Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Developer completes purchase of Turnhalle building; new funeral home eyes Lawrence; city ponders earlier start time for City Commission meetings
I’ve said it more times than my wife cares to remember: Mini-bowling and beer will solve a lot of problems. We may soon put the theory to the test at the old Turnhalle building in East Lawrence.
If you remember, East Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich signed a tentative deal in July to purchase from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance the 1869 Turnhalle building at Ninth and Rhode Island streets. Then he set out to find a tenant for the old building. But no one emerged as a tenant for a building that likely will need more than $1 million worth of renovation work.
Krsnich this week went ahead and completed the purchase anyway, and he tells me he’s looking at plans to use the ground of the building to house a beer garden and mini-bowling establishment. If that sounds a little random, you have forgotten your Turnhalle history. The building housed a social club for the German-American organization Turnverein. The main floor housed a performance area for plays, meetings and gymnastics, while the ground floor housed a beer garden and mini-bowling area.
Krsnich held several public meetings asking for suggestions on how the building should be used in the future, and many people kept coming back to the beer garden and mini-bowling idea. No one, however, stepped forward and submitted a business plan for the idea. That leaves Krsnich — the developer who is behind the popular Poehler Lofts building and the Warehouse Arts District — moving forward on his own.
“We’ll probably go through all the City Hall approvals and start swinging hammers whether we have an operator or not,” Krsnich said. “We think if you will build it they will come.” (That’s an excellent idea: Keep repeating that phrase, and Kevin Costner will come and run the mini-bowling alley.)
A use for the main floor of the building hasn’t been determined yet.
“I’ll continue talking with people in the community,” Krsnich said. “I think it ultimately will be a destination location for whatever its next purpose is.”
As for the beer and bowling, Krsnich wants to be clear that he’s not proposing to put a full-scale tavern or rowdy club in the East Lawrence neighborhood. He said he envisions serving some German food at the establishment and incorporating several other pieces of German culture into the business. And, let’s be honest, if someone else wants to lease the building for another business use, Krsnich is willing to move away from the beer garden and mini-bowling idea.
He has offered to turn the building over to a nonprofit agency for office space, if the agency could afford to do the renovation work. Several have looked, but thus far, none has had the resources to undertake the necessary renovations.
Terms of the purchase weren’t disclosed, but Krsnich said he’s invested more than $100,000 into the building already. He said more investment will soon come. He’s finalizing an agreement with Lawrence-based Hernly Associates to design renovation plans for the structure.
The sale of the building, which is one of the older structures in the community, is a major accomplishment for the Lawrence Preservation Alliance. When LPA purchased the structure in late-2012, it risked the financial future of the organization to do so. But the LPA successfully raised funds and grant money to stabilize the building, which was deteriorating rapidly because of water infiltration.
Dennis Brown, president of the LPA, said he’s proud of what the organization has accomplished and particularly grateful that Krsnich has stepped forward to take the building to its next phase. LPA, however, isn’t entirely out of the project yet. Brown said the organization is providing a $50,000, low-interest, second mortgage on the property to help with the financing during the time period that a tenant is being sought.
“Tony has taken a tremendous leap of faith,” Brown said. “We believe he is the right person for this job, but it is a huge job. We sincerely hope the entire city will get behind Tony and support saving the Turnhalle.”
The contract Krsnich had with LPA would have allowed him to back out of the purchase if he didn’t find a tenant, but Krsnich said he ultimately decided against because he thought the project was too important from a historical preservation standpoint.
“You can’t take the state and be recognized as a national historic development team,” Krsnich said referring to several of the awards his group has won for the Poehler Lofts building, “and then let one of the most historic buildings in town fall down a few blocks from your office.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence may be getting a new funeral home, and it may occupy a building along a busy stretch of East 23rd Street.
The Greatful Gathering Funerals and Cremation Centre is the business that hopes to buy the property adjacent to the city’s Lawrence Venture Park at 2004 E. 23rd St. If you remember, Mike Hultine, the current owner of the property, has approached the city about buying a half-acre portion of Lawrence Venture Park property to be used as a parking lot for the building. He told commissioners that he has a contract to sell the building, but the buyer needs the additional land to accommodate parking needs.
At the time we first reported on the project, we didn’t know the nature of the business. Now we know it is a funeral home. Lindsay Jones and Robert Davis, funeral professionals with ties to Kansas City and St. Louis will be the principals of the new business. But area residents Melanie Loyd and Rev. Arsenial Runion also will be part of the new venture, according to an email the group sent me.
The funeral home plans to embrace a funeral concept “where family and friends share in thankfulness for all they had while in relationship with their loved one,” the release says.
But first, the project must complete its land deal for the needed parking lot. City commissioners on Tuesday directed staff to further negotiate with Hultine on a selling price for the property. Hultine had offered $21,760 for the property, or about $1 per square foot. City staff members countered with a price of $30,028.
• Perhaps in the future I will be able to abandon my regular Tuesday evening meal of Mountain Dew and cocoa beans. I, nor you, may not have to stay up so late to watch Lawrence City Commission meetings. City Commissioner Terry Riordan says he wants to have a discussion about starting City Commission meetings earlier. Meetings currently start at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesdays, and it is not uncommon for them to last past 10 p.m.
Commissioners over the years have expressed concern that they make some some pretty important decisions late at night. I’ve witnessed bleary-eyed commissioners making multimillion dollar decisions near midnight. A few times such marathon meetings have taken place following a Tuesday afternoon study session, meaning commissioners and city staff have been at it for seven hours or more. (I have my meeting notes to prove it. Granted, they simply read “must get career counseling, must get career counseling . . . )
But commissioners have been reluctant to start meetings earlier because they are concerned members of the public may have a hard time getting off work to make it to a commission meeting. But Riordan has suggested an idea of starting the ceremonial portion of the City Commission meetings at 5:30 p.m. Before you get the wrong idea, we don’t walk around with scepters and gold leaf copies of the City Code, or anything like that. (Not on Tuesday nights, anyway.) But the meetings do routinely include proclamations and other such ceremonial recognitions.
Riordan’s idea is that those could take place at 5:30 p.m., since they don’t normally generate much public comment. The city wouldn’t start its regular business meeting prior to 6 p.m. Other commissioners said they were open to the idea, but want to hear more feedback from the public. I suspect the city will seek some public comment on the idea in the near future, then make a decision.
In case you are wondering why the city starts its meetings at 6:35 p.m., instead of, say ,6:30 p.m., the simple answer is: We have no idea anymore. It used to be because the local cable station, Channel 6, would broadcast the meetings following its 6 p.m. newscast. The newscast ended at 6:30 p.m. and the extra five minutes gave the production crew a chance to get in its proper places. But that hasn’t been the case for quite awhile. The city does its own television production of the meetings, meaning it can start them whenever it wishes.
Rock Chalk Park opponent files for City Commission seat; other campaign updates; pair of restaurants set to open next week
This is the way it goes in Lawrence these days. As soon as you get your turkey bib, your gravy fountain and your 42-inch pumpkin pie pan put away from Thanksgiving, we jump right into the next season. I, of course, am talking about Lawrence City Commission election season.
We’re in it, and we now have our second official candidate for the race. Lawrence resident Matthew Herbert has filed for one of the three seats that will be up for election on the five-member commission. Herbert is a Lawrence High civics and government teacher, and also operates a rental business, Renaissance Property Management.
Based on his website, he’s concerned with some of the past actions of the City Commission. He criticizes the increasing use of tax abatements and other financial incentives for private projects.
“As a Lawrence city commissioner I will promote economic development so long as it is done the right way,” Herbert says. “It would be my expectation that private industry finance private development with private dollars.”
Herbert also made it clear he was not a fan of the process used to move forward with the Rock Chalk Park project. He called the process, which involved nearly $12 million worth of infrastructure being built without a bid, a “fiasco.”
“The ‘no-bid’ contract that was handed out is inexcusable,” Herbert said. “As a city commissioner you are a steward of the public’s money. Mega-million dollar deals need to be both bid and bid with transparency. Whenever possible this type of expenditure must be put to a public vote.”
I’ve got a call out to Herbert and hope to bring you more information about him later today.
I’ve also been talking with some other potential candidates recently. Current City Commissioner Terry Riordan told me last night that he hopes to make a decision on whether to seek re-election in the next couple of weeks.
“I’m going out and talking to people I know, and seeing what they think,” Riordan said.
Riordan, who is a longtime physician in the community, acknowledged it has been kind of a controversial time period on the commission. He’s only in his second year on the commission, and thus got in on just the end of the Rock Chalk Park debate. But concerns about that project have lingered, and the City Commission took some criticism for the unsuccessful effort to pass a sales tax to support a new police headquarters facility. And don’t forget rental licensing. Those new regulations, which Riordan was a strong supporter of, made a lot of neighborhood residents happy, but left some landlords miffed. So, indeed, it has been an active two-year term for Riordan.
“I would like to be confident that I’m doing what the citizens want,” Riordan said of his current conversations.
For what it is worth, I think Riordan would like to run again.
“I’ve loved it,” he said of his time on the commission. “It is a tremendous opportunity to help the community.”
I’m less clear on the plans of current Lawrence school board member Kris Adair. I also chatted with her last night — we were all at a City Commission meeting — and she said she is still pondering a run for the City Commission. She said she doesn’t plan to make a decision until after Christmas.
Adair has a few things to think about. She has said she likely would resign her position on the Lawrence school board if she won a term on the City Commission. Adair also finds herself involved in an issue that is pending before the City Commission. She is a co-owner of Wicked Broadband, which is seeking a $300,000 loan guarantee from the city as part of a pilot project to bring Google Fiber-like high-speed Internet service to parts of downtown Lawrence.
Commissioners had a study session on that topic on Tuesday, but reached no decisions. But it looks like that issue will be decided one way or another before the April elections. Again, for what it is worth, Adair is starting to sound like a candidate. She’s taken a strong interest in economic development issues. As we have previously reported, she’s behind a project to start the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship in a commercial building near Ninth and Iowa streets.
She said the center is expected to be open by Feb. 1, and she plans to serve as its director. The facility will serve as a center to help Lawrence residents build new businesses. It will include co-working space for businesses, a data center, a lab that can be used for some prototype work, and will host several entrepreneurship-based classes.
If she runs, it sounds like a change in economic development policy will be a major part of her campaign. She delivered public comment at last night’s City Commission meeting highlighting the poor results of the community’s job creations efforts over the last 10 years.
I’m also expecting at least two other Lawrence residents to file for the commission relatively soon. Eric Sader, a Lawrence attorney who also has a background in the social services industry, has told me he expects to file for a seat in early December. Leslie Soden, a small-business owner who has been active in the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, continues to indicate she will run for a seat. She ran two years ago and narrowly missed winning a seat on the commission.
Current Commissioners Mike Dever and Bob Schumm both have terms that are expiring. Neither has made an official announcement, although Schumm has made comments indicating he is leaning toward running. Dever has said he likely won’t make a decision until January. If Dever runs again, he would be seeking his third consecutive term on the commission.
Certainly, Greg Robinson, a leader of the police sales tax opposition group, has been mentioned as a possible candidate, although I don’t have a clear sense on whether he will run. I’m hearing other names that are early in the process as well. All indications are there will be a large number of candidates in the race.
If seven or more candidates file for a seat on the commission, we’ll have a primary election to whittle the field to six on March 3. The general election will be April 7. The filing deadline for the race is noon on Jan. 27.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Prior to Herbert’s filing, Stan Rasmussen, a Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner and an attorney for the U.S. Army, was the lone candidate who had filed. I briefly reported on his filing last month, but he wasn’t immediately available for an interview because of some work responsibilities.
But we did get together for an interview recently, and he said he’ll spend a lot of time in the campaign talking about the need for good long-term planning.
“You don’t go buy yourself a fancy new car in the summer and then say in September that I forgot I had tuition coming due,” Rasmussen said. “I have heard the questions from people about how did we put some of these wants and nice things ahead of a police facility that seems more like a need. Whether that is accurate or not, that perception is out there.”
Rasmussen said he fully expects another proposal for a police facility to emerge.
“The process of building consensus in the community for where and what and how we’re going to pay for a new police station will be really important,” he said.
He also said that the City Commission needs to be mindful of making sure the entire community feels like it is benefiting from new projects.
“I really want to work towards shared prosperity,” Rasmussen said. “If I put myself in the shoes of someone who lives in Prairie Park, going to Rock Chalk Park is probably not where I’m going to go to work out. I think it is understandable that some people feel a little left behind.”
Rasmussen also told me that he is resigning his position on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission because he does not think it would be appropriate to run a campaign while serving on that board.
• You may want to drag out that Thanksgiving bib after all. Next week will be a big week for restaurants that have been known to make my tie look like a Picasso painting. Buffalo Wild Wings will open its new location at 27th and Iowa streets on Monday. It will be giving away free wings for a year to the first 100 people who are in line for the 10 a.m. opening of the restaurant.
As we previously reported, Buffalo Wild Wings has closed its downtown location to move to the new South Iowa spot, which is caddy-corner from Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I’m also being told that Dickey’s Barbecue Pit expects to be open by the end of next week, according to the landord of the space at Sixth and Wakarusa. As we previously have reported, that chain is taking the spot previously occupied by Johnny Brusco’s pizza.
One restaurant tid-bit that I’m getting some questions about but don’t yet have any answers on is Texas Roadhouse. Some of you have been to some area Texas Roadhouse locations and have been told by employees there that the steakhouse chain is coming to Lawrence, likely along South Iowa. I’m working to get some more information on that front, but at the moment have no confirmation on those rumors.
WOW to increase many cable bills by more than $15 a month; Eudora bests Lawrence in young families ranking
Wow may not be the first word that pops to mind when you get your cable television bills in 2015. WOW — also known as Wide Open West — has announced rate increases that will add $15 to $20 per month to bills of many cable, Internet and telephone subscribers in the area.
Here’s a summary of the rate and fee increases that WOW plans to implement on Jan. 1:
— The company will begin charging a $2 per month “sports surcharge fee.” The fee is designed to help offset some of the money the cable company must pay stations like ESPN and Fox Sports to broadcast their popular channels. Everybody who has cable television service with WOW will pay that fee.
– A $1 per month “local origination programming fee” also will be added to bills.That fee will recover a portion of the costs to produce “community-based” local content. That fee will help offset a portion of the production costs for the local news, weather and sports programming on Channel 6. All cable customers will pay that fee.
— A $5 per month “broadcast TV fee” will be added to bills. That money will help pay the fees WOW pays to local televisions stations such as FOX, ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates in Kansas City. Even though those stations are available for free to anyone who has television antennae, federal law requires cable companies to pay for the right to include those stations on their cable systems. Everyone who has cable service will pay that fee.
In case your abacus is broken, that’s $8 a month in new fees for all WOW cable subscribers. Some of you may be thinking that you are sure glad you got a “rate guarantee” from WOW that will forestall those increases. Think again on that point. Debra Schmidt, system manager for WOW’s Lawrence operations, confirmed that these new charges are fees, not rates. That means, she said, people with rate guarantees will see those increases on their bills beginning in January.
There are a couple of other fees that people will pay, depending on what type of service they have. They include:
— A $1.61 per month carrier service fee. That fee helps pay administrative costs related to phone service. Only customers with WOW phone service will pay that fee.
— A $1 per month increase in the cable modem lease fee. Internet subscribers have the option of using their own cable modem or leasing one from WOW. Only Internet subscribers who lease a modem will pay this fee.
— The FCC Network Access Charge will increase $1.30 per month. Only telephone subscribers will pay this fee.
Thus far, everything we have listed has been fee increases. But rates also are going up. This is where it will come in handy to know whether you have a rate guarantee from WOW. As an incentive to sign up, some customers were promised their rates would not increase for a certain number of months. Schmidt said WOW will honor those rate guarantees. But for those of us without a guarantee, we’ll see the following rate increases in January:
— For customers with basic broadcast cable, rates will increase $6 per month.
— For customers with the Apartment Pak/Family Pak cable, rates will increase $7 per month.
— For customers with the Bronze cable, Internet and phone bundle package, rates will increase $8 per month.
— For customers with the Preferred/Silver/Gold bundle package, rates will increase $10 per month.
— For customers who only subscribe to Internet services, rates will increase by $2 per month.
I know, this is a lot like programming your VCR — confusing. The best way for you to know how much your monthly bill is set to increase is to call WOW customer service at 785-841-2100. But I’ll do my best here to present a couple of scenarios.
My understanding is most WOW customers have some sort of bundled plan. If you have the bronze plan, which includes television, phone and Internet service, it looks like you will be paying $8 more per month in rates and $10.91 more per month in fees. That’s an increase of $18.91 per month or just over $225 a year.
If you have a gold or silver plan, it looks like your increase would be $20.91 per month.
“We certainly empathize with our customers,” Schmidt said. “We hate to increase rates.”
Schmidt said this is one of the larger rate increases in recent memory. She said most of the increase is being driven by the tremendous increases in programming fees being charged by sports networks and other cable and broadcast channels. She said sports programming fees last year increased at a rate seven times greater than inflation.
“Our single biggest cost is the one we have the least control over: programming costs,” Schmidt said. “I know that people are sick of hearing that, but it is true.”
She said the cable industry continues to push for some national reforms that would rein in programming costs.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Eudora has reason to pound its chest a little bit today. A new study has found that Eudora is the sixth best city in Kansas for young families. The financial Web site NerdWallet has released its annual ranking, and found that Eudora’s combination of schools, housing prices and income growth make it an attractive place to raise a young family. (Hopefully having cheap access to the Disney Channel isn’t part of the calculations. WOW is the dominant cable provider in Eudora, as well.)
Regardless, as a resident of Eudora, I can tell you the city does well when it comes to young families, if doing well means a pack of 11-year-old boys devouring your food pantry after school and a herd of 8-year-old girls regularly busting windows with their daily shrill sessions.
Here’s a look at the top 10:
This is one list that Lawrence did not score well on. Lawrence ranked No. 36 out of the 48 cities included in the study. You might be asking how the six miles between Eudora and Lawrence can equate to 30 places in the survey. In a nutshell, the answer seems to be a combination of cheaper housing, higher incomes and slightly better ranked schools made the difference for Eudora.
Eudora schools received a “Great Schools” rating of 6 out of 10, while Lawrence schools were rated a 5. Median home values in Eudora came in at $145,800 compared with $176,500 in Lawrence. Median monthly homeowner costs were $1,394 in Eudora versus $1,461 in Lawrence. Median household income was $62,576 versus $44,713 in Lawrence. And finally, incomes from 1999 to 2012 grew by 50 percent in Eudora compared with only 28 percent in Lawrence. That’s the one that keeps some Lawrence community leaders up at night, although there were certainly cities that had lower growth rates. Wichita was at 15 percent, Topeka at 12 percent, and Kansas City at 14 percent. None of those cities ranked well as a good place for young families, by the way. Wichita was No. 46, Topeka was No. 41 and Kansas City was last at No. 48.
But one thing that does make Lawrence’s situation a bit unique is the difference between housing costs and incomes. Lawrence had the ninth highest monthly housing costs in the study, but had only the 26th highest income levels. Average Lawrence homeowners are paying 39 percent of their annual incomes in housing costs. In Eudora, for example, the level drops to 26 percent.
Handmade stationery and gift shop opens downtown; city considering offer for portion of Lawrence Venture Park; builder asks city to waive development fees
It is not often you find a new company that builds its business around an early 1900s piece of equipment, but that is indeed what’s going on with a new venture in downtown Lawrence.
Could it finally be that my dream of a steam-powered downtown party bus has become a reality? (Slogan: Come party with the Steam Team.) Umm, no. The piece of equipment I’m talking about is an old 1915 letterpress that is a centerpiece of Ruff House Art, a new stationery and gift store in downtown Lawrence.
Ruff House Art opened just a couple of days ago in the spot formerly occupied by Lids, 729 Massachusetts St. The store sells handmade stationery, invitations, greeting cards and a host of other such items that it either makes or buys from a group of about 50 other letterpress artisans across the the country. You can find calendars, wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, paper plates, and the company has an entire section devoted to wedding invitations.
The husband and wife duo of Jill and Brian Shephard run Ruff House Art, and they’ve been in business since 2009. But this new location represents their first storefront. Previously, they operated the business out of their Lawrence home and sold their items predominately online.
Jill said she feels like now is the time to expand the business because there has been a renewed interest in fine cards and stationery. She said the Internet, of all things, has helped spark the interest. She said as email, text messages and other forms of electronic and impersonal communication have taken hold, some folks have grown to appreciate a more personal touch.
“There are people out there who really appreciate a nice piece of paper,” Jill said.
The company operates two letterpresses: a 1915 Chandler & Price model and a newer 1950s machine, that are on display for customers to see.
The store is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners on Tuesday will have their first opportunity to sell some real estate that is part of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant that has been converted into a new business park. But don’t get out your party streamers just yet. The proposed deal is to accommodate a parking lot, not a major new manufacturer or such.
Lawrence businessman Mike Hultine and his business Cornerstone Plaza is seeking to buy a half acre of city-owned property that is directly behind a commercial building he owns at 2004 E. 23rd Street. The property currently is being leased by Hultine’s firm and was used as a makeshift parking lot for a former tenant of the building.
The building now is empty, but Hultine has a deal to sell it to a St. Louis company that proposes to bring five to 10 employees to the location. But as a condition of the deal, the company needs to own the parking lot rather than simply lease it from the city.
Cornerstone Plaza is offering $21,760 for the property, or about $1 per square foot. City staff members said they haven’t had this specific piece of property appraised, but appraisals of similar nearby property suggest a fair value of about $30,028, or about $1.38 per square foot.
City commissioners on Tuesday will have to decide whether they want to sell the property and at what price.
As for the company that may be coming to town, details have been sparse. Hultine said he wasn’t at liberty to disclose the name of the potential buyer. But he said the company was in the service industry, and the parking lot would be primarily for employees, not retail customers.
One of the conditions of the sale is that the current parking lot would be rebuilt to city standards. The current lot was allowed to be built with a gravel surface to temporarily serve the former tenant of the building SurePoint Medical.
If you recall, SurePoint was a growing mail order pharmacy business that occupied two buildings along East 23rd Street. The company also leased about 17,000 square feet of space near 33rd and Ousdahl to accommodate expected growth in the company’s employee totals. SurePoint, though, vacated the two buildings on 23rd Street a few months ago, and my understanding is they have consolidated their workforce into the space near 33rd and Ousdahl.
• What started out as a potential debate between a builder and neighbor now may end up with the city granting the builder a waiver building permit and other development fees.
The property at issue is 920 Missouri St. An older three-story home was recently purchased by Joe and Gina Keating, who proposed to demolish the house and construct a duplex on the property, which the current zoning would allow.
But several neighborhood residents became concerned about the pending demolition of the house and approached Keating and city planners about whether there was any way the house could be saved.
After some discussion with planners and neighborhood residents, the Keatings have proposed to keep the house but create an addition on the house so it can function as duplex. But the Keatings have told city officials they would like to receive a waiver from several city fees to make this new design more financially feasible.
Specifically, they are asking for a waiver of building permit fees and utility connection fees. In total, the fees are expected to be about $5,000. Staff members are recommending approval of the fee waiver “in this unique instance where the owner has foregone their code-compliant development to accommodate the request of the neighborhood.”
Proposed apartment building near KU seeks another parking exemption from City Hall; WOW in negotiations to keep Discovery Channel; city to host food/toy drive Monday
I saw you this morning, with your blinker on and a railroad tie attached to your front bumper, as you tried to find a parking space on this Black Friday. So perhaps today isn’t the best day to report on a new plan to reduce the amount of parking for a proposed apartment/retail project near KU’s Memorial Stadium. But there is a new plan out there, and now KU officials are working to help the developer convince city officials to reduce their parking standards.
City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider allowing a Chicago-based development group to eliminate 100 parking spaces from its plan to build a new apartment project that would have 624 bedrooms at 1101 and 1115 Indiana St.
Commissioners already have rejected one such request, citing concerns that allowing the project to be built with the less-than-required amount of parking spaces would put too much pressure on the adjacent Oread neighborhood. But as I reported a few days ago, I had heard that the development group had a new plan for reducing the parking spots. Now, we know it involves a partnership with KU.
The development group said it has reached preliminary agreement with KU that would allow tenants of the apartment complex to park in KU parking lots, with the proper university-issued permits. Specifically, HERE officials are promising city leaders that all the vehicle-owning tenants of their apartment complex would either have a permit to park in the private parking garage that is part of the development or would have a university permit to park in a KU parking lot. Tenants would be required to have one of the two permits in order to maintain their leases. HERE officials said they have reached an agreement with KU parking officials that will allow HERE to verify that their tenants have a KU parking permit (KU will release the information as long as the tenants sign a release form.) HERE officials once a year would share that documentation with the city to prove that the tenants have arranged for parking.
The city’s planning staff is recommending approval of the proposed agreement, although it's doing so with some hesitancy. A memo from the planning staff notes enforcing the parking provisions could be challenging because it will involve “high levels of coordination” between KU, the developer and the city. But the bigger issue mentioned in the memo is the prospect that this arrangement could create a precedent for other such developments. The Oread neighborhood certainly has other areas that may redevelop with apartment uses, and those areas also are near university parking lots. Planning staff members said if the request is approved, they would want it made clear that other developers should not see this as a precedent. It will be interesting to see if developers agree.
To be clear, the agreement HERE has with KU parking officials doesn’t reserve any spaces for an apartment tenant to park in a KU parking lot. Tenants simply would have a parking pass and could hunt for a spot like anybody else with a permit. A key piece of information I haven’t seen yet is an analysis of the parking demands in the KU lots near the project. If the lots already are full on a consistent basis, it seems possible that some parking will be displaced into the neighborhood when more permits are issued for those lots.
HERE officials, though, have argued that a large number of their tenants won’t have cars. Because of its location right next to campus, HERE leaders believe, many tenants will rely on bikes and public transportation. City officials and several Oread neighborhood residents have disagreed with that assessment.
One other piece of information that wasn’t clear to me on Friday morning was whether the large KU parking garage adjacent to the proposed apartment site would be of any benefit to the project. My recollection is that garage is entirely a pay-by-the-hour facility. There is no university permit that allows you to just park there. I may be wrong on that. I’m sure we have some readers out there who know the situation well.
The information provided to the city doesn’t spell out what will happen on KU game days. Most KU parking lots are closed to permit holders on game days.
It will be interesting to see how it all plays out on Tuesday. A big question is whether the development group will build the project if it is required to build the full amount of parking required by city code. The lead developer for the project has confirmed the project has had difficulty getting financing. The reduction in parking is expected to save the project several million dollars in construction costs.
In other news and notes:
• This could be dangerous. There is an outside chance that I may have to start busting myths rather than simply relying on the television program "Myth Busters" to do the work for me. (I think on Thanksgiving I busted a myth about elastic waistbands, or perhaps I just busted an elastic waistband.)
What I’m talking about is the cable television channel Discovery — which hosts "Myth Busters" and others — and how there is a chance Lawrence’s largest cable system may be without the channel for awhile. I don’t know if that is a very likely possibility, but officials have posted a public notice that alerts viewers that WOW’s contract with Discovery expires on Dec. 31.
“Although we are working to negotiate a fair price for these networks after Dec. 31, Discovery may turn off their networks or require us to remove all their channels until a new agreement is secured,” the notice states.
Several networks could be in jeopardy, if the contract is not renewed. Discovery also owns TLC, Animal Planet, Destination America and several other channels.
I put a call into a WOW official to get an update on negotiations, but haven’t heard back yet. If you’re a TV fan, it may be an issue worth watching. These negotiations with cable networks go a long way in determining how much your cable bill may have to increase in the future.
• Circle your calendars for an easy way to donate some food or toys to a local charities. Employees in the city’s solid waste division will be sponsoring a unique food drive on Monday and Dec. 8. Crews on the city’s trash trucks will pick up any nonperishable food items or any new toys that are left at the curb on those two days. Simply set the items out at the same time you would set out your yard waste, which also will be collected on Monday.
This is the second year members of the solid waste crews have taken it upon themselves to organize the food/toy drive drive. On Monday, city trash trucks already drive by every home in the city to pick up yard waste. So last year, division employee Duane LaFrenz and some others thought it would be cool if they allowed households to set out some food or a toy, in addition to their yard waste.
The food goes to the local food bank Just Food, and the toys go to the Blue Santa Program, which helps area families in need during the holiday season.
Proposed 120-foot cell tower may spark debate; city finding more bedbugs at apartment complex; date set for Ninth Street corridor meeting
When it comes to the 1990s and wireless communications, I remember two things: Cell phones the size of a small poodle, and many complaints from area residents about cell phone towers. (A poodle owner in my neighborhood also had many complaints, even though I told him I was just momentarily confused.) Well, thankfully, we’re not going back to the 1990s, but there may be an old-fashioned cell phone tower debate brewing.
A company representing Verizon Wireless has proposed building a 120-foot monopole communications tower at 1725 Bullene Ave. in eastern Lawrence. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is a small industrial area about a block west of Haskell Avenue between Lynn and LaSalle streets. I’m sure that clears it right up. The site is along the Burroughs Creek Rail Trail, and is generally northwest of 19th and Haskell.
The property is zoned industrial, but there are quite a few houses near the site. Michael Almon, a member of the Brook Creek Neighborhood Association, has told me there are concerns with the idea of a 120-foot tower there.
Here are a couple of photo simulations created by the company proposing the tower. Here is how it would look from some nearby homes.
And, if you spend a lot of time gazing at the KU campus from this vacant lot, here’s how that would look in the future.
Ultimately, I expect this will end up as an issue for Lawrence city commissioners to decide. We used to have several of those type of debates at City Hall, but as the wireless industry has matured we’ve seen less of them. Plus, the city created some policies that required wireless companies to share tower space whenever possible. This tower is being designed to accommodate up to two other carriers, according to the plans filed at City Hall.
In terms of why the new tower is needed, the application doesn’t provide a lot of detail, other than to say it will “provide enhance wireless voice and data services” to local subscribers. I’ll let you know how the issue plays out.
In other news and notes from around town:
• After my Journal-World colleague Caitlin Doornbos reported on a bedbug problem and other rough living conditions at Cedarwood Apartments, city officials have now said they’ve taken another look at the apartment complex. Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning and development services, said inspections recently have found bedbugs in eight apartments at the complex, and corrective action has been ordered for the units.
But City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said at Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting that he wants city officials to take extra steps to ensure they find any more problems at the complex, 2411 Cedarwood Ave. The planning and development services department, which oversees code issues for apartments, has agreed to put together a special flyer that will be placed on the doors of all the apartments at the complex. They flyer will notify the tenants that the city will conduct a free inspection of the units for everything ranging from bedbugs to electrical problems to smoke alarms to inadequate locks on doors and other code issues.
“I want people to know if they just call us, we can help them,” Farmer said. “I want to be proactive in making sure people know that. Let’s make sure people don’t have to spend Christmas in really crappy living conditions.”
The free inspections apply to any apartment in Lawrence. City inspectors asks that you try to work out any issues with your landlords first, but if that doesn’t work, you can simply call the city at 832-3345 to request an inspection.
“I would say that we get calls concerning living conditions weekly,” said Brian Jimenez, the city’s code enforcement manager. “It is a pretty common theme from renters.”
Jimenez said if it is determined that a landlord isn’t being responsive to a tenant complaint, the city will schedule an inspection with the tenant to go through the property.
The city has started a new rental licensing and inspection program, but, if you remember, it won’t inspect every rental unit in the city. Basically, it aims to inspect a sample size of 10 percent of a landlord’s units. It will take about three years for the city to get through all the landlords in the city. So, making sure tenants know they can request an inspection is still an important part of the process. Jimenez said the city is trying to figure out better ways to let tenants know that service exists.
The city earlier this year sent out postcards to tenants that currently live in single-family rental units. The city has information on those rental units because they already have been required to register with the city. All apartment units in the city will begin registering in January. Jimenez said they city will have to determine whether it wants to expand the postcard program to all rental units in the city.
At one point, Farmer had suggested an idea of a small plaque that would be located in rental units that had the number of the city’s inspections department. But that idea didn’t get far because several people said they were concerned that was too much regulation, and also that such a plaque may cause someone’s apartment to look like a hotel room.
• If you are among those interested in how a portion Ninth Street east of Massachusetts may be turned into a unique arts corridor, there is a new date to circle on your calendar. The city is hosting an event at 7 p.m. on Monday at New York Elementary School to discuss the project with East Lawrence residents and anyone else who wants to join the conversation. Specifically, the discussion will be about what scope of services the city should expect from a design consultant who will be hired to work on the Ninth Street project. The city plans to hire el dorado inc., a Kansas City architecture firm, to lead the project. But last week, several residents of East Lawrence said they felt like their neighborhood needed to have a larger role in the beginning of this project. Those concerns led to this upcoming meeting.
Retiree housing proposed for 23rd and O’Connell; Lawrence ranked No. 2 in nation for local holiday shopping
Here’s another reason to keep an eye on the intersection of 23rd and O’Connell: A Johnson County development group wants to build a new retirement housing community near the intersection.
The Olathe-based firm Wheatland Investments wants to build 90 units of senior housing on about nine acres of property at the northwest corner of 25th Terrace and O’Connell Road. The $16 million project would be limited to residents 55 years and older.
The property is just south of the 23rd and O’Connell intersection and is basically across the street from the new Lawrence VenturePark, the business/industrial park the city is developing. That, of course, is the other reason to keep an eye on the intersection.
The project is billed as an affordable housing project. As this holiday shopping season so often proves at my house, we all have different definitions of affordable. (One particular shopper in my house believes if it fits in the U-Haul she takes to the mall, it is affordable.) I don’t know what rent rates will be at the proposed project, but the developers are seeking state tax credits, which will mean that rents will have to be controlled and pegged to certain income guidelines.
Whether this project goes forward probably will have a lot to do with whether it wins those state tax credits. City commissioners also will play a role. The development group is seeking industrial revenue bonds for the project, which means the housing development would be exempt from paying local property taxes. City commissioners will have to decide whether a rent-controlled retirement complex is worth a property tax abatement. In a letter to commissioners, the development group said the project likely won’t be feasible if it has to pay local property taxes.
City commissioners already kind of have been down this road. Commissioners have granted large property tax rebates for affordable housing projects in the Warehouse Arts District, and commissioners granted an 85 percent tax rebate for a proposed luxury apartment building near KU’s Memorial Stadium. This project would be a little different because it is asking for a full property tax exemption instead of a large rebate.
If this project sounds familiar, it probably is because you remember a previous proposal for this site. This same company proposed the same project back in January, although the deal never materialized. But the group believes it now has a better chance to pull the project together.
As proposed, the project would be built in phases, with 16 one-bedroom and 32 two-bedroom units constructed in phase one. The first phase also would include a community center for residents. The remainder of the 90 units would be built in a second phase. Developers have told the city the project will be designed to look like single family homes or town homes, rather than multistory apartment complexes.
The development group for the project is led by Johnson County apartment developers David and Suzanne Rhodes. They currently own five other affordable “garden/ranch style apartment” developments in Kansas and also own or manage about 350 conventional apartment units.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight will receive the request for industrial revenue bonds but aren’t scheduled to take any action on the request other than to direct staff members to study the proposal.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re talking about apartment projects in town, I’m hearing that city commissioners will be presented with another plan to reduced the amount of parking required for a proposed $75 million luxury apartment building near KU’s Memorial Stadium. The Chicago-based development group previously was unsuccessful in lobbying for a parking reduction on the project, but City Manager David Corliss recently told commissioners he’s received another proposal from the developers on that subject. I don’t have all the details on how this most recent proposal is different from what the group previously requested. But I’ll keep an eye out for the proposal to show up on a City Commission agenda in the near future. As we previously reported, the development group has kept the building permit application for the project active, even after commissioners rejected the idea of reduced parking for the development. But the development group — HERE, LLC — has said they may have to abandon the project if it doesn’t win the parking reduction, which has been hotly opposed by residents of the adjacent Oread neighborhood.
• Oh dear, my household may be upgrading U-Haul sizes. This just in from our friends on the Internet: The folks at Yelp released a new study that shows Lawrence is the second best city in the country for “finding great local gifts.” I’m not exactly sure how Yelp determined that, but the company’s blog says Yelp officials looked at the millions of reviews and business listings on its site and then analyzed them to determine the U.S. cities with “the largest concentration of highly rated, local businesses where holiday shoppers can find great gifts.”
Portland, Maine, came in No. 1, but Lawrence was right there at No. 2. Lawrence was the only city in Kansas or the entire Plains region that made the list. Here’s a look at the top 10.
Portland , Maine
St. Petersburg, Fla.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Chick-fil-A files plans to build restaurant on South Iowa Street; city sets details for ice rink grand opening
With apologies to the pilgrims, forget about turkey for a moment. Think chicken, a pile of mayonnaise the size of the Mayflower, and a few pickles just for the heck of it. Yes, renew the cholesterol medicine, do the Chicken Dance, do whatever you need to do to prepare, but indeed Chick-fil-A has filed plans to open a restaurant in Lawrence.
I reported back in December that Chick-fil-A had expressed some interest in locating next to the Dick’s Sporting Goods at 27th and Iowa streets. Well, it took awhile, but the company has now filed plans to build a 4,800-square-foot store in the parking lot of the Dick’s Sporting Goods development. No word on when the location will open, but I would guess within the next 12 months, assuming that the project wins the fairly routine planning approvals it needs from Lawrence City Hall.
If you are not familiar with Chick-fil-A, they are “Home to the Original Chicken Sandwich.” (I always tell them not to serve me that one because I think it would be mighty stale.) The restaurant has about 10 different chicken items on the menu, ranging from crispy and grilled sandwiches to nuggets and strips, and even chicken salad sandwiches. But the menu also includes wraps, salads, breakfast items and desserts. The company has operated a food court version of its restaurant in the Wescoe dining area on the KU campus, but this will mark its first full-scale restaurant in Lawrence.
As for the shopping center Chick-fil-A is going into, the corner of 27th and Iowa streets continues to gain momentum. Dick’s Sporting Goods is already open. Construction work is underway to build a new PetSmart next to the Dick’s store. The Wichita-based development group that is redeveloping the former Sears site still has space for at least one, and maybe two more retailers, according to the plans I have seen. The development has about 9,000 square feet on the northern end of the building that could accommodate a retailer, and when an update on the development’s plans were filed in June, it showed room for about a 5,000 square foot retailer on the south end of the development. See the plans below. If you are keeping track at home, that one location that used to house an underutilized Sears store is set to house four new retailers and a restaurant.
I’ll keep my ears open about what else may be going into the development, and, of course, will keep my eyes peeled for the cargo planes full of mayonnaise landing at Lawrence Municipal Airport, which will be a sign that Chick-fil-A will soon open.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’m beginning my stretching routine. No, I’m not talking about picking out the elastic pants I will wear for the opening day of Chick-fil-A. I’ve had those ever since my wife discarded her maternity clothes. I’m talking about stretching for the opening of the city’s new downtown ice rink.
City officials have finalized the details of the grand opening event. The rink, of course, is in the plaza area between the Lawrence Public Library and the new city parking garage along Vermont Street. The city will hold a brief grand opening celebration at 3 p.m. Friday, and then the rink will be open to skaters. (I can only assume the official grand opening ceremony will involve Vice Mayor Jeremy Farmer tossing Mayor Mike Amyx, who will do a perfect triple axel over the library’s copy of War and Peace, but the city press release didn’t provide those details.)
The rink’s normal hours will be 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays. But the rink will have special hours in the days right before and after Christmas. From Dec. 20 to Jan. 5, the rink will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It will be open from 1 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays.
The city will charge $3 per person to skate on the rink, and that includes skate rentals. The city is not allowing anyone to bring personal skates to use at the rink. The rink is made synthetic ice, which city officials said need very sharp skates for the best experience. The city will require people to rent skates to ensure that all skates have a sufficient sharpness. Children 10 years old and younger must be accompanied by an adult at the rink.
Another hamburger restaurant to locate in downtown Lawrence; crews repairing cracks at 23rd and Iowa; Kief’s holding auction
You know the saying: Where there is smoke, there is a fancy hamburger (or sometimes a science fair project that I’ve “helped” my kids with). In downtown Lawrence, it almost always is a fancy hamburger. It looks like we’ll soon have a new place to grab some exotic burgers, gyros, hot dogs and other types of food that fit in your hand.
The folks at KC Smoke Burgers have confirmed that they have plans to open a restaurant on Massachusetts Street. The company has signed a lease to locate in the space formerly occupied by Shots, the bar/restaurant that briefly operated at 1008 Massachusetts St.
KC Smoke Burgers has been operating for about five years near the Kansas University Medical Center at 39th and Genessee. Mustafa Mahoud, an owner of the restaurant, said a friend of the business will be operating the Lawrence venture and he is aiming for an opening sometime in December.
But the menu from KC will make its way to Lawrence, Mahoud said. That includes about 20 burger varieties. We’re talking about some traditional stuff such as a bacon cheeseburger and mushroom Swiss burger. But we’re also talking about dishes like the Danger Zone Fire Smoke Burger, which includes grilled slices of jalapeños, habaneros, and a house blend of hot sauce and cheese. There’s also a lamb burger smothered with pesto and feta cheese, something called a pesto gyro smoke burger that includes lamb and beef and cucumber yogurt sauce, and stuffed burgers.
The menu also includes seven types of third-pound hot dogs, a variety of beef, lamb and chicken gyros, about five types of Philly cheesesteak-inspired sandwiches and ice cream shakes.
Prices range from about $8 to $13 for a hamburger, but the menu says all of them come with fries. A 2011 article in The Pitch even went so far as to describe the portion of fries being roughly equivalent to the “width and depth of a paver brick.” (I do like my portions to be brick size, although on Thanksgiving and most Thursdays in general I upgrade to a masonry block.)
One other unusual thing about the restaurant, it brands its buns. Yes, according to the photos on its Website it has a special branding iron that it uses to leave a charred brand on the top of each hamburger bun.
The restaurant will continue a trend of specialty burger places locating in downtown. I believe we are up to four: Dempsey’s Burger Pub, The Burger Stand, the recently opened BurgerFi, and now KC Smoke Burgers.
I’m also curious to see whether we are in the beginning of a trend of Kansas City restaurants expanding into the Lawrence market. I reported in June that Port Fonda, the hip Mexican restaurant in Westport, was seriously looking at several locations in Lawrence. I’ve heard that interest level is still high and even that a deal may be done. I hope to get an update soon.
In other news and notes:
• The orange construction cone caught in your windshield wiper is perhaps a clue that the construction work at 23rd and Iowa streets is not yet complete. The fact that crews in recent days have been cutting out large sections of the newly constructed intersection is another clue.
Lawrence Public Works Director Chuck Soules tells me two concrete panels in the project failed a city inspection, and crews were instructed to remove the concrete and pour it again. A pour took place several days ago, and Soules said he expects the new portions of concrete to be ready for traffic by the end of today.
As for the concrete problems, Soules said cracks developed in the concrete. An epoxy was used to try to fix the cracks, but it wasn’t successfully sealing.
“It was unfortunate,” Soules said. “The concrete was cut correctly, but sometimes it will crack even when you do it right. If we pay for a project, we’re going to have it 100 percent to our standards.”
Soules said the city won’t be charged any extra fees for the additional work. The two cracked panels — each 12 feet by 12 feet — were causing some traffic disruptions because vehicles obviously hadn’t been allowed to be on those sections while the concrete was curing.
For a time, it looked like the 23rd and Iowa project was going to get done ahead of schedule, but it now appears that work will stretch to about Thanksgiving, which was the original end date for the project. Soules said once the concrete panels cure, motorists may still experience some temporary lane closures while crews apply pavement markings. But Soules said the city’s contract calls for construction crews to be completed with all work that would disrupt traffic by Thanksgiving. If not, the construction company has to start paying damages to the city. Soules said he expected all lane work to be done by Thanksgiving, although some landscaping and other work along the side of the road may continue past Thanksgiving.
Soules said the city has been pleased with the quality of the work in the project, and he said the two cracking panels were isolated incidents. He said there’s nothing to suggest there will be problems with any of the other panels.
• If you want one last look at Lawrence’s iconic Kief’s audio and video, you’ll need to get on it Saturday. As we previously have reported, Kief’s longtime owner, John Kiefer, has retired, and now the store is holding a business liquidation auction on Saturday.
The store has been in business for 54 years, but Kiefer’s son Rob is changing the focus to installation of audio and video equipment rather than retail sales. I’ve got a call into Rob to get an update on where the business may move to and what other changes are in the works.
But on Saturday local auctioneers Jason Flory and Mark Elston will auction off tons of equipment that was in the retail store. That includes CDs, videos, audio equipment, theater equipment, shop and back office equipment, shelving and a lot of miscellaneous items that have accumulated while the company has been in business.
John Kiefer ended up being one of the longer-time retailers in Lawrence. Click here for an article I did earlier this year about some of his tales about getting in the Lawrence business scene.
The auction begins at 9 a.m. at 2429 Iowa St.
Developers seek new zoning to lure retailers next to Rock Chalk Park; new Douglas County income numbers and the pocket of poverty
There are all types of competition going on at Rock Chalk Park and the city’s new recreation center: Volleyball, basketball, indoor soccer, pizza eating at the concession stand, senior citizen drag racing on the walking track and . . . well, perhaps I shouldn’t continue. But there’s also a competition to get new retailers to locate near the northwest Lawrence facility, and there are signs developers are working on a new strategy on that front.
The developers of the vacant Mercato commercial and residential development just south of Rock Chalk Park have filed new zoning plans for the property. The developers, led by the Schwada and Fritzel families, are seeking a broad community commercial zoning designation for the approximately 120 acres south of the sports complex. Currently, the land is zoned as a mix of commercial, single-family, office and multifamily zoning categories.
After talking with a planner in the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, it appears the gist of this application is to give the development group more flexibility on how it designs the commercial areas of the property. The site long has been envisioned for commercial development. In fact, it is one of the few sites in town that already have the proper zoning in place to accommodate big box retailers. But the property has sat vacant for several years, in no small part because the economy took a turn for the worse at about the time the project came on the market.
One key point to remember is that all the zoning on the property occurred prior to the idea of Rock Chalk Park locating on the adjacent tract to the north. As a result, the current plans call for a significant amount of single-family housing along the southern border of Rock Chalk Park. The new zoning would eliminate that single-family housing and would allow commercial development to occur in the area closest to Rock Chalk Park. In fact, the new zoning would eliminate the possibility of any single-family housing on the property. It would, however, still allow for apartment development to occur on the site.
Being able to rearrange the configuration of commercial development on the site seems to be a big part of the new zoning request. The new zoning it seems would give the developers more flexibility in designing a commercial project that would take better advantage of the crowds being generated at Rock Chalk Park.
But thus far, planners tell me the requested zoning doesn’t seek a change in the total amount of retail square footage the development is seeking. A cap of 360,000 square feet is still in place, which is enough to accommodate several big box retailers and restaurants and such. Or, it could accommodate many more smaller midsize retailers. It will be interesting to see what strategy the development group pursues.
The economy has picked back up, and retailers are taking a new look at Lawrence. There has been a lot of interest in south Iowa Street. A proposal to build a large retail area just south of the Iowa Street and SLT interchange is still alive and supposedly has interest from a Sam’s Club and other retailers. When it makes its way to the City Commission hearing, however is a bit uncertain. Interest also is picking up in some south Iowa Street areas that could be redeveloped. That includes the shopping center that houses the soon-to-depart Discovery Furniture. I’m also keeping my eyes open for possible redevelopment near the southwest corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. As we have reported, real estate transactions have shown some consolidation of properties in that area.
But the northwest area now has Rock Chalk Park up and running and can show some new traffic patterns to retailers. City officials told me that the recreation center had attendance of more than 6,000 people per day on both Saturday and Sunday, when a tournament was at the facility. The city has a lot of recreation classes and leagues at the center, which is driving daily traffic as well. We’ll see whether that gets retailers to take a new look at the area. I’m sure it will help, but it is hard to say whether it will cause any retailers to pull the trigger on a deal. The area still doesn’t have the synergy that south Iowa Street has with other retailers, but, of course, that’s always the case with a new area until some retailer makes the jump to be the first.
A bigger issue may be whether retailers can forecast what type of housing development will happen around the site. There is no doubt that the property generally south and east of the Rock Chalk site will develop with housing and apartments. New single-family home construction is already underway just southeast of the project. But figuring out what will happen to large amounts of property to the north of the Rock Chalk site is still difficult. As we’ve reported, most of that ground to the north of the sports complex is in the Perry-Lecompton school district. I still have local Realtors telling me that they believe that will greatly slow residential development in that area because the schools in the Perry-Lecompton district are farther away than schools in the Lawrence district.
We’ll see how it shakes out, but rest assured that there is a lot going on behind the scenes right now to get retailers next to Rock Chalk Park.
In other news and notes from around town:
• When it comes to attracting retailers to town, there is one number that probably doesn’t help us much: our per capita income. The federal government today has released the latest numbers for per capita income by county, and Douglas County is still near the bottom of the list in Kansas.
Per capita personal income in Douglas County — that is everything from wages to stock dividends to Social Security payments — was $36,911 in 2013. Out of the 105 counties in Kansas, Douglas County checked in at No. 91.
For years, people have kind of discounted Douglas County’s low per capita income numbers because we have a number of university students who don’t really earn much money but rather live off support from their parents. That brings the per capita average down. That is certainly a factor, but it probably doesn’t tell the whole story of why Douglas County is near the bottom in this category.
Riley County, for example, has a per capita income of $43,603, and ranks No. 52 in the state. Riley County and Douglas County aren’t twins — Riley County has a lot more military wages in its economy — but it is still galling to think that the average person in K-State country has about $7,000 more per year than those of us in Jayhawk land.
In fact, there are lots of us around Douglas County who are near the bottom of the per capita income list. It is like there is a little pocket of poverty between Kansas City and Topeka, and Douglas County is right in the middle of it. Here is what I mean:
• Franklin County: $36,156, No. 94
• Jefferson County: $36,809, No. 92
• Leavenworth County: $37,484, No. 89
• Osage County: $35,744, No. 95
All those counties border Douglas County. And the county with the lowest per capita income almost borders Douglas County: Wyandotte County with per capita income of $29,996 and a rank of No. 105. Low-earning college students aren’t bringing down the average in any of those counties. Maybe there is something larger going on here.
There are two counties that border Douglas County that are doing quite a bit better. The big one, to no one’s surprise, is Johnson County. It has per capita income of $60,068. Remember, that is for every man, woman and child in the county. That ranks No. 8 in the state. Shawnee County has per capita income of $41,598, which ranks No. 64, which is still below the midpoint but is quite a bit better than where we stand.
If you are looking for something good, per capita income did at least grow in 2013. In Douglas County it increased by 1.5 percent. The bad news with that number, though, is the national average was closer to 2 percent. Our growth rate also didn’t fare well when compared with others in the state. Out of 105 counties, our growth rate ranked No. 82.
In case you are wondering who has the highest per capita income in the state, pack your bags for Greeley County. The far western Kansas county had per capita income of $73,877. Of course they don’t have to share their money with many. There are fewer than 1,500 people in the county, which is right along the Colorado border. But the county is noteworthy in this report because it had the largest per capita gain in personal income of any county in the entire country. Income jumped by 30.3 percent. I assume oil, gas and agriculture have been leading the income growth there, or perhaps some statistician made an error with his abacus. If the numbers are to be believed, the average Greeley County Joe has about $17,000 more in 2013 than he had in 2012.
The county’s namesake, Horace Greeley, was correct: Go west, young man. And take a vault (and pictures of trees) with you.
Lawrence library visitors up 55 percent; city agrees to final library construction bill; solar panels installed at Prairie Park
Perhaps we all should have just read a book instead of watching Tuesday night’s KU-Kentucky game. Book club selections for last night’s game include: Stephen Covey’s Eight Habits of Highly Effective People. (The little known eighth habit is disabling the Kentucky Wildcats team bus prior to it ever reaching the arena.) I can’t attest to how many people were checking out books at the Lawrence Public Library last night, but there are new numbers out that show business is booming since the library moved into its new space.
If you remember, the library held its grand opening for a completely renovated facility at Seventh and Vermont streets in late July. As expected, lots of folks came through the doors in the days that followed just to check it out. (Opening Day attracted 12,000 people, and 150,000 people have visited since the doors opened July 26. ) But Library Director Brad Allen now has numbers for September 2014, and they show library attendance remains much higher than normal.
Library visits were up 55 percent in September compared to September 2013. About 40,000 people visited the library during the month. New users of the library grew by an even greater amount. The library issued 1,060 new borrower cards in September, up 96 percent from September 2013 totals.
Other numbers from September include:
— Attendance at youth programs was up 160 percent to about 2,600 for the month.
— Program attendance for all types of events was up 31 percent to about 3,400 people.
— The number of total items is up 10 percent to about 115,000 items.
— The number of youth items — books, DVDs, etc. — is up 24 percent to about 37,000 items.
So, the early returns indicate the number of kids using the library is up significantly. That’s what library officials had expected. The renovation project included much more space devoted to children and teen materials and activities.
• City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting took care of one major library project item. Commissioners agreed to the final total costs for the project. The final bill ended up raising fewer questions than the final bill for Rock Chalk Park, which also was on Tuesday’s night’s agenda.
That’s mainly because the library project was fairly traditional and followed a city bidding process, and the costs came in within original estimates. Sort of. The record will show that the city spent just under $18 million for the library project. That is the amount voters were told when they went to the polls to approve the project in 2010.
But this project is like many other things involving money: It depends on how you count it. (I count my money from afar, at my wife’s insistence.) Everything that you see at and around the new library project did cost more than $18 million. The total project cost $19.8 million, but about $835,000 of that amount is for an extra level that was added to the design of the parking garage following the 2010 library vote. Commissioners at the time said none of the library bond money would be used to cover those costs. Instead, city commissioners said they would pay for the garage through a combination of existing city funds and a special property tax assessment that will be placed on downtown property whose owners the city believes will benefit from extra parking.
The other piece of math to be aware of is that private donations through the library’s endowment fund are paying for about $1 million of the library costs. That also is what was presented to voters in 2010. So, when you deduct those two items from the project’s total, you come up with $17.94 million of money that was spent from the voter-approved library bond issue. The remaining $52,041 in the library bond fund will be set aside for future library maintenance, commissioners determined on Tuesday.
So, by using those calculations, the library project came in slightly under budget. But it's worth noting that the project did end up costing a bit more than what was anticipated when the project was competitively bid. During the course of the project, city officials agreed to about $520,000 worth of change orders. Change orders typically are tweaks that are made to a project after construction has begun. You can see the entire list of change orders here, but most of them appear to be fairly technical items. In addition, city officials also agreed to spend about $170,000 on projects that were near the library but not really a part of the original project. That included traffic signal improvements near the library, additional street lights for the area, and even some new pavement work for the nearby Lawrence fire station, which city officials said could be done more cheaply because crews were already in the area. Those projects weren’t paid for through the $18 million voter-approved bond. They were paid for through other city funds.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you head out to the city’s Prairie Park Nature Center anytime soon, you may notice some construction work. Crews with Lawrence-based Good Energy Solutions are installing an array of solar panels on the roof of the facility, 2730 Harper.
As we previously have reported, the project was selected as part of a grant program sponsored by Westar Energy. The grant aims to educate the public about the benefits of solar energy and place solar panels in places where the public can see them in action. (In fairness, solar panels are kind of like last night’s version of the Jayhawks: They’re not much to look at, and they shoot a really low field goal percentage.) The project, though, does include a kiosk where visitors can see how the solar panels work and how much energy they are producing at any moment. City officials also are excited about the potential cost savings the panels will provide. They’re estimating the panels will reduce energy costs by about 20 percent, or about $1,300 a year.
Under the terms of the grant, Westar is paying for the full cost of the panels and their installation.
Chamber CEO talks VenturePark prospects, other projects; questions raised about arts corridor application ahead of commission vote
Lawrence is in the running to land a large manufacturer that would employ an estimated 125 people over the next five years, and would occupy about 120 acres of property at the former Farmland Industries site that the city has converted into a business park.
I’ve been telling you for a couple of months now that economic development leaders have said they have a strong prospect for the former Farmland site, which is now called Lawrence VenturePark. But at a meeting this morning, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President Larry McElwain gave the most details yet about the prospect.
McElwain didn’t provide the name of the company or a specific industry, but McElwain said the bulk of the jobs would be manufacturing in nature. He said the company would look to make a capital investment of about $20 million over five years.
“This is a really exciting company that is looking at us right now,” McElwain said.
McElwain, speaking at an economic development update breakfast, didn’t say when we will know if the company has chosen Lawrence for its new home. But in conversations I have had with other people knowledgeable about the situation, the current talks have been described as negotiations. Now, whether the company is in exclusive negotiations with Lawrence or also is negotiating with other communities, I don’t know.
I would assume the negotiations involve an incentive package to bring the company here, but I don’t know that for a fact. It has been assumed for quite a while that once the city developed VenturePark, it would become more aggressive in putting together packages to lure companies to the site. Other communities in similar situations have offered free or discounted land to companies that will produce quality jobs. We’ll see what is on the horizon here, but it sounds like economic development officials are still very much in the thick of what could be a significant deal. At 125 jobs, that would be one of the larger new employers to come to town in the last decade or so. A 120-acre site also would be a big one by Lawrence standards. That project would consume about a third of the available industrial property the city has at VenturePark.
McElwain provided updates on a few other projects as well. They include:
— An animal health company that wants to initially locate 11 jobs in the Kansas City area. Over five years, it could provide 55 jobs, with most of the positions being technical or managerial in nature and offering “very high salaries,” McElwain said. The company currently is considering the Bioscience & Technology Business Center on Kansas University’s West Campus, and also is looking at locations in Kansas City.
— An animal health company that is looking for a location to establish its North American headquarters. Initially, the company likely would add 1 to 2 positions, but would add more depending on how its business grows in North America. McElwain said economic development leaders are fielding a large number of inquiries from animal health companies as Kansas City’s reputation as a leader in that industry continues to grow.
“It is amazing the potential for clustering in that industry,” McElwain said. “The University of Kansas is a huge magnet for this, especially the School of Pharmacy.”
— Three local companies currently are considering expansion projects that could in total add more than 100 jobs over the next several years. McElwain said one of the companies is looking at sites in the Kansas City area. He said the companies in question are a mix of manufacturing and technology companies.
In other news and notes from around town:
• A couple of weeks ago, we reported how some East Lawrence residents expressed concern that the Lawrence Arts Center was declining to make public the application the agency submitted to win a $500,000 grant for a project to remake Ninth Street into a unique arts corridor.
Well, as city commissioners prepare to take a vote on the project tonight, the Arts Center has released a redacted version of the full application. It appears some of the new information released has created more questions for some East Lawrence residents who are trying to get a better understanding of the project in their neighborhood.
The application states in multiple places that the Kansas City architecture firm el dorado inc. would serve as the lead designer on the project. That’s despite the fact that el dorado inc. had not been selected yet by the city to serve as the lead designer on the project. In fact, the vote that is set to take place tonight is to authorize city staff to begin negotiating a contract with el dorado. The city is recommending el dorado receive the contract because a city-appointed committee selected it from six design teams that had submitted proposals.
The grant application was not made available to the city-appointed committee reviewing the potential design firms. At least one member of the city-appointed committee is now saying he thinks the application creates the perception that Arts Center officials wanted el dorado to lead the project all along.
Dave Loewenstein, a longtime East Lawrence resident and artist, said too many residents already have a perception that some city projects have involved “back room deals.” Loewenstein, who currently is out of town on a project, said he hopes commissioners will be convinced tonight to delay the project.
“I feel our city commissioners must postpone their vote on selecting a firm for this project until we have an opportunity to look further into how and why the city went forward with a competitive RFQ process even though a design firm had already been explicitly named as a project leader,” Loewenstein said in an e-mail.
Susan Tate, the director of the Lawrence Arts Center, said the application wasn’t meant to convey that el dorado inc. had been selected as the lead designer for the project. Instead, the name was meant as an example of the type of firm that would be leading the project. But nowhere in the application does it state that the decision on the design team was still pending.
Tate said it is common practice for arts organizations to list specific artists or designers as part of its grant application. In hindsight, Tate said she wishes she would have written the grant in a way to make it clear that el dorado was just an example of the caliber of company that would be hired for the project.
In addition, Tate seemingly misspoke when she was interviewed by the Journal-World about the subject in early November. At that time she said she had provided the City Commission and the public with a “word-for-word” version of the portion of the grant application that described the project. But upon further review, the document provided to the City Commission did have a slight change in wording. It removed any mention of el dorado inc. and instead simply said “ArtPlace will fund a professional Urban Planner to lead Creative Team . . .” The application that was actually submitted to the ArtPlace grant funders said “ArtPlace will fund el dorado architects to lead Creative Team . . .”
Tate said she didn’t intend to misspeak, and said the mention of el dorado was removed from the document released to the public because it would have been difficult to conduct a competitive request for proposals if the description of the project included a specific design firm. She said city officials were not aware that the ArtPlace grant application listed el dorado as the lead designer.
Tate expressed confidence that all six companies that applied for the city contract were given a fair chance at winning the proposal, and she said he entered the process with an open mind about who should be selected.
We’ll see what commissioners do with the issue tonight when they meet at 6:35 p.m. It is an unusual issue. Folks in the nonprofit world note that grant applications usually aren’t made public. But several people have noted this may be a different case because the $500,000 grant is only a small portion of what is needed to convert Ninth Street into a unique arts corridor. The city also will need to budget about $3 million worth of improvements to the street.
We all know what our Tuesday plans are: We paint our faces, get out our big foam fingers, eat what a physician calls a “disturbing” number of cheap tacos and settle in for a big fight. Oh, you think I’m talking about the KU-Kentucky basketball game. We can do that too, but first there may be a City Hall battle over whether to install a roundabout on a busy section of Kasold Drive.
Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will begin discussing a major $5 million Kasold reconstruction project that could include a roundabout at the intersection of Kasold and Harvard. (Personally, I think a Jayhawk statue made out of bean dip and a nacho cheese fountain are better ways to have a pre-game party, but I’ll guess I’ll try roundabout fun on Tuesday.)
Commissioners on Tuesday probably won’t make any final decisions on whether to build a roundabout at the intersection, but their discussion should give us good insight into whether they are interested in the idea. In fact, it should give us a good idea of whether the trend of roundabouts are back in full force at City Hall.
If you have tried to drive on Wakarusa Drive in recent months, you perhaps have noticed three or four orange construction cones stuck in your grill. That is part of a roundabout project at Wakarusa and Inverness/Legends Drive. It was a controversial project. Several neighbors spoke against the project, but traffic engineers recommended the roundabout. Commissioners approved the project on a 4-1 vote.
We’ll see what the reaction is to a roundabout on this portion of Kasold Drive. Opinions are mixed on the devices. Engineers like the design of roundabouts because they say they cut down on the number of T-bone accidents and other serious collisions. Some motorists like roundabouts because they believe they cut down on the amount of time they spend waiting to get through an intersection. Some motorists despise roundabouts because they find them confusing and dangerous. Some bicycle advocates also have expressed concern about their safety. (Approximately three people in town are ambivalent about roundabouts, likely because they have a large supply of Dramamine and enjoy messing with our minds by insisting on using their turn signals at a roundabout.)
The potential roundabout is just one part of a larger project on Kasold. Engineers are proposing to spend about $5 million to rebuild Kasold Drive from Bob Billings Parkway to Sixth Street. The street was built in 1972 and has been repaved at least four times since then, and it now requires a significant amount of annual maintenance work. Several sections of the curb are “missing and deteriorated to gravel,” according to a city memo about the street.
Plans call for the new street to be built out of 10 inches of concrete on a much-improved base. Construction work would begin in 2016.
The city has qualified for up to $400,000 in federal highway money for the project. That grant money is specifically to make safety improvements at the intersection of Harvard and Kasold. It is not clear to me yet whether the city must build a roundabout to get the $400,000 in grant money, or whether there are other intersection improvements that would satisfy the grant requirements. I’ll check on that.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners are being asked to give staff the authority to begin seeking an engineering firm to design the project. Staff members also want commissioners to decide whether to accept the grant. So, that’s where the roundabout discussion will occur, but staff members have told commissioners that accepting the grant won’t absolutely commit the city to building the roundabout. A final decision on whether to build the roundabout won’t happen until the city decides to accept bids for the project, but Tuesday’s discussion is expected to provide some direction on the roundabout issue. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There is a lot of good news on the City Commission’s agenda for folks who love trails. If you haven’t explored all the trails associated with the Rock Chalk Park sports complex, you had better get busy because the trail system in the area is set to grow.
The city has won a $320,000 federal grant that will build a new trail from Queens Road to connect with the trail system at Rock Chalk Park. The 0.7 mile trail will start a bit south of the Queens Road and the county road North 1750 intersection. It then will follow the route of Baldwin Creek, including five bridges that will cross the creek. In addition to the $320,000 grant, the city also will use $80,000 of sales tax money to build the trail. No word yet on when construction may begin.
The city also has won a private grant of about $54,000 to help build a new trail along the Kansas River between Burcham and Constant parks. The new trail would connect with the recently completed Outside for a Better Inside trail. In case you have forgotten, that is the new trail that circles the old pond that is behind the former VFW site near the Kansas River.
The new river trail — which will be a little more than a half-mile long — will be constructed partially of concrete and partially of milled asphalt. The total project is expected to cost about $106,000, with the city paying for half the costs and a grant from the Sunflower Foundation paying the rest of it. No word yet on when construction may begin.
The city also is finalizing plans to improve the existing Haskell-Rail Trail that runs between 23rd Street and 29th Street near the Haskell Indian National University campus. The Kansas Department of Transportation has a $189,575 bid from Sunflower Paving to make improvements to the trail, which largely will consist of making the narrow limestone trail into a 10 foot-wide shared use path. The city will pay about $40,000 of the project, with KDOT paying for the remainder. Look for construction work to begin this winter and be completed in the spring.
Let no one doubt that trails are a hot button item with both grant makers and politicians at the moment. In case your abacus is busted, that is nearly $525,000 in grant money the city has received for trails and about $175,000 in local taxpayer funds the city has committed to the three trail projects.
Final bill comes due for city on Rock Chalk Park improvements; first candidate files for City Commission
It is my day to wear green eye shade, and I’m not just talking about the makeup practice my daughter conducts on me when I fall asleep in front of the TV. No, today’s a big number day with the city, so I’ll do my best imitation of a number cruncher. The city has released the final numbers for Rock Chalk Park construction, and what has long been assumed is now official: The city is paying for nearly all the infrastructure costs associated with the public/private partnership.
I’ll do a more complete article later today, but here are some of the basics:
— Total infrastructure costs for all of Rock Chalk Park check in at $11.59 million. Infrastructure includes things such as parking lots, streets, sewer lines, water lines, lighting and other such items. The project was designed so that infrastructure could be shared between the city-owned recreation center and the privately owned track, soccer and softball facilities that are owned by a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, who then in turn leases the facilities to Kansas Athletics.
— For the shared infrastructure, the city will pay $10.45 million of the total.
— Early on, Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self said his Assists Foundation would donate $1 million to help fund a west Lawrence recreation center. That $1 million donation is now being applied to pay for the shared infrastructure cost for Rock Chalk Park.
— After those two payments are made, what’s left of the infrastructure bill is $145,835. The city memo on the subject doesn’t provide much detail on how that amount will be paid, but based on prior conversations, I’m assuming it will be paid by the Fritzel-led group that owns the track, soccer and softball facilities that will benefit from the infrastructure.
There are probably several ways to look at this, but for those of you trying to figure out what percentage of infrastructure the city paid for compared to what percentage of facilities the city owns at Rock Chalk Park, here are some numbers: The construction value of the city’s recreation center is $10.5 million. The construction value of the facilities owned by the Fritzel group is about $40 million. The entity that owns the $10.5 million worth of facilities at the park — the city — is paying for a little more than 90 percent of the infrastructure costs. Bill Self’s Assists Foundation, which own none of the facilities at the park, is paying for about 8.6 percent of the infrastructure costs. The ownership group of the track, soccer and softball facilities appears to be paying for about 1.2 percent of the infrastructure costs.
It is fair to note that the city’s recreation center likely will be the largest generator of day-to-day traffic at the complex, so people will have to determine on their own how that should be factored in to creating an equitable split.
City commissioners are being asked to make the infrastructure payment to Fritzel’s group at their Tuesday evening meeting. The amount comes as no surprise. Figures close to these have been projected for several months now. But the numbers are different from when the project was first proposed.
At several points in the process, the city believed it would be paying $25 million for a recreation center, infrastructure and other amenities that would have a value of $33 million. On several occasions, city commissioners said they were viewing the difference as a donation to the city that made this project a unique opportunity that warranted the city deviating from its standard bidding process. The final numbers have not quite worked out that way. The total amount of money the city has paid for the project is less than $25 million, but there does not appear to be any donation of the amount once anticipated by the city.
I’ll attempt to check in with city officials and Fritzel today to review the final numbers.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The ring of robo calls has not yet left my ears, but make no mistake a new campaign season has begun. It is for the Lawrence City Commission. The first candidate for the commission has filed. Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioner Stan Rasmussen has filed for one of the three seats up for election on the five-member commission.
Rasmussen and I have exchanged some emails, but I haven’t yet been able to conduct a full interview with him. He is an attorney with U.S. Army — officially he’s the regional counsel for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations Energy & Environment — and he is tied up in some meetings that haven’t allowed us to meet for an interview. But we’ll chat in the coming days and I’ll bring you more about his campaign positions and such.
In terms of the basics, Rasmussen, 52, has been in Lawrence for about 35 years. He’s been active in the world of Lawrence city advisory boards. He’s a veteran member of the planning commission, and also has served on the Lawrence Board of Zoning Appeals, sign code board of appeals, and the Lawrence Historic Resources Commission. He currently is one of the 10 members on the steering committee looking at how Horizon 2020 may need to be rewritten.
Rasmussen is the first to file, but he certainly won’t be the last. I’m expecting strong interest in the seats this year. As we previously have reported, Leslie Soden, an East Lawrence resident who has been active in several City Hall issues, has said she is seriously considering another run at the commission. Kris Adair, a Lawrence school board member who also is an owner of Wicked Broadband, has said she is considering a run for the city commission.
Just recently, I also heard from Lawrence attorney and social service professional Eric Sader. He said he’s forming a committee to explore a run for the commission.
The three commissioners who have terms expiring are Mike Dever, Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm. None has said whether he intends to seek re-election, although Schumm has made comments that indicate he plans to.
If we have seven or more candidates file for a seat on the commission, we’ll have a primary election to whittle the field to six on March 3. The general election will be April 7. All the seats on the City Commission are at-large seats, so voters simply will pick their top three choices.
The filing deadline for the race is noon on Jan. 27.
Recreation center at Rock Chalk Park attracts more than 50k visits in first month; another development plan filed for south Iowa
If you see a bunch of grown men wearing high school letter jackets that accentuate just how much they have grown, perhaps you’ll now understand why: Adult flag football. It is the latest thing to come to the city’s new recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. But it certainly isn’t the only thing. Lots of people have been filing into the new center, according to recently tabulated numbers from the city.
From Oct. 5 through Nov. 9, the center — officially named Sports Pavilion Lawrence — has attracted 53,101 visits, according to numbers tallied by the city’s parks and recreation department. More specifically, the center has been attracting an average of 2,060 visits per day on the weekends, and about 1,300 visits on an average weekday.
But those numbers are likely larger now, said Ernie Shaw, the city’s director of parks and recreation. He said it has only been within the last week or so that the center has started hosting league play for volleyball, basketball and other sports. Those sports have increased the number of users at the facility significantly. Shaw was at the facility last Saturday and had staff members keep track of visitor totals on that day. By around noon, the center’s visitor total was at about 4,500.
“It has been crazy out there, but the staff and everybody are doing well with it,” said Tim Laurent, recreation operations manager.
Another number of note is that the city has issued 6,844 electronic key cards to residents. The key cards are used to access the fitness rooms, walking track and other such areas that can be cordoned off to keep out kids and other people who are at the center for a youth basketball tournament, for example.
Speaking of tournaments, none of these numbers include people coming to the center for big tournaments. Those will begin in the next few weeks, with the first big one that will occupy most of the center occurring in early January. Those tournaments have been touted as the economic development portion of the recreation center project. The hope is that the tournaments will become regional enough in nature that some folks will choose to spend the night in Lawrence and spend some money during their down times.
Most of the numbers being generated at the center currently are from local residents participating in parks and recreation classes and leagues. The department has added some new activities (calm down, don’t swallow your mouthpiece, I’ll tell you more about adult flag football in a moment,) and the department also has moved some classes from other recreation centers in town to Rock Chalk Park.
In this current session, the city has 161 programs at Sports Pavilion Lawrence, with about 2,300 participants signed up. But that number will grow. The city is taking registration for the winter and spring programs, and during that session there will be 329 programs at SPL.
There’s also going to be some nonsporting events at the center. The first one you may notice is the Holiday Extravaganza Arts and Crafts Fair on Dec. 6. Recently it has been held at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. But the event is moving to the Rock Chalk Park center, where vendors will set up on two of the eight courts that are the facility. The city has tarps that can be put down on the floors to protect them from damage. The move will allow the arts and crafts event to grow. At the fairgrounds, the city had to cap the number of vendors at 80. Now the city can accept significantly more vendors, and thus far the city has 97 vendors signed up for the event. It will be interesting to see how often the center is used for nonsporting events. The fairgrounds hosts several types of exhibitions, ranging from home shows to Comic-Con conventions. Rock Chalk Park would allow for larger events, and it has some of the most ample parking in the community. Plus, the city is creating a built-in marketing system for such events. Because people are required to get a key card to use certain areas of the facility, the city is building up a substantial database of e-mails (they ask for your e-mail address when you register.) The city is able to use that database to send out a e-mail blast about upcoming events at the center.
No word yet on whether they will send out e-mail blasts detailing the heroic exploits that occur on the flag football field. Registration is underway for the league, which will be played indoors at the recreation center, which features an indoor turf field. Costs are $370 per team. Each team will play with five players, but roster sizes are unlimited. (I’m assuming the number of oxygen tanks on the sidelines are unlimited as well.) Games will be held on Sunday afternoons, and play begins Jan. 11. Participants need to be 16 or older.
That ought to add to the excitement at the center. I hear that the facility already is a ball of noise on weekends. I can hardly imagine how much louder it will get when the crowds react to the parade of glorious letter jackets. Heaven help us if a highly decorated letter jacket from the mighty Marais des Cygnes Valley Trojans appears. (See below. I would have modeled it, but it is tight in an area that I will call the biceps, although anatomy was never my best subject.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• The commercial momentum on south Iowa Street continues to build. Plans have been filed to redevelop the site at 24th and Iowa streets that previously housed a Phillips 66 service station. Plans call for about $125,000 worth of work to remodel the building into a more traditional office/retail building. Property owner Brandon Haverty told me he wasn’t quite ready to announce the tenant. But based on information filed with the city, it appears a Georgia-based firm called Anderson Financial Services is the tenant. A source called Mr. Google tells me the company primarily operates LoanMax Title Loan businesses across the country. Again, no official word on whether that is what is slated for the spot, but it might be worth keeping an eye on. Haverty said he expects the site to be ready for business in the first quarter of 2015.
If it indeed is a title loan place, that may be what they call synergy in the business world. Lots of retailers, lots of cars going by, which of course equals one thing: I really do need to fit into my letter jacket so I can stay warm on my walks to work.
Alvamar reaches deal to sell course and club to group led by Rock Chalk Park developers; city to add larger snow plows for winter
Changes appear to be on the way for Alvamar golf and country club. As we previously reported, the board has been considering selling the course, and now we have confirmation that a deal has been struck to sell the business to the same group that has partnered with the city and KU to build the Rock Chalk Park sports complex.
Bob Johnson, chair of the Alvamar board told me a deal has been struck with Bliss Sports, the group led by longtime Lawrence builder Thomas Fritzel. Johnson said both sides are conducting their due diligence, and he expects the deal to be finalized in March or April. (Due diligence on a golf course can take time. Mine usually involves whether I can safely hit back onto the fairway from this lush stand of Berber carpet, or whether I’m going to have to break another window to do so. These guys may be talking about a more financial-oriented due diligence, although I can tell you windows aren’t cheap.)
This deal shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to folks who have been following the situation. We reported in September that there was a lot of speculation that a group led by Fritzel was seeking to buy the West Lawrence course. What most people watching the situation want to know is whether Fritzel has plans to keep all 36 holes of golf that currently exist at Alvamar, or whether one of the courses may be redeveloped into housing or other uses.
I’ve reached out to Fritzel, but have had no luck in talking with him. Johnson, though, said the board is operating under the assumption that all 36 holes of golf will remain.
“Obviously, it is the buyer’s decision,” Johnson said. “But we have heard nothing to believe that the golf course will be anything other than what it is now. If I were to predict, I would say the chances are overwhelming that it will be a 36-hole facility.”
But Johnson said he is aware that there is significant speculation that one of the courses will be removed to make way for more housing or other development.
“It makes a really good rumor,” Johnson said. “I know it would upset people. That is probably why it is such a good rumor.”
What does seem to be a likelihood is that Kansas University’s golf program will continue to have a home at the golf course. If I were a betting man (and I would be, if windows didn’t cost so much) I would bet that KU’s presence at Alvamar grows. Fritzel formed Bliss Sports, in part, to create new facilities for KU at Rock Chalk Park. Bliss owns the facilities but KU rents them. Plans certainly have been in the works to expand KU’s indoor practice facility at Alvamar. KU’s website list plans to make the facility nearly five times larger by adding team lounges, locker rooms, offices, training rooms and an indoor chipping and putting area.
Johnson said he’s excited about the future of Alvamar. He said the shareholders of Alvamar have had discussions in the past about selling to out-of-town golf course companies.
“For the community of Lawrence and the golfing community, it probably is the best thing that could happen,” Johnson said. “These buyers are people who have been in this community their whole lives and their futures are in this community.”
The deal includes about 300 acres that comprise the golf course and country club grounds, Johnson said. He said there likely are pockets within that 300 acres that are suitable for infill development. But he said the deal does not include any of the large amounts of raw, develop-able West Lawrence ground that is owned by Alvamar Inc.
It will be interesting to watch how Alvamar does change in the future. The courses and country club are a West Lawrence institution. Famed Lawrence businessman Bob Billings founded the course with business partner Mel Anderson in 1968. A second course was added in 1970. Today, Alvamar is one of only two 36-hole golf facilities in the state, according to Alvamar’s website. The courses also are a bit historic in the world of golf. The 1968 course, according to Alvamar’s website, was the first golf course in the world constructed with zoysia grass fairways. As for the country club, the members' clubhouse was built in 1984 by local builder Gene Fritzel, who is Thomas’ father.
As I have said many times on the golf course, things have a way of coming full circle (although usually I’m just talking about my nasty hook.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• When the snow starts falling, the Batmobile will not be plowing the streets of Lawrence, but do expect to see some winged vehicles tackling the job.
For the first time, the city’s Public Works Department will equip four of the department’s snow-plowing trucks with a device called a “wing plow.” The plow is mounted on the side of the truck and extends about eight feet. City officials are optimistic that the new piece of equipment will allow major roads like Iowa, Sixth and 23rd streets to be plowed more quickly.
“We think it will speed up the process by about a third,” said Mike Perkins, the street division supervisor for the city.
Larger cities have been using the wing plows for awhile, said Mark Thiel, the city’s assistant director of public works.
“We’re probably one of the smaller cities that are using them,” Thiel said. “We’re just trying to stay ahead of the game. It is another tool for us.”
Perkins said the new wing plows will make it more important than ever for the city to follow the advice of not passing a snow plow. The trucks will be equipped with special lights to draw attention to the fact that a blade is hanging off the side of the truck, but motorists will need to use care.
“It is a clear, clean path right behind the truck,” Perkins said. “That is the best place to drive.”
Crews earlier this month did mock snow-plow runs throughout the city to prepare for the upcoming snow season. Thiel said in addition to the wing plows, the city has made changes to increase the amount of salt the city can store. The city now has the capability to store about 10,000 tons of salt, which is about twice the amount the city would expect to use during a season. The extra capacity could become crucial in the future, Thiel said.
“That is a huge benefit to us because we don’t have to worry about re-ordering in midseason,” Thiel said. “Sometimes there can be a four to six week lead time for salt orders.”
Thiel also recently provided city commissioners with his best estimate on what type of winter we’ll have this year. He said the city looks at forecasts from the National Weather Service, the Farmers Almanac and a private subscription weather service. The forecasts are mixed this year, with the National Weather Service predicting a largely normal winter, while the subscription service is predicting below-average temperatures but about average snowfall totals. The Farmers Almanac is calling for “bitter and snowy” conditions in Kansas.
“I think we’re pretty much going to have a repeat of what we had last year,” Thiel said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of cold weather early and a lot of small events early.”
Thiel said he thinks the chances of major snow — six inches or more — will increase significantly in January and February.
That won’t be good news for the city budget. The last snow season was a fairly expensive one for the city. Thiel said the city spent about $1 million clearing snow in the 2013/2014 season. That was about twice the amount spent in 2012/2013, even though snow totals for the two seasons checked in at about 30 inches. The big difference is that in 2013/2014 there were 13 snow or ice events the city had to work, compared with just eight in 2012/2013. In addition, one of the events last season was a 14-inch snow in early February that required extra resources.
In case you have forgotten last winter, Thiel has gathered several numbers to help remind us. Here’s a look:
— The city had 30.2 inches of snow in 2013-2014, as measured in downtown. That was the second highest total of the last 10 years, trailing only the 36.4 inches in 2009/2010. The 10-year average is 17.4 inches. The smallest snowfall total of the last decade was 1.4 inches in 2006/2007.
— The city had 12 days in 2013/2014 with measurable snowfall. The average since 1981 is 13 days.
— February was the big month last year, with 16.2 inches of snow. That ranked the month as the fifth snowiest February on record in Lawrence. December had 5.3 inches, January 5.4 inches and March 3.3 inches.
Sometimes my job of covering Lawrence City Hall involves me reading the tea leaves. Sometimes it involves me turning to a beverage a bit stronger than tea. Sometimes it involves me dressing like the Great Carnac and holding city agendas, planning documents and other scrap paper to my head. (Sometimes the glass of the other beverage is a bit too big.) I’ll let you decide the best way to decipher this one, but there certainly is a City Hall question these days: Is a proposed $75 million apartment project actually going to be built near KU?
The project we’re talking about is the proposed multi-story building at 1101 and 1115 Indiana St., across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium. The last we heard about the project was on Oct. 21, when city commissioners declined to grant a parking exemption for the 237-unit apartment complex. The Chicago-based development group, HERE, LLC, said the parking reduction was critical to the future of the project. After the meeting, a representative of the company declined to comment on whether the project would move forward.
In the days since, I haven’t had any luck in getting an update from the development company. But there have been a couple of recent signs that suggest the project is not yet dead. This is where your tea leaf skills may come in handy, but city commissioners at their meeting tonight are being asked to approve an ordinance authorizing the issuance of industrial revenue bonds for the project. The ordinance is mainly a technicality. The project is seeking the industrial revenue bonds not for financing purposes but to get a sales tax exemption on construction materials they purchase for the project. The key point in all of this is that company officials recently asked the city to process this piece of paperwork. The fact the company made the request after the Oct. 21 meeting seems to indicate the project is not yet dead.
Perhaps an even larger sign is that on Nov. 5 the development company filed for a demolition permit for the old house that sits on a portion of the property. That would seem to be another sign that the project isn’t yet dead.
Prior to the Oct. 21 meeting, the development group also had filed for building permits for the project. City officials tell me they are still doing the work to process those building permits. They said no one from HERE has asked the city to stop the processing work on the building permits.
I think it is probably is too early to say that the company has definitely decided to move ahead with the project. Neither one of these recent actions — the IRB ordinance and the demo permit — are particularly expensive for the company to undertake, so they could still nix the project. But it does appear that the company hasn’t nixed the project at this point. The city’s denial of the company’s incentive request hasn’t been fatal thus far.
I talked briefly with Georgia Bell, the 91-year old woman who lives in the home that is slated for demolition. The development company has reached a preliminary agreement to buy the property, but Bell said the deal hasn’t been completed yet. In other words, she hasn’t been paid the full purchase price for the property. She said she hasn’t heard anything definitive from the development group about when it may purchase the property.
“I’m sitting on pins and needles,” said Bell, who said she hasn’t yet found a new home to purchase.
It is an issue to watch. If I can get this darn Carnac hat to cooperate, I’ll keep my eyes on it.
Out in rural Kansas, where I am from, there have been some historic moments in Quonset huts that dot the farm landscape. Some of them perhaps have involved a Saturday night, a red Solo cup, a tractor, and an unfortunate article in the weekly newspaper. Well, Quonset huts — those metal buildings with a semi-circle roof — have been a part of Lawrence’s history too, and now there is an effort afoot to save one in East Lawrence.
As we reported a few weeks ago, Black Hills Energy is preparing to sell the East Lawrence site that formerly housed its maintenance facility. As part of the sale, Black Hills is planning to tear down the old Quonset hut on the property. But a group of East Lawrence residents and an area businessman are hoping to stop the demolition.
Longtime East Lawrence resident K.T. Walsh is asking city officials to take a hard look at any demolition permit that seeks to tear down the hut. Walsh said Quonset huts are a rare form of architecture worth preserving. She said she’s actually part of a statewide group that is seeking to save the structures. The huts were inspired by a British design that aimed to quickly construct buildings during WW I. The huts were popular in WW II as well, and Walsh said the Black Hills Quonset hut near Eighth and Pennsylvania street is particularly appropriate for the area because it is a reminder of the area’s industrial history.
The hut is across the street from the popular Poehler Lofts apartment building, which is in a multistory, former grocery warehouse building. Tony Krsnich leads the group that developed that property. He’s glad the Black Hills property is set to be sold, but he wants the Quonset hut to remain.
“It would be an absolute shame if that building was lost,” Krsnich told me.
He said he thinks the building could be an interesting music venue, art gallery, restaurant or a host of other uses. He said its wide open design could allow the interior of the building to be renovated in a number of ways.
“There are people in other cities that are trying to build new Quonset huts and make them look old because they are cool,” Krsnich said.
One group who I have heard does not think Quonset huts are cool is firefighters. I’ve had the local fire chief previously tell me that the structures are a real concern when they do catch on fire. The roof design makes them particularly susceptible to a collapse during a fire.
Whether that would play into a decision to tear the building down, I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how much ability the city has to deny a demolition permit for this property. Walsh asked city commissioners about the issue last week, and they said they would look into it. We’ll see where the issue goes.
I’ve got a call into Black Hills Energy. A spokeswoman for the company said they were discussing several issues related to the site. If I receive an update from the company, I’ll pass it along.
UPDATE: I did hear back from Black Hills Energy. A spokeswoman with the company said via e-mail that Black Hills has been studying ways to properly sell the site for awhile. One of the issues is that the building sits on the foundation of a former manufactured gas plant that operated from 1869 to 1905. As we previously have reported, that gas plant left behind some environmental issues related to the site. The site has been brought into compliance with Kansas Department of Health and Environment standards, but Black Hills believes it is best to demolish the building so proper testing can be done beneath the building's foundation before the site is sold.
"We understand this property is located in the midst of a vibrant and growing part of Lawrence, and we believe it's important to keep it a safe and functional part of the community," Monique Pope, a spokeswoman for the company said via e-mail.
After that process is complete, Black Hills will evaluate the best uses for the site, Pope said.
Delaware tribal elections may change discussion on Lawrence property; city wins $15k school route grant; car dealers express concern over City Hall vehicle lease
Lawrence’s police headquarters plan isn’t the only project that has been complicated by recent election results. The Delaware Tribe of Indians held its elections last weekend, and now there is reason to question whether the tribe will be as aggressive in pursuing its plans to move to Lawrence.
So, what happened with the Delaware elections? Well, the same thing I tirelessly do every Saturday at my house: A complete housecleaning. (For the record, my wife is insisting on a retraction of that last statement, and is threatening to do terrible things to me with a feather duster.) Regardless, a housecleaning is one way to describe the Delaware elections. Every tribal council incumbent on the ballot was defeated in the election.
Chief Paula Pechonick was defeated by the tribe’s assistant chief Chester “Chet” Brooks. Three of the other six members on the tribal council also lost their seats, and since Brooks was a member of the council whose term hadn’t yet expired, the new majority on the council will get to appoint a member to his seat.
I obviously don’t closely follow Delaware Tribal politics, but I did talk with tribal council member Nate Young, who was one of the members not up for re-election this time. He left me with the impression that the new majority on the council may have different views about the future of the approximately 90 acres that the tribe purchased near the North Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. I was left with the impression that they may be inclined to do less with the property, not more.
There has been all sort of discussion and speculation about what the tribe wants to do on the site. Originally there was concern among some residents that the tribe wanted to build a casino on the site. That talk has died down considerably. Instead, city, county and tribal officials have been meeting behind closed doors to talk about ideas for the property, which is the former Pine family sod farm. The latest idea to emerge is that the tribe would use about 30 acres for a tribal complex that would include offices for the tribal headquarters, classroom spaces, an area for a profit-generating “public interface,” and a kitchen to feed elderly tribal members. The other 60 acres would be devoted to agricultural uses that could include demonstration gardens, food hub distribution, a farm-to-plate restaurant and other such uses.
City, county and tribal officials had agreed to move into a new stage of discussions and host a design charrette to further refine the idea. Whether that happens now seems to be a bit of a question. Young didn’t get into details, but he said after speaking with the incoming chief, he was confident in saying that the new tribal council will consider different directions.
“I believe we may revisit some of the policies adopted by the previous council,” Young said.
What exactly that means, I don’t know. But in reading through some campaign literature from Delaware tribal candidates, I get the impression the purchase of the Lawrence property was an issue of contention in the election. Incoming Chief Brooks in a campaign advertisement expressed concern about spending $1.24 million to buy the Lawrence property. He said in the advertisement that it was done “without an appraisal and a proper resolution of the tribal council, only to learn later that 60 plus acres is in a floodplain and the rest has drainage problems which may prohibit its intended use.”
Bottomline: It looks like this is an issue worth watching because it appears the group dynamics are changing.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The city has received a $15,000 grant to study ways to make walking to school safer and more appealing.
The Kansas Department of Transportation has awarded the grant to the city through its Safe Routes to Schools program. The grant is considered a Phase I grant that will allow the city and various stakeholders to develop a safe route plan for each school in the community.
If the plan includes infrastructure improvements, such as new sidewalks, signals or other enhancements, the city would have to seek another grant or find other ways to pay for the improvements.
In a news release the city said the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, USD 497, the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, LiveWell Lawrence and the Lawrence Schools Foundation each have agreed to contribute funding, in-kind donations or staff time to develop the plan.
• We earlier reported on a plan for the city’s fire and medical department to lease seven Ford Explorers from Shawnee Mission Ford. Commissioners approved that lease agreement on Oct. 28, but now commissioners are being asked to rescind their approval. Staff members said they have since heard from some local auto dealers who said they were not aware the city was seeking bids for sport utility vehicles.
It appears what happened is that the city was using a previously bid procurement contract through the Kansas Department of Transportation to lease the vehicles. In other words, KDOT has a set price it can lease vehicles at, and KDOT allows other governments to use that contract. Upon further review, city staff members now are recommending that a more traditional bid process be used that opens the bidding up to any dealer who is interested. Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are expected to rescind their previous vote.
Downtown Lawrence retailer of 67 years to close its doors; city makes recommendation on team of artists and engineers to design Ninth Street project
It has been well established that there is no crying in baseball. But there may be a few moist eyes in coming weeks inside a Lawrence institution that has sold many a bat, glove, ball and other athletic items to area residents. Francis Sporting Goods is closing its downtown store after 67 years in business.
The company is not going entirely out of business. Owner Jon Francis told me the company now will solely focus on its team business, which sells uniforms and equipment to everybody from youth baseball teams to college football programs.
“The retail store has been a big part of our lives, but for us to succeed, we have to choose a business that is best for us,” said Francis, who followed his father and grandfather into the business. “That is our team business. That is where we make our money.”
Francis said plans call for the store at 731 Massachusetts St. to close by the end of the year. The historic building that houses the store will continue to be owned by the Francis family, but Francis said the store will move out of the space and a new tenant will be sought. Francis said he is close to signing a deal on an undisclosed location that will provide showroom and warehouse space for the team business.
The move comes just a few months after Dick's Sporting Goods opened its large store on south Iowa Street. Francis said the new competition did “solidify” the decision to close the store.
“It is sad,” Francis said. “Obviously there will be people upset, and I’m upset. But the town is growing and they elected to allow, or I guess they felt like they needed, a big-box option. That didn’t help us any. We have a loyal following, but we don’t have the size and selection.”
The business, which started out in 1947 selling boat motors and fishing tackle before expanding into other lines of sporting goods, plans to have a liquidation sale between now and the end of the year.
Francis said he’s sure he’ll see a lot of familiar faces come through the doors for the final sale.
“You get to know a lot of people,” Francis said. “I’ve watched a lot of kids grow up. You read about them in the paper with what they have done in this game or that game, and you know they have been in your store. That will be the tough thing to watch.”
The closure creates a bit of a hole in the middle of the 700 block of Massachusetts Street. As we previously reported, Lids, the store that specialized in team hats and other such merchandise, has closed. It was next door to Francis Sporting Goods in space that also is owned by the Francis family. Francis said a tenant has been found for that space. I hope to bring you details on that shortly.
The sporting goods market in Lawrence is changing. The sportswear retailer GameDay Super Store at 1008 W. 23rd St. also has announced it is closing its store. I’ve got a call into officials there to get more information about that decision.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The project to remake the portion of Ninth Street that runs through East Lawrence into a unique arts corridor is moving ahead. As an article I wrote Wednesday details, some residents are concerned about the process, but city officials are hopeful once a consultant is hired to start planning the project, concerned neighbors will be more at ease. Well, the city is getting closer to hiring a consultant, or actually a team of experts, to work on the project.
The city is hosting a meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 13 to allow the public to meet the city’s recommended design team. A city-appointed committee is recommending a team led by el dorado inc., a sizable design firm out of Kansas City. The architecture firm is notable in Lawrence because it is the designer of a new multistory apartment building under construction near Ninth and Delaware streets in East Lawrence. The project is the latest development by Tony Krsnich and his group, which have developed the Warehouse Arts District on the eastern end of this proposed Ninth Street corridor.
The company is bringing on several consultants to help with the project. They include lead artists Charles Blanc and Tristan Surtees of the Calgary, Canada-based art studio Sans Facon. The duo has been working on a major public art project in Calgary called Watershed+, that adds public art to some infrastructure projects in the city. You can see more here, but it looks like the duo takes a pretty broad view of art. One project was to turn several fire hydrants along a city street into water drinking fountains. Another project talked about on the website was the creation of a life-sized water truck carved in ice. It would be colored with environmentally friendly dyes, then placed in a neighborhood. Through the winter the ice sculpture would melt and refreeze and the the dyes would flow into the city’s storm water system and through a prominent creek in the area. No word yet on what the duo has in mind for Lawrence, but at first glance, it looks like they believe in more than just traditional sculptures and other works you may associate with public art.
The proposed project team also includes Luke Dubois, who is a well-regarded digital musician and artist who teaches at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. Some of you may know Dubois from his stay as an artist in residence at the Lawrence Arts Center.
Other members of the proposed design team include Lawrence-based Bartlett & West engineers; Dennis Domer, a local architecture historian; landscape architects Coen + Partners from Minneapolis, and indigenous plant specialist Kelly Kindscher, of Lawrence.
The other two firms interviewed by the city for the design project were teams led by DRAW Architecture and Confluence.
Lawrence city commissioners are expected to make a decision on hiring a design team for the project later this month.