Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Forget junky and start thinking funky at the corner of 12th and Haskell in East Lawrence.
Plans have been filed at City Hall to convert the former site of the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center and longtime scrap yard into a small scale housing development that would be designed by one of the more avant-garde building companies in the city.
The owners of Struct/Restruct have a contract to purchase the East Lawrence site, and they have dual-purpose plans for the location. First, they want to use the existing building that fronts Haskell Avenue for their woodworking and construction shop.
But the more interesting aspect of the project is what they would do with the large open area that previously housed junk cars, scrap metal and similar products from the recycling center. Plans call for nine houses to be built on the former scrap yard site, and if you are familiar with Struct/Restruct you can bet that they won't be your ordinary suburban-style homes.
"Ideally, it will be a place where we keep getting to try new ideas," said co-owner Matt Jones.
As I detailed in an article last year, Struct/Restruct has been taking several old East Lawrence homes and creating modern additions for them. That often means unique peaks, sheets of glass, and nontraditional exteriors of concrete, stainless steel cables and distinctive timber.
But this project may create some unique designs even by Struct/Restruct's standards. One idea that is under consideration: houses built on piers. That's because neighbors have expressed concern that a housing development could worsen stormwater flooding in the area.
The entire site is in the 100-year floodplain, which traditionally would require the lots to be built up with fill dirt before construction could begin. The state is going through a new floodplain mapping project, so it is possible the area may not be in the floodplain after the new boundaries are drawn. But Jones said that, as a way to alleviate concerns about displacing stormwater, he's kicking around the idea of some designs that put a house on piers, which during heavy rain would allow stormwater to accumulate on the site and slowly dissipate.
The idea is a bit of a new one for this part of the country, but it is not too uncommon in some places, like in Cajun country and along the Gulf Coast. (How cool would it be if this neighborhood adopted some other traditions from that area: Boiled peanuts, crawfish pie, and duck calling competitions. I'm almost certain my wife would consent to a move. Mine, that is.)
Just to add another twist to the potential development, Jones is considering setting aside about two acres on the site for use as a bicycle park. Jones was part of a Lawrence group that was seeking some city parkland to build a BMX bicycle track. Jones said he's not envisioning a traditional BMX track, but rather is contemplating a "pump track," which is a type of mountain bike course with swales and berms that allow riders to build up speed and minimize pedaling.
But before you get out your Spandex, or your Cajun gear for that matter, a neighborhood of pump tracks and pier houses is not yet a certainty. Struct/Restruct's contract with the former salvage yard requires the current owners of the property to conduct environmental assessments of the property showing that it is suitable for residential development. Assuming that goes well, the project also has to win the necessary land use approvals, and the city's Parks and Recreation Department may have something to say about a pump track that would be open to the public.
The project may move forward in a couple of different phases. The idea of converting the existing building on the site into a new shop for Struct/Restruct most likely will be the first phase. Jones said he would like to move forward with that idea in the next three months or so. Currently, Struct/Restruct has its shop in a small building at 920 1/2 Delaware St. in East Lawrence. The 12th and Haskell space would be about four times larger.
If the company is able to move its shop, that would free up the existing shop location for a new venture, Jones said. He said he's working with a friend who has a strong interest in using the building to open a new neighborhood bicycle shop. The company also owns another small building just north of its shop. I had previously reported the Struct/Restruct folks were working with a client that wanted to open a coffee shop/art house in that location. The original tenant for that deal wasn't able to move forward, Jones said, but he said talks with a new tenant for a similar concept are underway.
And, in case you are wondering what happened to the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center, well, you must have been too occupied with your duck calls recently. (It is easy to do.) The recycling center moved several months ago to a new location in the industrial area just northeast of 11th and Haskell. The company moved after multiple neighbors at the 12th and Haskell site had complained about the sights and sounds of a salvage yard operation.
Plans for a significant new West Lawrence shopping area have cleared their first hurdle.
Lawrence-Douglas County Planning commissioners on Monday night unanimously approved the rezoning and preliminary plat for the Langston Commons project, which is slated for the northeast corner of where the South Lawrence Trafficway intersects with Bob Billings Parkway.
As we reported last month, a local development group is moving forward with the project now that the state has committed to build an estimated $17 million interchange at the Bob Billings and SLT intersection.
Lawrence-based urban planner Tim Herndon has drawn up a pair of concept plans for the 17-acre commercial site. One includes a 60,000-square-foot grocery store building, with space for five other smaller commercial buildings. The second calls for a 30,000-square-foot speciality grocer or retail building, with room for seven other buildings ranging in size from about 15,000 square feet to a couple of thousand square feet.
Planning commissioners last night didn't have to pick between the two concept plans. Rather, the commission just recommended approval of the commercial zoning. More detailed plans on the commercial development will be filed as tenants start to emerge.
The last time I talked with the development group, it didn't have any tenants lined up for the development, but was optimistic the area would draw strong interest as the thousands of new vehicles per day start traveling by the area when the interchange opens by 2016.
Herndon, when I talked with him last month, even threw out the ever-elusive names of Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Now, put your lobster cracker down, because he mainly was just talking about the type of businesses the development will try to attract, not ones that have expressed an interest. But the development group will be aiming to impress because the new shopping center is expected to be an entry point for large numbers of people coming to the KU campus from the west. (But really, put that lobster cracker tool down. You're making me nervous.)
The development also includes about 14 acres of residential development. According to documents from the planning department, plans call for 29 units of single-family housing, 14 duplexes, and a mix of 34 row houses and apartment units.
City commissioners will be asked to give final approval to the rezoning requests in the next several weeks.
And, hey, take off that Red Lobster bib. It's way too early for that.
As we briefly reported Friday, there are more than 100 new jobs coming to a Lawrence call center. Well, now we have a few more details about the expansion at The Results Companies.
The company, which about a year ago took over the space previously occupied by Affinitas on the ground floor of the former Riverfront Mall building in downtown, wants to fill 175 full-time positions by the middle of September.
"It could be over 200 people, if we hire some of the positions on a part-time basis," said Kelley Rosen, director of recruiting for the Florida-based company.
The Results Companies handles customer service calls for a variety of companies, and also does "retention sales" for several firms, Rosen said. The company is hiring for inbound sales positions, customer service representatives, and technical support positions. Rosen declined to give details about the pay range for the positions, other than to say they would be competitive within the market. To give you some idea of that ballpark, the median wage for a telemarketer in Lawrence is $9.54 an hour, according to the 2012 Kansas Wage Survey, produced by the Kansas Department of Labor.
Rosen said the company is expanding in Lawrence because it recently has won some new contracts. The company hasn't announced what companies the Lawrence location provides service for, but its Web site lists WellCare Health Plans, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and US Robotics as firms the company has provided service for in the past.
The expansion will bring the company's Lawrence workforce total to about 300 employees, which is what the company said it envisioned when it moved into the Riverfront space last fall.
Rosen said the move into Lawrence, which is one of 15 call centers in the U.S., Mexico, Philippines and Costa Rica, has gone well.
"Lawrence is a good cultural fit for the company," said Rosen, who said the company likes to go to communities where it can attract customer service representatives with small town values and courtesy.
The company will be hosting a pair of job fairs in coming weeks. The company will host a fair from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 and also from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 13. Both fairs will be at the company's offices at 1 Riverfront Plaza.
The company hopes to have the bulk of the positions filled by the end of September.
Plans for a $6 million water plant near Lawrence are taking another big step forward, but no, it is not a sign that my wife actually has talked me into watering my lawn.
Instead, work is progressing on the area's newest public wholesale water supply district. As we previously reported, Douglas County Rural Water District No. 5 and Osage County Rural Water District No. 5 have joined forces to create a new district that will provide treated water to customers in both districts.
The district has applied for a conditional use permit that will clear the way for construction to begin on 28 acres about a quarter-mile east of the intersection of East 1750 and North 1500 roads. I'll save you the time of unfolding your Douglas County map: That's in the Kansas River valley between Lawrence and Eudora.
The site is right next to the Kaw, but the plant will use ground water wells rather than taking the water directly from the river. Larry Wray, administrator for the wholesale water district and for Douglas County RWD No. 5, said testing on the wells has begun. Those tests will tell plant officials specifically what type of treatment equipment will be needed in the plant.
Although the district is getting its permits in order, construction is not imminent. Design work will take a while, Wray said, and construction likely would not start before late 2014. In addition to the plant, design work has to be done for about a 30-mile piping system to take the water from eastern Douglas County all the way into western Osage County. That distribution system is expected to run about $10 million, Wray said. He hopes to have the plant and system operational in 2016.
Plans call for the plant to have a production capacity of about 1 million gallons per day, but it could be expanded fairly easily to about 2.5 million gallons per day. The site is large enough to accommodate a significantly larger plant than that, though.
"We have room to expand if somebody else pops up who wants water," Wray said.
At the moment, though, it is just the two rural water districts that have signed on to buy water from the plant. For a while, it looked like the plant may be a significant competitor to the city of Lawrence, which sells treated water to a variety of rural water districts and to Baldwin City. Baldwin City's long-term water contract with Lawrence was nearing its end as the plant was being discussed. But Baldwin City and Lawrence officials earlier this year reached a new deal for Lawrence to continue supplying Baldwin City.
But who knows what twists and turns the world of water will take in this region over the next decade. The new plant will further cement Douglas County's standing as a fairly water-rich county, with supplies coming from Clinton Lake, the Kansas River and the underground wells it feeds.
Maybe someday, there actually will be enough water in Douglas County to keep my lawn green. No, I doubt it.
There are times that you just don't have the energy to go get an energy drink at three o'clock in the morning. I assume you all have been there.
Well, now you can avoid those awkward trips into a convenience store while dressed in your Hulk Hogan pajama bottoms and My Little Pony sleeping caps. (I'm assuming again.) A former KU student turned entrepreneur has started a new business — dubbed Birdfeeder — that will deliver to your home almost any convenience store product.
"I have been to a lot of the Greek houses and passed out about 500 surveys," Birdfeeder owner Steven Fowler said. "Everybody said they could use a service like this. I think it also will be a good deal for the city too. It helps keep some people off the road that probably shouldn't be on it."
Birdfeeder is geared to students and the late-night crowd. For the moment, its delivery area is between Massachusetts and Iowa and Ninth and 19th streets. Hours are 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays. Customers place an order by calling, texting or tweeting. His info is available on the BirdfeederLLC Facebook page.
Fowler has a menu of products that he offers for sale, ranging from medicine to candy. He buys everything wholesale and sells it retail, and hopes to make money on tips as well.
As for the types of products expected to be popular, he cited sodas, energy drinks and other products that kids these days use to make cocktails.
"I don't know how many times we've gone to the liquor store and forgotten to buy something to mix it with," Fowler said.
Alcohol, however, won't be one of the products he delivers. That's illegal in the state.
Snacks, over-the-counter medicines and ice cream also are expected to be big sellers. But when I asked him what he thought would be the biggest seller, near the top of the list was certain bathroom products and a particular family planning product. I can honestly say I don't know what you tip for those.
Fowler said he decided to start the business after he got tired of paying for student loans, and realized that the only reason he was in college was because he wanted to learn how to start a business. He said delivery services are starting to take off in Denver and Chicago, and a friend of his is having good luck with one in the Westport area of Kansas City.
Fowler said he has plans at some point to expand the business to deliver food from restaurants that currently don't have a delivery service.
Sounds like a plan, as long as he doesn't get his orders mixed up.
Elsewhere around town...
• I'm working to get more information about an expansion of jobs in town. The Results Company, a customer call center that is located on the ground floor of the former Riverfront Mall in downtown, has a significant workforce expansion planned. A company official confirmed some new hiring is going on, but directed me to other officials. According to folks at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, about 175 new call center positions will be created at the company. As we previously reported, the Florida-based company set up shop in the former Affinitas call center space last fall.
• Speaking of calls, you may want to call ahead before you go downtown over the next several weeks. Otherwise you may find yourself surrounded by a hoard of runners. City commissioners are being asked to approve two upcoming races that will have significant impacts on downtown traffic.
Perhaps you remember The Color Run from last year, when several thousand runners descended on downtown for the fun of having volunteers throw colored corn starch on them while they ran through the streets of Lawrence. That event is set to come back to the city Sept. 14. That will cause several streets on that Saturday morning to be closed from about 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Here's a map of the route.
Last year, city officials also weren't too thrilled with how the clean-up process was handled by the run's volunteers. This year, staff members are recommending the company place a $20,000 deposit with the city that only will be refunded once the area is cleaned to the city's satisfaction. This year, the event also happens on the same day that Bike MS event, which attracts several thousand bicyclists, will be happening downtown. That will be one busy day in downtown Lawrence.
A second proposed race adds a new twist for downtown. The Glow Run is set for Oct. 12 and is expected to draw up to 3,000 racers who will run through downtown and East Lawrence wearing glow sticks and "lighted clothing." Here's a map for that event. As you might have guessed, the event will take place in the evening, which is new for downtown races. That means that on this particular Saturday night, the portion of Massachusetts Street that runs through South Park would be closed from 2 p.m. to about 11:30 p.m. Commissioners have allowed that stretch of Massachusetts Street to be closed before for various events, but I'm not sure they've ever allowed it to be closed on a Saturday night. Commissioners will consider both events at their 6:35 p.m. Tuesday evening meeting.
Lawrence's real estate market seems to be returning to its past form, which may mean another annual tradition will return: Notices from the Douglas County appraiser's office that your home's tax value has increased.
The latest numbers from the Lawrence Board of Realtors show July was another strong month for home sales in the city. Real estate agents sold 141 homes in July, up about 15 percent from July 2012 and nearly 64 percent from July 2011.
For the year to date, real estate agents have sold 695 homes, which is a 25 percent increase from the same period a year ago and a nearly 50 percent increase from the same period in 2011.
But the more interesting numbers are found in the selling price data. With seven months of figures in the books, it is now time to start paying attention to pricing trends. In summary, they're up.
Through July, the median selling price on homes in Lawrence has been $168,900. That's an increase of 5.9 percent from the same period of 2012. It also marks a turnaround in the market. At this time last year, home prices were down 5.6 percent compared to 2011. In other words, it looks like home values have found their bottom in Lawrence, and now are on a fairly steady climb.
If that trend holds, it seems likely those higher prices will be reflected in the tax values that are calculated by the Douglas County Appraiser's office. The appraiser's office hasn't provided any guidance yet on what home owners should expect this spring when they get their change of value notices. But the office has been running its own reports on home sales, and it is showing an increase in selling prices as well. Countywide, selling prices are up about 5 percent, according to the county's data.
That doesn't necessarily mean the average property should expect to see its taxable value increase by 5 percent. But an increase is a real a possibility this year, when in the past couple of years falling or stagnant values were more the norm. The second half of the year will be key, because the appraiser's task is to determine the value of the property on Jan. 1. If interest rates rise and housing demand slows in the second half of the year, that will change the equitation considerably.
As for other numbers in the Board of Realtors' report, here's a look:
• Year-to-date, real estate agents have sold 62 newly constructed homes. That's up almost 41 percent from last year.
• Through July, the median days-on-market for a house is 42, down from 60 in 2012.
• Total sales volume for the year thus far is $140.5 million, up 33 percent from the same period a year ago.
• The number of active listings on the market at the end of July was 437, down from 500 at the time period in 2012.
• The number of pending contracts at the end of July stood at 124, which is down from 136 at the end of July 2012. That may mean August numbers will be down a bit from August 2012 numbers.
Here's some breaking news about some oftentimes broken pieces of furniture: City officials are looking to ban couches on porches in Lawrence neighborhoods.
I know it may sound simple enough to some, but the issue may soon open up a can of worms — which by the way, have been known to be found in porch couches.
At the request of the Lawrence fire department, city officials have drafted an ordinance that would ban couches and all other types of upholstered furniture from porches and patios. Lawn chairs and other types of furniture specifically made for the outdoors would continue to be legal.
I've got a call into the fire chief, but based on a memo, the department believes the couches represent a fire hazard.
In case you have forgotten, porch couches, which have been known to create forgetfulness, are quite popular in certain college neighborhoods in Lawrence. If you don't believe me, drive through the Oread neighborhood. Or take a walking tour, like I did yesterday afternoon, stopping to lie down and escape from the heat on comfy couches that allow you to enjoy the outdoors and sometimes even allows tiny creatures from the outdoors to crawl upon you. (I'm assuming that is why my wife blasted me with a water hose when I came home yesterday, but that may be a bad assumption.)
My Lawhorn's Lawrence column on Sunday will tell some tales from the seat of a porch couch. But I can give you a little preview of what most of the students I talked with thought about the city's idea:
"Screw that," Travis Morris, a KU junior said from his combination couch porch/feline bed.
A common question was why a couch on a porch is any more flammable than a couch inside a living room. The fire department's memo doesn't address that subject, but I did hear from KU students who conceded that it is more likely that people will use the porch couch as a place to smoke. Whether it is through lease agreements or just courtesy to other roommates, many students don't smoke inside their apartments anymore, I was told.
The fire department's memo also mentions that the location of porch couches often make it difficult for residents of a house to escape out of the home's main entrance, if and when one of the couches do catch on fire. Since 2007, 10 of the 463 building fires that have occurred in Lawrence have occurred on a deck or porch that included upholstered furniture, according to the department's memo.
Several college communities already have implemented similar bans, including Lincoln, Neb., Boulder, Colo., Ames, Iowa, and Columbia, Mo. (But, I assume they do allow the SEC tradition of sitting on the hood of your car. The one on blocks in the front yard, of course. Not the one you drive. That would be hickish.)
We'll see what city commissioners do with this ordinance. It tentatively is scheduled to be discussed at their Tuesday evening meeting. The agenda for that meeting comes out this afternoon, so we'll know then.
In the meantime, chill out, relax. I can tell you where some couches are.
The same "architect" who "designs" my home "improvement" projects must be in charge of the new Menards project near 31st and Iowa streets. The project is growing before it even gets started.
But unlike the addition of a knitting cabinet in my game room, this addition was expected.
Menards officials have a filed a new annexation and rezoning request at City Hall to add 8.4 acres to their development, which is just east of the Home Depot on 31st Street. The land is part of what is known as the Snodgrass property, but perhaps you recognize it as that ranch-style house that sits next to a nice pond just east of where the Gaslight Mobile Home Village used to be. (Or, if you are some sort of postal freak, maybe we'll just call it 1352 N. 1300 Road.)
Menards has a contract to purchase the westernmost portion of the property, and it plans to create another commercial lot to supplement its Menards store. The pending land purchase won't change the size of the planned store. It still is designed to check in at about 175,000 square feet.
But the purchase will mean that there will now be room for six additional retailers, restaurants or other similar users on the property surrounding the Menards store. The new purchase will allow for a fairly large store to locate on the site. According to a traffic study submitted to City Hall, the lot can accommodate about a 60,000-square-foot store. For comparison purposes, the Hobby Lobby store on 23rd Street is about 50,000 square feet, according to county records.
If you want to compare to some stores that aren't currently in Lawrence, places like Burlington Coat Factory, Toys 'R Us and several major theater chains often open in buildings around the 60,000-square-foot size, according to the industry publications I read. (Since my wife nearly bent her knitting needles due to excitement, perhaps I should clarify: Those names are just for comparision purposes. There's nothing to indicate any of those are coming to Lawrence.)
In fact, Menards said in its application that it expects the lot to sit vacant for awhile. Menards has said it does not plan to build any buildings on speculation - which means building then hoping to find a tenant. Instead, it will wait for a solid deal — or in this case, deals — to emerge.
Menards will have space to offer to several retailers. In total, the development will have space for 296,966 square feet of retail and commercial development. Menard's takes up about 175,000 square feet of that and the Snodgrass property will accommodate another 60,000. That means the remaining five lots likely will house stores or restaurants in the 5,000- to 15,000-square-foot range. There are a lot of players that can fit into that space.
The Snodgrass deal still has to win the necessary land use approvals from City Hall, but planners have been expecting this application. When city commissioners approved the Menards deal in June, store officials said they were looking at the Snodgrass property then. Menards successfully lobbied the commission to change the city's area plan for the 31st Street corridor to show this portion of the Snodgrass property as being slated for commercial development in the future. The annexation and rezoning appear to have a clear path to approval at City Hall, but the weather has been known to change rapidly at the corner of Sixth and Massachusetts. So, we'll see.
Regardless, the property is bound to change. After construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway, the property will be at a new intersection, the corner of Michigan and 31st streets. Michigan Street will be the name of the new street that will be built about a 1,000 to 1,500 feet east of 31st and Ousdahl. Michigan Street basically will replace the portion of Louisiana Street that is south of 31st Street. That portion of Louisiana will be removed as part of the SLT construction. Menards plans to build Michigan Street a few hundred feet north of 31st Street to serve as an additional access point to its development.
In a few months, the world will look quite a bit different along 31st Street. Heaven help me if the new look includes a knitting store.
Honestly, I'm not interested in giving this event any more attention than it deserves, but sometimes in this job you have to write things for the historical record. So, let the record show there certainly were some dumb Missouri fans in 2013.
Perhaps you have heard that the owners of the Black & Gold Tavern in Kansas City, Mo., are planning an event tomorrow to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence.
There is a bunch of blabber on the bar's Facebook page, but I'll just give you a sampling. The bar calls the raid not only daring but "Missouri's most decisive road victory."
It talks about how the raiders "sought vengeance for murders and other terrorist acts" such as the raid on Osceola and the burning of Missouri farms. And then it ties it all up in a knot that could only be understood by someone who took a logic class at the University of Missouri: "Just as KU chooses to honor the memories of murderers and thieves through the naming of its athletic teams, we will celebrate the sesquicentennial of Quantrill's Raid."
Does that mean they'll chant: "We're better murderers than you are?" Who knows?
And really, how much vengeance did the Missourians get by killing about 185 men and boys? Jim Lane led the despicable raid on Osceola, yet Quantrill and his men couldn't figure out how to find him in a Lawrence cornfield. I guess even back then the Tigers were scared of a Cornhusker.
But before I go on, I should take my own advice and remember there's really no reason to give this event more attention than it deserves. This is basically a bar trying to sell some extra drinks. I'm not sure it will work. The Facebook messages attached to this announcement were almost universally negative when I checked this morning.
The bar may have whiffed on this idea. But it is worth noting that one of the bar's owners, Zach Cartwright, is a former University of Missouri lineman. He's certainly whiffed before.
The drones aren't yet multiplying in Lawrence, but the people who are against them appear to be.
If you remember back in May, a group of about a dozen residents went to City Hall asking for a city policy limiting the use of drones in city airspace.
Now, a handful of other local organizations are calling for the policy as well. According to a press release this morning from the Kansans for Responsible Drone Use, the following organizations now are asking the city for a policy: The Douglas County Republican Party; the Douglas County Libertarians; the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice; Madre Lawrence; and Kansas University's Young Americans for Liberty.
To be clear, the city of Lawrence doesn't own any drones, for its Police Department or any other department. Back in May, commissioners told the group that it doesn't have any plans to purchase drones, either.
But the group says now is as good a time as any to clarify how the city may or may not use drones in the future. Specifically, the group is asking for a policy that includes: A moratorium on the city using drones until state guidelines are developed; a ban on the city ever using weaponized drones; and a ban on the city using drones for surveillance purposes and evidence gathering, "except in response to an emergency where lives are at risk."
City commissioners in May did not commit to creating an ordinance. Instead, they said they would take the matter under advisement. It hasn't come back up for discussion publicly since.
If Lawrence moves ahead with this policy, it wouldn't be the first in the country to do so. But it would be one of just a handful. It looks like Charlottesville, Va., became the first city in the country to pass an ordinance making its city's airspace a "drone free zone."
I'll let you know if the movement appears to have any momentum at Lawrence City Hall. I've also got a call into a leader with the Douglas County Republican Party to get its take on the issue.
Perhaps the community is learning what I've learned on many a white-knuckled trips from the passenger's seat of my wife's Ford Taurus: Speed isn't all it's cracked up to be.
An effort by a local company to bring super-fast Internet service to Lawrence hasn't yet taken off. Kris Adair, president of Lawrence's Wicked Broadband, told me the company's plans to bring 1 gigabit Internet service to a Lawrence neighborhood are uncertain at this point.
"We aren't seeing as much interest as we had expected," Adair said. "We're not giving up on it. We still think it is an amazing project, but we have to have the community buy-in to know that it will be financially feasible."
Wicked Broadband, which is an outgrowth of the former service Lawrence Freenet, announced in April that it was launching a pilot project to bring 1 gigabit service to at least one Lawrence neighborhood this year. The 1 gigabit service is the same kind being installed as part of the Google Fiber project in Kansas City. Just like Google in Kansas City, the neighborhood would be chosen based on how many residents in a particular neighborhood pre-registered for service. Wicked leaders said they planned to announce a winner on June 15.
But Wicked officials pushed that date back to Aug. 15 when it was clear that not enough people had pre-registered in any neighborhood. The Aug. 15 deadline also came and went without an announcement. Adair told me just before the deadline that the company now hopes to make a decision in September. That decision, however, may be that there is not a neighborhood in Lawrence that is viable for the service currently.
"We're definitely not as close as we would like," Adair said. "We probably need another 40 or 50 households in most neighborhoods to say they are interested."
On its Web site, the company has a listing of pre-registration totals for each neighborhood. It appears that only one neighborhood in the city, the Centennial neighborhood near Lawrence High, has more than 25 households pre-registered. But Wicked estimates that the neighborhood still needs 48 more households or businesses to sign up before it seriously can be considered a candidate for the pilot project.
The neighborhood closest to being feasible is the area around Hillcrest Elementary, just northeast of 15th and Iowa streets. It needs another 24 households to be in the running. (Wicked uses the city's voting precincts to define neighborhood boundaries. Even though the Hillcrest neighborhood doesn't have as many people signed up as Centennial, the percentage of households that have signed up is higher.)
The 1 gigabit Internet service is attracting a lot of attention in Kansas City. The service is being used by people interested in seamless video streaming, video game aficionados and, perhaps most importantly from and economic development standpoint, Internet start-up companies looking to create new applications for the Web.
It wouldn't be fair to say that Lawrence is uninterested in super-fast Internet service. Rather, it may be that the interest is just too spread out. According to Wicked's totals, almost every neighborhood in the city has had households or businesses pre-register for the service. Most areas, though, have had 10 or fewer households. Adair said information out of Kansas City is that once a neighborhood is selected, another 20 percent of households will go ahead and sign up for the service. But Wicked needs a certain density of customers to make the service viable, and thus far no neighborhood has reached that level.
"It is a significant investment, and we really want to make sure the community is interested," Adair said of Wicked's hesitancy to pick a neighborhood.
Households and businesses that have pre-registered have been required to put down a $10 deposit. Adair said those deposits will be refunded if the neighborhood is not chosen.
Also in limbo is the company's request for a $500,000 grant from the city to help bring the high-speed Internet service to Lawrence. Adair said the company hasn't withdrawn the grant request, but that it would not take money from the city unless the project starts to show more interest from the community.
Adair, who also is a Lawrence school board member, said she is not sure what to make of the less-than-expected interest in the service.
"We have been doing a social media blitz but it is not reaching them, or maybe they just aren't as interested as we think they are," Adair said.
We'll see what September brings for the project. As for what it will bring to the passenger's seat of the Taurus, I predict it will produce more white knuckles and an occasional black out.
Fireworks, apparently, weren't the only things exploding in July. A new report out of Lawrence City Hall shows construction activity in the city was booming, too.
City officials issued building permits for a whopping $39.7 million worth of projects in July, the highest monthly total in at least three years. The numbers are creating new optimism at City Hall.
"It looks like Lawrence's growth is back," City Manager David Corliss said recently when summarizing the report. "That's good to see."
The numbers, though, aren't yet clear-cut evidence that private sector spending has fully bounced back. About $17.2 million worth of the projects were government or publicly funded projects. A $10.5 million building permit for the long-talked-about Rock Chalk Park recreation center was the largest public project of the month. But officials also issued a $6.6 million permit for the expansion of the Bioscience and Technology Incubator on Kansas University's West Campus.
For the year, about $28.7 million worth of projects, or about a third of all the new construction projects in the city, have been publicly funded. The library expansion, at about $9 million in permits thus far for 2013, has been the other major publicly funded project. (As a reminder, construction that happens on the main campus of KU is not included in these numbers. KU isn't required to get a city building permit for those projects. The numbers also don't include the millions of dollars being spent to build new roads at the Farmland site and elsewhere because such excavation work doesn't require a building permit.)
The impact of public spending in the construction industry has been significant compared to past years. In 2012, the city issued $8.9 million worth of permits for publicly funded projects. In 2011, the total was $7.9 million. It is as if public entities, with the help of the voters, in the case of the library, have banded together to create their own stimulus program.
There certainly are signs that private sector construction spending is starting to follow suit. The largest project of the month was a private one: the long-talked-about Marriott hotel and retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Construction permits for the project totaled $13.8 million.
The housing market, though, may have local economy watchers as optimistic as anything. The city issued permits for 20 single family homes in July. That was the second month this year that the city had issued 20 or more single family permits. Not once in 2011 or 2012 did the city issue 20 or more permits in a month. For the year, the city has issued 107 permits for single family or duplex homes. With five more months left in 2013, those totals almost exceed the totals for all of 2012, when 126 permits were issued.
Here are some other year-to-date numbers through July:
• The total construction value for the year is at $114.9 million, up 89 percent from the same period in 2012 and up 117 percent from the same period in 2011.
• While there was no new apartment construction in July, it has been a busy year for the sector thus far. The city has issued permits for 374 units in 2013, up from 184 during the same time period in 2012 and 64 during the same time period in 2011.
Excuse me while I make my way through these piles of spent party streamers, empty firework tubes and the rows of cannons from the 21-gun salute. (I assume you held a similar impromptu celebration as your kids walked out the door for the first day of school.)
Well, now I understand there is another way to celebrate the glorious event: Home delivery of cookies and milk.
We reported last month that a Columbia Mo.-based company called Hot Box Cookies would be setting up shop in downtown Lawrence. Indeed it has. Hot Box Cookies opened last week in the space at 732 Massachusetts St., the former home of 3 Spoons Frozen Yogurt.
But what I didn't know about the business last month is that it aims to do for cookies what Dominoes did for pizza.
"We deliver cookies that are hot and milk that is cold," said Lauren Critchfield, director of marketing and social media for Hot Box. "We think we're one of the only cookie delivery services in the nation."
The company does have a $12 minimum for delivery orders, but Critchfield, being in marketing and all, notes that is only six cookies and two milks.
"That sounds like the perfect meal," she said.
It sounds like I need to find my pants with the elastic waistband.
The business aims to do good walk-in business at its downtown store as well. The store plans to be open from 11 a.m. to midnight on most days, though on Friday and Saturdays during the school year, it likely will be open until 2 a.m. to accommodate the bar crowd.
The shop features about a dozen types of cookies, with most ranging from $1 to $1.25 apiece. Also on the menu is milk, milkshakes, chocolate chip cookie cakes, and frozen cookie dough pucks that you can take home and bake later. (I was supposed to bake them?)
The shop also offers ice cream sandwiches, where you pick your cookies and they make the sandwich.
"It is like a Klondike Bar on steroids," Critchfield said. (I wonder if they are going to name it an A-Rod sandwich, although to be fair, we don't know if this cookie crumbles in the playoffs.)
The Lawrence location is the first one for Hot Box outside of Columbia. Critchfield said the store's owners were visiting Lawrence one day and fell in love with Massachusetts Street.
"We think this is just the first link in the chain," Critchfield said of the company's expansion plans. "It is a growing business. People love cookies because they are simple and they are a taste of home."
The perfect dinner of six cookies and two glasses of milk, I'm finding, may make you a little groggy.
Well, downtown Lawrence still has a Springhill Suites by Marriott for sleeping it off. Also last month, we reported that the hotel near Sixth and New Hampshire streets had sold. As we said at the time, all signs were pointing to the likelihood that the property would remain a SpringHill Suites by Marriott.
Recently, I've gotten in touch with one of the members of the new ownership group, and he has confirmed it.
"This is actually one of my favorite properties out of the whole portfolio that we purchased," said Clyde Johnson, chief investment officer for the BC Lynd group that purchased the hotel and five others from Overland Park-based Capital Management Inc.
Johnson said the Marriott flag will remain on the property, and he said most of the changes will involve bringing some of the management ideas he and his partners have used while developing more full-service, upscale properties for other hotel groups. While with another company, Johnson was involved with the management of the Hilton President in downtown Kansas City, and other Johnson County full service hotels.
"I think this hotel has a lot of potential because of its uniqueness," Johnson said of the property, which offers room views of the Kansas River. "I think the ballrooms are underutilized. We will actively market them to the community."
San Antonio-based BC Lynd operates about 1,000 hotel rooms across the country following the latest purchase.
If that new crimson and blue Jayhawk shirt bleeds just a little bit of purple on you, you'll know why.
The ownership group of Varney's — the self-proclaimed world's largest retailer of Kansas State merchandise — has purchased the Jayhawk Bookstore at 1420 Crescent Road.
But the store's new owners said diehard KU fans don't have to worry about Kansas State merchandise or sentiments infiltrating the longtime Jayhawk Bookstore at the top of the hill.
"Think of it like a marriage but with separate bank accounts," Steve Levin, general manager of Varney's and the corporate entity University Book Store Inc., said with a laugh. "That first day I got to the Lawrence store, I put on a beautiful blue shirt with a Jayhawk on it. But when I wore it back to the store in Manhattan, you would have thought I was a leper."
The Varney's brand-name certainly won't be making an appearance in Lawrence, Levin said. The new owners are keeping the Jayhawk Bookstore brand, and plan to turn around some struggles at the store — which previously was owned by Nebraska Book Co., a Lincoln-based company that has been shedding a few properties since emerging from bankruptcy.
"We're a Kansas company," Levin said from the company's Manhattan headquarters. "We understand what Kansas and Lawrence people expect. We know we can bring a good product and a fair price."
Levin said the company has been looking to expand, and is particularly optimistic about the chance to grow the company's apparel sales with KU merchandise.
"The KU brand is more of a national brand with the basketball program," said Levin, who said college bookstores will need to rely more on apparel sales in the future as textbooks continue to migrate to digital formats.
While the Jayhawk Bookstore won't be increasing its K-State offerings, Levin said the company will explore opportunities to use both The Jayhawk Bookstore and the Varney's brands in markets like Wichita and Kansas City. He said a dual-branded store where both KU and K-State fans could feel good about purchasing their team's apparel is a possibility in those markets.
As for the Lawrence store, Levin said the biggest change likely will be just a more active gameday atmosphere at the store, especially for the upcoming KU football season. Levin said he's committed to having the large sports talk radio station 810 WHB come in for at least four live pre-game shows during the season.
Varney's, which has been in the bookstore business since 1890, has been credited with helping boost the gameday atmosphere in Manhattan and Aggieville.
"We really love gamedays," Levin said.
But Levin said he knows some may question how a company with such deep K-State roots will be able to be a strong promoter for the Jayhawks. He said it won't be difficult. The company actually owned a business in downtown Lawrence, The Children's Bookshop, for about a decade in the late '90s and early 2000s.
"We love Lawrence," Levin said. "My sister went to school there. We had a business there. We think it is an all-around great community."
He thinks KU fans will do fine with the new ownership as well. After all, he said, it is not like a Missouri Tiger bookstore is buying the operation.
"I feel like KU and K-State are kind of like the cousins who don't always get along," Levin said. "Now KU and Missouri, I understand that is the Hatfields and the McCoys."
Plus, it may be worth noting that one of the other large KU apparel retailers in Lawrence, GTM Sportswear's Gameday Super Store on 23rd Street, has its roots in Manhattan-based GTM Sportswear. Perhaps more noteworthy is one of Levin's friends: KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger. He already is proving KU and K-State paths can cross. Zenger grew up in Lawrence but graduated from K-State and served as an associate athletics director for the Wildcats. Levin said Zenger loves books and would frequently come into Varney's during his lunch break.
"Hopefully most people really will understand what we're trying to do," Levin said. "We will always want to do what is best for the students at the University of Kansas. We want to be a very positive influence on how the world sees KU."
Lawrence, stay smart.
It's already paying dividends for us. The Lawrence area has been ranked No. 17 on Forbes' new list of "The Best Small Places for Business and Careers."
And it sure appears that Lawrence's brain power is the main factor in driving the city to the high ranking. The folks at Forbes ranked 184 metro areas with populations ranging from about 50,000 to about 260,000, and Lawrence ranked No. 3 in the category of education. That category measures items such as the percent of people with high school diplomas, college education and advanced degrees.
It has been a consistent theme for at least the two decades I've been in town that Lawrence ranks very high nationally in those types of educational rankings. (I've tried to argue cause and effect, but to no avail.) You would expect Lawrence to rank highly, as a university community, but it's worth noting that Lawrence consistently beats lots of other university communities in these sorts of rankings. Being able to tell potential businesses that we have a pool of well-educated people seems to be an enduring strength for the city.
The Forbes editors said they give a fairly heavy weight to the education factors in the ranking process, in part, because that seems to be what business site selectors are paying more attention to these days.
"Quality of life is often overemphasized compared to operating costs and conditions," Jerry Szatan, a Chicago-based site selection consultant, told Forbes. "Education measures are always good. One of the fundamental building blocks in economic development is smart people."
Forbes did rank communities in two other broad categories: Cost of business and job growth. Lawrence's ranking were more in the middle of the pack in those categories. Lawrence ranked No 51 out of 184 in the cost of doing business category, and No. 90 in the job growth category.
I know how you all love lists, so here are a few of them I've broken out of the Forbes report:
Here's a look at the top five ranked communities in Forbes' education category.
Midwestern communities fared well in the Forbes ranking. Here's a look at the rankings of best small places for business and careers of some other communities in the region:
• Manhattan: No. 3.
• Iowa City: No. 13
• Ames, Iowa: No. 15
• Lawrence: No. 17
• Columbia, Mo.: No. 20
• Topeka: No. 71
• Jefferson City, Mo.: No. 95
• Joplin, Mo.: No 108
• St. Joseph, Mo.: No. 111
There are a few cities on that list that maybe wouldn't trade places with Lawrence, however. For whatever reason, the Forbes ranking system really didn't give much weight to the job growth numbers a community has been posting. Many of the regional communities on the list ranked much better in the job growth category than Lawrence. Here's a look:
• St. Joseph, Mo.: No. 13
• Columbia, Mo.: No. 17
• Iowa City: No. 19
• Manhattan: No. 20
• Ames, Iowa: No. 35
• Joplin, Mo.: No. 49
• Topeka: No. 61
• Lawrence: No. 90
• Jefferson City, Mo.: No. 123
It's been an interesting year for Lawrence and rankings. Some of you probably remember that Lawrence earlier in the year was ranked as the second worst performing small metro area in the country by The Milken Institute. Yet now we're No. 17 on the Best Small Places for Business and Careers.
It can be tough to understand, but it just drives home the point that when you measure different things, you'll get different results. The Milken study was much more focused on backward-looking data about jobs, wages, GDP growth and other similar numbers. The Forbes report looks at some of those numbers, but also puts more emphasis on factors like education. It also contracts with a company that makes projections about future economic growth in the communities, and weights those projections. Lawrence, for example, is projected to have 2 percent job growth in the future. Lawrence leaders would take that after several years of negative job growth.
Granted, it may be more fun to land on some of Forbes' other lists like: the "400 Richest Americans," or "The World's Billionaires", or "The World's Most Powerful Women." (That one is very subjective, by the way. Angela Merkel has never made me mow the lawn.) But as Lawrence tries to take its economic development efforts to a new level, Forbes' "Best Small Places for Business and Careers" is a nice list for the city to tout.
There has been a trade in downtown Lawrence: Barry Manilow for Tom Cruise. (Sure, now my wife starts paying attention to me.)
It's nothing like that, however. Instead, we're talking about a change in formats for the downtown nightclub at 729 New Hampshire Street. Out is The Barrel House, the piano bar concept that featured renditions of Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Elton John and other kings of the ivory. In is Leroy's Tavern, which is seeking to restore the old tradition of a downtown pool hall. At some point that means men of a certain age will do their best Tom Cruise impersonation in the pool hall classic "The Color of Money." (That involves acting out a famous scene where he twirls a pool cue like a samurai sword. Or, I suppose you could just jump up and down on a couch and babble about Katie Holmes.)
I don't know if there are any couches at LeRoy's Tavern, but manager Ryan Chapman told me the bar has installed 10 new coin-operated Valley pool tables, four dart boards, a handful of arcade games and two foosball tables.
"I think the owners are doing this because there is really nothing like this to do downtown," Chapman said. "Pretty much everywhere downtown is just about the drinking. There are a few places that have one or two pool tables, but they really are a bar with pool tables. This is meant to be a pool hall/gaming hall with a bar."
But make no mistake, a bar is a big part of LeRoy's too. Chapman said the bar has 10 draft beers on tap, 16 different bottled variety of beers and fully-stocked liquor assortment.
At the moment, the establishment — which opened last week — doesn't serve food. But Chapman said there are discussions with downtown restaurants that want to make regular deliveries to the bar. That would involve a unique concept of setting up an iPad in the bar that would be linked into a nearby sandwich shop.
In case you are wondering, the location at 729 New Hampshire Street is exempt from the city requirement that new drinking establishments downtown make a majority of their revenue from food sales. The location is part of a handful of properties that received an waiver from that regulation because they were bars at the time the regulations were approved a couple of decades ago.
Chapman said he hopes to eventually operate a weeknight pool league out of the facility, and maybe run an occasional Sunday afternoon tournament. But he said the establishment will be geared for novices too, and he expects a good part of the facility's business will be from people just looking for a little bit different atmosphere than what exists at most places downtown.
That atmosphere won't include any pianos. Chapman said the ownership group — which includes a couple of the guys who own the downtown club Tonic — ripped out the piano stages and opened up the area.
It will be interesting to see if the piano bar concept tries to make a comeback elsewhere in Lawrence. I've had some people say the concept works better in a larger town or a more tourist-oriented place, but who knows? I do know that many bar owners have told me over the years that a key to making money is developing a crowd of "regulars" that you can count on in good times and bad. I'm trying to picture what a crowd of regulars who want to listen to Barry Manilow every night would look like.
Oh well. I don't have time for that. I have to fix a Tom Cruise misunderstanding with my wife.
Dear, it was just an analogy. Put away your makeup case. I'll jump on the couch, if that will help.
Surely not even Theodore Poehler could have envisioned this.
Plans are in the works for a new four-story apartment building next to the old grocery warehouse building that Theodore Poehler's heirs built during the early 1900s in the East Lawrence district surrounding Eighth and Delaware streets.
Yes, that's the same East Lawrence district that largely had been forgotten and neglected after Poehler's grocery warehouse empire faded away in the 1950s.
But as we've reported many times, the area around Eighth and Delaware is undergoing a renaissance. The old Poehler grocery warehouse building has been converted into the Poehler Lofts, and the success of that project has the same development team moving ahead with a multimillion dollar project to build another batch of affordable housing in the area.
A team led by businessman Tony Krsnich has filed plans at City Hall to build a 43-unit apartment building at the southeast corner of Ninth and Delaware streets.
We had reported in January that Krsnich was working on plans for another apartment building to mimic the successful 49-unit Poehler Lofts, which was fully leased about 12 hours after Krsnich began taking applications for the largely rent-controlled apartment units.
But the location for the project has moved. Back then, Krsnich was planning to build the project directly south of the Poehler building, which would have placed it near a new city parking lot.
Now, Krsnich has acquired property at 900 Delaware, which is about a block south and slightly east of the Poehler building. It is a vacant lot in the industrial area that houses Star Signs and Allen Press.
The project plans on using the same formula Krsnich and his team used to make the Poehler project financially feasible. It has received tax credits from the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation. The credits can be sold to people looking to reduce their tax liabilities, and the money generated from the sale goes to finance the apartment project. As a condition of the tax credits, a certain percentage of the apartment units must abide by rent-control regulations.
The big difference with this project is that Krsnich will construct a new building rather than renovating an old one. I haven't yet seen plans for the new structure, but Krsnich said it will have a more contemporary look than any of the other old buildings in the district.
"I can always tell when somebody builds something new and tries to make it look like it was built at the turn of the century," Krsnich said. "I think it is important that all development be true to the time that it was built in."
The apartment building will have units ranging in size from studios to three bedrooms, Krsnich said. He said they'll be designed with an "artist lofts" concept, which includes wide open living spaces and a minimalist approach.
Krsnich hopes to begin work by the end of this year, but conceded the amount of planning that still must be done may push the start date to early spring.
Krsnich also will be planning for another smaller development in the area. His group has filed plans for a new bistro and cafe at 605 E. Eighth Street. I don't yet have all the details from Krsnich, but it sounds like that project would involve converting an old stone duplex that is just west of the Poehler building. When I hear more information about that project, I'll pass it along.
The Cider Gallery, the combination arts gallery and events space just west of the Poehler building at 810 Pennsylvania St., recently landed a unique attraction.
The Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation has chosen Lawrence and the gallery as a permanent site for its 1 Million Cups series.
The series is a program for entrepreneurs and others interested in local start-up companies. At 9 a.m. each Wednesday at the Cider Gallery, one to two start-up companies will make a presentation and answer questions from audience members.
The series started last week to good crowds, I hear. Lawrence is just the 12th city in the country selected by the Kauffman group to host the program. It joins: Columbia, Mo.; Kansas City; Des Moines; Houston; St. Louis; Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Iowa; Reno, Nev.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Denver; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Georgetown, Del.
You can find out more about the program here.
With this recent batch of rainy weather, it is hard to believe that earlier this year we were all buying sunscreen, flip flops, mosquito netting, shark repellent, harpoons and 55-gallon drums of margarita mix. (What? Isn't that your standard list of items to take to the beach?)
Regardless, we were buying summer items, and according to a new sales tax report from City Hall, we were buying them at a pretty good clip.
The city has received its July sales tax check from the state, but because of a lag time in processing, the figures actually represent sales made from about mid May to mid June.
Sales for the period were up 4.3 percent from the same period a year ago.
So far, 2013 has been an up-and-down year for sales tax, unlike 2012, which was pretty much a steady upward climb that produced one of the city's better sales tax performances in recent memory.
But as it stands now, year-to-date totals for 2013 are up about 2 percent from the same period a year ago. That rate of growth isn't nearly as fast as the city experienced in 2012, when sales grew at a 5.2 percent rate, or in 2011, when they grew at a 4.5 percent rate. But the city is on pace to have its third straight year of sales tax growth after declines in 2009 and 2010. Plus, this year's rebound is occurring at the same time that housing sales are on the rise. Historically, strong home sales and improving retail sales have created a propitious cycle for the Lawrence economy. (Propitious cycle? They're hard to come by. Just try to find one at a local bike shop.)
Here's a look at the year-to-date taxable sales totals for the city since 2008. The numbers in parentheses are the totals adjusted for inflation.
- 2013: $800.9 million
- 2012: $784.6 million ($797.9)
- 2011: $745.2 million ($773.5)
- 2010: $708.7 million ($758.9)
- 2009: $734.1 million ($799.0)
- 2008: $750.6 million ($814.0)
Those numbers show that our recent sales tax growth has been outpacing inflation, but we still have a little bit to go to get our spending activity back to the pre-recession levels. Adjusted for inflation, our spending is down about 1.7 percent from our 2008 levels.
Considering where we once were at, a 1.7 percent shortfall isn't worth worrying too much about. It is not like sharks at Clinton Lake or anything. (What's that? There's no megaladon at Clinton Lake. Curse you, Shark Week. Shark repellent is expensive.)
There are only two explanations for the large swaths of bare dirt at the former Farmland site at 23rd and O'Connell: The area is either preparing for future development, or I've been hired to do the area's landscaping. (This August has been an exception. I actually have a healthy, lush stand of green . . . weeds.)
The former Farmland Industries site, of course, is being prepared to become a new industrial park. We've reported on that several times. But prepare to see more action on the south side of the 23rd and O'Connell intersection as well.
The leader of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority has confirmed to me that it is moving forward with a new 128-unit affordable housing development on portions of the southwest corner of 23rd and O'Connell. Also, a private development group has filed plans at City Hall to rezone about 10 acres for a multifamily rental development near O'Connell Road and East 28th Street.
We've previously reported that the Housing Authority has been studying the feasibility of an affordable housing, rent-controlled project on the corner. But now the project has moved to a new level. Housing Authority Director Shannon Oury said her board has agreed to devote up to $1 million in reserve funds to help the project get started.
The authority is still partnering with a private development group led by Lawrence developer Bill Newsome. Newsome's company owns the land on the corner and has been working with the state to secure tax credits to help finance the project. Once the units are built, however, the Housing Authority will be responsible for renting the units and using proceeds from the rent to pay off the project. The project is expected to have a total price tag of about $15 million.
Oury said her organization is excited about the project, in part, because it will be a bit different than traditional affordable housing projects.
"We're really gearing this project toward the working class," Oury said.
Families and individuals with incomes that are 40 percent to 60 percent of the median in Douglas County will be eligible to rent at the project. According to a HUD Web site, the median family income in Douglas County is about $70,000, which means a family making 40 percent of that would check in around $28,000 while a family at 60 percent would be at about $42,000.
Oury said the timing seems to be right for the project because the housing market is starting to gain steam again, which often means higher prices and more difficulty for working families to find affordable housing.
"We want to make sure we keep affordable housing developing as all the other housing develops too," Oury said. "We don't want to create a situation that we've seen in other vibrant communities where they price moderate- to low-income people out of the market."
The project still has to win the necessary planning approvals from Lawrence City Hall. That process will provide more details about what the project will look like, although this post from January includes a rendering of a proposed design. Oury said she hopes to have units ready to rent by the first quarter of 2015.
Farther south on O'Connell Road, plans are in the works for an apartment complex. A group led by Lawrence builder Heath Seitz and real estate appraiser Jeff Hatfield have filed for annexation and rezoning of about 10 acres at 1338 E. 1600 Road. That is the vacant land that is just east of the roundabout at 28th and O'Connell.
I'm still waiting to get details from the development group about what type of apartment complex it's planning. The zoning request seeks RM-15 multifamily zoning. The request also notes that the city's Southeast Area Plan calls for the property to be developed with medium density residential uses.
"There is strong demand for affordable housing, especially as our community increases its efforts to market Lawrence as a retirement destination," the developers say in their application.
The RM-15 zoning will allow for a variety of development, everything from row houses to the more traditional two and three-story apartment buildings. The developers will be required to file more details about their plans for the property as the project moves through the approval process. And if I hear more from them, I'll pass it along.
But clearly, the O'Connell Road area is one to watch. Part of it is that developers are betting on the former Farmland Industries site becoming an area for new jobs. People like to live near their work. Another part is that there has been a lot of investment in recent years to get improved sewer service to the area, and developers want to put that investment to work. The infrastructure upgrade will continue in a big way. The city's new sewage treatment plant will be just a ways south of O'Connell Road. The plant will be on the south side of the Wakarusa River, basically at the point where O'Connell Road dead ends at the river.
But another factor that likely is playing into all of this is that the area along O'Connell Road is going to be a pretty handy place to live from a transportation standpoint. Remember that as part of the South Lawrence Trafficway project, 31st Street is going to be extended from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. That means the neighborhoods along O'Connell are going to have a major new thoroughfare that takes residents right onto South Iowa Street and the major shopping district. (If you see my wife scouting for property in the area, now you'll know why.)
In addition, the area will have very easy access onto the South Lawrence Trafficway itself. One of the few major interchanges for the trafficway will be less than two miles to the east, about where Noria Road currently intersects with K-10 Highway. The SLT will make the neighborhood an easy place for people who need to commute either to Kansas City or Topeka.
The next thing to watch is whether the increased residential development in the area will spur more commercial development at the southeast corner of 23rd and O'Connell. A development group led by Newsome owns that property as well. It already is zoned for retail development, but at the moment, only a Tractor Supply store has located in the development.
I know Newsome's No. 1 choice of a tenant would be a grocery store for the corner, but grocers usually like to see a certain amount of rooftop development before they commit to an area. How many rooftops it will take will be the big question for the future.
In the meantime, though, I may go out and support the Tractor Supply store this weekend. It is time to get back to landscaping, and Tractor Supply sells grass seed. It also sells chemicals to kill grass. Decisions, decisions.
No word on whether you would have to get a Jayhawk tattoo to live there, or at least promise to wallpaper your house with Andrew Wiggins posters, but there is talk of a new Lawrence neighborhood that would be dubbed Rock Chalk Village.
You guessed it, the neighborhood would be near the Rock Chalk Park sports complex under construction near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. But the idea of Rock Chalk Village is much less certain than Rock Chalk Park.
The development, though, would be unique. We've reported several times that Kansas University professor Dennis Domer and others have a great interest in creating an "intergenerational neighborhood" that would help make Lawrence more of a retiree destination. Well, Rock Chalk Village is the first proposal by a Kansas City-area development group to create such a neighborhood.
Leaders with Lane4 Property Group have drawn preliminary development plans for about 60 acres just east and south of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. For those of you having a hard time picturing it, the property is the vacant ground behind the St. Margaret's Episcopal Church. It also would be just south of the new nine-hole golf course and apartment complex that has been approved for the area. Or perhaps you are the type that remembers the names of unbuilt developments in Lawrence. (If so, you need a new hobby by the way.) This piece of ground was platted as the Oregon Trail Addition in 2007 by a group including longtime Lawrence real estate developer John McGrew and construction executive Roger Johnson. It was envisioned as a single family and multi-family neighborhood.
The idea now is for it to be a one-of-a-kind neighborhood. I got in touch with a Lane4 official who confirmed that the group is working on some plans for the property, but he didn't offer other details. What previously has been discussed for an intergenerational neighborhood is a mix of housing styles that will attract both younger families and people who are retirement age. The idea has several concepts, including that people should have the option of aging in place, and that retirees shouldn't be segmented off from younger families. Previously discussed ideas have included public gathering areas for people of all ages, a not-for-profit retirement or nursing home, and a health care clinic.
Again, I don't know what specifics Lane4 is proposing. But the group does have a pretty strong interest in the project, I'm told. Hugh Carter, vice president of external affairs for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and longtime proponent of the intergenerational neighborhood concept, confirmed that Lane4 has made a presentation to the nonprofit Campus Village board that has been tasked with finding a location for an intergenerational neighborhood.
"This is a site that definitely jumps out at you as a good site," Carter said. "But there are just so many details that still have to be worked out."
He notes that the site would be within walking distance of the Rock Chalk Park sports complex, the proposed nine-hole golf course to the north, the proposed Mercato retail development to the west, and also the extensive South Lawrence Trafficway hike and bike trail system that will grow with the completion of Rock Chalk Park.
But despite all that, the development is far from a done deal. The Lane4 proposal may be a bit like a Dayne Crist pass — the timing is just a bit off. (Come on people: Dayne Crist, former KU quarterback. It is time to get into football mode, which unfortunately has meant jokes about KU quarterbacks.)
The nonprofit Campus Village board had figured it could take another four years for all the planning, site selection and development activities to take place for an intergenerational neighborhood.
Carter said the group is sensitive to not rushing the planning process because it realizes it is likely to get one chance to get this neighborhood concept right. The board hasn't yet put out a request for proposals to hear of other possible locations and ideas that other developers may have in mind for such a neighborhood. This proposal from Lane4 was unsolicited.
So, we'll have to wait and see if the Lane4 idea proceeds or whether it is deemed premature. But proponents of an intergenerational neighborhood do find themselves in an interesting situation. There are a limited number of sites in Lawrence that would work really well for the concept. This is one of them, but it doesn't seem likely that it will sit vacant for the next several years while planning is done. Momentum for residential development around Rock Chalk Park certainly is building, so I would expect the property to get developed with a more traditional housing development if the Lane4 proposal doesn't proceed.
Speaking of momentum for housing around the Rock Chalk Park site, a new apartment and single family housing development south and east of the sports complex now has the bulk of its required City Hall approvals.
As we previously reported, Lawrence developer Tim Stultz has plans for a 40-acre development at the northwest corner of Queens Road and Overland Drive. City commissioners already have approved the zoning for the property.
I caught up with Stultz recently, and he gave me a few more details about the project. He said current plans call for up to 172 apartment units and 83 single family homes.
He said the the majority of the apartments will be one- and two-bedroom units, but there will be a few three- and four-bedroom units as well. He said he wants to put together an apartment complex that doesn't necessarily focus on students, but rather young professionals and others who are more interested in renting an apartment than owning a home.
"We've had excellent occupancy rates in our projects over the last decade," said Stultz, who previously owned Remington Square and Ironwood Court apartments but sold them to an out-of-state group earlier this year. "The student housing market is a little bit soft. What we want to do is stay in the 'move-up' apartment market. It will be a bit of an upscale apartment complex. We're not trying to target students out there."
He said more detailed design work on the project will be underway this fall. He hopes to have apartments on the market in Fall of 2015, he said.