Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Lawrence lands on more national lists; a bike repair station at City Hall; details on city’s latest affordable housing project
I am woefully behind on telling you how much other people like us. In short: Quite a lot. That’s my way of saying that Lawrence and some Lawrence businesses have landed on more national lists.
We’ll start in the world of restaurants. The travel website The Culture Trip has put together a list of the “10 Best Restaurants in Kansas.” Downtown Lawrence is home to four of the 10. This is a sign of one of two things: 1. Downtown Lawrence truly is the culinary capital of Kansas. 2. A Culture Trip editor had one too many Ad Astra Ales at Free State and never made it to any other city. (Raise your hand if that has happened to you.)
Regardless, Free State Brewery is on the list. The article also touts The Burger Stand, 715 Restaurant and Merchants Pub and Plate. Restaurants in Manhattan, Council Grove, Wichita, and Kansas City all made the list as well. The one that sounded the most interesting, though, was in Assaria, a town of about 400 people in Saline County. The Renaissance Cafe operates in the former Assaria High School. According to the article, tables are arranged on the old gym floor, and stocked bookshelves are a fixture of the restaurant. Hopefully, it still has a place to hang up heavily adorned letter jackets because this sounds like a place I need to visit.
In terms of Lawrence’s other ranking, the website CollegeRanker has Lawrence ranked as No. 2 on its 50 Best College Towns to Live in Forever. I suspect this also has something to do with Free State beer, although the article doesn’t own up to it. Instead, it lists Lawrence’s thriving music scene, and mentioned a 2007 ranking that listed The Replay Lounge as one of the top 25 bars in America. When you are talking about forever, it is very important to have a good bar nearby.
Manhattan also made the list at No. 26. I’m not really sure what criteria was used to rank these towns, but Lawrence finished one spot ahead of Ft. Collins, Colo., and one spot behind our arch rival . . . St. Augustine, Fla., home to Flagler College.
In other news and notes around town:
• If I were creating a list of the best places to get a flat tire on your bike in Lawrence (I know, there’s already an online list for that, but play along), Lawrence City Hall would be near the top of it. Why? Because the city has recently installed a bicycle repair station outside the east entrance.
In case you think I’m jesting, here's a picture.
The repair station has several hand tools secured via cables. Tightening a loose nut or making chain repairs, brake adjustments and that sort of thing can be done at the bike station. It also has an air pump, and despite it being located at City Hall, it does not dispense hot air. (Calm down, people. It’s all right. I’m sure politicians make good-natured jokes about journalists from time to time.)
The bike repair station is actually something to keep an eye on. There has been a lot of talk about making Lawrence more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. This bike station is meant as a pilot project. City staff members will monitor use and feedback from the bicycle community. If bikers find it useful, there may be others installed along frequent bike routes and trails.
• Another big topic in the city is affordable housing and attracting retirees. Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday night provided a boost to both efforts. As we reported, the city provided about $100,000 in incentives via fee rebates and some in-kind infrastructure work for Tenants to Homeowners’ Cedarwood Senior Cottages project at 2525 Cedarwood Ave. in south Lawrence.
Now that the project has the key city approval, Rebecca Buford, executive director of the not-for-profit Tenants to Homeowners, said she hopes the 14-unit townhome project will be ready for tenants this time next year. Dirt work already has begun on the site, which is behind the United Way building.
Buford also gave me some details about rent rates. Nine units will serve low-income seniors, and they’ll rent from $527 to $687 per month, depending on whether it is a one-bedroom or two-bedroom unit. Five units will be reserved for low-to-moderate income seniors, and they’ll rent for about $795 per month.
Buford estimates that the units — which have garages, front and back porches, fiber optic wiring, a community center and shared gardens — will rent for about $200 to $300 less than standard market rates in Lawrence.
Seniors will have to meet income guidelines to qualify. Buford said her organization is putting together an information packet for prospective tenants, but already she has a list of more than 50 people who are interested. If you want to be added to the list, call the Tenants to Homeowners office at 842-5494.
Buford said she hopes the Cedarwood Project will serve as template for Tenants to Homeowners to build other such senior, affordable housing in other neighborhoods.
“The demand for this type of housing is very strong,” Buford said.
New campaign finance reports in City Commission race; Rasmussen apologizes for accepting Crossland donations and returns funds; City Hall details projects to delay if police HQ moves ahead
It is donation season in the world of Lawrence politics. Voters may be looking for donations of earplugs. (We did, after all, just have two candidate forums within a span of 10 hours, a health forum last night and one with Downtown Lawrence Inc. this morning.) But candidates are seeking campaign donations, and the most recent report on how much they’ve raised is out.
In a nutshell, Stuart Boley, the third-place finisher in the primary election, was the top fundraiser in this most recent reporting period. Boley raised $8,011.95 between Feb. 20 and March 26. That’s more than $2,000 better than any of his competitors. If you remember, the top three vote winners in the April 7 election will receive a seat on the commission. So, Boley finished the primary right on the edge.
Here’s a summary of all the candidates’ fundraising activity. You can see their complete reports that list the names of individual donors and how much the candidates are spending on advertising and such at the Douglas County Clerk’s website.
• Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation to Boley were: Michael Wasikowski, an operations research analyst for U.S. government; Ellen Reid Gold, a retired professor; NE Kansas Building & Construction Trades Council; and Michael Wasikowski again. Individuals are allowed to give a maximum of $500 before the primary election and another $500 after the primary. Wasikowski’s donations met that requirement, according to the report filed by Boley’s campaign.
• Matthew Herbert, a Lawrence High teacher and owner of a property management company, raised $3,075. Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation were: Mike Wasikowski, an operations research analyst for U.S. government; and the Kansas Realtors PAC. Those of you who look at Herbert’s filing may notice a $150 donation from Oread LLC. To limit confusion, that company is not associated with The Oread hotel. Herbert has been critical of City Commission action to give tax breaks to hotel companies, including The Oread. Oread LLC is a company controlled by Lawrence developer and apartment complex owner Duane Schwada.
• Stan Rasmussen, an attorney for the U.S. Army, raised $5,310 during the period. Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation were: LBRE, LLC, a real estate organization; Anderson Family Trust; Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union #441; NE Kansas Building and Construction Trades Council; and the Kansas Realtors PAC. Rasmussen was in the news recently for his previous acceptance of about $4,500 in contributions from the Crossland family and its businesses, which are based in southeast Kansas and noted for support of conservative causes across the state. Rasmussen’s most recent report listed no contributions from that family. More on that below.
• Terry Riordan, a current city commissioner and a Lawrence physician, raised $6,063 during the period. However, $2,728 came from a loan from himself. Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation were: Kansas Realtors PAC.
• Bob Schumm, a current city commissioner and retired restaurant owner, raised $4,285 during the period. Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation were: William and Karla Fleming, an attorney in real estate development; Treanor Consulting, a local architecture and development firm; Flint Hills Development Group, a developer in the East Lawrence warehouse arts district; Sally Hare-Schriner, an arts educator; and Daniel Schriner, a builder/filmmaker.
• Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet sitting company, raised $2,765 during the reporting period. Contributors who gave the maximum $500 donation were: Elaine St. James, a writer.
It is important to remember that this most recent report covers just one reporting period. There have been three periods during the campaign. When you add them all up, the fundraising race shakes out this way:
Riordan: $14,728, although he has given himself more than $3,000 in loans.
So, what does all that mean when it comes to who will win in the April 7 election? Well, perhaps not as much as it used to. If you remember, Soden was the 1st place finisher in the primary election, and she’s raised the least amount of money. Schumm, with more than $18,000 in campaign funds, finished sixth in the primary.
Now, as many stockbrokers from Leavenworth will tell you, past results aren’t a predictor of future performance, but the role money is playing in local elections does seem to be changing. My theory is that social media has made it easier to build successful grassroots campaigns, and a good grassroots campaign is still enough to get you elected in a relatively small town like Lawrence. I think the election that may go down as Exhibit 1 for that theory is the sales tax election for a new police headquarters. Supporters of that sales tax just crushed the opponents of the sales tax in terms of money raised and spent on the campaign. But the sales tax still failed at the polls.
Another number that I found interesting is that the amount of money flowing into local City Commission races is down from our high-water mark by quite a bit. By my memory, the 2007 election was kind of the zenith for campaign donations for City Commission races. I pulled up our old article on that race and found that Mike Dever during that campaign raised a whopping $35,610. Rob Chestnut was close behind at $33,978. Others raised a lot, too. That 2007 race attracted a little more than $128,000 in campaign donations to the six finalists. That’s compared to about $88,000 in this race.
One thing to keep an eye on, though, is political action committees that spend money on their own to get a candidate elected. Those dollars don’t show up in the candidates contributions. If a PAC donates directly to a candidate, that shows up on the candidate’s report. But if a PAC sends out a mailer asking voters to support a candidate, that doesn’t show up on a candidate’s report. Some of that has been going on. Thus far, the real estate community has been the most frequent mailer in the campaign, I believe.
But the relatively new local PAC Lawrence United has not been a big player yet in this election. Two years ago it was one of the bigger spenders on the campaign scene. But this time the group, which promotes a pro-growth agenda, has been quiet. The group reported that it received no donations during this most recent period, and that it only spent $99 on some campaign analytics. The group, however, still has more than $15,000 left over from the last election that it could spend in the final days of the campaign. No word on whether the group plans to become active in the closing days of the race.
In other news and notes around town:
• Rasmussen notified me this morning that he has sent refund checks to members of the Crossland family, which had donated about $4,500 to his city commission campaign. The contributions had caused some members of the public to raise concerns because the Crossland family is based outside of Lawrence and has been active in statewide politics and promoting conservative causes.
A Crossland-owned construction company also is bidder for the approximately $50 million wastewater treatment plant, which is a bid the next commission will award. Rasmussen said that fact particularly troubled him, and played a role in his decision to return the money. (The Crossland bid came after the family had made a donation to Rasmussen’s campaign, in case you are interested in the timing of it.)
Rasmussen released this statement about the matter:
“I have reflected on questions and concerns that have been raised about out of town campaign contributions I accepted from the Crossland family and some of their businesses. I take these concerns seriously.
"I'm sorry I accepted these funds. I am not an experienced politician. I have never before run for office. When the campaign began, I sent an e-mail to friends and associates from across the state asking for contributions to my campaign. I have received donations from a variety of people, and a total of $4,500 was received from a Leadership Kansas classmate of mine, several businesses he owns, and his family. These were some of the very first contributions I received, and at the time, I was appreciative and excited for the investment in my campaign. However, I was naive to not recognize the potential for concern in receiving a large sum of money from a single business interest. To compound this error in judgment, I have now learned that Crossland Construction was one of the bidders on the City’s new wastewater treatment project, and that troubles me greatly. While I do not feel that I've been inappropriately influenced by the contributions, I understand why people may question that. I can't just talk about transparency and trust. I must also act with integrity.
"This has been a good learning experience for me, and I am trying to do everything I can to make it right. On Monday morning, I contacted the Kansas Governmental Ethics Office for information on how to return the funds even though the checks were cashed and the money spent during the primary. Based on their advice, refund checks were mailed on Monday afternoon to Mr. Crossland, his family and his businesses.”
• There’s a new memo out of Lawrence City Hall that also may get some talk in the final days of the campaign. City Manager David Corliss has provided his most detailed explanation yet for how the city could build a new $26 million police headquarters building without raising property or sales taxes. As we have reported before, the crux of any such proposal would involve delaying several other projects. Now we have a list of projects that Corliss has identified for delay. Here’s a look:
— The rehabilitation of Fire Station No. 1 — the station located downtown — would be moved from 2015-16 to 2018-19;
— The reconstruction of Kasold Drive from Sixth Street to Bob Billings would be moved from 2016-17 to 2017-18;
— Construction of 19th Street from Harper to the new VenturePark would be moved from 2016 to 2017;
—The reconstruction of Wakarusa Drive from Inverness/Legends to Sixth Street would be moved from 2016-17 to 2018;
— City funding to rebuild Queens Road in West Lawrence would be moved from 2017 to 2019;
— Reconstruction of portions of East 23rd Street would be moved from 2018-19 to 2019-20
— Reconstruction of Kasold from Clinton Parkway to the entrance of Hy-Vee would be moved from 2018 to 2020.
— Plans to find space to combine the city’s building inspections department and the planning office into a central “one-stop shop” location would be delayed until at least 2021.
One project that doesn’t get delayed is plans to rebuild portions of Ninth Street as part of a program to create an arts corridor in East Lawrence. Corliss said the project could use infrastructure sales tax money approved by voters in 2008, but that will require scrapping plans to rebuild Wakarusa Drive from Research Parkway to Clinton Parkway.
The other big change that would be required in the city’s budget is that money that was to be set aside for Parks and Recreation maintenance projects and some operating funds would be shifted to the police headquarters project. Corliss has said the department would have enough money to do routine maintenance of its facilities, but he is warning that more significant maintenance projects wouldn’t have an identified funding source. He also told commissioners it would severely hamper the city’s ability to add new parks for the next 20 years.
“Very little funding would be available for any significant capital improvement projects for Parks and Recreation for the 20-year term of the debt,” the memo states. “This would include both new park additions, new recreation facilities, and major maintenance of existing facilities.”
City staff members released the memo late Monday. City commissioners are scheduled to discuss it at their meeting this evening. Corliss has said there are other scenarios that would include other projects that could be delayed, but there are "a number of consequences that much be analyzed with each option."
New numbers out on Lawrence job growth; City Commission to consider $100K in incentives for affordable housing project
Usually in Lawrence, talk of a streak involves KU basketball, or that unfortunate incident that has you doing community service. But there is another streak we ought to talk about: Lawrence’s winning streak when it comes to jobs.
The latest federal report is out, and the Lawrence metro area in 2014 posted job gains every single month. The new numbers show that job totals in Lawrence were up for January 2015, as well. In fact, I did a little digging to figure out when the last month was that Lawrence saw a dip in jobs. The numbers show it was all the way back in Sept. 2013. That’s 16 straight months of year-over-year job growth.
If you remember, we have reported a few times over the last year about some job numbers that have looked good for Lawrence. There was a time when a report came out that said the Lawrence metro area had the highest job growth rate of any metro in the country in August 2014. (The number ultimately got revised downward, and that is why I have an only half-finished bust of the Chamber CEO in my living room.)
But the numbers have been impressive nonetheless. All these numbers, by the way, are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and its monthly Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment report. When I say Lawrence had job growth in a month, I mean that it had more jobs in that month than it did in the same month a year ago. Here’s a look at our year-over-year job growth rate by percentage in 2014:
— January: 1.4 percent
— February: 2.7 percent
— March: 3.1 percent
— April: 4.6 percent
— May: 4.0 percent
— June: 5.4 percent
— July: 7.1 percent
— August: 4.6 percent
— September: 2.2 percent
— October: 3.9 percent
— November: 1.3 percent
— December: 1.5 percent
Usually in Lawrence, the question of “What did you do last summer?” will cause you to worry greatly about your kids becoming college-age. But in 2014, it appears the answer was that a lot of people got a job. It looks like Lawrence’s job growth resurgence peaked in July.
It also is worth nothing that in most of the months of 2014, Lawrence posted the largest job growth rate of any city in Kansas. (Note: The BLS counts Kansas City as a Missouri metro area, so Lawrence was competing against Manhattan, Topeka and Wichita.)
The latest report gives us our first peek at 2015. So far, so good. The report shows there were 51,300 jobs located in Douglas County in January. That’s up from 49,800 in January 2014. That’s a 3 percent growth rate, which is better than several other regional communities. Here’s a look at the preliminary numbers:
— Kansas City: up 3.2 percent
— Manhattan: up 1.7 percent
— Topeka: up 1.7 percent
— Wichita: up 0.9 percent
— Ames, Iowa: up 4.9 percent
— Columbia, Mo.: up 1.7 percent
— Joplin, Mo.: up 2.0 percent
— St. Joseph: up 0.3 percent
Now, it is not all Champagne and roses yet when it comes to Lawrence job numbers. First, we don’t know much about these new jobs. Are they full time, good-paying jobs, or have we just seen an increase in part-time jobs in the service sector? At this point, it would just be a guess. On the job front, the two largest developments over the last year have been Hallmark Cards growing the workforce total at its Lawrence production plant, and General Dynamics adding significant numbers of people to its call center in East Hills Business Park.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Lawrence really has been stagnant on the job growth front for quite awhile. In other words, we’ve got a lot of time to make up for. I did an article in November, where I looked at our job growth performance over the last 10 years. I found that Douglas County’s job growth rate was negative 1.1 percent. During that same time period Johnson County had job growth of 10.6 percent, Riley County 15.6 percent, Wyandotte County 10.8 percent, and Sedgwick County 1.3 percent. The only metro area with negative job growth — other than Douglas County — was Shawnee County. It had negative job growth of 1 percent, which was a bit better than’ Douglas County’s showing.
But as each month passes, those numbers become a little more dated. A new narrative may be forming, and we all may soon have a new story to tell about a streak.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Both incentives and affordable housing have been a buzzword topics on the City Commission election trail. On Tuesday night, it will be a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment at the City Commission meeting. (Your peanut butter got into my chocolate, or maybe it was the other way around.) Regardless, what I’m trying to say is that affordable housing and incentives are wrapped up in a single issue.
City commissioners will consider approving about $100,000 worth of incentives for a Tenants to Homeowners project that will provide affordable housing to people 55 and older. As we’ve previously reported, Tenants to Homeowners has plans to build the Cedarwood Senior Cottages project at 125 Cedarwood Ave., which is behind the United Way building in south Lawrence. The $2.1 million project is expected to have 14 affordably priced town homes for seniors, along with some other amenities.
But leaders of the project say it needs some help in meeting all the costs related to city-required infrastructure and permit fees. In total, the project is asking for $101,975 worth of city assistance. About $61,000 would come in the form of city rebates of utility “impact fees” and meter installation fees. The rest includes some city assistance with sidewalk construction, storm water work, and fire hydrant installation.
City staff members are recommending approval of the incentive request. Money for the incentives would come from the city’s Community Development Block Grant funds, utility funds, and the city’s storm water fund.
Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
Work to begin soon on new river trail near downtown; home sales fall in February; Board of Realtors endorses three for City Hall
I already have a guitar and a straw hat — and really, how hard can a gondola be to make? — so it looks like things are finally falling into place for my secondary career as the Crooner of the Kaw. I’ll start practicing, but in the meantime there is news about Lawrence getting its own version of a river walk.
No, it won’t be as elaborate as the famed river walk in San Antonio, but construction is set to begin soon on a new riverside trail just north of downtown. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are set to approve a nearly $108,000 bid to build a new trail running along the south bank of the Kansas River connecting Constant Park and Burcham Park.
In case you absent-mindedly left your Lawrence parks guide on your bedside table, Constant Park is the piece of green space just north of Sixth and Kentucky streets. Burcham Park is the long park in Pinckney neighborhood that runs all the way down to Second and Indiana streets.
There already is a make-shift trail that runs through the woods along the river, but plans call for this new trail to be highly improved. Parts of the trail will be concrete, while others portions will be crushed asphalt. When completed, it is expected to be appropriate for both walkers and bikers. The trail will connect with one in the Sandra Shaw Park, the new park near Second and Maine streets on the site of the former VFW property.
As we previously have reported, the Sunflower Foundation is providing about $50,000 in grant money for the project. The city will use sales tax dollars to pay for the rest. Lawrence-based R.D. Johnson Excavation submitted the low bid. In what is becoming a bit of a concerning trend, the city project only attracted two bidders.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department hasn’t released a timeline for the project, but usually work begins shortly after a bid is awarded. So, look for construction along the river this summer. It will be interesting to see how the trail becomes a part of downtown. Obviously, it won’t be a full-fledged riverwalk lined with shops and such. But there have been leaders who talk about making the river a larger part of Lawrence’s attractions. We’ll see if this trail ends up being opening to do that.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe you are like me and are looking for a new house with a gondola workshop. (My wife says a soundproof guitar room also would be nice.) Well, apparently not many were on the Lawrence market in February. The latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows Lawrence home sales in February were down nearly 12 percent compared to February 2014.
But local real estate agents had a strong January, so year-to-date numbers are still up about 3 percent. January and February aren’t really make-or-break months for the local real estate market. But we are entering a critical period. April, May and June are really big months for the industry, so we’ll see whether the housing market can regain some momentum. The market wasn’t bad last year, but it was down slightly from 2013 totals.
Other statistics from the latest report:
— The median number of days on market for a home is 64 thus far in 2015. That’s down from 84 during the same time period a year ago.
— The number of contracts written thus far in 2015 is up nearly 25 percent. Contracts written don’t show up as sales until the deal is finalized, but that number may be a good sign for sale numbers.
— The number of homes on the market is down to 324. That’s down about 6 percent from a year ago.
— Builders closely watch the number of newly-constructed homes that sell. Thus far, that segment of the market hasn’t gained much momentum. Six new homes have sold year-to-date, which is the same number as had been sold at this point in 2014. The new home market is looking for a bounce-back year. Sales of newly-constructed homes fell by 19 percent in 2014.
• My message to you about these last 10 days or so before election day is the same as I give my gondola passengers: Buckle up. The number of political flyers in your mailboxes and advertisements on your web pages will increase quite a bit as candidates sprint to the finish line.
You’ll also start hearing about political endorsements. The Lawrence Board of Realtors has gotten that process started. It has announced that it is endorsing Stan Rasmussen, Matthew Herbert, and incumbent Terry Riordan in this year’s election.
How much endorsements help or hurt candidates in Lawrence races has been an open question. The Realtor group has been running ads on behalf of the candidates, and my understanding is has sent some postcards out as well.
As far as other endorsements, I try to pass on the endorsements I hear of from legitimate groups. So, if your group is legitimate, and you’ve made an endorsement in the City Commission race, send me your information, and I’ll make mention of it.
In terms of how this race is shaping up, it is always a bit of guesswork. As a reminder, Leslie Soden finished first in the primary, Ramussen was second, Stuart Boley third, Riordan fourth, Herbert fifth and incumbent Bob Schumm was sixth. Only three will win seats.
History is on the side of Soden and is against Schumm. In my 20 years of covering city elections, I recall only one first-place finisher in a primary failing to win a seat in the general election. I don’t remember any sixth-place finisher in the primary winning a seat in the general election. Schumm, however, does have more name recognition than most sixth-place finishers. There have been plenty of examples of No. 4 finishers moving into a top 3 spot, and few examples of No. 5 doing that as well. So, it is a real race. We’ll see how many folks show up at the polls, and how many twists and turns the candidates offer between now and April 7.
The auto business in Lawrence is booming, and its latest expansion is set for 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue. Lawrence-based Auto Exchange has filed plans to open a new dealership at the intersection.
Auto Exchange has reached a deal to take over the northwest corner of the intersection, the spot that previously housed the Hertz rental car business. Matt Heidrich, managing partner for the business, said the company plans to keep its existing location at 33rd and Iowa streets open as well. He hopes to have the new location at 23rd and Haskell open in 60 to 90 days.
“Our No. 1 problem has been keeping enough inventory,” Heidrich said. “The additional location will allow us to really expand our inventory.”
The deal represents a return to 23rd Street for Auto Exchange. It previously operated at the location down the street that now houses the Lawrence Kia dealership. The new location will be significantly smaller than that spot, but Heidrich said smaller locations are a part of Auto Exchange’s business strategy. The smaller locations allow for significantly lower overhead costs, he said.
“We figured out that bigger isn’t always better,” Heidrich said.
The strategy also works well with the company’s online strategy. Heidrich said the Internet has caused major changes in the dealership industry. He said about 90 percent of his dealership’s business is done online.
“The Internet has increased our business exponentially” he said.
Look for some construction to occur at the 23rd and Haskell site. Plans call for a remodel of the existing building, and the addition of a car wash bay to the site.
In case you are wondering about Hertz, it has moved to 845 Iowa St. It is now located inside The Selection auto dealership.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I know when I go to buy a new car, I always check my bank account first (assuming my wife has told me which bank the money’s at.) Well, there’s a new report out that shows how Kansans did in 2014 when it comes to incomes.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has released its per capita income numbers for each state in 2014. It wasn’t a great year for Kansas. Per capita income grew in the state — as it did every state — but Kansas’ growth rate was in the bottom quintile. (‘Quintile’ is left over from the days when I had enough money to buy a fancy word dictionary. Otherwise, I would just say the bottom fifth.)
Kansas’ per capita income grew by 2.9 percent in 2014. That’s compared to the national average of 3.9 percent. But a lot of Kansas’ neighbors are keeping us company in terms of lower-than-average income growth. The report notes that states that depend a lot on agriculture suffered some in 2014, especially if they didn’t have large amounts of oil and gas revenues to help their economies.
Here’s a look at the per capita incomes and growth rates for the seven states that make up the Plains Region:
— Iowa: $45,115, up 1.3 percent
— Kansas: $45,546, up 2.9 percent
— Minnesota: $48,711, up 3.2 percent
— Missouri: $41,613, up 2.7 percent
— Nebraska: $47,073, up 0.5 percent
— North Dakota: $54,951, up 5.6 percent
— South Dakota: $46,345, up 1.7 percent
As for our two neighboring states that aren’t included in that list: Colorado has per capita income of $48,730, which grew by 5.6 percent in 2014; Oklahoma checks in at $43,138, and grew at 3.8 percent last year.
In case you are wondering, the fastest growing incomes were: 1. Alaska; 2. Oregon; 3. Colorado; 4. North Dakota; 5. Texas.
In case you missed Wednesday's post: Work planned for Iowa Street this summer; roundabout for Bob Billings?
A pending addition to the east Lawrence skyline; loads of downtown events set for approval; update on Rock Chalk audit
Eastern Lawrence’s skyline is set to get a new addition. Plans have been filed by Ottawa Co-op to expand its grain facility near 19th Street and Moodie Road.
Plans call for an approximately 75-foot-tall grain storage bin to be installed adjacent to the existing grain elevator, increasing the grain storage available by about 200,000 bushels.
“There’s just a need because there is so much grain being produced in the area,” said Clark Wenger, general manager for the Ottawa Co-op.
The grain elevator — which is just a bit south and west of the 19th and Haskell intersection — has been serving area farmers for decades. If you thought the continued urbanization of Douglas County was someday going to make that facility obsolete, think again. Wenger said crop production in Douglas County has remained strong, and the facility is an important part of Ottawa Co-op’s future plans.
“It has been a really good facility for us,” Wenger said.
The co-op has a few technical approvals to win from Lawrence City Hall, but Wenger hopes to have the new grain bin in production by late August, which means it could be used for the fall harvest of corn and soybeans. Once completed, the entire Ottawa Co-op facility is expected to have the capacity to store about 600,000 bushels of grain.
The co-op also will continue to operate grain elevators in North Lawrence and Midland Junction in Douglas County.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Whatever are we going to do with the five tons of BBQ chicken wings that I’m sure we all ordered for a Jayhawk Final Four party? Don’t fret (unless you are out of wet wipes). I’m sure we’ll come up with a plan. This is the season where lots and lots of parties are being planned. And since the best parties in town, apparently, take place in a city street, city commissioners have several permits to approve. Here’s a look at the party permits just on tonight’s City Commission agenda alone:
— The Lawrence Busker Fest is set for May 29-31. Yes, you have less time than you thought to practice your sword swallowing routine. (Who needs practice? I’ve always thought it is a gut-feel type of thing.) Traditionally, the Busker Fest — a celebration of street performance art — has been held in August. But the festival has decided to move to May and combine its efforts with the annual Art Tougeau parade, which features some really funky cars that have had artistic touches added to them. Commissioners are set to approve some street closures for the 900 block of New Hampshire and the 100 block of East Eighth Street to accommodate the events. Commissioners also will consider approving a permit to allow alcohol consumption in designated areas of the city right-of-way as part of the events.
— The Free State Festival, a celebration of film, music and other arts, is planned for June 22-28. Most of the events will be downtown. The event would include closing a portion of the 900 block of New Hampshire Street, in front of the Lawrence Arts Center, for various outdoor music and street party events. The festival is requesting the necessary approvals to sell alcohol at the festival as well. The event also plans to have outdoor screenings of movies on at least four nights of the festival. Those screenings will take place in the green space just south of the Arts Center building.
— Bicycle racing will return to Lawrence. The Tour de Lawrence is scheduled for June 26-28. Two of the three races are again scheduled to take place downtown. The City Commission will consider approval of permits allowing a street sprint on Vermont Street from Seventh to Eighth streets. A downtown racecourse also will be used on Sunday, June 28, requiring the closure of several streets — including large sections of Massachusetts Street — during that day. You can see a map here. The big change with this event, however, is that the Saturday race is moving from the Kansas University campus to Haskell Indian Nations University. The race will be entirely on the Haskell campus and won’t impact city streets. If you are marking your calendars, you will notice that the Tour of Lawrence and the Free State Festival are happening at the same time. So, look for a busy time in late June.
— The Rev it Up Hot Rod Hullaballoo car show is set to return to downtown Lawrence Sept. 26. Organizers hope to close Massachusetts Street between 11th and 13th streets to accommodate the cars and other activities. Just like in past years, the festivities also will extend into adjacent South Park.
• Here’s an issue to think about: Should the city’s $50 million sewer plant project south of the Wakarusa River include about $1 million for public art? It is a question that may get some discussion. Richard Renner, the organizer of the Lawrence Busker Fest, has submitted a letter to city officials asking them to better utilize the city’s existing 2 Percent for Art program.
For decades, the city has had an ordinance that says up to 2 percent of the cost of city building projects should be devoted to public art. It doesn’t require that such expenditures occur, but it encourages it. If you have noticed the artwork in front of some Lawrence fire stations, that is an example of the program in action. More recently it also was used to fund public art in the library.
Renner, however, said the art should be required to be part of the actual building project. Instead, the city should consider using 2 Percent for Art money to help fund art festivals and other such events that bring a lot of people to town and showcase art in interesting ways.
Renner specifically mentions the upcoming sewage treatment plant project. It is not likely that would be the greatest place for art, since it is not expected that the public will go there frequently. But 2 percent of that project could fund a lot of public art. The project is expected to be in the $45 million to $50 million range. This discussion has come up before, and city officials often have said the ordinance is well meaning, but on really large projects it becomes difficult to carve out 2 percent of a project’s budget for public art. But the effort to make art a larger part of the city’s tourism and economic development efforts is more robust now. We’ll see what city officials do this time around.
• Here’s a follow up on yesterday’s item about the Rock Chalk Park audit. We noted that the revised Rock Chalk Park audit came up with a total outstanding payment due from the city that was different from what the original audit report recommended. The new version of the audit report calls for the city to pay about $67,000 more than what the previous version had recommended. The new payment amount due from the city is about $1.09 million.
City Manager David Corliss has now put out his own memo saying he agrees with the new calculations. In fact, he pointed out the $1.09 million due is the amount his staff calculated back in December. So, the original audit report simply was in error on the key detail of how much money was left to be paid on the project. Corliss’ memo indicates that the auditing firm included some change orders that the city had approved for the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. Those change orders were not intended to count towards the city’s $22.5 million cap on total Rock Chalk Park payments. But in the first version of the audit report, they were mistakenly applied to the cap total.
Commissioners will discuss the latest version of the audit, and Corliss is recommending that the commission approve the final $1.09 million payment on the project.
Rock Chalk Park audit, incentives for Peaslee Center, Eldridge Hotel tax break set to be decided by city commissioners
There’s nothing like a long City Commission meeting to take your mind off a season-ending Jayhawk loss, although both occasionally will cause you to stand up and yell, “I need some more !*&#!!$!! cheese dip.” Regardless, here’s a look at a long list of items city commissioners are set to deal with on Tuesday.
• Rock Chalk Park audit: If you remember from earlier this month, there were questions raised about the accuracy of portions of the audit conducted on the infrastructure costs at Rock Chalk Park. Well, the city-hired auditor — McDonald & Associates Inc. — has indeed revised its audit report, and acknowledged that some methods related to calculating concrete weren’t the best.
But, one finding of the revised report is probably different than what city commissioners hoped for: Version 2.0 of the audit says the city actually owes more money on the infrastructure project than what Version 1.0 had determined. The new report says the city still has an outstanding balance of $1,092,971 compared to $1,025,649 that was determined in the first report. In other words, the city — according to the auditor’s calculations —owes about $67,000 more to KU Endowment, which in turn will pay Bliss Sports II, which was the private contractor that received the no-bid contract to build roads, parking lots, sewer lines and other infrastructure at the site.
I’m still sorting through the new report, but it appears the second report has removed about $67,000 worth of payments that the first report said had already been made by the city. In Version 1.0 of the audit report, the auditors found that the city paid $10,550,630 for the city’s recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. But Version 2.0 credited the city with $10,500,000 in recreation center costs. The $10,500,000 cost is consistent with the bid the city received for the recreation center. But in Version 1.0 of the report, the auditors said there were city accounting records that showed $10,550,630 had actually been paid for the recreation center. The amount paid for the recreation center is important because the city has a $22.5 million cap on how much it must pay for total Rock Chalk Park expenses. Every dollar paid for the recreation center reduces by a dollar the amount the city must pay for the infrastructure.
The two versions of the audit report also disagree on how much the city should be credited for architecture fees for the recreation center. Version 1.0 of the report says $941,408, based off of city accounting records. Version 2.0 says $925,000.
Honestly, I’m still checking on why the amounts are different. I think it is because upon further review it was found that some of the amounts listed in Version 1.0 report were found to be payments that were outside the scope of the development agreement, and thus shouldn’t be used to reduce the city’s payment cap. I’ll keep checking on that. I don’t believe any of it, though, is related to the original question that sparked Version 2.0 of this report — the analysis of concrete batch tickets. On that point, the auditors said they once thought looking at concrete batch delivery tickets would be a feasible way of verifying that the amount of concrete used on the job was roughly matching the amount of concrete city inspectors were noting in their reports. But Version 2.0 of the report has since determined that “reliance on the delivery tickets quantities was very likely unreliable, but this in no way impacted the other testing and examinations that we performed.”
In other words, the concrete delivery ticket information included in Version 1.0 of the audit report shouldn’t be relied on, but auditors are still confident in their main finding that the city is being appropriately charged for the project.
Commissioners are scheduled to review the new findings at their Tuesday meeting and also may agree to make the final payment on the infrastructure project.
• Peaslee Technical Training Center. Here is an economic development project that has gone much smoother at City Hall. The Peaslee Center hopes to open later this year and begin teaching skilled trades such as construction, manufacturing technology and automotive repair. The joint venture between the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County, and the city and the county has been well received because training center is expected to help the community retain and attract employers who need skilled labor.
The center will enter a little bit of different territory on Tuesday. It will ask for some financial incentives to help renovate the building that will house the school. That building is the former Honeywell building just north of 31st and Haskell. The project is seeking the following:
— About a $64,000 rebate on property taxes paid for the building in 2014. The $64,000 represents the amount of taxes owed on the portion of the building that will be used by the technical training center. There’s also a manufacturer that uses a portion of the building — Hiper Technology — and it will continue to pay property taxes for its portion of the building.
— A $500,000 grant from the city to help renovation costs of the building. The estimated renovation budget is $1.2 million. Leaders of the technical center also are asking the Douglas County commission to provide a $500,000 grant. The Economic Development Corporation is prepared to provide a $200,000 grant. The EDC previously has invested about $1 million into purchasing the building.
— A loan of up to $150,000 to complete renovations of a portion of the building that will be used to house the Lawrence Workforce Center. Leaders of the technical center submitted a proposal for the Workforce Center to relocate from south Iowa Street to the site of the technical center because they believe students of the school will benefit by being close to the workforce center. The County Commission also will be asked to support a loan of up to $150,000 for the renovation costs. Leaders with the technical center are proposing a 10-year loan that will include an interest rate that is 1 percent higher than the “idled funds rate,” which basically just means the interest rate the city could earn on a savings account.
— Request for industrial revenue bonds, which would allow the project to receive an exemption from paying sales tax on any of the construction materials bought for the renovations.
• Eldridge Hotel tax incentive. City commissioners will consider finalizing a tax incentive for an expansion of The Eldridge Hotel. Last month, city commissioners gave preliminary approval for an incentive that will rebate 95 percent of the new property taxes on the expansion for 15 years through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act.
The County Commission, however, approved a lesser incentive. It approved an 85 percent property tax rebate for 15 years. After the meeting, a representative with the hotel group said the lesser incentive likely would work for the project. The school board approved a 95 percent, 15-year tax rebate for the project.
Commissioners on Tuesday need to formalize their action. It is not required that the city, county and school board all offer the same incentive amount. Commissioners, though, will have to decide whether they want to offer a larger incentive than the county has offered.
• While it is not on the agenda, one of the bigger items to keep an eye on this week at City Hall is any news out of Castle Rock, Colo. As we reported Friday, City Manager David Corliss is a finalist for the town manager job in that community. No word yet on when an announcement will be made, but all the candidates were publicly introduced to the Castle Rock community. Usually that is done near the end of a hiring process, but we’ll see.
Lawrence city commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
It is time to keep an eye on a possible leadership change at Lawrence City Hall. It has been confirmed that Lawrence City Manager David Corliss is a finalist for the town manager job of Castle Rock, Colorado.
The town of about 50,000 people outside Denver hosted Corliss and two other finalists for the position on Wednesday, according to information on the Castle Rock city website. Interviews continued yesterday. No word yet on when Castle Rock expects to make an announcement on the hire.
Corliss is a long time staff member of Lawrence City Hall. He was hired as the city manager in September 2006, but has worked at City Hall in various capacities since 1990.
I got in touch with him this morning, and he issued the following statement:
“Lawrence has no greater supporter than me,” Corliss told me via e-mail. “Lawrence has been absolutely wonderful to me and my family and it would be very difficult to leave after 30 years. I was invited to consider this opportunity to assist a rapidly growing community. I turned it down, but was asked to reconsider after the search was extended. Sarah (his wife) and I took some time off over spring break, visited her family which lives in Colorado, and participated as a candidate for the position.”
We’ll keep an eye on this and see where it leads.
Urgent care medical facility slated for Sixth and Folks Road; KDOT wants feedback on possible SLT expansion; leaders launch survey on pedestrian issues
It won’t be a full-fledged emergency room, but a deal has been struck to bring a major new medical provider to West Lawrence. Oklahoma-based XpressWellness Urgent Care has signed a deal to build at Sixth and Folks Road.
Plans call for a nearly 4,300-square-foot building at the northwest corner of the intersection. The property is in front of the Meadowlark Estates retirement community, and is in the growing Bauer Farms development.
XpressWellness, which operates eight centers in Oklahoma, provides walk-in care for a variety conditions that people sometimes turn to an emergency room for. Those include minor fractures, flu symptoms, ear infections, upper respiratory infections, bite or puncture wounds and some work-related injuries. Urgent care centers have become a significant trend in the health care industry as emergency rooms and traditional doctors offices have become busier.
“We try to make the wait as short as possible,” said Don Rose, an executive with HammerWilliams Co., which is part of the team developing the wellness centers. “We’re seeing Kansas has not quite caught up to the urgent care trend like several other states have. We see several possibilities in Kansas.”
The Lawrence location will be the company’s first in Kansas, but Rose said it is exploring sites in three other Kansas cities.
The center will be open seven days a week. According to information on its website, normal hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-7 p.m. on Sunday. Appointments aren’t required, although the centers offer an online check-in service that allows you to reserve your space in line and be notified a few minutes before a medical professional is ready to see you.
Rose said each center is overseen by a medical doctor, and the facilities also use nurse practitioners and other licensed medical professionals to provide care.
As for a timeline, expect construction to begin this summer. The zoning for the site is largely in place, but the project does still need some approvals from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. The project is expected to have a hearing in May, and construction would begin thereafter.
The project continues a trend of new medical facilities in the northwest part of the city. As we reported last week, Topeka ENT has signed a deal to open an ear, nose and throat practice at the southwest corner of Sixth and Folks Road. We’ve also previously reported that Lawrence physician Stephanie Suber has opened Family Centered Medicine in a new building just east of the Wal-Mart near Sixth and Wakarusa.
I’m also keeping my eye out for at least one other health care-related development near the Sixth and Folks Road intersection. A vacant piece of ground just east of the Central Bank of the Midwest branch there has sold. I’m hearing word of a specialty dentist office, but I haven’t yet seen plans filed. I’ll check in with the players and report back.
“We definitely think it is a great corner for the business,” Rose said. “And we’re planning on making this our showcase facility. It will be the nicest clinic we have built to date.”
Here’s a look at the proposed design for the corner.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re talking about west side development, the granddaddy of West Lawrence projects could be an expansion of the South Lawrence Trafficway. As we’ve previously reported, the Kansas Department of Transportation is working on a concept plan to expand the existing SLT to four lanes west of Iowa Street. The portion of the SLT east of Iowa Street that is currently under construction will be four lanes when it opens in 2016.
KDOT doesn’t have money to build the four lanes west of Iowa, but it has identified the expansion as a definite need, and it hopes to have a plan in place to take advantage of any funding that becomes available in future years.
With that in mind, KDOT is seeking comments from the public. KDOT will host an open house from 5-7 p.m. March 31 at Southwest Middle School, 2511 Inverness Drive. The open house is a come-and-go type of affair where people can see a few displays about the concept plan and ask questions of KDOT officials.
• Pedestrians shouldn’t feel left out of the fun, though. In the business world, I hear the phrase frequently that “people vote with their feet.” I don’t know about that. I got a nasty paper cut on my big toe during the primary, so I don’t advise it. Regardless, local officials want pedestrians to vote, sort of, on a variety of issues.
Officials with the Lawrence-Douglas County planning office are urging pedestrians to take an online survey as leaders work to develop a Regional Pedestrian Plan. You can find a link to the survey here. The deadline to participate in the survey is April 25. I just took the survey, and it takes about 10 minutes. It asks you a variety of questions about what type of sidewalk improvements, crosswalk improvements and other such issues are important to you. (Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really need to use some Lysol wipes on my computer keyboard.)
One last thing though. If you really like to talk about pedestrian issues, there is a Safe Routes for All Town Hall Forum scheduled from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Liberty Hall in downtown Lawrence.
Parks and recreation on pace to set record in 2015; get ready for closure of key Ninth Street intersection; parking changes on tap near Hillcrest school
There was an extra amount of fun at Lawrence Parks and Recreation in January and February, and I’m not even talking about the time I was woefully confused about what’s involved with a sow cow at the city’s new outdoor ice rink. (Sure, now they tell me it is spelled “Salchow.”) No, I’m talking about the department setting new records when it comes to people signing up for classes and courses.
The latest figures from the department show that enrollment numbers for everything from fitness classes to basketball leagues to wine tastings hit 4,211 in the January/February enrollment period. That’s a 42 percent increase from the same period a year ago. It also crushes any of the previous numbers for at least the last five years.
Department leaders said people heading to the new Sports Pavilion Lawrence at Rock Chalk Park were a “major driver” in the numbers. The 181,000-square-foot recreation center has allowed more youth basketball sessions, more sessions of youth and adult soccer leagues, more fitness classes and a large expansion of the department’s gymnastics program.
Plus, department leaders think the center has given residents another reason to think about getting more active.
“People go out there and see other people doing activities, and they think, ‘I want to give that a try,’” said Roger Steinbrock, the department’s director of marketing.
The department needs to have a record-type of year for class enrollments to keep the operating budget for Sports Pavilion Lawrence on track, and thus far it is off to a good start. But the new recreation center isn’t the only factor pushing up enrollment numbers.
Department leaders said the new “lifelong recreation” classes designed for people 50 and older are really gaining in popularity. About 8 months ago, the department hired a new program specialist, Gayle Sigurdson, to focus on developing classes and activities for the senior set. The program has allowed the department to begin offering some daytime, weekday classes that previously would have been tough to fill if the primary audience were people still in the workforce.
The classes have included traditional fitness classes such as aerobics, “Silver Steppers,” and something called yogilates, which I would have sworn was something my health-conscious wife was trying to get me to eat more of for breakfast.
But the program also includes classes on card games, computer workshops, nature journaling and travel clubs. In fact, the travel portion of the program has gotten rather ambitious. Parks and Recreation is organizing what leaders think may be the first overseas trip for the department. The department is advertising a trip to Ireland that will take place from Oct. 7 to Oct. 16. The department is working with professional travel planners to create the trip, but city officials are handling the marketing and promotion. The department also is offering several day trips, including a series of winery tours in Miami County, a trip to the Garden of Eden in Lucas, and a tour of the World War I museum in Kansas City.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is that time of year where the heart gets all warm at the thought of future dandelions in the yard and summer road construction detours. I’ve got news on the latter. Motorists should expect a portion of Ninth Street to be completely closed for several days this summer.
A waterline replacement project near Ninth and Avalon will close that portion of Ninth Street to thru traffic while crews connect the new waterline to an existing waterline that runs through the middle of the Ninth Street intersection.
Current plans call for the street closure to begin on May 26 and last until June 7. Ninth Street will be closed to thru traffic from a point just west of Hilltop Drive and just east of Avalon Road. The official detour for the route essentially will be for motorists to take Sixth Street for their east-west travel. Expect some additional traffic on Maine Street as well, as motorists likely will use that street to exit Ninth and get to Sixth.
The city wants some public input on the idea. The City Commission will be holding a public hearing on the project at its 5:45 p.m. March 31 commission meeting at City Hall.
In case you are wondering, the May 26 start date does avoid KU’s commencement ceremonies. Commencement is scheduled for May 17 this year.
• While we’re in the neighborhood, I’ve also got an update about some work that will be happening at Hillcrest Elementary School at 1045 Hilltop Drive. The school is set to have a shakeup in parking as part of a renovation and addition at the school.
The school district and the city have reached an agreement where the school will be allowed to use city-owned right-of-way along Hilltop Drive and Harvard Road to install new parking stalls. The plan calls for 30 parking spaces to built along Harvard Road in front of the school and 37 spaces to be built along Hilltop Drive. You can kind of see on this site plan where the new parking spaces will be constructed.
Report contends that Chapel Hill, Orlando, many other cities better basketball towns than Lawrence; National Geographic highlights Lawrence
I guess having the inventor of the game of basketball buried in your cemetery doesn’t get you as far as it used to. While our basketball team is a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, our city doesn’t even merit a top 20 ranking in a new list of the best basketball cities in the country.
That’s right, let me give you a minute while you clean up the green St. Patrick’s Day beer that just shot through your nose. (Happy St. Patrick’s Day, by the way.) The folks at the financial website WalletHub have attempted to rank the “Best and Worst Cities for Basketball Fans.” Lawrence comes in at No. 22 on the list, right behind Lexington, Ky., which undoubtedly was knocked down because fans there are constantly having to learn the names of new McDonald’s All-Americans.
In terms of who took home the coveted top prize: Storrs, Conn., home to the defending NCAA National Champion University of Connecticut Huskies, who are very busy right now selling tickets to an NIT game. In case you are wondering, UConn’s powerhouse women’s basketball team wasn’t used to create the rankings for this report by WalletHub. In case you also are wondering, James Naismith has never been buried there, and his rules of basketball won’t be displayed in a multimillion dollar building on UConn’s campus.
No. 2 on the list is Chapel Hill, N.C., a fine college basketball community that also has never had James Naismith buried there. However, we can not entirely rule out the possibility that James Naismith has been “teaching” classes at UNC for the last decade or so. Rounding out the top five are: No. 3 San Antonio, Texas; No. 4 Memphis, Tenn.; and No. 5 Orlando, Fla. (That explains why Orlando is such a tourist destination. I still don’t understand why they wear such funny ears down there, though.)
As you may have guessed from the list, the report doesn’t just look at cities with college basketball teams, but also looks at NBA cities, too.
Lawrence did rank as the top basketball city in Kansas. Manhattan came in at No. 45, and Wichita was ranked No. 142 among the 300 cities examined. Lawrence, though, was not the top ranked city in the region. Oklahoma City was No. 12, Fayetteville, Ark., was No. 14 and Denver, Colo. was No. 16.
The report's authors looked at a number of factors, including the past three season’s worth of win-loss records for teams in each city. I’m not sure where KU ranked, but Wichita was the top-ranked city in the college category. They also looked at national championships, division/league championships, number of sports bars per capita, arena sizes, and the average ticket price for season tickets. In that category, Lawrence finished last. According to the data that WalletHub used, of the 205 cities that host a college basketball team, Lawrence had the “highest minimum season ticket prices for a college basketball game.” I think what that means is that the cheapest season ticket for a KU game is higher than the cheapest season ticket for any of the other schools studied in this report. In case you are wondering, Conway, Ark. — home to the University of Central Arkansas Bears — has the cheapest season ticket prices. (The Bears take hibernation seriously during the basketball season. They were 2-27 this season.)
So, keep that in mind as you pack your bags for Conway. It ranked No. 247 overall. But that is better than one other area city: Kansas City, Mo. KC ranked No. 298 on the list. Kansas City — the city that has hosted more NCAA national championship games than any other — is the third worst basketball city in the country, according to WalletHub. Only Riverside, Calif., and Jersey City, N.J., ranked worse. I assume KC fared so poorly because it doesn’t have an NBA team, so its rankings probably were based off of the UMKC basketball program.
Still, I can’t think that Kansas City leaders are going to be too happy about this ranking. The city just recently hosted another wildly successful Big 12 Tournament.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I know, that news has left your shamrock a bit droopy today, so perhaps this will lift your spirits. A recent edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine has listed Lawrence as one of its Final 4: Our Picks for Slam Dunk College Towns. Lawrence made the list along with Chapel Hill, Spokane, Wash., home to Gonzaga, and Syracuse, N.Y., although don’t expect Jim Boeheim to hold a press conference about it.
The brief write up on Lawrence includes the tradition of “waving the wheat,” Free State Brewery, our abolitionist beginnings, the Eldridge Hotel, and, of course, Frosted Flakes and tequila at The Roost. If that doesn’t bring people flocking to town, I don’t know what will.
If you have ever wanted to watch someone canvass a group of city commission candidates, you missed your chance recently. (No, it didn’t involve bundling them tightly in heavy cloth. I learned years ago that there is a reason there’s an extra ’s’ on canvass.)
Instead, what I’m talking about is the process to certify the March 3 city commission and school board vote totals as official. Douglas County commissioners, under the supervision of the Douglas County Clerk, go through a process called a canvass in which they look at provisional ballots and other disputed ballots to come up with a final vote total. That was done last week, so now we have the official vote totals from the primary.
As was almost certain, none of the top six vote winners in the city commission changed their order in the race. To keep this short and sweet (which is not the most common of combinations in politics) the canvass basically gave top vote winner Leslie Soden a slightly greater victory than the unofficial vote totals on election night indicated. She ended up having a 719 vote lead over second-place finisher Stan Rasmussen rather than the 709 vote lead reported on election night.
That’s not all that significant because every candidate starts over at zero in the general election anyway. But normally, if people take the time to vote for you in a primary election, they’ll take the time to vote for you again in a general election. So, Soden goes into the April 7 election with good momentum.
But the more interesting numbers are the precinct-by-precinct vote totals. The Douglas County Clerk’s office has released those totals now that the results have become official. I always like to analyze those results a bit to see what they tell us. (Normally, they tell us that I need a better hobby.) Anyway, here’s a look:
— Soden was the clear-cut winner in large areas of the community. She was the top vote winner in 28 of 49 precincts. Second-place finisher Rasmussen won 10 precincts, third-place finisher Stuart Boley won 6, fifth-place finisher Matthew Herbert won 3, and fourth-place finisher and current City Commissioner Terry Riordan won 2. City Commissioner Bob Schumm, who won the sixth and final spot that moves onto the general election, didn’t win a single precinct. That was quite a change from his election four years ago when he was the top vote-winner in the city.
– The neighborhoods east of Iowa Street were very united in their support of Soden. She won 20 of the 26 precincts east of Iowa Street. Rasmussen, on the other hand, won just a single precinct east of Iowa. (Point of clarification: Some of these precincts, I believe, straddle the Iowa Street line. I count them east or west of Iowa based on the location of the polling place.)
— Rasmussen was the big winner in western Lawrence, but not by huge margins. Western portions of the city were much more divided. Rasmussen won 9 of the 23 precincts west of Iowa Street. Soden won 8 of the precincts west of Iowa Street. This continues a bit of a trend we saw in the November election for a sales tax to support a police headquarters. Eastern Lawrence was very united in its vote against the sales tax, while western Lawrence was generally supportive, but more divided.
– In what has been a trend for quite awhile, voters west of Iowa Street outnumber voters east of Iowa Street. By my tally, there were 4,958 ballots cast west of Iowa compared to 3,508 east of Iowa. It is tough for a candidate to win an election without winning some significant levels of support from west Lawrence voters. (A quick note: I used Iowa Street as the dividing line because that is the way a lot of people divide Lawrence in their minds. But Iowa Street doesn’t represent the center of the city any more from a geographic or demographic standpoint. The east-west dividing line would be farther west. Someday I plan to figure out exactly where that line is — Lawrence Avenue may be a good guess — but that day is not today.)
– The precincts with the largest voter turnout by percentage were: Brandon Woods, 4730 Brandon Woods Terrace, 25.98 percent; Lawrence Heights Christian Church, 2321 Peterson Road, 25.33; Pioneer Ridge, 4851 Harvard Road, 25.32 percent; Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 2211 Inverness Drive, 25.2 percent; American Legion, 3408 W. Sixth St., 24.67 percent. All of those precincts are in the western half of the city. Rasmussen won three of those, while Soden and Boley each won one.
– Students who live in Kansas University residence halls apparently haven’t yet caught city commission fever. There are 1,020 registered voters in Precinct 10, but it had only 1 ballot cast during the primary election. That is a voter turnout of 0.1 percent.
— Voter turnout in the primary election finished at 13.85 percent. The big question on the minds of candidates probably is how much higher voter turnout will be for the general election. If history is a good predictor of the future, we probably all are still wearing powdered wigs. (I don’t think that is the case.) But perhaps some historical numbers are useful here. Over the last 15 years, the highest voter turnout for an April election that did not involve school bonds was in 2007. A whopping 19.1 percent of voters went to the polls. More recently, the April 2013 elections produced a 16.5 percent turnout. It looks like a 5 percent to 6 percent increase in voters in April would be near the top end of what to expect.
But who knows, maybe voter turnout will be higher. Voters certainly do know how to get to the polls in April, when they want to. When we've had school bond elections in April, voter turnout has been just under 40 percent.
The general election will be April 7. Advance voting begins Wednesday. The top three voter winners from the field of six will win a seat on the five-member commission.
New apartment complex slated for Sixth and Folks Road area; Topeka ENT moving into West Lawrence space; world champion Clydesdale team coming for St. Patty’s parade
The latest thing slated to grow in West Lawrence’s Bauer Farm development is a new apartment complex. Plans have been filed for a 145-unit apartment development near Sixth Street and Folks Road.
According to plans filed at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, the apartment complex wouldn’t be right on the corner of Sixth and Folks, but just west of it. Look for six apartment buildings that will house a mix of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments. The plans also call for a nearly 12,000-square-foot clubhouse and a full-length outdoor basketball court.
A big part of the development is finishing Bauer Farm Drive. That is the east-west road immediately north of Sixth Street. The road is only about three-quarters completed. A large gap prevents motorists from taking it all the way from Wakarusa Drive to Folks Road. (Well, prevent may be too strong of a word, but you’ll want to have your shocks adjusted just right and the proper amount of bail money in the glove box.) The plans call for that final stretch of Bauer Farm to be completed, which may spur other development.
The development still has a few lots along Sixth Street to fill, but development is certainly on the upswing with the project. Sprouts, the natural foods grocery store, is under construction. Officials with the chain have said they plan to open the Lawrence store, at Wakarusa and Overland, in the second quarter of this year. There also will be several other retail spaces available next to the grocery store. I haven’t yet heard of deals signed, but I believe interest has been strong.
I’m also hearing a medical-related user also has plans for another portion of the Bauer Farm development. So keep your eyes open for news on that in the future.
As for the apartment development, the property is owned by a group led by Lawrence businessmen Mike Treanor and Doug Compton, but information on the plans indicate the apartment complex will be developed by a Colorado-based group Wakarusa Investors, LLC, led by David Geist.
The property already has the necessary zoning for apartment development, so it just needs to win some technical approvals from City Hall. It seems likely that it will have the necessary permits to begin construction this summer.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re in the neighborhood of Sixth and Folks, it looks like a new medical office also is coming to that intersection. For months you perhaps have noticed advertisements that say Topeka Ear Nose and Throat — or Topeka ENT — is coming to Lawrence. Well, now we know where. The company has signed a lease to go into the new office building that houses Capital City Bank at the southwest corner of Sixth and Folks, according to information provided by the broker on the deal, Allison Vance Moore of the local Colliers International office. No word yet on when the office plans to open.
• There will be a world champion in Tuesday’s Lawrence St. Patrick’s Day Parade — six of them actually — and I dare you to give them a hard time about not being green enough. The Express Clydesdales, a team of six black and white Clydesdales that have been in parades and competitions throughout North America, have been added to the parade’s roster.
In addition, Lawrence residents will have a chance to see the horses up close. The team will be providing wagon rides from noon to 4 p.m. Monday at the Pine Landscape Center, 1783 E. 1500 Road in North Lawrence. The wagon rides are free, although donations will be taken to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.
The horses then will be part of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday and runs through downtown and North Lawrence.
The team, sponsored by the personnel services firm Express Employment Professionals, won the Six-Horse Hitch World Championships at the Calgary Stampede in 2013, and have won several other international competitions. Admittedly, the team isn’t as famous as the Budweiser Clydesdales, but they’re plenty big, just like the Budweiser animals.
“It is hard to appreciate just how big they are until you see them in person,” said Barry Kingery, a co-owner of the local Expres Employment Professionals office. “Just try to throw your arm around one of them, and you’ll se how big they really are.”
According to the horses’ website (don’t ask me how they type HTML code with those big hoofs), each horse is about 6 feet tall at the shoulder, weighs between 1,700 and 2,300 pounds, eats about 12 pounds of food and 15 pounds of hay per day, and drinks about 30 gallons of water daily. As for the size of those hoofs, the website simply says: “Size of dinner plates.”
The horses are participating in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade this weekend and are stopping in Lawrence as they make their way to their home base near Oklahoma City.
Knights of Columbus to close E. 23rd Street events hall; new food cart slated for downtown; SLT project to create long-term lane reductions on K-10
For decades, the Knights of Columbus building on east 23rd Street has been home to bird shows, gun shows (not at the same time), wedding receptions and a host of other events. I even have been known to put on my best Western dancing shirt and head to the Knights of Columbus for its live country dance bands. But all that is changing. (Clarification: I’m keeping the shirt.) The organization is in the process of closing the building and finding a new owner for the large piece of property.
Kevin Oneslager, an officer with the group that owns the building, said the Knights have stopped taking reservations for the use of the building and the fraternal organization is no longer holding its meetings there, either. Some of you may have noticed that all of the Knights of Columbus signs have been removed in recent days.
Oneslager said events that already have been booked would go on as planned. Oneslager said the Knights of Columbus organization also is still very much alive and well. It is holding its meetings at the St. John’s Catholic Church. Members of the Knights, however, decided they were just spending too much time managing the large building.
“We would rather focus our time on the charity. Our main focus is on charity,” Oneslager said.
Plus, now is probably a good time to sell the building. It's on the far eastern edge of Lawrence and is adjacent to the city’s VenturePark property, which is the new business/industrial park on the former Farmland Industries site. The building, which dates to the mid-1960s, sits on about 2 acres of commercial zoned property, and is highly visible from 23rd Street. It also is adjacent to two other pieces of 23rd Street property that could be candidates for redevelopment — the former Don’s Steakhouse building and the former Diamond Everley Roofing building.
Those three properties combined would create a large area for redevelopment on 23rd Street. I haven’t heard of any specific plan to do so, but certainly the idea has come up among some in the commercial real estate business.
Oneslager said the ownership group is in the process of getting an appraisal and expects to start fielding interest in the property later in 2015.
“It is a great location,” Oneslager said. “Obviously sitting right next to VenturePark, we hope that may draw some interest.”
Speaking of interest, I know you want to see the beautiful shirt. So, let the wonderment begin . . .
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of things we would like to torch . . . (Wait a minute, how did my wife get ahold of the keyboard?) Regardless, there is news that involves torches. Torched Goodness, the unique food truck that serves a whole host of Creme Brûlée dishes, has received a city permit for a food cart in downtown Lawrence. The cart will be on the northeast corner of Seventh and Massachusetts street, in front of Liberty Hall. I’m not entirely sure whether the food cart will focus on Creme Brûlée or whether it will be more traditional street food. I’m also not sure how I’m going to sneak Creme Brûlée into a movie at Liberty Hall, but I’m working on answers to both of those questions. I’ve got a call into the Torched Goodness folks and will report back any details I learn.
• What I do know is that traffic on Kansas Highway 10 just east of Lawrence will be a bit different for the rest of 2015. Crews working on the South Lawrence Trafficway project are slated to close one lane in each direction on the busy highway beginning on Monday. The lane closures are expected to last into December.
Information from the state says the lane restrictions will run from a point near the East Hills Business Park entrance and go all the way to the County Route 1057 interchange between Eudora and Lawrence. So, that’s about a 2.5-mile stretch. The speed limit in the area will be reduced to 55 miles per hour.
The lane reductions will give crews room to build a number of bridges over K-10 as part of the SLT project. A lot of the work will be near the area where K-10 curves and previously intersected with Noria Road. That road intersection won’t be part of the new SLT configuration. Instead, Noria road will travel over K-10 via an overpass. Work also will be near the ski lake just south of K-10.
We’ll see how bad traffic becomes on K-10. The Kansas Department of Transportation said motorists should expect “minor delays.” I travel that road a lot, and there have been some temporary lane reductions before. Traffic still moves pretty well even with one lane. Just hope there is not an accident that impacts that one lane. If so, you had better hope you packed an extra Creme Brûlée.
As for the SLT work, it will be interesting to watch the interchange being constructed. It is not your standard interchange with a bridge and a couple of entrance and exit ramps. I’m not sure I have all of it figured out, but look at the map below for some details. It shows the Noria Road overpass, and it looks like there will be a few other overpasses as well. And there’s also an area — the spot where all the green lines are twisted up — that looks a bit like my eyeglasses after a spaghetti dinner with one too many glasses of wine. But I’m sure it all will become clearer in the next few months. And, if for some reason you haven’t driven through that area in awhile, you should. It is changing tremendously.
Local health advocate raises idea of smoking ban in city parks, e-cigarette ban in certain city facilities
Walk your dog in the park? Sure. Toss a Frisbee around in the park? You bet. Conduct catapult-like experiments on a park Teeter Totter? Well . . . I’ll just say it unfortunately isn’t covered under my insurance policy. But what about smoking a cigarette in a Lawrence park? That may become the next interesting question for Lawrence city commissioners to tackle.
Smoking your standard tobacco cigarette in a city park is legal today. But an official with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department is now suggesting the city ought to debate whether it should remain so. The question is also likely to expand to whether spectators at outdoor sporting events on city-owned property should be allowed to smoke, and whether e-cigarettes also should be banned at city facilities.
Erica Anderson, a new health promotion specialist with the health department, has begun asking about the issue at Lawrence City Hall, and earlier this week talked briefly with the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board about the topic. She hasn’t submitted a specific proposal for the city to consider yet, but said she’s working to develop one.
“For sure we want to get rid of e-cigarettes in recreation centers,” Anderson said. “We really want to look at changing the social norms around tobacco use.”
Anderson said the health department has received a grant related to the e-cigarette issue, and she expects that to be the group’s first area of focus. But she said banning smoking in parks is also on the list of areas she would like considered.
“That probably will be in our long-term plans,” Anderson said. “It would do a lot to help change the social norm.”
Anderson said a primary thought is that if children see fewer adults using tobacco or e-cigarettes, that perhaps they’ll be less likely to take up the smoking habit in the future. That’s why areas such as recreation centers, ball fields, parks and other areas that attract a lot of children are high on the list of places where she wants the city to consider tougher smoking policies.
The city’s current smoking ban, enacted in 2004, doesn’t really address e-cigarettes. Retailers of the devices have said that since the “smoke” emitted by the devices is actually water vapor, that they don’t create the same second-hand smoke type of concerns that cigarettes do. But Anderson, who previously was the program coordinator for Tobacco Free Kansas, said the science and possible health impacts of e-cigarettes aren’t yet very well understood.
As for smoking at an outdoor ball field, such as at soccer games or baseball games sponsored by the city, that currently is allowed, as long as you are not on the field of play, said Ernie Shaw, the leader of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. That means spectators along the sidelines or in the stands can smoke.
Where the issue goes from here will be interesting to watch. Anderson said she’s had a conversation with the city attorney’s office seeking more information about the city’s policies regarding smoking and e-cigarettes.
If any changes are to be made — such as banning smoking in parks — ultimately it will be up to the City Commission to make them. And given the time of year that we’re in, we’re in all likelihood talking about the next City Commission that will be elected at the April 7 elections.
Lawrence taxi cab drivers soon may have to get a new type of license, and, no, it isn’t one to take your taxi cab confession. City Hall officials are contemplating a new ordinance that would require criminal background checks for drivers.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider a new taxi cab licensing ordinance that will allow the city to deny a taxi cab license to any person who has any of the following convictions within the last five years: a felony; crime of dishonesty; crime against a person; driving under the influence; or driving with a suspended license. Anyone who has an outstanding warrant also will be denied a license.
The proposed changes haven’t come about because the city has heard of dangerous situations occurring with taxi cab drivers. (Well, there have been some trips back from the 24-hour burrito stand that have been a bit troubling, but that’s probably unavoidable.) Instead, the changes are proposed because a pair of taxi cab companies asked the city to look at its antiquated taxi cab ordinance.
It is unclear, though, whether these proposed changes are going to address the concerns those two taxi cab companies have. Jayhawk Taxi and Ground Transportation Services — two of the larger taxi cab companies in the city — have expressed concern about the number of independent taxi cab companies that are receiving licenses from the city.
Representatives from Jayhawk and GTS have told City Hall officials that the most lucrative part of the Lawrence taxi cab market is the late-night bar crowd. Both companies say the service they provide in those late-night/early-morning hours subsidizes the service they provide during the daytime weekday hours. But they contend that small, single operator companies are getting city licenses and are only operating during the lucrative late-night bar scene. As that market becomes split, it is becoming more difficult to keep the daytime, weekday service operating.
Both Jayhawk and GTS have proposed that the city create a requirement that tax cab companies only be allowed to operate in Lawrence if they have a certain number of cabs and agree to operate a certain number of hours per week. Both Wichita and Topeka have such requirements in their taxi cab ordinances, but several other cities do not. As proposed, the Lawrence ordinance would not create those requirements.
But the city is proposing several changes to the code, as the review found the language was pretty antiquated. Among the changes is an increased requirement for insurance. The current code requires a company to have only $25,000 worth of insurance to protect against the death or injury of a single person and just $50,000 for deaths or injuries to multiple people. The new code would raise those levels to $300,000 and $500,000.
The city also is proposing an increase in the fees charged to taxi cab operators. The city is proposing a $100 taxicab business permit license and then additional $50 per vehicle fee. Currently the city does not charge for a business permit license but rather has a fee structure that charges $100 for the first vehicle, $50 for the second and third, and $25 for each additional vehicle.
In case you are wondering, there currently are 32 licensed taxi cabs in the city, which are owned by eight different companies.
Local butcher to open sausage shop and restaurant near Ninth and Iowa; Kansas Food Truck Festival to make Lawrence return; city getting high bids for big projects
It won’t be long before it is time to fire up the grill, double up on the cholesterol medicine and stock up on the meat. Well, plans are in the works for a new Lawrence business that can help with the meat part, especially if you are a fan of homemade sausages and frankfurters.
Lee Meisel, the butcher for the popular downtown restaurant 715, has filed plans to open Leeway Franks in the shopping center at Ninth and Iowa streets. The shop is going into the building at 935 Iowa that is just east of the bowling alley. The space formerly housed Daylight Donuts, which appears to have left the Lawrence market. (Yes, I feel like I should deliver a soliloquy on how we must take the bitter with the sweet in this life. But I’m too busy drawing on eyebrows after this year’s pre-season experiments with lighter fluid.)
Leeway Franks will produce a variety of sausages, including an all-beef frankfurter, classic bratwursts, Polish sausage, and several daily specials that could include some items made from bison or game meats. The shop will sell its creations out of a butcher case for people to take home to prepare themselves.
“We think we’ll get a lot of business on game days from tailgaters,” Meisel said.
But the business also will have a kitchen and a small dining area for about 20 people.
“The food is going to be really casual and approachable for everyone,” Meisel said. “The whole idea is to have a place where you can get a really good hot dog and a cold beer.”
Meisel said he also plans to offer a few side items that he became accustomed to while growing up in North Dakota: french fries with brown gravy, and Tater Tots with cheese sauce. (I thought he said this place was going to be casual. I think that was two thirds of the normal menu for a Bill Clinton state dinner.)
The frankfurters, though, are expected to be the speciality at Leeway Franks. Meisel said they’ll be an all-natural product, made with area beef and won’t include fillers. They’ll also feature a natural casing that provides a certain crispness when you bite into it. And Meisel said they’ll have a blend of spices that goes beyond just the large amount of salt you get with the 99 cent packages of hot dogs.
“Unless you grew up in a place like Wisconsin or Chicago where they do a lot of traditional frankfurters, I don’t think a lot of people have had them quite like this,” Meisel said.
Meisel hopes to have the restaurant up and running by late spring or sometime this summer.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Get ready for the second annual Kansas Food Truck Festival, which will be hosted again in East Lawrence. (How awesome would it be if one of the trucks was a tanker truck filled with brown gravy for all the french fries?) Organizers have announced that the food truck festival is set for May 2 in the warehouse arts district in East Lawrence. Tickets for the event go on sale today.
As was the case last year, proceeds from the event will benefit Just Food, the nonprofit food bank that serves Douglas County.
Organizers expect about 20 food trucks from across the state to set up shop in the 800 block of Pennsylvania Street from 5-10 p.m. May 2. The event also is expected to feature live music, art and activities for the kids.
For more information about the festival, go to the event’s website at ksfoodtruckfest.com
• It looks like the days of building contractors really sharpening their pencils to win bids for city construction projects may be coming to an end. At their meeting on Tuesday, city commissioners are poised to reject bids for two major projects because they came in significantly over the cost estimates of engineers.
I previously alerted you to the fact that bids for the city’s sewer plant project south of the Wakarusa River came in at about $50 million instead of the estimated $46 million. Well, commissioners at their weekly meeting will be asked to reject those bids, and direct engineers to come up with some ways to reduce the scope of the project slightly to save some money. But city officials warn that even then the project may come in above the previously estimated $45.9 million engineer’s estimate. The city-hired engineering firm said there appears to be a fairly simple reason for the higher-than-expected costs.
“It appears that higher bid costs can be attributed in part to a strong construction market and a general trend upwards in construction costs,” John Keller, a project manager for Black & Veatch, said in a letter to city officials.
Further evidence of that trend can be found in North Lawrence. City officials in late February received bids for the Maple Street Pump Station, which is designed to reduce storm water flooding in North Lawrence.
The low bid came in at $5.9 million compared to an engineer’s estimate of $4.1 million. Engineers are recommending that the bids be rejected, and that the scope of the project be reviewed. Engineers don’t yet have a date in mind for when the project could be re-bid.
As for the sewer plant project, engineers expect to open new bids on that project in early April.
Update on 25th and Iowa development; building totals start slowly in 2015; Lawrence lands on list of ‘coolest towns’
Let’s face it: After a night that included the excitement of both an overtime KU basketball game and the thrilling spectacle known as a City Commission primary, we’re all just going to spend today refueling our bodies with Cap ’N Crunch and Mountain Dew. So, I’m going to give you an abbreviated news and notes version of Town Talk. Here we go:
• Some of you have been asking me what development is underway at the former gas station at 25th and Iowa streets. Signs are pointing toward a financial service company that specializes in title or payday loans. A building permit has been issued for $125,000 worth of renovations at the site. The tenant on the building permit application is listed as Anderson Financial Services, LLC. A little research online shows that the company operates several LoanMax locations across the country. The company specializes in providing cash loans secured by a vehicle title. The company already is listing the location at 2434 Iowa on its website, so I would say that is a pretty good sign that a LoanMax is coming to Lawrence soon. The company has about 25 other locations across the state.
• While we are speaking of building permits, 2015 got off to a slow start in January, according to the latest report from City Hall. But that is not unusual for January. (It takes a lot of Cap ’N Crunch to get motivated in January.) The city issued permits for $3.4 million worth of work in January, which is below the previous five-year average of about $6 million. The number of permits for single-family living units also were pretty unremarkable. Permits for five new units were issued, which technically is the lowest January number since 2011. But not by much. Every January for the past five years has seen fewer than 10 new housing starts. So, January numbers don’t tell us much, but we will want to keep an eye on housing numbers in 2015. (Really, we do, so get it on your schedule and factor it in when you’re making vacation plans.) Home building numbers struggled in 2014, and it will be interesting to see if they bounce back.
The January report does provide some information about a couple of smaller projects you have noticed while driving around town. Work that is underway at 721 Wakarusa Drive is to renovate the space for Pinot’s Palette, a business that brings people together to participate in an art class while also sharing wine. We reported on the business back in October, so plans are now progressing on that business.
The January report also shows that construction work at the shopping center at 23rd and Harper is for a new Nail City. That location in fact may or may not already be open. My nails can attest that we do not know. The report also notes activity at one of the condo units on the top floor of the Marriott Hotel building at Ninth and New Hampshire. About $125,000 worth of interior finish work is underway on the condo unit.
• Perhaps it is because we have made a point to keep an eye on housing numbers in 2015, but Lawrence has landed on an Internet list of the coolest cities in America. A website called the MatadorNetwork.com ranks Lawrence as the ninth “Coolest Town in the U.S.” As if you didn’t already know, Lawrence is cool — according to Matador — because many shops and bars sell records or used CDs, plus we have several venues that attract “legit musical acts.”
The site goes on to list a perfect day in Lawrence as shopping for some antiques at Amy’s Attic or Blue Heron in North Lawrence, grabbing an early meal at Zen Zero in downtown and then “just drink your way up and down Massachusetts Street, mingling with underagers and recent grads who haven’t figured out the next move.”
The other towns that joined Lawrence in the top 10:
Laguna Beach, Calif.
North Charleston, S.C.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Mount Desert Island, Maine
What does the MatadorNetwork know about cool towns? I’m not sure, but I felt like it was my duty to alert you, in case you start noticing a marked increase in cape-wearing individuals staggering along Massachusetts Street.
There has been plenty of “new” on New Hampshire Street lately, and now we have pictures to go with the latest proposed development along the downtown corridor. As we reported last month, a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton is planning to build four stories on top of the former Pachamama’s restaurant building at Eighth and New Hampshire streets. The group now has filed its plans with City Hall.
The plans show pretty much what Compton described last month when he confirmed that he had reached a deal to purchase the building: The ground floor will remain available for restaurant or retail uses, while the four new floors built atop the building will house 55 apartments. The project will include a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. Plans call for 42 percent of the project to be studio units, while 29 will be devoted to one-bedroom units and 29 percent to two-bedroom units.
But you didn’t come here to do math. You want to see what the building will look like.
Take a look at the picture below. It is what the building will look like if you are standing in the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire. (Why are you standing in the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire, by the way?)
This one below shows what the northern facade of the building will look like.
This rendering below shows the western face of the building, which is the portion that has frontage along New Hampshire Street. You’ll notice that the plan calls for the building to be expanded over the little parking area that exists to the south of the building.
Lawrence-based Treanor Architects — which has done the design for the the multistory apartment building and the new Marriott hotel building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets — is the designer on this project. The company also has designed the new multistory apartment/office building that is under construction at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire, which is also a project led by Compton.
Compton has said he wants to have the Pachamama’s project under construction this summer. The project will have to win some approvals — primarily for its design — from City Hall. Thus far, I’ve seen no request for financial incentives from the city. Compton has used tax increment financing and some other incentives on the hotel project and the new apartment project underway at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. But both of those projects involved constructing a new underground parking garage, which added considerable expense to the projects. Compton is not proposing a parking garage as part of this project. Downtown zoning codes don’t require the project to provide any off-street parking, and thus far the plans call for the building to rely on parking options that already exist in the downtown area.
Plans being developed for former Sunrise Garden Center in eastern Lawrence; sales tax numbers show local holiday spending down slightly
Plans are in the works between a new nonprofit and a private business to take over the vacant eastern Lawrence property that formerly housed the Sunrise Garden Center.
This spring will be another season that Lawrence green thumbs won’t be able to go to Sunrise Garden Center for bulbs, plants or just advice on what this green stuff is on their thumbs. If you remember, Sunrise closed its doors in late 2013, and the 3.5 acre site at 15th and New York streets has been vacant ever since.
But a new nonprofit is putting together a plan to buy the property, along with a Lawrence-based business that manufactures tofu. Melissa Freiburger is the co-founder of The Sunrise Project. She said her nonprofit has teamed up with Central Soy Foods in an effort to purchase the site. Central Soy Foods would use the site to manufacture its tofu and tempeh products, and the nonprofit would use the greenhouses and other assets to host youth programs and other events that educate about the importance of locally grown foods and other issues of sustainability. Freiburger envisions the site serving as a community greenhouse and also hosting cooking, gardening and similar workshops.
“We really just want to create a very vibrant green space in the community,” Freiburger said.
Central Soy Foods is led by longtime Lawrence businessman David Millstein. If you remember, we reported back in August that Millstein was seeking a new location for the company’s production plant. But a plan to move the operation to a rural homestead didn’t win the necessary approvals. Currently, the company — which has been around since 1978 — operates on a fairly small scale. It produces about 2,000 pounds of tofu and tempeh per week. It primarily sells its products in local grocery stores and a few chains in the Kansas City area.
Millstein told me he thought the site would work very well for the project. He’s proposing to keep the two gabled greenhouses, in part, because he considers those structures to have historical value. Millstein has been a longtime historic preservationist with several buildings in downtown Lawrence. He said he’s contemplating removing the one hoop greenhouse on the site and replacing it with a production facility. He said one other food producer in the area has expressed an interest in sharing the space. He also said he thinks there could be someone who would want to operate the greenhouses to sell micro greens or other such products to area restaurants and grocery stores.
“It has a chance to be a really symbiotic green project,” Millstein said.
The project, though, does have to win some approvals from City Hall. Millstein said he is hopeful neighbors will find the project compatible with the neighborhood.
“I think there probably would be less commotion with this project than when it was Sunrise,” said Millstein, who said the most of the time the site would have fewer than 10 employees at it.
The project also still has some financial questions. Freiburger said the nonprofit is seeking to raise $250,000 to meet its share of the purchase price of the property. The nonprofit — whose legal 501(c)3 name is Lawrence Community Food Alliance — has started a fundraising drive. Freiburger said one neighbor of the site already has pledged $25,000 to the project.
“We feel like it really can become something amazing for the neighborhood,” said Freiburger, who lives near the property. “And the longer the site sits vacant, I know there is a fear that it will become apartments or something like that.”
People can find out more information about how to donate at the group’s website, sunriseprojectks.org.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have much tofu in my stocking this past holiday season. (I once did ruin a good pair of shoes, though, trying to hide tofu in my stockings at a dinner party.) Regardless, there are new numbers out about retail sales in Lawrence during the holiday season, and they suggest stockings may have been a touch light this year.
The city has received its latest sales tax report from the Kansas Department of Revenue. Technically, the report is the first one for the 2015 calendar year, but since sales taxes are paid in arrears, the numbers provide a picture of sales activity during the holiday season. This report generally shows sales from about mid-November to mid-December.
The report found sales tax collections in Lawrence fell by 1.4 percent, compared with the same period a year ago. Lawrence seemed to be on the wrong side of the trend this past season. Of the other large retail markets in the state, only one other posted a decline. Here’s a look:
— Kansas City: up 1.8 percent
— Lenexa: up 2.2 percent
— Manhattan: up 2.3 percent
— Overland Park: down 3.5 percent
— Salina: up 5.1 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 0.4 percent
— Topeka: up 0.8 percent
But we don’t yet have a full picture of the holiday spending. The next report will more fully capture that last two weeks before Christmas, so perhaps here in Lawrence we were just later in getting our holiday shopping started.
As always, City Hall officials will keep a close eye on sales tax collections this year. Healthy sales tax growth is an important part of the city’s budget. It will become an even more important aspect if commissioners are serious about trying to figure out how to build a new police headquarters without increasing taxes.
Sales tax revenues in 2014 grew by a very healthy 4.1 percent. One month isn’t anything to fret about, but if Lawrence wants to match or exceed that pace in 2015, it won’t want many more reports like this most recent one.