Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Back in April we reported on a reorganization plan for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department that is designed to put a bit more emphasis on small business needs and customer service.
A few of you have been asking where that stands, and it looks like you should expect to see some new faces in the department soon.
Scott McCullough, the city's director of Development Services, confirmed the city has made three new hires. One of them, though, isn't a new face.
Amy Miller, who has worked in the planning department for the last nine years, has been named as Assistant Director of Planning. Miller has been a long-range planner responsible for things such as keeping Horizon 2020 updates, crafting area plans for portions of the county expected to develop in the future, and monitoring city population projections. In her new job, she'll have a focus on monitoring and improving the department's customer service processes.
Longtime planner Sheila Stogsdill previously held the title of Assistant Director of Planning, although the position had different responsibilities. Stogsdill in April moved into a new position of planning administrator, which is responsible for overseeing all planning applications made to the office and ensuring they are processed in a timely manner.
The city also has hired an economic development professional to staff its newly created Small Business Facilitator position in the planning department. Cyndi Hermocillo-Legg will come to the position after having worked for Go Topeka, the economic development organization in the Capital City. She led that organization's small and minority business programs and its entrepreneurial programs.
With Lawrence, Hermocillo-Legg will be responsible for working closely with small businesses that file applications with the planning department. McCullough said the work will include "hot spotting issues and resolving conflicts to facilitate applications in process, and following up with small businesses to let them know they have a personal contact at City Hall."
The city also has hired a longtime Wichita city employee to fill the position of Assistant Director of Development Services, which came open with the retirement of Margene Swarts. Kurt Schroeder will come to the position after serving 20 years as the director of the Office of Central Inspections for the city of Wichita. In that job he oversaw code enforcement, inspections and building permits, which will be pretty similar to his responsibilities in the Lawrence job. Schroeder also will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the city's new rental registration program.
Miller started her new position earlier this week. Hermocillo-Legg and Schroeder are expected to start Aug. 5.
I don't know that he wears a cowboy hat, but there is a new fellow in town who plans to grab one of Lawrence's more famous bulls by the horns.
We're talking about Bullwinkles, the longtime Oread neighborhood bar near 14th and Tennessee streets. The establishment has new owners, and anybody who has driven by the building recently knows it is getting a complete renovation as well.
And the place is getting fancy . . . well, by Bullwinkles standards anyway. The bar now will have separate restrooms for both men and women. It didn't previously, and I've known a few people who have said an actual bull ride was more comfortable than those facilities.
But that and other items are changing at one of Lawrence's more longstanding college hang outs.
Joe Sorrentino and his wife, Jane, have bought the building, the business, and an adjacent apartment house. They've hired Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects to revamp the properties.
"We don't want this corner looking like a run down dump," said Joe Sorrentino.
The renovations include the bathrooms, a new concrete patio, new landscaping, and a wrought iron-style fence to enclose the outdoor areas. The work also includes lifting the roof off the building to address a host of structural issues.
"The building is just so old," Sorrentino said. "There was quite a bit we needed to do to shore it up. We're doing this so it will last for another 100 years."
Sorrentino, an Overland Park businessman, is still boning up on the history of the location, but he thinks its use as a bar dates back to around 1918 or 1919. The Douglas County Appraiser's office lists the approximate construction of the building as 1900. There are also rumors that the site occasionally served as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era, but that may just be B.S. — which, as you might guess, is a common commodity in a place that goes by the moniker The Bull.
One thing that is certain is that Sorrentino plans to keep the Bullwinkles name. In fact, he's going old school with it. He found a man in Mission who has what is believed to be the original Bullwinkles sign. Sorrentino hasn't yet acquired the sign, but he's been able to copy the original logo from it — complete with the big set of moose horns. The site of that old bull moose may bring back memories for some KU alumni. (Well, they're probably foggy memories, at best.)
Sorrentino said he hopes the bar becomes more of an alumni hangout on game days and during other events. For years it almost exclusively has been a student hangout, and Sorrentino acknowledges it also has gained a reputation as an underage drinking spot. He said that likely will be the biggest change to the establishment.
He said he is doing away with the practice of hiring KU students to serve as doormen for the establishment, which he thinks will lead to stricter checking of I.D.s.
"The guys working the doors will be in their 30s and will have no relationship with KU at all," Sorrentino said. "I just don't want that type of business."
Sorrentino said plans call for the bar to be back in operation by the week of Aug. 22.
The idea of a resort at Clinton Lake, and the unanswered questions about the interest in a casino on land recently purchased by the Delaware Indian tribe in North Lawrence certainly have given those in the Lawrence hotel market something to think about.
But despite the tantalizing nature of those subjects, downtown Lawrence is still where the real action in the local lodging industry takes place.
Work has begun at Ninth and New Hampshire streets on a 91-room Marriott TownePlace extended-stay hotel, and people continue to wait to see what The Eldridge Hotel may do with the vacant lot immediately south of its Massachusetts Street building.
Now there is a new player in the downtown lodging market. San Antonio-based BC Lynd and partners have purchased the SpringHill Suites by Marriott in the former Riverfront Mall building at Sixth and New Hampshire streets.
Chuck Mackey, president of Overland Park-based Capital Management Inc., confirmed that his group sold the SpringHill Suites and five other hotel properties to a group managed by BC Lynd in a deal that closed last week.
I've got a call into BC Lynd officials to find out what, if anything, may change at the SpringHill Suites. Mackey said his understanding is that the hotel will continue to operate as a Marriott property. According to BC Lynd's Web site, it looks like the company has a strong relationship with Marriott.
Mackey also is the hotel operator behind the new Marriott TownePlace at Ninth and New Hampshire. But the recent deal with BC Lynd does not involve that property. And Mackey said the decision to sell the SpringHill Suites wasn't related to his decision to be part of the group constructing the new Marriott property down the street.
Instead, he said the sale represented a good opportunity, and did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm about the Lawrence market.
"We're still very optimistic, primarily because of downtown Lawrence and Lawrence itself," Mackey said.
The only other area property included in the recent sale was the Marriott hotel that Capital Management owned near Deer Creek in Johnson County, Mackey said. The other properties included two in New Mexico, one in Indiana, and one in Iowa.
As for the new SpringHill Suites operators, I'll provide more information on BC Lynd when I hear back from officials there. But based on its Web site, it looks like BC Lynd is a well-established owner of multi-family properties that is expanding into the hotel business.
••• Because I mentioned both the resort and casino talk, I'll provide you a couple of tidbits on those subjects.
I still haven't heard back from Dave Mashburn, the executive who is leading LodgeWell Resorts, the lone company that submitted a proposal to build a resort complex at Clinton Lake State Park.
But the Kansas City Business Journal did catch up with the Kansas City-area developer. The article didn't provide many details on the project, such as where in the park Mashburn is proposing to locate the resort. But Mashburn did talk about how he has a concept that integrates health care and hospitality that he would deploy at Clinton Lake. He didn't elaborate on the concept other than to say in it is in "the wellness sphere" and goes beyond the traditional spa concept.
I've also heard the Kansas Secretary of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism talk about how he would like to see a man-made whitewater rafting destination at the Clinton resort. My understanding is that there are some high-tech simulator devices that can give users a fun rafting experience without a full-blown whitewater stream. But there's no word yet on whether Mashburn's proposal includes that concept, either. The state is not releasing any details.
The Kansas City Business Journal article does note that Mashburn has a partner in the project, longtime area businessman Dave Owen. According to the article, it is the same Dave Owen who is a former Kansas lieutenant governor and who ran into significant legal problems in the 1990s.
The project will be an interesting one to watch, and I will continue to try to make contact with Mashburn. But I have talked to a few locals who do have questions about whether the resort proposal will gain traction with state officials, who must approve use of the park. The fact that only one proposal came in may indicate that other established resort developers had questions about what the market could support. Or it could mean that Mashburn — who is a veteran of the hotel and resort industry but is relatively new at leading his own resort development company — is the only one with the vision to see the unique possibilities.
On the North Lawrence land purchase by the Delaware Tribe of Indians, I'm still working to learn more information from the Bureau of Indian Affairs about the process of placing that land in trust.
One notion that is worth clearing up is that just because the land has been purchased by the Indian tribe does not mean that it is automatically considered "Indian land" in the eyes of the law. It must be put into federal trust before it is considered Indian land and can enjoy some of the tax benefits and exemptions from local codes that come with Indian land status.
Putting the land in trust is also a step that must happen before it could ever be eligible to house an Indian casino. As a reminder, the tribe has not said it has plans to locate a casino on the property. It explored locating a casino in the area about a decade ago. This time around, tribal officials have said they don't want to discuss what their plans might be regarding a casino. They've instead focused on a plan that involves housing, health care and child care to serve the Native American population.
I've talked to just enough people to know that putting this piece of North Lawrence property into trust is no slam dunk. As for all the requirements that must be met for a property to be put into trust, I'm learning that is the type of complex subject that makes a fellow want to go do advanced trigonometry to unwind.
But I hope to have an article on some of the basics in coming days.
Ramen may never be the same again in Lawrence. And that's saying something because in this college town, ramen has been prepared in many different ways, and appeared in many different places. (I'm pretty sure there are still ramen noodles stuck to the ceiling of my old college apartment kitchen.)
But forget your college experiences with ramen. Plans are in the works for a new downtown ramen bar that aims to bring the Asian noodle dish to a new level in Lawrence.
Ramen Bowls hopes to open by Oct. 1 at 125 E. 10th Street, the former location of Queen Lizzy's Fish & Chips. Shantel Grace and her husband, Tim Grace, are opening up the shop after spending several years living in Hawaii, where ramen was a mainstay on restaurant menus. In fact, the couple researched it and found there were no fewer than 170 restaurants in Hawaii that featured ramen on their menus.
"We fell in love with the style of food, and realized there was something missing in our lives when we moved here," said Shantel,
As you can imagine, the couple didn't fall in love with the Styrofoam cup version of the dish that can be found on the bottom shelves of many a grocery store. Instead, these ramen dishes feature ancient recipes that sometimes take hours to prepare.
It certainly will take hours for the ingredients to arrive. The restaurant plans to have their noodles flown in overnight from a factory in Hawaii until the restaurant can make the significant investment in its own noodle-making machine. (That sounds about like my college ramen experience. Well, the part about noodles airborne, anyway.)
"It begins with the noodles for us," Shantel said. "They'll always be fresh."
The broth also will be more sophisticated than area residents normally experience. Some of the broths will take upwards of eight hours to prepare. In fact, true ramen chefs make adjustments to their water mixtures as the seasons change to ensure their dishes come out just right.
Neither of the Graces, who met at KU and returned recently after having their first child, are trained ramen chefs. Shantel is a former food writer in Hawaii, and Tim was a consultant in the shipping industry. The couple has hired a ramen consultant from Singapore to provide training.
As for dishes that will be on Ramen Bowls' menu, Shantel said there will be a variety of ramen dishes including vegetarian, meat- and seafood-based dishes. For example, she said a signature dish is likely to be Shoyu Ramen, which is a wheat noodle with soy sauce and pork-based broth, topped with char siu, which are thin slices of pork.
"It is just a really good, salty, comfort-food type of soup," Shantel said.
The restaurant also expects to have some Japanese-style dumplings and some island-inspired dishes such as shrimp fried rice and garlic shrimp.
The restaurant will be designed in a ramen bar format, meaning the center of the restaurant will feature an open kitchen where diners can sit and watch the ramen chef. The restaurant also plans to serve a variety of Japanese beers.
I'd be careful with those, though. I think that's how the noodles got on the ceiling.
The buzz you've been hearing around Lawrence perhaps has been the hum of a power saw or the steady pounding of a hammer.
With half a year in the books, one of the emerging stories of the Lawrence economy is the solid year local builders are putting together. New numbers from City Hall show builders have started more single-family and duplex homes in 2013 than at any point since the recession. And when it comes to apartment construction, they're more than doubling their previous pace.
Here's a quick look at totals through June for three key metrics.
The total value of projects under construction in Lawrence through June is up 52 percent compared to the same period a year ago and up 94 percent compared to the low point of 2009.
• 2013: $75.1 million • 2012: $49.3 million • 2011: $49.8 million • 2010: $47.6 million • 2009: $38.7 million
Single family and duplex building permits are up 33 percent from the same time period a year ago and are up nearly 128 percent from their low point in 2009:
• 2013: 87 • 2012: 65 • 2011: 59 • 2010: 75 • 2009: 38
Apartment construction, which historically has been up and down, is going through a boom period. The number of apartment units under construction in the first half of 2013 is up 103 percent from the same time period a year ago:
• 2013: 374 • 2012: 184 • 2011: 63 • 2010: 0 • 2009: 172
I've already got my boots off, so let me do this math for you. If I've counted all my fingers and toes properly, the number of apartments built in the last five years has outnumbered the number of houses/duplexes built by 793 to 324.
Since we're doing math, here's another interesting number: Lawrence's population as of July 1, 2012, was 89,512. As of July 1, 2008, it was 90,520. (Confession: I cheated and used Census Bureau figures here. My wife and kids wouldn't take their shoes off.) That's 1,008 fewer people, but during that time we've added 419 new apartment units and 237 new houses/duplexes. City officials, however, have taken exception to these Census Bureau population estimates because they think the city's population has been undercounted. The city contends that population has grown slightly during the time period.
Either way, it sure seems that apartment construction, in particular, is outpacing the growth of new residents. If that's true, it would be interesting to see the vacancy rates of some of the older, less maintained apartment complexes in the city. It doesn't get much discussion at City Hall, but it is plausible to think that one of the larger issues of the next decade is how those old apartment complexes get redeveloped in the future.
Whether you leave your shoes on or off, that is likely to involve some pretty complex ciphering.
All we need is Donald Trump and his mop of hair to make this real estate deal more interesting.
City commissioners find themselves in the middle of a unique real estate transaction that is focused on 1106 Rhode Island St. in East Lawrence. As we've previously reported, commissioners have become concerned about the dilapidated condition of the old house and barn on the property, which is just east of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.
Members of the Barland family own the property. They've cleaned up much of the yard, including holding a much-publicized auction of old Packard automobiles that had accumulated at the site.
But the condition of the vacant house and barn is still in rough shape. The city has said the Barland family needs to either fix it, sell it to someone who will or — here's where it gets pretty unique — the city will use eminent domain to take over ownership of the property.
The city started the eminent domain process in February, but hasn't yet taken the next step in the process. In the meantime, at least one buyer — and perhaps up to three — have emerged for the property.
Lawrence architect Stan Hernly has confirmed that he's put together an investment group to buy the property and rehabilitate the house and barn. The house would become a 3-bedroom, 2-bath rental house, and an addition would allow for a 1-bedroom, 1-bath apartment. The barn would be converted into about 2,700 square feet of professional office space.
But Hernly and the Barland family haven't yet agreed on a price. City commissioners at their meeting this week pulled out their eminent domain hammer to try to move the process along. Commissioners gave the Barland family three weeks to either accept or reject Hernly's offer. If a deal for the property isn't struck in the three-week period, city commissioners all agreed that they'll take the next step in the eminent domain process.
But members of the Barland family said they also are negotiating with two other parties. Brian Barland said said those deals may not produce the same type of development as Hernly's proposal, but the buyers appear willing to best Hernly's offer for the property. (Details about the other potential developments or about Hernly's offer for the property haven't been disclosed.)
Barland said his family is working through the process of evaluating what is best for the property and what is best for their financial interests. Whether that process will be completed in three weeks remains to be seen.
Brian Barland did remind commissioners that the condition of this property didn't happen overnight. The decline of the property occurred over several decades, mainly under the watch of Barland's late father. The city has codes and a fine structure to address such neglect of property, but it is not clear how much the city ever pursued that path.
"It took 50 years to get to this point," Barland said. "It is not going to take 50 years to make a deal happen. But it does take some time to come up with a fair price for the property."
The conversation rankled City Commissioner Terry Riordan, who has restored several homes and lives in an Oread house that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
"We now have someone who wants to save this house, and now we're arguing about money," Riordan said to Barland. "Doesn't it bother you some that you caused this? Isn't there any interest in trying to save that house? What we really should be talking about is preservation."
It also remains to be seen whether Hernly's project will have everything it needs to proceed, even if it does secure the property. Hernly provided information to the city indicating that he would be seeking an approximately $40,000 "development grant" from the city to make the proposed $800,000 project pencil out.
Commissioners this week gave no indication whether they would support such a grant request.
There's also still the possibility that the Barland family may choose to take its chances with the eminent domain process. That process will require the city to pay for the property. The price would be determined by Douglas County District Court, which reviews a set of appraisals to make its determination.
If the city ends up with the property, it plans to take proposals and sell the property to a party interested in restoring the structures.
In case you are wondering why the city doesn't just take the more traditional route of declaring the structure unsafe and ordering it repaired or either demolished, the house and barn do have some interesting history behind them that would cause historic preservationists to balk at their demolition. The house dates back to 1871 and the barn was also constructed near then. Both served as the headquarters for the city's largest dray wagon business, which was run by a colorful Irish man named Rhody Delahunty.
The house and barn already are included in a broader historic district that includes the area just east of the Douglas County Courthouse. So, if the city allowed the structures to be torn down, it would be doing exactly what it says it doesn't want people to do in historic areas.
As I said, the only thing that would make this deal more interesting is Donald Trump. Maybe he can lend us one of his celebrity apprentices. Perhaps Dennis Rodman to the rescue?
It may seem odd that a duo with an M.I.T. background has opened a small bakery in the tucked away shopping center just behind the Office Depot at 25th and Iowa streets.
But Raymond Kung quickly clarifies.
"M.I.T. — Made in Taiwan," Kung says of himself and his business partner Hamlet Chang.
While it may not be the same as a degree from M.I.T., the background is providing a nice advantage for their new business, Formosa Bakery, which specializes in a Taiwanese-style of bread and pastry making.
The shop opened about a month ago at 2201 W. 25th Street. Currently it is only in the wholesale baking business selling breads and pastries to restaurants and coffee shops in the Lawrence and Kansas City area. But the business plans to open the shop up to retail sales next Thursday.
Customers will find many recognizable baked goods, such as cheesecake, tiramisu, Black Forest cake and custard-filled cupcakes and pastries. The Taiwanese baking style isn't so much about creating exotic dishes as it is about refining the ingredients in dishes, Kung said.
"People tell us that it produces a real smooth, comfortable aftertaste," said Kung, who does sales and marketing for the company while Chang serves as owner and baker. "You don't just get a sugar rush to your tongue."
The duo has been in the Lawrence area for about 10 years after growing up in Taiwan. Chang received formal baking training in Taiwan, and the pair thought the unique baking style would help it standout in the Lawrence market.
The business currently has a partnership with the Oriental Bistro & Grill at 1511 W. 23rd Street. The restaurant carries all of the bakery's items.
Lawrence residents, if you could put those Pina Coladas down and put a towel around those Speedos for a moment, I have some news: You're doing a great job of not working as hard as residents in many other places.
And that's a good thing, according to the latest report that lands Lawrence on some national list. Lawrence is the sixth-best metro area in the country at balancing work and life, according to the personal finance Web site NerdWallet.com.
The report analyzes a handful of Census numbers to come up with a list of places where residents manage to have decent careers yet aren't chained to their office desks. (Do not get chained to your office desk, especially in a Speedo. A conversation with HR will ensue.)
The study measures such things as median weekly hours worked, mean travel time to work, and median earnings for full-time workers.
Apparently college communities have the market cornered on having a good work-life balance. All five of the communities ahead of Lawrence are college towns. Perhaps we're just naturally laid back, or perhaps college towns have an advantage in the ranking system because the median weekly hours worked in a college town is often going to be lower than other places because of the number of students who are part-time employees.
Regardless, here are the top five: 1. Corvallis, Ore. 2. Ames, Iowa 3. Ithaca, NY 4. Bloomington-Normal, Ill 5. Champaign-Urbana, Ill
In case you are wondering, Lawrence's median weekly hours worked is 34.4 hours. (You can get a pretty good suntan in the 5.6 hours that all those other schleps are working.) Of the top 10 communities, that was the third lowest total — which for the purposes of this ranking, is good.
In terms of mean travel time to work, Lawrence's is 19.5 minutes per day. That ranked Lawrence as the second highest among the top 10, and probably is a sign that we're a bit more of a commuter town than the other communities.
The more interesting numbers are in the earnings category. The median for male, full-time, year-round workers was $43,249. That ranked Lawrence No. 8 out of the top 10 communities. Female full-time workers earned $36,408. That was good for No. 7 of the top 10 communities.
The folks at NerdWallet ranked 20 communities in all. Lawrence was the only city in either Kansas or Missouri to make the list. You can see the complete list here.
Now, feel free to return to what you were doing. But think about leaving the towel on — at least in the office.
The hot streak continues in Lawrence's real estate market. Home sales in Lawrence rose for the 15th month in a row, according to a new report that measured June home sales.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors found 149 units were sold in June, an increase of 4.9 percent compared to June 2012 totals.
The local numbers outperformed the national market. National home sales fell by 1 percent in June, according to published reports.
The strong June, which is typically the busiest month of the year for real estate agents, continues the rebound theme for 2013. Home sales year to date total 553, up 28 percent from the same period a year ago. The rebound is more dramatic when compared to 2011 numbers. Lawrence home sales are up nearly 46 percent compared to the same period in 2011.
But here's another way to look at it. In this month's report, the Board of Realtors provided sales volume numbers, or in other words, the total dollar amount for all homes sold in a particular time period. Through June, sales volumes were at $112.2 million, up 38 percent from the same period in 2012.
Through June of 2011, sales volumes were at $73.7 million. So, there has been an extra $38.5 million worth of home sales in Lawrence, compared to 2011. If you figure that the average sales commission on a home is 6 percent, that's an additional $2.3 million in sales commissions that local agents and agencies have collected since 2011. I know I've certainly seen some real estate agents at jewelry stores, car dealerships, and other big-ticket retailers. (Granted, I'm usually just peeping through the windows of such places. I'll leave it to you to ascertain who I'm usually trying to keep an eye on.) But the point is, the numbers are interesting because they provide a little bit of meat to the long-held notion that the real estate market is a major driver of the local economy.
Other numbers from the report include:
• Sales of newly constructed homes now total 51, up 50 percent from the same period a year ago.
• The median number of days a home sits on the market is now 49, down from 63 days a year ago.
• The median sale price is $168,900, a 5.8 percent increase from a year ago. The median sale price for newly-constructed homes is $299,900, an 18 percent increase from year-ago numbers.
City prepares to approve budget tonight, including $62 million worth of road and infrastructure projects
Here are three things that were discussed frequently on my family's recent weeklong vacation through the northern Plains: Roadwork (there was a lot of it), budgets (there was not enough of those), and "Full House" (for approximately 1,400 miles, episodes of the once popular Olsen twins sitcom played continuously, thanks to an in-car DVD player and my 7-year old daughter.)
It appears that at least two of the three will be topics at tonight's Lawrence City Commission meeting — hopefully, budgets and roadwork.
Commissioners tonight are set to give final approval to the city's 2014 budget. We've previously reported the basics: A $185 million budget that increases spending by about 6 percent and the city's property tax rate by about 0.5 of a mill. Owners of a $200,000 home will pay about $12 per year extra in property taxes, as a result of the rate increase.
But one important part of the city's budget that doesn't always get a lot of public attention is its list of capital projects that it plans to undertake in the next year. The city has about $15.2 million worth of road projects and other infrastructure purchases on its to-do list in 2014. Here's a look at some of the more notable undertakings:
• $1.7 million for reconstruction of the intersection at 23rd and Iowa streets. Expect new turn lanes and greater vehicle capacity. The project is being funded through state and federal dollars.
• $2 million for the first phase of the 31st Street extension in eastern Lawrence. When completed, the project will extend 31st Street from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. Work will be going on during the same time that construction is occurring on the South Lawrence Trafficway project. The city will use property taxes to fund the project.
• $2.5 million to rebuild a portion of Wakarusa Drive from Oread West to Legends Drive. Proceeds from the city's infrastructure sales tax will be used to fund the project.
• $42,000 to begin engineering work on a future project to improve Kasold Drive from Bob Billings Parkway to Harvard Road.
• $2 million to begin work on a new Maple Street pump station to help alleviate stormwater flooding issues in North Lawrence. Funding will come from the city's infrastructure sales tax.
• $1.5 million to possibly purchase a site or begin design work for a new police headquarters facility. Funding will come from property taxes.
• $400,000 to improve the city's fiber optic and broadband system. The project will improve fiber optic connectivity between city-owned buildings, traffic signals and other structures, but also may put the city in a position to begin offering some of its fiber optic network for use by private broadband providers. Funding will come from property taxes.
• $1.05 million for renovation of the Santa Fe depot in East Lawrence. About $350,000 of the funding will come from property taxes, with the rest coming from a federal/state grant.
• $275,000 to install a traffic signal at George Williams Way and Bob Billings Parkway. The intersection is expected to become significantly busier once the new South Lawrence Trafficway interchange opens on Bob Billings Parkway.
• $750,000 to build a new public transit transfer facility. A temporary facility currently is located downtown, but staff members are exploring an area near the The Merc at Ninth and Iowa streets for a permanent facility. Funding will come from a transit reserve fund.
• $1 million to fund technology upgrades at the city and county's 911 center. Funding will come from property taxes.
• $1.2 million to replace a quint fire engine. Funding comes from both sales tax and property tax funds.
The really big builders in the city's budget, though, are in the city's Utilities Department. The city has budgeted $47.2 million worth of water and sewer projects in 2014.
A big part of that will be making your water taste better. The city has budgeted $17.9 million worth of work to improve taste and odor issues that occasionally occur when algae blooms become significant at Clinton Lake or on the Kansas River.
I would expect this project will get more discussion before commissioners actually approve any spending on the project. By putting it in the 2014 budget, that gives the city the legal authority to spend the money on the project, but commissioners may still decide that's too much to spend on the intermittent taste and odor issues.
The other big utilities project is $14.8 million worth of work on a new sewage treatment plant for south of the Wakarusa River. This will be a multiyear project. When it is done by 2017, the project is expected to cost about $65 million.
Those projects will be funded by increased water and sewer rates, which also are up for approval at tonight's meeting. The budget proposes an approximately 5 percent increase in the monthly water and sewer bills for an average household. That comes after commissioners approved a 6 percent rate increase in 2013.
A household that uses 8,000 gallons of water a month would pay $76.21 in monthly water and sewer fees, up from $72.34 under the current rates. City staff members have put together a chart that shows how Lawrence's rates compare with other cities in the area. An 8,000 gallon bill ranges from $61.69 in Manhattan to $102.65 in Gardner. Click here to see the full list.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today. This basically is the last chance for the public to make comment about the 2014 budget. Historically, the city's budget discussions haven't produced a full house. But who knows? Maybe it will tonight. I'm fine either way — as long as I don't have to listen to the Olsen twins.
Retail rumblings including a new cookie store on Mass. Street, a mattress store going out of business, and a change in venue for a downtown hot spot
From chicken wings to cookies to mattresses: It sounds like a productive Sunday afternoon to me. It also is a set of topics that are trending in Lawrence's retail world currently.
• I've gotten confirmation that a store called Hot Box Cookies will be setting up shop on Massachusetts Street in the coming days. The cookie shop has inked a lease at 732 Massachusetts Street, the former home of 3 Spoons Frozen Yogurt, Bob Sarna, a representative of the building's ownership group, told me.
Hot Box currently operates in Columbia, Mo.. Based on its website, it offers about a dozen different cookie options, including chocolate chip, M&M, oatmeal raisin and snickerdoodles. The business in Columbia also offers shakes, ice cream sandwiches, and good old-fashioned milk to wash it all down.
But this likely isn't your grandpa's cookie shop. According to the website, the store is open until 2:30 a.m. on many nights, which tells me a few people may have a craving for a cookie after they have consumed a certain other type of beverage at their favorite nightclub.
It sounds like the cookie shop may be open as soon as this week.
• A South Iowa Street mattress store is calling it quits. Bed Mart, 2329 Iowa St., will start hosting a going-out-of-business sale on Wednesday.
Gary Lucas, who owns the store with his wife, Kathy, said the store's lease is up and they have been looking to retire.
"We're just tired, basically," Lucas said. "The business is still all right, but we are just too tired to do it anymore. We basically work seven days a week at it."
The mattress market has changed in Lawrence in recent years. The national chain Mattress Firm opened up at 33rd and Iowa streets in the last year, and Discovery Furniture near 25th and Iowa streets has become a major player in the mattress market.
The sector may be one worth keeping an eye on in the future. People in the development industry tell me that the national chain Mattress Hub has been looking for locations in the city. Who knows whether they actually will decide to enter the market, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
• Take this one for whatever you think it is worth, but there's lots of speculation that Buffalo Wild Wings will move out of downtown to set up shop on South Iowa Street.
Multiple sources have told me that Buffalo Wild Wings is the mystery tenant for a proposed restaurant/retail building at 27th and Iowa streets where an Olive Garden was once proposed.
I called a general manager at Buffalo Wild Wings, and she didn't squash the rumor. Instead, she simply said she has heard it too, but said the corporate office hasn't made any announcements yet.
Buffalo Wild Wings currently occupies space at 1012 Massachusetts St., and by all appearances does well there. The South Iowa Street location would allow for a larger restaurant and more parking.
People with a wing-craving, though, shouldn't panic. Any move likely would be quite a ways off. The project would involve constructing a new building on the site. I'll keep my eyes open for something more official on this one.
But actually, I won't have my eyes open much for a few days. Town Talk is taking a break until July 23, while it recharges its batteries. Yes, I suspect it will involve chicken wings, cookies and a mattress at some point in time.
Apparently it is not just my wardrobe that lingers in a past decade. (I'll be out at several events today, and yes, I really am wearing a 100 percent polyester, narrow KU tie.)
There are some relatively new numbers out about the Lawrence economy that show jobs and business totals are actually below where they were at the beginning of 2000.
The numbers are from the U.S. Census Bureau's County Business Patterns Report. The report measures the number of private sector business establishments in a county and the number of employees in those businesses. (So, no government jobs included.) The latest data is for 2011. Here is what it had to say about Douglas County.
Douglas County had 1,329 fewer private sector jobs than it did in 2007, which is right before the Great Recession began. That's a negative growth rate of 3.4 percent. Going all the way back to 2000, Douglas County has 427 fewer private sector jobs. That's a negative 1.1 percent growth rate.
The report also looks at the number of business establishments in a county. An establishment, by the way, is each place of business. So, for example, if a single dry cleaning company has four stores in Lawrence, that's four establishments. Douglas County has 191 fewer establishment than it did in 2007. That's a negative growth rate of 6.8 percent. Going back to 2000, the county has 23 fewer establishments. That's a negative 0.8 percent growth rate.
How do Douglas County's numbers stack up to our peers? Well, nearly everyone saw job and business losses since 2007. We experienced a great recession after all.
Here's a look at 2007 to 2011 growth rates for other large Kansas counties:
• Douglas County: Negative 3.4 percent for jobs; negative 6.8 percent for establishments.
• Johnson County: Negative 5.6 percent for jobs; negative 4.2 percent for establishments.
• Shawnee County: Negative 0.4 percent for jobs; negative 8.1 percent for establishments.
• Riley County: Negative 6.4 percent for jobs; negative 2.9 percent for establishments.
• Sedgwick County: Negative 7.8 percent for jobs; negative 7.9 percent for establishments.
• Wyandotte County: Negative 2 percent for jobs; negative 3.8 percent for establishments.
All in all, we held our own during that time period. I think people will find the totals since 2000 a little more concerning. They look like this:
• Douglas County: Negative 1.1 percent jobs; negative 0.8 percent establishments.
• Johnson County: Positive 5 percent jobs; positive 6.1 percent establishments.
• Shawnee County: Negative 11.3 percent jobs; negative 5.3 percent establishments.
• Riley County: Positive 5.3 percent jobs; positive 9.5 percent establishments.
• Sedgwick County: Negative 7.9 percent jobs; negative 0.2 percent establishments.
• Wyandotte County: Positive 5.2 percent jobs; negative 4.2 percent establishments.
Since 2000, Douglas County has failed to keep pace with Johnson County, Wyandotte County and Riley County when it comes to job creation. We're still outpacing Shawnee County, but that may soon change. Its growth since 2007 has been better than ours. So, all in all, the long-term trend isn't great.
I'm not sure what to make of these numbers, to be honest. But they do seem to add to the question of whether Lawrence's economic standing has fallen further than other communities. I found these numbers as I was doing research for an article on that very question. Look for that article — where we quiz 10 local leaders on the state of the Lawrence economy — in Sunday's Journal-World.
The Lawrence economy is kind of at an interesting point right now. There are some things on the ground that support reason for optimism. Housing sales and housing starts are up. Retail sales posted a strong year in 2012. Construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway is expected to bring new commercial interests to town. The Farmland Industries property gives the community industrial land to market. Downtown redevelopment has hit a new gear. And new development interests already are starting to surface around the Rock Chalk Park development in northwest Lawrence.
As one economic development leader told me, the data is rearview mirror stuff. The stuff on the ground is front windshield material. Certainly, good drivers want to spend more time looking out the windshield than the rearview mirror.
But what do I know? As my wife will tell you, I certainly don't know how to use the mirror on the wardrobe.
The inside of my head right now sounds like one of those blaring weather alert radios. You see, I seem to have a built-in device that warns me of pending perfect storms of a different type.
Tonight my wife and her girlfriends will be attending the Mass Street Mosey, the popular and sold-out wine and food event that benefits Cottonwood Inc., a non-profit that helps those with developmental disabilities. That's all well and good, but now I've learned of a brand new business venture in downtown.
The Mass Street Sweet Shoppe, 727 Mass., has expanded its business to become an old-fashioned sandwich shop in addition to selling sweets. Owner Michelle Miller said she was looking to create a locally-owned sandwich shop in the spirit of past sandwich hot spots such as The Cheese & Salami Shoppe in the Round Corner Drug building, Penny Annie's or Joe's Bakery.
That means a menu that includes sandwiches such as egg salad, Ruebens, turkey melts, tuna salad, club sandwiches and chicken salad.
Ah, chicken salad. There's the source of my beeping head. I believe I established in this space previously that my wife likes chocolate. Well, she also really likes chicken salad. Now you are telling me that there is a shop that sells chicken salad and chocolate and it has opened just in time to serve my wife on a night that she'll be sampling wine on Massachusetts Street.
The men who killed Kennedy must be back in business, because this is a conspiracy.
The menu also includes chips and homemade potato salad, pasta salad and fresh berries, along with fountain drinks.
Miller tells me she thinks a good portion of her business will come from the business crowd downtown. She's offering free delivery in the area of Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire streets between Sixth and 11th streets.
"We think there are probably a lot of lawyers or businessmen and women who can't get out for lunch, and we can bring it to you," Miller said. "Plus, we think people are going to like that we're local. We're just a little independent shop making sandwiches."
I'm sure there will be some folks who check it out tonight. Look for my wife. She'll be the one ordering her two girlfriends to pull a heavy wagon full of chocolate and chicken salad.
Look for me at Walgreens. I'll be the guy buying Excedrin by the case.
The idea of creating a 175-room, destination-style resort hotel at Clinton Lake State Park is still alive. Now potential developers have more time to figure out exactly what they would like to propose.
State officials today said they have extended the deadline for proposals to 2 p.m. July 24. Previously the deadline was July 17.
Chuck Knapp, director of operations for the state's Department of Administration, said officials decided to extend the deadline a week after state officials took extra time to clarify some of the requirements for the proposal process.
Knapp said four to five development firms attended a pre-proposal meeting last week. Once the proposals are opened on July 24, Knapp said a group involving leadership from the Department of Commerce, the Department of Administration and the state's procurement and contract division will review the proposals and will reach a recommendation on a firm to begin negotiations with.
The state is giving developers leeway in what type of resort concept they propose, and also where exactly to locate the resort in Clinton Lake State Park. But members of the public likely will not get to see what all the developers have proposed.
Knapp said the state plans to release the names of all the developers who have submitted proposals, but won't be releasing other details of their development proposals.
As for a timeline for a developer to be selected, Knapp said he didn't have a firm one to offer.
"It is a high priority project though," Knapp said. "We are certainly anticipating moving it through the process as expeditiously and thoroughly as possible."
This will be an interesting one to watch. State officials are planning on developers paying for the cost of the resort. Whether developers will ask for some government assistance, such as help to extend city sewer service to the state park, is an open question. At some point city officials may be asked to chime in on the proposals.
Pretty soon, the cafeteria/atrium area at Lawrence Memorial Hospital is going to have a bit of an Allen Fieldhouse feel to it; there will be championship banners galore.
LMH has made another banner-worthy type of list. The hospital recently was named as one of the “100 Great Community Hospitals” in America by Becker’s Hospital Review.
The ranking comes after LMH earlier this year landed on the granddaddy of hospital lists: Truven Health Analytics’ 100 Top Hospitals. That list stacked LMH up against every hospital in America, and conducted a rigorous review of LMH’s data on various performance measures.
This latest ranking focuses on smaller hospitals that have fewer than 550 beds, minimal teaching programs, often are located in rural areas and serve as the only hospitals in their communities. Becker used the rankings of Truven and other similar rankings programs to create its top 100 list.
LMH was the only Kansas hospital included on the Becker list. The Becker report called attention to LMH’s $45 million expansion in 2009 that included new facilities for its emergency and surgery departments as well as additional space for maternity and intensive care units.
As for the banner, I don’t really know whether LMH will hang a banner for this award. Hospital leaders did hang a large one in the dining/atrium area near the hospital’s cafeteria when it landed on the Truven list.
So, who knows, perhaps they can consult with the banner experts at Allen Fieldhouse about whether they should hang a banner for this one. Hopefully they won’t take this too far, though. A “Beware of the Phog” banner is not what I want to see when I sit down to eat my fine LMH cafeteria food.
Humane Society preparing to fight for budget increase; commissioners asked to provide $25,000 in unbudgeted funds for Just Food
It may end up being an interesting evening at Lawrence City Hall tonight because commissioners are set to talk about two items people fiercely guard: pets and money.
Commissioners are nearing the key point in the 2014 budget process where they set the maximum amount of money they are willing to spend for the year.
It looks like a movement is afoot by the Lawrence Humane Society to fill City Hall tonight with people who will argue the city ought to spend more money on pets. Specifically, the Humane Society is seeking about an $80,000 increase in its 2014 budget. City Manager David Corliss is recommending a $20,000 increase, but leaders of the animal shelter are going to argue for the full amount.
Their argument is where the issue gets interesting. Nonprofit agencies ask for more money from the city all the time, but the Humane Society is a bit different of a breed of nonprofit agencies. That’s because the Humane Society is providing a service that by law the city would have to otherwise provide, according to Humane Society executive director Dori Villalon. State law requires that cities have a process in place to impound stray animals. The Humane Society provides that service to the city, and in return the city provided the shelter about $282,000 in funding in 2013.
But Villalon says the shelter recently has begun using a new computer software system that better tracks the actual expenses involved in housing stray animals. After analyzing the numbers, shelter leaders believe the current contract the shelter has with the city falls about $80,000 short of covering its expenses to meet the state-mandated requirement that cities impound stray animals for a certain period of time.
“It is imperative that we close this gap,” Villalon said in a recent letter to commissioners. “LHS (the shelter) isn’t looking to profit from the city contract, but simply cover the cost of providing service, thus protecting the future of our nonprofit organization.”
In case you are wondering, the shelter provided care to 1,665 stray or abandoned cats and dogs from the city in 2012.
When I asked Corliss last week about the shelter’s analysis that the city contract doesn’t cover the basic cost of services, he didn’t dispute it. I’m not sure he has confirmed those numbers either, but rather he said his recommended $20,000 increase is what he could justify without raising the property tax mill levy. Corliss estimates it would take a 0.07 mill increase to fully fund the Humane Society's budget request. That would be on top of a 0.4 mill increase Corliss is recommending to fund other budget issues.
That philosophy is commonly used by the city when determining how much funding it can provide to a host of social service agencies and nonprofits in the community. But the real question here is whether the city is providing financial support to a nonprofit or whether it is being asked to pay for services rendered.
Shelter leaders are indicating it is the latter. The shelter provides a service the city is required to provide, and the city needs to pay an amount to cover the cost of those services. That’s the argument.
Villalon indicated in her letter to commissioners that the shelter — perhaps for years — has been using donations from community members to cover the shortfall that exists between what it costs to provide the state-mandated care and what the city currently pays.
Villalon said the proper use for those donations is to provide care that goes over and above what is mandated by the state law. The law requires stray or abandoned animals to be kept for only a short period of time. Shelters, to avoid euthanizing animals, can choose to keep them for a longer period while they seek to find a family to adopt the pets.
According to the letter and the shelter’s Facebook page, shelter leaders are encouraging supporters of the Humane Society to show up at City Hall tonight to support the budget increase. Shelter leaders are couching the issue in terms of saving lives of animals. In an information sheet the shelter is distributing to supporters, the shelter says if the funding request isn’t granted, “euthanasia of treatable animals may increase.”
Historically, the euthanasia issue has been a hot-button issue in Lawrence, which is a community that seems to really be a pet-loving place. We’ll see how hot the issue gets tonight. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. at City Hall.
UPDATE: City Hall officials have gotten in touch with me today to clarify how they can provide the $25,000 in funding for Just Food without dipping into cash reserves or shortchanging other programs. City Manager David Corliss said he plans to reduce by $25,000 the amount of money that will be spent on sidewalk repair in the city's general fund. That money will be used to pay for the Just Food truck. The sidewalk work will be funded through the $25,000 in CDBG money that had been set aside with the thought it would fund the Just Food truck purchase. By shifting the sidewalk work out of the city's general fund to the CDBG fund, it will limit where the city can perform sidewalk projects. The CDBG funds must spent in one of the low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, such as Oread, Pinckney, East Lawrence or several others.
We’ll go from hot to cold to perhaps back to hot again. Commissioners as part of their consent agenda tonight will be asked to provide $25,000 in funding to the nonprofit food bank Just Food. The organization is run by City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer. The one-time funding will help the organization buy a refrigerated truck that will allow the food bank to collect meat, dairy and other such donations from grocery stores and convenience stores.
We reported in May that Just Food was seeking the city’s assistance to apply for federal funding for the truck through the city’s Community Development Block Program. But word has come back that the truck isn’t eligible for such funding, so now city staff members are recommending that $25,000 in local tax dollars be used to pay for the vehicle.
Plans for the truck do sound promising. Farmer has said it will be used to go to grocery stores, restaurants, convenience shops and other locations that often have to dispose of aging meat, dairy and produce. Currently, Just Food doesn’t have a way to transport refrigerated material from the stores to its distribution center in East Lawrence. Consequently, Farmer estimates grocers and other are throwing away “thousands of dollars of food per week.” Most of the perishable items are pulled off the shelves several days before their expiration dates, which gives Just Food time to distribute it to needy families.
But the timing of this $25,000 unbudgeted expenditure — which would be made in 2013 — may be unfortunate. City commissioners will be asked to approve it right before they are set to talk about how difficult it is to provide funding to worthy causes in 2014.
Several Lawrence developments are grabbing headlines these days. Rock Chalk Park, efforts to convert the former Farmland fertilizer plant into an industrial park, and downtown redevelopment are three of the larger ones.
But don’t forget about the nearly $20 million state project to build a new interchange at Bob Billings Parkway and the South Lawrence Trafficway in West Lawrence. Developers certainly haven’t.
A local development group has filed plans for a new commercial and residential development near the northeast corner of the planned intersection.
If all goes according to plan, the development, dubbed Langston Commons because of its proximity to Langston Hughes elementary, will be the next site for a Lawrence grocery store and all the typical surrounding development that comes with it.
RSR Inc., a group led by Lawrence builder Bob Santee and businessmen Tom and Doug Raney, have two concept plans for the nearly 17-acre commercial area. One calls for a 60,000-square-foot grocery store, plus five other smaller commercial buildings. The second concept calls for a 30,000-square-foot retail building, plus seven other buildings ranging in size from about 15,000 square feet to a couple thousand square feet.
Tim Herndon, a Lawrence-based urban planner who is consulting on the development, thinks either scenario could land a grocery store — either a full size one or a smaller specialty store.
“We would love to see something like the next Merc, or Whole Foods or Hen House or some other specialty neighborhood-scale grocer,” Herndon said.
The group doesn’t have deals signed for any tenants, but members are optimistic that interest will be high once the necessary zoning and development plans are approved. That’s because the interchange is set to become perhaps the major western gateway into Lawrence because it will provide a straight shot down Bob Billings Parkway into the Kansas University campus.
“This is going to be the way to get to KU that doesn’t involve worming your way down Sixth Street or 23rd Street,” Herndon said.
Estimates call for traffic volumes in the area to approximately triple once the interchange is open. Herndon said the group hopes to have the commercial development ready to go once the interchange begins serving traffic, which is expected to be by spring of 2016 at the latest.
As for other types of commercial development possible at the site, Herndon said a convenience store is very likely. There also will be spaces for sit-down restaurants. He mentioned the long-talked about duo of Red Lobster and Olive Garden being a good fit. He also said there will be one or two locations for fast food, Starbucks or other similar businesses. In addition, there will be space for traditional neighborhood services such as banks, dry cleaners and the like.
The concept plan also calls for about a one-acre pond-and-water feature. Herndon said that will open up the possibility for a water-side restaurant.
The commercial development, however, is just one part of Langston Commons. The residential development is significant. Plans call for a mix of about 75 single-family, duplex and multi-family living units. The zoning requests indicate about 60 percent of the residential development will be devoted to single-family and duplex units.
The new residential development will be just south of the recently-approved Langston Heights residential development, which is being developed by the same group. That project has a mix of about 140 single-family, duplex and row homes.
Most of the land for the new Langston Commons project will be bought from Alvamar Inc., which has bought and held the land for more than a decade. But about two acres of the property will need to come from the Lawrence school district, which has quite a bit of unused property surrounding the Langston Hughes elementary school. Herndon said the school property is needed to complete a road connection.
For those of you still trying to get your bearings, the entire project can best be described as being north of Bob Billings Parkway, west of Langston Hughes, and it will abut the South Lawrence Trafficway. From the maps, it appears there still will be a fairly significant stretch of open space between the elementary school and the development.
The project will require zoning, platting and site plan approvals from City Hall, but the area has been designated for commercial and residential development in recent long-range plans approved by the city.
It will be interesting to watch how the rest of the area develops. The school district, I believe, still has significant amounts of property around Langston Hughes that would draw heavy interest from developers, if the district decides to entertain such offers.
But things really will get interesting when developers start filing plans for property on the west side of the SLT. The area just west of the planned interchange is an expansive, flat stretch of land that could accommodate a thousand or more homes in future years.
Herndon, who for years was one of the top officials at Lawrence’s Landplan Engineering, said he doesn’t know when the city will be ready to make that jump, but when it happens, it will be a major moment.
“West of the SLT is a pending explosion of development activity,” Herndon said. “That will represent the next major growth center in Lawrence for upcoming decades.”
I don’t know about your neighborhood on the Fourth of July, but in mine last night there were plenty of young venture capitalists on display: People willing to burn their money in hopes for a big bang in return.
Venture capitalists — the high-risk investors who provide start-up money to promising young companies — have long been a source of conversation and concern in Lawrence. The conversation has been: Where can I find them? The concern has been: There aren’t enough of them in the Midwest to make Lawrence a major player in the competitive bioscience arena.
Well, there’s a new study out that shows Lawrence may be doing better than people thought when it comes to at least one measure of venture capital. Lawrence has the sixth highest level of venture capital investment in America, when measured on a per capita basis.
Guru demographer Richard Florida — who lectures frequently on the power of the creative class — has crunched the numbers and found Lawrence is part of a trend of smaller communities connected to universities that are doing well in the venture capital arena.
Florida calculated Lawrence had $40.8 million in venture capital deals per 100,000 people in 2012. It put Lawrence in some great company. The top five were:
- San Jose, Calif., a.k.a. Silicon Valley: $216.9 million
- San Francisco: $159.1 million
- Boulder, Colo.: $86.9 million
- Boston: $68.1million
- Santa Barbara, Calif.: $59.1 million
Lawrence’s metro population — in other words, Douglas County’s population — is just a little more than 100,000 people. So, in real numbers, Douglas County companies attracted a little more than $40 million in venture capital investments in 2012. Think about that for a minute: $40 million in largely outside money came flowing into Lawrence’s economy because of start-up companies.
For whatever reason, area companies don’t do a lot to announce their venture capital successes, so I don’t know what companies attracted the cash in 2012. But in recent years, we have talked quite a bit about rising stars such as Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, drug particle company CritiTech, and the more than 30 companies ranging from animal health firms to e-commerce companies that are affiliated with Bioscience and Technology Business Center at KU.
There is no doubt that this new list is a good one for Lawrence to land on. It helps tell the story that local bioscience officials have been working to tell: You can have success in raising funds in the Heartland. But you could also read too much into this ranking as well. At the end of the day, when people think about hot venture capital markets, they think about real dollars, not per capita dollars.
A separate ranking by Florida shows how much work Lawrence has to do to crack the top 20 markets of overall venture capital activity.
Obviously, setting our sights on the Silicon Valley or top-ranked San Francisco isn’t going to be too productive. San Jose and San Francisco had about $10.7 billion in venture capital investments in 2012, accounting for about 40 percent of all the venture capital activity in the country.
More instructive is to look at some other college communities. Austin ranked No. 8 at $626 million, Boulder ranked No. 14 at $256 million, Raleigh, N.C. ranked No. 18 at $184 million and Provo, Utah ranked No. 20 at $162 million.
But the good news is, when you look at this study, Florida has created a blob map of venture capital markets. Lawrence shows up as a speck on it. And a speck is a start.
Hopefully, though, people aren’t counting on my neighbors to be the next wave of venture capitalists. After what I saw last night, they have to be broke.
As Briggs prepares to move out of Sears building, rumors heat up that Dick’s Sporting Goods will be moving in
Here’s what we know: The folks at Briggs Auto Group soon will be vacating the former Sears building at 27th and Iowa streets.
Here’s what’s likely to happen: A whole bunch of speculation that Dick’s Sporting Goods will move into the prime piece of South Iowa Street property.
Rumors of a Dick’s Sporting Goods coming to town are nothing new, but there does seem to be quite a bit of smoke with this particular batch of rumors. And you know what they say: Where there is smoke, there’s usually a kid with a half-dozen Roman candles in each hand and a package of Black Cats in his back pocket. (Actually, maybe they only say that in my neighborhood, although no one would hear it.)
The point is, there may be something to the speculation this time. Mike Neyman, general manager for Briggs Nissan, said the landlord for the Sears building has notified the auto dealership that it will need to vacate the premises by the end of the month because a new deal for the building is being processed.
Neyman said the timeline shouldn’t create a problem for Briggs, because the Nissan dealership already has moved into its new facility in the nearby Lawrence Auto Plaza, and work on the Dodge dealership is expected to be done by the end of the month. (More on Briggs’ developments in a moment.)
Multiple sources in the real estate and development industries tell me that a deal has been struck by an investment group to buy the approximately 90,000-square-foot Sears building. The same sources say that the group has a major national anchor tenant committed to the building. The strong speculation is that it's Dick’s, because the company has been scouting for locations in the city.
“Dick’s is the player here,” one source said.
The chain Hibbett Sports also has shown interest in Lawrence over the years, but it is seen as a less likely option at this location because it usually locates in far smaller buildings.
But speaking of size, it seems unlikely that Dick’s Sporting Goods would occupy all of the nearly 90,000 square feet of the old Sears building. According to press reports in other markets, store sizes for Dick’s usually are around 45,000 to 60,000 square feet.
Local real estate professionals say what is likely is that the old Sears building would be split into perhaps two or three spaces, meaning that other new retailers may be coming to the market as well.
I know there was a lot of interest in that type of concept shortly after Sears closed its store in 2012. A development group tried to buy the building at that time, with the hopes of attracting both Dick’s and Old Navy to the location. But negotiations with the Los Angeles-based real estate group that owns the property were difficult. Early last year, Old Navy closed its store on South Iowa, which was where Ross Dress for Less is now located. I’m told Old Navy, at the time anyway, still was very much interested in the Lawrence market, but needed a smaller space to accommodate a new strategic direction for the company. Whether it is still interested in the market more than a year later, I don’t know.
Once all the smoke clears, we’ll see.
All this talk of rumors can get in the way of what actually is happening. The folks at the Briggs Auto Group are nearing the end of a multimillion-dollar effort to remake the Lawrence Auto Plaza just north of 31st and Iowa streets.
Briggs Nissan has moved into its new showroom and dealership facility right at the Iowa Street entrance to the Auto Plaza. You might remember the location as the former home of the Jim Clark Dodge/Chrysler dealership.
As we previously have reported, the Nissan dealership includes an all-new 20,000-square-foot showroom building, charging stations for electric vehicles and a reconfigured lot for outdoor car displays.
By the end of the month, Briggs’ Dodge/Chrysler dealership is expected to move into its new location, which is on the western edge of the Auto Plaza, where 29th Terrace and Four Wheel Drive intersect. It is where the Nissan dealership previously was located.
Both of those projects are in addition to the Briggs Subaru dealership, which was completed last year in the Lawrence Auto Plaza. All told, improvements to the Auto Plaza by Briggs probably are near the $4 million mark at this point.
Neyman says the company recently added what it thinks will become a new South Iowa landmark: a new time and temperature sign that he says is the tallest sign in Lawrence. I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know exactly how big we’re talking about. But I know that the Briggs folks like the idea of having an aerial structure that draws a lot of attention. As part of the original development plan, Briggs was planning on adding a wind turbine to the Auto Plaza. Neyman said he thinks that is still in the future plans, but I don’t have any word yet on when that may happen.
In my household, July means the start of two seasons: This is about the time that my wife’s refusal to turn on the air conditioner causes the kids and I to set up Gatorade stations throughout the house, and it is when city officials really start to dive into their budgeting process.
Fortunately, the weather has been cool this week, so there’s been plenty of time to focus on the budget. We’ve already reported that City Manager David Corliss’ recommended budget for 2014 calls for a 0.4 mill increase, which amounts to about $9.20 per year in extra taxes on a $200,000 home.
But the budget has a lot more details in it than just the bottomline. Here’s a look at a few other items of interest:
• There may be one fewer place for downtown motorists to park for free. As part of his budget, Corliss is proposing that the top level of the public parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street no longer be available for free parking. City officials several years ago agreed to make the top level of the garage free to park as a way to encourage more use of the garage. Usage of the garage, however, is not expected to be a problem in the future. Already, demand is up because of the multi-story apartment building at 901 New Hampshire, and more motorists are expected to be in the area as a new hotel/retail building gets built on the southeast corner of the intersection. By the way, hotel developer Doug Compton has told me he expects to get started on construction of the hotel around July 10.
• Perhaps we won’t get to make those fun commercials to attract retirees to Lawrence after all. Corliss’ budget does not recommend funding $30,000 for an annual marketing campaign to attract more retirees to the community. This will be an interesting one to watch because the city and county already have spent good money to get the ball rolling on retiree attraction. In January, commissioners agreed, along with the county, to award a $34,500 contract to Lawrence-based Kern Group to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to attract higher-end retirees to the area. The contract calls for the group to create a title/slogan, a logo, a Web site, a package for marketing materials, and concepts for various print, broadcast and online advertising. Kern was up-front with officials that he expected it would take an advertising budget of about $60,000 to $80,000 a year to get the message out. If city officials don’t chip in $30,000 for the effort, I’m not sure where that leaves the commitment from the county or private stakeholders who may have made donations. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, a fantastic advertising campaign hangs in the balance. I can see the commercial now: Retirees doing keg stands and streaking down Jayhawk Boulevard, followed by the tag line of “Lawrence: Where you are never old enough to know better.”
• Of all the books in the Lawrence Public Library, there must not be one entitled: How to Get Your Budget Request Fully-Funded at City Hall. Corliss is recommending a $100,000 increase in funding for the library as it prepares to move into its expanded facility downtown. But library leaders had asked for $175,000 increase. It is not unusual for agencies not to get everything they ask for, but how Corliss is proposing to fund this $100,000 increase is unusual. He recommends that the library fund dip into its rather paltry cash reserves to fund the $100,000 increase rather than raising the mill levy to do so. The library fund has about $235,000 in cash reserves, so this increase will eat up a good part of it. The strategy goes against the grain of one of Corliss’ long-held budget philosophies that permanent expenses need to be funded by permanent revenue sources. But in talking with Corliss, I think he is just hoping to buy time until the 2015 budget. The library’s first full year in its new facility will be 2015, and Corliss has said he has not forgotten what city officials told voters when they approved the $19 million expansion of the library. Officials told voters that they would provide the library additional money to operate the larger library. It was estimated a 0.5 mill increase would be needed for additional operational expenses. Thus far, the city only has funded a 0.2 mill increase for library operations. My crystal ball tells me to be on the lookout for a 0.3 mill increase in the 2015 budget.
• The new Rock Chalk Park recreation center will have a goal to shoot for — sort of. The 2014 recommended budget calls for the recreation center to generate about $715,000 in revenue, if it were to be open for a full year. But it won’t be open for a full year in 2014, so it won’t generate that much revenue. But that’s the number the city is shooting for once it is open full-time. As city officials said all along, the amount of revenue the center generates won’t be enough to cover its expenses. The 2014 budget — once again assuming a full year of operation — projects expenses for the center will be about $350,000 more than revenues. I believe revenues for the center will include things such as gym rental fees, class fees generated by the center, tournament and league revenue and concessions.
Ah, concessions. Maybe they’ll have a good deal on Gatorade. My kids and I sure hope so.