Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
I don’t know about your neighborhood on the Fourth of July, but in mine last night there were plenty of young venture capitalists on display: People willing to burn their money in hopes for a big bang in return.
Venture capitalists — the high-risk investors who provide start-up money to promising young companies — have long been a source of conversation and concern in Lawrence. The conversation has been: Where can I find them? The concern has been: There aren’t enough of them in the Midwest to make Lawrence a major player in the competitive bioscience arena.
Well, there’s a new study out that shows Lawrence may be doing better than people thought when it comes to at least one measure of venture capital. Lawrence has the sixth highest level of venture capital investment in America, when measured on a per capita basis.
Guru demographer Richard Florida — who lectures frequently on the power of the creative class — has crunched the numbers and found Lawrence is part of a trend of smaller communities connected to universities that are doing well in the venture capital arena.
Florida calculated Lawrence had $40.8 million in venture capital deals per 100,000 people in 2012. It put Lawrence in some great company. The top five were:
- San Jose, Calif., a.k.a. Silicon Valley: $216.9 million
- San Francisco: $159.1 million
- Boulder, Colo.: $86.9 million
- Boston: $68.1million
- Santa Barbara, Calif.: $59.1 million
Lawrence’s metro population — in other words, Douglas County’s population — is just a little more than 100,000 people. So, in real numbers, Douglas County companies attracted a little more than $40 million in venture capital investments in 2012. Think about that for a minute: $40 million in largely outside money came flowing into Lawrence’s economy because of start-up companies.
For whatever reason, area companies don’t do a lot to announce their venture capital successes, so I don’t know what companies attracted the cash in 2012. But in recent years, we have talked quite a bit about rising stars such as Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, drug particle company CritiTech, and the more than 30 companies ranging from animal health firms to e-commerce companies that are affiliated with Bioscience and Technology Business Center at KU.
There is no doubt that this new list is a good one for Lawrence to land on. It helps tell the story that local bioscience officials have been working to tell: You can have success in raising funds in the Heartland. But you could also read too much into this ranking as well. At the end of the day, when people think about hot venture capital markets, they think about real dollars, not per capita dollars.
A separate ranking by Florida shows how much work Lawrence has to do to crack the top 20 markets of overall venture capital activity.
Obviously, setting our sights on the Silicon Valley or top-ranked San Francisco isn’t going to be too productive. San Jose and San Francisco had about $10.7 billion in venture capital investments in 2012, accounting for about 40 percent of all the venture capital activity in the country.
More instructive is to look at some other college communities. Austin ranked No. 8 at $626 million, Boulder ranked No. 14 at $256 million, Raleigh, N.C. ranked No. 18 at $184 million and Provo, Utah ranked No. 20 at $162 million.
But the good news is, when you look at this study, Florida has created a blob map of venture capital markets. Lawrence shows up as a speck on it. And a speck is a start.
Hopefully, though, people aren’t counting on my neighbors to be the next wave of venture capitalists. After what I saw last night, they have to be broke.
As Briggs prepares to move out of Sears building, rumors heat up that Dick’s Sporting Goods will be moving in
Here’s what we know: The folks at Briggs Auto Group soon will be vacating the former Sears building at 27th and Iowa streets.
Here’s what’s likely to happen: A whole bunch of speculation that Dick’s Sporting Goods will move into the prime piece of South Iowa Street property.
Rumors of a Dick’s Sporting Goods coming to town are nothing new, but there does seem to be quite a bit of smoke with this particular batch of rumors. And you know what they say: Where there is smoke, there’s usually a kid with a half-dozen Roman candles in each hand and a package of Black Cats in his back pocket. (Actually, maybe they only say that in my neighborhood, although no one would hear it.)
The point is, there may be something to the speculation this time. Mike Neyman, general manager for Briggs Nissan, said the landlord for the Sears building has notified the auto dealership that it will need to vacate the premises by the end of the month because a new deal for the building is being processed.
Neyman said the timeline shouldn’t create a problem for Briggs, because the Nissan dealership already has moved into its new facility in the nearby Lawrence Auto Plaza, and work on the Dodge dealership is expected to be done by the end of the month. (More on Briggs’ developments in a moment.)
Multiple sources in the real estate and development industries tell me that a deal has been struck by an investment group to buy the approximately 90,000-square-foot Sears building. The same sources say that the group has a major national anchor tenant committed to the building. The strong speculation is that it's Dick’s, because the company has been scouting for locations in the city.
“Dick’s is the player here,” one source said.
The chain Hibbett Sports also has shown interest in Lawrence over the years, but it is seen as a less likely option at this location because it usually locates in far smaller buildings.
But speaking of size, it seems unlikely that Dick’s Sporting Goods would occupy all of the nearly 90,000 square feet of the old Sears building. According to press reports in other markets, store sizes for Dick’s usually are around 45,000 to 60,000 square feet.
Local real estate professionals say what is likely is that the old Sears building would be split into perhaps two or three spaces, meaning that other new retailers may be coming to the market as well.
I know there was a lot of interest in that type of concept shortly after Sears closed its store in 2012. A development group tried to buy the building at that time, with the hopes of attracting both Dick’s and Old Navy to the location. But negotiations with the Los Angeles-based real estate group that owns the property were difficult. Early last year, Old Navy closed its store on South Iowa, which was where Ross Dress for Less is now located. I’m told Old Navy, at the time anyway, still was very much interested in the Lawrence market, but needed a smaller space to accommodate a new strategic direction for the company. Whether it is still interested in the market more than a year later, I don’t know.
Once all the smoke clears, we’ll see.
All this talk of rumors can get in the way of what actually is happening. The folks at the Briggs Auto Group are nearing the end of a multimillion-dollar effort to remake the Lawrence Auto Plaza just north of 31st and Iowa streets.
Briggs Nissan has moved into its new showroom and dealership facility right at the Iowa Street entrance to the Auto Plaza. You might remember the location as the former home of the Jim Clark Dodge/Chrysler dealership.
As we previously have reported, the Nissan dealership includes an all-new 20,000-square-foot showroom building, charging stations for electric vehicles and a reconfigured lot for outdoor car displays.
By the end of the month, Briggs’ Dodge/Chrysler dealership is expected to move into its new location, which is on the western edge of the Auto Plaza, where 29th Terrace and Four Wheel Drive intersect. It is where the Nissan dealership previously was located.
Both of those projects are in addition to the Briggs Subaru dealership, which was completed last year in the Lawrence Auto Plaza. All told, improvements to the Auto Plaza by Briggs probably are near the $4 million mark at this point.
Neyman says the company recently added what it thinks will become a new South Iowa landmark: a new time and temperature sign that he says is the tallest sign in Lawrence. I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know exactly how big we’re talking about. But I know that the Briggs folks like the idea of having an aerial structure that draws a lot of attention. As part of the original development plan, Briggs was planning on adding a wind turbine to the Auto Plaza. Neyman said he thinks that is still in the future plans, but I don’t have any word yet on when that may happen.
In my household, July means the start of two seasons: This is about the time that my wife’s refusal to turn on the air conditioner causes the kids and I to set up Gatorade stations throughout the house, and it is when city officials really start to dive into their budgeting process.
Fortunately, the weather has been cool this week, so there’s been plenty of time to focus on the budget. We’ve already reported that City Manager David Corliss’ recommended budget for 2014 calls for a 0.4 mill increase, which amounts to about $9.20 per year in extra taxes on a $200,000 home.
But the budget has a lot more details in it than just the bottomline. Here’s a look at a few other items of interest:
• There may be one fewer place for downtown motorists to park for free. As part of his budget, Corliss is proposing that the top level of the public parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street no longer be available for free parking. City officials several years ago agreed to make the top level of the garage free to park as a way to encourage more use of the garage. Usage of the garage, however, is not expected to be a problem in the future. Already, demand is up because of the multi-story apartment building at 901 New Hampshire, and more motorists are expected to be in the area as a new hotel/retail building gets built on the southeast corner of the intersection. By the way, hotel developer Doug Compton has told me he expects to get started on construction of the hotel around July 10.
• Perhaps we won’t get to make those fun commercials to attract retirees to Lawrence after all. Corliss’ budget does not recommend funding $30,000 for an annual marketing campaign to attract more retirees to the community. This will be an interesting one to watch because the city and county already have spent good money to get the ball rolling on retiree attraction. In January, commissioners agreed, along with the county, to award a $34,500 contract to Lawrence-based Kern Group to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to attract higher-end retirees to the area. The contract calls for the group to create a title/slogan, a logo, a Web site, a package for marketing materials, and concepts for various print, broadcast and online advertising. Kern was up-front with officials that he expected it would take an advertising budget of about $60,000 to $80,000 a year to get the message out. If city officials don’t chip in $30,000 for the effort, I’m not sure where that leaves the commitment from the county or private stakeholders who may have made donations. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, a fantastic advertising campaign hangs in the balance. I can see the commercial now: Retirees doing keg stands and streaking down Jayhawk Boulevard, followed by the tag line of “Lawrence: Where you are never old enough to know better.”
• Of all the books in the Lawrence Public Library, there must not be one entitled: How to Get Your Budget Request Fully-Funded at City Hall. Corliss is recommending a $100,000 increase in funding for the library as it prepares to move into its expanded facility downtown. But library leaders had asked for $175,000 increase. It is not unusual for agencies not to get everything they ask for, but how Corliss is proposing to fund this $100,000 increase is unusual. He recommends that the library fund dip into its rather paltry cash reserves to fund the $100,000 increase rather than raising the mill levy to do so. The library fund has about $235,000 in cash reserves, so this increase will eat up a good part of it. The strategy goes against the grain of one of Corliss’ long-held budget philosophies that permanent expenses need to be funded by permanent revenue sources. But in talking with Corliss, I think he is just hoping to buy time until the 2015 budget. The library’s first full year in its new facility will be 2015, and Corliss has said he has not forgotten what city officials told voters when they approved the $19 million expansion of the library. Officials told voters that they would provide the library additional money to operate the larger library. It was estimated a 0.5 mill increase would be needed for additional operational expenses. Thus far, the city only has funded a 0.2 mill increase for library operations. My crystal ball tells me to be on the lookout for a 0.3 mill increase in the 2015 budget.
• The new Rock Chalk Park recreation center will have a goal to shoot for — sort of. The 2014 recommended budget calls for the recreation center to generate about $715,000 in revenue, if it were to be open for a full year. But it won’t be open for a full year in 2014, so it won’t generate that much revenue. But that’s the number the city is shooting for once it is open full-time. As city officials said all along, the amount of revenue the center generates won’t be enough to cover its expenses. The 2014 budget — once again assuming a full year of operation — projects expenses for the center will be about $350,000 more than revenues. I believe revenues for the center will include things such as gym rental fees, class fees generated by the center, tournament and league revenue and concessions.
Ah, concessions. Maybe they’ll have a good deal on Gatorade. My kids and I sure hope so.
According to the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors, the housing market produced a big bang in May. Home sales for the month were up 56 percent — totaling 142 — compared to the same period a year ago. The numbers are up almost 78 percent from two years ago.
The numbers continue a theme of 2013 being a bounce-back year for the local real estate market. Through the first five months of the year, housing sales are up almost 40 percent compared to the same period a year ago. They’re up 55 percent from the same period two years ago.
For the year, real estate agents have sold 403 houses in Lawrence. The even better number for the economy is that agents have sold 41 newly-constructed homes. That’s up 64 percent from a year ago. The report was full of positive numbers. They included:
• The median number of days a home sits on the market before selling is now down to 58 days, compared to 73 a year ago.
• The number of active listings on the market is 394, down from 586 a year ago and 676 two years ago. The number of newly-constructed homes on the market now totals only 24. That’s down from 44 a year ago and 63 two years ago.
• The median selling price of a home thus far for 2013 is $169,000, up 7 percent from the $158,000 mark a year ago.
• Indications are that June was a busy month for sales as well. Agents wrote sales contracts for 147 properties in May, up from 126 in May 2012. Many of those contracts are expected to be converted into sales in the June reporting period.
It will be interesting to see what the next few months hold for the market. Everybody is keeping a close eye on interest rates, which spiked last week but have started to come back down. Real estate agents now are alerting buyers of a potential rise in rates.
“People trying to time the market should be making their move now,” said John Esau, a local Realtor and president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
We’ll see if talk of traffic calming produces a calming feeling for you on a Monday. I’ve got word of two projects in the works at Lawrence City Hall.
• If you drive in the area behind the new Dillons store at 17th and Massachusetts streets, you may want to get a new set of shocks. Seven speed humps are coming to the neighborhood behind the store.
As part of the store’s City Hall approval last year, Dillons officials agreed to provide $40,000 for traffic calming devices in the neighborhood just east of the store. City officials are now set to begin that project.
Plans call for two speed humps on 17th Terrace between Barker and New Hampshire, and two more on 18th Street between Barker and New Hampshire. In addition, three speed humps are planned for New Hampshire Street, with all planned for the general area near 17th Terrace and 18th Street. Click here to see a map.
The city will accept bids for the project on July 16. Work is expected to begin in late July. Project is expected to be completed by the end of August.
• Red light, green light, yellow light. Blue light? I’m hearing talk around City Hall that Lawrence motorists may start seeing some blue lights at a couple of intersections in Lawrence.
No, I don’t think this is a sign that Kmart is now sponsoring traffic control in the city. (Remember the Blue Light specials in the old Kmarts?) Instead, my understanding is that this is part of a pilot project that involves KU’s engineering school.
I’m still waiting to get official details, but here’s what I’ve heard thus far: Crews, perhaps beginning today, will be installing a blue light on the top of traffic signal poles at 23rd and Iowa and 23rd and Louisiana. The blue light is meant to provide police officers another way to monitor whether motorists are a running a red light.
The idea is that the blue light will be able to be seen from a 360 degree radius. Currently, the best way for a police officer to know whether a motorist has run a red light is to be behind the motorist, where the officer can see both the light and the vehicle. The blue light will come on the moment the traffic signal turns red. Since the blue light can be seen from almost anywhere, an officer can be anywhere near an intersection and monitor it for red light runners.
I’m still a little short on details on the project, but when I hear more, I’ll let you know.
UPDATE: My colleague Ian Cummings is now looking into this story for us. He is reporting that the installation of the lights indeed was scheduled for today, but some technical difficulties have postponed it. No word yet on when the installation may occur, but it might be a few days now.
You’ll have to decide whether you are in a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty mood today. A new report from Lawrence City Hall on the city’s retail marketplace could leave you feeling either way.
First, the good news: Retail sales are still tracking above 2012 totals. Retail sales tax collections are up nearly 1.7 percent compared to the same time last year.
This month’s report tracks sales made through mid-May. Through that time period, taxable sales in the city have totaled about $677 million, up from about $666 million during the same time in 2012.
That’s good news, especially given that 2012 was a stellar year. Retail sales totals in 2012 grew by more than 5 percent, which was the largest percentage gain since 1998. So, the fact that retail sales are going above and beyond those totals is significant.
As for the glass-half-empty part, the report does have some numbers that likely will catch the eyes of City Hall budget makers. Sales tax collections for the latest collection period, mid-April to mid-May, were down by about 2 percent. A one-month decline isn’t cause for much concern, but this is the second month in a row that retail sales have declined. That makes next month’s report one to watch because three consecutive months of declines could be considered a trend.
The larger issue, though, is the city is now at the halfway point for its sales tax collections in 2013. (In case you are wondering, the city receives a check from the state once per month, and it recently received its June check. Because of lag time in collections, the June check only represents sales made through late May. Now you can amaze your friends at parties this weekend with the inner workings of the state’s sales tax collection system.) At the halfway point, sales tax collections are running below the city’s budget projections.
Thus far, collections are only down by about 0.2 percent compared to the budget. One good month will wipe out that shortfall. But the question, of course, is whether something has changed in the economy that will cause good months to be fewer and farther in between. The city is now projecting one scenario where sales tax collections would come in about 1 percent under budget, which would create about a $260,000 shortfall in the city’s budget.
It also would get the city’s 2014 budget started off on a bad foot. City Manager David Corliss’ 2014 recommended budget, which was released yesterday, projects sales tax revenues to grow by 2 percent over the amount the city budgeted to collect in 2013. So, if the 2013 collections come in less than budgeted, then sales tax collections in 2014 will have to grow by even more than 2 percent to meet budget.
None of this is new. Projecting sales tax collections is always a difficult part of the budget process. And if it makes you feel any better, cities all over the state are struggling with the issue too. Retail sales numbers are all over the board. Here’s a look at some of the larger retail markets in the state:
• Emporia: up 2 percent
• Hays: Down 3.1 percent
• Kansas City: Up 5.2 percent
• Manhattan: Down 3 percent
• Ottawa: Up 5.1 percent
• Overland Park: Up 2.2 percent
• Olathe: Up 2 percent
• Shawnee: Up 4 percent
• Topeka: no change from the prior year
So, what does all this mean? Is the glass half full or half empty? I don’t know. But, of course, I have a certain policy about glasses, a certain beverage and this heat. I take no chances. I keep a glass in each hand — one half full and the other half empty.
Development roundup: the Kasold curve, Myers Liquor and more speculation about a downtown restaurant
All the way back in 2009, we told you to keep an eye on the piece of farmland at 31st and Kasold, also known as the Kasold curve, for a new housing development.
Well, your eye is probably getting pretty tired by now, but there are signs once again that a significant housing development may occur on the site.
Paperwork has been filed at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department related to a duplex development that would allow for 126 living units on the just less than 30 acre site at 3309 W. 31st St.
The site also still has property set aside for a new church for Lawrence Wesleyan Church. As we reported back in 2009, a desire for that church to expand is what was driving this whole development scenario. Pastor Nate Rovenstine back then said the church had to purchase a large chunk of property at the curve to secure the site, and was open to parceling part of the area off for private, residential development.
It appears that is still the case. The property already has the proper zoning to allow for duplex development and for the church. Now, it appears, the issue appears to be just how many duplex units the site can accommodate. So, tell your eye to be patient. It is still a corner worth watching.
Speaking of things that have drawn the attention of the eye, some of you have been asking me about the construction work underway at Myers Liquor at 23rd and Alabama streets.
The fact some of you have forgotten surprises me because the project has to do with a drive-thru liquor lane — and normally that is the type of news that Lawrence folks remember.
Back in December, we reported the liquor store was working on a plan to add a drive-thru lane — a first for Lawrence — and also to expand the building by about 1800 feet to accommodate a separate tenant. Well, the construction work underway is proof the plan is coming together. The new space is to the west of the existing liquor store. Owner Christian Walter told me he doesn’t yet have a tenant lined up for the new space, which will about double the amount of retail space on that corner. Walter said he is open to a variety of possible tenants that could be complimentary to the liquor store business. (Just to clarify, that doesn’t mean it has to be liquor-related — although a store that specializes in selling limes and salt would be very convenient.)
Construction work has started now with the hopes of being able to have the bulk of the project completed by the time the KU school year really gets into gear. I’ve heard liquor stores get busy at that time.
While we’re updating items we’ve written about, we might as well tackle one other. Back in May, I mentioned that another restaurant is likely to occupy the space at 814 Massachusetts that formerly was home to La Parilla. La Parilla, of course, has moved to larger space at 724 Massachusetts St.
George Paley, the landlord for the building at 814 Massachusetts., told me recently plans are still on track for a new restaurant to locate in the space. He’s not yet divulging the name of the tenant, but he is squashing one piece of speculation. After our report in May, a few readers started speculating that a diner type of restaurant led by Robert Krause — the high-end chef who founded The Burger Stand — would be moving into the space. Paley told me that is not so. He said Krause isn’t involved with the new restaurant planned for 814 Massachusetts. (That doesn’t mean Krause isn’t moving forward with the concept elsewhere. I don’t know, but will tell you when I do.)
But Paley is very excited about what will be going into his building. He said he thinks it has a chance to be “one of the finer restaurants in the history of Lawrence.” What that means in terms of the type of restaurant it will be, I don’t know. (George doesn’t invite me out for dinner enough.) But when I hear more, I’ll pass it along.
I didn’t even stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, yet I feel like I am an expert in the world’s toughest subjects. Maybe it is because I work in the ninth smartest city in America.
That’s right, according to a new study, Lawrence is the ninth smartest city in America. The report is by Lumosity, the online company that administers a host of brain exercises and tests to users. The company claims to have the largest database of cognitive performance of any company in the world.
The company tracks how Lumosity users score by geography, and then compiles a host of lists. Lawrence ended up No. 9 on the list of 478 “core-based statistical areas,” which is kind of like a metro area. (What am I doing explaining things to Lawrence residents? You already knew that.)
As one economic development professional told me, rankings are a dime a dozen, but Lawrence is in awful good company in the top 10. In other words, this is the type of ranking that will look good in marketing materials.
Here’s the Top 10:
- Ithaca, NY
- State College, Penn.
- Lafayette-West Lafayette, Ind.
- Iowa City
- Ames, Iowa
- Ann Arbor, Mich.
- Bloomington, Ind.
- Madison, Wisc.
- Pullman, Wash.
The Lumosity folks didn’t stop there, though. They also ranked communities based on what type of cognitive skills they possessed. Lawrence ranked in the top 50 of all five cognitive areas: No. 8 for attention; No. 14 for flexibility; No. 15 for problem solving; and No. 22 for speed. As for what area we ranked the lowest in: Memory at No. 35.
The Lumosity officials also broke down the rankings by age group for each community. This may be very useful information for Lawrence. Every age group in the city — except for one — scored in the Top 50. The under 35 age group ranked No. 15, the 35-55 age group ranked No. 8, but the 55-plus age group was not ranked in the Top 50. (This is where this report can be very useful. Lawrence is trying to become a retiree destination, but perhaps we ought to make them pass some sort of test first.)
In case you are wondering, the community with the smartest 55-plus residents was Columbia, Mo., another Midwestern city seeking to become a retiree destination. Columbia also ranked No. 3 in the 35-55 age category. Interestingly, Columbia did not rank in the Top 50 in the under 35 category, the one which would encompass most of the students at the University of Missouri. (This study may produce a useful marketing campaign for potential Mizzou students. The University of Missouri: You’ll get smarter once you leave us. Or for the alumni association: The University of Missouri — The dumbest years of your life.)
The younger age group really must have pulled down the overall scores because despite ranking in the Top 3 in two areas, Columbia overall ranked No. 41.
The study also ranked four other Kansas communities. But before I give you those, I forgot to mention that the cognitive area that Lawrence scores the lowest in is memory. We were ranked No. 35 Now, onto the other Kansas rankings:
• Kansas City, Mo.-Kans: No. 84
• Topeka: No. 96
• Wichita: No. 211
• Salina: No. 338
Our in-state rival Manhattan was not ranked in the 478 core-based statistical areas. I can only surmise (but since I’m in Lawrence, I’m pretty good at it) that Manhattan didn’t qualify because Lumosity required at least 500 users from a geographic area in order for it to be ranked. I’ll let Lawrence retirees off the hook also , and say the sample size issue is probably why they weren’t included in the Top 50 either. Lumosity required at least 200 users from an age group before they considered it to be a sufficient sample size.
As for other rankings, surely you are curious about who ranked at the bottom of the list. Well here you go, here’s a look at the bottom 5:
• No 474: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach (That’s no fair. You try taking a Lumosity test while on spring break in Fort Lauderdale.)
• No 475: El Centro, Calif.
• No. 476: Kinston, N.C.
• No. 477: Laredo, Texas
• No. 478: Lumberton, N.C.
That’s it. That’s the last one. But wait. Before we wrap this up, I forgot to mention that the cognitive area Lawrence scored the lowest in was memory. We were ranked No. 35. If you want to read the entire report — you’re brainy, so you do — you can find it here.
With the trade deadline approaching in Major League Baseball, maybe City Manager David Corliss also can moonlight a bit as the general manager of the Kansas City Royals. Corliss is in a deal-making mode.
After months of wheeling and dealing on the public-private partnership for the Rock Chalk Park project, Corliss now is sharing details of a proposed swap he wants commissioners to consider making with the Kansas Department of Transportation.
The gist of the deal is that the city of Lawrence will relieve the state of any financial responsibility to maintain the portion of West Sixth Street between Iowa Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway in northwest Lawrence.
Currently, the state has some maintenance and financial responsibilities on that stretch of street because in addition to being Sixth Street, it also serves as U.S. Highway 40.
Under the proposed deal, the U.S. Highway 40 designation will be dropped, and the state’s maintenance responsibilities will be eliminated. In exchange, the state will provide about $3.5 million in one-time funding for the city to undertake several other street projects in the city.
Is this a good deal? I don’t know. It doesn’t solve the Royals’ need for a power-hitting right fielder, but it does give the city funding to tackle several road-related projects. They include:
• $1.5 million to make turning lane improvements at Sixth and Iowa streets.
• $1 million to help defray the city’s expense to improve the intersection of 23rd and Iowa streets, which is a major rebuilding project scheduled for 2014.
• An approximately $500,000 reduction in the amount of money the city and the county will have to provide to KDOT as part of a new interchange that will be built on the South Lawrence Trafficway where it intersects with Bob Billings Parkway
• $500,000 to help the city install traffic signals at two intersections that likely will need them in the near future. Those are Sixth Street and George Williams Way, which will be the major entrance into Rock Chalk Park; and Sixth Street and Champion Lane, which is an entrance into the Bauer Farm Development in front of Free State High.
Several of these projects the city already had budgeted to complete, so Corliss is proposing that those budgeted dollars be shifted to other projects. Think of it like a player-to-be-named later. It's not a second baseman who can hit, but the projects are significant nonetheless. They include:
• $1.5 million to be used for acquisition and design of a possible new police headquarters building. The $1.5 million would be just the initial funding needed for what has been projected to be about a $20 million project. Commissioners haven’t committed to a timeline for that project, but have expressed some interest in securing a possible site for the facility.
• $325,000 for the city to use as its match on a federal/state grant to restore the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence.
• $275,000 for a new traffic signal at Bob Billings Parkway and George Williams Way, which will be just east of the new South Lawrence Trafficway and Bob Billings Parkway interchange.
• $400,000 for the city to expand the city’s ring of fiber optic cable around the city.
As for what KDOT will be getting in this deal, it won’t have to participate anymore in projects to repave or rebuild the portion of Sixth Street between Iowa and the SLT. Corliss is estimating that the state pays the city about $40,000 per year for that section of roadway. I haven’t chatted with Corliss about how he’s quantified that number, but it is a little difficult to ascertain just how much the state may spend on that section of road during any given year.
The city is allowed to apply for state grants through its KLINK program, which provides funds to cities for city streets that also serve as state highways. The grants never pay for all of the work to resurface a road, but they do chip in a significant amount. For example, the city this summer will repave the section of Iowa Street, which also is U.S. Highway 59, from 29th Street to the southern city limits. That approximately one-mile stretch of road will cost about $435,000 to repave. The state will provide a $200,000 grant for the work.
Once the state removes the U.S. 40 designation from this four-mile section of Sixth Street, that portion of road won’t be eligible for the KLINK grants in the future.
So this trade, just like a baseball trade, probably will come down to performance: How well will West Sixth Street perform in the future? How much maintenance will it need? City officials believe now is a good time to make the deal because the section of Sixth Street has undergone several improvements in recent years that should limit its maintenance needs in the near future.
Commissioners will discuss the possible agreement with the state at their 6:35 p.m. meeting today.
City commissioners will find themselves in an odd position tonight: They’ll get to decide whether they want one of their more controversial projects of the last several years to be audited.
More specifically, they’ll be asked to decide whether they want their city-hired auditor to more closely look into the Rock Chalk Park recreation center project.
Each year, City Auditor Michael Eglinski brings forward a list of topics for city commissioners to consider for performance audits. This year, at least three of the topics on his list for consideration are related to the controversial Rock Chalk Park recreation center.
Eglinski has proposed an audit of the processes the city will use to ensure fair prices are being charged for the estimated $12 million worth of infrastructure work taking place at the Rock Chalk Park site in the northwest corner of the city. If you remember, the city deviated from its bid policy and is allowing the infrastructure work to be built through a no-bid contract with a company led by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel.
The city has said it will review all the invoices for the work related to the infrastructure, and compare them with market prices to ensure that the costs aren’t inflated. But exactly how the city will do that isn’t entirely clear. This audit would examine some of those processes.
Eglinski has put this topic on his list of seven that he is suggesting commissioners give serious consideration. Eglinski has a larger list of topics that he said are probably lower priority items, but deserve consideration as well. Two of those topics have tie-ins to the recreation center. They are:
• A review of public-private partnership practices. The recreation center is one of the larger public-private partnerships in the city’s history. But this topic also could review some other high-profile projects, such as the proposed hotel development at Ninth and New Hampshire streets and The Oread hotel in the Oread neighborhood. Both of those private projects received significant assistance from City Hall.
• A review of the process for reviewing and approving incentives such as tax increment financing, transportation development districts, tax abatements, and industrial revenue bonds. The Rock Chalk Park project is expected to receive about $40 million in industrial revenue bonds. But perhaps the biggest incentive the project is receiving is the city is set to pay for essentially all of the roads, streets, sewers and other similar infrastructure to serve the track and field, soccer and softball complex that is part of the Rock Chalk project. Those facilities will be privately-owned by a group led by Fritzel. Kansas University will lease the facilities.
Eglinski — who reports directly to the City Commission, rather than to the city manager — is asking commissioners to choose four to five audit topics for him to work on this year. Here’s the complete list of seven higher priority topics that he’s presenting to commissioners:
• Recreation center construction invoice controls;
• Barriers to the city adopting additional performance measurements systems for services provided by City Hall;
• How the city can or should control the amount of fats, oils, and grease dumped into the city’s sewer system;
• A financial indicators report for the city. Eglinski annually completes this report that compares Lawrence’s finances to those of other cities.
• An examination of the police department’s workload, examining the claims that the department needs about 30 additional employees.
• A review of the condition of the city’s sidewalks and the community’s efforts to maintain sidewalks.
Eglinski also compiled a list of 28 other audit topics that he has considered. They include audits of: cable television franchises; capital planning and budgeting; cash control testing; condition of public buildings; downtown parking; vehicle and equipment conditions; financial policies; flow of traffic; finances of the Eagle Bend Golf Course; cost accounting methods for the solid waste division; municipal court workload; funding of outside agencies; the parks and recreation department’s fee waiver policy and scholarship program; the performance of the city’s parking fund; the condition of pavement markings in the city; payment card industry data security standards; process for reviewing and approving economic development incentives; public private partnership practices; purchase card transaction reviews; record retention policies; reliability of the city’s population forecasts and estimates; risk assessment survey of department and program managers; safety and workers compensation; solid waste rate structure; span of control analysis; vehicle and equipment replacement; water conservation.
Commissioners will discuss possible audit topics at their 6:35 p.m. meeting tonight at City Hall.
It’s official: Teller’s restaurant is now a thing of the past.
We reported in May that the downtown institution Teller’s, 746 Massachusetts St., was closing to undergo renovations and a change in concept from Italian-American eatery to a gastropub.
But at the time, the owners weren’t sure whether the Teller’s name would remain. Well, new chef TK Peterson and general manager Philip Wilson have announced the new restaurant will be called Merchants Pub & Plate. The name pays homage to the Merchants National Bank, which the duo says was the first tenant of the historic bank building at the corner of Eighth and Massachusetts streets.
Folks will have to wait a bit longer, though, to see what a pub and plate restaurant involves. The restaurant is still undergoing renovations, and is not set to open until mid-August.
But as you can imagine, any restaurant with pub in its name is going to have a strong emphasis on beer. The restaurant plans to have 30 beers on tap, plus wines and “craft cocktails.” (I think that means you have to knit while you drink — which is the best way to knit — but I’m not sure of that.)
As for the menu, the duo is describing it as a “new dining concept reflective of the region.” I haven’t seen a full menu for the establishment, but the announcement mentioned “locally-inspired pub fare” such as homemade pimento cheese, fried green tomato sandwiches, and grilled quail panzanella salad.
The restaurant also plans to offer something called a “Chef’s Table.” It will be a single table at the restaurant that can be reserved for one seating per night. The menu for the table will be personally designed and prepared by Peterson, previously was the chef at The Oread hotel.
The restaurant will provide samples from its menu at the Phoenix Gallery during the Final Fridays event downtown this Friday.
I know some of you have gift certificates to Teller’s and want to know if they will be honored at the new restaurant. That wasn’t mentioned in the announcement. I’m checking on it, and if I get word about it, I’ll provide an update in this space. UPDATE: I've heard back from a representative of the restaurant who says Merchants gladly will accept gift certificates from Teller's.
The phrase “warm up the bus” may become a frequent one at Kansas University’s Memorial Stadium, and it has nothing to do with the improving — or declining — fortunes of the KU football team.
A new City Hall report lists a site on the grounds of Memorial Stadium as a leading contender to house a multmillion dollar transit center.
The report says a site just northeast of the stadium — where the shot put and discus rings are now — may be the best location to build a nearly $3 million transit center that would serve both the city and KU’s public transit buses.
As currently envisioned, the transit center would hold a specially-designed parking lot to accommodate upwards of 10 buses. It also would include a small building with public restrooms and a break room for bus drivers.
The option would involve relocating a portion of Fambrough Drive so that it no longer is part of an offset intersection where it connects with Mississippi Street. The portion of Illinois Street that runs onto the stadium property also would be relocated.
As for the discus, shot put and javelin areas, they would be relocated to the Rock Chalk Park complex in northwest Lawrence, where a state-of-the-art track and field stadium is being constructed.
The project is expected to cost about $2.8 million, including about an extra $100,000 per year in operational costs required to reroute the buses to the center.
The consulting firm Olsson Associates recommends that the city also seriously consider two other sites: 2029 Becker Drive, which is the KU Park and Ride Lot on West Campus; and 925 Iowa, which is part of the parking system behind The Merc grocery store at Ninth and Iowa.
The site at the stadium, however, has the lowest costs of the three. The Park and Ride Lot has an estimated $3.7 million price tag, including an annual additional operational expense of about $535,000 to route the buses through the center. The Ninth and Iowa location has a price tag of $3.2 million, including an extra $366,000 of annual operational expenses.
It will be interesting to think through how large numbers of buses will impact the thousands of people who show up on KU game days to tailgate around Memorial Stadium. There are already a large number of buses that arrive at the stadium on game day as part of the shuttle system the city operates from downtown to the stadium. But those buses are confined to parking spaces on Mississippi Street.
These buses — which I assume would be in addition the shuttle buses — would be on the stadium grounds themselves. And, a very key point here, they would be on a portion of the grounds that currently is prime tailgating space.
We may be setting the stage to find out how important tailgating is to the KU game day experience. Let’s face it, the last couple of years, it has been more important than the games. (If the city needs a consultant to advise it on KU tailgating matters, I certainly could form a corporation, so to speak. Of course, any good study will require a large quantity of a certain beverage, several pounds of prime beef, and probably a mobile flat screen television just to be thorough.)
City commissioners will get their first look at the study at their 6:35 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall.
If talk of this issue has left you confused, don’t feel bad. (The thought of a mobile, flat-screen television leaves me discombobulated too.) No, more than likely it is that you thought this issue already was decided. Transit center talk has been in the news a lot lately, with commissioners just last week agreeing to locate a transit hub in the 700 block of Vermont Street. What’s important to remember about that hub, however, is it designed to be temporary.
The city soon will have to move its transit hub from Ninth and New Hampshire streets, once construction work begins on the new hotel at that intersection. It now has been decided that the 700 block of Vermont Street — across from the library project — will be the temporary location.
But city officials all along have said they need to find a better permanent home for the transit hub. It had become increasingly obvious that finding one in downtown may be difficult.
It will be interesting, however, to see how much the city’s bus system routes must change once the main hub is no longer located downtown. It's possible that some routes that come downtown today may not in the future. The report doesn’t provide details about route changes, but it assumes “service to downtown would continue where feasible for specific routes.” It also notes that the city may be able to reduce some of the estimated operating expenses, if it chooses to rethink the number of buses that it sends through downtown.
It all may create quite the discussion. In the meantime, I think I’ll do a little “professional development” for my career in tailgate consulting.
The builders are back — at least for the moment.
The latest construction report from Lawrence City Hall shows that both single family and apartment construction are at their highest levels in at least five years. To top it off, commercial construction — led by public projects such as the library expansion and the public/private Rock Chalk Park development — also are at highs not seen in years.
Lawrence builders in May pulled permits for 15 single family homes. For the year, city officials have issued permits for 74 single family or duplex homes. That’s a 51 percent increase over the 49 homes underway at this time last year. It also tops the previous five-year high of 70 homes in 2010.
I’m sure builders are watching with much interest how the housing market responds to slightly rising mortgage rates. My understanding is rates have topped the 4 percent level, which has caused worries about whether the housing market will sustain its recovery. Who would have thought 10 years ago that 4 percent interest rates would have ever created any type of worry, other than perhaps concern that the champagne shipments couldn’t keep pace with the parties.
The city didn’t issue any permits for new apartment construction in May, but for the year, the market continues to be very active. The city has issued permits for 374 apartment units, a new five-year high and a 103 percent increase from this time last year.
The numbers really get eye-popping when you add commercial construction into the fold. City officials issued a $9.9 million building permit for work on the library portion of the Lawrence Public Library project. A permit for the parking garage portion already had been issued late last year.
For the month of May, the city issued permits for about $16.1 million worth of projects. For the year thus far, builders have started $70.9 million worth of construction. That’s up 71 percent from the $41.4 million worth of project underway at this time last year.
Granted, about $16 million worth of the projects are government or university-fueled projects — $9.9 million for the library and $6 million and counting for Rock Chalk Park — but they are employing builders all the same. And several commercial, private-enterprise projects have been started in Lawrence as well. That continued in May. City officials issued a $1.2 million permit to the Dillons Store at 3000 W. Sixth Street this month. As we reported in November, Dillons filed plans to add a new drive-thru pharmacy lane to the store, at Sixth and Lawrence Avenue. My understanding is that some other interior renovations and landscaping improvements will occur at the store as well, but the overall size of the approximately 60,000 square foot store won’t change. When I get more information about the renovations, I’ll update you with a separate post.
There are other signs in Lawrence that the building economy is starting to pick back up. Two businesses that rely heavily on construction are in the expansion mode.
The first is Pulaski Bank. The bank is headquartered in St. Louis, but has a significant mortgage lending operation in Overland Park and Johnson County. Well, it has now expanded into Lawrence.
The company has opened offices at 3210 Mesa Way, behind the former Lawrence Athletic Club. The banking operations in Lawrence will focus exclusively on home lending. Longtime Lawrence mortgage lender Chris Forbes is running the Lawrence operations for Pulaski. The company currently has two employees at its Lawrence branch, but is adding a third in the next couple of weeks, and hopes to eventually grow to four.
The second is Midway Wholesale at 2711 Oregon Street. The building supply company is adding about 3,000 square feet. Branch manager Joel Dickey said the expansion is designed to give the business better showroom space and more offices.
The business sells a variety of exterior building products, so we’re talking things like roofing, siding, guttering, masonry products and the tools needed to tackle such jobs.
Even though the company’s name highlights the wholesale nature of the business, it doesn’t limit its sales to contractors. Dickey said selling to homeowners has become a larger part of the business. But a Menards or Home Depot it is not. Its business model is different, relying more on customers ordering what they need from the business, rather than picking it up right that minute.
But the company’s Lawrence expansion is a sign that things are on the upswing in the local market, Dickey said.
“It is improving,” Dickey said. “It is not anything like it used to be, but you can see a change coming.”
It is a popular game with a certain someone in my household: Where is the downtown parking meter patrol officer?
I suspect you know how the game is played: Park in one of the many metered parking spaces in downtown or the free two-hour lots, and then start calculating when the parking control officer will next be by to check the area. Perhaps you figure you don’t need to pay the meter this time, or maybe you can stay a bit longer than the two-hour time limit.
Oh, it is quite the game with some. (Note to parking control officers: If a certain someone from my household tries to give you a hug, that’s her way of trying to plant a GPS tracking device on you.)
Well, the rules of the game may change dramatically when the city opens its new multi-level parking garage in the 700 block of Vermont Street, next to the expanded public library.
City Manager David Corliss last night told commissioners he’s seriously considering recommending that automated gates be installed as part of the new garage. Motorists would receive a ticket as they enter the facility, and then they would put the ticket in a machine and pay to leave the garage.
Kansas University has such systems on some of their garages and they’re quite common elsewhere. But the system hasn’t made it to downtown Lawrence. Instead, the city employs a crew of people who constantly walk around downtown, checking meters, chalking tires and writing tickets.
Apparently, Corliss is rethinking that strategy, at least for the new garage.
“One of my mantras is to use automation to save on labor costs,” Corliss said.
No final decision on the system has been made, but it is clear that it is a real possibility. A decision may need to be made sooner than you think.
Corliss said he believes there is an outside chance that a portion of the parking garage may be open to the public by late July. In fact, he’s challenging construction crews to have at least part of the facility open by Downtown Lawrence’s Sidewalk Sale day July 18. No promises on that, he said, but it is a goal. He hopes to have the entire garage open by the end of August, but that also is dependent on weather factors and such.
It will be interesting to see how the public responds to the idea of a new parking enforcement system. The gated, pay-as-you-leave approach would allow for more flexibility. For example, commissioners could say that two-hour parking in the garage is free, and then you pay a certain amount for each fifteen minutes thereafter. Such a system would allow any parking space in the garage to be used for two-hour free parking. In the city’s other garages, that’s not the case. The city marks a certain number of them as free two-hours spaces, while the others are marked as spaces that require you to insert your money into a pay box.
What will get really interesting is to see how far the city carries out this idea. Just to be clear, Corliss didn’t mention anything about a gate system for anything other than this new garage. But clearly, if the idea is a success, the city may want to try it with other downtown locations. There are two other parking garages in downtown, and the city has many surface parking lots where the gate system could be installed as a method of charging people who overstay the two-hour time limit.
How much would the city save in labor costs and in time spent by Municipal Court processing the thousands of parking tickets that are written in downtown Lawrence? I don’t know. But it would seem unlikely that the need for parking enforcement officers would disappear altogether. The meters on Massachusetts Street would still need to be patrolled. But the officers could focus on that area more intensely, giving motorists more of an incentive to use those premium spots as the short-terms spaces they are meant to be.
It will be interesting to watch. I know a certain someone in my house will be watching, and, of course, scheming.
The idea of a destination-style resort at Clinton Lake — an old proposal that resurfaced late last year — is becoming more serious.
Officials with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism are seeking proposals, due next month, to develop a 175-room hotel with a conference center and various restaurant and recreational facilities somewhere inside Clinton Lake State Park.
Robin Jennison, the state’s wildlife and parks secretary, confirmed to the Journal-World last September that he was seriously studying the idea of a significant resort development for Clinton Lake, which is just west of the Lawrence city limits.
According to new state documents, Jennison is negotiating a 50-year lease with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the lake and owns the property around it.
The resort would be run by a private development company, but through a contract with the State of Kansas. Private money would be used to fund the construction of the resort.
HVS Consulting and Valuation Services, a national hotel industry consulting firm, has prepared a feasibility study that suggests a number of amenities that would be needed to make Clinton Lake a regional destination. They include:
• a 175-room hotel
• a conference center, including a 6,500-square-foot ballroom and about 9,000 square feet of additional meeting room space
• three restaurants, including a full-service restaurant, a lakeside bar and grill with courtyard, and a poolside bar and grill
• a spa
• an outdoor pool
• an indoor/outdoor pool
• a water sports center, which would include equipment for kayaking, sailing, wakeboards, jet skiing and water skiing
• an outdoor sports center, which would include hiking guides, bike rentals, and sports court. Guests also would be expected to have access to the city-owned Eagle Bend Golf Course, which is below the Clinton Lake Dam.
Of course, all of this still is in the concept stage, and there is one big detail that is still very much unknown: The specific site for the development. The request for proposals asks developers to specify where they would like the resort to be located within the state park.
The development group also would have to make the necessary arrangements with the city of Lawrence to extend water and sewer service to the site. Currently, the state park is not connected to the city’s water and sewer service.
I haven’t had a chance to talk with Secretary Jennison today, but will try to do so. When I chatted with him in September, however, it was clear he was very excited about the prospects and had taken a personal interest in trying to get the idea moving ahead.
“I can tell you that is an idea that is very important to me,” Jennison said. ““With K-10 (the South Lawrence Trafficway) on track to be completed, that really adds to the potential of Clinton. Clinton is one of our great lakes. It may have one of the nicest marinas in the state, it has a stable water source, and it is close to a vibrant community. It has a lot going for it that would be attractive for a resort.”
There has been at least one other previous serious discussion of a resort at Clinton. That was back in 2001, but negotiations with the Corps of Engineers to allow a resort at the lake were difficult.
We’ll see how things progress this time. The hotel market already has been an active one in Lawrence. This project could be a game-changer for that industry.
Proposals are due into the state by July 17.
Buses, builders and bulldozers, oh my.
It is not the latest elaborate act for Lawrence’s Busker Fest. Instead, it may be the newest solution to finding a location to temporarily house downtown Lawrence’s public transit hub.
Commissioners at their meeting tonight will consider a new option for the transfer point: the 700 block of Vermont Street. For those of you who have forgotten your downtown geography, that’s where construction crews are building a $19 million expansion to the Lawrence Public Library.
The latest bus proposal calls for using the east side of the 700 block of Vermont Street for bus parking, and loading and unloading. That is the opposite side of where the construction work for the library is happening. (We’re basically talking about in front of the AT&T building and the vacant Local Burger building.) City transit officials have evaluated the site and haven’t come out against it, but they expressed several concerns. Transit staff believes there is a “high potential” for service disruptions or delays due to the library construction under way across the street. Construction vehicles often use the center lane of Vermont Street to make deliveries to the site. Transit officials also note the large number of buses that will be turning onto westbound Seventh Street may create problems for motorists trying to back out of the parking spaces in front of the post office.
But the new location was suggested by City Commissioner Mike Amyx, who is trying to find a location that doesn’t upset the parking balance downtown. City commissioners late last year agreed to move the transit hub to the 800 block of Vermont Street, but as the time came closer for the move, several merchants objected to the 13 long-term parking spaces that would be lost from the 800 block of Vermont. This new proposal for the 700 block of Vermont Street also will eliminate parking spaces. Transit staff estimates 12 to 16 spaces will need to be removed from the street. But I guess the thinking is the loss of parking in that area will be less objectionable because the new multi-level parking garage next to the library is expected to open this fall. We’ll see whether that theory holds. Thus far complaints about loss of parking haven’t emerged with this proposal, but that may be just because many folks in the area don’t know about it yet. (The proposal showed up on the city’s agenda late yesterday.)
Staff members have countered the new proposal with additional ideas on how they could mitigate parking problems in the 800 block of Vermont. They think they can place six five-hour parking meters on the north side of the 100 block of W. Ninth Street to partially offset the loss of the 13 meters in the 800 block of Vermont. In addition there are eight existing short-term spaces in the 200 block of W. Ninth Street that could be made into five-hour metered spaces. Staff members also believe about 20 two-hour spaces in the public parking lot near Ninth and Vermont could be signed so that people with 10-hour parking permits could use the spaces.
With all those changes, the number of long-term parking spaces near the 800 block of Vermont would nearly double. Merchants have said the need for the long-term spaces is critical because the area is used by downtown employees.
In case you have forgotten what started all this, the city is seeking a temporary home for its transit hub because its current location will become unworkable once construction begins on a new hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Word around town is that work on the hotel is expected to begin by the end of the month. City officials already have commissioned a consultant to help find a permanent home for the transit hub. It is likely that hub will be outside of downtown, but it may take a year or more to make the necessary improvements and route changes to accommodate a new transit hub. City commissioners later this month are expected to receive information from the consultant.
As for tonight, it is hard to say where the transit hub may land. Staff members thought the issue was settled months ago when they first presented the 800 Vermont proposal.
But this process has kind of turned into one of those complicated home improvement projects. You know they type: You remove, by hand, 20 cubic yards of soil for your new swimming pool only to have your spouse walk out the back, give the dreaded shake of the head and suggest a bird bath and herb garden instead. (The home improvement analogy is appropriate because as we’ve previously reported, the big item at tonight’s meeting is consideration of Menards’ plan to build a home improvement center near 31st and Iowa streets.)
We’ll have to wait and see how the transit hub debate plays out. In the meantime, I’m going to rest up for tonight’s meeting by doing the backstroke . . . in my birdbath.
Bedbugs on the radar screen of city officials; new ordinance would allow City Hall to create rules to exterminate pests
And here you thought property maintenance just meant keeping the grass mowed, the house painted, the roof shingled, and other such matters.
Well, add one more item to the chore list: Controlling bedbugs.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are scheduled to approve a new ordinance that will get the ball rolling on creating regulations to control bedbug infestations in the city.
Commissioners are creating a new “Property Maintenance Code.” Most of the code provisions are just a rewrite and combination of two different sections that existed in the city’s building permit codes and in the city’s general code book.
But the city doesn’t have much on the books in terms of how property owners must treat bedbug infestations. The new code doesn’t create a specific set of requirements, but rather gives the city’s director of planning and development services the authority to create specific regulations on how bedbugs should be dealt with.
Lawrence has had some issues with the pests, which frequently live in mattresses or clothes and create health risks by biting and sucking the blood of their victims.
We reported in 2010 a spike in the number of bedbug complaints in the city. That was about the time that bedbug infestations were starting to get publicity in other parts of the country as well.
In a memo to commissioners, city staff members argue that the city should get involved with the regulation of bedbug extermination because the pests can quickly grow into a citywide problem. The pests can embed themselves in clothing, mattresses or furniture that may be moved from one residence to another.
Lawrence may be at particular risk for bedbug infestations because of the number of students who move in and out of the community or who travel home and unknowingly may bring the bedbugs back with them. Our 2010 article noted that KU officials had spent some time talking with students about the risks of bedbugs, and how to prevent their spread.
I’m not sure what the situation is today with the number of bedbug cases in the city, but I’ll check with the proper officials and report back.
I suspect people who have had bedbug infestations will appreciate the city getting involved in the issue. According to the last article we wrote, it sounds like figuring out how to get rid of the pests can be confusing. It also sounds like it can be expensive. Back in 2010, one exterminator estimated that a typical heat treatment — a process where the infested area is heated to about 130 degrees — would cost more than $500.
While reading through the code about bedbugs, I also found several other items of note about what the city requires in terms of property maintenance. I don’t think any of these are really new requirements, but under the new code, they may become easier to enforce. Here’s a look at a few:
• Here’s the list of no-no’s that you should not allow to accumulate in your yard or on your porch or deck: lumber, wire, metal, tires, concrete, masonry products, plastic products, supplies, equipment, machinery, auto parts, stoves, refrigerators, televisions, sinks, garbage, refuse, junk, or the like.
• No person shall allow in their yard a dead or substantially dead tree.
• Water from a sump pump shall not be discharged at a point closer than five feet from any adjoining property line.
• Essentially every window used to ventilate a room should have an insect screen.
• “Leaning, buckling, sagging or deteriorating” fences shall be repaired. Any fence that was painted and now has “chipping, peeling, scaling or missing paint” on at least 20 percent of its area shall be repainted or stripped and given a water-resistant coating.
• It is against the code to put out your city-issued trash cart before 7 a.m. the day before your scheduled trash day. It also is against the code to leave your trash cart out at the curb for longer than 24 hours after your trash has been picked up.
• It is legal to store your city trash cart outside your house or garage, but the code says it should be stored no farther than three feet from the exterior wall of your house or shed. In other words, storing it in the middle of your yard would be a violation.
One thing that this new code isn't expected to change is that most of these property maintenance code violation matters are dealt with on a complaint bases. In other words, the city doesn't send out inspectors to search for such violation, as a general rule. The city also has taken an approach of trying to get property owners to simply remedy the violation rather than writing an actual ticket. But the code does allow for Municipal Court fines for $100 to $500 for violations of the code.
Area bridegrooms have it easy these days. It used to be that planning a wedding involved so much running around that you would ruin a perfectly good set of radials. (As I’ve explained many times, that’s why I bought her a new set of Goodyears for our first anniversary.)
But now there has been a new development in the world of local wedding planning. J. Lynn Bridal has opened up a full service bridal and wedding shop in the Holiday Plaza shopping center at 2449 South Iowa Street. The shop has a heavy emphasis on dresses, tuxedos and other such nuptial accessories. More on the new business in a moment. But first I want to help area grooms. Think of what is located just across the parking lot from the new bridal store. First, there is Kief’s Audio and Video, where you can pick up some new audio equipment for the reception. Then, there is Biggs BBQ, where you can sample and order the several hundred slabs of ribs that will be needed for the reception meal. And finally, there is Sunflower Pawn, where you can get the gifts for the wedding party. Wedding planning done in about an hour. She’ll be so surprised.
I suppose you could run the plan by the folks at J. Lynn, if you feel you must. The new business — which opened about two weeks ago — also provides wedding consulting services.
Owner Jena Lynn Dick said she decided to open the shop after seeing so many people travel to Kansas City or elsewhere to do their wedding shopping. She’s confident a bridal shop can do well in Lawrence because the city seems to be gaining quite the reputation as a wedding location.
“I really couldn’t believe that Lawrence didn’t have anything like this,” Dick said. “With the university, lots of people keep KU near and dear to their hearts and want to get married here. It is really a neat city for weddings.” Dick — who grew up in Lawrence — said the shop offers bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, mother’s dresses, flower girl dresses, shoes and accessories, tuxedo and suit rentals, and seamstress services. The business also will take on entire event planning.
The business also carries a line of prom and formal wear dresses.
If City Manager David Corliss has his way, property tax bills in Lawrence may go up just a bit in 2014.
Corliss is in the process of preparing his recommended 2014 city budget, but he has provided city commissioners a peek at one of the bottomline numbers. Corliss is forecasting that his recommended budget will call for at least a 0.4 mill increase in the city’s property tax rate, mainly to pay for four new positions in the city-county 911 center, for increased overtime costs for the police department and for additional equipment in the public works department.
In case your abacus is acting up in the heat, let me take my shoes off and do the math for you. A 0.4 mill increase would amount to an extra $9.20 a year in property taxes for the owner of a $200,000 home.
But as the saying goes at City Hall, the city manager proposes and the City Commission disposes. In other words, just because Corliss is recommending a mill levy increase doesn’t mean that City Commissioners will approve one.
Corliss is scheduled to provide a budget update to commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting. But most of the heavy budget lifting for the commission comes after Corliss releases his recommended budget, which is scheduled to happen in the last week of June. Commissioners then have until early August to finalize the budget for 2014.
There are still several questions outstanding on what else will be included in Corliss’ recommended budget. Budget-makers will have to make some decisions related to the budget for the Lawrence Public Library. Leaders at the library have asked for about $173,000 in additional funding for its operations. The library’s mill levy is separate from the city’s general fund mill levy, but both are controlled by city commissioners. Corliss didn’t provide a forecast for what may happen to that mill levy, but staff members previously have said the additional funding would either require a mill levy increase or a draw down of the library’s reserve funds. In other words, the total increase in the tax rate for city property owners may be more than 0.4 mill, depending on what happens to the library fund.
A mill levy increase for the library shouldn’t really catch anybody by surprise. During the bond election, library supporters said they would need a mill levy increase for both the construction of the expanded library and for the operations of the larger facility. Thus far, city commissioners have mainly just increased the mill levy to cover the construction costs but not the operational costs. The library is expected to move into the larger facility in 2014.
If the city’s mill levy does increase, it will continue a trend. The city’s property tax rate has increased each of the last two years, mainly due to increased spending to add more police officers and the voter-approved $19 million library expansion. The increases ended a period in the mid-to-late 2000s where the mill levy either held steady or declined. Here’s a look at mill levy rates:
• 2003: 28.09
• 2004: 27.86
• 2005: 26.36
• 2006: 26.36
• 2007: 26.79
• 2008: 26.65
• 2009: 26.69
• 2010: 26.69
• 2011: 28.61
• 2012: 29.53.
It is also worth noting that in 2008, city voters approved three new sales taxes — two for public transit and one for infrastructure — that took significant pressure off the city’s property.
It will be interesting to see if city commissioners balk at any increase in the mill levy this year, or whether they are willing to live with a small increase. An increase this year will come on the heels of the city’s decision to use recently unencumbered sales tax dollars to pay for a $25 million recreation center and infrastructure for the KU-oriented Rock Chalk Park project. City commissioners resisted calls to use those recently unencumbered sales tax dollars to fund other city budget priorities.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
As my wife sometimes tells our kids — and often tells me — we’re going to nip this in the bud. (We start taking her seriously when she says it with actual nippers in her hand.)
Discovery Furniture has announced a major moving and expansion project for its Topeka store, but the move is not affecting its location on South Iowa Street in Lawrence.
There perhaps has been some confusion about that. The company is currently running a “moving sale” that includes its Lawrence location. That, coupled with some advertisements about the larger Topeka store, has caused some people to come under the false impression that the Discovery store in Lawrence is moving to Topeka. I received a phone call about that, and a store manager said she had heard some of that as well. Jess Bundy, store manager at the Lawrence location, said business has been good at the furniture center that technically houses the Discovery, RoomMakers and Mattress Headquarters furniture businesses in the large building that used to be occupied by Food-4-Less.
The big news for the company, though, is what is going on in Topeka. The company is in the process of leaving its Wanamaker Drive location and moving into the former Macy’s location in the Westridge Mall. The new location represents a large expansion in showroom space and will be marketed as the Kansas Furniture Mall. It will have all three of the furniture business that are located in Lawrence, but it also will have the Marlings furniture business in it as well.
Many of you will remember Marlings furniture was a mainstay in the Lawrence furniture market for decades, before it closed its Lawrence store and focused on the Topeka market several years ago.
Bundy said there aren’t any plans currently to bring the Marlings name and furniture line back to Lawrence, but my understanding is the Discovery folks now control that brand, so who knows what the future may bring.
Bundy said the Lawrence store, however, will be getting a new manager soon, as she transitions over to the larger Topeka operation.