Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Group studying multimillion-dollar Lawrence retirement cooperative; large East Lawrence site to hit development market; 14 million Douglas County trees
There’s a new group in Lawrence promoting the benefits of retiring at a co-op. It took me a moment to wrap my head around the idea. Why would I want to retire at a grain elevator? Those, after all, are some of the larger examples of cooperatives in the area. Then I remembered that The Merc is also a co-op. Retiring next to its pastry case does sound appealing, although they are going to have to become a lot more tolerant of my bathrobe than they have been in the past. I’m not sure that’s what the organizers of a new cooperative in Lawrence have in mind, but they do think it is going to shake up the local retiree housing market.
Perhaps you have seen advertisements for Vintage Cooperatives and a new retiree housing project it has planned for Lawrence. I hadn’t seen any plans filed for such a project at City Hall, so I checked in with officials at Vintage. Indeed, the company hasn’t filed any plans yet because it is still testing the waters in Lawrence. But a company official told me he is optimistic Lawrence will become the site of a multimillion-dollar senior housing project by the Iowa-based company.
First, though, Vintage is taking some time to explain the idea of living in a cooperative. Curtis Jones, director of marketing for Ewing Development, said his company tries to build projects for seniors who want some of the benefits of home ownership but don’t want all the hassles of homeownership. The way the idea works is that Ewing Development constructs a large building usually housing 48 to 60 living units. Unlike a traditional condo development, however, residents won’t buy a specific unit. Instead, they’ll buy shares in the ownership of the overall building. At the end of the day, the building is owned by the people living in it, making it a cooperative. The residents of the building form their own governance group to manage the property, although Ewing provides professional help on the day-to-day management.
Part of the idea behind the concept is seniors don’t have to take out a mortgage to buy a unit. Jones estimated most units range in prices from about $150,000 to $300,000. Residents make an upfront payment of 40 percent to 50 percent of the unit’s value. They then make a monthly payment to the cooperative, which is used to help pay down the mortgage that the cooperative holds, and also to cover operating expenses of the cooperative. That includes maintenance fees and other amenities.
Jones said one of the advantages of the concept is when it is time for a resident to move out or sell their unit. Since you don’t own the actual unit, you aren’t technically conducting a real estate transaction. You’re instead just selling your shares in the building. Jones claims that will be easier than a real estate deal. A big part of the system seem to be that Ewing is confident that it can continually market the facility well enough that there will always be a waiting list for people wanting a unit. When it is time for a resident to leave, they simply sell their shares to someone on the waiting list. They sell the shares at a set price that is based on an annual 2 percent appreciation in share prices.
It sounds like there also may be some tax advantages with the system, but as my accountant, Vinny, tells me, I shouldn’t worry about all those details. (Do worry, however, if a car with government plates is in your driveway, he says.) I don’t understand all the details of this system, or whom it may work for or whom it may not.
My point in mentioning the project is to alert you to keep an eye out for another potential retirement development. The company is hosting its second meeting with potential co-op members today, and Jones said he expects a decision on whether to move forward will happen quickly.
He said the company has been looking at West Lawrence locations to build the project, but hasn’t yet secured any land. He said the company typically likes to have about seven to 10 acres because it ultimately wants to build a campus environment that would include a nursing home or other skilled-care units.
It looks like the company is aggressively pursuing similar projects in several other communities. It has had meetings in Liberty, Mo. and Independence Mo. It recently opened a cooperative living project in Ankeny, Iowa, and it looks like it has several other projects in various stages of development near Des Moines.
“We really like Lawrence because we like college towns,” Jones said. “People in college towns are often very committed to the community. They want to live in the community for a long time, and we really don’t see anybody offering something quite like what we have planned.”
I’ll keep an eye on whether the project moves forward, and report back.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep an eye out for some changes near one of Lawrence’s more popular loft-style apartment buildings. Officials at Black Hills Energy have confirmed they plan to demolish their old maintenance shop near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets and put the property on the market. The site is across the street from the popular Poehler Lofts building and the Warehouse Arts District.
Chuck Hoag, a Lawrence manager with the natural gas company, said he expected the site’s most likely use would be as a parking lot to serve the growing Warehouse Arts District. I could see that, but the site is several acres, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a developer tried to do something a little more ambitious as well.
One issue with the site is that there likely will be some environmental restrictions on the property. Based on past articles we have done, the site has issues related to coal tar. From the mid-1800s to early 1900s, the site burned a lot of coal to produce gas. In the late 1990s, remediation work was done on the site, and state environmental officials have said the property poses no significant risk to the public. But the state did require deed restrictions that prohibit residential construction or any other activity that would “necessitate frequent contact with the soil.”
So, we’ll see who is interested in that property and what plans may be in store for the area. Black Hills no longer needs the site because it has a new maintenance facility in northern Lawrence.
• It may be a busy couple of nights for trees. A few may house some toilet paper on Friday night, which is Halloween, lest you think my neighborhood just does odd things with toilet paper. But tonight, if a certain baseball team wins a certain game, you may find fans of this team hanging from the tree tops. (What? I’m admittedly bad at celebrating baseball victories.)
Well, a new study has pointed out that we sure do have a lot of trees to choose from. The Kansas Forestry Service recently conducted a study of Douglas County’s rural and urban forests. That means it looked at a lot of trees in Lawrence and other parts of the county.
How many trees? Well, the study estimates Douglas County has about 14 million trees. It also estimates that about 25 percent of the county has trees that are dense enough to create what is called a tree canopy. As for the types of trees, the most common are American Elm, Northern Hackberry, Eastern Red Cedar, Osage-Orange and Honey Locust.
The trees, of course, provide shade, protection from the wind and other such things that can help reduce the energy bills of homeowners. The report estimated that Douglas County trees reduce annual residential energy costs by $2.9 million a year.
The report also says Douglas County trees store 1.7 million tons of carbon, which has a value of $124 million. I don’t quite understand that, but I’m guessing maybe some of you scientific types do. Meanwhile, I am searching for loose carbon in my couch cushions.
You can read the entire report, here.
• Town Talk will be off tomorrow. I may or may not still be in a tree.
Downtown shop of 30 years changes name, look; campaign contributors to police vote likely won’t be known before election
There are still Lawrence residents who remember when the downtown shop Britches was the place to go to get a fancy pair of $300 jeans. (I remember. That might have been when I started using a morphine drip to help open the credit card statements.) But those types of prices long have been gone at Britches, and to drive home the point, the store’s ownership has closed the store and reopened under a new brand name.
Flirt Boutique opened about 10 days ago in the space that formerly housed Britches, 843 Massachusetts St. The closing of Britches ended a brand name that had lasted for more than 30 years in downtown Lawrence. Jeremy Furse has owned the Britches store for 30 years, and he said it operated under the name Britches Corner for eight to 10 years prior to his purchase of the business.
“We just thought after 30 years, it was time to do something different,” said Furse, who is the owner of the new Flirt Boutique.
The name change also involved a significant remodeling of the store. Furse said everything was done with the goal of reinforcing the idea that the store is a fun and casual boutique rather than a pricier, upscale retailer.
“Even though our prices have been pretty low for quite awhile, I think because of the look of the store, people would walk by and say that place is so expensive,” Furse said. “Our pricing structure now is about 25 percent below what we had at Britches.”
Furse said many of the styles and brands the store carries have remained the same, but he said the store is adding some new selections to try to appeal to a broader age group. He said the store now is trying to reach 18- to 40-year-olds, where before Britches was more focused on the 18 to 24 age range.
Furse previously operated a Flirt Boutique in Leawood. He recently closed that store to focus on the new Lawrence operations. As for the Britches name, it continues to live on elsewhere. Furse said he continues to operate a Britches in Columbia, Mo. Furse said he thinks the Flirt brand has good potential.
“If the first 10 days are any indications, it is looking very good,” Furse said. “People have been real receptive, and we’ve been able to keep a lot of our customers from the Leawood store.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you are the type who likes to follow the money when it comes to political campaigns, good luck in doing so with the campaigning that is going on for a new police headquarters.
As you probably know, there are two political action committees that have formed around the police sales tax issue: one for it and one against it. People have been asking me how much those two groups have been spending and, more importantly, who is providing the funding for the spending.
The answer: We’ll have to wait quite awhile to find out. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew told me the local PACs fall under a vague state law that says they do not have to file their campaign contribution and expense reports until Dec. 31. That, of course, is nearly two months after the Nov. 4 election.
“If transparency is the idea behind this law, it doesn’t provide much transparency with this election,” Shew said. “By the time they are required to file, we will have counted the votes and everybody will have moved on.”
Shew said if the political action committee were running advertisements that specifically advocated for or against a candidate, they would have to file reports prior to the election, just like the candidates are required to do. But since the PACs are advocating and opposing an issue — not a candidate — the law doesn’t require them to file prior to the election.
I suppose the PACs could choose to file reports prior to the Nov. 4 election on their own volition, but they aren’t required to do so. I haven’t asked either group whether it plans to do so.
Following the money matters to some voters and likely doesn’t to others. The biggest question I’ve heard surrounding the money issue is whether the vote yes group is being supported by individuals who stand to personally benefit from the project, such as architects, consultants and building contractors. Not that there is anything wrong with that. They have as much right to support an issue as anyone else, but it is information some voters want to have. Seeing who is opposing the issue also could be enlightening.
As for the law behind all of this, Shew said it is not new. He said the problems of the law have been pointed out before but it would require an action of the state Legislature to change the current requirements.
• To lease or buy? I know that is always the question at our home, especially when it comes to the chocolate fountain. (We lease because with any piece of equipment that is running 22 hours a day, you have to guard against maintenance costs.) City Hall officials have that same question too, and at tonight’s meeting they’re going to give leasing a try when it comes to a key part of the city’s vehicle fleet.
City commissioners are set to approve a three-year lease agreement with Shawnee Mission Ford to lease seven new Ford Explorers for the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical department. The city will spend about $71,500 a year for the vehicle leases. Over the course of the three-year period, the city will spend about $215,000 for the vehicles, which is about $10,500 more than the city would have spent if it bought the vehicles at their $29,075 purchase price.
At the end of the lease period, the city can buy the vehicles for $1 each. City officials said the lease doesn’t include any mileage penalties or other such penalties. Staff members are recommending approval of the lease agreement as part of the city’s efforts to study whether leasing versus buying makes more sense for the city’s vehicle fleet.
As for the vehicles, they are replacing a mix of SUVs and sedans that range in age from 1999 to 2006 and have between 52,000 and 111,000 miles.
Sponsor found for downtown Christmas parade; city plans for Winter Wonder Weekend; downtown shops to again hand out Halloween candy; construction set for industrial park
I don’t know about you, but my idea of a Winter Wonder Weekend in Lawrence would be Bill Self making me a steaming hot batch of biscuits and gravy, Big Jay and Little Jay shoveling my driveway and a new 12-volt battery for my heated long johns. I’m not sure that’s what organizers have in mind, but Lawrence residents should get ready for a Winter Wonder Weekend this holiday season.
The organizers of the Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade are providing some details about how the parade will be part of a larger effort to attract more visitors to downtown Lawrence. The parade will serve as the kickoff event for the Lawrence Winter Wonder Weekend. I’m still gathering some details, but according to Elaine VanDeventer, one of the organizers of the parade, the Lawrence Public Library, the Lawrence Arts Center and the Watkins Community Museum of History all will be hosting special events during the weekend. How special are they? Well, they’ll be designed so you can drop your kids off, and go have fun in downtown Lawrence without your son or daughter slipping something in your hot chocolate that causes you to pass out with an open wallet in the downtown toy shop. That is special indeed.
VanDeventer said Downtown Lawrence Inc. is spearheading the event and is working to organize all sorts of extra activities to keep people in downtown longer. Preliminarily, those plans include plenty of opportunities for visitors to see Santa Claus, hear holiday carolers and take a whirl on the city’s new outdoor ice skating rink next to the Lawrence Public Library. VanDeventer said plans also call for old-fashioned horse-drawn wagon rides in South Park from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. following the parade.
But the fun gets started at 11 a.m. on Dec. 6. That’s when the Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade will begin its march down Massachusetts Street. I’ve heard some of you were concerned that the popular parade wasn’t going to be around this year, but that was never the case. As we reported in July, the parade was looking for a new major sponsor, but the lack of a sponsor never threatened this year’s parade. It was creating worry for future years, however.
Well, since that time, an anonymous donor has stepped forward to provide a significant gift to the parade, which traditionally has about 70 teams of horses and carriages, and attracts several thousand visitors to downtown. The donor has made the gift through the Lawrence Arts Center, so look for this year’s parade to also help spread the word about the many programs and activities that are underway at the downtown arts center.
VanDeventer said the donor has made a three-year commitment to the parade, which she said will really allow organizers to focus on hosting a great parade rather than trying to raise funds to simply cover costs.
“We’re tickled to death with how everything has come together,” VanDeventer said.
So, go ahead and mark your calendars for Dec. 6, and plan to stay a little longer than normal. And plan to give me a helping hand if you see me moving a little slow. Twelve-volt batteries are heavy.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we are mentioning downtown items, here is a quick one: Downtown Lawrence Inc. has announced that the tradition of downtown businesses handing out candy for Halloween will continue. Most businesses will begin handing out candy at 5 p.m. on Halloween, which of course is on Friday. The event lasts as long as the candy lasts, which can go pretty quickly because usually several hundred kids come to downtown for trick-or-treat.
• Look for some construction to begin in one of Lawrence’s industrial parks. Plans have been filed for about $500,000 worth of work to begin at the southeast corner of North Iowa Street and Packer Court. In case you can’t quite picture that location, it is basically across the street from O’Malley Beverage, the area Budweiser distributor.
Those of you who have used the vacant lot to hide and hope for product to fall off the Budweiser trucks will have to find a new location. The approximately 3-acre lot will house a maintenance shop for a growing property maintenance company, and also will include 40 self-storage units that will be open to the public.
E-State Management, which owns Northwinds, Crosswinds and Windgate apartments in Lawrence, is building a new maintenance shop for its operations. The new facility will allow the company to also expand its services, said Clay Kucza, a manager with E-State. He said the company plans to start offering maintenance services to other apartments and businesses in the area. The new facility, he said, should allow the company to add several maintenance employees in the future. Look for construction work to begin this fall.
National chain Pinot’s Palette signs deal for west Lawrence space; a new resolution related to police HQ; examining the city’s math on proposed sales tax
Despite that unfortunate incident with a step ladder, a half gallon of fandango pink and the kitchen ceiling, I still believe that a bottle of wine improves most painting jobs. A new business slated for Lawrence agrees.
The national franchise Pinot’s Palette has signed a deal to open a Lawrence location in a shopping center at Sixth and Wakarusa. The business is part of a relatively new breed of entertainment establishments: the paint and drink venue. An evening at Pinot’s Palette involves participating in an instructor-led class on how to create a painting on canvas. During the class, you are allowed to drink some wine and socialize with friends. (Parts of that sound like my experience at an art history class at a university that I’m legally not allowed to mention the name of anymore.) At the end of the experience, you’ll have a work of art you can take home to hang in the living room, or perhaps in the hallway closet, depending on how much wine you’ve had.
The business will be next door to Johnny’s West in the shopping center on the southwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. It will go into a space formerly occupied by a dental office, and will be next to the new Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which is currently renovating vacant space in the center.
Olathe resident Victoria White and her husband, Waylon, are opening up the Pinot’s Palette in Lawrence. White said she went to a Pinot’s Palette in Leawood and fell in love with the concept.
“I’m not an artist, but I already have 15 paintings I’ve done,” she said.
The Lawrence location will be a franchise of the national Pinot’s Palette chain. The company got started in Houston in 2009 and has now spread to locations in more than 30 states. According to its website, the company has or is opening Kansas locations in Leawood, Prairie Village and Wichita.
White said she hopes to have the business open by January.
Each painting session at Pinot’s Palette lasts two to three hours and is expected to cost $35 to $45, White said. In addition to catering to a night out with friends, the establishment will offer private parties, corporate outings and classes geared toward kids.
White said she believes the concept will go over well in Lawrence because of the city’s love of art and creativity. Love of wine also won’t hurt. The business will allow patrons to bring their own bottles of wine and also will sell wine by the glass and nonalcoholic beverages on site, in case you have forgotten to bring your own, White said.
Indeed, the concept has some legs in Lawrence. A similar establishment called Painted Kanvas operates just up the street in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. I wrote about that business back in January. We’ll see how the two compete. (Perhaps this is how Van Gogh really lost his ear: Dueling paint bars.) Regardless, West Lawrence residents should have plenty of opportunities to hang custom art above the mantel.
In other news and notes from around town:
• At their meeting on Tuesday city commissioners will have an odd resolution up for approval related to the proposed police headquarters project. The resolution has an interesting back-story that involves a city commissioner uttering the word “asinine.”
First, the resolution: It basically states that the City Commission “intends, at its discretion” to sell some excess property that the city owns in order to offset “some or all” of the $2.25 million the city will spend to buy the 47-acre Hallmark Cards site to house the proposed headquarters facility. If you remember, the city only needs about 15 acres for the police headquarters. But the city is buying the entire 47-acre site because it believes it is the best available location for the facility, and Hallmark won’t agree to sell the city a smaller amount of acreage. That has caused some voters to cry foul.
Tuesday’s resolution is kind of odd because it doesn’t commit the City Commission to do anything. It doesn’t commit a future City Commission to sell any property because the City Commission can’t compel a future City Commission to sell property. And indeed, it likely will be a future City Commission that makes most of the decisions on whether to sell city property. There is a City Commission election in April where three of the five seats on the commission will be up for election (the seats held by Dever, Riordan and Schumm.) Certainly, they all may get re-elected, but that is far from certain since it isn’t even known whether all three will seek re-election. A big selling decision will be whether to sell the police department’s existing Investigations and Training Center once a new headquarters building is completed. Any action to sell the building likely won’t happen until 18 to 24 months from now, when construction is completed on the headquarters.
Basically, this resolution just is a written document expressing what city commissioners already have said: They think the city should sell some property to offset the $2.25 million purchase price of the Hallmark site. The resolution mentions the Investigations and Training Center and surplus property at the Hallmark site specifically. It also mentions that other city property could be sold. I’ve been told property the city owns near the intersection of Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive also likely will be put on the market by the city.
The resolution highlights that there are no guarantees the city will sell the property, but it seems reasonable that it will, especially when it comes to the ITC building. If the city builds a new police headquarters building, it doesn’t have a police need for the ITC building any longer. I suppose the city could use the building for its long-talked-about “one-stop shop” for the planning department and the building permit division, which currently are in separate buildings. But I’ve heard no real talk of that location serving that need. I suppose the city could use the building to house its Municipal Court operations, which are currently in leased space. But I’ve also heard no real talk of that possibility.
So, why did the idea of this resolution come up? It dates back to last week’s City Commission meeting. At that meeting, Greg Robinson, a Lawrence attorney who has been one of the more vocal opponents of the proposed police sales tax proposal, spoke during the public comment section. He raised several concerns about the police headquarters plan, including that the city hadn’t made its case that the project was really about improving public safety, that the city wasn’t fully considering KU students to be residents of the city, and that nowhere does the ballot issue commit the city to sell any land or use the proceeds of any land sales to reduce the cost of the police headquarters project.
Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said he wanted to respond to some of Robinson’s comments, and then proceeded to say “Mr. Robinson continues to make asinine comments.” That sparked a complaint from Robinson that Farmer was out of line, and Mayor Mike Amyx reminded Farmer to address the comments in a way that was respectful of the individual. Farmer addressed several of Robinson’s comments, but the issue of whether the city could somehow give voters more assurances that it plans to sell city property to help offset the costs of the project received more discussion.
City Commissioner Mike Dever said he would be supportive of putting that intention in the form of a resolution so that future commissions would understand the thinking of the current commission.
So, hopefully that helps you understand why this resolution has ended up on the City Commission’s agenda.
• While we’re on the police headquarters topic, I’ve been getting questions from people wanting an explanation on how the city has determined that about 30 percent of sales tax revenues from this proposed tax would come from people who live outside the city limits.
The city has done some mathematical computations to come up with that number. I’ll do my best to explain them: The city looks at state figures that show the per capita sales tax collections for the state as a whole during the course of a year. That was $859 in 2013. It then compares Lawrence’s average per capita income with the state’s average per capita income. Lawrence’s per capita income is about 7 percent less than the statewide average. So, city officials make an assumption that Lawrence’s per capita sales tax collections should be about 7 percent less than the statewide average. That creates a per capita number of $801. The city calls that number Lawrence’s expected per capita sales tax. The city then looks at the actual amount of sales taxes collected per capita. That number was $913. The difference between the two is assumed to represent sales taxes that are collected from people who live outside of Lawrence. Out-of-town shoppers, in other words. If you do the math, however, that is about 14 percent, not the 30 percent the city has touted.
But the city makes one other key adjustment. It says that the city’s expected sales tax collections need to be adjusted downward to account for the amount of spending Lawrence residents do outside of Lawrence. You can’t assume Lawrence residents spend all their money in town. But how do you figure out how much they spend outside of town? The city is estimating 21.8 percent of all their purchases occur outside the city limits. The city gets that number from a KU survey of Lawrence consumers, but it is important to note that those survey results are from 1999. They’re now 15 years old, and it is tough to say whether they are still accurate. I do believe it is the most recent survey that tries to get at that number. Anyway, when you make that adjustment, the math does show that 31 percent of sales tax dollars come from people outside the city limits.
If you have read this explanation to the end, you deserve some type of ribbon. It is complicated stuff. I don’t have any problems with the city’s math. There probably are questions about the assumptions the city has made. For example, is it reasonable to believe that just because Lawrence’s average income is 7 percent less than the statewide average that Lawrence residents are going to spend 7 percent less on taxable items? Considering that food is a large part of what people pay sales taxes on, that may not be a reasonable assumption. But I don’t know. Is 21.8 percent the right number for out-of-town spending? I don’t know.
I think this is a good-faith effort on the city’s part to come up with a number, but it is a tough number to produce with any certainty. It is one of several issues that voters will have to figure out.
Green energy company to locate headquarters on 23rd Street; a Mangino yard sign; possible changes to how city deals with downtown races
Expect one stretch of 23rd Street to become a little greener. Don’t worry, Lawrence construction crews aren’t changing from orange cones to green ones. Instead, a growing green energy company is setting up its headquarters in a 23rd Street building and plans to use the prominent site to show off its solar and wind technology.
Lawrence-based Good Energy Solutions has signed a deal to locate in the former Diamond Cabinetry building at 641 E. 22nd St. Even though the business has a 22nd Street address, it basically has 23rd Street frontage. It is the building just east of the 23rd Street bridge that was recently rebuilt.
The company plans to put solar panels and solar canopies on the building, have a prominently displayed, solar-powered electric car charging station, and a residential scale wind turbine on the site, company officials told me.
But the big reason for the move was that the company was running out of space in its current location in the 2100 block of Carolina Street. In the last year, the company has grown to 12 full-time employees, up from four a year ago. The company’s revenues have quadrupled in the last year, said David Thiel, the company’s office manager.
Thiel said the price of solar panels have dropped significantly, which combined with some tax credits has made solar energy a feasible option for many residences. He said about 60 percent of the company’s sales now are on the residential side of the equation. He said some of the company’s customers are people who have had their eye on the solar movement for decades.
“It seems like people of a certain age finally have the money to purchase solar, and they are doing it now,” Thiel said.
The company also does wind energy projects and recently has expanded into the LED lighting business.
The company plans to move into its new offices in the coming days, and look for some of the improvements on the site in the coming weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is campaign season, and yard signs are thicker than the glazed icing on my breakfast this morning. It is easy to become confused with all of them, which is why I almost threw my support for governor to former KU football coach Mark Mangino. You can’t blame me. He does have a yard sign. I was driving on 19th Street the other day and saw a Mangino yard sign, and made a point to go back and take another look at it. You can see it below, but it basically is lobbying for Mangino to be re-installed as the head coach at KU, now that the position is open again.
I have no insight or particular opinion about that. I’ll leave that to the sports guys. But the sign idea, I thought was interesting. The city has sign codes, but the country also has a First Amendment that lets you express your opinion in a variety of ways. Maybe the sign idea will catch on with other important issues as well. World peace, social justice, the creation of an all-you-can-eat country buffet in Lawrence.
As for the Mangino sign, I don’t know if it is an actual movement. I’ve only seen the one sign. But maybe there are more I just haven’t seen them. (I think I could probably get several hundred signs up for the all-you-can eat country buffet, by the way, and probably even sponsorship from a cholesterol drug firm.) Where was this sign, you ask? Well, I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t in Lew Perkins’ yard. Instead it was in front of Silverback, a Lawrence business that organizes runs and other events across the country. It sets up a lot of the Color Runs around the country.
• Silverback and companies like it may have other issues than the KU football coaching search to keep an eye on. Lawrence city commissioners may have a debate about how they regulate the multitude of 5K races and such that occur in downtown Lawrence and across the city.
Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday approved a route and necessary permits for the upcoming Kansas Half Marathon, which will benefit Lawrence-based Health Care Access. Commissioners also agreed to donate the services of the Lawrence police and fire departments to help staff the event. That is expected to come at a cost of about $8,200.
It is fairly common for the city to donate those services if the event is a fundraiser for a charity. But City Commissioner Bob Schumm said he wants to have a broader discussion about that policy. He said he’s heard from several residents who have concerns that some of the races that are promoted as nonprofit events have a large profit component.
Health Care Access officials said that is not the case with their event. The race is expected to raise more than $35,000 in funding for the organization that provides health care to uninsured or under-insured. That’s more than half the expected $60,000 in entry fees the event is expected to generate. The difference between the $60,000 and the $35,000 is the expenses needed to put on the event, which is expected to draw up to 1,300 runners. Part of those expenses is paying the for-profit company Silverback to manage the course. That includes providing people to help control traffic along the course, mark the course, and do the other things required to have a safe event.
Health Care Access officials told city commissioners that it wouldn’t be possible for their small staff to put on the race without the help of a for-profit company like Silverback. City commissioners said they understand the need for professional assistance, but Schumm said he wants to ensure that races that are promoted as non-profit fundraisers really do return a substantial portion of all revenues to the nonprofit agency. He said that appears to be the case with Health Care Access’ event, and he voted in favor of the necessary permits for the event.
But he said he also wants commissioners to consider policy that would require any race seeking the city’s donation of services to provide an income statement to the city showing the total amount of revenue raised by the event, and the total amount of money the charity will received. Commissioners took no action on that request, but agreed to look at the issue near the end of the year when the city compiles a report on how much it has donated to these various races.
I’ll also be interested to see if that discussion sparks another discussion on whether the city will try to steer future events out of downtown and onto the extensive trail system that exists at Rock Chalk Park. The trail system would not require city police officers and others to provide traffic control. But I know many race organizers like having the events in downtown Lawrence because of the atmosphere it provides. Some businesses like it too, but there are several businesses who express concern that the street closures that come with the races hurt their normal weekend business.
City collects 50 tons of recycling on first day of new program; update on Sixth and Iowa; Lawrence’s impressive job numbers
Lawrence’s new curbside recycling program is off and running, and city officials are pleased with the first day’s haul. City crews collected 50 tons of material to be recycled on Tuesday, which was the first day of operations. (Yes, upon hearing that number I was nervous that my wife had somehow recycled my collection of beer cans and pizza boxes from KU’s magical championship run in 2008. But fear not, it is still there, and I’ve now put a wheel lock on the semi trailer in the back yard.)
Lawrence Public Works Director Chuck Soules said the Day 1 operations went well.
“The crews did a great job,” Soules said. “And that is 50 tons of trash that will not be going to the landfill.”
Soules said crews are asking residents for a bit of help, however, when it comes to setting out their blue recycling carts. The city is asking residents to place their recycling cart at least two feet away from their green trash carts. In many neighborhoods, the city uses automated trucks that use a robotic arm to pick up the containers. If the containers are too close together, the arm cannot grasp the container.
The city hasn’t touted a lot of numbers about how much material they expect to collect as part of the program. But when the city was designing the program last year, it used a working number of 5,000 tons per year, according to some old memos I dug up. (I keep the memos in a separate semi-trailer.) If the 50 tons per day rate continues — that’s a big if because we’ve only seen one day’s worth of data — the city would more than double that 5,000 ton projection.
It is possible that Lawrence residents may end up recycling more than 50 tons per day. After all, the city takes about 60,000 tons of trash to the landfill in a year. In fact, if the city wants to meet one of its goals, it may need to recycle more than 50 tons a day. City commissioners have adopted a goal of having a 50 percent recycling rate by the year 2020.
Figuring out how much we need to recycle at the curb to reach that total can be tricky because we’re not just talking about trash when we are talking about recycling. The tons and tons of material the city collects through its yard waste program also are counted toward the city’s recycling rate.
Bottomline, I’ve taken my shoes off and I still can’t do the math on how much we need to recycle to meet that 50 percent recycling goal. But what little bit of arithmetic I did do on the subject indicates such a a rate is in the realm of possibility. The city in 2010 estimated it had a recycling rate of 38 percent, which was above the national average of about 34 percent. That was without a citywide, curbside recycling program. A lot of the recycling was the yard waste, and to be fair, there were some questions of whether the city’s method for estimating yard waste collections inflated the totals.
Regardless, it will be interesting to watch the numbers in the months that follow. We should have a good idea of just how much the city is recycling, and whether we can meet our goal of becoming one of the more recycling-friendly communities in the country.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The end is in sight for the road construction project at Sixth and Iowa streets. But motorists may want to avoid the intersection this weekend while crews do some paving work at the site.
On Friday evening, crews will begin milling the intersection, and that is going to create a major traffic issue. Crews will have to close Iowa Street where it connects to Sixth Street. Traffic will continue to be allowed on Sixth Street, but motorists won’t be able to turn onto Iowa Street. Motorists on Iowa Street won’t be allowed to turn onto Sixth Street. The work is expected to begin around 7 p.m. and be done by 10 p.m., Soules said.
On Saturday morning, paving work will begin. During paving, Iowa Street access will be closed just like it was for the milling work. That work is expected to take place throughout the day on Saturday. Some work will continue on Monday, but the Iowa/Sixth Street connection should be restored by then.
In case you have forgotten, the main purpose of the project was to add a left-turn lane on Sixth Street for westbound motorists wanting to turn onto Iowa Street. Longtime motorists understand why this lane will be useful. You are driving on Sixth Street, minding your own business, day dreaming about KU basketball ball, Free State beer and ways to combine the two perhaps using a large screen TV and a sanitized Jacuzzi. Then, bam, you open your eyes and realize you are in the left lane of Sixth Street even though you want to continue to go straight through the intersection. You stop and spend approximately 23 minutes waiting behind the yahoo in the F150 pickup truck with a U-Haul trailer waiting to turn onto Iowa Street so he can pick up his daily supply of doughnuts from the fine purveyors at Ninth and Iowa Streets. We’ve all been there, right?
Well, by early next week, a left-turn lane should be in place and operational, city officials tell me. The intersection also will have some new right-turn lanes, new striping and other things you’ll want to pay attention to. So, at least for the next few days, keep your eyes open.
• As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday (@clawhorn_ljw) Lawrence in August 2014 had the highest job growth rate of any metro area in the U.S. The numbers come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a group by the name of Talent Tribune took the time to rank the top 10 metro areas for the month.
Lawrence finished first with a 5.9 percent increase in jobs compared to August 2013. During the one-year period, the numbers show the Lawrence metro area (which is Douglas County) added 2,800 jobs. Lawrence was slightly better than Midland, Texas, which grew by 5.6 percent.
The numbers from the BLS are preliminary, so they may get revised at a later date. But as I reported earlier this month, an economist at Wichita State also had pointed out that Lawrence’s job numbers seemed to be on a rebound. So, it is definitely something to watch for.
I chatted with chamber president and CEO Larry McElwain about the numbers, and to his credit, he wasn’t unfurling the Mission Accomplished banner just yet. It is just one month of numbers, after all.
“I still have caution on those numbers,” McElwain said. “I want to make sure they are good jobs and not just temporary jobs. I want to make sure they are jobs that meet the needs of our residents, and not just minimum wage or slightly above.”
It is tough to point to what may have led to an increase of 2,800 jobs in the last year. But it is likely a couple of major employers have added to the totals. If you remember, Hallmark cards did some major reorganizing of its production plants in the region. Lawrence’s production plant ended up being a winner in that process. We reported in March 2013 that Hallmark expected to add about 200 jobs to its Lawrence plant during the course of 2013. That number may have grown some even, I’m told.
General Dynamics, which operates the former NCS/Pearson call center in East Hills also has been adding jobs. In September, we reported that General Dynamics may be adding about 400 jobs for a customer service contract related to the Affordable Care Act. Whether some new General Dynamics jobs started showing up in August, I don’t know.
Part of it just may be pent-up demand by hundreds of small businesses in the area. Lawrence has not grown jobs at the same type of pace several other communities have over the last few years. Lawrence companies may finally just be feeling that they are on a firmer footing and are now expanding. It will be interesting to watch the numbers that come out in the next few months. But for the time being, we can tout that our job growth rate is better than everybody else’s, if even just for a month. Here’s a look at how other area communities fared during August 2014.
— Manhattan: 2.8 percent
— Topeka: 1.7 percent
— Wichita: 1.2 percent
— Kansas City: 0.5 percent.
— Kansas as a whole: 1.1 percent
Reduced parking plan for apartments may have uphill battle; nearly 80 percent of rental inspections finding violations; a powerful video about a Lawrence fire
Just a note to whoever is making the decision about who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Kauffman Stadium tonight: I’m warmed up and have pin-point control. It is not even 10 a.m. yet, and I’ve already hit my Royal blue shirt with nacho cheese sauce, my Royal blue tie with mustard, and my Royal blue foam finger with relish. Absent that last-minute call from the K, however, I’ll be at the Lawrence City Commission meeting, where commissioners may end up involved in a big game as well.
The future of a proposed $75 million apartment/retail building across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium may hinge on whether commissioners grant the Chicago-based development group an exception from the city’s parking regulations. The group wants to reduce the amount of parking for the 237-unit apartment complex by 100 spaces. New information suggests the group may have an uphill battle to win approval.
City Commissioner Terry Riordan told me Monday afternoon that he has some concerns about granting the parking exception. It is difficult to see how the project can win approval without Riordan’s support. Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Bob Schumm have been pretty firm in their opposition to the parking request.
“I’m very sensitive to parking,” said Riordan, who lives in the Oread neighborhood. “I wanted to hear something that said our present regulations are too restrictive. I haven’t heard that yet. If we make a mistake and allow too little parking, that will be forever.”
We’ve been over all this before. Several neighbors are opposed to the request, citing concerns the reduced parking will push more vehicles into the already crowded Oread neighborhood. The development group, HERE LLC, has cited statistics from KU that show only about 60 to 70 percent of students who live on campus bring a vehicle to school with them. Developers say they are expecting that statistic to hold true in their development. Others aren’t so sure that residents of the luxury-style apartments will come to Lawrence without a car.
Riordan lives next door to an apartment complex in Oread. It is within walking distance to the university, and he hasn’t seen evidence that 30 percent of those residents don’t have vehicles.
“Next door to me they have three or four spots open at the most, and most of the time it is full,” Riordan said of the parking lot. “And I’ve never seen a kid take public transportation from there.”
The development group has said the reduced parking standards are “vital” to the future of the project. At last report, the development hadn’t secured financing, despite the city agreeing to give the apartment project — which also includes about 13,000 square feet of retail — an 85 percent, 10-year property tax rebate.
That may be the game city commissioners find themselves playing: Will this project get built if commissioners deny the parking request? How much will the city lose if it doesn’t get built? What will be the consequences of reducing the city’s parking standards?
“I think I would rather err on the side of building too much parking and hope they still build the project anyway. I do think it could be a great project.”
There is one large caveat to all of this: Riordan could still change his mind. He said he’ll be on the lookout for information that could sway his opinion Tuesday night.
So, as they say in the baseball business, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings. (A note to Kauffman Stadium officials in charge of finding the fat lady for tonight’s game: I think I could pull that off too.)
As a reminder, tonight’s meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. instead of its normal 6:35 p.m. start time.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City politics recently have been so dominated by the plan for a new police headquarters building that it has been easy to forget that commissioners passed a politically divisive piece of legislation just months ago: rental licensing.
The rental licensing program is up and running, and we’re starting to get some of our first numbers back from City Hall. The program began conducting inspections and issuing licenses in August. Inspectors have been finding violations.
Through September, the city has conducted 43 initial inspections of apartments, and 34 of them have found violations. In other words, nearly 80 percent of all the apartments the city has inspected thus far have had violations that must be fixed before the apartment can receive a city license. In total, the city found 133 violations in those 43 apartments.
Thus far, the top violations are faulty smoke alarms (50); faulty GFCI receptacles (27); faulty outlet covers (18); faulty windows (13); and faulty plumbing fixtures (9).
The report indicates that landlords have done a good job in fixing the problems. Through September, 24 of the 26 units had fixed all their violations.
I plan to check in with landlords in the coming days to find out their thoughts on how the program is working and provide you a more detailed report. If you are one of the landlords who have been through the inspection process, feel free to reach out to me.
• I don’t spend a lot of time watching videos online. I only recently figured out how to really work my VCR, so I’ve been catching up on a lot of "Cosby Show" episodes I have taped. But there is one online video I watched recently, and it was produced by the city of Lawrence. It tells the story of Brianne Goldston, who survived a brutal house fire that occurred last June in the Oread neighborhood. If you get time, you should watch it because her story is a powerful one.
At one point she tells how she was lying in the hallway of her multistory home thinking how crazy it was that she was going to die in this fire. She talks about how the scenes you see on TV of people running through a fire or even through a large plume of smoke are such Hollywood fiction. She describes how the smoke feels just like the fire. It is super hot and will burn your lungs, and suck the life right out of you. She talks about how the smoke alarms in this house didn’t work they way they were supposed to. And she urged everyone to plan ahead. Take a moment before a fire starts to figure out how you would get out of your home.
The video is on the city’s Web site, and I plan to show it to my kids and wife, and then take a simple five minutes to go over how to open windows or access other escape routes in my house.
If I could just get my hair to grow like famed boxing promoter Don King, I think I could put together a heck of a rumble here in Lawrence. Picture this: Ronald McDonald, the Taco Bell Chihuahua, and his majesty the Burger King squaring off in the middle of 23rd and Iowa streets. It would be a fast-food rumble in a slow-lane intersection. I’m not sure such an event is going to happen, but there are signs that the battle for the local fast-food dollar is heating up.
Last week we told you about plans for the McDonald’s on south Iowa Street to temporarily close while it adds a double drive-thru lane and gets an interior remodel. And we’ve been talking for months about the complete makeover of the Burger King near Sixth and Maine streets. Now, we have information about a major remodel for one of Taco Bell’s locations in Lawrence.
Everything but the drive-thru is currently closed at the Taco Bell at 1408 W. 23rd St. Crews are undertaking a complete remodeling of the lobby and the exterior of the building. For the time being, drive-thru service is still available, but a manager at the restaurant said the drive-thru also will be shut down in a few weeks in order to complete the rest of the remodel.
Work began last week, and crews are expected to take another six to seven weeks to complete the lobby renovations, said Linda Smith, a manager at the restaurant. She said work then will move to renovating the kitchen, which likely will take another six weeks or so. During that time, the restaurant will be closed.
“It is going to look fantastic when it is done,” Smith said. “It will be really flashy. A lot of neon.”
The major remodel comes just a couple of months after Chipotle opened a new restaurant that is basically next door to the Taco Bell. Can you say Burrito Brouhaha? (Don’t feel bad. It took me weeks before I mastered the Spanish language.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• I actually have been tangentially involved in herding buffalo before, and I can say that process is similar to trying to find out when the new Buffalo Wild Wings on south Iowa Street is going to open. As we have reported several times, the new building being constructed at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets will house a Buffalo Wild Wings. Before you get out your mega-size wet wipes, though, it is important to note the entire building won’t be occupied by Buffalo Wild Wings. There will be space for two other businesses. We’ve reported a tanning salon is taking one of the spaces, and the other space is still searching for a tenant.
A sign has emerged on the site saying Buffalo Wild Wings is “opening soon” at the south Iowa Street location. I have been calling a Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson for a few weeks, but I haven’t had any luck in getting a more specific timeline. An employee at the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings, however, did confirm that the downtown location will close. I think we all expected that, but the company had been pretty mum on that part of the project as well. That will leave a large space in downtown in search of a tenant. I’ll keep my ears open on that one.
If you remember long ago, I reported that there may be another wing player entering the Lawrence market, and it would have a connection to a famous wing on a past KU basketball team. About this time last year, we reported that Keith Langford’s family was posting messages on Facebook that it had been approved by the national franchise Wing Stop to open a restaurant here. I haven’t had much luck in contacting the Langfords about that possibility, but in the past few months, I have heard from others that the idea still has some legs to it.
• Thus far we have mentioned Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King and chicken wings. In my relentless effort to promote a healthy lifestyle, I’ll now talk about a half-marathon. City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider granting the necessary permits for Lawrence-based Silverback Enterprises and Health Care Access to host the 2014 Kansas Half Marathon and 5K run on Nov. 2.
The marathon route would begin at Watson Park in downtown and would travel along Massachusetts Street from about Seventh Street to 15th Street. It will travel along 11th Street to get back to downtown and will use one lane of Sixth Street near City Hall to get to the Kansas River bridges. The route then will continue into North Lawrence, using a combination of residential streets and the Kansas River levee. The route will end at Watson Park.
The 5K route will use Seventh Street to get into East Lawrence and will use portions of Eighth, Delaware and 11th streets before returning to Watson Park.
The event will create some lane closures and traffic delays while runners are on the course. The event is expected to run from about 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Last year, the event sparked some concern from downtown churches that had some problems with Sunday morning parking. According to a letter from Health Care Access, the group is working to better notify churches of possible impacts this year.
We’ll see if commissioners have any concerns about the race. One issue they will have to decide is whether to donate some city services for the event. The race will need assistance from the fire and police departments. The city has billed some events for the time spent by police and fire at these races, but this event is a major fundraiser for Health Care Access. The city has donated the time of the police and fire departments for some events that have been nonprofit fundraisers. The fire department is estimating it will spend about $2,200 staffing the event. The police department estimates it will spend about $6,000 staffing the event.
Commissioners meet at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
Proposed buyer of Turnhalle building still looking for a tenant; McDonald’s on South Iowa to close for remodel; World Series produces change-up at City Hall
I’ve had a few plans based on beer, bowling and gymnastics (I still contend the tumble I took in the ninth frame was gymnastics.) But I’ve never had a business plan based on the trio. Apparently others haven’t either, and that’s bad news for fans of the Turnhalle building, the 1869 building at Ninth and Rhode Island streets.
If you remember, the Turnhalle building has one of the more unique histories in Lawrence. It is believed to be the oldest community building in Lawrence, and it was built by a German-American social organization called the Turnverein. The club used the basement of the building for a beer garden and a bowling alley, while the main floor frequently was used for gymnastics. The club’s members were required to do a certain amount of gymnastics.
In July, Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich reached a tentative deal to purchase the Turnhalle building from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, which previously had bought the building because it was badly deteriorating. But the deal was contingent on Krsnich finding a use for the building. Thus far, Krsnich’s search hasn’t been successful, and the time period for Krsnich to find a use for the building has expired. But Krsnich said he and the LPA have extended the contract to give more time for potential users to emerge. He expects to keep looking until mid-November.
“If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down in flames because the building deserves to be saved,” Krsnich said.
Krsnich said he’s heard a lot of ideas for the building. The idea of a beer garden and an old-time bowling alley in the basement is an intriguing one, he said. The idea of a restaurant is a good one. Event or theater space also could be successful. Simply using the space for a professional office could be workable as well, he said. But Krsnich said thus far the ideas mainly have come from people who have good ideas for what the building could become, but no real desire to open a business in the space.
He said he’s now extending his search to include Kansas City companies, and he’s also willing to transfer his contract to purchase the property over to any local nonprofit agency who may be looking for space.
“If there is a nonprofit who wants to own it, I would assign the contract to them and teach them everything I know about tax credits and work with them as a consultant,” Krsnich said.
Krsnich is estimating that the building needs about $1 million worth of repairs and renovation to make the building viable as commercial space.
Krsnich, who is the developer behind the popular Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, said he’s still holding out hope that an entrepreneur with a viable plan will emerge. He notes that the Ninth Street corridor that Turnhalle is located on will undergo a major revitalization. The street was selected for a national ArtPlace grant to transform the street into a platform for public art and a variety of visual and performance arts.
“That project is going to turn Ninth Street into the most interesting street in Lawrence, and really well beyond,” Krsnich said. “Somebody is going to wish someday that they did something with the Turnhalle building. Now is the time.”
Krsnich said he’s working to develop another public forum to solicit more ideas for the building. He said that event likely will be in the next couple of weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep your eyes open for more development in Krsnich’s Warehouse Arts District. He told me he is close to signing a deal for an operator to open a bistro in the small building that is just west of the popular Poehler Lofts building. The bistro concept has been in the works for several months, but Krsnich said he believes a deal is near. Krsnich said he also has plans to open another art gallery in one of the old buildings along Pennsylvania Street. I’ll bring you more details on those projects as they become available.
• Do not panic. I repeat, do not panic. The McDonald's on South Iowa Street is not going out of business. But it will be closing for a few weeks, while it undergoes a significant renovation. The Dobski family, the Lawrence-based owners of the area’s McDonald’s franchise, have filed plans to build a side-by-side double drive-thru lane at the location, 3241 Iowa St. Plans also call for new seating and decor, and an extended front counter.
The restaurant will close on Monday and is expected to be closed for at least two weeks. The restaurant, which opened in December 2000, is expected to have grand reopening festivities near Thanksgiving.
• Do not panic, do not panic, take two. I know you all have been torn about whether you will go to Tuesday night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting or watch Game 1 of the World Series, featuring the Kansas City Royals. Well, city commissioners are trying to allow you to have your cake and eat it too. They have moved the start time of the World Series game. No, no. They didn’t do that. But they have moved the start time for the City Commission meeting to 5:30 p.m., instead of the normal 6:35 p.m. The World Series is scheduled to begin at 7:07 p.m. There are a couple of items on this week’s agenda that are expected to produce public comment. They include the temporary closure of a portion of the 800 block of New Hampshire Street and a request for reduced parking standards for the proposed HERE apartment complex near Memorial Stadium.
The earlier start date certainly is a welcome development for us Royals fans. I, of course, will be at the City Commission meeting. But to be safe, I likely will bring my roller grill full of bratwursts and my 55-gallon drum of nacho cheese sauce. And my giant foam finger, which come to think of it, would probably come in handy at most City Commission meetings.
City solidifies plans for downtown ice rink; Kansas ranks well in student debt measure; and a Royal day
I may or may not have said when the Royals reach the World Series I’ll do a figure skating routine in a blue, sequin-studded leotard. My son is checking the tape for that and other statements. (I was not aware he had wiretapped the house, but now it makes a lot more sense why he read all those Nixon memoirs as a toddler.) Regardless, I do have news about the city’s plans for an ice skating rink in downtown.
Leaders with the city’s parks and recreation department recently said they are confident the ice rink will be open for business by Nov. 28, which is the Friday after Thanksgiving. If you remember, the ice rink will be a temporary attraction that will be built in the plaza area between the library and the city’s parking garage.
Crews will begin building a temporary plywood platform for the artificial ice to rest upon. The designated area will be the top tier of the library plaza, which is the tier closest to Vermont Street. The city plans to rent skates for $3 per pair. The city plans to require people to rent skates from the city rather than bring their own skates. Jimmy Gibbs, the parks and recreation manager overseeing the project, said that’s because skates need to be very sharp to operate properly on the artificial ice surface. The city is concerned skaters would bring dull skates to the rink, and would be disassitified with the experience. There is an advantage to using the city’s skates. They’ll be the ski boot type that have latches that allow users to easily put the skates on and take them off.
“There won’t be the 15 feet of shoe-laces you have to mess with,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the $3 rental fee will allow users to skate as long as they would like. The city will have skates for all ages, he said.
I’m still checking on the hours that the rink will be open, but look for the ice rink to be a part of the downtown lighting ceremony that takes place on Nov. 28. Parks and recreation officials said they have ordered extra lights to decorate the the plaza area of the library, including a couple of large snowflakes and a string of lights that will hang above the rink. (There you go. It probably will be impossible for me to do my figure skating routine. I don’t want to get tangled up in the beautiful lights when I do my jumps.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• As my family busily compiles the list of everything I said I would do if the Royals make the World Series, I’m beginning to worry about how to finance all of this. (However, I’m almost certain I didn’t say I would add a wing to the house for shoes, purses and bulk chocolate, although that would save us on storage unit rental fees.) Regardless, maybe I should try to figure out how I could use a student loan to do all this. A new study says Kansas is one of the better states in the country to have a student loan.
The financial Web site WalletHub has conducted a study that finds Kansas is the 7th best state in the country to have student debt. What it means by “best” are states where students feel less pain from their student debts.
The study looked at several factors, including amount of debt per student, number of loans past due, the unemployment rate for young people, and how student debt averages compared to average incomes in the state. Kansas didn’t top any of those categories, but it was better than average in almost all of them.
The average amount of student debt in Kansas ranked as the 17th lowest in the country. The state’s unemployment rate for people ages 25 to 34 was the 13th lowest in the country. The amount of student debt as a percentage of average incomes in the state was the 10th lowest in the country. Those are all pretty positive numbers for the state, and more particularly positive for Lawrence, where education is our largest industry. No one likes how much debt students are having to take on these days, but it should be an advantage for KU if it can point to numbers that show students have less debt here, and that the state provides a good environment to comfortably pay it off.
In case you are curious, Utah was the best-ranked state,and Nebraska was the lone Plains state to finish higher than Kansas. It finished 5th. Rhode Island ranked last in the survey.
• A quick reminder that the city is hosting a forum tonight (Thursday) to discuss issues surrounding the 0.2 percent sales tax proposal to pay for a police headquarters. The forum, which will feature the police chief, is set from 7 to 8 p.m. at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Massachusetts St. The chief will make a presentation and answer questions.
• In case you hadn’t heard, the Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series. This column is called Town Talk, and that is what the town is talking about today, but I don’t normally write about sports. I hope you’ll pardon the detour.
It would be easy to say I’ve been a Royals fan my entire life, but it probably would be more accurate to say I’ve been one since 1980. I remember George Brett standing with his arms raised at second base when he topped the .400 mark. I remember his blast into the upper deck in Yankee Stadium. For some reason, I vividly remember standing outside our barn with my father after the Royals clinched the A.L. pennant in 1980, and I just kept telling him I couldn’t believe we were finally going to the World Series. I remember a lot more conversations with my grandmother, who was the real baseball fan in the family. Still is. She’ll soon turn 95, and she has put in some late nights during these playoffs.
Of course, I remember 1985 well. I was in junior high. My son today is in junior high. That’s the thought I had Wednesday as I literally jumped up and down in my driveway after hearing Denny make the final call. Someone shot off fireworks within 30 seconds of the final out. (Yes, my neighborhood has a ready supply of fireworks at all times.) My son ran out of the basement TV room about the time the echo of the firecrackers had subsided. He’ll remember this day.
Despite 29 years of evidence to the contrary, the circle really does remain unbroken.
I know we’re all busy wearing 1985 sports memorabilia, urging our mullets to return, and watching baseball on a 25-inch Zenith TV to recreate the environment of the last time the Kansas City Royals went to that big event that rhymes with Hurled Theories. (No true Royals fan should yet utter its real name for fear of a jinx.) But perhaps we all can take a brief break for a juicy piece of speculation: Sam’s Club is interested in building a store in Lawrence.
Talk of Sam’s Club — the wholesale shopping club run by Wal-Mart — certainly has been the quiet talk in certain real estate circles around town. I’ve been told that the development group that is proposing a major new retail area southeast of the Iowa Street and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange has told city officials that Sam’s Club has expressed a very serious interest in locating at the proposed shopping center.
Now, take that for whatever you think it is worth. The point man for the North Carolina-based development group hasn’t yet talked to me about Sam’s Club. But I’m confident information about Sam’s Club’s interest has been relayed to city officials. So, what’s next? I’m not sure, but there are several questions that arise:
— Would a Sam’s Club ease some City Hall opposition to the proposed retail area south of the trafficway? If you remember, the planning commission narrowly recommended denial of the proposed retail project, and city commissioners have not yet formally acted on the planning commission’s recommendation. That appears to be because there have not been three votes on the City Commission to approve the development. I’m not sure whether a Sam’s Club would change their thinking. Sam’s Club certainly would be a new retailer to Lawrence, and a new category of retailer as well. The city doesn’t have a wholesale club, and there are Lawrence residents who leave town to go shop at wholesale clubs. It also seems to be the type of retailer that would attract out-of town shoppers. No, folks from Topeka or Kansas City aren’t going to come to Lawrence to shop at Sam’s. But it seems to me that has never been the goal of this proposed shopping center. When it talks about drawing out-of-town shoppers, I think it means shoppers from smaller, secondary markets, not Topeka and Kansas City. If this development causes people in Ottawa to shop in Lawrence instead of Overland Park, then that’s a win for Lawrence.
— Can the development group deliver on bringing a Sam’s Club to the site? Sam’s Club obviously hasn’t signed any lease to come to the shopping center. The shopping center doesn’t exist, so neither do leases for it. But retailers have been known to put in writing their intentions to come to a site. I don’t know if Sam’s has done that yet. Have other retailers? Previously, the development group publicly announced that Academy Sports, Ulta Beauty, Old Navy, Designer Shoe Warehouse and Marshalls/Home Goods all had said they want to come to the shopping center. But I think city officials were leery of whether all those deals really would come to fruition. We’ll see if the development group has come up with a way to convince city officials that the interest is real.
— What about northwest Lawrence? If you remember, a good portion of the opposition from City Hall on this project has been based on concerns that this southern shopping center would make it difficult for an already-approved shopping district near Rock Chalk Park to develop. The area around Rock Chalk Park has been approved for several years, but hasn’t yet attracted retailers. City commissioners have indicated they wanted to give that project more time. Is Sam’s Club also interested in northwest Lawrence? The people I’ve talked to said they haven’t heard that Sam’s Club is interested in northwest Lawrence. Maybe Sam’s is interested, and that word just hasn’t begun to spread yet. I don’t know. What is clear is that several retailers have chosen South Iowa Street over the northwest area. Think Menards, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Petsmart, to name three. Thus far, retailers really have wanted to be close to the other retailers on South Iowa Street rather than doing the hard work to be a pioneer in a new northwest Lawrence shopping district. If Sam’s Club comes out and says it only is interested in the South Lawrence site, will that change the city’s thinking on waiting for the northwest to develop?
— What about politics? This south-of-the-trafficway development is heating up just weeks before the Nov. 4 sales tax election for the police headquarters issue. Those two issues certainly can be linked, if politicos want to link them. The city is betting heavily on increased sales tax revenues to pay for a future police headquarters facility. To fund the headquarters under the city’s current plan, it needs voters to not only approve the new 0.2 percent sales tax, but it also needs retail sales in the city to grow by about 2 percent a year for about the next decade. If the sales tax gets approved and the retail sales don’t grow by that amount, the most likely outcome is that commissioners will either have to cut the city’s budget elsewhere or increase property taxes to make up the difference. A 2 percent growth rate isn’t unreasonable, with or without the south-of-the-trafficway development. But the development group previously has produced estimates that show the development could provide a nice boost to to the city’s sales tax collections. These numbers come from the developer and need further vetting, but the group is estimating a $1.1 million increase in city sales tax collections in 2016-2017 and $2.1 million a year by 2020. Again, the numbers need more vetting, but if true, that development alone would pay for more than half of the police headquarters project. It will be interesting to see whether developers try to get a hearing on this project with the City Commission prior to the Nov. 4 elections. It will be interesting to see if the City Commission will allow it to be scheduled before the election.
There are more questions than answers right now, but the project basically has been in limbo since July. Based on the e-mails and questions I’m getting, the public is ready for some answers.
Apartments winning out over single-family homes, report shows; city delays vote on HERE proposal; another project to reduce traffic flow on Iowa Street
I thought this year was going to be the year. (No, not the year that the Coach purse store released the lien from the house. A snazzy red “fall” purse ended that dream recently.) I’m talking about the year that Lawrence builders actually build more single-family homes than apartments. It still may happen, but the latest building permit report from the city shows single-family home builders now have some catching up to do.
City officials have released building permit totals through August, and they show that the pace of multifamily construction now has pulled ahead of single-family home construction. Through August, the city has issued permits for 83 apartment units while issuing permits for 55 single-family homes.
This should not come as a shock. The last time Lawrence builders constructed more single-family homes than apartments was all the way back in 2007. Since 2007, the score is this: 2,104 apartment units versus 933 single-family home units. I think even Charlie Weis and Turner Gill are blushing just a bit at that score.
I’m not saying that the trend toward more apartment construction is bad. I’m just saying if it continues for the long term, it certainly will change the demographics of the community. The 2010 Census found that 53.3 percent of all housing units in Lawrence were occupied by renters. If we continue to see apartment construction occur at twice the rate of single-family home construction, I suspect that number will grow. Other impacts likely will be a greater concentration of ownership of residential property in the community, and I’m guessing a greater percentage of out-of-town owners. I’m just guessing, but I believe the rate of out-of-town owners for apartment complexes is greater than the rate of out-of-town owners for single-family homes. Again, I’m not saying that is bad, but rather just different.
What we are seeing now with apartment construction is not unprecedented. Looking back at past building permit totals, there actually was an entire decade where apartment construction exceeded single-family construction. From 1963 to 1973, builders each year constructed more apartments than they did single-family homes. During that 10-year period, builders constructed 3,351 units of apartments and 1,646 single-family homes.
So maybe what is happening now is a new wave of construction to replace those large number of units that have hit the 40- or 50-year mark. But that leaves a big question: What happens to those old apartments? Thus far, most of the new apartment development has not been tearing down and replacing older units. (The HERE proposal near Memorial Stadium is proposing to do that.) I continue to believe one of the more important development questions for Lawrence over the next 10 to 15 years will be how those old apartment complexes are redeveloped. That’s what has made the HERE proposal interesting. It has needed a 10-year, 85 percent property tax rebate to make the project feasible. Will that be the case for other apartment redevelopment in the future?
As for the other numbers in the August building permit report:
— The city has issued a total of 66 single family and duplex permits through the first eight months of the year. That’s down from 121 during the same time period in 2013. The 66 permits represent the smallest number of single-family and duplex permits in at least the last five years.
— The city has issued permits for $61.4 million worth of construction through August. That’s down from $148 million during the same period a year ago. The $61 million total is the lowest since 2009.
The two largest projects in August were both apartment projects. The city issued a building permit for $4.4 million worth of construction for the 9 Del Lofts project at 900 Delaware St. That is the project by developer Tony Krsnich that will be adjacent to his popular Poehler Lofts building in East Lawrence. This also is the project that city, county and the school district are in the process of providing a 15-year, 95 percent property tax rebate for the new construction. So, if you are keeping track on your calendar, the project is unusual in that the building permit for the project had already been issued prior to city commissioners hearing the request for incentives. Usually, that process is vice versa because developers say incentives play a large role in whether a project is feasible. This project, which will have 43 units, never was in much doubt of receiving city incentives, though. The city has been supportive of the project from the beginning, in part because it is in an area of town the city is hoping to spur investment, and also because the large majority of the apartment units are rent-controlled and will be available only to low-to-moderate income tenants.
City officials also issued permits for $2.2 million worth of construction for two additional apartment buildings at the Apartments at Frontier complex, 542 Frontier Road. Lawrence architect Paul Werner is designing that project, and he told me more expansion is likely on the way for the complex, which is on the site where the Boardwalk Apartments used to be located. (That’s another example of a recent apartment project that redeveloped on the site of an existing complex.) Werner said that plans call for three more buildings to be constructed in the near future. When completed, the project will have 192 units. Werner said the project, which began in 2009, has been popular with tenants. The units are designed to be ultra energy-efficient, and the three-story buildings include a rarity in Lawrence apartment units: elevators to cut down on the amount of trips up and down the stairs.
In other news and notes from around town:
• This information is just in from City Hall this morning: Commissioners at their meeting tonight will not debate a request from the Chicago-based development group HERE, LLC to receive a parking reduction for its planned apartment complex near Memorial Stadium. A notice from City Hall says the issue now is scheduled to be heard on Oct. 21. No word yet on why the issue is being delayed.
• I know you are sad that the construction work at 23rd and Iowa Street may soon be over. I’m now hearing that the intersection will be fully open by the first of November. But don’t cry in your Halloween candy just yet. There is another project in the works that will reduce traffic flow on Iowa Street, although it won’t be near the production 23rd and Iowa Street has been.
Kansas University officials are asking the city to reduce traffic on Iowa Street to one lane in each direction near the Irving Hill Road overpass. That is in between 15th and 19th streets. Work won’t actually be taking place on Iowa Street, but rather on the bridge above. The project includes widening the bridge to include better sidewalks. KU officials want to reduce traffic to one lane in each direction underneath the bridge to make for a safer work area. KU leaders, however, said the lane reductions could be limited to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., which will mean the street will be fully open during the rush hour periods. KU also is committing to have the street fully open during holidays, KU football games and KU basketball games.
Work on the project won’t begin until the 23rd and Iowa Street intersection is fully open. Once work begins, the project is expected to take up to 12 weeks to complete. City commissioners will hear the request from KU at their meeting tonight.
The Mattress Hub coming to 23rd Street; more talk of major manufacturer eyeing Lawrence; city set to give more time to ride-sharing pilot project
Hopefully The Mattress Hub has all of its display models encased in those plastic slip covers. The Wichita-based chain is indeed the mattress retailer that is locating in the same 23rd Street building that houses Hog Wild Pit BBQ, and I’ve learned the hard way that pulled pork in bed is a bad idea without one of those plastic covers.
We’ve been reporting for months that a mattress retailer was going to go into the portion of the former Blockbuster video building, 1516 W. 23rd St., that Hog Wild didn’t occupy. Now we know that retailer is The Mattress Hub because the sign for the store recently has been installed.
I’m still working to gather more details about The Mattress Hub, such as its projected opening date. But I can tell you the company is a regional chain based out of Wichita. According to its website, the company has about 15 stores in Kansas and Missouri, with stores in both the Kansas City and Topeka areas.
According to some coverage the company has received in the Wichita Eagle, the company was founded in 2008 by Wichita businessmen Ryan Baty and Mark Barrientos. In late 2012 company leaders told the Eagle that the company had major plans to expand into the Johnson County area, despite Nebraska Furniture Mart’s major presence in the Kansas City mattress market.
“We feel like there’s room to come in and grab some market share,” Baty told the Eagle in 2012. “We just feel like there’s room for a different customer experience in Kansas City.”
The company carries brands including Serta, Beautyrest, Tempur-Pedic, and Five Star Mattress, according to the store’s website.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I told you last week that I was hearing rumblings of a possible deal to bring a major business to Lawrence Venture Park, which is the business park the city is creating at the former Farmland Industries site in eastern Lawrence. Well, I still don’t have all the details, but chamber leaders now are starting to publicly talk about the efforts as well.
Larry McElwain, president of The Chamber, told a group of real estate agents recently that economic development leaders are in deep discussion with a major manufacturer for one of the sites.
“We are talking to a very good prospect about a significant manufacturing plant,” McElwain said. “The day you read about it in the newspaper, it will lift your spirits because it will be a sign that Lawrence is back in the game.”
McElwain said he couldn’t provide other details about the company, but hopes an announcement will be made in the next 90 days. He also told the crowd that economic development leaders are in good discussions with two bioscience companies about locating in the city. He didn’t identify either of those companies, but said that the “hottest prospects” the community has currently are in the animal health field. He said companies increasingly are becoming more interested in locating next to Kansas University’s highly ranked pharmacy school. KU’s expertise in drug delivery systems has a lot of cross-over potential into the animal health world.
The community has some space for biotech companies in the newly expanded BTBC incubator facility that is right across the street from the pharmacy school. But I think in coming months it will be interesting to watch the northwest corner of 23rd and Iowa streets. That’s where the university has some soccer fields and other recreational space. But that corner also has been envisioned for bigger things in KU’s master planning process. That could be the location for a type of public-private business research park.
Big companies have shown an interest in having office space on KU’s campus. Garmin and Assurant — two large companies well past the incubation stage — have space in the BTBC facility because they want easy access to the young talent that is graduating from KU and also want access to the faculty talent at the university. But the BTBC space put some limits on how large of an operation a company could have on campus. A West Campus business park would remove some of those size limitations. A business/research park on West Campus is certainly an idea that is getting some talk in economic development circles, but it is hard to say what will be the tipping point for that idea to turn into action.
• Perhaps you remember that city commissioners previously approved a city ordinance change to accommodate the testing of a ride-sharing program that involves people along the side of the road holding a white board with the name of their desired destination.
But several of you have noted that you haven’t seen many people with white boards along the side of the road. (That one day I was doing it doesn’t count. I simply panicked when I spilled the barbecue sauce on the mattress and thought that would be the best get-away option.)
Well, city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will get an update on that project. Commissioners are being asked to temporarily extend the city ordinance that granted the Lawrence OnBoard program time to conduct a pilot project of its ride-share program. But the group will be testing a different model because it has partnered with Carma, an international company that has developed a smart phone application for carpooling. Carma is hoping to test a version of its program called CarmaHop in Lawrence. Participants may still use a whiteboard along the side of the road to attract motorists willing to give them a ride. But users will first download the CarmaHop app, which allows them to create a profile and look up the availability of participating drivers and such. The system will allow ratings to be created of both drivers and motorists. It also will facilitate drivers winning some prizes for participating in the program.
City commissioners on Tuesday are being asked to grant the project another six-month exemption from the city’s traffic ordinances, which generally prohibit people from standing alongside a road for the purposes of soliciting a ride. City staff members are recommending the six-month exemption because the company did not conduct much testing of its system during the previous six-month exemption period. Instead, the Lawrence OnBoard became focused on its merger with Carma.
City staff recommends approval of reduced parking for apartments near KU; more details on Delaware Tribe proposal; part of New Hampshire may close for two years
Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will be a bit like me at a Western Sizzlin’ buffet. There are a lot of meaty issues to tackle. So let’s get right to it. Here’s a summary of what’s on tap:
• Apartment parking. The proposed $75 million, seven-story apartment/retail project slated for the area across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium may be precedent-setting in more ways than one. The project likely already has helped open the door for future developers to ask for property tax rebates to build apartment projects. As we’ve previously reported, the city on a 3-2 vote has approved an 85 percent tax rebate for 10 years on the project. But now the apartment project, called HERE @ Kansas, also may set a precedent on reducing parking standards for apartment projects in the city.
As we’ve previously reported, the development is seeking a variance from the city’s parking code that will allow the 237-unit, 624-bedroom apartment complex to reduce its required parking by 100 space. The news out of City Hall is that the city’s planning staff is now recommending approval of the request. If approved, the project would have 461 parking spaces for its 624 bedrooms. The project also has about 13,000 square feet of retail space. The developers are proposing that all of the parking demand for the retail spaces be accommodated by on-street parking that will surround the project. That on-street parking is expected to total 107 spaces, but is subject to change as final design of the building progresses.
The memo from the city’s planning staff notes several concerns about reducing the parking standard for the apartment project, but then recommends approval. It does so largely based on one set of numbers it received from Kansas University parking officials.
The memo notes that 70 percent to 75 percent of sophomores through seniors at the Jayhawker Towers at 1603 W. 15th St. have parking permits, which the city is taking to mean that the other 25 percent or so do not have vehicles. If that percentage is the same for the proposed apartment development, then the 461 parking spaces would be pretty close to meeting the demand for parking. (It would meet it if the number is 70 percent. It wouldn’t quite meet it if the number is 75 percent.)
The percentage of residents with parking permits in other university-owned housing is even less, but the city believes the Jayhawker Towers is the best example to use from a demographic standpoint. There is another apartment complex, though, that may be even more similar to the HERE project. Naismith Hall at 1800 Naismith Drive is a privately owned residence hall right on the edge of campus. Some have argued that relying only on data from university-owned residence halls may under-report the demand for parking because many times the residents in those halls are among the students living on the tightest budgets. The HERE project has indicated that rents for a 4-bedroom apartment will be about $2,800 a month. The city examined the Naismith Hall property but wasn’t able to determine what the parking demand is for that project.
The parking issue brings up some interesting questions:
*— Will the city allow other apartment projects to provide fewer parking spaces? * It seems likely that other developers will ask for a similar deal. The question probably becomes what criteria does the city use to determine whether a reduction is prudent. Does it need to be within walking distance of KU, or does being on a KU bus route suffice? If a bus route suffices, that opens up large areas of town. If it needs to be within walking distance to KU, that opens up several neighborhoods surrounding KU, but Oread neighborhood would be most impacted. Perhaps the city will say that only mixed-use projects qualify for the reduction. But that may be a fairly low bar to reach. The building is proposed to be 445,000 square feet. It has 13,000 square feet, or about 3 percent of its space, devoted to retail.
— What will this do to parking in the Oread neighborhood? City staff notes that the amount of parking in the Oread neighborhood has not kept up with residential development in the neighborhood. The staff also notes the neighborhood is a popular place for people outside the immediate area to park because on street parking is free in the neighborhood, while parking on campus requires the purchase of a permit. If a precedent is set that future developments in the neighborhood require less parking, those issues likely are to become magnified. The Oread Residents Association already has come out against the proposed parking reduction. It will be interesting to see if this issue spurs more discussion about a permit parking system for the on-street spaces in Oread. The idea has come up at City Hall previously, but hasn’t gained much traction.
When commissioners discussed the proposed parking reduction last month, they were split on the issue. Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Bob Schumm both expressed concern about the request. Commissioners Mike Dever, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan also expressed some concerns but said they wanted to study the feasibility of the request more. The commission doesn’t want to lose the project, and the Chicago-based development group has said it is having difficulty finding financing for the project. It is hopeful the reduced parking standard will help attract financing of the venture.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday.
• The Delaware Tribe of Indians. Commissioners will get an update on what type of development is being considered for North Lawrence property owned by the Delaware Tribe of Indians. The tribe owns approximately 90 acres just east of the Kansas Turnpike interchange in North Lawrence. The property is currently a sod farm, but commissioners are being told the tribe is interested in using the ground for its tribal headquarters and several other uses. They include:
— Offices for its tribal headquarters.
— Classroom space for the tribe, Haskell Indian Nations University, KU, Kansas State University and other educational partners to collaborate on the teaching of food production methods.
— Space for internships and job training.
— Space for profit-generating “public interface.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like a space for some retail sales for the tribe.
— A kitchen to feed elderly tribal members.
— General meeting spaces.
— Areas to host classes in Native American culture.
Those uses above would be confined to the western 30 acres of the property. What isn’t spelled out is how large of a building would be needed. That could be an issue because neighbors in the area have expressed a lot of concern that construction on the site is going to create storm water flooding issues for the surrounding area. Neighbors and environmentalists have advocated for low-intensity development on the site.
The remaining 60 acres would be devoted to agricultural uses. Some of those ideas include a food hub distribution site; a food-based botanical garden; demonstration areas for agricultural methods; hoop houses, orchards and fruit stands, a holistic health center, and a farm-to-plate restaurant.
There are a lot of details to be worked out. A formal plan has not been filed with the city. Instead, the city, county, the tribe, Haskell, KU, the chamber of commerce and a few other organizations are being asked to sign an agreement that commits the parties to participate in a design charrette that will seek to create a more refined plan. City commissioners will vote on whether to enter that agreement at Tuesday’s meeting.
• Downtown Street closings. Developers of the property at Ninth and New Hampshire are asking for a good portion of the 800 block of New Hampshire Street to be closed to all traffic for up to 24 months. Lawrence-based First Management is making the request to accommodate the construction of a multistory apartment and office building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
The construction group is asking for the north and southbound lanes of New Hampshire Street to be closed between Ninth Street and the mid-block crosswalk that is in the 800 block of New Hampshire Street. In other words, from about where the hair salon is at Ninth and New Hampshire to where Cielito Lindo Mexican Restaurant is located in the mid-block of New Hampshire. The group wants the closure for 24 months or the length of building construction, whichever is shorter. (CORRECTION: The south-bound lane of traffic will be open during much of the project. There will be times when both the north and south-bound lanes will be closed, but not for the entirety of the project.)
Traffic on Ninth Street also would be impacted. Traffic would be open in both directions, but crews would shift all traffic to the south half of the street.
It also is important to note that a portion of the 900 block of New Hampshire Street already is reduced to southbound traffic only. That is to accommodate construction of a hotel/retail building on the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. The city is projecting that there will be a time period when traffic in both the 800 and 900 blocks of New Hampshire Street is impacted.
If approved at Tuesday’s meeting, the street closures on New Hampshire Street could begin later this month or in early November.
Internet start-up company opening office in downtown Lawrence; city to again debate parking exemption for apartment complex near KU; city sets ribbon-cutting date for VenturePark
There’s a new company in downtown called DriverDo, which in eclectic downtown Lawrence could lead to an interesting game of fill in the blank. DriverDo honk for hemp. DriverDo avoid that herd of zombies. DriverDo back the U-Haul up to the shoe store and start loading. (Maybe that one is more unique to my household.) But this DriverDo is more exciting than that. It is an Internet startup company that is opening a prominent Massachusetts Street office and hopes to become a major service provider in the auto dealership and vehicle rental industries.
The company currently is converting the former retail space that housed Cosmos Indian store at 734 Massachusetts (it moved to West Lawrence) into office space. CEO and founder Zarif Haque said work on the office is expected to be completed in the next few weeks, and the company has plans to hire about 10 employees to prepare for its product launch by the end of this year.
The product is a mobile app that is designed to make driver management much more efficient for auto dealers, car rental companies and other such businesses. Haque — a Lawrence businessman who has been in the auto industry for several years — said it is a common misconception that auto dealerships receive all their vehicles via semi truck. He said many of the vehicles actually are driven to the dealership individually by hired drivers. The same goes for many of the vehicles at car rental businesses. Hiring those drivers, insuring those drivers, providing proper directions to those drivers, and paying those drivers can be a big chore for dealerships.
“It has created a lot of problems for dealerships,” Haque said.
I don’t confess to understand everything the DriverDo app does, but among its features are: a sign-up and vetting process for people interested in becoming drivers; a paperless system for paying drivers; real-time tracking of vehicles; and a patent pending system that will screen individual drivers in a manner that will lead to lower insurance rates for the auto dealerships. The company will make its money by taking a small administrative fee as drivers are paid.
The company has raised a “comfortable amount” of money in the venture capital market, Haque said. The company is expected to start booking sales by the end of the year.
The company also is interesting for another reason. It might be an early sign of a trend of high-tech companies taking over Massachusetts Street retail spaces for offices. It is the second tech company in the last month or so that has converted a former ground-floor retail space on Massachusetts into office space. The other one is the financial services firm Yantra Services, which has opened an office in the former Antiques Bazaars II building at 840 Massachusetts St.
Like the folks at Yantra, Haque said his company believes the downtown atmosphere will be a key selling point in attracting talented tech workers to the company.
“Our downtown atmosphere is unique and really difficult to find in the Midwest,” Haque said. “People feel like it could have a flavor of an Austin or a Palo Alto. When you have a tech company, you are looking for amenities to help attract talent, and that is what downtown offers.”
I don’t have any numbers to back this up, but I think the popularity of living in downtown has reduced the amount of second-story office space that is available in downtown, so companies have started to look to the ground-floor spaces. Some of those spaces have been available because attracting nonrestaurant retailers to downtown can be challenging at times. So, the trend may not be entirely positive, but I think downtown leaders are excited about having more office users in downtown because it produces more potential retail and restaurant customers who are downtown throughout the day.
As for the approximately 10 jobs that DriverDo plans to add, Haque said the positions will include graphic designers, project managers and customer service specialists.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’m expecting the Lawrence City Commission to have another debate over whether to provide a proposed apartment/retail project next to Kansas University an exemption from the city’s parking code. As we have reported, the Chicago-based development company HERE, LLC is asking the city to reduce the required number of parking spaces for the $75 million, seven-story project by 100 spaces. The company is seeking to reduce the size of its automated parking garage in order to help the project attract financing. The project is proposed to have 237 apartment units that will include nearly 600 bedrooms. The building, proposed for 1101 and 1115 Indiana also will have almost 15,000 square feet of retail. Under the new request, the parking garage would have 477 spaces, plus there would be some off-street parking surrounding the building.
The company has filed another round of paperwork at City Hall seeking the reduced parking standard. City commissioners last month were undecided on whether to grant the request. They asked for more information from city staff, and City Manager David Corliss has indicated that a report will be delivered at Tuesday’s meeting. So, I’ll let you know when more information becomes available.
In the meantime, I have found an answer to a question several of you have asked. Georgia Bell, the 91-year old woman who owns the house at 1115 Indiana St., indeed is in limbo as it becomes unclear whether this apartment project will be built.
If you remember, HERE, LLC had previously filed plans to build the apartment/retail building on three sides of Bell’s home after the company was unsuccessful in buying the property from her. But then in May, Bell confirmed she had reached a deal with HERE to sell her property.
But in recent weeks it has become clear the apartment/retail project is still in a speculative stage. HERE has confirmed it hasn’t yet secured financing for the project. So that left the question of what is to become of Bell, if the project doesn’t move forward. Bell reached out to me recently and said she is concerned about how matters are progressing.
Bell confirmed that HERE has not yet bought her property. What she described to me sounded like HERE has an option to purchase her property once the project becomes finalized. She said she’s received $25,000 upfront, but the bulk of the money, which she said is several hundred thousand dollars, won’t come her way unless the project is approved. She has begun the process of looking for a new home in Lawrence, and has certainly had a lot of people offer to help her with that process after we reported she had signed a deal with the development company. She has started to spend some money on that process of finding a new home and now is concerned about how all this will play out.
In talking with Bell, I was unclear when the option on her property expires, but she indicated it was soon. Right now, it seems the entire area is in limbo. Perhaps more clarity will come in the next week or so on this project, which indeed would be a game-changer for the Oread neighborhood and the area near Memorial Stadium.
• If you are a fan of economic development in Lawrence, or simply like to watch the mutilation of ribbons, mark your calendars. City Manager David Corliss said the city is planning to host a ribbon-cutting and grand opening for Lawrence VenturePark at 4 p.m. on Oct. 21. VenturePark is the former Farmland Industries site on the eastern edge of Lawrence that the city has been converting into a business park.
The park doesn’t yet have any tenants, but city officials are celebrating because all the roads, sewer lines and other infrastructure needed to host business tenants have been completed. My understanding is that economic development officials are in negotiations with a potential tenant for the site that would be bringing new jobs to the city. I have no real details to share with you on that, but I would expect the next 12 months to be an important time for Lawrence VenturePark. Its recent completion is creating some buzz in the economic development industry, and the pending completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway is expected to give Lawrence more momentum with business site selectors than it has had in years. So, it seems like these next few months will be the time when the iron is hot.
Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but we’re knee-deep in barbecue sauce, and I’m not just talking about the unfortunate incident with the industrial-size pressure cooker in my kitchen. I’m talking about the flood of barbecue restaurants opening in Lawrence. Now we are seeing the flip side of that equation, as one large player in the barbecue scene has exited the Lawrence market.
As I reported yesterday on my Twitter feed (@clawhorn_ljw), Famous Dave’s has closed its barbecue restaurant at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. It was a quick operation that caught many by surprise as the signs came off the building Monday afternoon. I got in touch with the group that owns the franchise for the Famous Dave’s in Lawrence, and a spokesman there said the decision simply came down to the business environment.
“Sales just weren’t quite meeting expectations,” said Christian Brabec, marketing manager for Lincoln, Neb.-based Concord Hospitality Inc., the franchisee for the Lawrence area. “People are staying home and not eating out as much, and sales just weren’t where we needed them to be.”
Brabec didn’t specifically mention the competitors in the Lawrence market, but activity in the barbecue arena has been significant. (When I say “barbecue arena,” I’m speaking metaphorically, and not of the area I’ve cordoned off where my neighbor and I battle to near death with tongs, turkey basters and wet wipes.) Wichita-based Hog Wild Pit BBQ has opened its Lawrence location on 23rd Street in recent weeks, and Lawrence-based Biggs BBQ recently has opened its downtown location. But closer to home for Famous Dave’s is the fact that the large chain of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is opening at the Sixth and Wakarusa intersection. As we’ve previously reported, Dickey’s is going into the space at 721 Wakarusa Drive, which previously housed Johnny Brusco’s New York-style pizza restaurant. The Dickey’s location is basically right around the corner from the Famous Dave’s location. When we reported on the restaurant in mid-August, plans called for the Lawrence location to be open in six to eight weeks.
Brabec said Famous Dave’s had been in operation in Lawrence for about 3 and a half years. The company made a big jump into the market not just by opening the restaurant; the owner of the franchise actually bought the entire shopping center at Sixth and Wakarusa. (The one around the corner that will house Dickey’s is owned by a different group.) Brabec said the company doesn’t yet have plans for the vacant Famous Dave’s space.
“We’re waiting to see if some people reach out to us, but nothing is planned or set in stone on that space yet,” Brabec said.
The space is adjacent to the popular, locally owned Six Mile Chophouse, which shares some space with its sister business Six Mile Tavern. There’s no official word, but I’ve heard that the owners of Six Mile Chophouse may consider an expansion.
As for folks who had plans to visit Famous Dave’s, Brabec said all gift cards to Famous Dave’s will continue to be honored at any location. The company also is reaching out to everyone who has booked catering or banquet events with the company, and is working to make sure those events still happen. People with other questions are asked to call the Topeka restaurant, which also is owned by Concorde. Its number is 785-272-2944.
In other news and notes from around town:
• At Lawrence City Hall, you can almost keep track of the seasons by watching the various proclamations that come through the door at Tuesday evening meetings. For those of us who have been to a couple of decades' worth of meetings, you notice the same ones each year. For example, October is always Meet the Blind Month and also Community Planning Month. And then there is April, which is the official month of months, with National Service Recognition Day, Public Health Week, Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month, Fair Housing Month, and one of my favorites, Mathematics Awareness Month, which I normally celebrate by buying an inordinate amount of lottery tickets.
But there was a new one on Tuesday night: Sweet Potato Month. That’s right, we’re living it right now.
Sweet Potato Month is a neat effort by several local farmers to bring some recognition to a crop that once was a major part of Douglas County’s agricultural economy but has faded a bit. John and Karen Pendleton and Bob and Joy Lominska are two of the larger sweet potato growers in the area, and they believe the crop once again can become a significant player in the area’s agricultural scene. They note that it is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in northeast Kansas, because it adapts very well to heat.
They and others are doing their best to boost awareness, and their efforts go well beyond asking the mayor to read a proclamation. Every Tuesday in October, a group of 11 locally owned restaurants will participate in what they’re calling Tuber Tuesday, which means the restaurants will feature a sweet potato dish on their menus. A list of the restaurants is available at the group’s Web site, celebratesweetpotatoes.com.
The sweet potato group also is hosting a “Community Sweet Potato Potluck” at 6 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Carnegie Building at Ninth and Vermont streets. The public is invited to bring their favorite sweet potato dish and sample all the others. Prizes will be awarded.
As part of the proclamation process Tuesday night, I got a recipe for sweet potato biscuits and also one for sweet potato pie. That was nice, but as a veteran of proclamation readings, I feel I should say that it wouldn’t break proclamation protocol if the group wanted to bring, say, biscuits and pie for everyone at the meeting in future years. Groups receiving proclamations have been known to do such things. For example, I still have an advanced calculus equation I’m working on from Mathematics Awareness Month, which is one of the reasons why you’ve seen me barefooted more often recently.
Topeka-based credit union buys bank branch in West Lawrence; city set to approve permit for $65 million sewer plant
The Lawrence banking industry has become something like a college class reunion: Names tags are needed, and it would be helpful if I had a list of who I still owe money to.
We’ve already reported on several name changes on the Lawrence banking scene, but add one more new name to the mix. Intrust Bank has sold its branch on Wakarusa Drive to a Topeka-based credit union.
Envista Credit Union has opened its first Lawrence location at 1555 Wakarusa Drive in the space formerly occupied by Intrust. Envista finalized a deal to purchase the bank building from Intrust last month, and opened its new branch a few weeks ago. Intrust continues to operate two other locations in Lawrence.
“The credit union is growing, and we want to be able to offer added convenience for the members we have in Lawrence and elsewhere in the area,” Jessica Somers, vice president of business development, said of the decision to open a Lawrence location.
Envista is a significant player in the financial services sector in Topeka. The credit union has nine locations in Topeka, in addition to one branch in Hutchinson. In total, Envista has about $260 million in assets and more than 33,000 members. You don’t have to be a member of a particular profession to join the credit union. Envista allows membership based on geographic location. Any resident of Douglas County, and a host of surrounding counties in northeast Kansas, is eligible to become a member.
Due to its size, Envista is able to offer pretty much all the lending services available at a traditional bank, Somers said. That includes mortgage lending, auto loans and business loans.
The Lawrence branch employs seven people, and will have a grand opening celebration at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Somers said.
As for Intrust Bank, Doug Gaumer, the community bank president for Intrust, told me the decision to sell the branch came down to changes in how customers use bank branches.
The trend of online banking and now mobile banking via smartphones is changing the industry. (I hear a lot about the convenience of online banking, but I just don’t see it. I know I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to guess the password my wife sets each week.)
“The manner in which people are conducting their banking is definitely changing,” Gaumer said. “Technology has become more important than physical locations. I would rather invest in people here than bricks and mortar for a branch.”
Intrust continues to operate a large branch near Sixth Street and Lawrence Avenue, and has its Lawrence headquarters at Ninth and Vermont streets downtown. Gaumer said the bank is planning to use some of the proceeds of the West Lawrence sale to remodel the interior of the Sixth and Lawrence branch. He said Intrust also has added a position to the bank’s Lawrence-based commercial banking team.
“We’re confident we’re still well positioned to serve the community,” Gaumer said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There is still one industry where location is paramount: Sewer plants. Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting Tuesday evening will take an important step toward constructing the city’s new $65 million sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.
Commissioners are set to approve the special use permit to locate the plant on 531 acres at 2300 E. 41st St. Yes, Lawrence now has a 41st Street. (I think for fun we should all hail a taxi and ask the driver to take us to 41st Street and see where we end up. I would offer to pay the fare, but I can’t get into my bank account at the moment.)
The city has renamed part of the county road that runs in front of the site for the sewer plant 41st Street. The property is just south of the Wakarusa River where O’Connell Road dead-ends at the Wakarusa River. The city renamed the road because the property has been annexed into the city, so it needs a city street name.
As for the special use permit, it is expected to be approved without much problem. The property is in a low-lying area dominated by agricultural uses. The city is creating a large buffer area to separate the plant from neighboring properties, and to ensure that the city has plenty of room to expand in the future. The city bought 531 acres at the site, but the first phase of the sewage treatment plant is expected to occupy only 15 acres. The rest of the property will remain in agricultural production. The special use permit does highlight one unusual element of the sewer plant design: A fairly large array of solar panels will be installed to provide some of the needed electricity.
Proposed pilot project for super-fast Internet service shrinks; Baldwin City company making stronger push to bring gigabit service to Lawrence; downtown retailer closes
East Lawrence residents may want to momentarily put on hold their plans to become rich using super-fast Internet connections at their homes. (Yes, this may affect your plans to sell online all those tie-dyed Kansas City Royals T-shirts you made this weekend.) A pilot project to bring gigabit Internet service to parts of East Lawrence appears to be shrinking.
An official with Wicked Broadband has told me the company, at the suggestion of City Hall staff, is now asking the city for a $300,000 loan guarantee rather than the $1 million loan guarantee the company has been seeking for several months. But that means the geographic size of the pilot project also is shrinking. The proposal now is to provide the super-fast Internet service to 300 addresses, down from the original proposal of 1,000. Josh Montgomery, an owner of Wicked, told me that means the project likely will be more downtown-oriented. The original proposal was to extend service to downtown, parts of East Lawrence and a couple of other pockets of town. Montgomery said he’s in the process of drawing a new service map, but said the area in East Lawrence will shrink.
What will be interesting now is to see if the smaller size of the project helps it win the three votes needed on the City Commission. Commissioners will be discussing the latest Wicked proposal at their Tuesday evening meeting. What’s becoming clear as this project stretches on is that other private providers in the region are amping up their efforts in Lawrence.
We’ve already reported on the announcements by WOW, the largest Internet service provider in the city. It has committed to double its Internet speeds by January, and it recently has said it will begin offering 200 Mbps service at some point in 2015.
But the more interesting proposal may be from a Baldwin City-based company that is telling city commissioners that it can bring gigabit service to a broad area of Lawrence without a city loan guarantee or other similar incentives.
The company is RG Fiber, and we have reported on its plans before. But the group will be making its most detailed presentation yet to city commissioners on Tuesday night. The company also is hosting a big event in Baldwin on Wednesday to launch its gigabit project there. Gov. Sam Brownback and several Baldwin City and Baker University officials are scheduled to be in Baldwin City on Wednesday. RG Fiber won’t be turning on any gigabit service as part of the event, but rather will begin the sign-up period for homes and businesses in Baldwin that want the service. Mike Bosch, the top executive with RG Fiber, said he expects to begin offering service to 500 locations in Baldwin City by the summer, with construction beginning in the spring. Bosch said Baker University is driving demand for the service in Baldwin City, a significant number of local businesses and households have signed up for the service, which is being offered for $75 a month.
One of the key lines of fiber optic cable RG will use for the Baldwin City project will run through Lawrence. Bosch said that is a key reason why his company is in a position to provide gigabit service to parts of Lawrence. Bosch has unveiled a map that shows he could provide gigabit service to downtown, the Sixth Street corridor, the Iowa Street corridor, and the 23rd Street corridor in Lawrence.
Like Wicked, he is seeking to lease excess capacity that exists in the city-owed fiber optic cable that rings the city. Bosch said the company is proposing to pay $300 a month for access to four strands of cable. The proposal also includes language about asking the city to donate some land at the city’s Venture Park to house a data center and technology building for the company. But Bosch said that part of the proposal isn’t a deal-killer, and was included to forecast that the company may approach the city about the possibility in the future.
The main point Bosch is trying to highlight is his company does not need any loan guarantee from the city. And he says if the city does provide a loan guarantee to Wicked, he will kill any plans to bring gigabit service to Lawrence.
“If the city intervenes and funds our competitors, it is just not a smart business move for us to invest money and compete with the city of Lawrence,” Bosch said. “If the city does this, it looks like it has an emotional connection to one of my competitors that is so strong, that it wouldn’t make sense for anybody to go in and compete with that because you would never know where the city’s support would end.”
Montgomery, though, counters that it is no coincidence that interest in the Lawrence broadband market has picked up once Wicked started proposing bringing gigabit service to town.
“We feel like this competition is a direct result of us pushing this project forward,” Montgomery said. “The city should be working to get the best deal it can for consumers.”
The whole situation creates an interesting issue for the city: Does offering an incentive to one company create a disincentive to another company? Or is this all just posturing on the part of competitors? Will I ever be able to sell these 30,000, tie-dyed, Mike Moustakas bath robes?
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep an eye out for construction work at 925 Iowa St. Montgomery confirmed to me that his company has signed a lease for 5,000 square feet of space in the building that is adjacent to the Hillcrest Shopping Center. Plans call for part of it to house technical equipment related to Wicked Broadband, but a good portion of it will be an enterprise called the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship. I’ll bring you more details as I get them, but it sounds like Montgomery and his wife, Lawrence school board member Kris Adair, will be providing a place where startup businesses can rent office space, have access to a business attorney and other types of experts.
• There is one less place in town to buy a Kansas City Royals hat. Lids, the store that specialized in hats of athletic teams, has closed its downtown Lawrence location. A sign on the door is directing people to check out its locations in the Kansas City area. The space at 729 Massachusetts doesn’t yet have a new tenant, said Jon Francis of Francis Sporting Goods, who is part of the ownership group of the building. Francis said a search has begun to fill the space, and a retail user is the main focus. He said the space likely would not work to house a restaurant.
“Retail is definitely what we want,” Francis said.
British restaurant opens on south Massachusetts Street; west Lawrence retirement center plans expansion
Get ready for a British invasion at Lawrence’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post. No, that guy behind the bar really isn’t Ringo, and that’s not a cricket game that has broken out near the jukebox. But indeed you now can get some British fare at the VFW. The former downtown restaurant Queen Lizzy’s has reopened in the VFW post at 1801 Massachusetts St.
“The menu is going to be very similar to what we had downtown, but we’ve also added some American bar food as well,” said Matt Poulton, owner of Queen Lizzy’s.
Poulton said signature dishes will include fish and chips, Shepherd’s Pie and bangers and mash, which I think is a dish of sausage and mashed potatoes. (Although there’s also a chance it may just be a cricket term and us dumb blokes have mistakenly been ordering it for years. However, I would highly suggest the googly or the dibbly dobbly for dessert.) Also on the menu will be American fare such as pork chops, hamburgers, nachos and other bar food.
Poulton closed his downtown restaurant at 125 E. 10th St. in late 2012 after operating it for about 15 months. Since then, the Queen Lizzy’s name largely has been staying active in the catering business. But Poulton said he became intrigued by the idea of using space in the VFW building, which used to house Bambino’s restaurant.
“The space has a fantastic kitchen and a dining room, but the VFW had never really thought about opening a restaurant,” Poulton said.
The arrangement is unusual because the VFW is a private club. But Poulton said any member of the public can come into the club to dine. If you want to drink alcohol, however, you’ll need to have a membership to the club. But Poulton said auxiliary memberships are available to the VFW, even if you are not a veteran.
The restaurant opened last week.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep your eyes open for a large new development in the world of Lawrence retirement housing. The folks at Pioneer Ridge have filed plans to develop 76 units of independent living apartments as part of their complex at 4851 Harvard Road.
Debbie Walker, regional director of independent living for Pioneer Ridge’s parent company, said work is expected to begin in late October, and the units likely will be ready by late 2015. The project will be on vacant ground that has frontage along Wakarusa Drive and is just south of Pioneer Ridge’s main building. The apartments will be a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. They will be the first independent living units for Pioneer Ridge, which currently has about 60 assisted living units and multiple beds in a full health care unit.
The independent living units will allow residents to take advantage of some of the services offered at the main facility at Pioneer Ridge, such as meal plans, Walker said.
“People will have a full amenity package when they move in, and they can add additional amenities that they want or need,” Walker said.
The project continues a trend of trying to attract more retirees and seniors to the Lawrence community. Several of the existing retirement centers in Lawrence have added units or undergone renovations, and Meadowlark Estates built 124 living units for people 55 and older at Sixth and Folks Road in 2011. More recently, officials with Americare had plans approved for a 46-bed assisted living facility at Peterson Road and Monterey Way. Walker said demand for retirement living in Lawrence is significant.
“We have had a lot of people ask us for independent living options,” Walker said. “We have always felt like there is a very strong interest in people moving back to Lawrence. Plus there are a lot of professionals who live in Lawrence and want to move their parents here to be closer to them.”
• If you are trying to follow the debate about the proposed $28 million police headquarters facility, you may want to check your calendars. The city has changed the location of a forum it is hosting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16. The new location is the auditorium of Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Massachusetts St.
Plans for downtown grocery store at former Borders site hit a snag; Just Food celebrates 5-year anniversary; WOW announces another plan to boost Internet speeds
Forget about the hundreds of zombies that will roam downtown Lawrence on Thursday night. (It is the zombie walk, not Royals fans still comatose from Tuesday’s late game.) The really scary sight in downtown Lawrence is the new Halloween store in the former Borders bookstore at Seventh and New Hampshire streets. It is scaring the stuffing out of people who have hoped that the former Borders building would become home to a much-wanted downtown grocery store.
If you remember, we reported about a month ago that the owners of the Lawrence-based Checkers grocery store were in negotiations to open a full-service grocery store in the Borders location. The Halloween store doesn’t kill that possibility — it is only a temporary, seasonal store — but it is a sign that negotiations for a grocery store aren’t progressing like people had hoped.
“We have made several offers to buy or lease the building, but we can’t seem to come to any common ground,” Jim Lewis, the owner of Checkers, told me. “I’ve told our real estate agent that the ball is basically in (the building’s owners') court.”
In other words, the two sides can’t agree on a price or terms for the building. I certainly had heard that Lewis was most interested in buying the building, but I’ve also heard that the ownership group out of Michigan was more interested in a lease.
Lewis said he hasn’t given up on the idea of a downtown grocery store.
“I’m still optimistic, but I can’t tell you a location at this point,” Lewis said. “But my son and I are committed to making something happen down there.”
Lewis said he’s also not giving up on the possibility of striking a deal for the Borders location.
“We’re not saying no on Borders,” Lewis said. “They just haven’t made a decent proposal, in our opinion.”
Lewis said he has begun to look at other locations, but declined to give details on where those might be. Finding another location in downtown is probably not impossible, but it will be difficult. Lewis said he must have a site that can provide ample parking.
“You’re not going to make it just relying on walk-in traffic,” he said.
I have no idea where Lewis may be looking, but one site that comes to mind is 11th and New Hampshire. Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Rand Allen have said they want to redevelop the former Allen Press property. Compton previously has said he wants to build a multistory apartment building with retail on the ground floor. At one point, Compton thought he was close to signing a deal with a national drug store chain — CVS was the likely tenant, I believe — but that was months ago. I’m still hoping to get an update from Compton, but it seems like that project has lost some momentum. Whether a downtown grocery store would work there, I don’t know. The project would have below-ground parking, but whether enough parking could be built to satisfy the needs of apartment residents and a grocery store is unclear to me.
I also think the East Lawrence Warehouse Arts District might be an area to keep an eye on. Lawrence businessman Tony Krsnich has a significant amount of property in the district, and he has talked about drawing businesses that would provide more amenities to the growing number of residents in the district. That area isn’t quite downtown, but perhaps it is close enough to satisfy those wanting a downtown grocery store.
I don’t have a good timeline on when Lewis will make some decisions on this issue, so I’ll just keep an ear out.
As for the Halloween store, it is called Halloween Express, and it looks like it has all things Halloween related. You still have plenty of time to become a zombie for tonight’s zombie walk, or even better, perhaps it can help us prepare for the Royals’ playoff games with the Los Angeles Angels. I’m thinking a voodoo doll of Mike Trout would be helpful.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Zombie costumes won’t be the only reason to dress up in downtown Lawrence on Thursday. The folks at the Douglas County food bank Just Food are celebrating their five-year anniversary with a special dinner and fundraising event at Abe & Jake’s Landing. The event also will be celebrating the life of Just Food founder and former dean of the renowned KU School of Social Welfare Ann Weick. Weick died this summer.
Just Food is run by Lawrence City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, and he told me that about 26,000 different Douglas County residents will receive food from the organization in 2014. That’s about 25 percent of Douglas County’s entire population.
“There are a lot of people who are falling through the cracks,” Farmer said.
Farmer said about 60 percent of Just Food’s clients are people who make more money than is allowed for food stamps and other such government assistance. He said Thursday's event, which is sold out, is meant in part to help people better understand the people who need help putting food on the table.
“There are a lot of false perceptions out there about people who need some assistance,” Farmer said. “These people a lot of times are working two or three jobs.”
Farmer said the event also is meant to honor the role that Weick had in founding Just Food. Farmer said he’s learned that Weick had the idea of a locally run food bank on her mind for a good 20 years before the opportunity every arose to get the organization started.
“She was an incredibly resilient and calm leader who exercised her leadership for 20 years before her vision became a reality,” Farmer said. “She is our true north. Our true north is to help people get out of the system because that is always what Ann envisioned.”
As part of the event on Thursday evening, Just Food also will announce the winner of its first leadership award, which it has named the Ann Weick Leadership Award.
• This news is just in: WOW has announced additional plans to upgrade Internet speeds in the city. As we recently reported, the cable and telephone provider in Lawrence will start offering Internet download speeds of 110 Mbps in January, which is a little more than double the speed of its fastest Internet packages.
But at the time, WOW officials said they expected to make additional announcements during the course of the next year about service upgrades. Well, this morning the company said “additional investments are now planned for 2015” to support a new tier that will allow for download speeds of 200 Mbps and upload speeds of 15 Mbps. That’s nearly another doubling of Internet download speeds, and about a tripling of upload speeds. The upload speed issue — which refers to how fast you can post files, photos and other such objects onto the internet or file-sharing services — had been a question with WOW’s previous proposal. Currently, upload speeds are limited to 5 Mbps.
The latest announcement from WOW still does not give any information on pricing plans for the programs. The announcements come right before Lawrence city commissioners are scheduled to again discuss whether to give Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband a $1 million loan guarantee and other incentives to start a pilot project in Lawrence to bring gigabit service to downtown, East Lawrence and a couple other pockets of town. Gigabit service is the same super-fast Internet service being provided by Google Fiber in Kansas City. The Wicked proposal would provide the gigabit speeds for both downloads and uploads, which Wicked officials say is particularly important for business users. City commissioners are scheduled to discuss the Wicked proposal at their Tuesday evening meeting.