Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
I know what the gold crown signifies when talking about a Hallmark Gold Crown store. It reminds me that I’ll need to melt one down to pay for all the Hallmark Christmas ornaments that will make their way to my house. For the last several years, buying those types of Hallmark specialty items has required a trip out of town. That’s now changed.
Hallmark and Westlake Ace Hardware have partnered to open a Gold Crown Hallmark store. The new shop is inside the Westlake Ace Hardware store at 23rd and Louisiana streets.
Lawrence becomes one of the first stores in the country to use the “store within a store” concept with Hallmark.
“They did a couple of test stores, and then Lawrence was one of the first stores chosen,” said Sean Christensen, manager of the store in the Malls Shopping Center. “The test stores did well, and with Hallmark having their manufacturing plant in Lawrence, it makes a lot of sense for us to have one.”
Indeed, Lawrence is a big Hallmark town, which made it odd that Lawrence has been without a Hallmark store for several years. The Hallmark production facility near the Kansas Turnpike and McDonald Drive produces essentially every Hallmark branded card in North America. If Lawrence tourism officials ever wanted to brand the community as the Christmas Capital of America, we could make the case. Think about it: How many millions of people receive a Christmas card that comes from Lawrence?
Rod’s Hallmark, I believe, was the last Hallmark Gold Crown store in Lawrence. It stopped serving as a Hallmark store in 2011 and closed sometime after that. Everyone, of course, is familiar with Hallmark’s cards. You can buy them at grocery stores, discount retailers and plenty of other places around town. But if you are not familiar with a Gold Crown store, then you evidently don’t have a Christmas tree full of Winnie the Pooh ornaments. You don’t know what you are missing. They move, and when you pull a string he says something hilarious about not being able to find his honey. (Every year, I offer to “help” him find his honey, but I’m not really allowed to touch any of the ornaments.)
Gold Crown stores sell those ornaments, plus gift wrapping, a larger selection of cards, stuffed animals, figurines and several other types of collectibles, including lots of Disney, Peanuts and Precious Moments items.
Yes, those types of items now will be available in a hardware store. It is kind of brilliant because if I ever buy a Precious Moments item at the hardware store, I absolutely will buy a 36-inch chainsaw, a power nailer and a case of drill bits to ensure testosterone levels stay in balance.
All kidding aside, it is an adjustment for the hardware business.
“It is a big learning curve,” said Christensen, who just got back from Hallmark’s corporate headquarters where he learned about many product offerings.
But Christensen said he’s excited about the new offerings.
“We think it is a great idea because it brings added variety to our customers,” Christensen said. Plus, if it helps people spend their dollars locally, that is a benefit too, he said.
As for the details about the store within a store, the Hallmark selections are front and center. They are in the area right as you walk into the store, where a selection of tools previously were located. But don’t worry, tool fans, Christensen said the addition of the Hallmark store hasn’t caused Westlake to reduce its inventory in other areas. Instead, the store just moved some departments around.
Work began to remodel the location a few weeks ago. The store is celebrating the opening of the Hallmark shop with an open house and refreshments (a pot of honey would be appropriate) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
City manager speaks about hurdles facing the idea of downtown conference center; developers say they’re still committed to project
I think we’ve established that we know something about conference championships in this town. (I know to work it into the first 10 words of a conversation with a Kansas State fan.) But do we know anything about conference centers, like the one that is being proposed for downtown Lawrence? At the moment, I’ve learned enough about that idea to say it has some major hurdles to clear at City Hall.
On Friday, I shared with you some of my takeaways from a conversation I had with City Manager Tom Markus about the prospects for a downtown grocery store. That conversation also included some discussion about a conference center/hotel project proposed for the former Journal-World printing plant at Sixth and Massachusetts and Sixth and New Hampshire streets. I think some takeaways from that part of the conversation also are worth sharing, so here they are:
• Unlike the grocery store project, Markus left little doubt that he’s skeptical of a conference center in downtown Lawrence. He expressed concern that the city may be too late to the idea and that the regional market may soon have more of these conference centers than it can support.
“They can be like casinos,” he said. “I remember when casinos were being developed and everyone got on the bandwagon. When you are first in, that is a good thing. But sometimes when you are the last one in, it is not.”
He said while Lawrence likely would see a bump in business in the early going because the conference center would be “the shiny new bobble on the street,” he is concerned about its longer-term prospects.
“In the long run you have to figure out who is paying for it and who is owning it,” Markus said.
• The cost to public taxpayers is the driving concern on this project. If a conference center were to be developed with all private funds, that likely wouldn’t cause any heartburn. Although we didn’t get into a lot of detail in our conversation, the idea of some tax rebates to help the project also may not be a deal-killer. However, in other communities, cities have found themselves involved in the operation of conference centers. Sometimes they are the actual owner of the facility, while other times they serve as the financial backstop, or in other words, they cover any operating shortfall. It is clear those type of issues create a lot of concern for Markus.
“The numbers can be pretty discouraging on those type of deals,” Markus said.
Markus’ views are formed, in part, by watching some of his colleagues in the city-manager profession deal with these issues. He said he once watched a neighboring community run a conference center, and he told himself that if he ever landed in a situation where he was asked to consider such a project that he was going to be “pretty skeptical” about it.
I think that would probably sum up where he is today on the idea of a downtown conference center.
“That is running its own course,” he said of the project in general. “We don’t have as frequent meetings about that anymore. I think (the development group) is trying to refine what it is looking at, as are we.”
• While it will be up to the City Commission — not the city manager — to decide whether Lawrence should become involved with a conference center, commissioners do pay Markus for his advice. So, it would seem the conference center development group has its work cut out for it.
But Bill Fleming, who is an attorney for the development group — which is led by Lawrence businessmen Mike Treanor and Doug Compton — said the project is still very much an active one.
The biggest indication of that is the group has a contract to purchase the former Journal-World printing plant from the Simons family, the former owners of the newspaper. (To be clear, the Journal-World does not own any of the property, and the newspaper is not involved in the pending sale.) Fleming said the development group is expected to take over ownership of the property later this spring.
“We are very committed to that project,” Fleming said.
Fleming also said the development group is aware of some of the concerns Markus has expressed. He said the development group would be working to create a proposal that addresses many of those concerns.
“The issue that Mr. Markus has is how much risk and how much financial exposure does the city of Lawrence have on a project like this?” Fleming said. “There are a lot of examples where cities have said, ‘We’re going to be in the conference business.’ Some of those have probably worked out OK, but others, as you can imagine, have been disasters.
“We’re realistic to know that whatever project we come up with there will have to be very little to no risk to the city from an operational standpoint.”
Is a downtown grocery store still going to happen? Key players talk through the issues, including a new plan for parking
My health insurance underwriters and elastic waistband makers have been preparing for the day that a Price Chopper grocery store — including its smorgasbord of food bars and sheet cakes — comes to downtown Lawrence. But it has been nearly a year since we reported that Queen’s Price Chopper signed a letter of intent to locate at the former Border’s bookstore site at Seventh and New Hampshire streets. Yet, still, there is no downtown grocery store or any real signs of progress on the project.
Is this deal dead? Is it as hopeless as a cookie jar with a broken lid? It is worth asking, so I checked in with a representative of the development, and importantly, with City Manager Tom Markus. Here are my takeaways:
• There’s been a theory that maybe City Hall had cooled to the idea of a downtown grocery store. Sure, they would love to have one, but maybe it isn’t worth everything that has to be done. I did not, however, get that impression from Markus.
“One thing that is not an issue between the city and the developer is a belief that a grocery in downtown is a very positive thing,” Markus said. “My experience is it would really help the downtown and the adjoining neighborhoods. I think we see it as a project that is in our mutual interests.”
Importantly, he said the project may have some benefits that don’t clearly show up in the typical cost-benefit analysis the city does for such projects. He said the city will need to figure out how to account for those benefits.
• So, what issues do the city and the developer have? There are at least a couple. Issue No. 1: The request for an approximately $2.5 million city loan to help the grocer equip its store. I asked Markus whether he thought the project could go forward with that request. He was pessimistic that it could.
“I think it does have to go away, and I think it will,” Markus said. “It is an awkward request.”
Indeed, it sounds like plans are already in the works to scrap the loan request. I talked with Bill Fleming, an attorney with Treanor Architects, which is part of the development group.
“We’ve come back to the city and said we’re willing to take the idea of a loan off the table,” Fleming told me. “That hasn’t been a very popular idea.”
So, perhaps, that is one issue that can be wiped away. However, there is at least one remaining, and it comes with its own price tag.
• Parking. It is pretty clear this is one of the major hurdles the project is facing. As a reminder, the plans call for an approximately 40,000 square feet Price Chopper grocery store on the ground floor and about 70 apartments on floors above the grocery. Plans call for an underground parking garage beneath the building. Originally, developers proposed 160 spaces. As we’ve reported, the city has said 340 spaces would be a better number.
The underground parking garage is one of the most expensive parts of the project. That has been a stumbling block. It sounds like developers are poised to present a new proposal: A city-owned parking garage across the street from the grocery store. There is a two-hour city parking lot there today. That lot could accommodate an above-ground parking garage similar to the one on New Hampshire Street between Ninth and 10th streets. Fleming said it is an idea they’ve preliminarily discussed with City Hall officials. The project likely would have some underground parking beneath the building, but it could be smaller in scale, and thus less expensive.
Fleming said the project would continue to need tax increment financing, which is just basically a rebate program that returns new property and sales taxes generated by the development back to the developer. In this case, the rebated taxes would be used to pay for the underground parking and a portion of the city-owned garage across the street.
"Portion" is a key word though. Because it would be a city-owned garage, the development group anticipates the city using some general tax dollars to pay for part of the garage. That is different than the original plan. When the project was contemplating a single, underground garage, all the funding came from tax rebates that were generated by the new development. This new plan would require getting into the city’s general budget.
But, it should be noted that the city would be getting parking that it owns outright. Anybody could use the new garage, regardless of whether you ever shop at the new grocery store.
I don’t have a good sense of how City Hall feels about this proposal. But Markus did make it clear that he thinks parking issues are critical for downtown, and he also noted many downtowns of Lawrence’s size have five or six parking garages. Lawrence has three, currently.
The new proposal does make use of an idea that developers have long had for downtown: Building parking garages on city-owned surface parking lots.
“If Lawrence is going to grow downtown, there are going to be parking garages on almost all of those lots, at some point,” Fleming said.
It is an interesting thought. It raises another one: Should they just be parking garages or should they be mixed-used buildings? The latter is more complicated, but it would help maximize the limited space of downtown.
• Bottom line, I asked Markus whether he felt optimistic about the project’s chances of becoming reality. He probably wasn’t as much of a cheerleader as some would like, but he said enough that it would be unwise to write the project off.
“I feel very strongly that a grocery would benefit the downtown area,” he said. “But I don’t get anything out of speculating. We have to work through the process. There is a lot more public process to work through. But it is a project that adds value to the downtown and the adjoining neighborhoods, and that means it is something we have to give serious consideration to.”
Here comes the opposition: Four groups join forces to campaign against Douglas County jail expansion
Get your earplugs, your nose plugs or any other means of protection you feel necessary during campaign season. Douglas County is about to enter it in full force thanks to the pending sales tax election for a jail expansion and mental health programs. Saturday will be a big day for the season as four groups are banding together to formally launch a "Vote No" campaign against the $44 million jail expansion.
The four groups are: Justice Matters, an interfaith coalition of about 20 church congregations; Kansas Appleseed, a nonprofit that advocates for “vulnerable and excluded Kansans”; the Lawrence Sunset Alliance, a local taxpayer watchdog organization; and the Lawrence chapter of the NAACP.
At least three of those four have been pretty vocal opponents already, but the NAACP hasn’t done as much to lend its voice to the opposition. It sounds like that will change on Saturday. Based on a press release sent out by the organizations, it appears the groups plan to run an organized opposition campaign. They are calling it "Jail No." The campaign already has six talking points about why its members are urging a no vote.
— Relationships between jails and U.S. policies that lead to “mass incarceration.”
— A lack of understanding on the county’s part about what is driving the “recent explosion” in the rate of incarceration.
— A failure on the part of the county to embrace reforms to lower jail population.
— An over-representation of minorities in Douglas County’s criminal justice system.
— Use of a “regressive sales tax to fund the jail expansion, placing the greatest burden for funding on the poor.”
— “Contempt for the voters by the Douglas County Commission.” The groups argue that County Commissioners should have created two ballot questions — one for a sales tax that would fund new mental health programs, and a separate sales tax question for the jail expansion. In addition, the groups have become particularly irked in recent weeks as county commissioners have said even if the sales tax proposal fails, they will seek to do the jail expansion in phases, funding it through budget cuts and existing resources. The opposition groups have taken that as an explicit threat to voters.
County commissioners, of course, disagree with many of the opposition’s assertions. They believe opponents have been misrepresenting the rate of incarceration in Douglas County. County officials point to statistics that show local incarceration rates are below the national average and are near the lowest in the state of Kansas.
County officials also point to a multitude of programs they already have implemented to try to reduce the jail population, including a pre-trial release program that cuts down on the amount of time people spend in jail waiting for a court proceeding.
The county also believes a myth is forming in the community that there are lots of people in the Douglas County jail for simple offenses, such as small-scale possession of marijuana. County officials contend that if someone is in jail for simple marijuana possession they also have other underlying charges against them, such as fleeing from the police or some other action that made the incident more serious. (Full disclosure: The Journal-World is currently reviewing data about the jail’s population and hopes to soon publish an article detailing the type of inmates who currently are in jail.)
But, clearly, county officials have a lot of work cut out for them. Organized opposition groups aren’t that common in local elections. To have four groups come together to oppose a project is pretty rare in Douglas County politics.
Plus, there are several numbers that voters likely will want an explanation on. For example, the percentage of black inmates in Douglas County jail is high compared to the black population of the county.
Another question — one that I know the Journal-World is trying to get an answer to — is why does Douglas County have such a high percentage of felony court cases that take more than a year to resolve? As we’ve previously reported, 12.8 percent of all felony cases in Douglas County in fiscal year 2017 were still pending after a year in the system. Of the 31 judicial districts in the state, that is the sixth highest rate in Kansas. Notably, it is the highest rate of any urban county in the state. Thus far, we haven’t gotten a lot of answers from judicial officials about why that is the case.
And, finally, Douglas County officials may have to overcome a piece of their own literature. Homeowners this week should start receiving their annual change of value notices for their properties. As we’ve reported, more than 75 percent of all homeowners are going to see the tax values of their homes increase. Unless local governments make some sort of pledge to decrease property tax rates, those higher values essentially ensure that most residents will see higher property taxes next year.
Saturday may be a gauge of how spirited this campaign season will be. The four groups are hosting a rally on the west steps of the Douglas County Courthouse at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The sales tax election will be conducted by mail-in ballot. Ballots will begin arriving in mailboxes on April 24, and they will be counted on May 15.
• Feb. 21, 2018 — Douglas County will face tough choices on jail expansion if tax referendum fails, official says
• Feb. 20 — Building jail expansion in phases would take 16 years, $6M to $8M a year, county says
• Feb. 19 — Town Talk: Fact checking county commissioners on assertion that big budget cuts will come if voters reject jail/mental health sales tax
• Feb. 17 — Activist leaders blast proposed expansion of Douglas County Jail
• Feb. 12 — As voters consider $44M expansion, report finds some changes could reduce overcrowding at Douglas County Jail
• Feb. 7 — Douglas County Commission to schedule forums on jail and mental health referendum, provide information on what happens if voters reject
• Feb. 4 — Johnson County built a larger jail and now has 300 unused beds; Douglas County can't use them
• Jan. 30 — State law won't allow Douglas County commissioners to campaign for passage of jail, mental health sales tax
• Jan. 24 — Douglas County Commission approves language for ballot question on jail expansion, behavioral health campus
• Jan. 22 — Following the money: Douglas County partners beefing up behavioral health services with funding
• Jan. 17 — Douglas County Commission agrees to put jail expansion, behavioral health campus on same ballot question
• Jan. 16 — Town Talk: Many residents want to vote separately on jail, mental health projects; there's a way, but county unlikely to go there
• Jan. 16 — Douglas County commissioners ready to ask voters to approve jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives
• Jan. 15 — 2014 speedy trial redefinition clogging Douglas County jail, district court
• Jan. 10 — Price tag of behavioral health campus, services estimated at $5.76 million annually
• Jan. 8 — No insurance and hooked on drugs? Chances are, you won't find treatment in Douglas County
• Jan. 5 — Town Talk: A look at how high Lawrence's sales tax rate would be if voters approve increase for jail, mental health
• Jan. 3, 2018 — Due to misunderstanding, county now says jail expansion, mental health projects must be on same sales tax ballot
• Dec. 31, 2017 — Undersheriff says 2016 annual report shows overcrowding threatening jail safety, re-entry programming
• Dec. 18 — Behavioral health campus plan grew from recognition of housing's role in crisis recovery
• Dec. 13 — Services that will be part of behavioral health campus to be introduced next month at LMH
• Dec. 13 — Douglas County commissioners confident of voter buy-in on jail expansion plan
• Nov. 30 — Douglas County commission agrees to move ahead with $44 million jail expansion design
• Nov. 26 — Sheriff's Office exploring modular units as stopgap solution to Douglas County Jail overcrowding
• Nov. 8 — Douglas County Sheriff's Office recommends jail redesign that would more than double number of beds
• Oct. 4 — Jail expansion, crisis center would require public vote on new taxes, officials say
• Sept. 20 — Estimated cost to expand Douglas County Jail jumps by millions of dollars
• July 26 — Douglas County Commission to forward report on future jail population to architects
• July 16 — Double bunking not considered solution for Douglas County Jail overcrowding
• June 26 — Jail, mental health initiatives help drive proposed tax increase in 2018 county budget
• May 14 — Douglas County data showing swelling jail population despite fewer arrests
• April 5, 2017 — Sheriff urges Douglas County Commission to make jail expansion a priority
Signs of a new retailer coming for the old Payless ShoeSource building on south Iowa Street; former Pier 1 building also being renovated
Despite seeing their advertisements all the time, I’m still not sure I understand what my “Sleep Number” is. I’m estimating that it is 0.3, which is roughly equivalent to the number of inches of the bed I get to use, while the rest is reserved for my lovely wife and a not so lovely Boston terrier. But all of us in Lawrence soon may get a better idea about Sleep Number. The national mattress company appears to have plans to locate in Lawrence.
Construction work is underway to remodel the former Payless ShoeSource building at 3231 Iowa St., in front of the Target store. I haven’t got any official confirmation from the building’s owners that Sleep Number is taking over the space, but the mattress company’s name is listed on the building permit on file with Lawrence City Hall.
If you are not familiar with Sleep Number, evidently your television must have broken a long time ago. The company has those commercials asking "What’s your Sleep Number?" (If 0.3 isn’t correct, I’m going to guess 913. At least that is the area code I get shipped to when I snore.)
Actually, the Minnesota-based company manufactures special air beds that can have their firmness levels adjusted by adding or removing air as the user changes a sleep number from 0 to 100. The beds even are designed so one side can be at one setting while another side is at a different setting.
The company sells its beds through a fleet of about 550 company-owned stores across the country. In this area, the company already has a store in Topeka and several in the Kansas City metro area.
The company, which is traded on the Nasdaq, may be a little more interesting to watch than the standard mattress business. The company is becoming more of a biometrics firm all the time. Certain models of Sleep Number beds are equipped with “touch-free, biometric sensors” that track a sleeper’s “whole body hundreds of times per second,” according to the company’s website. By monitoring data such as heart rate, breathing patterns and sleep cycles, the company can use “adaptive algorithms and predictive modeling to recommend adjustments to daily habits and environment.” And, of course, they can send all this data to your smart phone. Think of it as “smart bed” technology, although I thought that simply meant getting the door closed before the dog could get in.
No word on when the store will open, but construction work is well underway.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Construction work is also underway two doors down from the old Payless building. Crews currently are remodeling the former Pier 1 Imports building at 3211 Iowa St. I don’t have information about new tenants for that building. The most I can tell you is that the building permit indicates the development group has decided to split the building into several pieces to accommodate multiple tenants.
At one point, there was a small sign in the window saying a Sprint wireless phone store was coming to the site. Perhaps that is still the case, but I’m not sure. If so, perhaps Sprint is planning to take over the world. The company has filed plans to construct a new building at the corner of 23rd and Ousdahl where Taco John's was once located. In addition, there is already a Sprint store in the shopping center at 27th and Iowa streets, so that would make for three in fairly short order.
Regardless, I’ll keep an eye out for any signs of new businesses coming to the project. Between that building and the new retail space next to Buffalo Wild Wings at 27th and Iowa, there are several chances for new businesses to locate along the south Iowa corridor.
I don’t know what you think of when you hear the phrase “pop-up prom,” but it causes me to grab the powder blue tux from the closet and the hair growth formula from the medicine cabinet. (I no longer can produce a mullet on demand.) A pair of downtown businesswomen, though, have a different idea. They’ve opened a “pop-up” prom store that specializes in formal dresses and accessories.
The Prom Haus has opened at 716 1/2 Massachusetts St. That’s the space where Euphoria tobacco shop used to be. If you are still confused about the location, its entrance is off the walkway that runs between Signs of Life and Eccentricity. Morgan Fellars, owner of Eccentricity, and Jena Dick, owner of J. Lynn Bridal, have teamed up to open the pop-up business, which is a type of store designed to be open only seasonally.
“I have been mulling this over every prom season,” Dick said. “I knew I needed to do something to capitalize off of prom, but I didn’t have the space and I didn't want to take on all of the expense. I like the idea of a pop-up store. It is like the Halloween stores. Those were my inspiration.”
What a coincidence. People tell me that my tuxedo reminds them of Halloween. You won’t have to worry about any of that type of nonsense, though. For one, the store doesn’t rent tuxedos. It sends the men to the tuxedo shop at J. Lynn Bridal. And on the dress front, Dick and Fellars think the store’s sense of style will set it apart.
“With me being in the dress world every day, I think I understand what people are looking for,” Dick said.
One of the things in demand is a variety of sizes. Dick said the store has “several hundred” dresses in stock ranging in size from 0 to 26. Too many stores stock only the average sizes, she said.
“Everybody needs a dress,” she said.
And, as Dick says, “every dress needs a nice pair of shoes.” The store sells shoes, jewelry and a few other pieces of prom accessories. While the shop is geared toward prom attire, Dick said she thinks the store also will attract business from other women who are attending some of the adult spring and summer formal events in Lawrence.
“Morgan and I are both in our 30s, so we like some mature styles, and we have brought some of them into the shop,” Dick said.
The store has been open for a couple of weeks and plans to remain open through mid-May. In case you are wondering, the first prom in the area is April 14 and the last one is May 5.
“We’ll definitely be open through then, and then we’ll probably do a big sale,” Dick said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It definitely is not a pop-up store, but it is big news on the Lawrence store front. Hobby Lobby has opened its new store on south Iowa Street. Hobby Lobby has officially moved from its longtime home near 23rd and Ousdahl into the former J.C. Penney building at 33rd and Iowa streets.
The new store checks in at about 51,000 square feet, which is about 3,000 square feet larger than the old store. The project involved a complete remodeling and facelift for the old JC Penney store. The new Hobby Lobby includes a variety of arts and crafts departments, including floral, fabric, needle art, custom framing, home accents, jewelry making, scrapbooking and several others.
When the project is complete, the old J.C. Penney building will house three retailers. In addition to Hobby Lobby, work is underway on a 21,000 square foot HomeGoods store, which is part of the same chain as TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Five Below, a discount retailer that sells items for less than $5, is the third store. Look for the store, which says it caters to teens, pre-teens and their parents, to open any day. The company’s website lists March 9 as the grand opening date for the Lawrence store.
No word yet on a tenant for Hobby Lobby's old space on 23rd Street.
• Do not panic. You again will be able to make a mess with peanut shells and eat entire paper sacks full of french fries. I had heard from some readers worried that Five Guys, a hamburger joint also known for its free peanuts and huge fry servings, had closed its south Lawrence location. It hasn’t. The restaurant at 2040 W. 31st St. is temporarily closed for remodeling. I checked, and the building permit already has been issued by the city, so get back on your cholesterol medicine ASAP. I’ll let you know if I hear of a reopening date or more details about the remodel.
Auto dealership files plans to expand Lawrence operations; latest real estate statistics point to an aggressive sellers’ market on the horizon
My truck now has more sand and salt than a Miami Beach margarita bar. With the winter crud continuing to pile up, maybe it would be easier just to buy a new vehicle than wash an old one. One local dealership may be thinking along those lines. Lawrence Kia has filed plans to close the car wash adjacent to its 23rd Street business and use the space to significantly expand its dealership.
Lawrence Kia, 1225 E. 23rd St., has owned the 23rd Street car wash immediately west of its dealership since 2013. But with car sales continuing a years-long uptick, the dealership has decided now is the time to close the car wash and use the space to add room for about 120 additional vehicles on its lot.
“This is a pretty big step for us,” Chin Rajapaksha, general manager and managing partner for Lawrence Kia, told me. “We’ve always been landlocked. It is about a half-million dollar project. We’re thinking it will allow us to sell about 50 to 60 more cars per month.”
Chin said the dealership will use the car wash location to house about five detail bays for the dealership’s use. All other car wash functions, though, will be closed and no longer open to the public once the project is completed. He’s hoping the project will be completed sometime in May.
Don’t worry about running out of places to clean your car, though. (I never worry about cleaning my car. I figure, worst case, salt is a preservative and it is doing good things for the emergency stash of Doritos on the floorboard.) The Lawrence car wash market it going through a major expansion elsewhere. Plans have been filed for a new one at the former Cadillac Ranch location on Sixth Street and also at the former Applebee’s on Sixth Street. Plus, maybe this closing will spur the Zarco gas station to start its car wash project on 23rd Street. It has had a sign up about a new car wash coming to the site, but work has been slow to start. The company also has one planned for its Ninth and Iowa location.
In addition to providing more space for vehicles, the Kia project also will free up more space in the dealership’s existing service center, Chin said. Currently, the service center houses two detail bays, and those will be converted to service spaces as part of the project.
Chin said the Kia dealership, which has been in town since late 2011, is gearing up for a big year. He said forecasts predict that the used car market will be the biggest in at least the last seven years. He said a large number of leased vehicles coming back into the market is expected to drive up used car buying activity. As a result, new car sales may not be as strong, but that likely will lead to manufacturers becoming more aggressive with their incentive programs.
In other news and notes from around town:
Maybe my mention of Miami Beach inadvertently got you to thinking about packing up and finding some place warmer (or at least a place where pastel blazers are still considerable fashionable.) If so, know that the latest real estate statistics are saying it is a good time to sell a Lawrence home.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors has released its January home sales report. One month of statistics aren’t too meaningful, but probably the biggest takeaway is that inventories of homes for sale continue to drop.
“We are seeing the beginnings of what is shaping up to be a very aggressive spring market,” Henry Wertin, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors said in the report. He expects the number of homes receiving multiple offers from buyers to increase.
The key number driving that finding is the number of homes currently on the market. In January there were 169 homes on the market in Lawrence. That’s down from 197 in January 2017 and 260 in January 2016.
Another indicator of the aggressive market: The median number of days a home sits on the market before selling is now 29, down from 48 a year ago.
Overall, home sales in Lawrence were up 1.9 percent in January, totaling 53 homes. Again, it is tough to see trends after just one month, but it is worth keeping an eye on whether sales of newly constructed homes continue their uptick. It was a good year in 2017 for newly built houses, and sales of new homes in January 2018 were stronger than the same periods in 2017 and 2016.
Also worth keeping an eye on this year are selling prices. With an admittedly small sample size, the median selling price of homes in January was up 12.9 percent compared with the same time a year ago.
They say going into Ernst & Son Hardware store is like going backward in a time machine. If so, buy me some Ice Melt, or a Feb. 19 ticket to the Caribbean, whichever one is handier. But since Rod Ernst’s death late last month, there’s been a question about whether anyone would be going into the store for much longer.
Well, I talked with Ernst family members recently, and they told me the store is open and it plans to remain that way for the foreseeable future.
“We are going to try to keep it open as long as possible,” said Shirley Ernst, Rod’s widow. “We would love to find someone who wants to rent it and keep this service going.”
The store closed for eight days following Rod’s death on Jan. 23.
“I’m sure Rod didn’t approve of that,” Shirley said of the closing. “He would have wanted us down here the next day.”
But the store is a true, tight-knit small business. The employees at the store are like family, said Lynda Allen, Rod’s oldest daughter. She said they all needed time to grieve, and family members also needed some time to think about what they were going to do with a downtown institution.
The store has been open in Lawrence since 1905, all the time being owned by the Ernst family. Rod, 84, was the third-generation owner of the business.
Other family members weren’t overly active in the day-to-day operations of the store. Lynda said that has changed since Rod’s death. She, her mom and several other family members and friends have been coming to the store nearly every day. They’ve been marking down prices — most items are selling for at least 20 percent off — and they’ve been sorting through merchandise.
You can find some of the new merchandise hanging behind the counter. Marvelous, new hunting and fishing vests. Well, maybe “new” isn’t the right word. The vests are from the 1970s, but Lynda found them still in their original box and packaging. They’ve just been in storage.
Ernst & Son is that type of store. The storefront at 826 Massachusetts St. is stocked full of items, including on old-style shelves that are so tall you sometimes need a ladder to retrieve an item. And you haven’t even seen the basement.
“We try not to go down there very often,” Lynda said with a laugh.
Lynda, though, said the family is working on a plan to revamp the merchandise mix at the store. While hardware has been its main line, the store has long had a lot of sporting goods equipment. She said the sporting goods line probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for the store anymore.
In terms of new items, Lynda said she’s not quite sure. She said she has heard from several downtown business owners that a shop that sells more conveniences would be appreciated.
“Even just bottled water,” Lynda said. “That can be hard to find on Massachusetts Street.”
A new operator, though, might have his or her own ideas. Lynda agreed with her mother that finding someone to rent the store would be a good option.
In the meantime family members and friends will continue sorting through the merchandise. A possible slogan for the store perhaps has already emerged.
“We’ve got vintage, that is for sure,” Lynda said.
But it is not just merchandise that is causing Lynda to pause and investigate. She said she recently found a ledger book from 1905, the first year the store was open.
“Every piece of merchandise sold was handwritten in the ledger,” she said.
As she looked further, she found years and years worth of ledgers.
“It has kind of been like a museum,” she said.
Fact-checking county commissioners on assertion that big budget cuts will come if voters reject jail/mental health sales tax
Passing a new tax often is about painting pictures. Supporters of the tax paint a pretty picture of what happens if the tax is approved, or they paint an ugly picture of what happens if it is rejected.
As Douglas County commissioners try to convince voters to support a half-cent sales tax for jail and mental health improvements, they’ve been painting both. If approved, the tax would fund a mental health campus that would provide housing for those who struggle to find it, treatment for those who often go without, and help to prevent people from falling into crisis. If the tax fails and the jail isn’t expanded, there will continue to be inmates sleeping in work rooms, violent offenders interspersed with nonviolent offenders, and conditions that are producing potentially dangerous unrest for both inmates and corrections officers.
Simply put, county officials believe overcrowding at the jail has reached a crisis and inmates are not being treated in a way befitting a caring community. It is not clear, though, whether a majority of the electorate feels that way. Opposition groups have formed that want the proposed mental health services but don’t want the $44 million jail expansion.
With that in mind, county commissioners have been painting a starker picture of what happens if voters this spring reject the sales tax. The county would work to expand the jail in phases, and it would fund it by cutting other county services, perhaps even some existing mental health services.
Based on reader feedback, it seems that scenario has struck a nerve. It also has created a question: Is it true? It is true that the county could do that. But there is also another scenario county officials didn’t offer. It involves the county getting more than $4 million to expand the jail and still having millions to add new mental health services.
But it would involve the county doing something that is has resisted and that groups like Justice Matters have urged: creating a ballot question — likely in November — that funds only mental health projects and not a jail expansion.
Let’s sort through this by looking at three points:
— If the spring sales tax fails, plans for a $44 million jail expansion are basically done. The county could fund a jail expansion using cash from its existing budget, but it can’t cut $44 million from its budget. Plus, the current plan, if built in phases, would cost a lot more than $44 million. Phased projects cost a lot more because of inflation and other factors. How many phases the county would try to do is also unclear. Voters will have a say on that. There is a county election in November 2018, where Commissioner Mike Gaughan’s seat is up for election. The other two seats face election in November 2020. If voters don’t want to do a jail expansion, they likely will elect people who also don’t want to do a jail expansion.
— If the spring sales tax fails, watching how it fails will be important. If the county determines voters liked the mental health projects but disliked the jail plan, then the county may have a financial incentive to put a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot that would fund only mental health. To understand why, you need to know a bit about the county’s budget. The county’s existing budget has $4.2 million of mental health services, such as Bert Nash funding, that are funded by property taxes. If a mental health sales tax were approved, that $4.2 million could be removed from the property tax portion of the county’s budget and transferred to the sales tax portion of the budget. That frees up $4.2 million of property tax money that could be spent on the jail expansion, and the county gets that money without making any cuts to services. In addition, the sales tax is expected to generate about $10 million in funding, which means the county would have about $6 million in funding left for new mental health services.
— People who think the county needs a $44 million jail expansion should hate this scenario. That’s because $4.2 million isn’t enough to build the necessary improvements, even if you spend that amount year after year. Even though county officials have said they would do a phased jail expansion, it is clear they really dislike the idea. They believe the jail is in desperate need of improvements, and a phased approach would produce fewer improvements and take longer to deliver. But if voters reject the spring sales tax, that might be a sign that a majority of residents don’t agree with that assessment. At that point, commissioners are left with the phased expansion or nothing at all. If that is the boat they are in, commissioners are going to be under tremendous political pressure to limit the amount of budget cuts needed to fund the jail. Mental health advocates would be livid if existing mental health services are cut. They would clamor for a mental health-only sales tax. If county officials believe there is any chance such a tax could pass, and then choose not to put it on the ballot, they would face a lot of tough political questions.
I asked all three county commissioners last week why they haven’t talked about this scenario when explaining to voters what would happen if the spring election fails. All said it was a scenario that they just hadn’t focused on. I asked all whether they would be open to putting a mental-health only sales tax on the ballot if the spring sales tax fails. All three said they wanted to focus on convincing voters to pass the current sales tax proposal, although Commissioner Michelle Derusseau said: "We are going to be looking at all of our options, if it comes to that."
Politically, it makes sense that commissioners don’t want to talk too much about what happens if the vote fails. But they are the ones who raised the issue and planted the seed of painful budget cuts. I followed up on it simply because readers had questions about what commissioners were saying or implying. Presumably, commissioners raised the issue of what happens if the vote fails to encourage people to vote for the sales tax. That may not end up being a winning strategy.
To cover their bets, commissioners may need to find another picture to paint. County Commissioner Mike Gaughan had the makings of one when we talked last week.
“We have to make sure people understand the needs aren’t going away,” Gaughan said. “I hope the compassion that exists in this community extends to people who are in jail. I believe it does.”
More coverage: Douglas County push for jail expansion, behavioral health campus
• Feb. 17, 2018 — Activist leaders blast proposed expansion of Douglas County Jail
The rumors are true. The once-popular downtown restaurant Ingredient has closed.
The restaurant at 10th and Massachusetts streets had been dark for a couple of days, so I went there this morning to investigate. Owner Nick Wysong was there and confirmed he had decided to shut down the restaurant after 12 years in business. He said Lawrence diners should keep their eyes open for him in the future, but he provided no other specifics about his plans.
Ingredient gained a following as a “chef-owned restaurant,” and it featured a heavy dose of wood-fired pizza, gourmet salads and several varieties of sandwiches. Wysong had branched out in the restaurant business recently. Last year he was part of the group that opened Harold’s Chicken Whiskey & Donuts. That restaurant, though, closed not long after it opened. It is not to be confused with Wake the Dead Breakfast Bar, which also involves whiskey, doughnuts and some chicken. It is still operating at 7 E. Seventh St. Leaders of those two businesses at one point in time were connected, but that fell apart.
Wysong also took over Jackpot Saloon & Music Hall in downtown Lawrence early last year. It is still open and hosting some concerts.
Wysong didn’t provide any details about what caused him to close the restaurant. However, there are signs of some business struggles in downtown. The list of vacancies is significant. I won’t promise this is a comprehensive list, but here are several prominent vacancies along Massachusetts Street:
— The national chain clothing retailer White House Black Market closed a few weeks ago, leaving its storefront at 714 Massachusetts St. vacant.
— Dan Blomgrem’s Crema Dolce Gelaterio has closed. It was located above Rudy’s Pizzeria at 704 Massachusetts St.
— As we have reported, clothing retailer The Buckle closed its downtown store at 805 Massachusetts. The Buckle closed in March, meaning that large storefront on a very busy block has been empty for almost a year. It looks like the owners are willing to divide that space to accommodate smaller users.
— Another large storefront that has been empty for almost a year is the Pro-Print building at 838 Massachusetts St. This is a little different scenario. Pro-Print did not close. It simply moved its printing business to Sixth and Wakarusa in west Lawrence. It moved out of downtown after owners of the building sold the property. Based on property records on file at the courthouse, it looks like an individual associated with Yantra Financial Technologies has bought the building. Yantra is a financial services firm that is developing technology that helps banks make large transactions at very high speeds. Yantra’s offices currently are next door to the former Pro-Print space. So, I’ll check in soon with Yantra officials to see if there is an update.
— The former Buffalo Wild Wings and Jazz, A Louisiana Kitchen space at 1012 Massachusetts St. also is still vacant. That spot may say something about the challenges with downtown restaurants. Buffalo Wild Wings closed in November 2014, and then Jazz closed in fall 2016 after being open for only a year. The large restaurant space has been vacant ever since. As a reminder, Buffalo Wild Wings opened a new location at 27th and Iowa streets. There was some mild surprise that Buffalo Wild Wings would leave an entertainment district like downtown, but officials in 2014 told me they wanted to get to a location with more parking. Thus far, it appears the move has worked well for them. The small shopping center at 27th and Iowa street is undergoing a bit of an expansion currently. (Hope to get you info on some new tenants there soon.)
— The former bank location at 800 Massachusetts St. continues to be vacant. It most recently was home to Great American Bank, but it always planned to be there just temporarily. It occupied the space while its new headquarters was being built at Eighth and New Hampshire streets. The location has struggled to find anything more than a temporary tenant since early 2012 when Central National Bank closed its downtown branch.
Downtown goes through stretches like this. Leases in downtown Lawrence often are done on five-year terms, and there are periods where many of those leases expire all at once, and many changes in business occur at once. There may be some of that going on, but I think there are also just some business struggles, despite some fairly positive economic news otherwise (i.e. sales tax returns.)
In other news and notes from around town:
There is happier food news at the 1900 Barker Bakery & Cafe. Taylor Petrehn has been named as a semifinalist for the Outstanding Baker designation by the prestigious James Beard Foundation. This is the second consecutive year Petrehn has been a semifinalist for the award. Petrehn, who is a co-owner of the business, has gained quite a following for simply made bread that eschews a lot of additives, sweeteners and oils. The menu includes lots of sourdoughs, plus a selection of croissants and other baked goods.
Petrehn is one of two finalists from Kansas. Megan Garrelts of Rye in Leawood is a semifinalist in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category.
Finalists will be announced on March 14.
It is flu season and we could all use more soap. (I also could use safety goggles to weather the buckets of Pine-Sol that certain members of my family dump on me. I think that is related to flu season.) Fortunately, there’s a new Lawrence business that can help.
Evening Shade Farms Soap House has opened in North Lawrence at 1320 N. Third St., which is the old house right next door to Howard Pine’s Garden Center. As you can imagine, Evening Shade doesn’t sell just ordinary soap that you can stock up on at any discount store.
Instead Evening Shade sells small-batch, handcrafted soaps, often made from fresh goat milk that comes from the company’s farm in Osceola, Mo. You may know Osceola if you know Lawrence history. It was raided by Jayhawkers in a particularly ugly period of the Bleeding Kansas era. I know it better as the place I eat copious amounts of cheese samples at the Osceola Cheese Shop on busy Highway 13 on my way to Branson. (I like my belly full of cheese when I listen to my banjo music.)
Evening Shade’s farm doesn’t have the good fortune of being located along the busy highway in Osceola, so the company was looking for a location to open its first retail store. Lawrence won out after Evening Shade owner Loudy Bousman did some in-depth investigation of the community. She worked for a season at Howard Pine’s Garden Center.
“The energy of the community and the social structure of the community, I just loved it,” she said. “I just felt like it would really embrace who we are and what we do.”
The company does have a strong emphasis on organic, which usually hits a sweet spot in Lawrence.
“We use certified organic ingredients that are good for you and good for the planet,” Bousman said.
The part about soap that is good for the planet is often overlooked, Bousman said. She said that many chemicals used in cosmetics, including soap products, are not that great to be washed down a drain because they ultimately can end up infecting water supplies over the long run.
An aspect that is getting more awareness is what the wrong soap can do to your skin. Bousman said.
“For a long time the skin has really kind of been the forgotten organ,” Bousman said. “That’s incredible because it is the largest organ and it is the most abused. It is exposed to everything.”
Or another way Bousman puts it: Your skin is like a million mouths. It absorbs everything.
Surprisingly, maybe your skin would benefit from pig lard. Evening Shade has a brand of soap called Pine Tar soap. It is made, in part, from pig lard and tallow. In fact, that is the style of soap that got the company in business.
Bousman’s mother started the business 40 years ago after she was battling a skin condition and decided to make a batch of soap like her mother did on the farm in Evening Shade, Ark. Upon using the homemade soap, her skin condition disappeared. Bousman then started making more soap and selling it at farmers markets and other events.
Bousman took over the reins of the business seven years ago when her mother died. She has since expanded it well beyond the farmers market model. The company now has a contract to be in quite a few Whole Foods stores, and is looking for other commercial opportunities.
All the soap is made at the Evening Shade farm in Osceola. She said the company sticks with that method, in part, because it allows the company to use fresh goat milk in its products, whereas most goat soaps actually use powdered goat milk.
In total, the company has about 100 products that it sells. In addition to bar soap, it also has an active living skin care line, a facial care line, a line of vegan soaps for those who don’t want animal products, dog shampoo, and a variety of oils, including insect repellent oil. Bousman said the company even has a “tattoo serum.” I had to ask about that one. I guess it brightens up your tattoo. I thought it was serum that made you tell the truth about how you actually got the tattoo, in which case I was going to carry some with me at all times. The blackmail money would ensure I’d never have to work again.
Evening Shade has been open since just after the first of the year. It plans to have a grand opening celebration in late March.
New report says Lawrence is not a very diverse place; as deportation cases make headlines, a look at our foreign-born population
It is that time of year when a new report comes out that reminds us that Lawrence it is not a very diverse place. It is also the time of year people act surprised by that finding.
After all, I’m sure you are thinking Lawrence is a very diverse place, at least in terms of thought. Take KU basketball for example. When the team loses, some people lose their minds while other people merely freak out.
The latest report from the financial website WalletHub, however, doesn’t quite measure diversity that way. Instead it looks at census data about race, foreign-born population, foreign-language speakers and other such data. The finding: Out of 501 cities, Lawrence was ranked as the 316th most culturally diverse city in the country. The report also provided some sub-rankings. Lawrence ranked No. 329 when you look at race and ethnicity; it ranked No. 296 in the category of different languages spoken; and ranked No. 185 in the area of foreign-born population. So, in other words, we were below the median in all categories except foreign-born population.
What is the most diverse city in Kansas? Look next door. It is Kansas City, Kan. It ranks No. 62 overall. In terms of race and ethnicity, it actually is the 18th most diverse in the country, and it almost cracked the top 100 in terms of language diversity, coming in at 103. Here is a look at the rankings for Kansas communities:
— Kansas City, Kan.: No. 62
— Wichita: No. 188
— Olathe: No. 267
— Topeka: No. 288
— Overland Park: No. 301
— Lawrence: No. 316
— Manhattan: No. 321
— Shawnee: No. 371
— Salina: No. 383
Of course, the rankings are subjective. The authors of the report provide various weightings to certain statistics. However, raw census data does show the lack of racial diversity in the city. In fact, when you look at race and ethnicity, Lawrence looks a lot like some of the Johnson County communities. Here’s a look at the most recent census data — it is the 2016 five-year averages, for those of you scoring along at home — related to race and Hispanic origin. ("Hispanic" is considered an ethnicity, not a race; it's counted separately, which explains why the percentages don't equal 100).
Lawrence: 82 percent white; 4.3 percent black; 5.5 percent Asian; 2.3 percent American Indian; 6.6 percent Hispanic.
Olathe: 85 percent white; 5 percent black; 4.4 percent Asian; 10.9 percent Hispanic
Overland Park: 84.6 percent white; 4.9 percent black; 7.1 percent Asian; 6.4 percent Hispanic
Wichita: 76.2 percent white; 11.2 percent black; 5 percent Asian; 16.4 percent Hispanic
Kansas City, Kan.: 59.4 percent white; 25.1 percent black; 3.9 percent Asian; 29.2 percent Hispanic.
Topeka: 78.7 percent white; 10 percent black; 1.4 percent Asian; 14.1 percent Hispanic
Although Lawrence has some of the lower percentages for black and Hispanic populations, American Indians may make up a larger share of our population than any other metro area in the state. Haskell Indian Nations University is a diversity differentiator for the community.
I also wondered whether Lawrence’s status as a university community made us a bit more of a magnet for foreign-born residents. Not really. The census numbers show we are only slightly above the statewide average. About 7.8 percent of Lawrence’s population is foreign-born compared with about 6.9 percent for the state. When you account for margin of error, that is pretty close.
Again, larger cities and Johnson County communities had higher percentages.
— Kansas City, Kan.: 16.6 percent
— Olathe: 10.6 percent
— Wichita: 10.3 percent
— Topeka: 5.5 percent
But with the recent news about deportations in Lawrence, I did wonder how many actual people are foreign-born residents but not American citizens. The Census Bureau’s latest estimates are that 5,117 people are foreign-born but not U.S. citizens. That’s about 5.5 percent of the population. Statewide, the number is 126,903 or about 4.3 percent of the population.
Since Lawrence is a big city now, I guess my morning commute should involve a subway. (I’ll plan on getting a footlong and three cookies for breakfast.) I’m, of course, referring to the news that city planners estimate Lawrence’s population has crossed the 100,000 mark in 2018. Not everything is growing so rapidly in Lawrence, though, as a new jobs report shows.
Planners estimated that we had a pretty robust 2.5 percent population growth rate in 2017. For at least a year anyway, that’s a return to the type of population growth we saw in the go-go 1990s. Jobs in Lawrence and Douglas County, though, grew at only about a third of that pace, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Each month BLS estimates the number of jobs that actually exist in the Lawrence metro, which includes all of Douglas County. The numbers, of course, change each month, but we now have a full 12 months of preliminary data for 2017. I’ve averaged the monthly totals, and they show Lawrence had 54,375 jobs on average in 2017. That’s up from 53,950 jobs in 2016. That’s 425 jobs or a growth rate of about 0.8 percent.
There certainly was a time not long ago that any job growth was seen as a victory, so I would be careful not to sneer at 0.8 percent job growth. But there was a point in 2017 where it looked like Lawrence was poised for a big jump in jobs. At least that is what the statistics were pointing toward. In June, Lawrence posted job growth of more than 5 percent. It followed it up in July with job growth of about 1.8 percent and then 1.6 percent in August.
Since then, the picture has become negative. The preliminary numbers show the numbers of jobs in September dropped by 1.8 percent, by 1.2 percent in October, by 0.5 percent in November and 0.2 percent in December. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the specific numbers because they are preliminary and will change, but they probably are a good indication of the trend.
The other thing of note is that Lawrence did not keep up with Topeka or Kansas City job growth in 2017, and for the last part of the year, Wichita also had much higher job growth totals. Here’s a look at the 12-month average growth rates for each of the metro areas, which include the Kansas and Missouri side of Kansas City.
— Kansas City: up 1.9 percent
— Topeka: up 1.2 percent
— Lawrence: up 0.8 percent
— Manhattan: up 0.8 percent
— Wichita: up 0.6 percent
For whatever reason, though, the state’s two big college communities — Lawrence and Manhattan — both suffered slowdowns in the last part of the year. Like Lawrence, Manhattan has posted declines since September, according to the preliminary numbers. In fact, the declines in Manhattan have been even more pronounced. In December, Manhattan posted a 2 percent job decline compared to Lawrence’s 0.2 percent dip.
On the other end of the scale is Wichita. It has posted job increases for eight straight months, according to the preliminary data. Topeka and Kansas City had much less volatility. Both communities posted job gains for every month of the year.
It sure looks like a bar operator in a major college town plans to plant himself on downtown Lawrence’s Massachusetts Street.
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for a bar called Logie’s to take over the space at 728 Massachusetts St. That is the space currently occupied by Tonic and Mass St. Pub, which are also bars.
Those, however, are local bars, and Logie’s looks like it is part of a growing chain run by a longtime bar operator out of Austin. And, importantly, Logie’s plans to be larger than Tonic and Mass St. Pub. The plans filed at City Hall call for an approximately 1,200 square foot expansion onto the back of the building that will allow for a kitchen, new restrooms and other amenities.
I’m a little shy on details currently because attempts to reach Joe Bendetti, who is listed on the application as the guy behind the Logie’s business, have been unsuccessful for the last couple of weeks. A quick internet search shows Bendetti was the owner of the longtime downtown Austin bar Logan’s on Sixth. But according to Mr. Google, that bar is now closed. He also owned a Logan’s in Madison, Wis., but closed it after getting into a license dispute with city officials there, according to news reports.
However, the internet does show several listings for Logie’s bars that are still operating. There is a Logie’s on Campus in College Station, Texas, which is home to Texas A&M. There also is a Logie’s on the Corner in Norman, Okla., which is home to the University of Oklahoma. There is also a Logie’s on Beltline in Dallas, which used to be home to J.R. Ewing and other guys who really know how to wear a Stetson. (Maybe it also is near a university, but I don’t know which one.)
While plans call for the Lawrence Logie’s to have a kitchen, it looks like the emphasis at the other Logie’s locations is on being a bar. I never found a menu for the locations, but several reviews mentioned bar food such as wings. The focus on the social media pages for Logie’s, though, seemed to be on the drinks and the entertainment. The College Station establishment promoted several emo bands, lots of DJ music, game-watching events and specials on tequila shots and beer. The Norman bar even promotes something called Movie Night at Logie’s.
I’ll let you know if I get any other good details from Bendetti. In terms of the City Hall process, he has filed a design review for the expansion plans. The city’s planning department is still processing that application.
One issue the city will have to consider is the special nature of the property at 728 Massachusetts St. It is one of a handful of downtown properties that received a “grandfather” exemption from a city law that requires downtown drinking establishments to make at least 55 percent of their sales from food. In the early 1990s the city put that law in place to stop downtown from becoming a pure bar district. However, it allowed several locations that already were established as bars to be exempted from the food requirement.
However, it is a little unclear on how much those exempted properties can expand their physical footprints and still keep the exemption from the food requirement. City officials are still reviewing that part of the plan, I’m told. UPDATE: City officials have told me the expansion is allowed under city code, but it will require a special vote of the City Commission. No date yet on when that issue might come before the commission.
It was the year of the hotel, not apartments, in Lawrence; a look at 2017 building facts and figures
Let’s put the final nail in 2017 building activity in Lawrence. No, I promise, this does not involve me actually having a hammer. (You have one deck collapse like the stock market, and suddenly everybody gets nervous.) Instead, I’ve got the final statistics on the millions of dollars worth of building activity that took place in the city.
The city has released its building permit totals for 2017. The summary is that 2017 was a good year but was down from the historic highs of the last two years. The city issued permits for $165.9 million worth of projects in 2017. That’s down about 25 percent from the $220 million in projects in 2016 and down even more sharply from the $227 million in 2015. However, it is worth noting that the 2015 total was an all-time high for the city. The $165 million mark still ranks as one of the better years of this decade. Here’s a look:
— 2017: $165.9 million
— 2016: $220.8 million
— 2015: $227.8 million
— 2014: $99.7 million
— 2013: $171.9 million
— 2012: $100.6 million
— 2011: $115.7 million
— 2010: $101.8 million
— 2009: $75.3 million.
But 2017 may be most notable for what didn’t happen: There wasn’t a surge of new permits issued for apartment construction. In fact, 2017 is the only year this decade that the city issued more permits for single family home construction than apartment construction. The city issued permits for only eight living units of apartments, while issuing permits for 172 single-family and duplex homes. That’s the sort of fact you can use to win a bar bet, if you go to really boring bars. Regardless, single-family and duplex construction showed some positive signs in 2017. For much of this decade, an up year in single-family construction has been followed by a down year. That trend was broken in 2017, and the year finished with the second-best total of the decade. Here’s a look:
— 2017: 172 permits
— 2016: 171 permits
— 2015: 239 permits
— 2014: 116 permits
— 2013: 165 permits
— 2012: 126 permits
— 2011: 99 permits
— 2010: 156 permits
— 2009: 126 permits
But if you think 2017 is a sign that Lawrence’s apartment boom is over, think again. It is like the plumbing project I did last weekend. Sometimes the work pauses while you go to the hardware store to get more duct tape. Apartment construction was just on pause in 2017. Plans already have been filed for more than 800 new bedrooms of apartments in Lawrence for 2018. If anything, we may want to watch whether 2018 challenges the recent high set in 2016 when the city issued permits for 1,205 apartment units.
If 2017 wasn’t the year of the apartment, then what was it? I would say the year of the hotel (and that’s not just because we needed a room after the duct tape didn’t hold well.) Instead, three of the top 10 largest projects in the city were hotels. Between the Best Western Plus hotel near Rock Chalk Park, the Country Inn & Suites on East 23rd Street, and the Tru by Hilton near Sixth and Wakarusa, the city is adding about 280 hotel rooms to its inventory. That’s about a 20 percent increase in the number of hotel rooms in the city. Here’s a look at the top 10 projects of the year, ranked by dollar value:
— Best Western Plus, 6101 Rock Chalk Drive: $10.7 million
— USD 497 Maintenance complex, 711 E. 23rd St.: $4.9 million
— Tru by Hilton, 510 Wakarusa Drive: $4 million
— Country Inn & Suites, 2176 E. 23rd St.: $3.9 million
— Connect Church, 3351 W. 31st St.: $3.6 million
— City of Lawrence water storage tanks, 1220 Oread Ave.: $3.5 million
— St. John Church addition, 1208 Kentucky St.: $3 million
— Bioscience and Technology Business Center renovation, 2029 Becker Drive: $2.8 million
— Boys & Girls Club center, 2910 Haskell Ave.: $2.8 million
— Office and lab addition for U.S. Geological Survey, 1217 Biltmore: $2.4 million.
Here is one interesting thing to note about that list: At least six of the 10 projects are ones that won’t pay property taxes on their new construction because they are either owned by governments, nonprofit entities or churches. That is an issue in Lawrence. Lots of real estate isn’t on the tax rolls, and government projects are some of the larger ones in town some years.
Expect that trend to continue in 2018. This could be a massive year for Lawrence construction because of all the work that will get underway with the school bond projects. Between those projects and the already announced apartment projects, could Lawrence top the $250 million mark in construction for the first time?
I don’t know, but as a man with a lot of duct tape would say, stick around to find out.
Veggie burger manufacturer plans to expand in Lawrence, seeks financial incentive from local taxpayers
It is the $30,000 veggie burger question. No, that’s not how much ketchup I would need in order to enjoy a veggie burger meal. Veggie burgers are quite popular, as evidenced by an expansion plan that has been filed by a Lawrence-based veggie burger manufacturer. Instead, the $30,000 is how large of a grant the company is seeking from local taxpayers to complete the expansion.
Hilary’s Eat Well has plans for about a $1.5 million expansion near 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue. The company plans to outfit its current space at 2205 Haskell Avenue with new production equipment, and lease new space next door at 2151 Haskell to accommodate its growing warehouse operations. The company hopes to add about five employees in the first year of the expansion. In subsequent years, the company hopes to add another five to eight employees as it beefs up its production capabilities. (Actually, that’s not the right way to say that for a veggie burger company.)
The company needs about a $30,000 grant to help with some of the workforce training costs, moving expenses and other soft costs that are expected to occur with the project. The company is proposing the grant be funded equally by the city, the county and a consortium of local economic development organizations.
I had noticed the company recently received a $500,000 building permit for warehouse space work at 2151 Haskell. I had tried for a few weeks to get an update on that project. Lydia Butler, president and chief financial officer for Hilary’s, got back to me this morning.
She confirmed the company already has received the building permit for its warehouse project, but said construction work isn’t really underway yet. However, she also was upfront by saying that the expansion project isn’t dependent on the $30,000 grant. Instead, the grant will give the company more room to navigate in the future.
“We feel like we are going to continue to grow,” Butler said. “We think probably 10 to 15 jobs in the next few years, if our growth continues like it has been.”
Butler said city and economic development officials in the past have told the company how interested they are in keeping Hillary’s headquarters and production facilities in Lawrence.
The company does have a compelling story. Hilary Brown, the founder of the once popular Lawrence restaurant Local Burger, created the company and its veggie burger recipe. Brown, however, isn’t involved in the day-to-day operations of the business anymore. Several investment groups, including one led by successful Wichita businessman David Murfin, own the company.
The new ownership group has delivered on a growth plan. Back in 2015, we reported the company had about 10 employees. The company now lists 40 employees.
Part of the growth has come from new product offerings. The original veggie burger continues to be a big part of the company’s sales, but Butler said new offerings also are becoming important. The latest offering, released less than a year ago, is something called Millet Medley. It is a grain-and-vegetable-based side dish that now comes in four different flavors, according to the company’s website. With those additions, the company now has almost 30 different products, including veggie burgers, veggie bites, vegetarian breakfast sausage, and a full line of salad dressings.
The product offerings have helped the company get into grocery store chains across the country. The company is in Whole Foods, Sprouts, Kroger (Dillons), Safeway, Hy-Vee and many other chains, Butler said. Canada also has become a major growth market for the company, she said.
Butler said the company has benefited from a number of emerging trends in the food industry. She said for health reasons more people are getting more plant-based foods into their diet. She said, though, people becoming more aware of food allergies also has been a big boost to the company’s business. Hilary’s markets its products as being free from common allergens. Butler said there are about 15 million people with food allergies in the U.S., but those 15 million people probably impact the diets of about 45 million people. Think about it: If someone in your house is allergic to something, you are less likely to include that in your diet as well. That is sizable market that needs served.
“We have a specific sweet spot with people with food allergies,” Butler said. “There are a lot of gluten-free bread and crackers, but in terms of entrees, that is a real need. We are filling it through our products.”
In terms of the company’s $30,000 grant request, that process is just getting started. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are expected to formally receive the application request and refer it for review to the Public Incentives Review Committee. Following a recommendation from that group, city commissioners would be able to approve the city’s portion of the grant.
To the surprise of neighbors, bulldozer begins to demolish disputed stand of trees near Clinton Parkway and Crestline
Just days after winning a key victory to stop a large student apartment complex from being built in their neighborhood, residents near Clinton Parkway and Crestline Drive suffered a loss via a bulldozer on Friday.
About 9 a.m. Friday, a bulldozer began plowing through a mature stand of trees on the site where the 522-bedroom apartment complex was once slated to go. The trees had become a complicating factor in the apartment complex winning necessary zoning and land use approvals from City Hall. The site is at the southwest corner of Clinton Parkway and Crestline Drive.
Landowners in the area are looking for the property owner to be punished for the clear cutting.
“We need to see what the city is going to do about this,” said Kenneth Prost, an owner of the adjacent Lawrence Child Development Center. “This is very aggressive.”
Aggressive, but perhaps not illegal, even though the trees supposedly have some protections in the city code. On Friday afternoon, it appeared those protections did not extend to stopping a bulldozer from pushing them over.
Scott McCullough, the city’s planning director, told me in an email that the stand of trees do fall under the city’s “sensitive lands” regulations. The development group was made aware of that definition when it filed its plans for the apartment project. The sensitive lands designation is meant to protect important environmental attributes of a property.
However, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, that doesn’t mean the trees can’t be bulldozed. McCullough confirmed there is no fine the city can levy for taking the trees down. Instead, the city might be able to require new trees be planted on the site, if a new development plan is filed for the property. However, that sounded less than certain.
“That will be a discussion had at the time of such a future request,” McCullough said in the email.
If you remember, this is the same site where the apartment complex was proposing to build around three sides of the day care, after it failed to reach a deal to buy the day care property. Last week, the Planning Commission dealt that apartment complex proposal a major setback by denying a comprehensive plan change that would have allowed an apartment complex on the site.
The apartment complex was proposed by Gilbane Development, a major builder of student apartment complexes. But Gilbane never actually purchased the property, and I’ve been told that it has canceled its contract to purchase the property. That is probably a sign that Gilbane has given up on the Lawrence project.
On Friday, it wasn’t entirely clear who ordered the trees to be bulldozed. The bulldozer operator told Prost that he didn’t know who hired him. Presumably, though, only the property owner would have the authority to order work on the site. The property is owned by Iowa Street Associates, a company that is in turned owned by a California investment firm. The company has an Overland Park representative, but an attempt to reach him was not immediately successful.
I’ve got a call into city officials as well to get their reaction. City Hall was notified of the clear cutting shortly after 9:15 a.m., but staff wasn’t able to immediately get to the scene to order the work to be stopped. When I left the scene about 10:45 a.m., city staff wasn’t yet on site. McCullough said he did get on site about 11:45 a.m.. He did talk with the contractor about the circumstances regarding the trees, and asked him to get in touch with the property owner. The contractor, however, said “if the code did not prevent him from removing the trees that he would continue,” according to McCullough.
In addition to the day care, the property is adjacent to a residential neighborhood. Residents of that neighborhood had come out strongly against the apartment project. The stand of trees backed up to their rear yards in many cases.
Dan and Liz Berghout live about 100 feet from the trees. They told of how their oldest daughter used to play in the area and also how the trees served as an effective noise barrier and a good habitat for wildlife.
“Those trees add a tremendous amount to the neighborhood,” Dan Berghout said.
The incident likely will spark several debates. The city protecting trees on private property has been controversial in the past. It has brought up questions of the rights of property owners. However, I suspect another debate will center on what the city is able to do when someone does take aggressive action to remove environmentally sensitive elements from their land.
As this incident has demonstrated, labeling the trees as something that ought to be protected does little to actually protect them.
Douglas County tries to explain why ballot language for jail, mental health projects doesn’t include a dollar amount or debt cap
Hopefully this doesn’t happen to you every day, but it is conceivable that someone you know may ask for your permission to take out debt that you will be partially responsible for repaying. If so, two natural questions probably spring to mind: For what and how much?
Douglas County residents are going to be put in that position this spring when county commissioners ask for approval of a half-cent sales tax to fund a jail expansion and mental health project. When voters open their ballot (it is a mail-in ballot) it generally will explain what the county will use the money for, but nowhere in the ballot language will there be a dollar amount of how much debt the county intends to take on as part of the project.
That omission creates the possibility the county could issue debt that exceeds the dollar amounts that have been publicly discussed thus far. It also is creating questions from some readers about why the county is refusing to list a dollar amount in the ballot language. I’ve asked county officials about that and have done some digging on my own. Here’s a look at the issues:
• State law doesn’t require the county to put the dollar amount on the ballot, but the county could if it wanted to. The past several bond issues in the community have included dollar amounts. The school board puts dollar amounts in the ballot language when it seeks approval for school bonds. In 2010, the library expansion ballot included an $18 million cap on the amount of bonds that could be issued. In 2014 the city sales tax ballot for a new police headquarters included a $24.2 million cap on the amount of bonds that could be issued. But, it also would be incorrect to say this lack of a dollar figure is unprecedented. When voters in 1994 approved a countywide one-cent sales tax to fund construction of the jail, among other projects, the ballot language did not include a dollar amount on the bonds.
• The county wants to provide itself the most spending flexibility possible. As the Journal-World has reported, the county currently believes the jail will cost about $44 million and the mental health campus will cost about $11 million to build. Thus, the current estimate is the county will need to issue about $55 million in bonds. But Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman told me there is a concern the numbers could grow higher.
“Costs are changing rapidly even as we speak, and if we put a not-to-exceed number on these projects, we may find ourselves hamstrung at the very moment we need to bid them and put that first shovel in the ground,” she said.
By not putting a cap in the ballot language, rising costs become less problematic. But, how high could the project go before the county commissioners would go back to the drawing board? I’m sure there is a number that would cause county officials to balk, but when I asked this week, no one gave me a specific dollar figure.
County voters will have to decide their comfort level in not having a built-in cap as part of the project. It is important to understand how the cap would function. It would not prohibit the county from building the project if, for example, costs for the jail came in at $44.5 million instead of the $44 million. The cap is only on the amount of debt it can issue. Like most governments, the county has cash reserves it can spend to make up the difference, and it also can rearrange its budget to free up cash to make up the difference. However, such budget changes could involve cuts to other county services. Some voters may be more comfortable letting the county operate without a cap rather than worrying about what services they may cut, if they had to make up a shortfall.
• The proposed sales tax can, theoretically, fund quite a bit more debt than $55 million. The half-cent sales tax is projected to generate a little less than $10 million a year. Only about $3.75 million will be spent each year to make the payments on the bond. The rest will be spent on operating costs, primarily for the mental health project, but some for the jail. If the county finds a way to reduce those operating costs, the ballot language would allow the the county to apply those savings to fund a larger bond issuance. In very rough terms, every $1 million in cash from the sales tax can fund $10 million to $13 million in debt at 4 percent interest for 20 years.
• The spring election is about more than just a sales tax. It would be easy to think that this issue of a debt cap does not matter because the end result will be the same: The sales tax rate you pay will be a half-cent higher regardless of how much debt the county issues. If everything goes according to the county’s plan, that will be true. But the county also has to have a backup plan, and it technically is asking voters to approve that plan. The county fully intends to only use sales tax dollars to pay off this debt. It must even conduct a feasibility study before issuing any bonds to confirm future sales tax revenues will be enough to pay off the bonds.
But ... predicting future sales tax revenues is like predicting the weather. If the economy takes a downturn and sales tax revenues decline to the point there is not enough to pay the debt, the county will be obligated to use property tax revenues. The resolution the county has approved spells that out by saying the bonds are “payable from and secured by the proceeds of the sales tax, and if not so paid, from unlimited ad valorem taxation within the county.” That means the county could raise its property tax rate or cut other county services to free up cash to pay for any shortfall.
It is important to note that all the county officials I talked with said they weren’t trying to be deceptive by omitting a dollar figure from the ballot language. They’ve obviously talked about the dollar costs in public meetings, and they will be required by state law to make a more specific estimate soon. The county must run a legal notice in the Journal-World detailing the amount of bonds expected to be issued, the projected interest rate and other such details. The Journal-World, of course, will include those details in our coverage.
But this issue is highlighting how spirited of an election this could be. Already, the county is having to answer questions that really don’t even help voters get to the heart of the matter. First there were voter questions about why the project couldn’t include two votes, one for the mental health part of the project and one for the jail part of the project. Now, county officials are answering questions about why there isn’t a dollar cap.
County Administrator Craig Weinaug told me the county does need to make sure voters don’t lose sight of the major issues the county is trying to address: an overcrowded jail and a lack of mental health services in the community.
“We need to be able to focus the public’s attention on the needs we have, how we can minimize incarceration, and how we can provide better mental health services,” Weinaug said.
There was a time period where about four nights a week I went to the Cadillac Ranch dressed in such colorful country and western attire some people thought I should run my outfit through a car wash. I guess those folks will get the last laugh because plans are in the works to tear down the longtime bar and replace it with a high-tech car wash.
Steve Stallard, an owner of the Cascades Car Wash chain, told me he has a contract to purchase the former Cadillac Ranch location at 2515 W. Sixth St. He plans to build a 120- to 140-foot long tunnel car wash on the site.
Yes, this may sound familiar. Tunnel car washes may become the newest trend in Lawrence. If there were a chicken restaurant at the end of the tunnel it could become the ultimate trend. You may remember that there is a relatively new tunnel car wash next to the QuikTrip near 23rd and Haskell. Scott Zaremba with the local Zarco chain of convenience stores has proposed plans for a tunnel car wash near Ninth and Iowa, and another chain —Tommy’s Car Wash — has filed plans to tear down the former Applebee’s building at Sixth and Monterey Way in Lawrence, although that plan still needs significant city approvals. Plus, Hurricane Car Wash came to the market several years ago near Sixth and Wakarusa.
The competition already has some benefits for consumers. For one, you are a complete chump if you pay to vacuum your car in Lawrence. While the supposed “smart money” has been paying attention to the historic rise in the stock market, those of us with “remedial money” have been fixated on the plummeting price of vacuuming your car in Lawrence. Many of these tunnel car washes offer free vacuums — and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say this — but I’ve used the vacuum even on days I haven’t gotten a car wash. (I get very excited about free vacuuming, although my wife gets dismayed because she notes I can vacuum the house for free at any time.)
Despite the uptick in activity, Stallard said Lawrence is still under-served in the car wash world. He has been in the business for about 13 years. The company is based in Dallas and has more than a dozen car washes, mainly in Texas. But Stallard, who originally is from Topeka, has his eyes on the Kansas City market, including Lawrence. The company has a location in Bonner Springs and has said Kansas City is its major growth market.
He said the entire industry is undergoing a transformation — an out with the old and in with the new type of thing. He said the idea of self-serve washes are falling out of favor. You know the type. You get out of the car, grab a wand, stack your quarters on top of the machine, furiously wash so you don’t have to put another 50 cents in, decide you have to put more money in, knock the stack of quarters over, and then get your hand caught in a drain trying to save 50 cents.
And then there is the idea of washing your car in the driveway. That idea is all but dead, he said.
“That has gone away,” Stallard said. “People don’t like it, and cities don’t like it.” Soap in the storm sewers is a concern for cities and environmentalists.
The tunnel car washes, he said, are capitalizing off the overarching trend in America: convenience. People don’t have to get out of their cars, and Stallard said the equipment he plans to install will wash a car in about three minutes.
As for a timeline for the project to begin, Stallard said he hopes to finalize the purchase of the property soon and start construction by the middle of the summer. He contends the site has all the necessary zoning to allow a car wash, although he hasn’t yet filed plans with City Hall.
If your body hasn’t already told you, here are two charts detailing how bad the flu is in Kansas, Douglas County
Walk into Lawrence Memorial Hospital this week and you’ll think you’ve stumbled into a bank robbers convention. So many people wearing masks. Efforts to defend against germs have kicked into high gear and with good reason. A new report ranks Kansas as being the sickest state in the country this week.
To tell you the data behind this, I first have to tell you a story about a thermometer — so stick with me. (If you didn’t laugh at that, I’m going to assume it is because you are ill.) A company called Kinsa produces a digital thermometer that connects to your smartphone and thus stores all types of data. Using that data, the company has insight into how sick various parts of the country are at any given moment.
Using that data, Kinsa says Kansas is 6.6 percent sick this week, just beating out Missouri, which is at 6.5 percent. Iowa is not feeling too well either with a No. 3 ranking at 6.3 percent ill. The national average is 5 percent sick levels.
Perhaps more interesting is Kansas’ illness level peaked at 5.3 percent last year, so this is yet another piece of evidence that the flu bug really is more serious this season. (I was convinced when we switched out the breakfast orange juice for Pepto-Bismol.) And as the chart below shows, we are way above the 10-year average.
We also have some local numbers that are eye-popping. The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department runs a flu surveillance program that tracks the percentage of Douglas County residents who go to an emergency room reporting flu-like symptoms. We reported in early December that there were signs we were on the verge of flu season hitting us hard, and the numbers have proved that.
At the beginning of the year, the Douglas County flu rate was about 11 percent compared with about 5 percent a year earlier. Now, the flu rate has climbed to almost 16 percent. That is well above last year’s peak, which was at 12 percent.
As the chart below shows, we have been on a steep and steady rise since early December. But the chart also shows that in 2016-2017, this is the time of year when the number of flu cases began to stabilize. Flu rates held steady at about 12 percent, then really began to drop off by the third week in February. By the first of March flu rates were below 6 percent.
It probably is worth reminding everyone that the flu — influenza, not the stuff that causes you to call in sick on a sunny Friday — is a serious deal. The flu was a contributing factor in about 1,200 deaths in Kansas in the 2016-2017 flu season, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. While the flu vaccine is the No. 1 recommendation health care professionals have for combating the flu, the Centers for Disease Control also stresses good hand washing, covering your cough and doing your part to not spread the illness if you contract it. That means staying out of circulation for at least 24 hours after your fever has broken.
And, yes, maybe wearing a mask is a good idea — although I’m skeptical of the motives behind the people who keep telling me I should completely cover my face at all times.