Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Lawrence’s former mayor has left a mess behind. Yes, I know, that is not exactly breaking news at this point. But I’m talking about a literal mess, as in a pile of trash strewn about the front yard of his former home.
Journal-World photographer Nick Krug took these photos a few days ago at Jeremy Farmer’s former residence at 1135 Randall Road after some neighbors had called us to complain about the mess.
In case you have forgotten, Farmer resigned his post as mayor of Lawrence in August after he resigned his job as the executive director of a local food bank where it was discovered he failed to pay more than $50,000 in payroll taxes. The food bank’s board later alleged that Farmer overpaid himself by more than $52,000 over a two-year period, and deceived the Just Food board on multiple financial matters. We all await whether Farmer will face criminal charges in the matter.
Farmer’s whereabouts have been unclear since his resignation, and he hasn’t returned phone calls. Looking at county property records for 1135 Randall, I reached out to the owner of the property. The man who answered the phone didn’t want to give his name but did say he was the landlord for the property. He told me Farmer moved out of the property on Oct. 31. The man said it was Farmer who left the trash in the yard, and he was disappointed when he saw the mess. The man called city sanitation crews, who picked up the trash, he said.
The man said Farmer didn’t say where he is living these days. Farmer didn't return a call for comment.
Certainly this isn’t the first time a mess has been left by a Lawrence renter leaving town. But I did find it noteworthy, in part, because Farmer once was an elected official who railed against such things. It would be hard for me to count the number of times Farmer climbed atop his soapbox to lecture about how we all needed to be better neighbors and about how we all needed to do more to build a community.
Hopefully, the soapbox is in that pile somewhere.
As for other updates on Farmer’s situation, we are kind of in wait-and-see mode. Charges haven’t been filed yet. As we’ve previously reported, it doesn’t sound like the type of case that local prosecutors are planning to deal with. Instead, my understanding is that federal investigators have taken the lead.
I don’t have great detail on the matter, but there could be numerous federal agencies that could be interested, with the IRS likely being near the top of the list. People who are familiar with such matters tell me federal investigations take their time. I think it could be months yet before we know whether criminal charges will be filed in the matter.
But there likely will be other opportunities for updates before then. As we previously have reported, the Just Food board has ordered an audit. My understanding is that audit is still in process. But when it is completed, we’ll seek to get a copy and report on its results.
The community has rallied around Just Food, and helped the nonprofit complete a fundraising drive to pay off its debt to taxing authorities. But, I think there is strong interest in the community about getting to the bottom of what happened at the organization. That interest likely will become stronger if Just Food seeks city or county funding in the future to help it keep its doors open.
Arts and crafts store makes expansion into west Lawrence; talk of banning plastic bags in Lawrence grows
Anybody who has watched a DirectTV ad lately knows there is an “arts and crafts” Tony Romo out there. Who knows, maybe there is an arts and crafts Bill Self roaming around Lawrence. If so, he’s going to love this news: Downtown Lawrence’s Sunfire Ceramics is expanding with a new west Lawrence location.
Sunfire recently opened in the Westgate shopping center, which is the one next to the Dillons store at Sixth and Wakarusa. Owner Cheryl Roth told me that she had been keeping an eye on the spot for years, and the timing finally became right to open a location that she hopes will tap into the large market of west Lawrence families.
If you are not familiar with Sunfire, then that must mean you don’t have a 9-year old daughter. The business allows people to paint pieces of pottery that are then cured in a kiln operated by Sunfire. The business is particularly popular for birthday parties and other such gatherings. (I have so much pottery at my home that in a thousand years when archeologists are digging through the remains, they are going to assume the site was the home of a leader of a great tribe that worshipped purple dinosaurs and anatomically incorrect stick figures.)
The store also offers fused glass projects, which is an art form where you break pieces of colored glass, glue them onto a surface, and then they are heated and can be formed into different shapes for jewelry or other purposes. (My kids are learning this. They break a lot of glass items, and soon I’m sure they will start putting them in the oven instead of under the couch.)
Sunfire has been open for 18 years in Downtown Lawrence, all them in the neat old gas station building that sits at 10th and New Hampshire streets. Roth said the west Lawrence location isn’t meant to replace the downtown location.
“We’re happy to be downtown and we definitely want to remain downtown,” Roth said.
Instead, the west Lawrence location is aimed at expanding the store’s capacity. The business now has twice as much party space to offer, twice as much kiln space (they get up to 1,900 degrees, case you were wondering) and twice as much space for inventory. Roth said she’s optimistic that the west Lawrence location will take off because she thinks Lawrence families are looking for unique activities.
“I think there is always something new to try and do at a store like ours,” Roth said. “It is a nice hands-on activity. It seems like so many of us are in front of a computer a lot these days. It is nice to pull out a paint brush and have a little fun.”
As for the exact location Sunfire has moved into — 4821 W. Sixth St., Suite L — it used to house Scratch Bakery. I haven’t heard of the relatively new bakery moving anywhere, so it appears it may no longer be operating a Lawrence retail operation.
In other news and notes from around town:
• This great swami turban I’m wearing is actually not part of my Arts and Crafts Chad Lawhorn costume. Instead, I actually make some predictions from time to time. (You can see my weekly football picks as part of the Checkers Football Pick & Win contest in today’s paper. Don’t read too much into the fact that a dog named Sherlock is beating me. I’m almost certain Sherlock makes his picks based off of a ritual that involves a fire hydrant, and my attorney has strongly advised me against replicating what Sherlock does to a fire hydrant.)
Regardless, back in August 2014, I predicted that the day would come when plastic grocery sacks are banned in Lawrence. Well, that day hasn’t yet come, but it appears discussions are heating up on the topic.
Some forwarded me an e-mail stating that several environmental groups — Sustainability Action Network, the Sierra Wakarusa Group and Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability — will be attending the next meeting of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board to lobby for regulations that would ban plastic bags in the city.
The Sustainability Advisory Board meets at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at City Hall. No word on whether the ban has supporters on the advisory board, which makes recommendation to city commissioners on a host of environmental issues. But we’ll try to check in with some of the organizers of this movement and bring you back more information.
I think the issue will be one to watch because plastic bags do create a challenge for Lawrence. They currently are not accepted as part of the city’s curbside recycling program. They just make a mess of everything. That may be a motive for city officials to consider banning them. Plus, it is an action that many progressive cities are taking. This website lists more than 100 ordinances that have been passed across the country. (It didn’t list any for Kansas.) It notes that some communities are not just banning plastic bags but also are charging a fee for people to use paper bags. In other words, they’re trying to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags to stores.
I know nothing about the economics of paper versus plastic shopping bags, so it is tough for me to say how grocers and other retailers may react. But it sounds like the issue may get some attention in Lawrence.
Home sales in Lawrence continue on strong pace, above KC market; tax man begins work on property values; more info on Clinton Parkway development
It seems certain that November’s Lawrence real estate report will show large amounts of activity. Thousands of Royals fans from Lawrence are discovering it is easier to buy a house in Kansas City than to get their car out of downtown following Tuesday’s massive parade and rally. Well, I don’t have November’s numbers yet, but the latest report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows the city’s real estate market continues to be a hot one.
Home sales in Lawrence are up 17 percent compared with a year ago, according to the latest report, which tracks sales through September. The strong numbers are despite a relatively ho-hum month of sales in September. Home sales basically were steady in September compared with a year ago — 70 sales in September 2015 compared with 69 in September 2014.
The report, however, did show signs that activity levels are set to rise again in the fall. Real estate agents had 86 contracts for sale written in September, up from 69 in September 2014. Contracts written during a month are usually a good indicator of home sales that will be finalized in the next month or so.
Local real estate agents certainly wouldn’t mind if something caused more Lawrence residents to put their homes on the market. A decline in the number of homes for sale may be the biggest threat to the local real estate market right now. The number of active listings is down to 322 homes, which is about 25 percent less than at this point a year ago.
Here’s a look at some other statistics from the report:
— Sales totals for newly constructed homes are at their highest levels in awhile. Through September, 64 new homes sales have been recorded. That’s an increase of a little more than 25 percent compared with the same period a year ago. In dollar terms, there have been $21 million in new homes sales compared with $16.5 million a year ago.
— The value of total home sales — both newly constructed and existing homes — stands at $195.1 million through September, up from $161.3 million a year ago.
— The median number of days a home is sitting on the market before it sells is now down to 24. That’s down from 33 in 2014 and 42 in 2013.
— Data selling prices for homes show there is a bit of an uptick in prices as the market has heated up. The Douglas County appraiser’s office released a report recently that said the average selling price for a three-bedroom, two-bath home with 1,300 to 1,800 square feet is $168,120. That’s up from an average of $161,325 at this point last year. It also is up from an average of $165,680 in 2013.
So, those numbers suggest home values indeed fell in 2014, but they have now returned to levels above where they were before the decline. Home values, though, can be hard to pin down because there are a multitude of variables. The Douglas County appraiser’s office, however, gets the chore of setting home values. It places a value on every home in the county so that your property tax bills can be figured. The office is beginning that work now. It is required to come up with what the value of a home is on Jan. 1, 2016.
The office tracks the selling price of every home sale that occurs in the county, then compares it with the value the county had previously placed on that home. Thus far, homes are selling — on average — for about 1 percent more than what the county has them listed at on the tax rolls. If that trend continues, the county appraiser probably won’t make many large changes to the tax values of homes across the county. But we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see if that trend continues.
Owners of commercial property may have more to keep an eye on when it comes to their tax values. Thus far, selling prices of commercial property are coming in about 9 percent higher than what the county has them listed at on the tax rolls. There are a lot of variables in commercial property valuations, but the appraiser will be keeping an eye on those statistics.
“In fact, the most recent sales prices have far exceeded the 2015 valuation,” Steve Miles, Douglas County appraiser, wrote in a recent report. “It will require more analysis to determine the effect on 2016 values.”
• In case you are wondering how Lawrence’s home market is doing compared with the always active Kansas City metro market, I have those numbers too. In short, Lawrence’s market is hotter than Kansas City’s, thus far in 2015.
Total homes sales in the KC metro are up 12.5 percent through September compared with a 17 percent increase in Lawrence. But home values in the Kansas City area seem to be increasing faster than in Lawrence. According to a report from the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors, the median sales price for homes in the metro is up 6.3 percent compared with a year ago.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The development group that is seeking city approval for some drive-thru restaurants near the southeast corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness has given me some additional information about what type of tenants they will try to attract.
If you remember, earlier this week we reported on the project and Lawrence-based architect Paul Werner tried to head off any concerns that the location was going to attract high-volume, fast-food chains, like a McDonald’s or a Burger King. Those types of restaurants have drawn opposition from some neighbors who are concerned about the businesses' long hours and the amount of traffic and noise they may create.
In our original article, Werner said a coffee shop with a drive-thru would be much more likely. Some neighbors, though, still had concerns because the plans filed with the city show three fast-order restaurants on the site, with two of them having drive-thru service.
So, Werner reached back out to me and gave me a few other examples of restaurant types the development hopes to attract. He said in addition to coffee shops, businesses like a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, Subway, or a Panera soup, sandwich and pastry shop would fit into the development nicely. The development doesn’t have deals with those businesses, but he offered them as examples to help give neighbors a better idea of what is to come. Werner continues to make strong statements that the development won’t attract the big burger and taco chains.
“A high-volume fast-food restaurant — i.e. McDonald’s — wouldn’t want this site,” Werner said via email. “There is not enough traffic.”
Werner also said plans to build a duplex development just east of the site of the restaurants is continuing to progress. Back in June we reported that the development group filed plans for a duplex development with 28 living units. Here’s a look at the entire site plan for the project to get a better feel for what is proposed. Ultimately, city commissioners will have to weigh in on the plans, especially the part about drive-thru uses.
Lawrence garners ranking in Best Small Places to Live report; host of Kansas communities score higher than Lawrence in new business ranking
The best type of rankings are those that are determined on a field of play, cause a parade to be held for the victors, and give all of us the opportunity to practice the important art of faking a cough and forging a doctor’s note to give to the HR department. But sometimes you have to settle for a ranking from a financial website, and these most recent ones aren’t necessarily parade worthy for Lawrence.
Just out this morning is a new ranking of the Best Small Cities to Live In. Lawrence checks in at No. 321, according to the folks at the financial website WalletHub. That’s actually not bad, considering the website ranked 1,268 cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000. But, No. 321 probably isn’t worth throwing a parade for. (Building a human pyramid that conveys we’re No 321 gets very complicated.)
What’s also a bit of a downer is that of all the Kansas communities ranked, Lawrence was second to last in the rankings. We finished ahead of only Salina, which came in at No. 437. The two Kansas communities that might be conducting parade planning and pyramid practice are Leawood and Shawnee in Johnson County. Leawood checked in at No. 5 in the country, while Shawnee came in at No. 54. In other words, both finished in the top 5 percent of the rankings. Overall, Kansas fared well in the rankings. There was no Kansas community that finished in the lower half of the rankings. Compare that to some other states, like California, which occupied the 23 bottom spots in the rankings. (Bell, Calif., in case you are wondering, evidently doesn’t have a nice tone to it. It ranked last.)
Here’s a look at all the Kansas communities and their rankings:
— Leawood: No. 5
— Shawnee: No. 54
— Dodge City: No 156
— Lenexa: No. 223
— Hutchinson: No. 264
— Manhattan: No. 273
— Garden City: No. 278
— Leavenworth: No 317
— Lawrence: No. 321
— Salina: T-No. 437
The study looked at 22 metrics from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the FBI, Yelp and other sources to compile the rankings. It looked at issues such as housing costs, median household incomes, unemployment rates, population growth, income growth, education levels, commute times, health insurance coverage, crime rates, and per capita figures on items such as number of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, museums, pediatricians and other such statistics.
It provided sub-rankings for each community in various areas. Lawrence’s worst ranking was in the category of affordability. I think college communities are at a bit of a disadvantage in this area because the statistics don’t always do a good job of separating the incomes of college students from those of full-time workers. Lawrence ranked No. 877 in affordability out of 1,268. It was second to last in the Kansas rankings, trailing only Manhattan at No. 949.
But university town issues aside, affordability is at least a perception problem for Lawrence. It may be more than perception. The average affordability ranking for all Kansas communities was 373 out of 1,268. That’s a pretty big gap between Lawrence and the other Kansas communities.
Lawrence’s best sub-ranking was in the category of quality of life, which measured everything from crime rates to the number of bars and coffee shops per capita. Lawrence ranked No. 306. We finished third in the state behind Manhattan (No. 159) and Leavenworth (No. 275).
Perhaps the most surprising ranking for Lawrence was in the education/health category. We are the education capital of Kansas, and we generally think of ourselves as healthy. We finished OK nationally at No. 322, but there were quite a few other communities that finished ahead of us. Shawnee was No. 76. Other Kansas communities ahead of us: Leawood, No. 123; Hutchinson, No. 213; Manhattan, No. 245; and Garden City, No. 281.
In case you are wondering, it was a mixed bag for how other university communities across the region fared. The top ranked small city in the country was a university town: Princeton, N.J. Most of the university towns in the Big 12 exceed the 100,000 population threshold, and thus weren’t included in the rankings. Among those that were included: Ames, Iowa, No. 79; Morgantown, W. Va., No. 402; and Stillwater Okla., No. 625.
• Let’s move on to ranking No. 2. When it comes to good places to start a business in Kansas, Lawrence ranks near the bottom of the list, according to a new ranking compiled by financial website NerdWallet. Lawrence ranked No. 37 out of the 46 Kansas communities ranked by NerdWallet.
Whether the ranking is anything to be concerned about, though, is debatable. “Best place to start a business” is such a broad category. We’re probably good for some type of businesses and not so good for others. The rankings do rely on good data from the U.S. Census Bureau, but whether it is entirely on point is up for debate. For example, the survey looked at metrics such as the average revenue of businesses in a community, the percentage of businesses that have employees, and the number of businesses per 100 people. All those are interesting, but some may not speak directly to whether a community is a good place to open a business. Detroit, for example, has some of the larger revenue producing businesses in the country. It also is a city full of bankruptcy attorneys these days.
The rankings also look at economic health issues of a community such as median incomes, median housing costs and unemployment rates. The rankings are getting some media attention elsewhere, and people have asked me how Lawrence fared, so I want to pass them along. Take them for whatever you think they are worth. And if nothing else, they do serve as a good reminder of the importance of promoting the community as a good place to do business, which has been a major point of emphasis for local economic development leaders recently. Here’s a look at the results of the top 10:
— No. 1: Merriam
— No. 2: Mission
— No. 3: Lenexa
— No. 4: Overland Park
— No. 5: Emporia
— No. 6: Coffeyville
— No. 7: Abilene
— No. 8: Hays
— No. 9: McPherson
— No. 10: Dodge City
Here’s a look at the communities that ranked below Lawrence:
— No. 38: Andover
— No. 39: Junction City
— No. 40: Wellington
— No. 41: Leavenworth
— No. 42: Derby
— No. 43: Roeland Park
— No. 44: Haysville
— No. 45: Augusta
— No. 46: Gardner
One clear trend from this particular set of rankings is that — not surprisingly — being in the Johnson County part of the Kansas City metro has some appeal. That prosperity, though, hasn’t extended into Douglas County. But it is interesting to note that it hasn’t extended to all parts of Johnson County either, according to this ranking. Gardner is ranked last, despite having large population growth over the last decade and being next door to the very large BNSF intermodal facility that is generating a lot of potential for shipping and distribution jobs in the area.
All in all, I find the results of this one a bit confounding. The one thing that is clear: I think the KU goalposts should be safe from any ensuing celebrations.
I’m sure coffee sounds good to some of you following the historic late-night Royals victory and the celebrations that lasted into the morning. My healthful ways don’t allow me to drink coffee, so I’ve resorted to popping leftover Halloween Skittles approximately every 1.2 seconds. But those of you in southwest Lawrence soon may have a new option for coffee or other fast food pick-me-ups. New plans have been filed for commercial development near the corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness, and they likely are going to get a close look by wary neighbors in the area.
A local development group has filed plans at City Hall seeking a special use permit that would allow for a “fast order food with drive-through” type of business to locate near the southeast corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness. It is one of four restaurants proposed for the location, in addition to two office/retail buildings.
Thus far, the development group hasn’t made any announcements about what type of restaurants it hopes to draw to the site. Neighbors in the area have been wary of several previous development proposals for the corner — the most recent one a proposed family fun center that would have housed batting cages, electric go-karts, an arcade and mini-golf.
The paperwork filed at City Hall indicates the same group — led by Lawrence businessman Glen Lemesany — is behind this project as well. Lawrence-based architect Paul Werner is designing the project, and he previously has said neighbors shouldn’t worry about the area becoming a new center for typical fast-food restaurants and their drive-thrus that sometimes can operate all night. He reiterated that point this week.
“A coffee shop is realistic,” Werner said via email of possible uses for the drive-thru space. “We won’t get, nor do we want to get a McDonald's or Taco Bell, etc.”
The actual paperwork filed with the city, however, doesn’t get into any specifics about the type of users the development hopes to attract. It only describes the proposed use as “fast-order food with drive-through.”
Werner, though, explained that the city’s code lumps a variety of uses into the fast-order food category. A coffee-shop with a drive-thru and a fast-order hamburger restaurant are pretty much treated the same under the city’s zoning code, although how they fit into a neighborhood may be significantly different.
It is worth noting, though, that the plans submitted to the city actually show drive-thrus for two of the four restaurant spaces. It probably is unlikely that there will be two coffee shops side by side, so other fast-food drive-thru uses seem possible.
Werner said tenants haven’t been found for the project yet. He said the development group has filed for the special use permit for the drive-thru use because that process can be time consuming.
“We thought we would get that in the pipeline as we sort out who might actually want to go there,” Werner said via email.
The plans do list three of the four restaurant spaces as fast order food establishments, while the fourth space is listed as a “quality restaurant,” which is a City Hall term used to describe a restaurant that generally has table service and is focused on diners coming and staying for a bit as opposed to the high turnover of a fast-food establishment. The plans show the quality restaurant building also having a 1,000 square-foot patio.
As for the office and retail buildings on the site, Werner said tenants haven’t been found for those either. The plans list one building at just over 14,000 square feet and another at 8,000 square feet.
We’ll see how the project progresses through City Hall. The area between Inverness and Crossgate has developed with a lot of apartments over the past several years. That created concern from adjacent single-family home owners, who said they weren’t envisioning apartments for the area when they bought their homes years ago.
The family fun center idea met stiff opposition from neighbors. It is a little hard to tell how they will respond to the latest proposal. One development that did go through with minimal pushback was a new Hy-Vee convenience store at the corner of Crossgate and Clinton Parkway. It is a traffic generator at many hours of the day and evening, and it involves some outdoor uses.
Would drive-thru restaurants have a significantly different impact on the neighborhood than a convenience store?
I don’t know, and I have other issues to deal with now. I have to restock my candy supply, and don’t let what you hear about stealing candy from a baby fool you. My 9-year old daughter evidently is no baby, and I don’t remember the process previously involving jiu-jitsu.
Man, I — and my midsection — sure wish I knew jiu-jitsu.
Plans filed for cafe along the Kansas River levee; City Commission set to start interviewing city manager candidates
I’m guessing you are much like me in that when you are biking on the Kansas River levee trail you sure wish you had some biscuits and gravy. Not only are they good, healthy fuel for the body, I’ve also found that well-made gravy that wicks off my Spandex really lubes the bike chain. Well, I don’t know if biscuits and gravy are on the menu, but it appears plans are in the works for a new North Lawrence cafe along the levee trail.
Plans have been filed with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department to remodel a small building at 239 Elm St. into a cafe that will serve the North Lawrence community, and particularly users of the nearby river levee trail.
I know I’m having a hard time picturing the exact location along the levee, but of course, I ride so fast that everything along that trail is kind of a blur. (Or maybe it is just the gravy on my goggles that’s causing that.) My friend Mr. Google, however, indicates there is a small, cinder-block building on the corner of Elm and North Third Street. It already has a bit of a classic cafe look. The building is basically across the street from one of the main entrance points onto the levee trail.
No word yet on who is seeking to open the cafe. A group led by Lawrence businessman Jon Davis owns the property. Davis and Lawrence architect Paul Werner have filed the plans for the building. I’ve reached out to both of them and will report back when I hear more.
In their application to City Hall, the duo provides some information about what type of cafe is envisioned. They state in the application that the site “is a great location for those exercising and using the levee to stop for refreshment or to make this site a destination at the end or beginning of their workout. This will be a great asset to the health of the city in general.”
The project, though, will need some key approvals from the city, including a variance on parking. The property currently is zoned for industrial uses. The development group is seeking to downzone the property to a commercial zoning category. That may not be much of an issue because the city’s long-range plans don’t call for that area to be industrial.
But the parking issue will be one that will require the city to think a bit differently. The development group acknowledges that the site probably can’t meet the parking requirements for a restaurant use. But the group also notes that there is a city-owned parking lot just down the street from the property. It is that lot right at the corner of North Second and Elm streets. In its application, the development group said it likely will file for a city variance that would allow the project to proceed without the required number of parking spaces.
The group would propose that motorists visiting the cafe could park in the city lot. Plus, the cafe expects a large number of its customers to be people who have traveled to the area either on foot or via bike. In addition, the photo of the site makes it look like there is a little bit of parking available on the site.
Infill development in the city can get tricky, but the alternative is development on the outskirts of the city that creates concern about sprawl. This little project could be a nice test to see how willing the current City Commission is to modify regulations to accommodate infill development.
Davis is no stranger to dealing with infill development, especially in North Lawrence. He was the developer behind the renovation of the mini-downtown area that exists in North Lawrence. I’m talking about the area at the intersection of North Seventh and Locust streets. It houses some antique shops and other such retailers. It has been generally well-received by the North Lawrence residents and has become a nice draw for specialty shoppers.
Davis also is a major part of the group seeking to redevelop the area around Johnny’s Tavern in North Lawrence. As we’ve previously reported, the group has received approval from the City Commission to make that area more of a retail/entertainment area that better ties into the adjacent Kansas River with a boardwalk and other such features. Werner is also involved with that project. The approvals came some time ago, but the project hasn’t progressed. My understanding, however, is the idea is still alive, but finding retailers and working with the various federal agencies that regulate the area near the levee makes it a slow-moving process. I’ll ask about its progress, though, when I hear back from the group.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It sure looks like the City Commission is going to be talking with candidates for the open city manager position soon. Commissioners will meet on Tuesday, but instead of adjourning the meeting when they are done with business on Tuesday, they will recess the meeting until Sunday, Nov. 8.
When the commission gets back together on Sunday, it will immediately call an executive session, where they will talk about personnel matters behind closed doors. My understanding is that the executive session is to interview candidates for the city manager position, which commissioners are seeking to fill after David Corliss earlier this year left the job to take a similar position in Colorado. The commission is scheduled to meet in executive session from about 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The justification for the executive session is to “protect the privacy of non-elected personnel.” I don’t have any word on how many candidates the commission may be interviewing at that time, but the length of the session would indicate multiple candidates.
The executive session will just be one part of the process. Commissioners have said they do intend to narrow the field to a list of finalists. They plan to release the names of the finalists and hold an event to allow the public to meet the finalists. It looks like November could be a busy month on that front.
A new study that says it pays to go to K-State over KU; opening date set for another new south Iowa Street retailer
Perhaps you too stayed up later than you intended last night watching a magic show that was billed as a baseball game. Perhaps your alarm clock also did not survive the beating it took this morning from the miniature Alex Gordon bat that you slept with, and now you too are looking for a new job. If so, a Kansas State degree may be a bit more helpful to you than a KU degree, according to one new survey.
The folks at the financial website SmartAsset have compiled a list of average starting salaries for graduates of four-year universities in Kansas. They found graduates at Kansas State University topped the list, while Kansas University graduates finished sixth, about $3,100 behind. KU did not quite finish first in Douglas County in terms of top starting salaries for graduates. Baker University in Baldwin City finished with the third highest starting salary figure in the state, about $1,200 more than KU’s. Of course, Baker’s average tuition was about $15,000 higher than KU’s too.
That, however, wasn’t the case at K-State. The study found that K-State students pay less in tuition and receive a greater percentage of their tuition in scholarships and grants than KU students.
They do have to wear purple, though, which has to be factored into this equation somewhere.
KU fared well, however, in the overall ranking that SmartAsset puts together on universities in the state. It finished second in the “Best Value” category of all schools ranked in the state. Kansas State finished first. Pittsburg State, Emporia State and Wichita State rounded out the top five. Baker finished seventh.
It is always interesting to look at how KU stacks up against other colleges, because I can assure you prospective students are looking at such issues. It also is important, though, to keep the numbers in perspective. For example, average starting salaries aren’t necessarily a reflection of what the market thinks of the quality of the degrees being awarded by KU. Instead, it may be more of a reflection of the degree mix of a university. A university that awards a lot more English degrees probably will have a lower starting salary than a university that awards a lot of engineering degrees. It doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of degree. Instead, it is just a supply and demand thing. America needs lots of engineering but a quick look at Twitter confirms we have abandoned English as a language.
But, the numbers for KU are a little surprising, given that KU has the only medical school in the state. Plus, we have engineering, law, pharmacy and several other high-paying degrees at the university. (To be fair, I can't tell from the study whether the average starting salary is for all degrees or only undergraduate degrees.) We do have a very large liberal arts school, but so do some of the others that are ahead of KU on the list.
The study looks at a host of other statistics. It ranks tuition numbers, student living costs, the average amount of scholarships and grants and other statistics. The figures come from a 2013 report from the National Center for Educational Statistics, and a 2014 report from Payscale, a private company that says it tracks about 54 million individual salaries across the country.
Here’s a look at the chart for the 10 Kansas schools ranked:
I also did a little digging in SmartAsset’s study to see how KU stacked up with the other schools in the Big 12 that were ranked. The value rating is a subjective measure that SmartAsset puts together to measure the overall financial picture of the school. A score of 100 is best. Here’s a look at those numbers:
• University of Texas: $50,400 salary; $9,790 tuition; $15,602 student living costs; value rating 80.6
• Texas Tech: $49,000 salary; $7,517 tuition; $14,505 student living costs; value rating 71.65
• Iowa State: $47,800 salary; $7,726 tuition; $11,194 student living costs; value rating 84.84
• University of Oklahoma: $47,700 salary; $8,706 tuition, $14,584 student living costs; value rating 71.09
• Kansas State University: $45,200 salary; $8,047 tuition; $12,100 student living costs; value rating 70.63
• Oklahoma State: $44,400 salary; $7,442 tuition; $14,160 student living costs; value rating 66.08
• West Virginia: $43,800 salary; $6,090 tuition; $10,230 student living costs; value rating 77.46
• Kansas University: $42,100 salary; $9,678 tuition; $12,584 student living costs; value rating 64.02
When you compile the list that way, it doesn’t look too good for KU. The university has the lowest salary of the Big 12 schools that were ranked (I couldn’t find Baylor or TCU in the study), and it has the second-highest tuition of any of the schools ranked in the conference.
You’ll have to make what you will of the study’s “value ranking” — it clearly is subjective — but KU finished last in that category in terms of Big 12 schools. But remember, it finished second in Kansas.
SmartAsset apparently doesn’t think Kansas’ higher education strategy is that smart.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It likely won’t be long before another large retailer on south Iowa Street is open for business. The Boot Barn has set its ribbon-cutting date for Nov. 20, so it seems safe to assume the store will be open by then. Often stores hold soft openings before their ribbon cuttings, so keep that in mind.
If you have forgotten, The Boot Barn is going next to Dick’s Sporting Goods at 27th and Iowa streets. It looks like construction is largely complete, and I’ve seen signs that the store has been hiring employees. The business sells boots, if you can believe it. According to the company’s website, it also sells Western wear, work clothing and other such accessories. It has about 200 stores in 29 states. Its nearest store is in Olathe.
West Lawrence restaurant undergoes major expansion; a sneak peek at new Port Fonda restaurant in downtown
One day after Ellen DeGeneres gave away World Series tickets to Lawrence fans who could, at the spur of the moment, don royalty costumes, I’m still mad at my wife for excommunicating me from my role of king of the household. (Technically I was never king of the household, but I was allowed to rule over one corner of the basement, until she sold my scepter at a garage sale and feigned ignorance that my bedazzled robe was dry clean only.)
Oh well, at least I can still eat like a king and even hold a king-size banquet, thanks to a new project in west Lawrence. That’s right, a west Lawrence business is betting big on steak and becoming a new venue for banquets, wedding receptions and other large events.
If you remember, I briefly reported in July that the Six Mile Chop House at Sixth and Wakarusa was undertaking a major project by expanding into the adjacent space previously occupied by Famous Dave’s BBQ. Well, chop house owner Brad Ziegler has confirmed the project is complete, and the expanded steak house opened on Monday.
And when I say expanded, I do mean expanded. I think Lawrence is now home to one of the larger — if not largest — steakhouses in all of Kansas. Ziegler said the expansion added about 7,000 square feet to the restaurant. It increased seating capacity by about 200 diners on the main floor alone. In addition, the basement level can accommodate about 160 people for banquet events.
“We wanted more space for larger groups,” Ziegler said. “We have a lot of requests for rehearsal dinners, birthday parties, and groups of 12 to 30 that we didn’t have a place to seat them with without closing down the rest of the chop house.”
The new arrangement, in addition to the downstairs space that can host dinner, dancing and private bar service, has three smaller, private rooms that can be reserved for events.
The expansion also has allowed for a new lounge area. The lounge features leather couches, a fireplace and a large wine cooler/display that holds 240 bottles of wine.
The new lounge will be in addition to Six Mile Tavern, the existing bar and lounge that is connected to Six Mile Chop House.
As for the menu, there will be some changes, but not a lot.
“We’re still focusing on a traditional steakhouse menu, with some daily seafood items,” Ziegler said.
The restaurant serves basically three categories of beef: a selection of USDA prime-graded beef; Kansas-raised beef that has been dry-aged for six weeks; and certified Angus beef cuts. In addition the restaurant has several fish and seafood dishes such as salmon, lobster mac ’n cheese, and bacon-wrapped scallops.
The restaurant also has a brunch and bloody Mary menu that it serves on Saturdays and Sundays.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It can’t be long now before Port Fonda, the hip Mexican and Latino-inspired restaurant, will open in downtown Lawrence. The restaurant has removed the butcher block paper from the windows at its new location at 900 New Hampshire St. (That’s the ground floor of the new Marriott hotel, if you forgot your GPS.)
Take a look at a couple of shots I took through the windows.
The company operates the original Port Fonda in Westport. I called down there but haven’t had any luck in getting an official opening date. An employee at the restaurant, though, said Nov. 1 has been mentioned as an opening date. It sounds like, though, the restaurant will have a soft opening period before it really opens to the general public. But soon, it seems.
As for the food, I’m guessing it will have a similar menu to the Westport location, which includes everything from tacos to Mexican sandwiches, to specialty soups, to more elaborate dishes that are prepared in a wood-burning oven.
Let the fiesta continue on West 23rd Street. Another Mexican restaurant is coming to the corridor. The latest will be the national chain Qdoba Mexican Grill.
If you remember, I briefly mentioned in July that I had heard Qdoba was looking for a spot along the 23rd Street corridor. Well, the company has now made it official. The Denver-based chain has filed plans to go into the former Kwik Shop building at 1714 W. 23rd St., just a bit west of 23rd and Ousdahl. (The Qdoba at Ousdahl: There are a lot of opportunities for mispronunciations there.)
If you are not familiar with Qdoba, it is certainly one of the top five restaurant chains in America that start with the letter ‘Q.’ Beyond that, its claim to fame is that it is kind of a super-sized Chipotle. The store won’t be much bigger than a Chipotle, but the menu seems to be broader. Qdoba offers Mission-style burritos that you can eat with your hands, smothered burritos that you can eat with your hands and a garden hose, tacos, nachos, quesadillas, taco salads, kids meals and even something called Mexican Gumbo, which is very fun because it allows you to speak Spanish with a Cajun accent.
Some of you may remember that Qdoba previously was in Lawrence (I believe it occupied the downtown spot that now houses ingredient). That set up a showdown between Qdoba and Chipotle, which has a store just down Massachusetts Street. Qdoba closed that restaurant, I believe in the mid-to-late 2000s.
As far as a timeline goes to open the new restaurant, I’m uncertain. But plans call for a significant renovation of the existing convenience store building. You can see the new facade below, and plans also call for the construction of an outdoor dining area and improvements to the parking lot.
The project keeps alive the trend of Mexican food restaurants flocking to the 23rd Street corridor. As I’ve previously mentioned, there currently are four Mexican food restaurants — Taco Bell, Taco Johns, Chipotle and Border Bandido — within two-tenths of a mile on 23rd Street. Qdoba is just down the street, and there at one point was a plan filed to convert the old Pizza Hut location on 23rd into a fast-food Mexican restaurant called Panchos. I’m not sure if that idea is still alive, or if the development group became pollo with all the competition.
I’ll let you know if I hear more about a timeline for Qdoba.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of foreign cuisine, Lawrence diners now have the option of getting some Louisiana dishes. (Louisiana: The only foreign country that uses beads as a passport.) As we previously have reported, the popular Kansas City restaurant chain Jazz: A Louisiana Kitchen signed a deal to take over the downtown Lawrence space previously occupied by Buffalo Wild Wings.
Well, the location is now open, according to a post from the restaurant on Twitter. Menu items there include a lot of seafood, shrimp dishes, po’boy sandwiches, and a category they call “Voodoo Pasta.” Plans call for the location to also feature quite a bit of live music, including jazz, blues and Dixieland performers.
Lawrence loses once popular event to Topeka; questions about wind energy in Douglas County; Lawrence bakery wins top ranking in state
I’ll take a break from hand-sewing my Sluggerrr costume for tonight’s pivotal Game 6 Royals/Blue Jays match up to empty my notebook. Here are a few tidbits to close out the week:
• Lawrence, if you want to get your green on, you had better plan a trip to Topeka this weekend. That’s right, the Capital City — at least this weekend — is more of an environmental bastion than Lawrence.
Topeka is hosting the Mother Earth News Fair on Saturday and Sunday at the Topeka Expocentre. The fair is a gathering of experts and vendors on how to live environmentally sensitive and sustainable lives. It attracts about 10,000 people.
Perhaps some of this rings a bell to you because Lawrence played host to the fair two years ago. The event was hosted in downtown’s Watson Park, and people raved about how Lawrence was the perfect place to host an environmental celebration. (I can still envision the after-party: Wheat grass shots out of bamboo cups with people passed out on a cork floor.)
The event is put on by the Topeka-based magazine Mother Earth News, which is one of the larger magazines of its type in the country. Leaders with the company said they were pleased with the turnout the event got in Lawrence in 2013. And it seemed like it was a good deal for Lawrence. Bryan Welch, the publisher and editorial director for the parent company of Mother Earth News, told city commissioners at the time that about 10,000 people attended. He estimated about 4,500 of them had never been to Lawrence before, and most of those visitors came from more than 100 miles away. That’s a good formula for hotel and tourism spending.
But Welch also told city commissioners that it likely was going to have to find a larger venue in Lawrence to host the event. Welch suggested South Park. When we last reported on it in November 2013, it appeared the city was willing to accommodate a move to South Park. Then, I kind of forgot about the whole thing. (Sorry, a wheat grass hangover causes me to drop the ball on a lot of things.) But something happened because the fair didn’t return to Lawrence in 2014 and company officials seem pretty happy in their new home in Topeka.
“Bringing it back here (to Topeka), it is so close to our offices,” said Alec Weaver, marketing and publicity coordinator for the fair. “It is kind of easier on us.”
Weaver said Lawrence didn’t do anything wrong to lose the event, but rather that it just worked out better logistically in Topeka.
So, I guess throw a bottle of wheat grass in the glove box, and away you go. The fair is set to run from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for a weekend pass are $30.
• Fans of wind energy in Douglas County also don’t have a lot to celebrate this week. As we reported earlier — and opined on in an editorial today — Douglas County commissioners have again extended a moratorium on wind development in the county. The moratorium dates back to December 2013, when some county residents became concerned that a large wind energy company — NextEra Energy Resources — wanted to install some meteorological towers in southwest Douglas County to monitor wind patterns.
The commissioners allowed the monitoring stations, but said they needed some time to get regulations on the books before allowing companies to propose actual wind farms in the county. Everyone kind of shrugged their shoulders because it was understood that NextEra was probably more than a year away from deciding whether it made sense to do a wind farm in Douglas County. Then, I kind of forgot about it. (The bamboo cup was really big.)
But now, we are going on two years for developing these regulations. The approval by county commissioners on Wednesday extends the moratorium until July 2016. Our editorial today opines about how that seems to be excessive, so I won’t pile on in that regard. I’m sure there are a lot of issues to think through when developing regulations for wind energy farms. Having them next to residential structures can be challenging.
What I’m more interested in is whether there’s actual interest on the part of wind energy companies to locate in Douglas County. And if so, where? The previous talk focused on southwest Douglas County, near the Osage County line and Overbrook. We’ll try to do some checking with NextEra in the coming days to see if they are still interested in the county.
When I first heard of NextEra’s interest in 2013, I was dubious that anything would ever come of it. I long had been told that wind energy doesn’t work in this part of the state. It is a western Kansas thing. But that seems to be changing. It hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity, but there is a wind farm developing not far from Douglas County.
An approximately 200-megawatt wind farm with 95 large turbines is under construction outside of Waverly in Coffey County. That’s less than an hour’s drive from here. (If you have ever been to Guy & Mae’s, the famous rib joint in Williamsburg, you are right next door to Waverly.) The next time you are on Interstate 35 between the Waverly and Melvern exits, look to the south and you can see some of the turbines. I’m not an expert on wind (hot air, yes; wind, no) but I grew up just a few miles from the site of the wind farm and the wind there seems a lot like the wind here.
There also once was a plan to build an approximately 200-MW wind farm near St. Joseph, Mo. That project was billed by its developers as a $400 million plan. That number seems hard to believe, but it certainly has me wondering how much value a wind farm does add to an area’s economy. We may try to look at what some of the communities out in western Kansas have experienced after allowing wind farms in their communities. It seems important to understand whether this moratorium is hampering significant economic development opportunities for Douglas County.
The St. Joseph area project, though, serves as a good reminder of how these projects can be controversial. My understanding is the project has been discontinued because there was concern the wind turbines would kill large numbers of birds near the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Wind turbines aren’t universally loved by environmentalists.
I think this issue does have the potential to be an interesting one to watch in Douglas County. Lawrence and Douglas County really do have a chance to become a green energy capital for the region. We already have a hydroelectric power company, we have at least two very active solar power companies, we have a handful of research-based companies, and importantly, we have KU researchers who are making progress on items such as biofuels and other renewable energy sources. This moratorium isn’t likely to cancel out any of that, but if not handled correctly, it is the type of thing that can give a community an unfavorable reputation in the industry.
• Speaking of reputations, there is a particular bakery in town that has a reputation of busting my elastic waistbands. It also has won some national kudos as well. Munchers Bakery at the Hillcrest Shopping Center at Ninth and Iowa streets, has been named the best bakery in Kansas in article published on MSN’s food and drink website.
The survey used results gathered by Foursquare, the city guide app that lets users save and highlight their favorite locations. Munchers ended up being the Kansas bakery that had the best Foursquare rating. The MSN article highlighted Munchers’ doughnuts, which the article said are both “cheap and fresh.”
Battle for control brewing in East Lawrence Neighborhood Association; look at renderings for proposed Ninth Street project
Get ready for a showdown, East Lawrence style. No, in this case, that doesn’t mean dueling muralists, drag races with Art Tougeau cars, or any of the other funky features that make East Lawrence such a hip place. Instead, we’re talking about an old-fashioned political showdown.
Word is circulating around the neighborhood and on social media sites that the Nov. 2 meeting of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association is going to feature a hotly-contested election for seats on the association’s board of directors. The big issue in the race is expected to be how candidates feel about the proposed plans to convert a portion of East Ninth Street into an arts corridor with a redesigned street that will accommodate more gathering places, more pedestrian and bicycle pathways, and other such features.
A Facebook group called Community and Culture on East Ninth Street announced on its page earlier this week that 13 new people will be running for the board of directors, and all of them support the East Ninth Street project.
“Clearly, residents are ready for a change,” the post states.
If you are confused, don’t feel bad. Somehow the East Ninth Street project has turned into a bit of a soap opera. It is odd because on its surface it looked like a project that would garner lots of support in East Lawrence because it involves art and a philosophy that reduces the importance of automobiles and increases the importance of pedestrian and bicycle activity. Those have all been items that traditionally have been high priorities for much of East Lawrence.
But there have been concerns expressed by some East Lawrence residents that the project creates too much potential for the area to become a linear entertainment district that links downtown and the East Lawrence Warehouse Arts District. There’s been concern about gentrification and property values too. Several of the people who have been most vocal in voicing those concerns are members of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association’s board of directors.
That has led some East Lawrence residents who support the project to say that the community is getting a wrong picture of how East Lawrence feels about the project. They say that there are lots of people in the neighborhood who support the project but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the East Lawrence board. It appears some board members have taken offense at that, saying that raising concerns doesn’t equate to opposition.
At some point, I think Bill Clinton arrives on the scene and starts questioning what the definition of “is” is. I don’t know. I may be wrong about that. But I think I’m correct in saying that it will be lively meeting on Nov. 2. As for how it will turn out, I don’t know. It will all depend on who shows up to vote.
Regardless, East Lawrence will elect whomever it elects. I’m pointing it out to all of you because the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association is a frequent participant in City Hall issues. East Lawrence is definitely one of the more politically active neighborhood associations in the city. A new board may have a new philosophy.
Whether it will really change much at City Hall, though, is debatable. Neighborhood associations have some power, but only if they are filled with a bunch of go-getters who know how to mobilize voters. Neighborhood associations — although they don’t officially do campaign work — are most powerful around election seasons. Neighborhood association leaders can help candidates win votes in their neighborhoods. But you don’t have to be on a board to mobilize people or to come out to City Commission meetings and speak out.
Look at what happened with the Oread Neighborhood Association. A couple of years ago, there were wholesale changes on that board. Landlords and tenants felt they were being underrepresented, and since landlords and tenants are the largest groups of people in Oread, they had plenty of votes to elect their own slate of candidates.
But several members of the long-term board didn’t stop being political forces once they were voted off the board. Instead, they formed a new association with a membership limited to “owner-occupants” of the Oread neighborhood. Now, when a contentious Oread issue comes before the commission, we all get the benefit of having two associations speak about it — the Oread Neighborhood Association and the Oread Residents Association.
It is almost like the division that existed in the neighborhood prior to the vote didn’t simply go away by changing the names on a board of directors sheet.
We’ll see how it all works out in East Lawrence. One issue that is significantly impacted by the vote is the association’s ability to apply for Community Development Block Grant money awarded by the city. The city recognizes only one official neighborhood association for an area. That association is the one that can apply for annual allocation of CDBG funds. So, that will be an issue to keep an eye on.
We don’t normally cover East Lawrence Neighborhood Association meetings, but we may go to this one. It is set for 7 p.m. on Nov. 2 in the library of New York Elementary School. You have to be a member of the association to vote, and presumably you have to live within the neighborhood to be a voting member.
No word on whether they’ll require voter ID at the polls. Whoops, sorry about that. That’s a different debate.
In other news and notes from around town:
• We had coverage earlier this week about the concept plan for the East Ninth Street project. Well, here’s some bonus coverage. I had a chance to go through the plan a bit, and thought it would be fun to share some images from the document. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. And in Lawrence, if you can figure out how to cut a thousand words out of a debate, you ought to do it. (I jest. Debate in Lawrence has kept me employed for a long time.)
Here’s one rendering that gives you an idea of just how much narrower the street would become, and how much more room would be devoted to bicycle and pedestrian uses. Sidewalks on each side of the street would be more than 20 feet wide — although not all of the area would be paved. Some would be greenspace. In total, there would be 31 feet of pavement devoted to vehicles — two 10 foot lanes and an 11-foot center turn lane. There would be about 49 feet devoted to bicycles and pedestrians. If approved, this street will be the most prominent example yet of Lawrence’s new philosophy on roads.
The city has started to implement that philosophy on the new 31st Street east of Haskell. It has narrower lanes, and wider sidewalks and multipurpose paths. The city also has been contemplating a design for Kasold that also seeks to implement some of the “road diet” ideas. It has met with some opposition. It will be interesting to see if this project is viewed differently. One difference is that with Kasold, the city is talking about an actual reduction in lanes. On Ninth Street, the number of lanes wouldn’t be reduced but rather the lanes would be narrowed. It may not reduce the capacity of the road much, but rather give the street a different feel and perhaps encourage slower speeds.
Here’s a rendering that shows how it may look in real life. Notice the area to the left with tables and chairs. That’s public property. Designers are referring to the area as a patio for the street.
Here’s one more. We ran it earlier in the week, but in case you missed it, this rendering shows how the area may look around the old Turnhalle building, which is just east of downtown. Notice the use of pavers on the road rather than traditional concrete or asphalt.
City hired consultants are expected to keep working on the design concept, with a goal of having a more definitive plan in February.
Another new retailer slated for 27th and Iowa intersection; seminar to help manufacturing start-up companies
I know I spend a lot of time figuring out what I’m going to wear to a KU sporting event. I have to figure out whether I’m more likely to drip nacho cheese sauce or ketchup on my chest, and then I have to color-coordinate appropriately. But my understanding is that females go through a bit different process. Now, there’s a new south Iowa Street store betting that KU women are looking for something different when it comes to game day apparel.
Sweet Tea and Caviar Boutique is set to open on Saturday in the shopping center on the northwest corner of 27th and Iowa streets. Owner Leslie Stauffer said her experience has been that women in other college markets have access to trendier game day clothing than what KU women have here.
“I grew up in southern Oklahoma, and game day dresses are really big down there,” Stauffer said. “There are tons of stores there that have really unique clothing for women. But when I go here, stores really just had the T-shirts. I didn’t find as many of the trendy items.”
Looking around at the store’s website, it looks like items will include a variety of KU dresses — long sleeve, short sleeve, with pockets, without pockets, tie neck, etc., etc., etc.. (Etc, of course, is Latin for an “extra hour of shopping.”) There are T-shirts too, including one brand that carries the tag line “Love me like you love football.” (OK, but we’re going to need more chips and nacho cheese sauce.) The store even has accessories like crocheted headbands, Mason jar beverage cups and a lot of jewelry.
The store also carries some gear from other schools, predominately Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The store, however, carries many items that aren’t branded collegiate merchandise but rather are just fashionable clothing that feature color schemes that women may like to wear to game day or other events.
The boutique also carries items that go beyond the game day theme. The store has a line of baby clothing and accessories, Among the baby lines carried is one called “bunch o’ bloomers” and “butterfly bloomers for fluttering bums.” The lines feature either big flowers or big butterflies strategically placed on the bottoms of baby pull-ups. (For heaven’s sake, I’m going to have to intentionally spill nacho cheese sauce on my shirt just to feel manly again after writing this article.)
“We try to carry a lot of cute stuff that you just won’t find at big box stores,” said Stauffer, who also owns the Something Blue Salon that is next door to the boutique.
The boutique, though, is located in the midst of Lawrence’s big box retailers. It is just across the street from the newly redeveloped shopping center that includes Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ulta, Chick-fil-A and coming soon The Boot Barn. In case you are confused about where the store is located, it is just west of the Hancock Fabrics store, and is near where the Douglas County Treasurer’s satellite office was located. (Don’t worry, the Treasurer’s office didn’t go out of business. As we previously have reported, it opened a satellite office in the retail building in front of Home Depot.)
The intersection of 27th and Iowa streets is becoming a significant retail and dining destination. (You may recall that Buffalo Wild Wings has located at the corner.) There certainly continues to be talk of the area around 25th and Iowa streets redeveloping with major retailers as well. Plus, as we’ve previously reported, the Tower Plaza shopping center already has filed plans to revamp itself, including modifications that will allow a Popeye’s chicken to locate near the intersection.
I think it will be a busy year for South Iowa Street. It is good to see that locally owned businesses are working to be a part of the corridor as well.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe your dream for a local business is more along the lines of manufacturing. (Non-staining nacho cheese sauce, perhaps.) If so, the city, Kansas University and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce are teaming up to host a seminar on Friday that talks about starting a local manufacturing company.
Leaders with three Lawrence-based businesses that are involved with manufacturing in one form or another will provide insight and answer questions about the process. Steve Bradt of Free State Brewing Company, Ben Farmer of Alchemy Coffee & Bake House and Brad Russell of Hilary’s Eat Well all will be part of the event.
The event — part of the community’s Biz Fuel initiative, which aims to spur new start-up firms in Lawrence — is set for 11 a.m Friday at the Peaslee Tech training center, 2920 Haskell Ave.
There is no charge to attend the event, but people are asked to pre-register at this website.
Deal in the works for KC firm to buy homegrown, Lawrence manufacturer; Ulta Beauty open on south Iowa
In one way, Lawrence is kind of a hot spot in the extreme sports world of off-road racing, and I’m not even talking about the white-knuckle trek my wife’s Ford Taurus takes when there is a sale on South Iowa Street. No, Lawrence is home to HiPer Technologies, a homegrown manufacturing firm that has become a leader in making high-performance racing wheels for the ATV market. Well, there’s big news on the horizon for HiPer, and also questions about whether its future will remain in Lawrence.
HiPer is close to finalizing a deal to be purchased by Kansas City-based Weld Wheels, which is generally regarded as the top manufacturer of racing wheels in America. News of the deal started to circulated around town, and Andy Harris, chief executive of Lawrence’s HiPer, confirmed to me that the shareholders of HiPer have approved the sale. Now, HiPer and Weld are working on finalizing the remaining details.
One detail that is unclear is whether HiPer will continue to operate its Lawrence manufacturing facility near 31st and Haskell, or whether the company’s production will move to Weld’s large facility in Kansas City.
As word started to make its way through certain circles of town, people were telling me that HiPer indeed would be moving to Kansas City. Harris, though, said that detail is still being worked out.
“Is there a possibility for that to happen? Of course,” Harris said. “But that decision hasn’t been made yet.”
Harris said a timeline for finalizing the sale to Weld hasn’t yet been determined.
HiPer has 11 employees at its Lawrence facility, which is at 2920 Haskell Ave. If that address sounds familiar to you, then you need to spend less time memorizing the phone book. But indeed, it is the same address as the Peaslee Tech vocational training center. HiPer and Peaslee Tech share space in the same building, which previously was occupied by Honeywell Avionics years ago. HiPer is a tenant of the building, and its lease payments go to help support the operations of Peaslee Tech. No word yet on how a move may impact that situation. UPDATE: I chatted with Hugh Carter of the Lawrence chamber of commerce, and he said the chamber has been aware of the pending sale. He said both parties have been in discussions about how Peaslee Tech will be made financially whole as part of any move by the HiPer, if it comes to that. Carter said if the HiPer space becomes vacant, he thinks there are some good possibilities to lease it to businesses that want to be near the new Peaslee Tech and the school district's College & Career Center that has developed on the site.
I’m not exactly sure what the fortunes of HiPer have been in recent years, but it at one point was a technology company that generated a lot of excitement in Lawrence. Lawrence native Tom Darnell Jr. was a founder of the company because he worked on developing this new carbon fiber product with DuPont in the early 2000s. I thought carbon fiber was just a new flavor for my Shredded Wheat, but I soon learned it actually is a material that is more resistant to impact than aluminum but also lighter than aluminum. The unique profile of being both lightweight and strong has caught the attention of racers and other high performance wheel users.
“The majority of top (ATV) drivers use our wheels,” Harris said.
I think the company also has been looking for other products that can be made using the carbon fiber material, and some of the intellectual property is probably part of the proposed deal with Weld.
But thus far, HiPer has mainly been able to focus only on the ATV and utility terrain vehicle market. Weld, on the other hand, is in a wide range of wheel markets.
“We are definitely trying to expand our product line, and Weld is a good strategic partner to do that,” Harris said.
I’ll keep you updated on how the deal progresses.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Some people are excited about Menards opening — its first official day is today — while others are excited about Ulta Beauty opening on south Iowa Street. (And I suppose there are many excited about both because I know a little rouge can be the perfect complement to a tool belt.) Well, Ulta has opened its new Lawrence location at 27th and Iowa streets. The store opened over the weekend, and is going through its soft opening currently.
Its grand opening is scheduled for this weekend. I’ve had difficulty catching up with Ulta officials to get the details, but keep an eye out at the location. The store, in case you have forgotten, is next to Dick's Sporting Goods at the southwest corner of 27th and Iowa streets.
Ulta lists itself as the largest beauty retailer in the country, and offers salon services in addition to cosmetics, fragrance, skin and hair care products.
UPDATE: The store will host grand opening festivities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m. each day. The store will provide a free gift valued at $5 to $100 for the first 100 people on each day of the grand opening. The store also will be giving away to select winners free hair and skin services at the store's full-service salon.
With Ulta open, three of the four major pieces of that retail development are now up and running. (Chick-fil-A is the third piece.) Now we’re waiting on an opening date for Boot Barn, which sells boots, jeans and other items. It is opening next door to Dick's Sporting Goods as well. I’ll let you know if I hear an opening date for that business.
Lawrence company begins manufacturing of specialty bicycles; Douglas County ranks as state’s best retirement community
The sport of bike polo always has confused me and frustrated my horse. (I don’t know if he’s madder about where I put the handlebars or how I lube the chain.) But the sport is becoming a big deal for a Lawrence-based company.
Lawrence-based Fixcraft has begun manufacturing a new bicycle that is specifically designed for bike polo players. Fixcraft — which is a division of Lawrence’s Blue Collar Press — went to market earlier this month with the bike, which it has branded Ad Astra.
What’s different about a bike polo bicycle? Well, it has some special features, like a system that allows both the front and back brakes to be operated with one hand — so the other hand can hold a mallet — and a shorter wheelbase that allows for quicker turns. But the main characteristic is just a heavy-duty design.
“It is a super-strong, overbuilt bike for anyone,” said Sean Ingram, president of Blue Collar. “It is just that bike polo people are notorious for breaking everything. A lot of folks get an old 10-speed and then rip it into pieces. We wanted to provide a bike that will last.”
Ingram said the design work for the Ad Astra occurred both in Lawrence and St. Louis, the headquarters for Tree Bicycle Company, whose founder has been a partner on the project. Sales and shipping operations, however, are based entirely in Lawrence, out of the company’s warehouse and headquarters in the 2200 block of Delaware Street.
Thus far, Ingram said he’s pleased with the early results of the effort. The bike sells for $499 online, and the company also has worked a deal to have it sold in 15 dealer locations across the United States, plus through a network in Germany.
The bicycle is the biggest bike polo venture for Fixcraft, but not the first. The company has been manufacturing a host of apparel and bike polo gear for quite some time. It produces uniforms, mallets, grips, and even is a partner in creating the official ball for the sport.
“We used to say we made everything but the bike, but now we do that too,” Ingram said.
Ingram got into the business after he started playing bike polo about six years ago. If you have never seen the sport, Journal-World photographer and writer Nick Krug did a recent article on it.
Ingram is not just having great fun with the sport, but thinks there’s a chance to grow it into a successful venture. In January, he organized a professional bike polo match in the Expo Center in Topeka. He’s in negotiations with a sports network to broadcast the match.
The bike polo venture has been an interesting evolution for Blue Collar, which primarily has been known as a T-shirt company. But the company has developed a niche as a supplier of a variety of goods for multiple Internet-based retailers. Now, Ingram thinks bike polo has a chance to be a significant part of the company too, once the sport develops a bit bigger following.
“For us, the future is to grow the sport, and we think Lawrence will become the home base of professional bike polo,” Ingram said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It has been my experience that nothing attract retirees in greater numbers than an activity that allows you to legally wield a mallet. Perhaps that is why Lawrence and Douglas County have fared so well in a new ranking of retirement communities.
Douglas County has been named the top retirement community in Kansas, according to a new study published on MSN.com and conducted by its partner FindTheHome.com. The real estate website looked at counties across the country, and then picked the best retirement community in each state based off of factors such as quality of healthcare, housing, entertainment options and other factors. Of the 50 top communities chosen, Douglas County ended up having the 11th best score.
Douglas County scored really well in the quality of healthcare category. It received a score of 92 out of 100, which helped move it up in the rankings. Here’s a look at Douglas County’s full score sheet, with 100 being the top score in each category:
— Care Score (quality of local hospitals, nursing homes and care centers): 92
— Housing Score (median sale prices, percentage of properties with rent under $1,500 per month): 82.5
— Convenience Score (walkability of the community and number of grocery stores and restaurants per capita): 86.7
— Entertainment Score (amount of universities, recreational facilities, libraries and parks per capita): 64.6
— Community Score (percent of the population over age 65 with college degrees): 84
I though you might be interested in seeing how some of our neighbors compare. Here’s a look at the top destinations in our border states. Note, I’m identifying them by the largest city in the county that was ranked because unless you are a geography nerd, you don’t know your counties:
— No. 39 Steamboat Springs, Colo. Care index: 40.5; Housing 85.1; Convenience: 88.6; Entertainment 76; Community 83.7
— No. 36 Stillwater, Okla.: Care index 82.6; Housing 82.8; Convenience 86.9; Entertainment 55.2; Community 81.9
— No. 33 Nebraska City, Neb.: Care index 88.1; Housing 80.4; Convenience 85.1; Entertainment 64.6; Community 81.2
— No. 23 Columbia, Mo.: Care index 91.7; Housing 84.8; Convenience 88.4; Entertainment 50.6; Community 83.7.
You’ll notice with Lawrence and Columbia, the two college towns were pretty close in every category except entertainment. Lawrence’s higher score in that category pushed Lawrence above Columbia in the rankings.
Poor Columbia. And soon basketball season will start, and there really will be a dearth of entertainment.
Eastern Lawrence building seeks to redevelop as medical office center; figuring out the latest downtown bicycle parking plan
Residents in eastern Lawrence may soon have better access to some health care providers. A project is in the works to convert an office building near 23rd and Harper streets into a medical office building.
DaVita Dialysis has signed a deal to locate in a portion of the vacant office building at 1918 E. 23rd St., which previously housed the offices of SurePoint, an online pharmacy company that is based in Lawrence.
DaVita will provide a full range of dialysis services for area patients, said Susie Mercer, a facility administrator for the company’s Lawrence operations. DaVita already operates a dialysis center at 330 Arkansas St. near Lawrence Memorial Hospital. But she said patient volume had grown to the point that a second facility was needed.
“We’re kind of busting at the seams right now,” Mercer said. “This will give us more capacity, and we certainly have patients on the east side of town that will appreciate a more convenient location.”
Dialysis — which is a treatment used for people suffering from a variety of kidney diseases or conditions — often is required to be performed three times per week, Mercer said. Growth in the number of people requiring dialysis has occurred, in part, because treatments are better and people are living longer.
“We have people in their late 80s doing dialysis now,” Mercer said. “When I started here 15 years ago, we had 35 patients. Now we have close to 60.”
DaVita, however is taking only 6,000 square feet of the approximately 10,000 square foot building. Ken Hayes, a commercial real estate agent with Lawrence’s Hedges Realty Executives, said the building is seeking another medical user or two for the remaining space. Hayes said he thinks there is potential for certain types of medical providers to tap into the east-side market of town.
Medical office development has been kind of a hot segment of Lawrence’s commercial real estate industry, but most of the activity of late has been in the northwest section of town. Two urgent care medical centers have projects along West Sixth Street — one is open near Sixth and Kasold and the other is slated for Sixth and Folks Road. A Topeka-based ear, nose and throat practice has opened in a new office building at Sixth and Folks Road, a new doctor’s office has opened near the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa and dentist offices also have been locating along the West Sixth Street portion.
We’ll see whether a similar trend gets started in eastern Lawrence.
As for DaVita, construction work has begun to remodel the office building. Mercer said the company hopes to occupy the building sometime in December. And in case you are worried about what happened to SurePoint, which has been a growing business for Lawrence, remember that we previously reported that it has moved its offices to a building just behind Kohl’s in south Lawrence.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Hayes also has another interesting eastern Lawrence property that he’s involved with. Hayes has the listing for the shopping center at 19th and Haskell streets. I have no major updates to pass along on that, but Hayes confirmed he’s not just trying to lease a few storefront spaces in the location. (Although he is doing that too.) He’s said the owners of the property are interested in a complete sale or total redevelopment of the property.
Hayes said some out-of-town buyers have expressed some interest in the property. Hayes said the property has an oversized parking lot, which would allow for the development of some out-parcels that could attract new businesses to the area.
“Redevelopment really could add value to the property, and really could add value to the entire area,” he said.
It may be an area to keep an eye on in the future.
• I remember the day when a proposal to take away downtown parking spaces on busy Massachusetts Street would require me to pack a tent, a case of beanie weenies, a portable generator for the chocolate fountain and all the other necessary survival gear. I would need it in order to endure the long City Commission meeting that would surely result from the proposal.
But perhaps the world has changed because city commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will begin the process of removing two prime parking spots near Massachusetts Street, and they’re scheduled to do so with a simple vote on their consent agenda.
As we previously have reported, the idea involves trying to create more parking spaces for bicycles in downtown Lawrence. A plan endorsed by the Lawrence-Douglas County Bicycle Advisory Committee calls for one vehicular parking space near Ninth and Massachusetts streets to be removed and one near Eighth and Massachusetts streets to be removed, among other things. The two spaces would be replaced with bike corrals that would each accommodate 10 bikes.
The idea is catching on in other places, and it may do so here as well. Commissioners aren’t slated to give final approval to the idea on Tuesday, but rather they are being asked to approve an application for an approximately $9,000 grant to fund the project.
It will be interesting to watch how the issue unfolds. You don’t have to spend much time reading the letters to the editor of the LJWorld to understand that there is some tension brewing between some folks who love their automobiles and some who desire a much more pedestrian/bicycle oriented future. Much of the tension has focused on the proposal to redesign a portion of Kasold Drive, but the tensions may not be limited to just that issue.
How you view this bike parking issue may boil down to whether you believe there is a shortage of bike parking in downtown Lawrence — or in particular on Massachusetts Street — or whether you think this effort is more about raising the visibility of bicycling as a form transportation in Lawrence.
City staff members that have proposed the idea have described it as a little bit of both. In a memo to commissioners, the city’s planning staff says there are 306 bicycle parking spaces in downtown Lawrence, compared to 4,083 spaces for vehicles. The memo notes that new developments in other areas of town would be required to have a greater percentage of parking spaces than what is currently provided in downtown.
But one thing to keep in mind is that the city’s count of bicycle parking spaces does not include the several hundred parking meter poles that line Massachusetts Street and various side streets. It is legal to lock your bike to those poles (as long as it is not a handicapped spot), and certainly many bicyclists do park their bikes on those poles. If those poles were included in the city’s analysis, the downtown bike parking numbers would look different.
It should be noted though that the parking meter poles aren’t perfect bike parking locations. Many of the poles don’t allow bicyclists to use a U-lock to lock their bike to the poles. Instead, they have to use a cable lock to secure their bikes. The cable locks are more susceptible to somebody carrying around a pair of bolt cutters, cutting the cable and making off with your bike. U-locks, I’m told, are preferred by some bikers. Of course, not all vehicle parking spaces are perfect either. As my insurance agent will tell you, a parallel parking space involves many imperfections for a hick with an F-150.
Thus far, there have been no discussions at City Hall about making it illegal for bicyclists to use the parking meter poles as parking spaces. In fact, the city has made accommodations to make some of the poles more accessible. You can add a special loop onto the poles to make them accessible for U-locks. Whether adding such loops to all parking meter poles would be more expensive than the proposed $9,000 plan, I don’t know. I have heard from some bikers that would be upset if the city did anything to make it illegal to park their bikes at the parking meter poles. It makes for convenient parking.
If you believe that the parking meter poles are legitimate bike parking spaces — and I realize perhaps some folks don’t — then it is hard to argue there is a shortage of parking spaces for bicyclists on Massachusetts Street, at least not a parking shortage comparable to what vehicles face. I’ve seen many occasions when every vehicle space on Massachusetts Street has been occupied. I’ve never seen every parking meter pole on Mass. Street occupied by a bike.
But as I mentioned earlier, staff members also have noted this plan is at least partially about increasing the visibility of bicycling in Lawrence. In the memo, the staff notes that replacing some vehicle parking spaces with bike corrals will help “advertise bike friendliness and bring legitimacy and visibility to bicycling for transportation.”
Let me be clear: I’m not saying that is inappropriate. It may be a really good goal, and it may be a really good use of public policy to promote that goal. But, it seems to me that if that is what we are doing here, then people need to understand that is what we are doing. I suspect there are some people who don’t want to reduce downtown parking spaces unless there is an actual shortage of bicycle parking spaces.
As I said, it will be interesting to watch not only what happens with this plan, but what proposals come forward in the future. The staff memo indicates this project is a pilot project that could lead to other downtown bike parking proposals in the future.
That noise you hear is me trying to whistle the theme music that played before the big showdown scene in High Noon. That’s right, get ready for the showdown that has been eagerly awaited by everyone with an empty toolbox, a broken ladder, and plans of grandeur to build a massive Royals monument in the living room. Lawrence’s Menards store — right next to the Home Depot at 31st and Iowa streets — will open on Tuesday.
We began reporting earlier this month that sources and employees at the store told us the mega retailer would open on Tuesday or Wednesday, but now Menards has made it official with a news release saying that Tuesday is the day.
In its release, the company said the new store at 1470 W. 31st St. will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
“We have noticed there is much excitement in the air with the anticipated store opening,” Rob Jones, general manager for the Lawrence Menards, said in a press release. “Our team has been working really hard, and we’re excited to show everyone what we’ve been working on starting Tuesday.”
For those of you not familiar with a Menards, it is a major home improvement retailer, selling a full line of building materials, but it also carries name brand appliances, pet products, lawn and garden supplies, and the store even carries what it calls “convenience groceries.” (I remember seeing one of those approximately 5 gallon jugs of cheese puffs at a Menards store. Combine that with one of those beverage can holders that you wear around your head with an easy-to-access straw, and that is both convenience and luxury defined.)
The opening of the store is the latest game changer for the south Iowa Street retail corridor — which has seen Dick’s Sporting Goods open at 27th and Iowa and a host of other smaller redevelopments up and down the corridor. Menards is the biggest single store — by square footage — to open in Lawrence in years. When you look at the size of Menards you have to look at what is both inside and outside. Unlike Home Depot, Menards has an outdoor lumber yard. That combination makes Menards more than twice as large as the Home Depot store, which was built to smaller-than-normal standards after Home Depot in the early 2000s failed to win approval from the City Commission for a full-sized store.
As I’ve said before, it will be interesting to see if Home Depot tries to expand its Lawrence store. It will be even more interesting to see if this current City Commission would approve an expansion. The majority of the commission has changed since the Menards plans were approved by City Hall in 2013.
We’ll have to wait and see on all of that. A more immediate issue to watch is whether more development begins to occur around the Menards site. Everybody has been focused on the big Menards store, but the development plans for the project allow for several other lots surrounding the Menards to be developed with retail uses. The last plans I saw showed six lots that could accommodate everything from typical chain restaurants to multi-tenant buildings similar to what exists in front of Best Buy and Home Depot. No specific plans have been filed for buildings yet, and it is a little hard to estimate how large of a store the sites could accommodate because there are some floodplain issues in play. But I’ve previously had some people familiar with development tell me that perhaps a 20,000 square foot building could be accommodated, which could bring several national retailers into play.
As for whether the opening of Menards will create high-pitched competition in the home improvement sector, we’ll have to wait and see on that too. Menards and Home Depot are obviously used to competing against each other in a lot of markets. I’m sure those two retailers know what they need to do to compete. It will be interesting to watch how the competition impacts other, smaller businesses that are in that segment. I thinking about everything from McCray Lumber on Sixth Street to the Ace Hardware stores in town. I even heard from some people associated with the wholesale building, plumbing and electrical supply businesses in town. Menards is expected to compete for some of that wholesale business too. We’ll see how that all shakes out.
Lawrence technology startup adds 15 employees, wins venture capital funding; a downtown parking question
A Lawrence start-up company that’s seeking to reduce the “creepiness” factor of Internet advertising has added 15 employees since January, and has landed another successful round of venture capital funding.
Bixy is a company we’ve told you about before. In January, we reported Lawrence resident Kyle Johnson had founded the company and had begun testing of a new platform that allows Internet advertisers to reach customers without the traditional targeting practices.
You are familiar with those targeting practices. Thanks to Google and others, advertisers have all types of insights into your web searching history, and then make inferences about what type of products you may be interested in purchasing.
Take, for example, the ads I was receiving during yesterday’s Royals game. Early in the game, when the Royals were ahead, I got ads for cheap champagne. Late in the game, when the Royals were behind, I got ads for cheap bourbon. In between, I got ads for cheap hot dogs. (That was mainly my fault. I was hungry and, of course, cheap.) By the end of the game, Google had become worn out by the back and forth, and reverted to its fallback for me: cheap Rogaine, which promises to grow hair but can’t guarantee the location.
Some people think such targeting is creepy (not to mention the places hair will grow), and Johnson’s company is trying to build a business around avoiding such ad targeting. The Bixy technology creates a system where people complete a form about their interests and can pick from a list of companies that they would be interested in receiving ads from. Advertisers then can buy access to that information and use it to deliver ads to those consumers. So, instead of having to infer what a person is interested in, consumers just tell advertisers what they’re interested in. Consumers can earn deals by voluntarily sharing their preferences.
When I chatted with Johnson in January, the company had about 10 employees and was seeking $750,000 in venture capital. Today, the company has 25 employees — a mix of full and part-time positions — has taken new office space in East Lawrence’s Cider Gallery, and has landed a significant portion of the $750,000 in funding, Johnson said.
“We have really been able to ramp up,” said Johnson, who said he couldn’t disclose the venture capital details, but described the amount raised as a “good six-figure amount.”
Johnson said the venture capital round included a number of local investors, but also some Silicon Valley money. Johnson, though, said the company is committed to remaining in Lawrence.
“We kind of have a chip on our shoulder about proving that people don’t have to move to Silicon Valley to make game-changing companies,” Johnson said. “Our cost structure here is a lot better than it would be if we moved to Silicon Valley.”
Johnson said the company has been using a variety of KU students to staff the company and has been converting some from part-time to full-time positions as they graduate. He said the company likely will get to 35 employees soon.
The company currently is doing its test marketing in Lawrence and Kansas City, but it has Dallas and Chicago on its near-term expansion list. The company also is developing a desktop system to go with its current technology, which focuses on advertising delivered to smartphones and other mobile devices.
The company also is in discussions with a national, publicly traded firm that Johnson said he couldn’t yet disclose.
“They’re a big company with millions of monthly customers, and that can help us reach a national audience faster,” Johnson said.
So, still early in the game for this company, but it is one of several in the Lawrence startup scene worth keeping an eye on.
In other news and notes from around town:
• During the euphoria of the Royals win, I decided to take a trip back in time by searching for George Brett’s famed 1980 postseason home run against the Yankees. Trust me, you don’t want to know what type of ads you get when you Google something called a Goose Gossage.
But that’s not the only time traveling I’ve been doing lately. I’ve had some readers pose a downtown parking question that has taken me back to 1997.
Some readers have noticed that the parking lot at the former Borders bookstore location at Seventh and New Hampshire streets has been posted as private parking. A few folks, though, remember that the city in 1997 helped pay for that parking lot when Borders was being constructed. The city for its $100,000 in funding got 67 public spaces in the lot as part of its contribution to the project. So, that led to the question of where are those public parking spaces?
The answer: They moved, but they’re still nearby. What some readers have forgotten is that in 2004 the owners of the Borders property came to the city and sought a modification of the parking arrangement. As the Hobbs-Taylor Lofts building was being constructed, the agreement was modified that all 67 public parking spaces would be located on the Hobbs-Taylor property instead of the Borders property. Indeed, there are public parking spaces behind the Hobbs-Taylor loft building and along the north edge of the building. I’m not sure I accurately counted every single space, but there are more than 60 of them, with a mix of metered spaces and long term spaces that require a city parking permit.
So, your days of parking in the Borders parking lot for free really may be numbered. There’s no loophole there that is going allow you to argue to the traffic court that this is really a public lot.
Now, I’ve got to get back to arguing with Google. That’s definitely not the Goose I was talking about.
There’s a new report out that says women in Kansas are getting a raw deal. I know I have heard a sentiment similar to that uttered in my house — sometimes with a bullhorn, which really is a rude thing to do to a fellow who is doing some closed-eye-thinking on the couch. But now there is a study based on a variety of statistical data that ranks Kansas as the 7th Worst State for Women in all of America.
The study is by the financial website 24/7 Wall Street, and, to be honest, I’m not sure the study is a great one. It attempts to tackle a pretty big topic: the overall environment for women, ranging from financial to health care to even the political environment.
So, I think there is plenty of reason to debate whether Kansas is the 7th Worst State in the country for women. Maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t. The study didn’t really convince me.
But some of the data the study used to describe Kansas did catch my attention. The study found — by compiling Census data — that Kansas has the 14th lowest earnings average for female workers when compared with male workers. Women, on average, earn only 77 percent of what men earn. (If you were wondering what that loud noise was, that is what it sounds like when someone in my house yells “Duh” through a bullhorn.)
In other words, that statistic isn’t shocking to some in the population, but it is interesting to note that we do rank nearly in the bottom quarter of the country. A more interesting number, though, is the percentage of management jobs held by women. The study found Kansas has the sixth lowest rate of management jobs held by women. The national average is about 40 percent, while in Kansas it is just over 35 percent.
What’s more, the report says a typical male manager in Kansas earns a median salary of $71,167 per year. The median annual income for a female manager in a similar position is $49,875, according to data the report gathered from the Census Bureau.
I thought it would be interesting to dive a little deeper and look at the pay equity issue at a city level. So, I looked at data from the Census Bureau’s five-year American Community Survey, which provides an estimate for median earnings of full-time, year-round workers by gender for a variety of cities. Here’s what I found:
— Lawrence: $36,865 for women; $45,359 for men. 81 percent of male earnings
— Topeka: $34,014 for women; $41,641 for men. About 82 percent of male earnings
— Olathe: $43,265 for women; $60,410 for men. About 72 percent of male earnings
— Overland Park: $45,426 for women; $67,205 for men. About 68 percent of male earnings
— Wichita: $33,908 for women; $45,288 for men. About 75 percent of male earnings
— Manhattan: $34,711 for women; $42,078 for men. 82 percent of male earnings
— Salina: $30,706 for women; $38,251 for men. 80 percent of male earnings
— Columbia, Mo.: $37,793 for women; $44,731 for men. 84 percent of male earnings
— Boulder, Colo.: $46,965 for women; $62,682 for men. About 75 percent of male earnings
All these numbers can be a bit tricky. You have to factor in that women and men aren’t drawn to the same professions in equal numbers. For instance, there may be more women interested in working in the field of social work than men. That’s a notoriously low-paying industry for both men and women, but if women make up a greater percentage of the social service workforce, it will drag down the overall average for female earnings more than it will for the male average.
The numbers, though, are interesting. The fact that Kansas ranks low compared with other states is worth more thought. It also is interesting to see how larger economies — Olathe, Overland Park, Wichita and Boulder — all have trouble maintaining equity rates. I’m not sure what that means. If I can just get some uninterrupted time to recline on my thinking couch, though, I'll get back to you on that.
Health club buys west Lawrence tennis center; plans advance for tennis expansion at Rock Chalk Park; more on Menards
This is indeed the weekend when many in Lawrence will start to shift their attention from that sport played with the funny shaped ball to one played with a round ball. That’s right. It is time to turn our focus to tennis. What? What were you thinking, and why do you have Beware of the Phog written on your forehead? Maybe you have something else on your mind, but tennis is where some multimillion dollar developments are occurring.
As we reported in July, KU Athletics is working on a deal to build a new 78,000-square-foot tennis center complete with six indoor courts and six outdoor courts at Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence. At the time, KU officials said they weren’t sure what they would do with the university’s existing tennis center at 5200 Clinton Parkway in west Lawrence.
Well, it now looks like Genesis Health Clubs is going to get into the tennis business in Lawrence. The company has bought the Jayhawk Tennis Center and a vacant piece of ground next to the tennis center, according to land transfer filings at the Douglas County Courthouse. I’ve been hearing for weeks that Genesis was working on a deal to purchase the tennis center, and I’ve tried to get folks to talk to me about it. But they’ve avoided my phone calls like John McEnroe avoids pleasantries with a line judge. I’ve got a call into them now that the sale has been completed, so hopefully I’ll hear back and have more information to report.
When I originally heard of the deal, I assumed Genesis was buying the building in order to convert it into a far west Lawrence fitness center. But members at Genesis say they’ve been told the idea is to use the building as a tennis center. Who knows, maybe there also will be a fitness center component to the facility as well, and the vacant land gives the company quite a few options.
If the idea is to maintain it as a tennis center, that could get interesting. KU officials tell me their plans very much include selling public memberships to the new tennis center at Rock Chalk Park. If Genesis does so as well at Clinton Parkway, Lawrence will have two public tennis centers. As I’ve long said, there’s a reason why the inventor of tennis is buried in Lawrence. Am I confused again?
In all seriousness, I am told Lawrence does have a pretty active tennis community. The new facility at Rock Chalk Park certainly could put Lawrence in the running to host some sizable tennis events. Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at KU, said the new facility would give the university a chance to host the Big 12 Championships in Lawrence. The last time KU won the right to host the Big 12 meet, it used courts in the Plaza area of Kansas City, Marchiony said.
Marchiony said KU would make the facility available to noncollegiate tennis tournaments and events as well. The new facility could be paired with the eight existing lighted, outdoor tennis courts that are owned by the city and are adjacent to the city’s recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.
KU’s tennis center basically will just be at the other end of the parking lot from those courts. Plans call for the tennis center to be on the southern end of Rock Chalk Park, just south of KU’s soccer field.
In addition to the six indoor courts and six outdoor courts, plans call for the center to have an elevated seating area that can accommodate about 500 spectators in the indoor facility. The center also will have an expanded locker room for the KU women’s tennis team, and a special members lounge and locker room, according to Paul Werner, the Lawrence-based architect designing the project.
The new facility will be a significant upgrade over the current facility at Clinton Parkway. That facility has five indoor courts, limited spectator seating, and spectators often can’t see the play that is happening on all courts.
Marchiony said KU hopes to be able to move into the new center in time for the start of the KU women’s spring 2017 season. Marchiony said KU has struck a deal to continue playing at the Clinton Parkway facility in the interim.
As we previously reported in July, the KU tennis center at Rock Chalk Park will be built using a public-private partnership that is similar to what KU used to build its track and field, soccer and softball facilities at Rock Chalk Park. The tennis facility will be owned by an entity led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel. The Fritzel entity — Bliss Sports — also owns the track and field, soccer and softball facilities, but leases them to KU Athletics, although the Fritzel entity retains some rights to use the facilities for private uses.
The sale of the Clinton Parkway property is reflective of that partnership. KU Athletics — and its related entity Jayhawk Tennis Center LLC — did not directly sell the center to Genesis Health Clubs. Instead KU Athletics sold the property to Fritzel’s Bliss Sports. Bliss Sports later that day then sold the property to Genesis Health Clubs.
Marchiony said KU Athletics made the decision to sell the property to Bliss, and left it to Bliss to decide what it wanted to do with the property. Terms of the deal between Bliss and KU Athletics weren’t disclosed, but Marchiony said it was a fair market transaction.
As for the Rock Chalk tennis center, it already has won a positive recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. It now needs to win special use permit approval from the Lawrence City Commission. That appears to be a pretty straightforward approval. There have been no requests for tax incentives or for financial participation from the city, which would complicate the approval process at City Hall. I look for the project to be on the City Commission’s agenda in the next few weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I reported earlier this week that I thought we would get an announcement from Menards soon on the opening date for its new store near 31st and Iowa. I also told you that I had heard from some folks that Oct. 20 was a likely date. Since that report, I have heard from more employees of the store who say they definitely have been told to prepare for an Oct. 21 opening, although there may be some activity of a special nature on Oct. 20 as well. Like I said earlier, we should get an official announcement next week.
Parking questions loom for Here @ Kansas apartment project as high-tech parking company files for bankruptcy, stops work on project
When the previous Lawrence City Commission approved a controversial set of financial incentives for the $75 million Here @ Kansas apartment project near Memorial Stadium, one of the selling points was a high-tech, robotic parking garage that would be a showpiece for the project.
Well, that high-tech garage now appears to be a high-tech problem, which may leave neighbors of the apartment project worried about where everyone is going to park. The manufacturer of the parking garage system, Boomerang Systems Inc., has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In addition, it is suing one of its primary lenders, and in that lawsuit it has confirmed it has had to stop work on the parking system for the Lawrence apartment project, according to a report by the legal website Law360.
Interim City Manager Diane Stoddard told me this morning that the city is aware of the situation and is monitoring it closely. The concern, of course, is how the apartment project will handle parking for its hundreds of tenants if the parking system isn’t available. It is a big question because the project has 237 apartments, or 624 bedrooms. The project at 1101 and 1115 Indiana St. doesn’t have a surface parking lot. All the parking for the apartments was to be provided in a below-ground garage that was specifically designed for the Boomerang system.
“At this point, I know we have touched base with the developers to understand the status of things,” Stoddard said. “I don’t know that we have received a definite answer.”
Jim Heffernan, the lead representative for the project’s development group, said his group is diligently working on finding another provider for the parking garage equipment. He said the project still intends to use an automated parking garage model, but he said it won't wait for Boomerang to sort out its issues.
"We were most surprised to hear about the bankruptcy," Heffernan said. "We are in discussions with other providers."
Heffernan said the unexpected parking problem is not expected to delay the opening of the project. The project is scheduled to open for the start of the 2016-2107 school year at KU.
Stoddard said the technical issues with the parking system don’t relieve the project of meeting its parking requirements.
“The project at this point is obligated to provide that parking,” Stoddard said. “That will be something they will need to determine. If there is any request for a modification to the parking requirements, that would have to go through a process.”
Stoddard said any modification to the parking plan would have to receive City Commission approval.
The Lawrence project isn’t the only one affected by the Boomerang bankruptcy. The company also had to stop work on an automated system for a Here apartment project in Champaign, Ill. The apartment complex has since opened, and Here officials have resorted to renting space in a city-owned parking lot a few blocks away, according to an article in the News-Gazette in Champaign-Urbana. That article also reported that the Champaign project opened with unpainted walls and ceilings, exposed wiring, an unfinished gym and several uncompleted amenities.
Heffernan told me the situation in Champaign is significantly different than what exists in Lawrence. Boomerang filed for bankruptcy the day before it was scheduled to deliver the parking system to the Champaign project.
"They gave us no indication," Heffernan said of the bankruptcy filing. "We were talking with them up until the day before they filed. We were most surprised and disappointed."
Stoddard said the city has not received a request from the development group seeking to use off-site parking for the project.
“I think the ball is in their court on how to propose how they are going to meet the parking requirements,” Stoddard said. “If that is a strategy they want to employ here, they will need to go through the appropriate processes to accomplish that.”
If you remember, the project previously did propose using off-site parking to meet some of its parking needs. The development group tried to cut a deal that would allow students to use nearby Kansas University parking spaces, but the city rejected that proposal after neighbors strongly opposed it. The company also sought to reduce the size of its parking garage fairly late in the development process. Commissioners rejected that plan too, after neighbors said they were growing worried that tenants of the project would end up parking on city streets in the already congested Oread neighborhood.
If the project has to ask for an exemption from the city’s parking code in Lawrence, watch out. The project already has been a political hot potato. The previous City Commission approved, on a 3-2 vote, an 85 percent, 10-year tax rebate for the project. The incentive package created a lot of debate over whether the city should offer incentives to attract an apartment project in a town where lots of apartments are being built without incentives. The three winning candidates in April’s City Commission elections — Leslie Soden, Stuart Boley and Matthew Herbert — all expressed concerns about the incentives package during their campaigns.
There is not a single person on the commission currently who supported the incentives package. If the development group is forced to use off-site parking to meet the parking demands of the project — as is being done in Champaign — it is unclear whether the current City Commission would allow that. It also seems likely that the current commission would have a problem with giving an 85 percent tax rebate to a project that needs an exemption from the city’s parking code.
Soden said she can foresee the commission having a debate about whether the incentives are still appropriate, if the project is unable to deliver on the robotic parking system or fails to provide the number of parking spaces called for in the plan.
“Absolutely the incentives could come into play again,” Soden said.
But based on Heffernan's comments, it may be a moot point. Heffernan expressed confidence in finding another vendor for the project.
If you are thinking that another option is the space dedicated to the robotic parking garage could be developed as a traditional parking garage, that would seem to be difficult. The big advantage to the robotic parking garage system — it uses an elevator and systems of tracks to move vehicles around — is that it can fit more vehicles in less square feet than a traditional garage because it doesn’t need entrance and exit ramps and such.
The plans approved by the city call for about 460 parking spaces.
The city ultimately holds the hammer on this project. The apartment project — and the retail development that is planned for the lower floors — can’t be used until the city issues an occupancy permit, which happens after the city has determined the project has met all city codes.