isn't known is how widely the letter may have been distributed to tenants around town. The Hutton Farms employee — she declined to give her full name — said Hutton Farms' sister complex, Tuckaway Apartments, sent out a similar letter. Plus, the employee said there were some indications the letter had been distributed at other apartment complexes around town.

Davis said she's confident fear mongering by landlords has been the main reason there has been a surge in opposition from tenants. It is worth noting that while many complaints have come from tenants recently, the Kansas chapter of the ACLU also has expressed concerns about some parts of the program.

Regardless, city commissioners still have a decision to make on the proposed program. Commissioners delayed action on the program last week, while staff members gather more information. The program is set to come before the commission again at its Dec. 17 meeting.

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    Boulevard Brewing Co. part of new restaurant at Lawrence Holiday Inn

    Lawrence is many different types of towns. We're a university town. We're a basketball town. And as a quick peek into any of those glass recycling Dumpsters around the city can attest, we're also a beer town.

    The folks at Kansas City-based Boulevard Brewing Co. are hoping to capitalize on that reputation more than they already do. Boulevard Brewing Co. is part of a new venture to open a Boulevard Grill inside the Lawrence Holiday Inn and Convention Center, 200 McDonald Drive.

    The restaurant and bar will replace the Paddy O'Quigley's that has been in the hotel for several years.

    Stephen Horton, general manager of the hotel, told me the switch will occur this week. The restaurant has a ribbon cutting scheduled for Dec. 19.

    Horton said the restaurant always will have a minimum of six Boulevard beers on tap, and also will feature bottles of several of Boulevard's premium beers, such as its Smokestack Series, its IPA, its 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat and its Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale.

    The restaurant also will have several dishes that incorporate Boulevard Beer, such as a bratwurst dish with a Boulevard Pale Ale mustard, and a fish and chips dish that uses a Boulevard brew in its batter. Plus, the restaurant will make suggestions on which Boulevard beer goes best with certain types of dishes.

    (See, as I tell my wife, I'm not going there to drink beer. I'm going there to get a culinary education. Lawrence is an education town too, after all.)

    Horton said the Holiday Inn became interested in a Boulevard Grill after the hotel's parent company opened one in the Sheraton Four Points hotel near Kansas City International.

    "And Boulevard was very eager to get more exposure into Lawrence," Horton said. "As they said, it is a great beer town."

    Horton said the restaurant will have a sports bar theme, and he hopes the establishment will appeal to local residents in addition to hotel guests. Plans call for the restaurant to be open only for evening meals, with an opening time of 5 p.m. on Sundays through Fridays. The restaurant, however, will open at noon on Saturdays.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • I don't know if there is an actual policy needed on whether I should have two Boulevards with every bratwurst I consume, or three, but we do have a Douglas County Food Policy Council. (No word on whether the bratwurst issue is on a future agenda.) Soon, the Food Policy Council will be a joint endeavor with the city.

    City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider adopting a resolution making the council a joint board of the city and county. City commissioners will appoint nine of the 23 members of the council. Some city commissioners had expressed an interest in the city becoming more involved in food policy issues.

    County commissioners agreed, noting that the city already is making available city-owned land for the Common Ground program, which provides a place for urban gardening and farming to take place. The Food Policy Council, all joking aside, considers issues such as the population's access to locally grown food, issues related to agricultural sustainability and other such topics.

    • Speaking of the Common Ground program, leaders of the effort have put together their annual report for 2013. The big number in the report is 40,000. That's the number of pounds of produce grown by gardeners in the program in 2013.

    Organizers of the program are estimating about 120 gardeners took part in the program and tended gardens at nine different sites. Those sites produced an estimated 40,000 pounds of food that had a market value of about $80,000. About 2,000 pounds of food were donated to organizations such as Just Food, the Ballard Center, LINK and Central Middle School.

    The program had 5.6 acres of ground in production in 2013, but that number is slated to grow in 2014. The city is adding three more sites in 2014, with each site ranging in size from 0.4 to 1.5 acres. People interested in farming on a site need to submit an application to the city by 5 p.m. on Jan. 6. The city is hosting an informational meeting about the program at 5 p.m. today at City Hall.

    Applications can be found here.

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    Rock Chalk Park recreation center books about $70k worth of event rentals

    On a cold day like today, thoughts of a little beach volleyball help keep me warm. Thoughts of volleyball — sans sand — also apparently are warming the hearts of leaders of the city's new Rock Chalk Park Recreation Center.

    City officials have begun accepting reservations for the 181,000-square-foot center under construction north and east of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. And volleyball teams are the first ones to jump on the bandwagon.

    City Manager David Corliss told me the city already has booked almost $70,000 in rental fees for the facility, and that's just for events scheduled from January 2015 through April 2015. Heart of America Volleyball and Blue Valley Athletic Association have booked a total of 10 weekends. Lawrence-based Kaw Valley Soccer also has booked the center for a weekend.

    Lots of people have associated the recreation center and its eight full-court gyms with basketball. But volleyball always has been a big part of the plan. The eight gyms are designed to also accommodate 16 volleyball courts. During the planning process, I had several city officials tell me that there probably was a bigger shortage of volleyball courts in the region than basketball. Heart of America Volleyball is based in Kansas City, and I believe the Blue Valley Athletic Association is based in Johnson County.

    City officials still believe basketball will be a big player at the center as well, but it is slower to materialize because of some logistical issues. Parks and Recreation officials said they have had multiple contacts from basketball tournament organizers, but those groups are inquiring about the center for the summer and fall of 2014. City officials hope to have the center open by July of 2014, but they can't guarantee it. Officials are confident the center will be open by January 2015.

    A quick reminder here: When the city rents the center for a weekend, that doesn't mean the facility will be closed to the public. The center has been designed so that two full-court gyms, a fitness area, walking track and other amenities always will be open to the public, even when a large tournament is at the center.

    It is fair to say that the early success of the center has come before the city really has started a full-fledged marketing campaign. Corliss confirmed the city has a contract with Lawrence-based Miller Meiers Communication to work on marketing and branding strategies for the center.

    The city also is in the process of hiring a center manager. My understanding is about 100 applicants from all over the country applied for the position, and the city is set to make announcement on a hiring soon. The position not only will oversee the staff of the center, but also will be involved in attracting tournaments and events.

    One issue that hasn't been resolved is what the official name of the center will be. Right now it shows up on the city's website and such as the Lawrence Recreation Center at Rock Chalk Park. But city commissioners haven't voted to name it that or anything else. I've heard some people say that is a bit of a mouthful, but others at City Hall say it is a pretty functional name. I'm not getting any indications that the city is going to try to sell naming rights for the entire center, although I think they will offer naming right for courts and other areas inside the center.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • City commissioners have committed to spend $22.5 million to build the recreation center and infrastructure that will be shared with the Kansas University-oriented facilities that will be next door. But that $22.5 million doesn't get the city everything it needs to operate a recreation facility, and now the city is starting to spend money to outfit the center. At their Tuesday evening meeting, commissioners are expected to approve a bid for about $45,000 in bleachers and benches for gymnasiums. The city also has bids out for about $60,000 to $70,000 worth of security cameras and devices. Other items that aren't included in the $22.5 million master development agreement include fitness center equipment, office furniture, and balls, nets and other such equipment.

    • Lawrence loves its recreation, but one recreational activity that apparently isn't too popular is snow shoveling. City officials are reporting that it continues to have trouble attracting volunteers for a program that pairs up able-bodied snow shovelers with senior citizens who need assistance. The city reports that it had 87 seniors request service through the Safe Winter Walkways Program, but only 26 people volunteered to shovel. Some volunteers agreed to shovel for more than one household, so the city is able to provide a shoveler for 35 of the 87 people who have requested assistance. That leaves about 60 percent of the people seeking assistance out of luck. Technically, the deadline to sign up to help residents has passed. But if you are starting to feel guilty, you may be able to call Douglas County Senior Services, which is a partner in the project, to inquire about volunteering. Douglas County Senior Services can be reached at 842-0543.

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    Pair of shopping centers sell on South Iowa as retail momentum picks up; city trash crews to do curbside collection of toys, food on Monday

    In my household, I've found that it is a good idea to get the disappointment out of the way early. That's why I have my wife open my Christmas gift to her first. (Who knew that tennis and bracelet weren't the most important words in the phrase "diamond tennis bracelet.) So, I'll disappoint you right off the bat: I don't know when Dick's Sporting Goods is going to open yet on South Iowa Street.

    Lots of people want to know, and I'll work to find out. What I do know is that the pending arrival of Dick's at the former Sears location at 27th and Iowa streets already is shaking up the retail world in that area. Two shopping centers near the site have sold in recent weeks.

    A group of Lawrence and Wichita investors have bought the Holiday Plaza Shopping Center at 25th and Iowa streets. That's the shopping center that has Paisano's Italian restaurant, J. Lynn Bridal and several other stores and businesses.

    Local resident Susan Hatfield is a part of the ownership group and the new manager for the approximately 50,000-square-foot shopping area. She said the idea of a big box store locating just a couple of blocks down the street certainly played a role in the group's decision to purchase the property.

    "We have been looking at for awhile, but we absolutely love seeing what is going on in the area," Hatfield said.

    She said no major changes are planned for the center, other than an increase in general maintenance to "spiff it up a bit." The center was 80 percent leased when the deal was closed last month, but leases for some of the vacant space is in the works. My understanding is a new martial arts studio will be the latest addition.

    The Tower Plaza shopping center across the street at 2540 Iowa St. also changed hands. Longtime Lawrence real estate investor Bob Hopkins sold the center to a group that includes several executives of the R.H. Johnson commercial real estate firm in Kansas City. The center, for those of you who navigate more by your stomach than by address, is the one that includes the First Watch restaurant and is just south of the Applebee's on Iowa Street.

    Hopkins, who has had the property since he opened a VW dealership on it in the 1970s, is in his 70s. He said he was simply looking to sell some of his investments. But he said now is a good time to own property on South Iowa Street.

    "The future is very good for that area," Hopkins said. "There's not a lot of land left, but there is still some potential for infill development."

    As for the new owners — the group name is Iowa 33 LLC — they bring some significant retail development experience. The R.H. Johnson Company has done deals all over Lawrence and the K.C. metro area. The company was a major player in developing the areas around the two Hy-Vee stores in Lawrence, and more recently, it has been involved in developing some of the outlying property around the Wal-Mart on South Iowa Street. The group seems to have good connections with national retailers and chains.

    I've got a call into one of the group's members.

    Hopkins said the R.H. Johnson group has been interested in the site for a long time. He said it is becoming clear that despite efforts to develop new retail sites in northwest Lawrence, large national retailers are still most interested in the South Iowa corridor.

    "It sure seemed liked Menards' position was that we get on South Iowa Street or we don't come to Lawrence," Hopkins said. "I think retailers understand that in the course of a week, an incredibly high percentage of the population of Lawrence drives by the sites on South Iowa Street."

    Menards, of course, is locating just off of South Iowa Street, just east of the existing Home Depot at 31st and Iowa. In addition to the Menards store, the development will include several "outlots" that could attract significant retailers. I've already heard that Menards is tweaking the lot lines on some of those parcels to accommodate stores that may need a slightly larger footprint. No word on who those stores may be, but it will be an area to keep an eye on.

    As we have reported, the area just south of the South Lawrence Trafficway but north of the Wakarusa River also has developer interest. A portion of that property is under option, and developers are shopping it to potential big retail tenants. Whether those retailers make a play for that area, and whether Lawrence city commissioners would provide the necessary zoning for a major retail development to occur there, may be the next big questions for South Iowa Street and the city's retail scene.

    Well, I can think of one other question: Will any of these new stores have a wider selection of tennis bracelets? I've bought about every color of nylon I can find.

    In other news and notes around town:

    • It's the season for food drives and toy drives, and now there is a new twist to that traditional way of giving. Simply set out a few new toys and a few cans or boxes of nonperishable food items at your curb, and members of the city's trash collection crew will come pick them up.

    On Monday, the city's solid waste division will be picking up toys and food while they are out and about running their regular yard waste collection route. A couple of members of the crew came up with the idea and managers at City Hall green-lighted the project.

    "We're kind of looking at it as pilot program," said Duane LaFrenz, one of the crew members. "We definitely know that the community is looking for a way to give, and we're just looking for a way to make it as simple as possible."

    Crew members ask residents to place the toys and food in a sack next to their bags of leaves, grass clippings or other yard waste. If a household doesn't have any yard waste for the week, it is still eligible to leave a donation of toys and food along the curb. LaFrenz suggest that items be set out at the curb no later than 6:30 a.m. to ensure they'll be collected.

    The toys will be donated to the Blue Santa program, a nonprofit organization founded by Lawrence police officers that helps provide Christmas gifts and food to families in need.

    The food will be donated to Just Food, the local food bank.

    City trash crews did a test run of the collection system last Monday, and collected 65 toys and 323 pounds of food. LaFrenz said crews are hoping to more than triple that amount on Monday.

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    Expect new twist for parking situation at Saturday’s Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade; new truck dealership open on 23rd Street

    If you are looking for a parking space in downtown Lawrence on Saturday, I hope it is for a horse.

    The annual Downtown Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas parade is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, and as you know, it is an all horse-drawn parade. (No, kids, that's not candy in the streets.)

    In fact, keeping the parade crowd out of the street is a big part of having a safe parade, and organizers are taking a new step this year. For the first time, barricades will be erected along the sides of Massachusetts Street. Parade organizers are spreading the word that the barricades will have an impact on people coming downtown to park.

    Marty Kennedy, one of the organizers of the parade, said barricades would start going up at 8 a.m. Saturday. They'll be placed behind cars that already have parked along Massachusetts Street. So, if you park in downtown Lawrence on Saturday, you'll need to get there before 8 a.m. and you'll need to be prepared to remain parked until past 11 a.m.

    Kennedy said the decision to use barricades this year was based on the safety of parade watchers and the horses.

    "A lot of our horses are used to being in corrals," Kennedy said. "The barricades will give them the idea that they're supposed to go nice and straight down the street."

    Kennedy said he doesn't think the barricade situation is going to cause any problems for people wanting to get a parking spot along the parade route. He said the parade has become so popular that people already know they have to come early in the morning to get a spot along Massachusetts Street.

    "In the past, there really haven't been many parking spots to be had after 6 a.m.," Kennedy said.

    The barricades will be removed as the street sweepers travel down the parade route. Kennedy estimated people would be able to leave their parking spots about 15 minutes after the parade had ended.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • If you are going to a horse parade, it just seems like you ought to go in a one-ton pickup truck with a good tool box to sit upon and a jug of grandfather's special sipping cider to keep you warm.

    I'm still working on securing the sipping cider, but there is news on the big truck front. The longtime Lawrence business Kaw Valley Industrial, 1105 E. 23rd St., has expanded into truck sales.

    The new business is running under the name of Kaw Valley Truck Sales. Ryan Lauber, a son of the owners of Kaw Valley Industrial, is running the new venture. Lauber said the business is trying to focus on larger used trucks — mainly three-quarter ton and one-ton trucks — that can be more difficult to find on traditional car lots. The business also is offering service work on diesel engines and truck and four-wheel drive accessories. The business also hopes to be a player in the agricultural truck market, with bale haulers and other farm trucks.

    The business, which carries only used vehicles, usually has an inventory of around 15 to 20 trucks, Lauber said.

    Lauber said the new focus seems to fit well with Kaw Valley Industrial's business, which includes ATVs, chainsaws, mowing equipment and other such items.

    "We're kind of a one-stop shop now," Lauber said. "You can come in and buy a one-ton truck and a chainsaw."

    As they say at the horse parade, "Whoa, there." That sounds like a lot of work. How about we sip some more cider first?


    Commissioners to consider plans for new multifamily development along O’Connell Road

    Here's a chance to play with the crayons in your desk drawer. Take out your Brick Red (or, heck, even your Razzmatazz or Razzle Dazzle Rose) and circle all the Lawrence neighborhoods that will have easy access to Johnson County, Topeka and the South Iowa Street shopping district once the South Lawrence Trafficway is completed.

    There will be several areas circled, but none should be circled more brightly than the Prairie Park neighborhood in southeast Lawrence. We're already getting a glimpse of the changes a completed SLT may bring to the area.

    If you remember, we reported in August that a pair of Lawrence businessmen had filed preliminary plans for a new multifamily complex near 28th Street and O'Connell Road in the Prairie Park neighborhood.

    Well, those plans have advanced and are now up for a round of approval at Lawrence City Hall tonight. City commissioners are set to approve an annexation of about 11 acres of ground just north and east of the roundabout at 28th and O'Connell. Commissioners also are set to approve a request to rezone the property to RM-15 multifamily zoning.

    Jeff Hatfield and Heath Seitz are the developers of the new project, and Hatfield recently gave me some details. Plans call for the project to be built in two phases. Phase one would start work soon on building 38 to 40 one-bedroom apartments on the site. Phase 2 would come later and would accommodate about 60 to 65 additional apartments on the site. Whether they would be one-, two- or three-bedroom units hasn't yet been determined.

    Not surprisingly, the completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway in the next couple of years is one of the factors Hatfield is citing in moving forward with the project. The eastern interchange for the South Lawrence Trafficway will be just a minute or two east of the 23rd and O'Connell intersection. Once the trafficway is built, Prairie Park suddenly becomes a convenient home for commuters not only to Johnson County, but also to Topeka. As part of the South Lawrence Trafficway project, the city also is extending 31st Street from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. That means Prairie Park residents will have an easy new route into the South Iowa Street retail district as well.

    But Prairie Park also has another factor going for it. It is the closest neighborhood to the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant, which is being converted into Lawrence VenturePark, the city's next big business park. Developers are betting that new companies will locate in that park, and workers at the companies will jump at the chance to live in a neighborhood that is just a stone's throw from the office.

    Hatfield, who is a real estate appraiser and a veteran in the local housing and apartment markets, envisions a gradual 10-year transformation of the area out there.

    "I think what really will control the growth out there is the number of new businesses that locate in the business park," Hatfield said. "If we get some employers out there, then the rooftops will follow, and then I'm really hopeful a grocery store will say this is where we need to be."

    Property at the southeast corner of 23rd and O'Connell already is zoned for retail uses, including a grocery store, but a company hasn't yet stepped forward.

    As for the apartment development, Hatfield and Seitz have drawn up a plan that uses single-story four-plex units that are designed to look more like houses than an apartment complex. Hatfield said the design is trying to create an "Aspen craftsman" type of look that features lots of stone, exposed wooden beams and rough-sawn lumber. As currently designed, about half the units will come with garages. You can see one of the proposed renderings below.

    Hatfield said he expects the development's target market to be either young couples who don't yet need a larger unit, or single professionals who either are working in the area or want a convenient home to commute to either Kansas City or Topeka.

    As we have previously reported, look for other activity in the area as well. The Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority has partnered with a private development group led by Lawrence businessman Bill Newsome to develop about 125 rent-controlled apartment units near the southwest corner of 23rd and O'Connell Road.

    So, you may want to keep those crayons out. There may be more to circle in this area in the future. Now, where did I put my Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown and my Mango Tango? I've got serious work to do.

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  • A rendering of what the units will look like in a proposed multifamily complex near 28th and O'Connell in southeast Lawrence

    A rendering of what the units will look like in a proposed multifamily complex near 28th and O'Connell in southeast Lawrence by Chad Lawhorn

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    Southern fried chicken restaurant coming to West Lawrence; an overview of city’s proposed rental licensing program

    It is time for me to restock the supply of wet wipes in the F-150's glove box. A new fried chicken place — with a drive-thru — is coming to west Lawrence.

    The spot inside the Miller Mart gas station at 3300 W. Sixth St. is ready for its latest culinary adventure: D-Lux Southern Fried Chicken. Over the years, the gas station spot has served as the launching pad for several notable Lawrence restaurants. The Basil Leaf Cafe, Tortas Jalisco and Biemer's BBQ are the better-known of the group.

    Well, a trained chef who has traveled the country is betting that fried chicken will be the next culinary trend to take hold in the spot. Robert Douglas has worked as a chef and culinary executive in several resorts and casinos in the western U.S. But he's originally from Georgia and South Carolina, which are better known as Fried Chicken Country.

    Douglas plans to open D-Lux Southern Fried Chicken next week, and when he does, he'll be touting a unique 48-hour fried chicken process. (I'm familiar with it. It usually takes me 48 hours to eat enough fried chicken to satisfy my appetite.) Actually, I'm told that is not the process he's talking about. Instead, he's talking about a process taught to him by his grandmother where the chicken sits in a brine for at least 24 hours.

    "The big difference between this chicken and other chicken is that we take the time to brine it," Douglas said. "That is how you make sure it gets seasoned all the way to the bone."

    The chicken also uses a wet batter of hydrated peppers, garlic and other spices, Douglas said.

    In addition to the chicken, Douglas said D-Lux will be making its own side dishes, which include mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, braised greens, pickled beets, applesauce, and even homemade pickles, spicy mushrooms and spicy pimento cheese. By the way, there also will be homemade hot sauce. (If you are driving by the F-150 and see me sucking on a wet wipe, you'll know what's up.)

    Although the whole process from start to finish takes 48 hours, Douglas and his business partner, Lawrence's David Bennett, are designing the restaurant to be quick-service oriented. (Just to clarify, there are a couple of Lawrence businessmen by the name of David Bennett. This is the one that also is an executive with Blue Sky Satellite in Lawrence.) Chicken will be made in batches so that it can be served without a long wait. That also will allow for the restaurant to have a drive-thru.

    "You will be able to get a six pack of beer and a whole fried chicken to go," Douglas told me.

    I haven't yet seen a menu for the restaurant, but Douglas said he's planning for an average meal to cost between $6 and $10. Douglas hopes to be open next week, and he plans for hours to be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday thru Saturday.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • We had an article this weekend about the city's proposed rental regulations and some privacy concerns that are being raised related to the program's inspection process. As I was researching that article, several items came up, and not all of them made them into the article. One was a story about how the city of Manhattan, which had a rental inspection program and then repealed it, sent four student renters to jail for violations related to its rental ordinance. I wasn't able to interview Manhattan officials about that case (it didn't come to my attention until pretty late in the reporting process), but I did find a 2011 news article about it. I thought I would pass it along because some opponents of the Lawrence proposal are citing the case as an example of government overreach when it comes to these types of programs. You can make of it what you will. The article comes from Manhattan's weekly newspaper, which was one of the staunchest opponents to the city's rental registration ordinance.

    • Lawrence's proposed rental registration program has been quite the talk recently because commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider giving final approval to the program. A big part of the discussion likely will be what inspectors are instructed to look for as part of the inspections of rental units. The city has been tweaking the list of proposed violations for more than a month. They have created a list of major and minor violations, but, as it is proposed now, a unit can have an unlimited number of minor violations and still be eligible to receive an incentive from the city, as long as the minor violations are fixed within a reasonable period of time. (City staff is proposing 30 days for most violations.) The incentive is that the property owner won't have to go through a city inspection for six years. Properties that don't receive the incentive are subject to inspection every three years. Click here to see the complete list of minor violations, as proposed by city staff. Here's a sampling:

    — Inoperable bathroom ventilation fan;

    — Clogged drains;

    — Dirty furnace filter

    — Improperly fitting interior or exterior doors;

    — Extension cords used for permanent power source;

    — Grass or weeds in violation of the city's weed ordinance;

    — Lack of deadbolt lock on exterior doors;

    — Missing covers on light switches or electrical outlets;

    — Smoke detectors inoperable;

    — Upholstered furniture on a deck or porch.

    The city staff also is recommending a list of major violations. If a property has one or more major violations, it would not be eligible for the incentive program. Click here to see a complete list of the major violations, as proposed. Here's a sampling:

    — Backed up or collapsed sewer line;

    — Ceiling height requirements not met;

    — Dryer, furnace or hot water heater not properly vented;

    — Egress requirements not met for bedrooms;

    — Large amounts of mold or other fungus;

    — Smoke detectors not present on each floor and in each sleeping room;

    — Badly leaking roofs;

    — Structural deficiencies with the building's roof, foundation, stairs or other components;

    — Lack of a heating system that can keep the property at a 68 degree temperature;

    — Exposed or frayed electrical wiring.

    • For those of you who want more details, here's a pretty good city memo that outlines how the program is proposed to work. It also provides details on how the city's current system of rental inspections work. That system — except for rentals in single-family zoned neighborhoods — requires a tenant to call and ask for an inspection. The city conducted 34 of those inspections in 2012. Nineteen of them were related to a North Lawrence trailer park that had badly deteriorated. The memo provides details on the other 15 inspections, and some of the violations inspectors found. They ranged from a broken staircase bannister to large amounts of mold, inoperable toilets, and leaking roofs.

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    Bum Steer BBQ opens at 19th and Haskell; thrift store opens in East Lawrence

    Move over turkey. It is time to grab our trusty forks, knives, bibs and wet wipes to tackle another animal. Plus, this one has the bonus of being familiar to longtime Lawrence residents. I'm talking about a Bum Steer.

    That's right, a restaurant with the name Bum Steer BBQ Cafe is opening up in Lawrence about 20 years after it last shut down here. Chris Lemmon, who owned Bum Steer BBQ on Iowa Street from about 1980 to 1992, has opened a new version of the restaurant in the shopping center at 19th and Haskell.

    And hold onto your elastic waistband, but plans are in the works for him to bring back the concept of a barbecue buffet as well.

    Bum Steer currently is operating in the space that used to house the Haskell Diner and a few other diners that have come and gone in the past few years. But by early next year, Lemmon plans to expand into the space that is being vacated by longtime tenant Miracle Video. As we've previously reported, Miracle Video is going out of business. The signs on the store say the business will shut down for good at the end of this month.

    When it does, Bum Steer will expand into the space, and it will become a bit like it was in the old days. Lemmon said he'll have a buffet set up each day that will have a heavy emphasis on barbecue and smoked meats, but also will feature traditional "country food" items as well. So, perhaps soon I'll finally have my chance to live my reoccurring dream of filling a kiddie-size pool with mashed potatoes and gravy. But take notice, Lemmon isn't planning on operating the buffet as a traditional all-you-can-eat affair. Instead, he's planning to charge by the pound — one price for meats and another price for side items.

    Right now the restaurant is opening in a traditional diner style, with a menu that includes smoked brisket, pork, turkey and other barbecue items, plus hamburgers, pork tenderloins and other diner fare. Plus, the diner is serving a breakfast menu that includes bacon, sausage, eggs, cinnamon rolls, biscuits and gravy, French toast and other traditional items.

    "I just like to call it a country breakfast," Lemmon said. "I don't want to get too fancy with it."

    Lemmon said he plans to serve breakfast under the new format as well, although he won't be offering a breakfast buffet. (My pharmacist is sad. She could already see the vacation home she was going to buy after the prescription for my cholesterol medicine quadrupled.)

    The restaurant currently is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. No word yet on whether it will have later hours once the buffet opens.

    For about the last 20 years, Lemmon has been operating a catering business and serving concessions at KU Athletic events. Lemmon said he decided to get back in the restaurant business now that he no longer is serving KU concessions. As we previously reported, Lemmon had opened a catering kitchen in the Haskell shopping center several months ago, but decided to expand into a full service restaurant when space became available in the center.

    "I'm excited," Lemmon said. "It has my blood pumping again."

    Mine too, or maybe that is just barbecue sauce going through my veins.


    Talk about your synergy: A good barbecue buffet always leaves me in search of a comfy couch. Now, there is a new business right next door to Bum Steer where I can find a couch and several other items at bargain prices.

    A new thrift store has opened in the shopping center at 19th and Haskell. The Something for Everyone Thrift Store opened earlier this month. Bobby Riley, who owns the store with his wife, Margaret, said the store plans to carry everything from DVDs and knickknacks to appliances and furniture. In addition to those items the store also is stocked with toys, cookware, electronics and several other smaller items.

    Riley spent years in the auction business, and also has managed other thrift stores in the area. He said he gets most of his items from auctions or by purchasing pallets of merchandise from wholesalers, which means the store carries a mix of new and used items.

    Unlike some other thrift stores in the area, this one isn't connected to a nonprofit organization. It is being run as a for-profit enterprise. But Riley said there will be a nonprofit component to the business. The store will accept donated items from the public. When those items are sold, 15 percent of the sale price will be donated to a local nonprofit. Riley said the store will hold a contest each month allowing customers to vote on which nonprofit should be the beneficiary.

    Riley said business has been good so far, and he said he thinks a thrift shop near the blue collar neighborhoods of eastern Lawrence makes a lot of sense.

    "We want to deliver affordable items to middle class and low-income families," Riley said. "We like helping people. We really love that side of the business."

    The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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    Large conglomerate purchases Kinedyne and its Lawrence plant in East Hills

    This is the time of year where I'm in the market for a good, heavy-duty cargo strap. After all, I have to do something to secure my full plate of turkey and stuffing as I move it from the kitchen to the couch.

    Perhaps you didn't know it, but the cargo strap business injects millions of dollars into the Lawrence economy. (No, I don't eat that much turkey.) Kinedyne is one of the leading manufacturers of cargo straps and other such equipment used by the trucking industry, and its main U.S. operations facility is in the East Hills Business Park.

    It may be a facility worth keeping an eye on in the future. It has taken me awhile to sort it all out, but Kinedyne and its Lawrence plant have been purchased by a large Illinois-based conglomerate that also owns one of Kinedyne's chief competitors.

    The Heico Companies — a conglomerate that owns about 35 companies that produce about $2 billion in revenues — has purchased the Kinedyne corporation and its Lawrence real estate and production plant. The deal closed in mid-August, but has been a bit under the radar screen.

    The Heico Companies also owns Ancra International. If you have spent a lot of time on the back of a flatbed trailer, you perhaps know that Ancra and Kinedyne have been pretty stiff competitors when it comes to cargo straps, come-alongs, webbing and other such products that make a trucker's heart go pitter-patter.

    The deal keeps both Kinedyne and Ancra as separate companies, but they now operate as part of the same division within The Heico Companies, according to Heico's Web site.

    At the moment, it is tough for me to say what the impact may be on Kinedyne and its Lawrence operations. I've chatted with a couple of Kinedyne officials who indicated there haven't been major changes at the Lawrence plant, and that they generally are optimistic that the new ownership will be a positive development for the Lawrence operations.

    But I'm still waiting to get an official statement from Kinedyne officials. Amy Bellerive, human resources manager for Kinedyne's North America operations, told me the Lawrence facility has about 60 employees currently.

    That is down from previous years. Back in 2009, we reported that more than 100 people worked at the Lawrence facility, which is located at 3701 Greenway Circle. But I've been told the reduction in Kinedyne's workforce came well before the deal with Heico. Instead, sales have slowed as the economy has struggled, and Kinedyne likely has been affected by cutbacks in government spending because military contracts have been a big part of the company's business in the past.

    Kinedyne has been a longtime employer in the community. Kinedyne has been around since 1968, but it didn't enter the Lawrence market until 1989, when it purchased the cargo control division of Lawrence-based Aeroquip, according to Kinedyne's website. A year later, Kinedyne broke ground on a new 47,000 square foot facility in East Hills, giving the fledgling business park a big boost. The plant became the main operational facility for Kinedyne, which has kept its headquarters in New Jersey.

    Today, the plant is one of four U.S. facilities for Kinedyne, which also has locations in Canada, Mexico and China. In addition to manufacturing and assembly work, the Lawrence plant also houses the customer service division for Kinedyne and also does quite a bit of quality control testing for the company, Bellerive said.

    So, we'll have to wait and see what new ownership has in store for Kinedyne and its Lawrence operations. In the meantime, I need to find a local fork lift manufacturer. (Bonus points if you know the name of the Douglas County-based forklift manufacturer.) After all, I need to figure out how I'm going to move my dessert plate this Thanksgiving.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • The city's public works department is competing for about $125,000 to build new sidewalks in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods in Lawrence. The department is seeking approval from Lawrence city commissioners tonight to apply for Community Development Block Grant money to fill in gaps in the city's sidewalk network. The department over the last several years has received about $500,000 in CDBG money to build about four miles of sidewalks in several neighborhoods east of Iowa Street. Here's a map that shows where that work has taken place.

    Sidewalks always have the potential to become an interesting issue at City Hall. Residents have become more vocal in recent years about making Lawrence more pedestrian friendly, and the city has created projects like this to fill in gaps in the sidewalk network.

    But a frequent topic also is the condition of existing sidewalks in the city. State law makes sidewalk maintenance the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, not the city. It is not cheap to pour new concrete for a sidewalk, and thus there are a quite a few property owners who have let their sidewalks fall into a poor state of repair.

    There is now a group of residents trying to draw awareness to that issue. The group is called the Pedestrian Coalition, and its leaders recently gave a presentation to commissioners. Commissioners frequently talk about how they want to improve the condition of existing sidewalks, and the city tries to take some enforcement action against property owners who have particularly bad sidewalks.

    The other idea that comes up is that there is nothing that would stop the city from taking over the maintenance responsibilities of sidewalks. Well, nothing but money. Back in 2009, City Manager David Corliss proposed creating a new sidewalk maintenance fee that would be charged to property owners who have a public sidewalk traveling through their property. The proposal called for a half-cent to full cent for every linear foot of public sidewalk on their property; so, for many typical residential lots about 25 cents to 50 cents per month. Back then, the fee was anticipated to raise about $200,000 to $400,000 a year that the city could use to begin repairing sidewalks.

    I can't say that the idea of a sidewalk maintenance fee will come back up again, but this new Pedestrian Coalition has quite a few experienced neighborhood association leaders who know how to push issues at City Hall. So, given that, sidewalks may be a topic that will get more discussion from commissioners in the future.

    As for tonight, commissioners are expected to approve the request from the public works department. At that point, the city advisory board that makes recommendations on how to spend the city's Community Development Block Grant money will consider the sidewalk request against all the other funding requests it receives. The board will make its recommendations early next year.

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    Berry Plastics to close five plants across the country; Lawrence plant not yet named

    It's time to start keeping an eye on one of Douglas County's larger employers.

    A leading trade publication is reporting that Berry Plastics has made a decision to close five plants and make a $100 million investment in another one. Thus far, Berry's operations in Douglas County aren't on either the expansion or closure lists, but two more plant closings are still to be announced.

    The trade publication Plastics News is reporting that Evansville, Ind.-based Berry Plastics is set to close five production plants in an effort to cut about $27 million in annual operating costs. At the same time, Berry is in the process of making a $100 million investment to expand its production capacity of a growing polypropylene cup line.

    Berry operates two facilities in Douglas County: a manufacturing plant that years ago was part of the Lawrence-based Packerware Corp. and a large new warehouse and printing operation just west of the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike.

    Thus far, Berry has only announced three of the five plants it intends to close. They are in Houston, Kent, Wash., and Alsip, Ill. The other two plants will be announced in the coming months, according to the article in Plastics News.

    I talked with a spokeswoman at Berry's corporate headquarters, and she gave the fairly standard line that she couldn't comment on whether the Lawrence plant is under consideration for closing. An economic development professional at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, however, told me this morning that he also had talked with a Berry official and was assured that Lawrence wasn't one of the plants being considered for closure.

    So make of that what you will at the moment. One factor that seems to be in Lawrence's favor is that Berry, within the last couple of years, invested more than $20 million to build a major distribution center near the Lecompton interchange of the Kansas Turnpike. For Berry to close its production plant after making such a major investment in a distribution center would seem to be an odd course of action.

    What is clear is that Lawrence didn't win an internal competition within Berry to land a major $100 million project. The Plastics News article reports that Berry is converting a once shuttered plant in Madisonville, Ky., to receive $100 million in upgrades to make its Versalite line of beverage cups. The expansion, which began in late 2012, is expected to create about 400 jobs.

    The Versalite line of cups seems to be the hottest part of Berry's business right now. It is a new process for making recyclable plastic to-go cups. The Subway sandwich chain already uses the cups. I'm not sure whether the development of the Versalite product is good news or bad news for Berry's operations in Lawrence.

    Back in 2009 we were reporting one of the major reasons Berry needed a new distribution center is because of high demand for a new drink cup line that was being produced in Lawrence. It was lighter weight and more environmentally friendly. But company spokeswoman Eva Schmitz confirmed that Lawrence does not produce the Versalite line of cups.

    That's significant because it appears that Versalite is the product the company is betting on for the future. When Douglas County officials approved a tax abatement and other incentives for the project 2011, the hope was that the new distribution center would create more jobs in the future by opening up space in Berry's production plant. The distribution center itself only created about a dozen new jobs, although it transferred about 200 jobs out of the Lawrence production plant to the distribution center.

    Schmitz said she did not know whether the Lawrence production plant was ever in the running to land the $100 million Versalite project and its 400 jobs. She said the Kentucky facility was chosen because it was closer to Berry's research and development labs in Evansville.

    At the moment there appear to be two questions Lawrence leaders will want answered: 1. Is the Lawrence plant being considered for closure? 2. If not, have Lawrence's hopes for a major expansion by Berry been dashed?

    Perhaps Berry already has expanded all it can at the Lawrence plant. It has been difficult over the years to keep track of how many employees Berry has in Lawrence. In 2007, a company representative said it had about 500 employees in Lawrence. By 2009, when the company was adding equipment for a drink cup line, it had about 950.

    The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's latest job survey, which was taken last year, showed about 740 employees. Schmitz is working to confirm the company's current Lawrence workforce totals. (UPDATE: Schmitz at Berry confirmed the company has about 650 employees currently. The 950 number of years ago included a large number of temporary workers, she said.)

    I'll let you know when I hear more. But this one will be an interesting one to watch. A closure of the plant, of course, would be a major blow to the local economy. I think local officials feel a closure is unlikely. The larger question may be whether Berry will be expanding in Lawrence like officials had once hoped when county commissioners approved a significant amount of incentives for the company.

    We'll see. At the moment, it is kind of feeling like the 2012 National Championship game: Kentucky over Kansas.

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    City to approve wetlands project; falcons soon will call Lawrence home

    Construction work really is underway on the South Lawrence Trafficway project, but building roads isn't the only thing that will be going on near 31st and Haskell.

    Crews also will be building wetlands. If you have followed the South Lawrence Trafficway project, you know that the Kansas Department of Transportation has been building about 300 acres of wetlands to replace the approximately 55 acres of existing wetlands that will be disturbed by the trafficway project.

    KDOT, however, won't get to have all the wetland fun. The city of Lawrence needs to build wetlands too. That's because the city's is responsible for building part of 31st Street that will stretch from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. That project will disturb about five acres of wetland and stream riparian areas, mostly south and east of the Mary's Lake area.

    Like KDOT, the city is planning to contract with Baker University to construct and manage the area. Baker has been managing the existing wetlands south of 31st Street for several decades.

    City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are scheduled to finalize a deal with Baker, and also a land purchase with KDOT. City staff members recommend that the city buy about 11 acres of low-lying ground near the Wakarusa River, just east of where the East 1500 Road bridge crosses the Wakarusa River. The city is proposing to pay $71,500, or about $6,500 per acre.

    The city then proposes to pay Baker up to $60,925 to do all the planting (about 1,400 trees and shrubs will be planted in the riparian area), maintenance and federal reporting that is required with the project. Baker ultimately would be given ownership of the property and the responsibility of caring for it into perpetuity. As part of the $60,925, the city is proposing to pay about $27,000 into an endowment fund that would be used to care for the area in the future.

    The project will expand the natural areas near the Wakarusa River that are under the control of Baker University. The 300 acres of wetlands that have been built south and west of 31st and Louisiana will be an active public area with a visitors center. No word yet on whether this little area will be one that Baker opens up to the public.

    Commissioners are expected to give routine approval to the plan. The mitigation work must be done to meet federal requirements, and the city already has approved a $3.9 million bid to build the extension of 31st Street, and also has agreed to the financing of the project. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Perhaps we'll see some falcons at Tuesday's city commission meeting. No, I'm not thinking they'll show up to speak on behalf of the wetland project, although it may produce a nice new neighborhood of mice and snakes and other fast food for falcons.

    Instead, city commissioners are scheduled to approve an ordinance that would make it legal to house falcons in the city, if certain conditions are met. If you remember, we reported last month that a Lawrence attorney had sought a change in the city's law that would allow people who have a state license to work with falcons to keep them in the city limits. The attorney had a client with such a state license who is planning to move to the city.

    City Hall staff members reviewed the request and recommend approval, with the conditions that any raptors kept in the city must be in a locked cage and that it would be illegal for falconers to allow their birds to actually fly in the city.

    • If falcons were allowed to fly in the city, I bet you the City Hall Web masters could create a neat GPS map that would allow you to log on and see their locations. The city's website is fairly advanced, and it now has a new look.

    The city in recent days has unveiled its new design for the website — lawrenceks.org. Megan Gilliland, the city's communications manager, told me recently that one of the biggest improvements to the site is that it now automatically adjusts to fit the size of the device you are using to access it. That means the site should be friendlier for people who are accessing it via smart phones or tablets. The city estimates about 50 percent of its Web users access the site by mobile devices. (That explains the crazy drivers on 23rd Street. Everybody is reading city planning documents on their phones. Too much excitement.)

    Gilliland said the site also was moved to a new server that should increase the speed at which the site works. It is a data heavy site with about 6,500 different pages and about 150,000 documents that can be accessed.

    The site also has a different look with a new navigation bar and enhanced search functions. The redesign has been in the works for about two months.

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    Pirate-themed store opens in downtown Lawrence

    Shiver me timbers, matey. My credit card soon may be under attack. Downtown Lawrence is now home to its first — at least as far as I know — pirate-themed store.

    The jewelry and gift store Treasure Chest has opened at 1109 Massachusetts St., across from the Douglas County Courthouse.

    Perhaps you wonder why this worries me. Well, yes, I do like nautical-themed decorations, but that is not my big concern. My real fear is that this store may sell life-size cutouts of Captain Jack Sparrow — a.k.a. Johnny Depp. If so, my wife will buy one for every room in the house. And no, I don't think she's buying it for the nautical theme.

    I believe you can find plenty of Jack Sparrow stuff at the Treasure Chest, but there are also plenty of items for folks who aren't into the pirate lifestyle. Owner Denise Bosch told me that at its core the Treasure Chest is a jewelry and gift store. That means a large amount of sterling silver and stainless steel jewelry, in addition to "body jewelry," wooden and shell designed pieces, novelty items and other gifts.

    "Our inventory changes as trends change," Bosch said. "That's one of the things that makes us fun."

    But make no mistake, pirates are a big deal here. There's a large Captain Hook standing in the front of the store behind a turn-of-the century ship's wheel. There's a also an eight-foot mermaid mural on one of the walls.

    "You kind of have that bottom of the ocean, sunken treasure feel," Bosch said.

    Bosch is a veteran of the gift store business. She's owned a gift shop in the Houston area for the past 14 years, and decided to open one in the Lawrence area when one of her children decided to attend KU.

    Bosch originally had the store in The Legends in Kansas City, Kan., but she said it became obvious that being located in the younger, hipper Lawrence scene would be a benefit to the business.

    As for the pirate fascination, she said it is a definite trend that has some staying power with consumers right now.

    "I think people like it just because it is fun," she said. "We're already seeing lots of interest here, and it is not just the college kids. We're getting a good mix."

    News and notes from around town:

    • One of the many advantages to being a pirate is you don't have to buy much gasoline for your vessel. The rest of us, though, spend plenty of time at the gas station, and I've been getting questions about whether a rebuilding of the Kwik Shop at 19th and Massachusetts Street is still in the works.

    The latest information I have from the Lawrence-Douglas County planning office is that Kwik Shop still is pursing plans to raze the existing building, and construct a larger store at the corner. But the plans are changing.

    We reported back in January that the company wanted to build a convenience store with six gasoline pumps. But several neighbors began expressing concern about whether the company was trying to squeeze too much onto the site. The plan did require several zoning variances. The city's board of zoning of appeals granted the variances, but also added a requirement that the project have no more than four gasoline pumps, Lawrence-Douglas County planner Mary Miller told me.

    If I'm doing my math right, the doubled-sided pumps will accommodate up to eight vehicles fueling at a time, and that is double what the store can handle today. Miller, when I talked to her a few days ago, said her office is still waiting a new set of plans that meet the zoning board's conditions. So, I don't have a good timeline on when the project may get underway.

    As for the store itself, it is slated to be about 3,300 square feet compared to the 2,700-square-foot store there today.

    • My longtime theory is that gasoline is only the third most popular fuel in Lawrence. It trails beer and pizza. Well, I've got a quick bit of news on the pizza front. A new pizza shop has opened in West Lawrence. As we reported last month, the New York-style pizza chain Johnny Brusco's was scheduled to open in the former Godfather's pizza location at Sixth and Wakarusa. According to the building's landlord, Lawrence businessman Greg DiVilbiss, the shop is now open. Check out this article from last month to get a sense of the place.

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    New battery store slated for west Lawrence; city provides report on snow preparations; Mother Earth News Fair seeks to return to city

    I'm sure you've already experienced this, but basketball season is rough on batteries. There are the batteries for the TV remote, there are the batteries for the electronic beer delivery device, there are the batteries for the portable nacho cheese warmer, and don't even get me started about the batteries for the Andrew Wiggins robotron.

    But, of course, you know all this because you deal with it too. What you may not know, though, is a new west Lawrence store is set to open that specializes in all types of batteries. Batteries Plus Bulbs is set to open at 6534 W. Sixth St. in the space that used to house the Blockbuster video store.

    "We're looking to sell every kind of battery," said Ed Patel, owner of the Lawrence franchise. "If we don't carry them, we definitely have access to them."

    When the store means batteries, it means batteries both big and small. The store plans to carry car, truck, motorcycle and golf cart batteries, for example. It plans to stock cellphone, camcorder, digital camera and laptop batteries as well. Patel said the business also thinks the store will do well with the construction industry. The store plans to carry a large selection of batteries for cordless tools, two-way radios and other such devices.

    The store also will offer a battery refurbishing service, and it will recycle any type of battery for free.

    As the name suggests, the store also will carry a large amount of light bulbs. Patel said the store's bulb stock will include automotive headlights and bulbs, and all the LED, CFL and halogen light bulbs that are used in home and business applications.

    Patel decided to get into the battery and bulb business after he used a similar store in Topeka extensively during a remodeling project he undertook for a hotel he owns. He chose Lawrence for the store's location because he thought there was a niche to be filled in the market.

    When I talked to Patel, he was still stocking the store, but he hoped to be open by the end of this week. Once open, the store will have hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • We may need some batteries for the electric ice scraper come Friday morning. The weather forecast is calling for some Thursday night precipitation that may turn into Friday morning ice or other wintry conditions.

    At least that's what the crews with the city's public works department are keeping an eye on. City commissioners at their meeting last night were briefed on the city's annual snow plowing and winter weather preparations. There will be a change to the city's system this year, but one that officials are betting residents won't notice: A new manager is in charge of ensuring the city's streets are safe for winter driving.

    Longtime street division manager Tom Orzulak retired earlier this year. He's been replaced by Mike Perkins, who previously was responsible for overseeing snow removal operations for Douglas County. Perkins spent about 12 years with the county before making the move over to the city earlier this year.

    "We feel like we're in good shape," Perkins said of the upcoming winter season. "We would like to keep the snow away, but we think we're prepared."

    As part of its annual report to city commissioners, the public works department did share some numbers about past snow seasons. Here's a look:

    — The city spent $534,257 on snow and ice removal last season, which was up significantly from the $95,608 spent during the the 2011/2012 season.

    — About 29 inches of snow fell in Lawrence last season compared with just 2.5 inches in the 2011/2012 season.

    — The city used 3,462 tons of salt last season and 1,886 tons of sand. The city starts this year with 4,000 tons of salt, 1,000 tons of sand and about 2,500 tons of salt and sand mix.

    • I bet you there is some sort of environmentally friendly product for removing snow — I'm thinking a team of alpacas with a plow made out of wheat straw — and I bet you that you could have found it at this year's Mother Earth News Fair in downtown Lawrence.

    City commissioners also got an update on that event at last night's meeting and learned that there is a question about whether the popular event will return to Lawrence for a second year.

    Bryan Welch, publisher and editorial director for the parent company of Mother Earth News magazine, said the event was a big success in downtown. An estimated 10,000 people showed up at Watson Park for the two-day fair in October. Based on ticket information, Welch estimated about 4,500 of the attendees had never visited Lawrence before, with many of them traveling more than 100 miles for the fair. That indicates the fair pumped a sizable amount of new money into the city's tourism industry and perhaps created some future visitors.

    Welch said Mother Earth News, which is based in Topeka, is very interested in having another fair in Lawrence next fall, but there are questions about whether an appropriate downtown venue can be found. Welch would like to move the fair to South Park, which is significantly larger than Watson Park.

    "We more than filled Watson Park this year," Welch said.

    Based on experience with fairs in other communities, Welch is expecting ticket sales to grow by about 20 percent in year two. That would mean about 12,000 attendees at next year's fair.

    He said he hopes to determine in the next few weeks whether South Park is available at a time that will work for the fair's schedule. City commissioners on Tuesday indicated they wanted to do what they could to bring the fair back to town.

    Commissioners said they heard from several merchants and hotel owners across town that business was up during the fair.

    "I'm sure we can be pretty accommodating with the location next year," Amyx told Welch at last night's meeting.

    Reply 1 comment from Evan Jorn

    Former Lawrence Mayor Boog Highberger planning to run for Statehouse seat; 650 collegiate runners to be in city this weekend

    It looks like Boog will be back.

    Those of you who have followed Lawrence politics know who I'm talking about. Dennis "Boog" Highberger is a former Lawrence city commissioner and mayor, and now it appears likely that he'll make a run to become a state legislator.

    Highberger told me last night that he is planning to soon file for the state House of Representatives seat currently held by Lawrence lawmaker Paul Davis. Davis, of course, is leaving the seat to run for governor.

    Highberger will run as a Democrat in a district — House District 46 — that includes quite a few Democrats. The race already has attracted at least one other Democratic candidate, Abbie Hodgson, who was a former staff member with Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson and now works in the communications department at KU. We'll see how big of a field the race may draw. If two Democrats do file, there would be a primary election in August. The general election is in November.

    Highberger served six years on the Lawrence City Commission in the 2000s, including a stint as mayor. Highberger is an attorney by trade. He previously was a staff attorney for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and now is a partner in his own private practice in downtown Lawrence.

    The deadline for candidates to file for the race is June 2.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • We go from talking about running for political office to just plain running. About 650 collegiate cross country runners will be in Lawrence this weekend for the NAIA Men and Women's Cross Country National Championships.

    The event will be held at the esteemed Rim Rock Farm cross country course just north of Lawrence. This is the first time the event has been held in Lawrence, and event organizers said the Rim Rock Farm course, which was designed by former KU track coaching legend Bob Timmons, played a major role in landing the competition.

    Officials with the the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau are projecting the event will provide about $200,000 in economic impact to the city's hotels, restaurants, shops and other businesses that will cater to the athletes and crowds. It will be interesting to watch the impact because my understanding is that the Lawrence Sport Corp. has a multiyear contract to host the event, although I'm not sure whether it will be held in Lawrence every year or just in selected years.

    The event is open to the public. At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, the men's 8,000 meter race will start. The women's 5,000 meter race will begin at 11:45 a.m. Rim Rock Farm is at 2276 Burnett Lane, which is just west of Wellman Road, north of U.S. Highway 59/24.

    • I still get people asking me what new business is heading into the building being constructed next to Taco Bell on 23rd Street. As we previously have reported, a Chipotle restaurant is slated for the space. I still don't have an official word on when the restaurant may open, but signs point to it being soon. Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting tonight are set to approve a drinking establishment license for the restaurant at 1420 W. 23rd St. Let the Mexican food wars soon begin.

    Reply 2 comments from Elizabeth Wilmot Terrylee

    Lawrence home sales for October strong

    After showing signs of cooling off in September, Lawrence's residential real estate market heated right back up again in October.

    October homes sales in Lawrence rose by 17 percent compared with the same time period of a year ago. Home sales in Lawrence have increased for nine of the 10 months on record in 2013. But the one month that showed a decline was September, which meant real estate observers were waiting to see whether that was the beginning of a new slowdown in the market.

    October's numbers suggest the Lawrence market has dodged a late season slump. Now, the question turns to whether the Lawrence market can dodge something even nastier: the impact of the federal government shutdown.

    John Esau, the president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors, noted the only negative in this month's report is that the number of new contracts real estate agents wrote during October was down about 12.5 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Esau speculated that was because during October the government shutdown created concerns about lenders being able to timely process loans and also created economic concerns among buyers.

    The shutdown happened during the early parts of October, but most of its impacts on real estate sales likely won't show up until the November report. That's because October's report largely shows sales that had contracts written in September, before the shutdown. November's report will have sales that had contracts largely written in October. (There's no set formula, but generally it takes a few weeks for a sale to be finalized on a house.)

    So, it will be interesting to see if November's home sale numbers take a hit, but it likely won't be too much to be worried about since the shutdown is now over. Indeed, the Lawrence real estate market for all of 2013 has been pretty worry free. Here's a look at several of the most recent statistics:

    • Through October, Lawrence home sales for all of 2013 total 948, up 20.5 percent from a year ago. Compared with 2011, home sales are up nearly 53 percent.

    • Sales of newly constructed homes are up about 21 percent compared with a year ago. A total of 86 new homes have been sold, up from 71 at this time in 2012 and 55 in 2011. It is worth noting, however, October 2013 wasn't a good month for new-constructed home sales. Only four sold in Lawrence in October, down from 11 in October 2012.

    • The median selling price for a home in Lawrence is $170,000, up 7.3 percent from a year ago. Interestingly, the median selling price is about where it was in 2011, when it checked in at $168,250. Last year's rebound in the market partially was fueled by a significant drop in housing prices. This year's strong market, however, is happening as average home prices increase.

    • The median number of days a home sits on the market is down to 42, compared with 61 in 2012 and 59 in 2011.

    • The supply of homes available for sale continues to shrink. At the end of October there were 428 active listings, down from 490 in October 2012 and 575 in October 2013. Based on current sales activity, there is about a 5.9 month supply of homes currently on the market. In October 2011, there was about a 13.4 month supply of homes on the market.


    Signs indicate that Obamacare may be creating several hundred new jobs for Lawrence call center

    The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has gotten so much positive press lately, I can understand why the government may not have taken the time to highlight the good news the act has created here in Lawrence.

    I'm obviously being facetious about the positive press that has come Obamacare's way lately, but I'm being serious about the boost the act may be giving to the Lawrence economy.

    Thanks to the General Dynamics call center in the East Hills Business Park, it appears Lawrence may have several hundred new jobs as a direct result of the Affordable Care Act.

    If you remember, we reported back in May that General Dynamics was awarded a $530 million contract to provide customer support for the Affordable Care Act. It was confirmed at the time that the Lawrence call center, which previously has operated under the names Vangent, Pearson, and NCS, would receive new positions as part of the contract. But it wasn't known how many.

    I still don't know how many positions have been or will be added at the center, but I've talked to several local leaders who have been led to believe that the impact is very significant.

    I've heard estimates range from "more than 500" to approximately 900 new positions at the Lawrence call center. An announcement of 900 new jobs easily would be one of the larger single job announcements in recent Lawrence history.

    I've reached out to both General Dynamics and also to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the contract. But thus far I haven't been able to get any confirmation on the new jobs. So, take the numbers with a grain of salt at the moment.

    But there certainly are reasons to think the number of new jobs at the center is substantial. The press release announcing the contract in May estimated 7,000 to 9,000 jobs would be created nationwide by the contract. It estimated the jobs would be housed at about 14 call centers. That would be an average of 500 to 600 new jobs per center, if the jobs are evenly distributed.

    An even distribution is probably not the case. One of the few articles I've been able to find about call center hiring was from the newspaper in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where a U.S. congressman was making a big deal out of 120 new jobs that were added to a General Dynamics call center in Iowa. That article indicated there would be "several thousand jobs" added to General Dynamics call centers in other states.

    Another reason to think Lawrence may be a landing spot for a significant number of the new jobs is that the company has the space for them here in Lawrence. According to my understanding, one of General Dynamics' two buildings at East Hills was largely vacant at the time of the contract award.

    The final reason to suspect the contract has had a big local impact, though, is more obvious. Drive by the company's parking lot in East Hills, and it sure appears to be a lot fuller than it used to be. In May, General Dynamics had about 650 employees in Lawrence, down from a high of about 1,500 in 2011.

    As for the quality of any new jobs at the center, the local leaders I talked to were optimistic they were good middle-level positions for the community. They indicated that because this contract is funded by the federal government that General Dynamics would have to meet certain wage and benefit levels set by the federal government.

    There's also optimism that the contract could provide some long-term work. The contract was awarded for one year, but it is renewable for up to nine more years, according to the information released in May.

    Based on the current national news, it seems like there should be some good job security with a contract that is responsible for answering questions about Obamacare.

    Obviously, I'll let you know if I get any official information from either the company or the federal government.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • Mark your calendar for 6 p.m. on Dec. 2 if you are interested in the future of a new transit hub for the city and the university's public transit system. City officials will host a meeting at Fire Station No. 5 at 19th and Iowa to discuss a new proposal to locate the hub near 21st and Iowa streets.

    As we reported last month, a new proposal has emerged to place the hub, which will be the main transfer point for the two bus systems, at the northeast corner of 21st and Iowa streets. Originally, city officials were focusing on a site near Ninth and Iowa streets near the The Merc. But I had heard KU officials were more interested in a site closer to campus, and it now appears City Hall officials are ready to adopt that line of thinking as well.

    The Dec. 2 meeting is mainly geared toward neighbors of the site, but eventually the decision will affect the entire community, or at least everyone who uses the transit system. Transit officials have told me that a move to 21st and Iowawill require a significant rerouting of buses, and likely will mean a significant change in the amount of service provided to downtown Lawrence.

    I'm not sure all those details will be figured out by the Dec. 2 meeting, but it is something to keep an ear open for.

    • Another item to keep an eye on with public transit is the idea of compressed natural gas buses. As we reported in August, city commissioners directed staff members to do more research on the feasibility of CNG buses. I believe that research is still underway, but I was at a transit meeting a few weeks ago where the subject came up. It appears staff members believe the challenges of converting the fleet — even gradually — to CNG are significant. The latest estimate for a CNG fueling station that could quickly fill the city's buses now stands at about $2 million, up from a previous estimate of about $1 million. Plus transit officials expressed concern that switching to CNG would be a financial gamble. Even though CNG is significantly cheaper than diesel fuel today, there is a concern that as demand grows for CNG, so too will the price. Ultimately, city commissioners will have to weigh in on this issue too because the transit system will need to replace buses one way or another. I'll keep you posted.


    Retail spending totals in the city fall during October, but still up slightly for 2013

    The up and down trend of retail spending in Lawrence is continuing.

    The latest sales tax report out of Lawrence City Hall shows retail spending for the period of mid-August to mid-September, about the time students returned to campus, was down about 1.6 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

    The decline comes after a whopping 17 percent increase in the previous month's reporting period. The city has received 10 of its 12 sales tax checks from the state this year, and thus far retail sales have been up in five of those months and they have been down in five.

    The forward steps, however, have been just a little bit bigger than the backwards steps. Through the first 10 reporting periods, retail spending is up about 2.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

    The bottom-line is that retail sales in the city are still growing but not nearly at the rate they were in 2012. At this time in 2012, sales tax collections were up 6.1 percent compared to 2011 totals.

    Looking at a little bit broader picture, the large increase in 2012 came after Lawrence consumer spending hit some pretty pitiful levels in 2009 and 2010. Consumers started to ramp up in 2011, but it appears that 2012 is when consumers unleashed their pent up demand. That period of pent-up demand, it appears, is now over. Once you adjust for inflation, consumer spending in Lawrence is up only about 0.6 percent for the year. This year's sales tax collections are on track to meet the city's budget estimates, but if this moderation continues, it will make 2014 an interesting year to watch.

    It also is interesting to watch what is going on in other major retail markets in the state. Lawrence is faring slightly poorer than many of the major retail areas in the state, with a few notable exceptions. Lawrence's 2.5 percent growth rate thus far in 2013 is better than Topeka at 1.6 percent; Manhattan at 1.1 percent; and far better than Hays, where something is either amiss with the reports or else a significant spending slow down has occurred. Sales tax numbers in Hays are down 9.9 percent for the year.

    Here's a look at other major retail areas in the state:

    • Emporia: up 3.6 percent

    • Johnson County: up 4.3 percent

    • Kansas City: up 5.7 percent

    • Lenexa: up 6 percent

    • Olathe: up 4.7 percent

    • Ottawa: up 6.7 percent

    • Overland Park: up 3.1 percent

    • Salina: up 2.5 percent

    • City of Shawnee: up 4.9 percent

    • Sedgwick County: up 3.6 percent

    Here's one other piece of data for you. The state periodically provides statistics on the type of consumer spending taking place in the state. The latest report shows spending by industry through the first six months of 2013. I don't have access to numbers specifically or Lawrence, but these statewide numbers may give glimpse at what sectors of the market are rising of falling locally.

    Sales tax collections for sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores were the largest gainer in the retail sector, by percentage increase. Sales in that sector were up 5.2 percent during the first six months of the year. Other retail categories included:

    • Vehicle and parts sales: up 4.3 percent

    • Furniture and home furnishing: up 1.8 percent

    • Electronics and appliance stores: down 2.8 percent

    • Building material and garden supply stores: down 2.7 percent

    • Grocery and food and beverage stores: up 2.8 percent

    • Drug stores and personal care stores: up 3.0 percent

    • Gasoline stations: down 1.9 percent

    • Clothing and clothing accessories: up 3.6 percent

    • General merchandise stores: up 0.8 percent

    • Miscellaneous retailers: down 6.4 percent

    • Restaurant and drinking establishments: up 1.7 percent

    • Hotels and accommodations: up 2.1 percent


    New Lawrence catering company hopes to introduce city to Beaujolais Nouveau and other specialty events

    You have to give the French credit where credit is due. When it comes to finding an excuse to throw a party, they don't just settle for the traditional options of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and such. No, they also keep track of liquor distribution dates and throw parties based off those as well.

    That's essentially what a Beaujolais Nouveau party is all about. (I'm assuming it is easier to pronounce after a half a bottle of wine.) Beaujolais is a type of French wine, and nouveau is French for new. Perhaps you are starting to get the idea. (Or perhaps you have had the other half of the bottle and don't care.) The third Thursday of November marks the first day that French retailers can sell the year's new crop of Beaujolais wine. So, to mark the occasion, the French throw a party.

    Now, Lawrence will too. A new Lawrence-based catering company, Sumptuous Feasts & Fetes, is hosting a Beaujolais Nouveau party to introduce itself to the community. The event is set for 7 p.m. on Nov. 22 at the Castle Tea Room, 1307 Massachusetts St. (Note: The event is actually on a Friday. We have to ease into these French traditions. When we start drinking wine for breakfast, we'll know we're ready to go full bore. Oh, you're ready, I see.)

    Tickets are $50, with $20 of each ticket sale going to the local food bank Just Food. The event will feature a variety of French hors d'oeuvres, a sampling of the various Beaujolais wines available in America and also a unique nonalcoholic type of sampling. The organizers will host a tasting of bottled water from around the world.

    Rosemary Sump is the owner of Sumptuous Feasts & Fetes, and she is hoping to do more than introduce people to the idea of Beaujolais Nouveau. In addition to running a traditional catering company that serves events like weddings, house parties and corporate functions, she hopes to create a tradition of "pop-up restaurants" in Lawrence.

    That's a concept where a catering company will host its own special event with a fine dining type of menu. Sump said Lawrence has several unique venues that lend themselves well to the idea of a pop-up restaurant.

    We'll have to see what type of concepts the company comes up with, but don't be surprised if some of them have the flair of an inauguration ball or of a D.C. power-broker party. Sump and her husband, Mark Sump, have a deep background in those worlds.

    I wrote about Mark Sump and his Lawrence-based political polling and technology company back in October 2012. Sump was a staff member for President Bill Clinton, and one of his jobs was to set up a variety of events for the president. That included organizing one of the many balls at Clinton's first inauguration and hosting private events for world leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela.

    It was during the planning stages of the first inauguration that Sump surprised Rosemary with a gift: an extended trip to Paris for her to study at one of the top cooking schools in the city.

    "I think he thought I was going to get bored while he was working on the inauguration," Rosemary said.

    (I must confess I've done something similar for my lovely wife to combat boredom. I once bought her a fairly expensive crossword puzzle book.)

    Rosemary loves the challenge of cooking French cuisine, but said her catering business won't be limited to French dishes.

    "I've already done everything from a Dim Sum party to French to Indian to Mexican," Rosemary said.

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  • Reply 2 comments from Steve Bunch Mark Sump

    Store that specializes in e-cigarettes opens on 23rd Street; update on Menards project

    I'm not a smoker, and as my struggles to operate my VCR remote demonstrate, I'm not always a whiz with electronic gizmos either. So, although I have heard of electronic cigarettes, I figured they weren't for me.

    Jack Tran, owner of a new Lawrence store that specializes in selling e-cigarettes, agrees. But he is betting that the store will be just the ticket for thousands of smokers in the area.

    "I'm not recommending this to people who don't smoke already," said Tran. "But I think it will be great for people who do smoke and are looking for a healthier alternative."

    Tran earlier this month opened up Juice-E-Vapes, a store that sells only e-cigarettes and e-cigarette supplies, at 1216 E. 23rd St. For those of you trying to picture the location, it is in the building that houses the Avis car rental company.

    Perhaps you are like me — a perpetually confused parent — who thinks Juice-E-Vapes sounds like a $2 juice box that my kids will insist on having in their lunch sacks. (That's right, no high tech lunch boxes for my kids.) But Tran explains that Vapes is short for vaping, which is the term that has become associated with the act of "smoking" an e-cigarette. As for the Juice, well, the e-cigarettes are filled with a juice-like liquid that creates a vapor when heated by a battery-powered element.

    The store stocks more than 100 different flavors of the juices. Some simulate tobacco flavors, while others mimic the taste of fruit juices, snacks, candies, or your favorite drinks. The juices can be purchased with or without nicotine. People trying to quit smoking can gradually reduce the nicotine mixture.

    "What really made me decide to start this store is that I used to smoke cigarettes," Tran said. "About two years ago, I quit cigarettes because I started vaping instead. It helped me a lot in quitting."

    Plus, it appears to be a growing business. I found an interesting article written deep in the heart of tobacco country by The Charlotte Observer. It reports that e-cigarette sales are expected to hit the $1 billion mark in 2013, up from $500 million in 2012.

    Offshoots of the big tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris are in the process of releasing their own e-cigarettes. Their rapid rise in popularity has created questions about whether scientists understand enough about the health effects of the e-cigarettes and how the product fits in with a host of smoking bans that have been adopted across the country.

    The Observer describes the liquid that is heated by the e-cigarette as a mixture of propylene glycol (a common chemical used in many food products), vegetable glycerin, flavorings and nicotine. The article notes that little research has been done on the health effects of inhaling a nicotine-laced vapor.

    But anti-tobacco advocates have been hesitant to deride the e-cigarettes because it does appear that a water vapor-based product would create fewer health effects than the traditional tobacco-based cigarettes.

    As for how the products fit in with local smoking bans, it appears the bans don't restrict the use of e-cigarettes. The Kansas Attorney General issued an opinion in 2011 that said the use of e-cigarettes was allowed under the statewide smoking ban because the product doesn't involve tobacco or the use of a flame. Lawrence has its own smoking ban, but it is similar to the state ban and Tran says the Lawrence ban allows e-cigarettes too. (I've got an e-mail into the city attorney to confirm that. UPDATE: I heard back from the city attorney's office, and indeed, e-cigarettes are not subject to the city's smoking ban. )

    Kansas law does prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18-years old, which Tran said he completely agrees with.

    E-cigarettes have been in the Lawrence market for awhile now, but Tran said many times the product is sold alongside traditional cigarettes. Tran said he wanted to open a store that sold only the e-cigarettes because he believes smokers become too tempted when they enter a tobacco store.

    "My goal is to help people quit smoking," Tran said. "I'm against tobacco 100 percent. It really is killing people."

    The store is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

    In other news and notes from around town:

    • When I'm smoking, it usually is the result of me touching a wrong wire as part of a home improvement project. And when it comes to home improvement projects, everybody seemingly wants to know the latest on Menards' plans to build a store in Lawrence.

    In short, the project is still moving along, but is likely still a few months from pulling a building permit. Menards has filed its site plan application to build the previously-approved store on the site of the former Gaslight Mobile Home Park, just east of the Home Depot at 31st and Iowa streets.

    As we've previously reported, the store has won its necessary zoning approvals from the Lawrence City Commission. Now the project is going through the administrative review that takes place at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department.

    From what I have heard, Menards officials are looking at tweaking some parts of the plan related to how traffic accesses the site. Now that Mendards has reached a deal to acquire the Snodgrass property immediately east of the mobile home park, the site has two main roads to serve the property — Ousdahl to the west and a new street on the eastern edge that will be named Michigan. The purchase of the Snodgrass property will allow for the construction of Michigan Street north of 31st Street.

    The Planning Department has to review all those access issues before it can approve a site plan. I've also been told Menards officials are considering rearranging some of the other retail lots that are part of the project. The preliminary plans call for six other retail stores or restaurants to locate around the Menards store. There has been talk that Menards may seek to rearrange how the lot lines are drawn to convert an approximately one-acre pad site into about a five-acre pad site, which would allow the project to accommodate a secondary anchor tenant. No word yet on whether Menards is in discussion with possible tenants.

    The bottom line is that the project must still get a preliminary plat, a final plat and a site plan approved before it can pull a building permit to start construction on the approximately 175,000-square-foot store. All those approvals are largely technical in nature and are not the types that typically derail a project. But they still may take a couple of months to get through the approval process, folks at City Hall tell me.

    I talked to Menards' project manager for the location when he was in town last week, and he said that once a building permit is issued, it likely will take nine to 10 months to build the store.

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  • Reply 16 comments from Merrill Jack Tran Chad Lawhorn Roland Gunslinger Terrylee Dwardf Joshua Montgomery Bhall87 Keith Richards Kevin Kohls and 1 others

    Eco-devo leaders hope to capitalize on KU-Duke game

    I'm sure Kansas University basketball standout Andrew Wiggins reads this column, so I wanted to make sure I got this bit of information in before tomorrow's tilt with Duke at the Champions Classic in Chicago.

    Wiggie, as you know from talking with the local media, KU fans are doing a great job of keeping their expectations for you within reason. (Don't worry about scoring 45 points a game. Forty a game with 10 boards and 10 assists is perfectly adequate.) So, given that, I was hoping that during this next game, you could do the community a solid. (Note to nonAndrew Wiggins readers: "Solid" is hip talk for a "good deed." It helps to be hip when you are talking to athletes, so I think that's why this task fell to me.)

    Anyway, we were hoping that during this next ballgame, you could be our community's top economic development spokesman. Let me explain: The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce will have a suite at the United Center in Chicago Tuesday where it will play host to a dozen or more site selection executives who are based in the Chicago area.

    For those of you unfamiliar with the role of site selectors, let me just put it this way: Andrew Wiggins gets kissed up to a lot right now, but he really should aspire to be a site selector. These are the individuals who make recommendations to big corporations on where they should locate their new warehouse or manufacturing facility or research hub. A positive recommendation from a site selector can mean big dollars and jobs for a community.

    So, Lawrence officials want to develop a better relationship with site selectors, and the leaders at the chamber figured, what better icebreaker than KU basketball?

    "It is really a great way for us to have four or five hours of time with a dozen or more site selectors from the Chicago area," Greg Williams, president and CEO of the chamber told me.

    No, Lawrence officials aren't going to come back with any signed contracts from the event, but it's a chance to get Lawrence's name added to some lists, and for personal relationships to be developed.

    "We need to make more efforts to get Lawrence back on the national radar screen," Williams told me. "In the past, there has been very limited national business development efforts. That has really just been based on resources."

    Williams said he has made it a goal to increase the amount of money for such outreach efforts in 2014 by four times past levels. He declined to specify what that amount will be, but said in the next several years, the amount will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    No word on how much this event is costing the chamber. Public dollars aren't being spent, so disclosure is not required. Williams said the chamber is using funding from the nonprofit Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County, and other private partners. The Economic Development Corporation is the private group that manages the East Hills Business Park and has accumulated some financial resources through that management.

    So, A.W., I'm thinking you could maybe help us out here. Say after you slam one down on an alley-oop, you can find one of the TV cameras on the baseline and maybe do a little impromptu close-up. Perhaps you could say something like: Lawrence, Kansas, easy access to Interstate 35 and Interstate 70 with a highly educated workforce, charming downtown, and outstanding quality of life. Or, you know, something like that.

    If it helps you out, we could live with a stat line of 38 points, 12 boards, 12 assists. Of course, just for this one game. After that we would need you to step it back up, or land us Google's headquarters or something similar.

    In other news and notes around town:

    • While we're talking about economic development matters, there's also word of a formal effort to cooperate with a couple of communities that we sometimes have good-natured competition with: Manhattan and Topeka.

    The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce is part of a revamped partnership to promote the corridor between Lawrence and Manhattan as a hotbed of research activity. The chambers of the three communities have formed the Kansas Research Nexus, and have a Web site now devoted to the effort. It carries the tag line of: Great minds. Combined.

    The Web site touts the research being done in areas such animal health, cancer treatment, and biomass and clean technology.

    Of course, other communities have seen good results in combining the resources of research institutions. The Research Triangle area of Duke University, the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University is probably the best example.

    Unfortunately, KU, K-State and Washburn aren't arranged in any neat geometrical shape like a triangle. Our communities are arranged more like a straight line drawn by a nervous kindergartner. I suppose that is why they used the word "nexus." That may work, or we can ask Wiggins to come up with a brand for us too.

    He can do that and still average 37-13-13.

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