Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
When you cover city government for more than 20 years, you pick up some odd pet peeves along the way. One of mine is when people start talking about how the city’s downtown parking system doesn’t generate enough revenue to even pay for the cost of enforcing the parking system. Not true, but the thought comes up every so often, and it did again at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.
More importantly, the idea that the city is operating a losing proposition when it comes to downtown parking came up as part of a discussion about whether the city ought to raise parking fines in downtown. I don’t have any opinion on whether the city should raise parking fines in downtown Lawrence. You can certainly make the argument the fines are low compared with some other communities. You can also argue that shoppers find the idea of paying for parking annoying.
But if commissioners raise the parking fine — current talk would raise the overtime parking fine by $1 to $2, resulting in fees of $4 to $5 — it shouldn’t be because people think the parking system doesn’t pay for itself. Some folks who watched Tuesday’s City Commission may have been left with that impression. (They also may be left wondering why they can’t find other things to do on a Tuesday night.) Commissioner Matthew Herbert has raised the idea of increasing parking fines in downtown, in part, to help pay for his idea of allowing people to pay their fines in canned food instead of money, if they so choose. The food would go to the food bank Just Food.
As he was making his case for the program, he said that the city’s fine system doesn’t even cover the cost of enforcing the program. I chatted with Herbert recently, and he acknowledged he needed to word that statement a little more carefully. Rest assured, the city is not paying parking meter attendants more in wages than they collect in fines or meter revenue. In fact, it is not even close. Here’s a look at some of the numbers from 2014:
— The city collected $1.28 million in fines and fees from the city’s downtown parking system.
— The city paid the parking meter attendants — the folks who write the tickets — $317,525 in wages and benefits. They also paid municipal court clerks — the folks who process the tickets — $167,217. The city also paid a public works employee — a person who does maintenance on the garages, meters and such — $67,689 in wages and benefits. The city also spent about another $293,000 on supplies, fuel, vehicle costs and other such operational expenses. Even though it is awful cold to take off my boots, I added all those numbers up anyway. Total expenses were a little more than $845,000. Or, in other words, the city had about $435,000 more in revenue than it had in expenses related to operating the parking system.
But Herbert did have a point when he made his statement about expenses and revenues being out of line. The city’s Public Parking System Fund did operate at a deficit in 2014. Expenses exceeded revenues by about $56,000. Don’t worry, though. The fund had about a $275,000 saving account that it had built up over the years that was used to cover the shortfall.
At this point, you may be confused how the fund could be operating at a deficit when I just told you the city essentially made a $435,000 profit on its parking operations. The answer is because the city uses the parking fund to pay for things that aren’t related to parking. In 2014, the biggest nonparking expenditures were:
— $316,982 to fund three police officer positions. To be clear, they aren’t part of any Special Parking Unit. (Although SPU Lawrence now will become a new addition to the NBC television lineup.)
— $181,796 to fund parks and recreation employees who do planting and other landscape work in the downtown area.
The fact that the parking fund has sometimes operated at a deficit is what creates the confusion that the parking system somehow doesn’t pay for itself. That has never been the case. Sometimes the parking system doesn’t make enough money to pay for everything else the city wants to fund.
Regardless, Herbert is proposing a fine increase to help cover that deficit and to help cover an expected loss in revenue, if the city starts accepting canned food in lieu of cash payments of fines. It is a little hard to predict how many people will choose to pay their fines in canned food, but Herbert said the city should probably budget for a loss of $50,000 in fine revenue. Add that $50,000 to the $56,000 deficit that existed in 2014, and you have about a $100,000 hole that needs to be filled.
One point worth noting here is that the city’s parking fund ran a deficit in 2014, but it is budgeted to run a surplus of about $15,000 to $40,000 in 2016. That’s because the City Commission as part of the 2016 budget process removed the parks and recreation landscaping positions from the fund. They were moved to a different part of the city budget.
One other point that I should mention is there is a caveat to all these numbers from the city. None of the numbers in the city’s parking fund account for the debt payments that have to be made on the city-owned parking garages that have been built downtown. The city could use parking fines and fees to pay at least some of the debt payments — remember, there is about $400,000 left over after you pay the basic operating expenses of the parking system — but the city chooses to make the debt payments with general tax dollars.
Whether these numbers mean the city should or should not raise its parking fines, I don’t know. But city officials should be clear about why they are raising the fine, and it is not because the system operates at a loss. I also don’t know whether the city should start accepting can goods in lieu of parking fines. It certainly could increase the amount of food that gets to the needy, although it likely will create questions about why the city is choosing that cause over another. Some folks would like to use parking fines to fund affordable housing, for example.
On the issue of paying parking fines with canned food, I mainly just have one question, and it is more of a personal one: What happens when my wife gets a triple coupon on Always Save green beans? I can tell you what will happen: Stay off the sidewalks, because she is going to park anywhere she pleases.
Signs that Wal-Mart may get into the gas station, convenience store business in Lawrence; the great beer discrepancy at City Hall
I could say that the price of gasoline in Lawrence sparks a little bit of discussion, but that would be like me saying someone in my household likes butter. (We bring our own to communion.) No, gasoline prices in Lawrence get a lot of discussion, and mainly about how they are several cents higher than in nearby Topeka. With that in mind, I’ll be interested to watch whether Lawrence gets a major new player in the gasoline/convenience store business: Wal-Mart.
An official for Wal-Mart has filed paperwork at City Hall inquiring whether Lawrence’s two Wal-Mart stores are appropriately zoned for a gasoline station and convenience store to be built in the parking lots of the stores. Now, don’t take any of this to the bank quite yet. Wal-Mart hasn’t filed a plan to build any convenience stores in Lawrence. Rather, the company has filed for a zoning certification, which is a document where the city’s planning department tells a property owner what the current zoning of a site would allow. Many times, a zoning certification is a good sign that a company is at least considering a project for the property. Whether that consideration will turn into a project, I don’t know.
Wal-Mart does have a pretty easy path to build a convenience store at one of their two stores in town. City officials confirmed to Wal-Mart that the store on south Iowa Street has the appropriate zoning in place for a convenience store. All Wal-Mart would need to do is file a site plan for the store, which wouldn’t even require a City Commission vote. Since that store’s parking lot is approximately the size of Rhode Island, the company probably wouldn’t have any problems fitting a store onto the property.
Building a gas station/convenience store at the Wal-Mart in northwest Lawrence would be more complicated. City officials have notified Wal-Mart that the store near Sixth and Wakarusa is not zoned to allow for a gas station or convenience store. If Wal-Mart wanted to proceed with such a project, the entire site would need to be rezoned.
A rezoning likely wouldn’t be difficult because that corner has never created any disagreements in the community before. Oh, wait, there was that time in the early 2000s when attorneys made enough money to buy a small island country by litigating whether Wal-Mart should be allowed to build on the site. In case you have forgotten, the City Commission at the time opposed the construction of the store, but then settled a lawsuit out of court after Wal-Mart agreed to build a smaller store than originally planned.
Part of that settlement included a restriction of some uses at the property. A convenience store and gas station is one use that was restricted. Another use is that the property can’t be used to sell take-out beer.
And that brings me to the second part of this column ... the great beer discrepancy at City Hall.
I was reminded Friday night that the west Lawrence Wal-Mart does not sell beer. When my wife and I are looking to do something exotic on a Friday night, we get crazy and decide to shop at the west Wal-Mart instead of our more normal trip to the south Wal-Mart.
As I remember the discussion back in the 2000s, there was concern that the property was so close to Free State high school that beer sales would be a bad idea. But since that time, a Sprouts grocery store has been built even closer to Free State high school. I checked recently, and indeed, Sprouts sells beer. (Some of it wasn’t even organic.)
How does that work? One grocery store gets to sell beer, while the other one doesn’t. I don’t think Wal-Mart has officially asked to have the no-beer restriction removed, but it would be interesting to see how the city responded if it did. It was a previous City Commission that allowed Sprouts to sell beer there. It is hard to tell whether this City Commission would have taken the same action.
If Wal-Mart is serious about building a convenience store there, we likely will find out. A convenience store without beer would be like a Sunday without butter.
• A quick housekeeping note: Town Talk will be off for the next couple of days. I plan to return later this week.
Center for startup companies, artists undergoing expansion; Johnson County group seeks to build rent-controlled housing project in eastern Lawrence
A lawn mower, boxes of old records and spare parts for a chocolate fountain are stopping me from becoming a tech mogul. You understand that all the great tech companies were started in a garage somewhere, and I just don’t have the room to do it. Well, I may have to scratch that excuse off the list because a Lawrence organization that provides space to startup companies is expanding.
Officials at the nonprofit Lawrence Creates Makerspace are expanding the organization’s East Lawrence facility at 512 E. Ninth St. Plans call for adding 13 new office/studio spaces that entrepreneurs or artists can rent by the month. The nonprofit plans to spend more than $40,000 to add about 2,000 square feet of loft space to the building, plus to renovate another 1,000 square feet of space that isn’t being heavily used.
If you aren’t familiar with the idea of a makerspace, it is a facility that houses specialized equipment often used by inventors and other creative types. The Lawrence space has everything from a well-stocked woodworking shop to a 3-D printer to a new laser cutter that is being installed this March.
But the current configuration of the makerspace is largely open and shared space. Sarah Wallace, chair of the organization’s board, said the group has received a lot of requests for office space that is private and could be locked up at the end of the workday.
“The way we work now is that everybody is kind of on top of everybody else,” said Wallace, who uses the makerspace to run her herbal personal care products business Front Porch Culture. “That arrangement is great for some people, but it can be frustrating if you have a lot of equipment to disassemble.”
Wallace said the expansion also was needed to give Lawrence Creates a financial boost. The organization only charges $20 a month for people to have access to the makerspace, which is open 24 hours a day. That system has made it tough for the group to meet its monthly overhead costs. The new office space will be rented at a higher rate — likely between $150 to $300 a month, depending on the size of the space — which will put the organization on more solid footing.
“We’re going to keep the basic membership low, though, because it is important for this to be accessible for everyone,” Wallace said.
Lawrence Creates needs to raise about $42,000 to pay for the project, but work will begin soon because the group already has arranged for financing. The building’s owners, a group led by members of the longtime Lawrence Hill family, has agreed to finance the improvements. Lawrence Creates, though, will be doing several fundraising events in the coming months to pay off the debt. The first one is at 5:30 tonight at the makerspace facility at 512 E. Ninth. There will be music, catered food and a variety of merchandise for sale.
The expansion of Lawrence Creates Makerspace is just the latest sign of trend underway toward providing more resources to startup businesses in Lawrence. There are several other facilities in town that are catering to the startup crowd.
As we’ve previously reported, the folks who own Wicked Broadband operate the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship near Ninth and Iowa, East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District has startup office space on the upper floor of The Cider Gallery, and the Lawrence chamber of commerce is leading a partnership called Biz Fuel that provides workshops and other training to startups. All that is in addition to the longtime efforts of the KU Small Business Development Center that is co-located with the chamber.
Lawrence has long talked about becoming a magnet for startup companies, but the last few years have seen the talk turn into several new initiatives.
In other news and notes from around town:
• New efforts are underway to create an affordable housing project along O’Connell Road in eastern Lawrence.
A Johnson County development group plans to file for low-income housing tax credits from the state to build 32 units of rent-controlled housing on vacant property just west of O’Connell Road. The group, Wheatland Investments, is asking Lawrence city commissioners to approve a resolution of support at their Tuesday evening meeting.
The project is proposed for 1356 East 1600 Road, which is right near the intersection of East 26th Street Terrace and O’Connell Road. Plans call for 12 two-bedroom homes, 20 three-bedroom homes, an outdoor playground and other such amenities. Residents would need to make no more than 50 to 60 percent of the median income of Douglas County households in order to qualify to live in the development.
Tuesday’s action would be the first of several needed at City Hall before the project could move forward. The resolution of support that is being sought from the City Commission simply says that the commission doesn’t object to the development group seeking tax credits for the project. But the project still would have to win all the standard development approvals from the Planning Commission and the City Commission.
But first, the project needs to win tax credits from the state. Those tax credits are expected to be a key part of the financing of the new project.
If this project sounds somewhat familiar, you may be thinking of a previous proposal by Wheatland Investments. Back in 2014 we reported that Wheatland was working on a plan to build 90 units of senior, rent-controlled housing on the northwest corner of 25th Terrace and O’Connell Road. That project also applied for state housing credits. The development, though, never got off the ground.
This latest project would be farther to the south on O’Connell Road, and wouldn’t be focused on retirees. Instead, it would have more of a focus on working families, it seems.
The development group has a concept plan for the project that shows the 32 apartments would be housed in eight buildings that would each house four living units that would be spread out over two floors. The group also has draft elevations of what the homes would look like.
Commissioners will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to discuss the request.
Lawrence home sales have bounce-back year in 2015; local job growth highest of any metro in Kansas; unemployment ends year at 3 percent
We’re still in that beginning-of-a-new-year period, which means there are certain things that have to be done: Break a resolution, break a treadmill, break an elastic waistband. And if you are a reporter, add one more to the list: Report on recently released year-end numbers. I have two quick ones to share with you today: 2015 numbers for home sales and jobs in Lawrence.
First, the real estate market . . . It was a bounce-back year for home sales in Lawrence. Home sales increased by 11.5 percent in 2015, according to a new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. It was uncertain how the market would perform in 2015 because in 2014 home sales had become stagnant. Lawrence posted only a 0.1 percent gain in 2014.
Worth noting is that Lawrence’s real estate market outperformed the national real estate market, which saw sales of homes grow by 7 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. Lawrence also slightly outperformed the Kansas City real estate market. The KC metro area saw home sales increase by 10.7 percent, according to the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors.
But there are questions about whether the market will continue along at this pace in 2016. Local real estate agents are expressing concern about the diminishing number of homes that are on the market. In December, the number of homes on the market fell to 240. That’s down from 281 at the same time period in 2014 and from 303 in December 2013. Real estate agents have expressed concern that reduced inventories will ultimately reduce sales. Sales in December did fall a modest 2.6 percent compared with December 2014.
Here’s a look at some other numbers from the new report:
— The median selling price of Lawrence homes in 2015 was $169,000, up 1.2 percent from 2014, but down from $170,000 in 2013. Home prices in Lawrence are acting much differently from what has happened in the Kansas City market. The median selling price in the metro increased by 6.7 percent, to $169,900, according to numbers released by the KC Board of Realtors.
— The number of newly constructed homes that sold in 2015 was 81. That was an increase of 6.6 percent from 2014 numbers, but there are signs that market still hasn’t really hit its stride. The 81 homes sales still represented a decline from 2013 numbers when 94 new homes were sold. The new construction market in Lawrence is much different from what builders are seeing in the Kansas City area. In the metro, sales of newly constructed homes grew by 15.2 percent.
— In case you are wondering, the median selling price for a newly constructed home in Lawrence is $306,500. In the Kansas City metro area, it is $331,470.
— The median number of days a home sits on the market before it sells was 25 in 2015. That’s down from 34 in 2014 and 42 in 2013. That’s also an area where Lawrence’s home market is different from Kansas City’s. In the metro, the average number of days on market is 74. The low number of days on market might be another sign of Lawrence’s declining housing inventory. Buyers can’t afford to wait long if they want to close the deal.
• On the jobs front . . . Lawrence finished 2015 on a high note. According to new numbers from the state, Lawrence had the highest job growth rate of any metro area in Kansas in December.
Lawrence had 800 more jobs at the end of December 2015 than it did at the end of December 2014, according to the Kansas Department of Labor. That was good for a 1.5 percent growth rate. Wichita posted a 1.1 percent growth rate during the same time period, while Topeka was a 0.4 percent and Kansas City basically was unchanged. The state report doesn’t break out the numbers for Manhattan. A federal report due out later this month, however, does. For much of the year, Manhattan has been leading the state in job growth, but Lawrence has been closely behind.
Job numbers are tricky to report because they are fluid. The job picture in Lawrence in July looks quite a bit different from the job picture in November. But Lawrence generally has been posting positive monthly numbers in 2015, which had not been the case a couple of years ago.
The state numbers don’t provide specifics on what type of jobs are being added in Lawrence, but they do provide that data for the state as a whole. Here’s a look:
— Mining and logging: down 1,000 jobs
— Construction: up 4,500 jobs
— Manufacturing: up 400 jobs
— Trade, transportation and utilities: up 1,500 jobs
— Information: up 300 jobs
— Financial activities: up 150 jobs
— Professional and business services: down 1,600 jobs
— Education and health services: up 3,300 jobs
— Leisure and hospitality: up 1,000 jobs
— Government: down 2,500 jobs
Douglas County finished the year with an unemployment rate of 3 percent compared with 2.9 percent in Johnson County and 3.6 percent in Shawnee County. Here’s a look at unemployment rates for the entire state:
Keeping fraternity secrets can be quite a burden, I’m told. I wonder if Kansas University leaders are feeling that burden these days, because KU currently is in the fraternity secret business.
As we’ve previously reported, two KU fraternities — Delta Tau Delta and Phi Beta Sigma — have been placed on probation for violation of the university’s hazing policy. When a reporter learns of something like that, there’s a pretty logical next question to ask: What did they do? So, we asked it, and then KU officials responded by providing us documents that were most useful in illustrating the power of a black marker.
The documents were heavily redacted. They provided no meaningful information about what conduct was deemed to be in violation of the university’s student code. We have no idea whether the hazing activity involved required new members to do extra cleaning duties or whether they were of a more serious nature such as “paddle swats,” events involving “total or partial nudity,” or “required acts that may be considered sexual in nature.” All those are listed as possible hazing offenses. KU asked about each one, but shared none of the answers.
KU officials have refused to release the information because they contend it would violate the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, as well as the Kansas Open Records Act. One point to be clear about here is that the Journal-World has never asked for documents revealing the names or identity of individual fraternity members who participated or were victims of hazing. We’ve acknowledged all along that the release of that information is unnecessary. That’s why I found it particularly odd when one of the university’s reasons for denying our request for information was because it would constitute “a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy.” KU is concerned about protecting the privacy of an anonymous person? Where does that line of logic end?
But, I’m no lawyer. The closest I come is I occasionally impersonate Matlock, but that primarily is a coincidence in wardrobe. So, I won’t spend a lot of time debating the law or even criticizing KU. I’m more interested in criticizing the outcome because it is troubling on a number of fronts. Let’s look:
• Crime and punishment: We did not seek this information because we’re curious. We sought information about these hazing incidents because the job that readers pay us to do is to be a watchdog. Every organization — whether it be a court of law or an agency of university governance — benefits from having an outside set of eyes that holds it accountable. In America, it is important that the public has confidence that the punishment fits the crime. If the public receives no details about the crime, it is impossible to know whether the punishment fits. Granted, this isn’t a court of law and hazing isn’t necessarily a crime — although some of the actions KU asked about conceivably could be. But KU is a public institution, which means it is the public’s responsibility to hold it accountable. If the public doesn’t, no one will. In this case, the issue goes beyond whether individuals were treated fairly. One of the fraternities, Phi Beta Sigma, is a small African-American fraternity. The other fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, is not. Did KU hold the African-American fraternity to the same standards as it did the other fraternity? I have no information that it didn’t, but of course, I don’t have very much information. I could just trust KU treated both groups fairly. I also could just trust all government entities, throw away my pencil and notepad and call it a career.
• Fairness to fraternity members: You can argue that KU is doing no favors to the members of these fraternities. Remember, the issue has never been about releasing the names of these members to the public. But certainly there are people on campus who know the identity of some of these members. There are times these members self-identify themselves. KU has now publicly announced that these two fraternities conducted hazing. That means some members did things they shouldn’t have, and some members or pledges had things done to them that shouldn’t have been done. KU has now provided a list of the range of activities that may have happened. Some of them are potentially very harmful: paddling, forced nudity, sexual acts. By not providing any information about what actually occurred — again, with no names attached — KU has left it open to the imagination. I tell sources frequently that if they choose to create a vacuum of information, it will be filled by the public. I’m not saying that is fair, but it is human nature.
• Fairness to students and parents: Imagine if you are a student who is contemplating joining one of these fraternities. Would you like to know what hazing activity took place? Imagine you are a parent of a student who is contemplating joining one of these fraternities. Would you like to know the hazing activities that took place? There’s also the issue of information that parents of current members are entitled to know. KU has told us that parents of current members have no more access to KU’s findings than the general public does. Sure, parents could ask their sons what happened. It should be noted, however, that the parenting strategy of “ask and you shall receive” has been shown to have inconsistent results.
I wonder whether KU leaders think this outcome is right. Does the university believe that the public, future students, parents of future students should have access to this information? It seems that KU’s answer to that question would say a lot about how the university views its partnership with those key groups.
I’ve chatted with some university officials involved in this matter, and I don’t have a clear sense of where they stand on this. I think they do feel hamstrung by the law, and I can understand how organizations like KU use an abundance of caution when complying with the law.
But that shouldn’t ever stop the university from speaking out when it thinks a law does not serve the university or its constituents well. Here’s hoping the university directs its lobbying team to seek changes to the law to make it clear that a public university has the right to release information about why it sanctions student organizations.
It is information the public deserves to know.
— Chad Lawhorn is the managing editor of the Journal-World. You can read his Town Talk columns each weekday at LJWorld.com
City sets record with $227 million of construction in 2015; apartment construction continues to lead the way in city growth
The new number to shoot for in the Lawrence construction industry is $227 million. No, contractors, the Lawhorn household has not decided to start construction on the much-discussed third wing of the shoe closet. Instead, $227 million is the record-breaking amount of new construction that took place in Lawrence in 2015.
We already had reported that Lawrence had set a new record for building activity in 2015, but we didn’t know the final number until the city closed the books on the year. Well, that’s now been done, and the latest report from City Hall shows the city issued building permits for $227.89 million worth of construction.
That’s more than double the $99.7 million worth of projects that were started in 2014. The 2015 totals broke the previous building permit record that was set in 2013 when permits for $171.9 million worth of construction were issued. Here’s a look at building totals since the 2008-2009 recession:
— 2015: $227.8 million
— 2014: $99.7 million
— 2013: $171.9 million
— 2012: $100.6 million
— 2011: $115.7 million
— 2010: $101.8 million
— 2009: $75.3 million
The actual amount of construction occurring in the city in 2015 was quite a bit higher than what was recorded by the city. The bulk of the public school construction projects were exempted from the city’s building permit process, so they don’t show up in these totals. As has long been the case, construction projects on the KU campus also don’t show up in the totals.
The city had a mix of projects that led to the record total. In all, there were 19 projects valued at $1 million or more. Here’s a look:
— $45 million: Here @ Kansas apartment and retail building near KU’s campus
— $18.75 million: Apartment/office building at Ninth and New Hampshire
— $13.3 million: Wakarusa River sewage treatment plant
— $12.5 million: Americare assisted living complex at Peterson and Monterey Way
— $12 million: Pioneer Ridge independent living near Wakarusa and Harvard
— $7.5 million: Pump station near 31st and Louisiana for Wakarusa sewage treatment plant
— $6.2 million: Hutton Farms West residential development near Kasold and Peterson
— $3.8 million: Fourth-floor renovation of Lawrence Memorial Hospital
— $3.5 million: Deerfield Elementary School renovation and addition
— $2.7 million: single-family home at 116 N. Wilderness Way
— $2.6 million: Phi Delta Theta renovation
— $2.3 million: Schwegler Elementary School renovation and addition
— $2 million: Phi Gamma Delta addition
— $1.9 million: Kansas River sewage treatment plant addition
— $1.5 million: renovation work for Iowa EPS Foam industrial building near 31st and Haskell
— $1.5 million: Raising Cane’s restaurant near 25th and Iowa streets
— $1.4 million: renovation of the former Holiday Inn, which is becoming a Double Tree hotel.
— $1 million: Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training center renovation near 31st and Haskell
— $1 million: single-family home at 3642 Brush Court
The list is kind of interesting in that it provides a snapshot of what is driving the construction industry. It shows that Lawrence, at the moment, is heavy on residential projects and light on industrial, retail or office projects. A quick total of those 19 big-dollar projects shows about $103 million were projects related to residential projects — everything from fraternity houses to retirement communities.
The numbers also show that a dramatic change in how Lawrence lives continues unabated. Once again, Lawrence builders constructed more apartments than than they did single-family homes or duplexes. In 2015, it wasn’t even a close contest. The city issued permits for 467 new apartment units, while issuing permits for 239 single-family or duplex homes.
The last time the city built more single-family/duplexes than it did apartments was in 2006. Since that year, the city has seen apartment construction outpace single-family home construction by nearly a 2 to 1 pace. Since 2006, the city has added 2,703 apartment units and 1,377 single-family/duplex units.
Lawrence is not alone in experiencing this trend. A move toward apartment living is being seen in many communities. It is not clear when the trend may reverse. For what it is worth, 2015 was the best year for single-family home construction in a number of years in Lawrence. The 239 single-family and duplex permits were the most issued by the city since 2006.
As I’ve noted before, the apartment boom that is occurring today likely will have long-lasting implications for the community. Most prominently, what is going to happen to all the old apartment complexes that clearly are losing tenants to the new apartment complexes? How will those old apartment complexes redevelop?
I ask that question because population numbers raise questions about whether Lawrence is building apartments and single-family homes at a rate faster than the city’s population is growing. From 2006 to 2014, Lawrence’s population increased by only about 0.5 percent per year. According to the Census Bureau’s annual estimates, Lawrence added a total of 4,158 people from 2006 to 2014.
During that same time period, the city added 4,080 new single-family, duplex and multifamily living units. The city added almost one unit for every new man, woman and child who moved to the city. (Yes, some living units got demolished in that time period, but I’m not sure the number is enough to be very significant to the totals. It also is worth noting that the Census and the city sometimes disagree on how many people live here.) The average household size in Lawrence, according to Census data, is 2.28 people per household. Those numbers would suggest that Lawrence needed to add fewer than 1,900 housing units since 2006 to keep up with population demand, rather than the approximately 4,000 living units that were built.
You might be asking yourself why apartment builders would construct new units at a rate higher than population growth. The simple answer is that new apartment complexes don’t need new population growth to be successful. They just need residents who are willing to move from an old apartment unit into a new one.
Whether the city is building the “right amount” of apartment units is beyond me. What I find interesting about it, though, is how differently City Hall treats apartment construction than it does retail construction.
Market forces are in play in both instances. As we recently saw with the denial of a proposed shopping center at the SLT and Iowa Street interchange, the city spends much time worrying about whether the Lawrence market can absorb new retail space. Has the city spent much time worrying about whether the Lawrence market can absorb new apartments?
One of the primary reasons government cares about not allowing a market to become overbuilt is because it can create blight in existing areas of town: A new shopping center takes business away from an existing shopping center, and the existing shopping center becomes rundown. Is that an issue the city should be worried about with new versus old apartment complexes? Drive around town and note what you see more of: blighted shopping centers or blighted apartments.
It appears the city is allowing the market to have a much greater say in apartment development in Lawrence than it is allowing the market to have in retail development. I really don’t know what the right approach is for either retail or apartment development. But it is interesting how the two are treated differently.
It creates a couple of questions: What will happen to all these old apartment complexes in Lawrence? And, will this new City Commission start clamping down on new apartment construction?
Kansas ranks low on new list of best places to retire; report predicts job gains for Lawrence in 2016
Perhaps it is our lack of oceans, our dearth of mountains, or — as I’ve been saying is the root of many of the state’s problems — a shortage of Furr’s Cafeterias. Whatever the case, Kansas doesn’t rank very high on the latest list of best places to retire.
Kansas ranks No. 33 on the new list of Best and Worst States to Retire by the financial website WalletHub. That puts Kansas in the lower half of the study, which ranks 51 locations. It includes the District of Columbia, even though it is not a state, and, even more strangely, it also includes Missouri. In fact, Missouri ranked quite a bit higher than Kansas in the study. Only one of our border states fared worse than the Sunflower State. Here’s a look:
— Colorado: No. 5
— Missouri: No. 14
— Oklahoma: No. 19
— Kansas : No. 33
— Nebraska: No. 37
WalletHub measured a variety of data from the Census, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Retirement Living Information Center, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and several other sources. It then ranked the states in three broad categories: affordability, quality of life and health care. Kansas finished in the top half of the ranking in two of the three categories. Kansas finished No. 21 in both the quality of life and the health care ranking. But on the affordability index, we ranked No. 36, and the affordability ranking ended up having the heaviest weight on the state’s overall ranking.
Among the factors looked at for the affordability ranking were an adjusted cost of living; friendliness of taxation on pensions and Social Security; and the annual cost of in-home services. Of our neighbors, only Nebraska had a lower affordability ranking, coming in at No. 40. Oklahoma was the most affordable at No. 13, but it also ranked the worst in the quality of life (No. 41) and health care (No. 39) categories.
The affordability issue is the one that Lawrence leaders often spend time thinking about as they try to position the city to become more of a retiree destination. Local leaders believe the city is well positioned from the standpoint of having above-average quality of life options due to the university and other amenities. It also believes the city’s health care options stack up well. But if the entire state is perceived to have an affordability problem, that will present some challenges.
One area that the study notes Kansas scored particularly well in was a bit surprising: number of museums per capita. Kansas has the third most museums per capita, trailing only New York and California. But, my wife has thrown cold water on that piece of good news. She believes the study’s authors have counted my closet as a museum of 1980s fashion.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but the stock market in 2016 is making retirement sound like a fairy tale where I will resort to kissing a frog who has a better 401(k) than I do. So, we all had better remained focused on employment prospects for awhile. A new report by the United States Conference of Mayors is projecting job growth in Lawrence will be strong in 2016.
The report projects Lawrence will have job growth of 1.9 percent in 2016. That's good for a ranking of 88 out of the 381 metro markets studied. That’s the good news. The bad news is the report is projecting Lawrence’s job growth won’t be quite as strong as it was in 2015. The report estimates 2015 job growth numbers in Lawrence will check in at 2.1 percent. So, in summary, Lawrence’s job growth will be better than many metro areas in 2016, but won’t be as strong as it was a year ago.
Here’s a look at how some area communities are projected to do in 2016:
— No. 35: Manhattan: 2.5 percent in 2016 compared with 2.9 percent in 2015
— No. 88: Lawrence: 1.9 percent in 2016 compared with 2.1 percent in 2015
— No. 99: Wichita: 1.8 percent in 2016 compared with 0.6 percent in 2015
— No. 99: Columbia, Mo.: 1.8 percent in 2016 compared with 2 percent in 2015
— No. 169: Kansas City, Mo.-Kan: 1.3 percent in 2016 compared with 1.8 percent in 2015
— No. 197: Topeka: 1.1 percent in 2016 compared with 0.7 percent in 2015
— No. 288: St. Joseph, Mo: 0.5 percent in 2016 compared with negative 1.2 percent 2015
The report also did an interesting analysis of how long it has taken communities to recover from the recession of 2008-2009. It measured at what point a community’s job totals matched or exceeded job total levels prior to the recession. In Lawrence we finally got back to pre-recession levels in the fourth quarter of 2014. That was pretty consistent with what happened in Topeka and Kansas City, which both got back to even in the third quarter of 2014.
Plans filed for new office development in Warehouse Arts District; developer hopes to add row house project to area in 2016; update on East Lawrence bistro
It seems demand is increasing for a funky vibe at the office, but, no, that smell that’s coming from the break room fridge doesn’t qualify. Instead, I’m talking about office space in an arts-oriented district. The developer of East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District has filed plans to add more offices to the area.
A group led by Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich has filed plans to add about 10,000 square feet of new offices in the building at 832 Pennsylvania St. The building is an old warehouse known as the Poultry Building. (I’m assuming because someone left some KFC in the break room fridge for too long.) Or maybe it used to be a building that processed poultry long ago. Regardless, the new plans call for 11 new office spaces to be housed in the building.
Krsnich already has converted one half of the Poultry Building into a multitenant office space. He had left the other half of the building unfinished in hopes of finding a restaurant user for the space. But Krsnich said demand for office space in the district has grown to the point that he’s changing plans.
“Instead of waiting around for a restaurant operator, we though we could make an impact now by adding more space for entrepreneurs and startups,” Krsnich said.
Krsnich said all nine offices that he’s developed in the Poultry Building currently are leased, and there’s a waiting list for new space. He thinks the popularity has something to do with the funky vibe that comes with having an office in the arts district. He said the office building frequently hosts art events, tenants of the building often stay for social hours on Friday nights, and there’s even a ping pong table that gets pretty heavy use.
“It has kind of turned into a work hard, play hard environment,” Krsnich said.
The Poultry Building already has the proper zoning to house additional office space, so Krsnich just needs some technical site plan approval from the city’s planning office. He hopes to get the approvals for the approximately $220,000 renovation project in the next several weeks.
But there likely will be other, larger projects to keep an eye open for in the Warehouse Arts District. Krsnich confirmed to me that he hopes to break ground this year on a new row house project in the arts district.
He envisions it will be called 9 Del Row Houses, and will be at the northwest corner of Ninth and Delaware streets. That’s catty-corner from Krsnich’s recently completed 9Del Lofts apartment building.
The row house project won’t feature a large multistory building like the lofts project, but rather will include about a dozen single or two-story living units that also could be made into work-live units. That means artists might be able to live on-site and also have a studio in the building. Or, there might be the possibility for some small retail storefronts as well, depending on what type of zoning approvals the project can win from the city.
Krsnich said the 43 apartment units in the 9Del Lofts building were fully rented within 30 days of the building’s opening in mid-2015. He said the project, which is primarily rent-controlled housing, has a waiting list of 60 to 70 people.
There’s another large project in the pipeline for the district. As we reported in December, plans have been filed to convert the old SeedCo building at 826 Pennsylvania St. into a brewery restaurant and apartment building. Longtime liquor executive Matt Williams is planning to open the Lawrence Beer Company, which will include a restaurant, on the ground floor of the old industrial building. Plans also call for 14 one- and two-bedroom apartments to be built on top of the old building. The proposed design envisions adding two stories onto the old 1900s-era building. Krsnich is not involved in that property, other than his group is the seller of the building, but he said he’s excited about what that project will add to the district, if approved.
On a smaller scale, Krsnich said he is still working to open a bistro at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets in the small stone building that is next to the Poehler Lofts. Krsnich said he is in negotiations with an operator for the business, but can’t yet reveal the name of the party who would run the bistro. Krsnich said he still envisions an establishment that would serve both food and drink, with an emphasis on attracting neighborhood residents and the growing workforce with offices in the district.
He said he hopes to have a deal in place that would allow renovation work on the building to begin in April, which would make a fall opening possible.
One last project Krsnich is involved in is the old Turnhalle building, the 1869 stone structure at Ninth and Rhode Island streets. Krsnich in 2014 bought the historic property from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance with hopes of finding a user for what is one of the older buildings in the city.
Thus far, the building remains vacant, but Krsnich said his company has applied for a couple of preservation grants that he hopes to get word on soon. He also continues to market the property to users, but said he doesn’t have a deal to announce. But he does have an idea of what he thinks is likely for the property.
“I would be very surprised if the Turnhalle didn’t have some sort of restaurant component to it,” Krsnich said.
Plans filed for Dollar General store in eastern Lawrence; law office has expansion plans; local author has piece featured in New York Times
Among the many things that I’m famous for at Super Bowl parties — and that my lawyer advises me I can talk about — is bringing extremely off-brand chips that I have bought from one of those dollar discount stores. Well, get a bigger chip bowl, because plans have been filed for a Dollar General store in eastern Lawrence.
Dollar General has filed plans to build in the shopping center on the southeast corner of 19th and Haskell. The plans show the 9,100 square-foot store will be constructed in the parking lot just south of the existing convenience store. So, no need to worry — at the moment — about any of your favorite businesses like Playerz Sports Bar or the business that perhaps produces the most joyful appendages in town, Happy Feet Spa. The shopping center includes several other establishments, including Kingfish Soulfood, Something for Everyone Thrift Store and the Center for Change substance abuse center. Plans show space for the existing establishments will remain in place.
There has been much talk over the years about a major redevelopment for the 19th and Haskell shopping center, which has begun to show its age. The Dollar General proposal certainly is the most significant redevelopment plan for the center in a long time. According to the documents on file with City Hall, an Overland Park development group called Colby Capital LLC is involved with the project. I don’t have any word on whether that development group has other plans for the rest of the shopping center or is only involved in the Dollar General portion. Lawrence commercial real estate agent Lance Johnson has been marketing the property for redevelopment and previously told me the site was receiving good interest. I’ll ask around and let you know if I find out anything.
As for Dollar General, if you are not familiar with that chain, you evidently don’t eat enough nacho cheese-flavored chips. (It's OK. It is not real cheese, so it is not real fat.) This will be the third Dollar General store in Lawrence, with one in North Lawrence and a longtime one just east of Sixth and Iowa streets. The stores carry a little bit of everything, including a line of nonperishable food items, health and beauty supplies, cleaning supplies, diapers and other baby items, pet food, school and office supplies, and a toy section that causes arguments about why Daddy gets to buy seven pounds of nacho cheese-flavored chips but a little girl can’t buy the “Ever After High Hat-tastic Party Doll.”
The Dollar General development likely will fill a bit of a void in eastern Lawrence. That side of town lost its Family Dollar store at 23rd and Louisiana streets when the company closed several of its stores across the country in late 2014. And not that the stores are overly similar, but you’ve perhaps noticed the Bargain Depot at 23rd and Harper streets also has closed. That business was a discount store that carried some household items, tools, sporting goods and other such items. That will be a site worth keeping an eye on because it is a fairly large location on a highly visible part of 23rd Street. The folks at Lawrence’s Colliers International office are seeking a new tenant for that location.
Back to Dollar General, I don’t have a timeline for the store to open. But the site at 19th and Haskell already has the proper zoning in place, so all that is needed are a few technical design approvals from the city’s Planning Department. Those approvals could happen in the next several weeks, which would clear the way for construction to begin.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is getting close to Super Bowl party time, so it is always good to have some information about the legal industry handy for those chili-related liability suits. On that note, I have word of a Lawrence law office that is in expansion mode.
The law firm of Joseph Hollander & Craft has bought a new office building at 5200 Bob Billings Parkway to accommodate an expansion. The firm recently moved its four attorneys and two staff members from its previous office at 3320 Mesa Way. But a spokeswoman with the firm said the company bought about 2,000 square feet of space in the multitenant office building because it plans to increase the number of attorneys it has working in Lawrence.
“We are planning to add additional staff in Lawrence soon, and the new space allows plenty of room for growth,” Alli M. Jacoby, chief operating officer for the firm, said via email. “Lawrence has been an excellent hub for our business in northeast Kansas and the Kansas City metro area. Our presence in Kansas City and throughout the central Midwest region’s legal community is increasing rapidly, and we anticipate even more expansion in the near future.”
The firm currently has 17 attorneys and 17 support staff in offices in Wichita, Topeka and Lawrence.
• Anybody who is a secretary or who has had life made easier by a secretary should take a look at a recent New York Times piece written by Lawrence resident Bryn Greenwood.
Greenwood, a local author, wrote a piece about her longtime career as a secretary. The article “Why I Always Wanted to Be a Secretary” appeared in last Sunday’s edition of the Times. You can read the full piece here.
The best line from the piece, in my opinion, may be: “Three years and three secretarial jobs later, my new employers referred to me as an ‘administrative assistant.’ They seemed to believe that the new title conferred greater respect for my work; yet no one has ever suggested that the secretary of state should be called the administrative assistant of state.”
After KU’s blowout loss last night, a breadbasket is the only type of basket worth talking about today. Fortunately, I’ve got news about one of Lawrence’s larger bread-makers. The downtown bakery Great Harvest Bread Co. has new owners and also several new offerings.
Longtime Baker Bob Garrett — known by many as Baker Bob — sold the store at 807 Vermont St. in early December. The mother-daughter duo of Marty Peterson and Sarah Burtch have bought the business.
“I’ve always enjoyed baking, and who doesn’t love bread?” said Burtch, the daughter in the duo.
Burtch — who has been a longtime customer of Great Harvest — said the store is keeping the favorite recipes and bread varieties that have made the shop popular since its opening in the mid-1990s. The shop still makes about a dozen varieties of bread per day but plans to have more of a rotational menu to entice shoppers to try more seasonal offerings too.
Among the new offerings are a dessert called a Savannah bar, which is a fruit streusel bar that features different fruits each day. Thus far, fruit combinations have included blueberry, strawberry, caramel apple and others. Also new is something called Popeye bread. It features spinach, red peppers and parmesan cheese. I assume you could dip it in Olive Oyl. (Get it? Yeah, marketing cartoon-related food products is my fallback career.)
Also new to the store is a line of organic peanut butter, including something called butter toffee peanut butter. How decadent sounding. As I’ve long said, any food with “butter” in its name twice is a food worth breaking out the fancy stretchy pants for. In addition to peanut butter varieties, the store also is carrying an almond butter and other butters made from pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, which is aimed at people with nut allergies.
A line of jams, jellies, spice rubs, corn bread mixes, oatmeals, trail mixes, brownie mixes and other such products also are being offered at the store.
The store is part of a chain of more than 200 Great Harvest bakeries, but each store is individually owned. The store will continue to use freshly ground whole wheat that is milled at the store daily to produce its breads.
Burtch said the new owners plan a few renovations to the building, but said that work would not begin for a while. Hours of the store remain unchanged: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence-based Allen Press has a new chief executive officer. Randy Radosevich, a former manager with the commercial printing firm Henry Wurst Inc., began his duties as CEO of Allen Press on Monday.
For those of you not familiar with Allen Press, you must not be very scholarly. Allen Press is one of the larger printers of scholarly journals in the country. It has its headquarters and printing facility in East Lawrence near Hobbs Park at 11th and Delaware streets.
Former CEO Gerald Lillian announced late last year that he was leaving the company after 10 years to start a new small business with his wife. Dee Ann Berry has been serving as interim CEO for the company. She will remain at Allen Press as the company’s chief operating officer.
Radosevich comes to Allen Press after having managed the Kansas City production plant for Henry Wurst. He previously was a vice president for TNG Central Division, a leading publishing/periodical distribution company in North America.
Longtime Lawrence resident Rand Allen will continue to serve as president of the company, which has been operating in Lawrence for more than 80 years.
City delays final vote to deny shopping center at SLT and Iowa; issue of what city wants developed at intersection still unclear
I certainly know a thing or two about backtracking. When you live in a house with a 12- and a 9-year-old you get to hear plenty of it. When you “complete” home improvement projects the way I do, you certainly get to practice it too. (I never said the staircase would go all the way to the bottom.) So, I’ll be interested if I hear any backtracking from the City Commission meeting as it relates to a proposed shopping center at the intersection of the SLT and Iowa Street.
We were scheduled to hear the commission discuss the shopping center issue at tonight’s meeting. They were asked to approve a legal document officially denying the proposed shopping center. But on Tuesday morning, City Hall sent notice that a vote on the matter would be delayed by at least one week.
I’m not sure what is causing the delay, but I certainly don’t expect commissioners to change their vote from last week and now allow the approximately 250,000-square-foot shopping center at the southeast corner of Iowa Street and the SLT. It sure appears that decision is done. That site won’t house anytime soon an Academy Sports, an Old Navy or any of the other retailers that were planning on coming to the center.
But it will be interesting to see if commissioners seek to massage the message they are sending by denying the project. As I wrote last week, I was not surprised commissioners voted to deny the shopping center proposal. I was surprised at one of the key reasons they used to deny the project: that the city is not ready for development south of the South Lawrence Trafficway.
I thought that was a surprising position to take given that the property in question has been part of the city limits since 1979, and that the City Commission just two years ago approved a plan for the area that stated the property was suitable for auto-related commercial development.
People who invest millions of dollars to develop in this community look for signals from the City Commission. Having a piece of property in the city limits is a signal that it is ready for development. Having a planning document that spells out a commercial use for a piece of property is a signal that it is ready for development. Combine those two, and developers view it as a green light.
Last week’s denial of the plan has shifted the light to yellow. Commissioners said they didn’t want a shopping center at that site. People can argue about whether that is a good decision, but it is a decision consistent with the city’s plan. To be fair, the city never sent a signal that it wanted a shopping center at that corner. Developers were testing the waters, and it appears that test is now complete, at least with this City Commission.
But as part of last week’s denial, commissioners ended up sending another signal. At least three commissioners have said they think the Revised Southern Development Plan — the plan approved two years ago that says the property should develop as an auto-related commercial center — needs to be revisited. That’s sending a signal that the city is no longer sure any type of commercial development — or perhaps any type of development at all — should occur on the property just south of one of the larger intersections in all of Douglas County. Again, the light shifts to yellow, and the question is whether it will turn to a full red.
Simply put, commissioners must decide whether they want to send a signal that an auto-related commercial use would be appropriate for the intersection. That could be something like a new car dealership, or a complex of hotels to attract travelers off the highway, or a large fueling center, or some combination of all of the above. Again, you could argue why the city would rather have that type of development at the intersection than a major shopping center, but it doesn’t seem like that argument is going to go anywhere with this commission. That makes the more interesting argument one of whether the intersection should have any commercial development. A new car dealership at the site, for example, certainly could be a significant sales tax generator for the community.
Commissioners were scheduled to discuss the subject tonight, but now have delayed the discussion for a week. Commissioners will be asked to approve a legal document called a “findings of fact.” It basically is a document written by a city attorney that spells out why commissioners denied the project last week. As you may guess, it is usually not a good sign when you have to ask an attorney to write a document explaining why you did something. It is a mechanism used to put the city on a good legal footing in case the city gets sued over the denial. I don’t know how likely a lawsuit is in this matter, but the city doesn’t like to take chances with such issues.
You can read the entire document here. It lists several reasons for denial, but it is interesting to note that it does not state that the city isn’t prepared for development south of the SLT. Instead, the document basically says that a shopping center at that intersection doesn’t comply with the city’s comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan calls for something like a car lot or hotels or some other auto-related use. This legal document that the city is being asked to approve still contemplates that a commercial use is foreseen for the intersection. Is that the message the City Commission intends to send, or does it still intend to send its yellow light message of “We’re not sure what ought to be built there"?
City commissioners last week could have denied the shopping center project by simply saying “we have a plan for that intersection and we’re not interested in changing it.” But commissioners didn’t say that. Instead they said something along the lines of “We have a plan for the intersection, we don’t want to change it to allow a shopping center there, and furthermore, we’re not sure we like the plan we have.”
The last part of the statement has produced some questions that it seems the commission will have to answer at some point:
— What type of development do they want at the intersection? Is an auto-related commercial center appropriate there? Is any type of commercial development appropriate there? These questions are the ones that seem to be frustrating significant numbers of the public. I have heard, by far, from more members of the public who are disappointed with the commission about this issue than people who are pleased with the commission. Their frustration seems to be that they thought the commission already had planned for this intersection and sent the signal that some form of commercial development was appropriate. Their second point of frustration is one of timing. The South Lawrence Trafficway has been in the works for more than 20 years. It has been easy to predict that this intersection would be a focal point of development pressure once the SLT was completed. The SLT is now near completion, the development pressure is hot, and the city is still trying to figure out what it wants for the intersection.
— What type of incentives is the city willing to offer big box retailers? With last week’s denial, this City Commission has decided it doesn’t want big box retail on that property. The site that is most well-positioned to accommodate multiple big box retailers is the property near Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence. It is zoned and ready to go, but has not attracted any tenants for the last several years. Does the City Commission have a good understanding of why that development hasn’t attracted any tenants? Does the city believe some type of financial incentive will need to be offered to entice a retailer to go to that far northwest location? Does the city have a different plan for attracting retailers to the community?
— How important is it to add new retail options in Lawrence? I think this one produces a variety of viewpoints both on the commission and in the community. What is clearer is that City Hall budget makers are counting on significant amounts of retail growth to make the city’s budget work. I wrote last week about how Lawrence had one of the higher growth rates of sales tax collections in the state in 2015. Sales tax collections grew by 4.7 percent. That was good news, but the growth rate still fell short of what city officials were hoping for. City budget makers had projected a 5 percent sales tax growth. More importantly, the city has budgeted for a 5 percent growth in sales tax in 2016. That’s a more aggressive projection than what City Hall has normally used. In the past it has budgeted for growth rates closer to 3 percent. In short, City Hall is betting on more sales taxes.
Does the city need more retailers to produce those sales taxes? I don’t know, but it is a question that Lawrence taxpayers have a vested interest in seeing answered. One way or another, the city’s budget will need to balance.
For many years, parents of KU students were under the impression that their children were getting a fine education in all things nautical. After all, the credit card statement kept showing visits to The Yacht Club. Come to find out, The Yacht Club was a bar and grill. As we previously reported, it closed in June, but now there’s news the longtime establishment has reopened under new ownership.
A pair of radio personalities with K.C. country music station Q104 — Mike Kennedy and Whitey Whitney — have reopened The Yacht Club, 530 Wisconsin. The bar and grill reopened last weekend. Don’t let the new owners’ country music background fool you into thinking The Yacht Club is soon going to become The Country Club. Neither a name change nor a format change is on tap.
“We would never change the name,” said Alex Adams, manager of the establishment. “There’s too much history with the name.”
As for the music and feel of the place, the club is expected to focus on being laid-back, whether that involves country, rock or some other type of music playing from the jukebox.
“We just want to have an upbeat and good-time vibe,” Adams said. “We will always have music playing, we’ll always have games on, and we’ll have food too.”
The business is rolling out a new menu. It will have a heavy emphasis on bar food that can be delivered quickly. That includes appetizers like Yacht Knots, which are a pair of Bavarian pretzels with a craft beer cheese sauce and bistro mustard. Hamburgers with lots of topping options also are on the menu, as well as a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich called the Titanic Pork T.
The club definitely will keep its sports bar theme with about 15 televisions, pool table, shuffleboard, foosball, and the giant KU basketball scoreboard that hung on the wall for so long remains in place.
The new owners — Kennedy and Whitney — have some experience in the bar and restaurant business. The duo also owns JT’s Sports Bar and Grill in De Soto, Adams said.
Plans call for the business to open at 11 a.m. each day and serve a lunch menu. The kitchen will close at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., depending on the night. The bar will remain open until 11 p.m. or 2 a.m. depending on the day of the week.
New grocery chain coming to the area with store, fueling center; update on Church’s Chicken speculation
I know on that long drive from Lawrence to Johnson County, I often times need to restock my supply of Doritos, Twinkies, hair gel and other necessities for surviving in the big city. Well, plans have been approved for a large, new grocery store at the K-10 interchange at De Soto that may well appeal to Lawrence commuters. The project also is noteworthy in that it will bring a new grocery chain to the region.
Harps — an approximately 80-store chain based in Springdale, Ark. — has reached a deal to build a new 32,000-square foot grocery store/pharmacy/fueling center at the Lexington Avenue interchange at De Soto. If you are familiar with the Pizza Hut location near that interchange — and since that looks like pepperoni stuck in your heater vent, I think you are — you know where the store will be located. It will be built on the vacant property just east of Pizza Hut.
Plans call for the store to have a full line of groceries, a deli, a bakery, a pharmacy, and most Harps also have a convenience store within the store, said Cynthia Wagner, city administrator. Plans approved by the city show four fueling islands.
Wagner said the city of De Soto approved a tax increment financing district for the project, which will be used to help pay for public infrastructure at the site. De Soto has been without a grocery store for about four years, and Wagner said getting a grocer to the community has been a major goal. Wagner — who, if you remember, used to be an assistant city manager in Lawrence — said the location right along K-10 is designed to also make it easier for commuters to use the location too.
“We sure hope to be able to capitalize on a lot of the commuters who drive by the location,” she said.
The regional grocery industry also is likely to take notice of the deal. The deal represents an expansion into new territory for Harps. The chain currently operates in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, but the company notes on its website that it has “aggressive growth plans.” It looks like the farthest north the company is currently located is Joplin. It seems unlikely that this will be the only Harps store planned for the Kansas City area, but I’ve heard no real talk of the company looking at Lawrence. It may be more likely that the company is looking at the Kansas City metro market. But, I’ve got a call into an executive with the company to find out more.
In a voicemail from one of the company executives, he said he hopes construction work will begin this spring and the store could open in the fall of 2016. He estimated the company — which is a privately-held, employee-owned company — would have about 60 employees, with about half of them being full-time positions.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As we previously have reported, there is a full-scale effort underway to correct the obvious deficiency in fried chicken options in Lawrence. Buffalo Wild Wings, Chick-fil-A, Popeyes, and Raising Cane’s all have either opened or will open new locations on south Iowa Street. Wing Stop is opening in the Louisiana Purchase shopping center on 23rd Street. And we previously have reported that a chicken chain has filed plans for a drive-thru restaurant at the Bauer Farm development near Sixth and Wakarusa. But a name hasn’t yet been released for that project.
All the great chicken minds in town, though, have been speculating that it is a Church’s Chicken. Folks in the commercial real estate industry have indicated that Church’s has been interested in the Lawrence market at various times. But a person familiar with the development has told me it is not a Church’s that will be going into the location. No word yet on what it is though. The development group is being quiet thus far. But I’ll keep an ear open.
In the meantime, all us great chicken minds will have to get back together again and create new speculation. I say we meet at the pharmacy. We can have a good discussion while workers pack our boxes of cholesterol medicine.
New sandwich shop coming to southern Lawrence; car dealership buys property along south Iowa Street; advocate to sell KU versus Kentucky basketball tickets to raise money for affordable housing
There’s a new sandwich chain coming to south Iowa Street, and I’ll be honest, it has me worrying about my penmanship. The sandwich chain Which Wich is coming to a shopping center near 26th and Iowa streets, and will bring its unique concept that involves customers writing out their own orders with a Sharpie.
Which Wich is going into the Tower Plaza property, the shopping center that includes First Watch and that is next door to Applebee's on south Iowa. In recent weeks, we’ve reported that and the quick order pizza shop Pie Five also are going into the center, which currently is undergoing a major renovation.
Which Wich is a sandwich chain that got started in Dallas in 2003 and has been growing rapidly ever since. The company makes sub sandwiches but does so in a way that's a bit different from, for example, Subway. Customers go to a wall that is full of empty bags. Each bag has a different number that corresponds to a broad category, such as ham, beef, chicken, seafood, vegetarian, Italian and other types of sandwiches.
Then, you take a Sharpie pen and start marking up the bag with your specific sandwich instructions, like your choice of toppings and such. This part excites me because, for reasons we don’t need to get into at the moment, I am specifically prohibited from possessing a Sharpie at home. The process ends by you marking your name on the bag, taking it to the counter and then waiting for your name to be called. This part concerns me because I doubt the restaurant will have a specialist in hieroglyphics on staff, which many a member of the Journal-World newsroom will tell you is a necessity if you hope to read my handwriting.
After you're done eating your sandwich, the restaurant encourages you to keep playing with the Sharpie by drawing on the back of your sandwich bag and then hanging it up in special part of the store. (Warning: Sharpies use permanent ink, or something pretty close to it. There’s a year’s worth of photos of me wearing a stocking cap pulled low over my forehead to prove it.)
As for the sandwiches, the company’s website indicates there are lot of options to choose from. There are Hawaiian and Cuban style ham sandwiches, barbecue pork sandwiches, cheesesteaks, corned beef, reuben, chicken parmesan, muffulettas, gyros, five different styles of Italian sub sandwiches, and some more unique offerings such as an Elvis Wich, which includes peanut butter, bacon, honey and bananas, and a Monte Cristo, which is ham, turkey, grape jelly and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
The company also offers a speciality sandwich called the Wicked, which features five different meats. The restaurant gained some national notoriety in 2010 when a customer dislocated his jaw when trying to bite into a double-meat version of the Wicked sandwich. (I believe the Sharpie came in particularly handy then. I think he wrote 9-1-1 on his forehead, but I might have that confused with another incident.)
The restaurant also offers breakfast sandwiches and serves malts and milkshakes. The restaurant will be the company’s first in Lawrence. It has opened restaurants in Emporia and Manhattan, and has one in the Wesport district of Kansas City, Mo.
A sign has gone up announcing the restaurant is coming to Tower Plaza, but I don’t have a timeline on when to expect an opening.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is time to keep an eye on the south Iowa Street property that houses Advanced Homecare/Breathe Oxygen & Medical Supply. A company led by the owner of the Briggs Auto Group recently has purchased the Breathe property at 2851 Iowa St. and 2101 W. 28th Terrace, according to land records at the Douglas County Courthouse.
Those two properties are right in the heart of the Lawrence Auto Plaza, where Briggs currently operates a number of dealerships. I called Briggs’ headquarters in Manhattan. A spokeswoman there confirmed the purchase but said details on what the company plans to do with the property aren’t yet ready to be released. But she said Russell Briggs, owner of the auto group, did say “something is in the air,” and he plans to share more information in the coming weeks.
The Breathe Oxygen & Medical Supply store remains open at the location. A company official with Breathe didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
It will be interesting to watch what Briggs has in mind for the property, which has high visibility from south Iowa Street. In recent years, Briggs has spent millions of dollars renovating and updating its existing dealership locations in Lawrence.
• Speaking of spending millions of dollars, that probably will be the case when the Kentucky basketball team comes to town to take on the Jayhawks on Jan. 30 at Allen Fieldhouse. (I figure we’ll spend $1 million alone just buying enough film to make sure we capture all the antics of Kentucky super fan Ashley Judd.)
Well, one Lawrence resident is wanting to make sure some of that money for the big game goes towards helping solve the community’s affordable housing problem. Steve Ozark, an owner of a Lawrence-based talent company and a longtime advocate for the homeless and affordable housing, is donating his two tickets to the KU-Kentucky basketball game for the local nonprofit Tenants to Homeowners to sell. Ozark said 100 percent of the money raised through the sale of the tickets will be given to the city of Lawrence’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which just recently received a new board of directors appointed by the city.
The board is in the early stages of coming up with an idea for a pilot project that could demonstrate how the community can offer more affordable housing options.
“I figured the biggest rematch at Allen Fieldhouse in modern history would be an opportunity to draw attention to the shortage of affordable housing in Lawrence and the need for a dedicated revenue source for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund,” Ozark said via email.
The city’s trust fund has dwindled to about $100,000, in part because the City Commission hasn’t determined a dedicated revenue stream for the fund.
As for the basketball tickets, the pair of tickets will go on eBay tonight at 9 p.m., and bidding will last through 9 p.m. Jan. 24. You can find out the specifics about the tickets and get to the appropriate location to bid by searching "KU/KY Basketball Tickets" on eBay's homepage.
There’s no telling how much the tickets may bring. The KU vs Kentucky game is definitely a hot ticket. Tickets on the reselling site StubHub start at about $500 and quickly go up from there. There are several tickets for sale at $3,000 and above. There are even 12 tickets for sale in the center G section of Allen Fieldhouse — right near the floor — that are priced at $27,000 apiece.
Plans filed for major soccer complex near eastern end of SLT; Kansas ranks near top of list of states people are leaving
The first new development to go along the edge of the soon-to-be-completed South Lawrence Trafficway probably won’t be a new shopping center, but rather may be a big soccer complex. Plans have been filed for a multifield soccer facility near the eastern end of the SLT.
A nonprofit organization called Jambars Futbol Club Inc. has filed plans to build five full-length soccer fields, five separate training areas, a more than 200-space parking lot, and a 6,000 square-foot building for concessions and such on property near the “ski lake” that is just south of Kansas Highway 10.
The group has filed for a conditional use permit for 80 acres of property at North 1300 Road and East 1750 Road. If you are still confused about the location, it is near the spot where the South Lawrence Trafficway begins to look like my tie after a spaghetti dinner. Perhaps this Google map will help. It is the property just to the southwest of the ski pond.
Joe Comparato is the director of the soccer club. He’s also a soccer coach at Bishop Seabury Academy, one of the private schools in Lawrence. Comparato told me multiple people are involved in the proposed venture, and he envisions the soccer facility would be used by a variety of organizations. Comparato wants to use the facility for the training academies he runs, and he said Bishop Seabury is looking for a home to host its soccer teams. In addition, he said the Lawrence Adult Soccer League is looking for field space. He expects some youth soccer organizations to be interested in field space as well.
“I’ve been promoting soccer my whole life, and people like me keep saying ‘it's coming, it's coming,” Comparato said. “Well, I think it has finally arrived. The popularity of the game has reached a certain point in this country, but as the popularity of the game grows, it is going to take more space and more facilities.”
The plans filed with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department show the site — which is owned by a trust controlled by the Pendleton family — at 80 acres, but Comparato said the immediate plans call for developing only about 40 of the acres.
Lawrence does have a soccer complex today. The Youth Sports Complex— or YSC — below the Clinton Lake Dam includes 23 soccer fields. The city of Lawrence operates the facility. But Comparato said it is difficult to get time on the city-owned fields. The popular Kaw Valley Soccer Association has an agreement with the city that allows that youth soccer league to take many of the available time slots for the facility.
Comparato said it is not unusual for soccer clubs in Johnson County to build their own facilities, and that model sparked the idea here. As for the proposed plans, the five fields would each be 360 feet long by 225 feet wide. The plans call for at least one of the fields to have lights, with lighting perhaps being added to other fields in the future.
The proposed site is one of the more visible properties in Lawrence. Thousands of vehicles travel by the site every day on Kansas Highway 10, and traffic volumes are expected to increase significantly as the SLT bypass project is completed later this year. The soccer complex, if approved, will be a bit of a gateway into the community.
The request comes shortly after commissioners rejected one development proposal at another soon-to-be-completed SLT intersection. Commissioners last week rejected a development plan for a new shopping center at the southeast corner of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange, in part, because they said they didn’t feel development was ready to cross the trafficway.
That perhaps could be an issue in this area too, but there is one large difference. The soccer group is not asking for any city approvals. The property currently is not in the Lawrence city limits, and the group is not seeking annexation.
“We don’t see any need to be annexed,” Comparato said.
Comparato said he thinks the soccer facility will fit in well with the county’s plans for the area. He notes that it is right next to the ski lake, so there is already a recreational feel to the area. He doesn’t expect the major intersection to come under heavy development pressure anytime soon.
“If they turned that one project down on south Iowa Street, I figure it will be a long time before they let anything build out here,” Comparato said.
The soccer project will have to win approval from both the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the Douglas County Commission before it can proceed. The project is expected to have a hearing before the Planning Commission later this month. If the project wins its approvals, the project could begin construction this spring.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe it is because we don’t have enough soccer fields — or perhaps there is some other reason — but Kansas didn’t fare well on a new study that measures the number of people moving in and out of the state.
The large moving company United Van Lines recently released its 39th annual edition of a study that tracks how many people it helps move into states and how many it helps move out of states. In 2015, Kansas had the sixth highest move-out rate of any state in the country.
The study found that 57 percent of all the business it did in Kansas was related to people moving out of the state, while 43 percent was related to people moving into the state. Kansas was the only Plains region state to be in the top 10. Here’s a look at the 10 states that had the highest move-out rates:
— New Jersey: 66.6 percent
— New York: 64.6 percent
— Illinois: 63.2 percent
— Connecticut: 62.6 percent
— Ohio: 58.4 percent
— Kansas: 57.3 percent
— Massachusetts: 57.2 percent
— West Virginia: 57.1 percent
— Mississippi: 56.3 percent
— Maryland: 55.2 percent
To be clear, though, most of our neighboring states didn’t exactly tear it up in this category. Missouri had a 55.2 percent move-out rate, Oklahoma 51.7 percent and Nebraska 51.3 percent. (I take comfort in believing that the move-out rate would be higher in Missouri, but several folks didn’t want to take the time to take the car off the cement blocks. What? It is basketball season. I feel incomplete if I don’t make a Missouri joke.)
As for the states that were attracting the most move-ins, here are the top 5:
— Oregon: 69 percent
— South Carolina: 62.4 percent
— Vermont: 62 percent
— Idaho: 60.5 percent
— North Carolina: 58.9 percent
United does survey some of its customers about their moves. Traditional reasons such as job availability and being near family rank near the top of the list. The survey, though, noted some emerging trends, including the desire to be located in high-tech and areas that have creative-based economies, and a desire to have more outdoor activity and green space.
The United study isn’t definitive because it is just a look at one company’s activity, but it matches some concerns state leaders have been highlighting. A lack of strong population growth, especially in the younger age set has been highlighted as a concern by the governor and others.
Lawrence sales tax growth in 2015 among the tops in the state; city confirms special taxing district at Oread hasn’t reported for last two months
We may argue about whether or where we want new retail development to occur in Lawrence, but it hasn’t done anything to slow shoppers from stuffing their carts in 2015. New numbers show that Lawrence’s sales tax collections were near the top of the list for fastest-growing in the state.
The city received its final sales tax check of 2015 from the state recently, and it was a big one. The check covered sales taxes collected basically from late September to late October. Based on the numbers, I guess my house wasn’t the only one that had to add an extra room to store the Halloween candy. Sales tax collections were up 11 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
For the entire year, Lawrence sales tax collections grew by 4.7 percent. That number is impressive for a couple of reasons. It is better than the 4.1 percent growth rate posted by Lawrence in 2014. Even more noteworthy is that Lawrence’s growth rate was among the tops in the state. Here’s a look at the major retail centers across the state that I normally track:
— Lawrence: up 4.7 percent
— Kansas City: up 4 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 2.9 percent
— Johnson County: up 2.7 percent
— Salina: up 2.6 percent
— Manhattan: up 2.3 percent
— Lenexa: down 1.2 percent
— Topeka: up 1.0 percent
— Overland Park: down 0.7 percent
The only major retail community — I define that as more than $10 million in local sales tax collections — that posted a stronger growth rate than Lawrence was the city of Shawnee. Its sales tax collections grew by a whopping 20.1 percent, according to numbers from the Kansas Department of Revenue. I’m guessing what happened there is that Johnson County residents finally figured out how to hook up full-length semi-trailers to their SUVs. Actually, the editor of the Shawnee paper, which is owned by the parent company of the Journal-World, tells me that it probably had more to do with some existing shopping centers in Shawnee attracting new tenants, but the jury is still out on why Shawnee’s retail scene exploded in 2015.
In Lawrence, the retail scene was uneven in 2015. Lawrence posted a lot of its growth in sales tax collections in the first half of the year, and then sales really leveled off until the November and December reports. (Remember, though, sales tax collections lag, so reports in November and December really were measuring sales more in September and October.) Those two months picked up steam. The next couple of reports will show how much activity retailers were seeing during the Christmas holiday season.
It also is important to remember that the sales tax numbers don’t represent just retail sales from stores and such. Sales tax also is charged on utilities, construction materials and lots of other products. The city put together a chart showing what type of sales are producing sales tax revenues. Here’s a look:
— Retail stores: 21 percent of the total
— Motor vehicle and parts: 14 percent
— Food and beverage stores: 13 percent
— Food service and drinking places: 12 percent
— Other: 12 percent
— Utilities: 7 percent
— Building materials: 5 percent
— Other services: 5 percent
I’m looking for a similar type of chart that shows what the breakdown is for the state as whole or perhaps some other large communities. That could provide some interesting information about how Lawrence’s retail scene is similar to or different from other communities.
It will also be interesting to watch the above numbers over the next couple of months, particularly the building material category. The December sales tax report was the first one that included sales from the new Menards home improvement center. City officials aren’t allowed to release any information that would identify a particular retailer, but Bryan Kidney, finance director for the city of Lawrence, told me this morning that the city has seen a notable increase in the amount of sales tax collections attributed to the building material category.
The city will need to see some increases in that category and others to make its 2016 budget. The city has budgeted for about a 5 percent increase in sales tax revenues in 2016, which is one of the more aggressive growth percentages the city has used for budgeting purposes.
The city fell just below that mark in 2015, although some year-end adjustments may get the city to the 5 percent mark. (January 2016’s sales tax report will actually be added to the 2015 totals and January 2015’s report will be dropped from the totals. It is the difference between cash basis accounting and accrual accounting. Wake up! I promise I’m done talking about accounting methods.)
Kidney said he’s still feeling good about the 5 percent growth projection for this year.
“The square footage of retail space has increased in the last quarter of this year, so with that being the case, we think 5 percent is still reasonable,” Kidney said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There was another interesting item in the city’s most recent sales tax report. It appears that some sales tax information from the Oread hotel area was not filed with the state. The Oread hotel development is part of a special taxing district, and it has come under scrutiny from City Hall. A city-hired auditor has produced a report alleging that some sales totals have been inflated at the Oread project in an effort for the development group to receive a larger sales tax rebate. Those allegations currently are being disputed by the Oread development group.
Kidney in his report to city commissioners noted that one of the three special transportation development taxing districts that operate in the city “did not report sales taxes for December.” When I chatted with Kidney this morning, he confirmed it was the Oread special taxing district that did not report.
Kidney said he couldn’t comment on the lack of the report. Looking into it a little deeper, I found another memo from November that indicates the Oread did not report sales taxes for that month either.
It is unclear whether that means that the development isn’t remitting sales taxes to the state at all, or whether the state has put a hold on distributing those taxes to the city of Lawrence or something else. We’re checking on trying to get an explanation from the Kansas Department of Revenue, which oversees sales tax collections in the state.
The transportation development tax is an interesting one because it is an extra 1 percent sales tax that is charged on all purchases made at the Oread development. I’m pretty sure consumers are still paying that special tax, so figuring out why it isn’t being reported seems important.
Lawrence included in national study of communities with best and worst credit scores; Lawrence getting hammered in voting for best Midwestern city
Usually in January, I try to hide from all credit card-related news. But I’ll come out of my El Chapo-like tunnel system long enough to pass this information along: Lawrence scores relatively well in a new financial study that measures credit scores across the country.
The financial website WalletHub has partnered with credit card data company TransUnion to examine the credit scores of individuals in 2,750 communities across the country. The study created an average credit score for each community, and then ranked the communities. Lawrence ranked above average, scoring in the 62nd percentile. In case percentiles confuse you much like the concept of compounding interest does, the 99th percentile is best, the 1st percentile is the worst and the 50th percentile is average.
Lawrence’s average credit score was determined to be 683. I believe the top score possible is 850. A community called The Villages in Florida had the top community average at 779. There were 38 communities that were in the 99th percentile. Only 15 states had communities that made that elite group, but Kansas was one of them. Leawood was in the 99th percentile with a score of 742. That was the 16th highest average in the country.
Here’s a look at how some other Kansas communities and cities in the region scored:
• Leawood: 99th percentile; 742 score
• Overland Park: 84th percentile; 706 score
• Lenexa: 83rd percentile; 706 score
• Iowa City: 80th percentile; 702 score
• Ames, Iowa: 80th percentile; 701 score
• Shawnee: 78th percentile; 699 score
• Manhattan: 72nd percentile; 693 score
• Olathe: 69th percetile; 690 score
• Columbia, Mo.: 67th percentile; 687 score
• Lawrence: 62nd percentile; 683 score
• Morgantown, W.V.: 58th percentile; 679 score
• Norman, Okla.: 49th percentile; 671 score
• Stillwater, Okla.: 47th percentile; 669 score
• Hutchinson: 47th percentile; 669 score
• Salina: 44th percentile; 666 score
• Austin: 43rd percentile; 665 score
• Topeka: 41st percentile; 664 score
• Lubbock, Texas: 23rd percentile; 648 score
• Kansas City, Mo.: 26th percentile; 650 score
• Waco, Texas; 9th percentile; 632 score
• Kansas City, Kan. 4th percentile; 621 score
I thought WalletHub hit upon a neat idea to rank communities using this metric because it does provide a look at what communities have large numbers of residents feeling some level of financial stress. I’m sure there are other reasons your credit score can be low, but falling behind on your bills is one of them.
Lawrence is on the correct side of the average line in this study, and the difference between Lawrence and Kansas City is stark. The numbers also reinforce just how much of an economic powerhouse Johnson County has become. The numbers also show that being a college community doesn’t preordain you to being middle of the pack or worse. Both Ames and Iowa City are in the 80th percentile. Then there are college communities like Waco. It has a beautiful, new, expensive football stadium. Apparently, every resident put a portion of the price tag on his or her personal credit card.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There’s good news and bad news on one other ranking front for Lawrence. The good news is Lawrence has been chosen as one of 12 finalists for Midwest Living magazine’s Greatest Midwest Town of 2016. The bad news is that we’re getting hammered in the voting.
Based on photographs that readers sent in to the editors of Midwest Living, Lawrence was chosen as one of the 12 finalists. Voting began on Jan. 1, and as of Monday morning, Lawrence had 67 votes.
That put us No. 10 out of 12. We’re ahead of Columbus, Ind., and Medora, N.D. This needs to change because putting a sign out at the edge of town proclaiming we’re better that Medora is going to look strange. Here’s our competition and where they stand right now:
Traverse City, Mich.: 1,525 votes
Put-in-Bay, Ohio: 1,110 votes
Galena, Ill.: 637 votes
Duluth, Minn.: 414 votes
Nebraska City: 371 votes
Bayfield, Wis.: 334 votes
Decorah, Iowa: 323 votes
Rapid City, S.D.: 285 votes
Branson, Mo.: 206 votes
Lawrence: 67 votes
Columbus, Ind.: 42 votes
Medora, N.D.: 21 votes
The winner of the contest will be the subject of a feature article in an upcoming edition of Midwest Living magazine. In case you are wondering how Lawrence is described to voters, the editors describe the community as “peppered” with Civil War sites, and having a nice mix of “highbrow culture and down-to-earth fun.” The Natural History Museum, the Dole Institute and Allen Fieldhouse are all mentioned as attractions. Massachusetts Street also gets a mention, as does our “highly respected local music scene.”
People have until Feb. 29 to vote. You can vote multiple times, but only once per day. Go to midwestliving.com/vote to cast a ballot.
UPDATE: Following this article and some activity social media today, Lawrence gained a good amount of ground in the voting. At a little after 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Lawrence had 555 votes and was up to No. 4 on the list.
Fritzel family takes over ownership of Alvamar; some renovation work begins with much more on the way
Members of the Fritzel family now own the Alvamar Golf and Country Club, and renovations to the west Lawrence property are already underway.
As we previously have reported, a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel has been working to purchase the country club. Members of the club were recently notified by letter that members of “the Gene Fritzel family” have bought the property. Gene Fritzel is Thomas’ father and a longtime building contractor in the area. According to records with the county, though, Thomas Fritzel is still very much a major part of the ownership group. A trust of Thomas Fritzel and Stacia Fritzel are shown as the new owners of the property near the clubhouses, and a newly formed company called Eagle 1968 LC owns other parts of the club. Thomas Fritzel is listed as the resident agent of the Eagle entity, but it is new enough that the state doesn’t yet have documents on file listing the shareholders of the company.
In due time, there will be a lot that is new at Alvamar. As we previously have reported, the ownership group has filed plans for major renovations at the club, including the addition of many more apartments and living units around the course. Several folks who have booked events in the banquet space of Alvamar are already being affected by the renovations.
A local caterer called me and said several people had contacted him looking for event space because the Alvamar banquet facility — which is in the private members' clubhouse — has been temporarily closed. An employee at Alvamar confirmed renovation work is underway at the clubhouse, and it likely will be closed for a couple of months. I’ve got a call into the general manager of the country club to get more details, but it sounded like new flooring, paint and other amenities were being updated in the distinctive clubhouse building, which I’m almost certain was built by Gene Fritzel several decades ago.
I’ll let you know when I get more information.
I do have additional information on some of the redevelopment plans that have been filed at the city. Lawrence architect Paul Werner has filed a final development plan for the portion of the club that is near the clubhouses. It provides more detail about what’s in store than any of the other plans filed thus far. Here’s a look:
— A new two-story, 24,000 square-foot clubhouse, fitness and wellness center is planned for the area near the entrance to the current driving range of the course.
— Four swimming pools will be added to the property. They include a 50 foot by 80 foot pool with a slide, a 30 by 50 foot lap pool and a pair of smaller pools that are 16 by 24 and 16 by 16 foot. The pools will be surrounded by about 6,000 square feet of cabana space. The pool area also will include a 2,500 square-foot grill area. The pools are proposed to be concentrated in an area kind of near where the public clubhouse is located today. That clubhouse will be removed.
— Kansas University is proposed to get a larger training facility for its golf team. Plans show a 4,000 square- foot building for the team. Currently, the team has about 1,300 square feet of space at the golf course. The new building will be farther to the east than the current facility.
— A two-story banquet facility that will include 24 guest rooms. Werner previously has said the facility will operate as a minihotel that serves wedding parties who are expected to rent the attached banquet facilities. The guest rooms are also expected to be available to golfers who want to stay overnight at the course. (That’s a good idea. I know if I don’t get started before 8 a.m., it can get really dark before I get my 18 holes completed.) The plans list the facility at 20,000 square feet, but the plans don’t make it clear whether the total facility is 20,000 square feet or whether each floor is 20,000 square feet. The facility is proposed for an area east and south of the existing public clubhouse.
– 2,400 square-foot “sports medicine office” that would be south of the new banquet facility. The city’s planning department said it hadn’t received more information about what would be included in that facility. (Another brilliant idea: A doctor’s office at a golf course. Just think how much gas physicians could save if they didn’t have to drive from their office to the course.)
Sandra Day, the lead planner reviewing the project for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, said the final development plan must win approval from the Planning Commission before the project can move forward. The group hopes to get a hearing at the Planning Commission in February, but Day said planners likely will need to see more details before it is ready to go to the commission. She said the filings don’t yet include elevations showing how each of the new buildings will be designed.
It is important to remember that the latest plans are only for a portion of the project at Alvamar. The part of the project that involves building new apartments and living units around the course is not included with this most recent filing. (Although you can see some of the apartment buildings on the submitted plans, but they show up just for context.) It will be interesting to watch those plans come forward. The city has approved a preliminary development plan that calls for nine multifamily buildings that would house a total of 292 living units.
The final development plan will provide more detail about where those buildings are located and what they’ll look like. As I mentioned above, the most recent plans aren’t for the living units, but they do provide a glimpse at what is to come. It looks like there definitely will be some new opportunities for luxury living in the community. The plans show one four-story building right north of the new pool area for the country club. The plans also show another four-story building just to the west of the proposed pool area.
Also expect significant changes to the golf course design. The new owners have committed to keeping 36 holes of golf at the facility. The new plans, though, do show new locations for both the No. 9 and No. 18 greens. No word yet on when those changes will begin.
The letter to members, however, indicated some more minor changes to the golf course are already underway. It noted crews will be removing and thinning some trees to improve the quality of play and turf conditions. (Sure, they can cut down trees, but when I pull a chainsaw from my golf bag everybody gets hysterical.) The new owners have kept Orion Golf Management to oversee the course. Orion has been in charge of golf operations at the club for about the last three years.
Rejection of south Iowa Street shopping center sends confusing signals about future of south Lawrence growth
I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that this intersection has confused me. After all, for more than a decade it has had a “Bridge to Nowhere.” I’m of course talking about the Iowa Street and SLT intersection, where a bridge that leads to an uncompleted road has stood for years, and likely has confused many a visitor about why we build bridges that don’t lead anywhere.
On Tuesday night, the intersection was the center of debate for the Lawrence City Commission. As we reported, commissioners on a 4-1 vote rejected plans for an approximately 250,000 square-foot shopping center at the southeast corner of the intersection.
I wasn’t confused or surprised that the commissioners rejected the plan. I knew that was a real possibility. But I was confused about the reasoning that some of them gave. Mayor Mike Amyx led the way on the opposition, and gave quite a speech about how the city is not ready to cross over to the south side of the South Lawrence Trafficway.
I didn’t expect that to be an issue on Tuesday night, given that the city already has crossed the SLT at that very point. The property that the North Carolina-based development group was seeking approval for commercial zoning is already in the city limits. It has been in the city limits since 1979. There was no decision on Tuesday night about whether to cross some line.
Commissioners knew that. They were aware the property was in the city limits. In talking with several of them on Wednesday, they seemed to be talking not about the city limits crossing the SLT but about city infrastructure — think water and sewer lines — crossing the SLT.
I did not see that being a stumbling block for this project.
First, city water and sewer lines clearly are headed not just south of the trafficway but south of the Wakarusa River. The city is in the process of building an approximately $50 million sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River. But even without that project, there would seem to be little question that the proposed shopping center site is eligible to receive city utility services. It is, after all, in the city limits. Why would people agree to pay city taxes if the city can’t provide their property basic services?
I asked Amyx on Wednesday if the time wasn’t right for the city to jump the SLT whether the city ought to de-annex the property? He said he wasn’t sure but that “discussion may need to happen.”
That would be a strange turn of events. The city decides — after 37 years — to de-annex a piece of property at what will be at one of the larger and busier intersections in the entire county. Most communities are seeking to annex property in that situation, not de-annex it.
To be clear, I don’t expect the property to be de-annexed. The future of the property, though, will perhaps get discussed. Both Commissioners Lisa Larsen and Leslie Soden told me Wednesday that they think the community needs to have a large discussion about whether to cross the trafficway and what type of development should occur there.
That implies that the community hasn’t already had such a discussion. That’s not accurate. The city has a plan for the area in question. It is called the Southern Development Plan. It dates back to 1994. Then it got revised in 2008, and it got revised again in 2013. That plan spells out how it expects the southern portion of the south Iowa Street corridor to develop. The plan maps out future development south of the SLT, all the way to the Wakarusa River.
The plan shows multifamily development south of the trafficway, lots of open space in the floodplain areas, and for the parcel in question it shows something called “auto-related commercial” development. That has come to be defined as a commercial development like an auto dealership, or a hotel that attracts travelers off of K-10, or some would argue it also could include a truck stop or fueling center.
The North Carolina development group wanted to change the plan to just say commercial development. It wants the same type of commercial designation as the shopping district just north of the SLT, which can house big-box stores and other retailers.
So, to be clear, the developers were seeking that the city change its plans. I would not have been surprised if the City Commission simply said it wasn’t interested in changing its plans. The commission could say it had a well thought-out plan, and that for the sake of consistent long-term planning it wanted to stick to it. That would have caused some grumbling by people who think the city is missing an opportunity in the retail world, but the city could honestly say it was following its planning principles.
But that’s not what the city said. Instead, commissioners are saying they’re not sure they like the plan that was just approved two years ago. Both Larsen and Soden told me they had concerns about an auto-related commercial development for the site. Larsen, Soden and Amyx all said they thought they needed to discuss changing the Southern Development Plan.
As a reminder, the plan was just approved by the commission two years ago. Amyx was on that commission, and voted for the plan at the time. I asked him what had changed in the last two years. He responded by saying he just “doesn’t think the time is right” for development to begin in that area. There seems to be a question about whether our community’s long-term planning is going to change every two years when new commissioners are elected. It probably wouldn’t be the first time.
I tried to reach the fourth commissioner who voted against the project, Stuart Boley, but he didn’t return a call on Wednesday. (In case you are counting, Commissioner Matthew Herbert was the lone yes vote for the project.) Boley said in the meeting that if the city was going to change its plans, let’s do it “intentionally.” I called him because I’m not sure what that means. The proposed plan change — which received a positive recommendation from both the Planning Commission and the city’s professional planning staff — was clearly going through a formal, intentional process. The first plans were filed in early 2014. Some would say that is a lot of process.
Again, my surprise in all this isn’t that the commission rejected this shopping center plan. Reasonable people can disagree on whether this proposal was the right one for Lawrence. There are debates about whether Lawrence has enough income to support more retail. There’s debate about the impact on downtown, and one of the more interesting questions is whether Lawrence is at risk of having too much of its retail space concentrated in one geographic area.
I thought that last one may be the question that ended up causing commissioners to reject the plan. I thought commissioners might say that they are worried south Iowa retail is going to grow at the expense of all other retail areas in the community, and Lawrence would end up like Topeka where the vast majority of shopping is along one street. In particular, I think some city commissioners are worried that the south Iowa Street shopping center would make it difficult for the commercially zoned area around Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence to develop. That area is shovel-ready for retail development, but thus far hasn’t had any takers for several years.
But, you know what, it is kind of politically difficult right now to say that you want to reject a shopping center on south Iowa Street — which was asking for no financial incentives — so that you can give more time for the Rock Chalk Park project to develop. So, commissioners didn’t exactly say that on Tuesday. Instead, they sent an odd signal that they aren’t sure they are ready to develop south of the SLT, even though the city limits already extend south of the SLT. Listen, city commissioners have tough jobs, and they work hard at them. I don’t aim to be too critical here. But people who want to invest money in our community watch for signals from the City Commission. You have to wonder what those people are thinking now.
I’m left wondering how the city ended up in this position. Think about this: The South Lawrence Trafficway project has been underway for more than 20 years. For that entire time it has been known there would be a major intersection at south Iowa Street. It has been easy to predict that when the state decided to invest more than $190 million to finish the disputed SLT project that it would create development pressure in the area. Indeed, the entire south Iowa corridor is under development pressure today, and now the City Commission says it isn’t sure what type of development should happen there. How did that happen?
Surely, no one will suggest the SLT has sneaked up on us.
Like I said, the intersection is a confusing one. Soon, at least, the bridge will make more sense.
Can you cook a fresh pizza in five minutes? I can’t, at least that seems to be the gist of the court order the fire marshall has given me. Lucky for us that there is a new pizza chain coming to south Iowa Street that is all about making handmade pizzas in five minutes.
Pie Five has filed plans at City Hall to locate at 2500 Iowa St., which is the office building that is just north of the shopping center that includes Applebee’s, First Watch and several other shops.
Pie Five is a multistate pizza chain that seeks to bring the Subway sandwich style of food construction to the pizza business. Customers walk up to counter, pick from one of four different crusts, then they choose from up to seven different sauces for their pizza. There’s classic marinara, ranch olive oil, alfredo and others. The restaurant notes that you don’t have to think inside the box here. You can mix different sauces on the same pizza, if you choose. (That sounds like a plan. After all, nothing ever went wrong when I would mix and match flavors at the soda machine. Well, at least nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a carpet cleaner and a dry cleaning bill.)
“We won’t judge,” the restaurant’s website notes.
Then customers choose from four cheese blends, seven meat options, and 16 veggie toppings. Most are pretty standard, but a few go beyond the normal offerings. For example, cheese options include both ricotta and cheddar, meat options include meatballs, and veggies include jalapeños, caramelized onions, artichoke hearts and, for some reason, spinach.
My understanding is that, much like Subway, you can add as many toppings as you would like for the same price. The menu online, however, doesn’t list what prices the restaurant charges for pizzas.
Once you have your selections made, the dish goes in an oven that cooks the pizza in about five minutes.
The restaurant also has some nonpizza dishes. The restaurant serves a classic Italian or chicken Caesar salad, and both come in something called a “pizza crust bowl.” Plus, there are dessert items on the menu too.
I don’t have a timeline for when the restaurant is expected to open, but it may be quicker than most. The site plan filed at City Hall shows that the restaurant will use the existing building on site, which houses a Shelter Insurance office. The interior will be remodeled, and an outdoor seating area will be added, but otherwise it is not expected to be a major construction project.
In case you are wondering, the longtime Shelter Insurance agency that has been in the 2500 Iowa St. location will remain in business. Gary Petersen, owner of the agency, told me the business is moving into a vacant space next door to the First Watch restaurant at 2540 Iowa St.
That’s the Tower Plaza shopping center, which as we previously have reported is undergoing a major renovation. If you have driven by recently, you’ve noticed the facade of the shopping center has been stripped away. It will be replaced with a more modern looking design. The big news in the shopping center, though, is the southern end of the shopping center has been demolished to make way for a new Popeyes Chicken restaurant, as we previously have reported.
In case you have forgotten, another chicken restaurant also is under construction in the area. Across Iowa Street, some work has begun on a new Raising Cane’s chicken finger restaurant. It is locating where Emprise Bank previously had a branch on Iowa. That bank building has been demolished, and site work is underway for a new restaurant building.