Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Anderson Rentals seeks new location, expands into art business; Lawrence startup company seeking to become national player in online advertising
A portable toilet, a forklift and a fine piece of art: Yes, it is a trio that could lead to a date with a bail bondsman. But they’re also three products you’re able to rent at Lawrence-based Anderson Rentals, as it undergoes what could be some significant changes for the longtime business.
A couple of weeks ago, I noted a ‘for sale’ sign showed up in front of the home of Anderson Rentals, 1312 W. Sixth St., which created questions about whether the longtime business was going out of business. Don’t worry, it is not. But co-owner Mary Anderson told me the business is contemplating a series of changes. The company is looking for a buyer for its large piece of Sixth Street property. If a buyer is found, Anderson would look to find a new location more suitable for the current financial conditions.
“Coming through this rough economy, we had a lot of debt pile up,” Anderson said “We are trying to find a cheaper location.”
Another possibility, Anderson said, is it may stay at the current location but rent out some of its existing space. But Anderson said there are no plans to close the business, which dates back to 1946 when it was a used furniture store and eventually got its start in the rental business because the Eldridge Hotel temporarily needed some furniture for a convention. The company is one of the older rental businesses in the country.
The business rents a variety of tools to contractors and home owners, services events with tents, tables, chairs and other such items, and supplies a large amount of the portable toilets you see on jobs sites and elsewhere around town. But what’s this talk of fine art?
Anderson said art is the newest rental product the company is offering. Anderson has been a professional artist and has multiple contacts in that world. She has created a new business, MEA Fine Art, and now she is creating a new program where people can rent art rather than buy it. She’s working with about eight regional artists currently, but hopes to expand the business to a more national base of artists as the concept catches on.
But just how is the concept going to catch on, you ask. Well, take this recent scene from Lawrence life: You’re going to host the president for dinner. Your spouse keeps harping that your substantial art collection of dogs playing pool isn’t appropriate for such a dinner. So, you rent a few pieces of art for the special occasion.
Or some other scenarios include businesses renting art for their waiting rooms, corporations needing art for special events, or real estate agents who need a few pieces to stage a home that they have on the market.
But Anderson hopes the idea goes beyond that. She hopes that rentals will make fine art more affordable.
“My goal is to make fine artists more available to the public,” Anderson said.
One of the programs is geared for people who just enjoy art and want it in their homes, but perhaps would like a rotation of pieces. People pay a rental fee and can have a piece of art for a few months, then receive a different piece of art to replace it. Anderson also is offering a rent-to-own program for some pieces of art.
Anderson thinks the fine art idea has a chance to become a new segment in the rental industry. It will be interesting to watch whether this Lawrence business creates a new industrywide trend. In the meantime, it will be interesting to watch what happens to their property at the corner of Sixth and Michigan streets. It is a fairly large piece of property, so it may be an area to keep an eye on for redevelopment.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Now that I have mentioned dogs playing pool on the Internet, what happens next is predictable: Every website I visit for the next few weeks will have advertisements of dogs playing pool. But with Internet advertising being the imperfect beast that it is, they’ll be ads for dogs playing in a pool. Now, obviously, I like dogs playing pool — as in billiards — because, well, who doesn’t? But I don’t give a flip about dogs playing in a pool — as in a swimming pool — because that is obviously ridiculous.
A Lawrence startup business aims to tackle that problem. Well, maybe not that specific problem because that is a fairly narrow business model. But it hopes to make Internet advertising a lot more user friendly, and that is the type of business that can become an international tech success story that Lawrence hopes to become known for.
The Lawrence-based company is Bixy. Back in 2012, we reported on the Lawrence startup Audio Anywhere and how its founder, Lawrence resident Kyle Johnson, was named the innovator of the year by the Pipeline entrepreneurship program. The business was focused on making music-streaming sites, like Pandora and Spotify, profitable by making online advertising more efficient. It had developed a proprietary piece of technology it called Bixy to do that.
Fast forward to today, and the company is not focusing on music-streaming sites but rather the Bixy technology has become the business. Johnson thinks the timing for the business is good because consumers are becoming more leery of the practice of targeting, where ads start following you around the Internet based on your search history.
The Bixy technology aims to give advertisers another way to reach consumers instead of the traditional targeting practices. The 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.
“Instead of creeping people out and targeting them, let them control the advertising and give them ads that they want,” Johnson said.
Johnson used himself as an example. He’s a runner. He could choose adidas as one of the companies he would be interested in receiving ads from. The basic idea is that when Kyle is surfing the Web, the banner ads that he sees on those websites would be much more likely to be from adidas rather than some company he doesn’t care about.
“Unless you want to start paying for content, you are going to see ads, so they might as well be ads you want to see,” Johnson said.
The company makes its money by charging a fee to the brands that sign up for the service. Thus far the company has gone through its pilot phase and is pleased with the results. The company mainly has been signing up Lawrence and Kansas City companies for its test phase, but Johnson said it is now seeking to expand its territory. The company is out talking with venture capitalists trying to raise about $750,000 in venture capital. The company is technically based in Lawrence — that’s where Johnson has an office — but is made up of developers and other technical positions that are spread throughout the country. The company has grown from about three employees two years ago to about 10 employees today. Johnson said he expects that number to grow as it begins to build a sales force, which he said is the next step for the company.
Predicting which tech companies will work and which ones will fade away is kind of like trying to predict whether that beagle really will make that nine-ball bank shot. It is tough to know, but this is a Lawrence startup that should be interesting to watch.
Commissioners concerned about e-mail from Wicked Broadband; WOW introduces faster Internet service; update on cable TV changes in Lawrence
With President Barack Obama in town today, I know it is difficult to think of anything other than presidential politics, and how the free world last night was run from the Lawrence Holiday Inn. But for a moment, let’s tune into some City Commission politics, which have taken a bit of a Washington-like turn.
Two city commissioners are expressing concern about an e-mail they received Wednesday from the leader of Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband. Commissioners Bob Schumm and Terry Riordan, who both are running for re-election, said the e-mail from Wicked co-owner Joshua Montgomery crossed a line by insinuating that Montgomery could deliver nearly 1,200 votes to their campaigns, if the commissioners approve a $300,000 loan guarantee and other city incentives the company is seeking as part of a project to bring gigabit Internet service to part of Lawrence.
“It struck me as being inappropriate,” said Schumm, who was asked about the e-mail after the Journal-World obtained a copy of it Wednesday. “It pushes the envelope to the edge of what is ethical.”
The e-mail’s subject line is “1,184 votes in Lawrence municipal elections.” The e-mail then goes on to inform Schumm and Riordon that Montgomery has been “organizing a block of voters for this upcoming election.” Montgomery wrote that he has 1,184 voters committed to voting in the primary and general elections. He said the main issue that will determine their votes is the idea of a high-speed broadband network in the city.
The e-mail closes by asking Schumm and Riordan to meet with Montgomery to “discuss your position on the issue and how we might be able to work together for the benefit of Lawrence.”
“I think at very best it is very poor judgment,” Riordan told me when I asked him about the e-mail. “I think we need to be honest and above board about this process, so this is concerning.”
Riordan said he has asked the City Attorney to review the e-mail, and determine whether it put him in any untenable position. Riordan said he is now reluctant to even have a one-on-one discussion about the broadband proposal with Montgomery.
“The whole thing looked just too much like a quid pro quo proposition,” Riordan said.
Montgomery said there was nothing inappropriate about the e-mail. He said he wanted Schumm and Riordan — thus far the only two sitting commissioners seeking re-election — to understand that high-speed broadband was going to be a key issue in the upcoming elections. Montgomery said he is organizing a whole contingent of people who aren’t your typical voters in City Commission elections, but are very interested in the community having gigabit Internet service, which is the same type of super-fast broadband service being offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City.
“I’m telling you, those people are going to come out and vote this time,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery also didn’t mince any words about his ability to influence the decision of those voters. He said any vote by Schumm or Riordan against Wicked’s proposal will be construed as a vote against high speed broadband service in the city.
Montgomery told me that if Wicked’s proposal fails to win a ‘yes’ vote from Schumm, that “I can guarantee those voters won’t vote for Bob Schumm.” (At this point, I hadn’t yet confirmed Riordan also had received the e-mail, so his name hadn’t come up in the interview.)
I believe I can hear a yawn coming from the president’s Holiday Inn room. (I think he also is upset that he hasn’t been able to find the putt-putt golf course that used to be in the atrium of the hotel, and that some guy in line ahead of him is taking an inordinate amount of sausage gravy from the breakfast bar.) The point being, though, that this type of politics perhaps isn’t that unusual in D.C.
But it is interesting to watch in Lawrence, and I’m curious to see how people react to it. The timing certainly isn’t coincidental. City commissioners are scheduled to again hear Wicked request for incentives at their Tuesday evening meeting. Conventional wisdom holds that Montgomery needs to win a vote from either Schumm or Riordan to have a chance of victory with the commission. Mayor Mike Amyx has pretty much forecasted that he is not going to be able to support the idea of a loan guarantee for the company. Commissioners Mike Dever and Jeremy Farmer both have been more open to the idea. Both Schumm and Riordan have expressed concerns about the proposals at various times.
Schumm reiterated those concerns on Wednesday.
“I want to bring fiber to the city in the worst way,” Schumm said. “It could create a whole new subset of entrepreneurship in the city. I’m just not convinced a loan guarantee is the way to move it forward.”
One other twist in all of this is that Montgomery is the husband of Kristie Adair, who has filed for a seat on the Lawrence City Commission. Adair, who is currently a Lawrence school board member, also is a co-owner of Wicked Broadband. I didn’t get a chance to chat with Adair Wednesday, but Montgomery said she was not involved in the writing of the e-mail. He said Adair at this point is no longer involved with the day-to-day operations of Wicked Broadband.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re on the subject of faster Internet service, the folks at WOW, the city’s largest Internet service provider, say they now are offering 110 Mbps service in the Lawrence and the surrounding areas that WOW serves.
The 110 Mbps service is more than twice as fast as the 50 Mbps service, which previously was the fastest residential service WOW offered in Lawrence. But it is not as fast as the gigabit service that is being discussed at City Hall. We reported back in September that WOW was going to introduce the faster service sometime in 2015. That announcement came as the city was considering whether to offer incentives to Wicked. WOW’s most recent announcement that service is now beginning comes as the commission is set to discuss those incentives again.
In terms of how much the service will cost, WOW is encouraging people to call a customer service representative because the price varies depending on what type of bundle you are in. When asked to be more specific, a WOW representative told me via e-mail that the service would cost $13.05 more than the 50 Mbps service, which has prices that vary depending on what bundle you are part of. But my understanding, based on a conversation with a customer service rep, is that standalone 50 Mbps internet service costs $99.95 per month, so that would put the new service at $113 per month, if you didn’t want any other services such as cable television or phone.
WOW has launched the faster service in several markets, including Chicago, Detroit and parts of Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The new service should be good for video streaming and households that use multiple devices at once, the company said in a press release.
But it is important to note that the 110 Mbps speed is only for downloading information. Upload speeds are still at 5 Mbps. So, that means you can download a video or large file from a website, for instance, at the very fast speed of 110 Mbps. But if you want to upload a file to a website that will occur at the much slower speed of 5 Mbps. That is different than what has been proposed by Wicked and others who are seeking to bring gigabit service to Lawrence. They are proposing download and upload service that are at gigabit speeds. City officials have said the upload speed is important because that may be critical to attracting more entrepreneurial uses of the high-speed service.
Debra Schmidt, system manager for WOW’s Lawrence operations, said upgrades to the upload speeds are possible in 2015. She said the company is reviewing that issue, but she said it was too early to say whether a change in the service would be made.
• While I was talking to Schmidt I also asked her about some television changes on WOW’s cable network. I know many of you have noticed that KSNT, the NBC affiliate out of Topeka, is no longer on the cable system. Schmidt confirmed that KSNT was dropped after WOW could not reach an agreement with the broadcaster on appropriate re-broadcast fees that were to be paid to KSNT. Schmidt said there are no plans to bring back KSNT. Instead, WOW subscribers can get their NBC programming through KSHB, which is the NBC affiliate in Kansas City. For years, the local cable system has carried both Kansas City and Topeka-based network affiliates. But slowly, the Topeka affiliates have been dropped as the issue of re-broadcast fees has become more challenging for cable systems. Currently, WIBW, the CBS affiliate, is the only Topeka station still on the WOW network. WOW is required by law to carry the Kansas City network affiliates because Lawrence is considered part of the Kansas City television market.
Schmidt also confirmed that 6News, the cable news broadcast produced by WOW, is also going through some changes. WOW has discontinued the standard 10 p.m. Sunday evening news broadcast. It has been replaced with a weather segment and The Drive sports program.
“We are in the process of evaluation our news/weather/sports delivery as we plan for expanded coverage Monday thru Fridays,” Schmidt said in an email.
Major duplex development planned near Kasold and Peterson; Farmer to hold listening sessions; city gets update on Ninth Street arts corridor
Maybe duplex living is going to make a comeback in Lawrence. (Again, my apologies to multiple Lawrence duplex residents. I thought “party wall” meant something completely different.) Plans have been filed to build 87 duplex living units near the corner of Kasold Drive and Peterson Road, which would be the largest duplex development in Lawrence since at least 2005.
Plans have been filed to expand the Hutton Farms development near the intersection. The plans call for the development of about 16 vacant acres just to the west of the existing multifamily development. The development will feature private streets and clubhouse access, and it's being described as an “exclusive residential community.”
The development group — the plans don’t make it entirely clear who will develop the property, but it is owned by a group led by Thomas Fritzel — plan to start construction in March and have units ready to occupy by August, according to the plans. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will consider a preliminary development plan for the project at its Jan. 26 meeting. The property already has received some preliminary approvals. Back when Hutton Farms was approved several years ago, this piece of ground was identified as a Phase II development for the project. Back then, plans called for up to 102 living units on the site. The current plans have reduced that to 87 living units. One change from those original plans is that the development is seeking a curb cut on Peterson Road, which has been improved since Hutton Farms was originally approved.
Look for other duplex development to happen in the area as well. As we previously have reported, a new assisted living/retirement community is planned for the southwest corner of Peterson Road and Monterey Way. Well, it now looks like that development also will include some duplex construction. A new final development plan has been filed for that project, which is being built by Columbia, Mo.-based Americare. The latest plans show the project will have 14 units of new duplex living units (in other words, seven building with two units apiece.) Plans also call for a pair of one-bedroom triplexes. The duplexes and triplexes will serve as independent living units for seniors. The project also still includes an assisted living building that will have 30 one-bedroom units, and a separate assisted living facility that will have 10 one-bedroom and six two-bedroom living units.
The project — which will operate under the names Parkway Gardens and The Arbors — plans to have a special emphasis on caring for Alzheimer’s patients and their families. No word on when the facility will open, but the final development plan is usually a sign that construction is set to kick into high gear. Indeed, dirt work is already underway at the site.
The largest duplex project in the city, however, may be occurring at 31st and Kasold. As we have reported previously, the large amount of construction at the Kasold Curve is for a new residential neighborhood being developed by Lawrence real estate broker Mike McGrew and others. The development is expected to have about 130 townhomes, or about 65 structures.
Clearly the duplex trend is making a comeback in Lawrence. Between 2001 and 2004, Lawrence builders constructed more than 200 duplex living units each and every year. Then the market started to fade away. More recently, there have been fewer than 20 built in most years.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence city commissioners are in the mood to get an earful these days. They recently heard plenty of feedback about what residents didn’t like about the proposal to build a $28 million police headquarters facility. Now City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer plans to host a series of listening sessions to get feedback about major projects the city should tackle over the next five years.
Farmer has set dates for four listening sessions where he wants to hear ideas related to “people, projects and programs." The dates are:
— 6 p.m. Feb. 11 at the North Lawrence Depot;
— 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at the East Lawrence Recreation Center;
— 6 p.m. Feb. 16 at Fire Station No. 5;
— 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at Sports Pavilion Lawrence.
The main idea behind the listening session is that several residents have been telling commissioners that they don’t believe the commission has done a good job of long-range planning for the city. Some were particularly concerned that both the library expansion and the Rock Chalk Park project ended up receiving city funding before a police headquarters project was taken to the voters in November.
Farmer said he wants to hear what large building projects the city should be thinking about over the next five years, and what priority ought to be placed on them. But Farmer said he also wants to hear ideas on projects other than buildings. That may include programs to boost mental health care, expanded recycling, homeless services or any host of topics that might be on the mind of residents. Farmer said he plans to gather all the comments from the sessions and then prepare a report for the entire commission sometime in March.
Farmer, who if tradition holds, is in line to become mayor in April, said he plans to have several listening sessions on different topics during the final two years of his term.
“I think we have not done as good of job listening as we need to,” Farmer said. “I think we got the wake-up call with the police headquarters vote.”
• There will be a lot of listening going on about the plan to convert a portion of Ninth Street into an arts corridor. Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday received an update about how the consultant plans to gather input for the project, which will stretch from about Massachusetts Street to Delaware Street in East Lawrence.
Josh Shelton, a principal with the design firm el dorado inc., told commissioners his company has put together a plan that will provide multiple opportunities for East Lawrence, downtown Lawrence, artists and other key stakeholders to be involved in the design of the project, which is envisioned to produce a new street, sidewalks and multiple places for public art along the corridor.
The proposed process creates two steering committees: one general steering committee that will include a mix of city officials, neighborhood representatives and other stakeholders; and a second technical steering committee that also will include a mix of City Hall and community members. The general steering committee is expected to meet at least once a month with the project team. The technical steering committee will meet later in the process.
The process also proposes three “public design workshops.” The first one will discuss the role of public art in the process. The second one will discuss the concepts of complete street design, urban landscaping and multimodal transportation. The third one will discuss the history of the project area and how it may shape the project’s design.
Shelton is proposing about a $290,000 contract to oversee the initial Phase I design of the project. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on that contract at next week’s City Commission meeting. El Dorado also is expected to get a phase II contract to do more detailed design work. A price hasn’t yet been set for that work, but has been estimated to be between $275,000 to $375,000.
The total project is expected to cost about $3.3 million to design and build. The Lawrence Arts Center plans to contribute $350,000 through grants and other funds. The remainder would come from city tax dollars.
The project has drawn concern from some East Lawrence residents, who have said they are worried the corridor will turn East Lawrence into an entertainment district and make the area unaffordable for many current residents. Shelton, however, met recently with the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, and city officials said they feel like the project is gaining the trust of East Lawrence residents. Shelton said he’s also sought to assure stakeholders that getting their input and ideas is a critical part of the project.
“That is part of doing urban design the right way,” Shelton said. “Tapping the creative talent that Lawrence has is going to be very exciting.”
Numbers show retail sales in Lawrence grew faster than many cities in 2014; west Lawrence retirement complex seeks sales tax break
We’re part of the billion-dollar club and growing. No, I haven’t resorted to just reading you my mail from the credit card companies. I’m talking about Lawrence’s retail economy and how the latest numbers show we continue to be part of a fairly elite Kansas club. In fact, in one regard, we’re one of the faster growing members of the club.
The final sales tax numbers for 2014 are in, and Lawrence once again topped the $1 billion mark in taxable sales. We are one of nine cities in the state to crack the total. This isn’t Lawrence’s first time to surpass the mark, but we don’t often focus on how large Lawrence’s economy is in relation to the rest of the state. So, let me clear the smoke from the abacus, and we’ll change that right now. Here’s a look at a whole host of figures about Lawrence’s retail economy:
— Taxable sales in Lawrence — everything from retail goods to utility bills — totaled $1.44 billion for the most recent 12-month reporting period. (For you accountants in the crowd, I should note that this technically isn’t all money from 2014. Sales tax reporting lags by one to two months, so the report the state issued in December technically gets us into late November or early December. But the world isn’t perfect, so let’s move on.)
— Lawrence’s sales tax collections grew by 4.1 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Of the nine cities that had $1 billion plus in sales, Lawrence had the second highest growth rate of the bunch. Only Lenexa at 7.8 percent had a more robust year. Here’s a look at the group of nine, ranked by growth rate:
Lenexa: $1.21 billion, up 7.8 percent
Lawrence: $1.44 billion, up 4.1 percent
Kansas City: $2.15 billion, up 3.8 percent
Salina: $1.04 billion, up 3.7 percent
Overland Park: $3.93 billion, up 3.6 percent
Sedgwick County: $8.6 billion, up 3.2 percent (Wichita accounts for the vast majority of this total, but I can’t be more precise because Wichita doesn’t have a city sales tax.)
Topeka: $2.54 billion, up 2.4 percent
Manhattan: $1.08 billion, up 2.4 percent
Olathe: Approximately $2 billion. (A growth rate isn’t readily available for Olathe because it switched sales tax rates midyear in 2014, and my abacus told me such complicated calculations weren’t part of its contract.)
— Lawrence’s per capita spending continues to be on the low side, the latest numbers show. Lawrence had per capita spending of $15,857. Compare that to Lenexa, which had per capita spending of $24,034, tops in the group. Lawrence’s low number can’t be explained away by our status as a university town. Manhattan had per capita spending of $19,236. Geography is probably more of a factor. We’re close to two very large retail markets. Johnson County had more than $10 billion in taxable sales. Shawnee County had nearly $3 billion in taxable sales. What does that tell us? Two things: 1. Lawrence may be in the middle of the most competitive retail corridor in the state. 2. Those Johnson County SUVs have heavy-duty springs to carry all that stuff.
I expect there to be considerable discussion about Lawrence’s retail future in the next several months. One part of that conversation may be for leaders to determine what is a realistic expectation for per capita sales. Does Lawrence concede that it will be a distant No. 3 to Shawnee and Johnson counties when it comes to per capita spending? (We’re obviously not going to catch either one in terms of total spending.) Or, can Lawrence take the approach of some of the cities that have surrounded Overland Park? Overland Park has been the longtime retail giant in Johnson County. But that hasn’t stopped other cities near Overland Park from having robust per capital sales. Here are a few: Merriam, $60,934; Lenexa, $24,034; Leawood: $20,748; Overland Park, $21,861; city of Shawnee, $14,355. As you can see, some have done very well at competing with Overland Park. Others, like Shawnee, have struggled. Its per capita spending is less than Lawrence’s.
— The latest numbers also give an indication of how many retail dollars are near Lawrence. If Lawrence’s per capita spending numbers are to grow, probably three things need to happen: 1. Lawrence residents need to start making more money. 2. Lawrence needs to start getting more shoppers from outside the city limits. 3. Lawrence residents need to make fewer purchases outside of the city. Remember, per capita spending really isn’t a measure of how much each Lawrence resident spends. It is just an equation of total taxable sales divided by total population. So, if you get more people from outside the city buying things, Lawrence’s number goes up. But where will Lawrence get more outside shoppers? City leaders clearly have made a bet that tourists will do some spending. That is part of what Rock Chalk Park is about.
Beyond that, people hope residents from surrounding communities will come shop in Lawrence. But let’s face it, getting people from Johnson County and Shawnee counties to shop in Lawrence will be difficult, unless it is for specialty shopping like you find in downtown. But, there are two other markets to the north and south of us that don’t have all the big retailers that Johnson and Shawnee counties have: Franklin County to the south and Jefferson County to the north. A proposed shopping center near Rock Chalk Park would do more to draw the Jefferson County shoppers, while a proposed center south of the Iowa Street and SLT interchange would do more to draw Franklin County shoppers. These latest numbers from the state give us an indication of how much retail spending is going on in those counties. In Franklin County retail spending totaled $289 million. In Jefferson County it was about $115 million.
Of course, those numbers measure how much was spent in the county; not how much was spent total by their residents. There are large numbers of shoppers in both counties that go to nearby Johnson and Shawnee counties, respectively. But the numbers do give you a sense of the size of the markets. Franklin County is about 2.5 times larger as a market than Jefferson County.
The question city leaders may have to answer in the near future is whether Lawrence wants to get more aggressive in trying to capture dollars from either of those markets.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Today’s a day to probably keep an eye out for more City Commission filings. The deadline isn’t until noon on Jan. 27, but this is one race you probably don’t want to be late to. Several candidates already are campaigning hard. We have two incumbents who haven’t yet announced their plans. I think Commissioner Terry Riordan is likely to run again, but I’m not certain of that. If he does file, he’ll be the 12th candidate to file for the race. The race two years ago had 11 candidates.
As for Commissioner Mike Dever, he hasn’t yet made an announcement, but conventional wisdom is he may not seek another term. He’s already served two, four-year terms. But four years ago, he waited to the last-minute to announce his candidacy, so we’ll see.
• We told you last week that city commissioners at their meeting tonight (Tuesday) will receive an incentives request for an expansion of The Eldridge Hotel. Well, there is also another incentive request for a different type of living project. The folks at Pioneer Ridge at Wakarusa and Harvard are seeking industrial revenue bonds to help with the construction of a new independent living complex. We reported on Pioneer’s expansion plans in October. But the incentives request is new.
The company is seeking about $14.5 million in industrial revenue bonds in order to take advantage of a sales tax exemption that comes with the bonds. The bonds will allow the company to buy its construction materials for the project without paying sales taxes. That’s likely to save the company a few hundred thousand dollars in sales taxes. But the company is not asking for a property tax abatement on the project.
As for the expansion, it calls for 76 new independent living units to be built on the vacant site just to the south of its existing facility.
Just like The Eldridge Request — which is seeking both an IRB and a property tax rebate — commissioners are not expected to take any final action at their meeting this evening. Instead, they’ll refer the requests to staff for study and recommendations.
Local health club to add beer offerings as part of major renovation; Eldridge Hotel asks for 95 percent tax rebate for expansion
Sit-ups and suds: Three of the four words in that phrase sound like a heck of a plan. Soon, members of the newly renovated Genesis Health Club on Sixth Street will have the chance to add a cold beer to their workout routine. The club has filed plans with the city to add a small bar area in its lobby.
The club is in the final stages of a $1 million renovation that is revamping the locker rooms, workout areas and several other amenities. But as the project is about to wrap up, the club also has filed for a site plan and license that would allow the facility to serve beer in its lobby.
If the idea of going through a workout to get your body in shape and then following it up with a beer sounds odd to you, well, you obviously don’t understand the very sound, scientific principles behind light beer. Much scientific research has been done about how light beer can make you thin and beautiful, and if you doubt me, I can point you to a multitude of informative 30-second videos that clearly show thin, beautiful people doing amazing things with the help of light beer. (In my quest to be a well-rounded man of science, I plan to soon watch a new crop of these informative videos as part of a special conference known as the Super Bowl.)
Actually, an official with Genesis told me he’s not sure that many people are going to be interested in a beer after their workout, and that maybe wouldn’t be the advice personal trainers would give either. But, the club also is a social gathering place for a lot of people who get together to play a game of pick-up basketball, racquetball, handball and several other sports. I plan to do extensive research on this point, but I believe guys sometimes like to share a beverage after getting together for a game or two.
“It is part of the difference between a gym and a club,” said Joe Oxler, regional director for Genesis. “We really do focus on the idea of being a club.”
Oxler said the lobby of the club has undergone significant renovations, and they’re encouraging members to make it more of a social space.
“If members want to hang out and watch a basketball game, we want them to do that,” Oxler said.
In addition to the small beer area — there will just be two brands of beer on tap, Oxler said — the lobby also will feature a smoothie bar and some other concessions.
“But we’re definitely not becoming a night club or anything like that,” Oxler said.
The club, which is near Sixth and Mesa Way, plans to soon finish its renovations and hold an open house on Jan. 24.
The project has completely changed the Sixth Street facade of the facility, but much of the renovation has been focused on the interior. Oxler said new upscale locker rooms already have been opened. He said the cardio area will approximately double in size, the weight room will be completely re-equipped, the basketball court resurfaced, and the pool area will add a hot tub and dry sauna area.
The open house on Jan. 24 will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Oxler said the facility will be open to nonmembers to tour and use on that day.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As one downtown hotel gets ready to open — the Marriott at Ninth and New Hampshire — there are new signs that the venerable Eldridge Hotel is getting more serious about expanding. The hotel is seeking a 95 percent, 15-year property tax rebate for a project that would allow the hotel to expand onto the vacant lot just south of it.
We’ve reported on plans for an Eldridge expansion at least a couple of times over the last few years, but those plans ultimately ended up stalling out. But a new corporate entity — Eldridge Hotel, LLC — was created in late December and has filed for the tax rebate under the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Act. The new entity appears to be a sign of a new momentum for the project.
Nancy Longhurst, general manager for The Eldridge, told city officials in a letter that the $12.5 million expansion would allow for 54 new rooms in the hotel, a new multipurpose space, and would allow for additional restaurant and bar space. In total, the multistory expansion would add 50,000 square feet to the hotel. The expansion would more than double the number of rooms, which I believe currently is 48.
The developers have submitted a rendering of the proposed project, and it looks similar but a bit larger than the plan that was submitted in April. Back then, we reported the project would add about 38 rooms to the hotel. Comparing the latest rendering with the one in April, it looks like the expansion has grown by about a story and is now six stories tall, and a bit taller than The Eldridge.
UPDATE: Werner this morning also gave me this rendering, which shows how the building will stair-step back from Massachusetts Street.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are scheduled to formally receive the application for a tax break, but they aren’t scheduled to make any decisions on the request. Instead, commissioners are expected to refer the project to the Public Incentives Review Commission for a recommendation.
It will be interesting to see how quickly this project moves ahead. A plan for the expansion project was approved by the Historic Resources Commission in May, but a memo from the city’s planning staff notes that approval was based on several conditions that have not yet been met. Included in those is more work on the building’s elevations. City commissioners will have a decision to make on whether they want to approve the tax rebate request prior to all the necessary planning approvals. The commission could do that and make its approval contingent on the project complying with all necessary planning requirements. Or the commission could wait until the planning process is complete before it takes up the tax rebate issue.
The matter of timing is important because this is the season where timing at City Hall gets tricky: Election Season. The City Commission election will be April 7, and possibly a new majority could be seated that week on the five-member commission. The issue of tax breaks for large projects — The Oread hotel and the new Marriott hotel both have received them in recent years — already is shaping up to be a campaign issue with some candidates.
In addition, The Eldridge Hotel is operated by a group led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, although I don’t know who is involved in this new corporate entity that recently formed for the expansion project. But other documents suggest Fritzel is still part of the project, and voters are likely to remember that he also is the city’s private partner in the controversial Rock Chalk Park sports complex. These are two separate projects, obviously, but sometimes voters don’t make such separations in their minds.
It will be an interesting project to watch, and certainly one that continues the theme of Lawrence investing more heavily in trying to draw visitors to the community.
Lawrence home construction hits second lowest total on record; Rock Chalk Park recreation center posting big attendance numbers
It appears I wasn’t the only one cursing in the workshop in 2014. (I can promise you the best piece of advice you’ll ever receive in life is not to wear a necktie next to a lathe.) New numbers are out, and 2014 wasn’t a very good year for the local building industry.
City Hall has released year-end building permit totals, and 2014 ended up being the second worst year on record in terms of new single-family housing starts. City records go back to 1956. Builders pulled permits for just 101 single-family homes in Lawrence. That’s a nearly 35 percent decrease from the 155 permits issued in 2013.
The slowdown ended a two-year streak of rising single-family home numbers in Lawrence. The city hit its all-time low in 2011, when just 95 single-family homes were started. But the single-family building market posted double-digit percentage gains in both 2012 and 2013.
There may be some reason for optimism in 2015. (Case in point: I have one less tie.) The last quarter of 2014 showed signs of the single-family market picking up. December was the busiest month of the year, with 14 permits issued. November was the second busiest with 13.
There also may be reason to be concerned. (Case in point: I own other ties.) Preliminary numbers from the Kansas City metro area aren’t yet indicating a slowdown in the housing market there. The Kansas City Home Builders Association hasn’t yet released its year-end report for 2014, but through November the association was reporting single-family home starts had risen by 2 percent in the KC metro area. To give you an idea of how many houses are being added in some of our neighboring communities, Olathe issued 485 single-family building permits through November. Overland Park checked in at 369, Shawnee at 189 and Lenexa at 180.
Lawrence used to put up comparable numbers. For 14 consecutive years — from 1991 to 2004 — Lawrence issued more than 300 single-family building permits per year. In more recent years, apartment construction has become more prevalent in Lawrence. Those numbers also took a dip in 2014. Lawrence issued permits for 143 apartment units, which was the lowest total since 2006. But I wouldn’t worry much about the apartment numbers. Apartment construction comes in batches, and it mainly was just dumb luck that the numbers weren’t higher this year. The city has approved two large apartment projects — the one across street from KU’s Memorial Stadium and the one on the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire — that will start construction in a matter of weeks, but just didn’t pull a permit prior to the end of the year. Those two projects alone will produce more apartment units than all apartment projects combined in 2014. You should expect significant apartment development to occur in northwest Lawrence as well.
As for total construction in Lawrence, the city issued permits for projects valued at $99.7 million. About $87 million of it came from private-sector projects, while the rest came from government or other publicly funded projects.
The $99 million total was down significantly from the 2013 total of $171 million, but that was an all-time year with Rock Chalk Park, the library expansion and several other large projects. The $99 million total was in the ballpark of the 2010 to 2012 activity levels, which averaged about $105 million worth of projects per year.
Finally, we get to the list you’ve all been waiting on. (The last one.) Below is a list of the largest building projects in 2014. But before you look, see if you can guess the largest building project of the year. If you guess correctly, maybe I’ll make you something from my workshop as a prize. I’ve done some really interesting things “combining” fabrics and woods. In reverse order, because you are apt to cheat:
— 10. Petsmart renovation, 2727 Iowa St., $1 million.
— 10. Genesis health club renovation, 3201 Mesa Way, $1 million.
— 9. Medical clinic building, 4930 Overland Drive, $1.3 million.
— 8. Sigma Kappa sorority addition, 1325 West Campus Road.
— 7. Buffalo Wild Wings/multitenant commercial center, 2626 Iowa St., $1.8 million.
— 6. Corpus Christi Catholic School addition, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway, $2.3 million
— 5. Sprouts Farmers Market, 4740 Bauer Farm Drive, $3.7 million
— 4. 9 Del Lofts Apartments, 900 Delaware St., $4.4 million.
— 3. Menard’s, 1470 W. 31st St., $5.5 million.
— 2. Apartments at Frontier, 523 Frontier Road, $5.8 million.
— 1. Douglas County Public Works Complex, 3755 E. 25th Street, $11 million.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It hasn’t been a great week for the Rock Chalk Park project, as a new round of questions about some accounting issues between the public-private partnership have emerged. But there are good numbers associated with the project too. The city-owned recreation center — Sports Pavilion Lawrence — is posting some large attendance numbers.
A new report from the city shows attendance at the recreation center from October through December totaled 178,931. October was at about 53,000, while November was about 63,800 and December about 62,000. The drop in December is probably no reason for concern, since it is a well-known fact that the best exercise during the holidays is to repeatedly lift a 25-pound ham one fork-full at a time.
The city report provides some demographic information about who is using the facility as well. The average age of a key card holder is 40 years old. Now, this doesn’t count lots of the youth who play in the sports leagues at the center. They don’t have to have key cards to participate in leagues, so the city doesn’t have their demographics. (The youth sports teams, however, are counted in the attendance totals.) About 57 percent of the key card holders are female, and the rest are male, although hopefully you had already figured that out.
But perhaps the most surprising statistic is where key card holders live. About 41 percent live in the 66049 zip code, which is the far west Lawrence zip code. So, that’s not surprising given that Rock Chalk Park is in the far northwest corner of the city. But the second highest zip code area is 66044, which is primarily a central and East Lawrence zip code. That zip code accounts for about 27 percent of the users. Parks and recreation officials were pleased to see that because one of the concerns with the location of the center was that it would be too difficult for East Lawrence residents to use. The 66047 zip code accounted for 17 percent, the 66046 was at about 9 percent, and zip codes accounted for the rest, including about 1.6 percent from the Baldwin zip code and 1 percent from Eudora’s.
• One other thing to remember about Sports Pavilion Lawrence is that about 7,000 square feet of the 181,000 square-foot center is still empty. That was the spot designated for a wellness center that did not come to be. At least it hasn’t quite yet. I wouldn’t totally count out a wellness center at the site.
Parks and recreation leaders recently told the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board that they hope to have that space filled either with classes or some other functions in the next six months. But first, they are trying to wrap up a sponsorship/naming rights deal for Sports Pavilion Lawrence. Mark Hecker, assistant director of parks and recreation, said use of that 7,000 square-foot space may play into a potential sponsorship/naming rights package.
Hecker didn’t provide any clues about who the city is talking with, but it is no secret that city officials have wanted Lawrence Memorial Hospital to operate a wellness center at the site. LMH didn’t jump at that opportunity earlier, but I think it may be a situation to keep an eye on. One of my many fascinating hobbies is to read the minutes of various meetings that happen around town. One of them was the minutes of a December meeting of LMH’s Marketing and Community Relations Committee. Those minutes talked about how the board discussed and ultimately recommended a “sponsorship that would require a significant long-term investment” from the hospital. The minutes noted the sponsorship would have to go through some other approvals at the hospital. I have no insight into whether that sponsorship would be for Sports Pavilion Lawrence, but it seems like something to keep an ear out for.
Lawrence planning to throw an international party; South Lawrence Trafficway, Part II; police HQ listening session tonight
Lawrence is getting more serious about throwing a party of international proportions. No, that’s not your cue to start delivering semi-loads of red Solo cups to the Oread neighborhood. We’re not talking about that type of party. We’re talking about the Free State Festival, an annual art and film festival that largely is regional in nature, but has aspirations to be international in scope by 2016.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday got a briefing about how leaders at the Lawrence Arts Center and others hope to grow the festival. Commissioners unanimously agreed to submit a $200,000 grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts that would be used to help grow the plan.
Soon, city commissioners will get to decide whether they want to contribute tax dollars to help grow the festival too. The festival organizers plan to ask the city to donate $60,000 of city guest tax money to the festival in 2015, and are forecasting that they will ask for similar amounts in both 2016 and 2017. Commissioners may have that request before them by the end of the month.
Organizers plan to spend about $630,000 over a two-year period on the festival. About $120,000 would come from city guest tax funds, while the rest would come from private donations, grants and about $40,000 in ticket sales.
For those of you who need a reminder about the Free State Festival, it was the event that brought famed blues guitarist Johnny Winter to downtown for a concert last summer. That was the kick-off event for the festival, which featured a host of other art, music and other creative events. Arts Center officials estimate the entire festival attracted more than 12,000 audience members in 2014. They think those numbers can grow a lot, though.
The goal is that by 2016 the festival will enter a new, expanded phase. Specifically, commissioners were told about three initiatives:
— A goal of bringing up to eight nationally and internationally recognized filmmakers, musicians or other visual artists to the festival each year.
— Hire well-regarded multimedia artist Nina Katchadourian as guest curator for the festival in 2016 and 2017. Katchadourian will oversee the selection of two featured international artists who will be paired with Lawrence artists to create outdoor, temporary public artwork along what arts leaders hope will be a new arts corridor along Ninth Street through East Lawrence.
— Work with the Lawrence-based Centro Hispano to help middle school students produce short films that explore the universal aspects of language. The films will be screened at the festival and also will be part of a traveling exhibit that is planned for rural Kansas.
Commissioners approved the grant application without much fuss, which is saying something these days. Art has been a bit ugly at City Hall in recent weeks. Several longtime leaders in East Lawrence have been at odds with the Arts Center about the process being used to plan the proposed arts corridor along Ninth Street. Despite that disagreement, East Lawrence residents didn’t oppose this grant application.
But that’s not to say that it didn’t get a little tense again at City Hall. KT Walsh, an East Lawrence resident and artist, noted to commissioners that this NEA grant application described the Ninth Street corridor as a seven-block area, which could take it from Massachusetts Street to Delaware. The previous grant application that was submitted specifically for the Ninth Street project listed the corridor as six blocks, which would stop it at New Hampshire Street.
Walsh said that was a big deal. She said extending the corridor to Massachusetts Street will open the door for it to become a downtown-centric project, and she doesn’t want that to happen. She told commissioners that she and others are worried this arts corridor could easily morph into an entertainment district, especially if downtown leaders become a major part of the planning process.
City Commissioner Bob Schumm, though, said he thought it made no sense to stop the corridor one block short of the downtown’s busiest street. Plus, he said East Lawrence has been calling for an open process with involvement from many, and he said that process should include downtown stakeholders as well. Ultimately, commissioners unanimously agreed to consider the Ninth Street project as stretching from Massachusetts to Delaware.
But before that happened, tensions rose some more. City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer has made it a point to express frustration with some of the critics of this process. He did so again on Tuesday. He urged those people who are unhappy with the process to quit writing emails to a group called ArtPlace, which has agreed to fund a grant for the Ninth Street project. He said he’s becoming worried that those emails, which he said have been inappropriate, may lead the organization to rescind its funding for the project.
“I’m really concerned that we have a dozen people or a half-dozen people sending emails to New York, and what that says about our inability to get along,” Farmer said. “If I was with ArtPlace, well, I won’t even say what I would think of Lawrence at this point. I would just say it is pathetic.”
As I said, art is not always beautiful. I do predict, however, art will be a campaign issue during this upcoming City Commission election.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is time to keep our ears open about another South Lawrence Trafficway project. As crews are working to complete the eastern leg of the bypass, the Kansas Department of Transportation has been conducting a concept study of how to expand the already-built western leg of the bypass.
That’s been known to be coming down the pike because the existing western leg is a two-lane bypass while the under construction eastern leg will be a four-lane bypass. But some City Hall officials have received a briefing on the concept plan as it stands thus far, and City Manager David Corliss told me it involves quite a bit more than just adding two lanes alongside the existing road.
I didn’t have the time last night to get a lot of details, but he indicated it could involve rebuilding parts of the existing road. I’ve also heard it likely would involve some new overpasses, especially at the intersection where folks turn into the Youth Sports Complex. That at-grade intersection has been a deadly one in the past.
I think we’ll all know more about the concept plans by next month. The city, county and school district are planning to hold a joint meeting on Feb. 17, which will include a briefing by KDOT on the concept plan.
It should be interesting, but it also is important to remember that “concept” is the key word here. KDOT will need to go out and find funding before it can do any western SLT work.
• If you didn’t like the city’s sales tax proposal for a new $28 million police headquarters, city commissioners want to hear from you tonight. As we have previously reported, the city is holding two listening sessions about the police headquarters project and why it didn’t win voter approval in November. The first one is at 6:30 p.m. today (Wednesday) at City Hall. The second one is at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 at the Lawrence Arts Center. The format is simple: You get up, you say what is one your mind, and then someone else gets up and repeats the process.
A Mexican restaurant on 23rd Street, more signs that Port Fonda coming to Lawrence, an Old Chicago rumor and other restaurant news
I have a batch of restaurant news, but I have to warn you it is a bit like chips and salsa for breakfast: It’s not really enough for a meal, but it is a good start nonetheless. Here’s a look:
• It is a proven fact that we all drive better with a burrito in our hand and warm cheese sauce in our lap. It looks like we may soon have another chance to practice such safe driving on 23rd Street. The former Pizza Hut building at 1606 W. 23rd St. is being converted into a drive-thru Mexican restaurant, according to a site plan filed at City Hall.
The site plan says the location will be a Panchos Restaurant. Finding information on the Web about a Panchos Mexican restaurant is a bit like finding a taquito in a box of taquitos. In other words, there are a lot of restaurants with that name (as evidenced when I ask Siri about it and her response simply was “You’ve got to be kidding me, numbskull.) But I would note that there is a regional chain called Pancho’s Mexican restaurant that appears to be expanding in the area. It has locations in Topeka, Olathe, Lenexa, Salina and parts of Kansas City. No word on whether that is the one, but if so, the chain advertises it is open 24 hours. I’ll do some checking and see what more I can find out about the company.
Regardless, it appears that a Mexican food brouhaha is brewing at the location. If you remember, the old Pizza Hut location is right next door to Border Bandido. Border Bandido, which also specializes in a form of quick-serve Mexican food, has been doing business at that location for a long time. It is one of the older restaurants in all of Lawrence. It will be interesting to see how two of them do side by side. Although it is worth noting that stretch of 23rd Street has never lacked for Mexican food. Now that Chipotle has opened just east of this site, there will be five Mexican restaurants within a two-tenths of a mile stretch on 23rd. Taco John's and Taco Bell are the other two.
• It sure looks like Mexican food of a different type is coming to downtown Lawrence. I’ve been telling you for months now that the hip Westport Mexican restaurant Port Fonda is coming to Lawrence, and now it appears the restaurant is sort of confirming it. The restaurant sent out a tweet on Monday that said it was coming to Lawrence, or more specifically to LFK, which we all know means Lawrence Fabulous Kansas. (That is what it means, right?)
I’ve had multiple people tell me the site is going to be in the ground-floor space of the new Marriott hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire. I’ve got a call into the guys at Port Fonda to see if they have an official announcement yet. I’ll let you know when I hear more.
• Sometimes you’re not in the mood for Mexican food but rather pizza as thick as a copy of "War and Peace." ("War and Peace" would be better with marinara sauce, by the way.) I certainly don’t have anything confirmed on this, but a reliable source has told me that a franchisee for Old Chicago Pizza is looking for a site in Lawrence. Old Chicago had a location in Lawrence for a long time near 23rd and Iowa streets before it was converted into the short-lived Saints Pub + Patio. I’m told Old Chicago has been looking in the northwest part of the city. We reported recently that a site plan had been filed for a pair of unidentified restaurants near the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa. I have no inkling whether Old Chicago is one of those restaurants, but it is a restaurant chain worth keeping an eye on, it appears.
• For months and months and months I got question after question about the Burger King at 1107 W. Sixth St., which was closed after a fire in August 2013. People would ask: When is Burger King going to open? How come Burger King hasn’t opened? Why are you wearing a bathrobe and a paper crown and muttering things about Whoppers? You know, the usual questions. Well, as I told you many times Burger King indeed did plan to reopen following the fire, but it just took longer than expected. I can now report the restaurant has reopened, as of about a week ago. Just to be sure, I even went inside. I can report it looks a lot like a . . . Burger King. Although it is nice, new and shiny, and there indeed were paper crowns available.
New economic ranking shows Lawrence moving up but still below average; city lands on Top 100 list of best places to live
It is a day full of rankings, so I’ll get us started: I rank winter my least favorite season, but the most likely season for me to spill a bowl of warm oatmeal in my bed — intentionally. I’m sure that ranking is on the Internet somewhere, but that’s not the one I’m focusing on at the moment. Instead, Lawrence has been ranked on two lists: one good and one not so good.
It is Monday — the No. 1 ranked day to confuse your Brylcreem for your toothpaste — so it seems fitting to start with the not so good. The Milken Institute has again come out with its lists of the Best-Performing Cities in America. If you remember, the 2012 study ranked Lawrence as the second worst performing small metro area in the country. The 2013 report ranked Lawrence No. 105 out of about 180 small cities. Well, the 2014 report is out, and Lawrence checks in at . . . No. 99 out of 179.
So, we’re improving. We’ve moved up 79 spaces in three years, which if we were talking about KU football would cause fans to have a love letter to David Beaty tattooed on their foreheads. But I would guess that some community leaders still find it irksome that several of our peer communities rank quite a bit higher than Lawrence. They include: Iowa City, No. 5; College Station, Texas, No. 8; Columbia, Mo, No. 11 after having been ranked No. 1 in 2013; Ames, Iowa, No. 14; and Waco, Texas, No. 21. Those are all college towns, but high rankings weren’t just reserved for college communities. St. Joseph, Mo., an industrial town that has built up a hub of animal science companies, ranked No. 16.
This study looks at a variety of statistics related to job growth, wage growth and several measures of high-tech firms that are located in a community. Lawrence has talked a lot about wanting to be a community that has a significant presence in the high-tech world, so these rankings really are measuring the type of community we want to be. Here’s a look at how we ranked in each of the eight categories measured. Remember, there are 179 communities ranked, so anything above 89 puts us in the top half of the cities ranked.
— Job growth from 2008 to 2013: No. 82.
— Job growth from 2012 to 2013: No. 117
— Wage growth from 2007 to 2012: No. 104
— Wage growth from 2011 to 2012: No. 112
— Short term job growth from Aug. 2013 to Aug. 2014: No. 17
— High-tech GDP growth from 2008 to 2013: No. 63
— High-tech GDP growth from 2012 to 2013: No. 110
— High-tech GDP concentration 2013: No. 100
— Number of high-tech companies compared with national average: No. 129.
The number that gives reason for optimism is the short-term job numbers from 2013 to 2014. As we’ve reported previously, Lawrence has had a good year in terms of new job numbers, according to federal statistics. Local economic development leaders continue to have a hard time pinpointing where those new jobs are at, but we’ll keep an eye on those numbers in 2015 to see if they continue on an upward track.
The numbers that continue to grate on people the most probably are the wage growth numbers. The expectation is that Lawrence’s status as a highly educated community has to start translating into higher wages at some point. Thus far, all of our wage growth numbers are in the lower half of the study.
As for other cities in the study: Topeka ranked No. 102. Manhattan was just small enough population-wise that it was not part of the study. Fargo, N.D., was the top ranked small metro area. The Milken Institute also conducted a separate ranking for 200 larger cities. Kansas City finished No. 77, while Wichita was ranked No. 154. The highest ranked cities in the region were Denver at No. 12, Boulder at No. 13, and Fort Collins, Colo., at No. 17. San Francisco was the top ranked large city.
As for the study’s authors, The Milken Institute indeed was founded by convicted junk bond felon Michael Milken, but its studies have been pretty well-regarded as being worthwhile research.
• The second study that mentions Lawrence has to do with the “livability” of Lawrence. The folks at the Web site Livability.com have released their Top 100 Best Places to Live ranking for “small to mid-sized cities.”
Lawrence ranks No. 74 on the list. The study’s authors looked at about 2,000 cities with populations between 20,000 and 350,000 people. The study looks at a variety of factors about schools, housing, crime rates, income levels, health care and other such factors. The report notes Lawrence’s strong economic sectors of education, agriculture, finance, and government and scientific research. It also highlights Lawrence’s “vibrant art and music scene.”
Lawrence was one of three Kansas communities on the list. Overland Park was No. 17 and Manhattan was No. 70. Other cities in the region included: Boulder, Colo., No. 4; Iowa City, No. 10; Fort Collins, Colo., No. 24; Ames, Iowa, No. 30; Lincoln, Neb., No. 37; Columbia, Mo., No. 50; Des Moines, Iowa, No. 82; Springfield, Mo., No. 85.
The No. 1 ranked city was Madison, Wis. That’s fine and good, but it would take a lot of oatmeal for me to live there in the winter.
Runza closed for remodeling; Wicked Broadband co-owner files for seat on City Commission; local PAC has nearly $16K ahead of city elections
In 20-plus years of reporting in Douglas County, one thing I have learned about the public is they are very concerned about any threats to their cabbage-stuffed sandwiches. Over the last few days I started getting messages from people concerned that the Runza at 27th and Iowa streets — perhaps the largest purveyor of cabbage-stuffed sandwiches — had gone out of business. But fear not, the restaurant is closed, but only temporarily for a renovation.
I turned on my lights and sirens in the F150 and went to the scene for a firsthand investigation. Doug Nations, the local franchisee for Runza, said the restaurant is getting an interior makeover. When it reopens, the furnishings will be different, but the menu will be the same. That means the Original Runza, a stuffed sandwich “full of ground beef, onions, cabbage and secret spices” is not going anywhere.
Nations said he expected the restaurant to reopen sometime next week. (Which is good because you don’t want to see people have cabbage withdrawal. It involves people tipping over entire salad bars and yelling at the top of their lungs, “YOU CALL THIS A LEAFY VEGETABLE?”)
Nations said business has been good, and said redevelopment in the area has been drawing more customers to the intersection. In recent weeks, a Buffalo Wild Wings opened across the street, and last year a Dick’s Sporting Goods also opened at the intersection of 27th and Iowa.
“Right now, this is the intersection to be at in town,” Nations said.
Runza has been at the location since about 1986, Nations said, which makes it one of the older restaurants in the city.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is not as much fun as cabbage, but the race for three seats on the Lawrence City Commission is continuing to heat up. As expected, Lawrence school board member Kris Adair has filed for a spot on the City Commission.
Adair is a co-owner of Wicked Broadband, the business formerly known as Lawrence Freenet that is seeking some city incentives to start a high-speed fiber optic broadband network in the community. She also is the director of the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship, a startup operation that she has founded. It has space in the shopping center at Ninth and Iowa, and will provide office space, counseling and other assistance to entrepreneurs in the area.
When I had talked with Adair before, she had said she would resign her position as a school board member, if she won a seat on the City Commission. I’m assuming that is still the case, but haven’t yet got in touch with Adair. Look for a full report on her announcement when I get in touch with her.
• New details also are starting to emerge about PAC activity for the Lawrence City Commission race. Perhaps you remember Lawrence United, a political action committee that was new on the scene during the City Commission election two years ago. During that race, the PAC raised tens of thousands of dollars and sent out mailers on behalf of a trio of candidates it supported.
It looks like the group may be primed to be active again. The PAC has made its state-required financial report, and it shows that it had almost $16,000 in the bank at the end of 2014. There also were indications that the group was seeking new contributions. The PAC raised $1,500 between Dec. 19 and Dec. 22 from two donors: a $1,000 contribution from Emprise Bank and a $500 contribution from Lawrence builder Tim Stultz.
A Lawrence attorney by the name of Casey Meek is the chair of the organization. The better known organizer of the group, though, is Lawrence banker Doug Gaumer. Gaumer, who is a former chair of the Lawrence chamber of commerce, is the group’s treasurer.
I put a call in to Gaumer to get a better sense of how active the group plans to be during this upcoming campaign. I’ll report when I hear back.
The group lists its purpose as supporting local candidates who have an interest in growing jobs and the local economy.
Dale Willey Automotive strikes deal to expand on south Iowa Street; the case of the missing recycling carts; Sprouts update; new nonprofit launches seafood fundraiser
On a day so cold that my wife actually has consented to turn the thermostat up to 59 degrees and will allow me to shear an extra sheep for the kids, I do know of one place that is hot. South Iowa Street continues to be the hot spot for big commercial real estate deals. The latest is a deal by Dale Willey Automotive to accommodate a significant expansion of the Chevrolet/GMC dealership.
The dealership has completed a deal to purchase the Pay-Less furniture and mattress store at 2800 Iowa St., which is just up the street from the dealership’s current location at 2840 Iowa St. The dealership for several years has owned the large car wash that is between the furniture store and the dealership. Jeff Hornbeck, general manager of the dealership, told me the purchase will allow an expansion of the dealership. Those plans are still in development, but Hornbeck said the furniture store location likely will become the headquarters for a larger used car division of the dealership.
“It really will just give us more lot space for everything,” Hornbeck said.
That’s right. Now that you have finished chipping through the ice in your cereal bowl, you have started to comprehend what this article really means. No more buying a bargain mattress from the most brightly painted store on South Iowa Street. No more back-up plan of becoming a ninja-like, sign-spinning marketer of incredibly low-priced mattresses, sofas, love seats and other such furniture pieces that have frequently been advertised at many a street corner by Pay-Less sign holders over the years.
Hornbeck said current plans call for the furniture store to remain in business at the location for the next several months. Technically, our plans to become sign spinners may still be alive. I haven’t yet gotten in touch with the owner of the Pay-Less business to determine whether he plans to reopen elsewhere in Lawrence or if this marks the end for the company. I’ll let you know when I get an update on that.
As for the dealership, this latest deal continues a trend of strong growth for Dale Willey. The company became the Chevrolet dealer in town in 2010 and undertook a major renovation of its property. Hornbeck said the Chevrolet deal definitely has increased business, and he said car dealers now are benefiting from significant pent-up demand in the marketplace.
“People need cars for the first time in 10 years or so,” Hornbeck said. “In the early 2000s, people were trading cars because they wanted something different. Now there are a lot of people who really need a new car because of the age of the vehicle. The average age of a vehicle on the road is the oldest it has been in a long time.”
The deal also continues a trend of big real estate transactions happening on south Iowa Street. They include: the Menards store just east of 31st and Iowa streets is under construction; the former Sears site at 27th and Iowa has been redeveloped into a Dick’s Sporting Goods and future home of PetSmart and Chick-fil-A; the shopping center that houses Discovery Furniture and Office Depot has been purchased by a local development group and I believe new retailers are looking at the spot that will be vacated by Discovery Furniture when it moves to the Kansas City area; and several other commercial pieces of property along south Iowa have changed hands. The biggest deal still may be yet to come. It has been moving slowly, but the idea of a major retail development near the southeast corner of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange is still alive. As we’ve previously reported, developers on that deal are working to bring forward a plan that would include Sam’s Club as an anchor tenant for the site.
Hornbeck said all the activity has left the dealership feeling very positive about the future of south Iowa Street.
“Five or six years ago it looked like south Iowa Street was dying a little bit,” Hornbeck said. “But it is sure not now. It is the place to be, we think.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps some of you have a plan for staying warm that involves the use of a recycling cart. Or perhaps there has just been an administrative mix-up. Whatever the case, some Lawrence residents have been getting invoices from Kansas City-based Deffenbaugh Industries for carts they used to have when Deffenbaugh operated a curbside recycling service in Lawrence.
Deffenbaugh ended service late last year when the city began offering its own curbside recycling program. As part of the wind-down of the business, Deffenbaugh instructed customers to leave their company-owned carts on the curb for pick-up. Tom Coffman, a vice president for the company, said the process went pretty well, but about 300 of the approximately 4,400 carts were not accounted for through the pick-up process. In those cases, customers were sent an invoice for $75 to replace the missing cart.
Coffman said most of those cases have been resolved, as customers have called in and the company has matched up containers with the right addresses. But he said about 165 carts are still unaccounted for. I’ve had several people call me asking about the situation and how to get it resolved. Coffman said people who are still receiving an invoice from Deffenbaugh should call the number on the invoice — even if you are confident Deffenbaugh picked up your cart — to clear up the issue.
Coffman said they have found several people who still have a cart.
“But it is not a big crime wave up there in Lawrence,” Coffman said with a laugh. “We understand how it happens. You meant to set it out or you weren’t around when we were doing the pick-ups. We just want to get it resolved.”
• As we have reported several times, Sprouts is the new grocery store that will open near Wakarusa and Overland drives in northwest Lawrence. But the farmers' market-style grocery chain that does a lot of fresh produce and organic products hasn’t yet announced an opening date for its store. But we do have a little bit of new information to pass along. The company sent out a press release saying the Lawrence store will open in the second quarter of 2015. The release said the store is expected to employ about 100 people. The release also gave a little bit more information about what the store will include. It says it will offer fresh baked goods, an “eclectic” selection of beers, thousands of natural, organic and gluten-free groceries, a fully staffed butcher case that will offer a variety of meats, seafoods and sausages and a large vitamin department, among other things. The Lawrence store is one of 10 nationwide that the company plans to open in the second quarter. I’ll keep an ear out for a more specific opening date.
• Speaking of seafood, I’ve gotten word about a new nonprofit organization that has a new fundraiser, and seafood is at the heart of the idea. The new organization is Community Village Lawrence, and its mission involves helping people age in their homes, rather than having to leave to go to an assisted living type of arrangement.
“A lot of times, assisted living can cost $3,000 to $6,000 a month, and many people just can’t afford that,” said Judy Bellome, who is a former leader of Lawrence’s Visiting Nurses Assocaition and an organizer of this new group.
Bellome told me that the concept, which is being used in several communities across the country, is that people needing assistance become a member of the community village and then have access to several service providers for either free or reduced rates.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Bellome said. “We’ll use existing organizations like Douglas County Senior Services or Independence Inc. to provide services, or it could be something like volunteers coming to a home to take the person out grocery shopping.”
The group’s advisory council had its first meeting in October and is going through the grant-writing and fundraising stage of its startup. It will have its first big fundraiser on Jan. 15. The group will host a Taste of San Francisco event from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Jan. 15 at the Arterra Event Gallery at 2161 Quail Creek Drive.
The event will feature seafood flown in from A. LaRocca Seafood, one of San Francisco’s premier boutique seafood providers. The event also will feature guest speaker Sheahon Zenger, the athletic director at Kansas University, and a silent auction that will include memorabilia, and a specially created piece of art from American artist John Bukaty.
Tickets are $150 apiece, and that includes the seafood dinner, specialty wines, drinks and entertainment. They can be purchased at communityvillagelawrence.org or by calling 785-505-0187.
Downtown hotel project to open within a matter of days; expect construction work to begin soon on major apartment complex; more City Commission candidate news
You won’t have to wait much longer to check out Lawrence’s newest hotel and major downtown development. The owner of the new Marriott TownPlace Suites at Ninth and New Hampshire streets has told me that the hotel will open sometime between Jan. 14 and Jan. 21.
“We’re very excited,” said Chuck Mackey of Capital Management Inc. “We have built eight hotels and we have never had one go so well.”
The project got out of the gates slowly as neighbors, city commissioners and developers debated about how tall the building should be, but once that issue was resolved, the project has had a pretty smooth ride. (Smooth ride, except for the construction cone that is still wrapped around my axle from when the road in front of the project was one-way for many months. But as we reported last month, New Hampshire Street is now fully open, and I’ve grown to find the “thunka, thunka, thunka” noise kind of soothing.)
The project had its last minor debate at City Hall on Tuesday, when the developers appealed a decision by the city’s Historic Resources Commission that the proposed sign for the hotel was too large and wasn’t pedestrian-oriented enough to meet the downtown design guidelines. City commissioners ultimately found that the sign did meet the design guidelines and noted that most folks arrive at their hotel via car, not on foot.
Mackey said the hotel already has hired 35 employees and likely will add another three to five employees in the coming days. He said he thinks the hotel will fill a growing niche in the Lawrence market: visitors who need to stay for more than a night or two.
“It is designed for staying a week or longer, but we recognize in an event-driven town like Lawrence, it also will accommodate people who have a shorter stay,” Mackey said.
The hotel will be unusual in Lawrence in that all 91 of its units will be suites, which in this case means that all of the units are equipped with a full kitchen.
I also expect the hotel building to have a restaurant. As we previously have reported, there is a lot of speculation that the hip Kansas City Mexican restaurant Port Fonda is interested in the ground-floor space in the hotel building. I wasn’t able to get any confirmation of that from Mackey, but everything else I’m hearing indicates that the restaurant is still very interested in the space.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As one large project wraps up, another one is set to begin. As we’ve previously reported, the Chicago-based development group HERE, LLC has decided to move forward with its plans for a 624-bedroom apartment building at 11th and Indiana streets, which is right across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium.
I had a chance to talk with the leader of the project at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, where commissioners approved some technical details related to the demolition and construction plans for the project.
Jim Heffernan, a principal with the development group, said he expects to have the apartment building open by July 2016. Heffernan said people will start noticing demolition of buildings at the old Berkeley Flats apartment complex in the next several days.
During the construction project, about 18 parking spaces along the west side of Indiana Street will be lost to accommodate the establishment of a construction zone. When the project is completed, angled parking stalls will be added along the perimeter of the building. They’ll be public parking spaces, but current plans call for them to be metered. In addition to the apartment units, the building also will house about 15,000 square feet of retail/commercial space on the ground floor. The metered parking is expected to serve a lot of the demand for those retail spots, while a high-tech, automated parking garage is designed to serve the apartment uses.
No word yet on what the retail projects may be but certainly a restaurant or two is a possibility and maybe some other type of retails businesses that would cater to students. (You know, like stores that sell study aids, slide rules, postcards for writing home, and that sort of normal student stuff.) In all seriousness, some of you may be wondering about whether a straight bar use would be part of the mix. That type of use would require a whole other round of approvals from the City Commission, and I haven’t seen any signs that the development is headed in that direction.
The project has created a lot of debate with incentives package — an 85 percent tax rebate — and some of its requests for reduced parking, which ultimately were denied by the commission. But that is all behind the project. Now, it could be exciting to watch this building come out of the ground. The project has been estimated at $70 million to $75 million, which would make it one of the more expensive building projects in recent memory. It plans to offer what Heffernan has called “class A” student housing that comes with a lot of amenities from pools to rooftop gardens and other such items.
The project also could be groundbreaking in the sense that it is developing a lot of units on a relatively small site. City planners for a long time have been talking about building projects more densely in order to cut down on urban sprawl. The automated parking garage that the project is using is a big part of how the project is able to build a lot of units on a relatively small site. We’ll see if this project becomes a model for others to build more urban-style development in the Oread neighborhood and other areas of the community.
But mainly, it really will change the look of the area near campus. This article back in March showed some renderings for the project. The renderings have changed, and I’ll work to get some new ones, but these older ones still give a sense of how large the project is going to be, and how different the area will look to the thousands of football fans who come to the area each year.
“This has been a new experience for everyone,” Heffernan told me. “No one has ever built a project in Lawrence using this mixed use zoning category. We’re happy to be the first. We think it will distinguish itself. We think it is going to be a very good gateway to the university.”
• Finally, a bit of City Commission candidate news. Get ready for more candidates to enter the race. David Crawford, one of the neighborhood leaders who has been working to bring a grocery store to downtown Lawrence, will file today for a seat on the commission. I’ll have more on his campaign later today. I think current school board member Kris Adair also is close to making a decision on whether to run for a spot on the City Commission. There is a lot of speculation that she indeed will seek a seat. Yesterday’s filings of Mike Anderson and Bob Schumm brought us to seven candidates and assured us of having a March primary. Now, the question seems to be whether we’ll top the 10-candidate mark. At this point, I would bet yes.
Largest drinking establishment in the city goes up for sale; City Commission plans listening sessions about police headquarters
Here’s a little bit of Lawrence bar trivia you can use to perhaps win a few bucks while sitting on a bar stool: What is the largest drinking establishment in Lawrence? The Cave? Nope. Abe & Jake’s? Nope. It’s not the Granada, the Hawk or the Bottleneck either. The answer is the old Eagles Lodge on Sixth Street, with an occupancy of just more than 1,100 people. If you win enough bucks with that piece of trivia, perhaps you can buy the building because it is indeed for sale.
Leaders with the Eagles have placed their 21,000 square-foot building at 1803 W. Sixth St. on the market, but that’s not a sign that the longtime organization is disbanding. Caleb Regan, president of the local order of the Eagles, said the organization wants to move to a smaller location. Regan said maintenance and utility bills on the building, which is spread out over two levels, has become burdensome.
“It is just a huge footprint for the size of organization we are anymore,” said Regan, who said the local chapter has about 400 members currently.
He said the organization previously was able to make use of the building — which has two kitchens and four lounges/banquet rooms — by frequently renting it out for wedding receptions and other such events. But the event business in Lawrence has become more competitive in recent years, and that business has declined.
Perhaps the Eagles Lodge is best known to the public for its regular Friday night bingo games. Regan said the club hasn’t yet found a new location, but he said it will be large enough to accommodate bingo and other such functions. He said the organization may look for a building of about 10,000 square feet. The organization, in addition to serving as a social club for its members, also hosts a variety of charity events and other fundraisers to help out local causes. Regan said the group wants a building that will allow that type of work to continue.
“This is definitely not an effort to shut down or anything like that,” Regan said. “We’ll continue to strive to do good in the community.”
In terms of who may buy the existing site, it will be interesting to watch. In addition to the building, the site includes 3.4 acres along Sixth Street, although its visibility is a bit limited. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is behind the Dollar General Store. The site is adjacent to a large apartment complex, so I suppose that is always a possibility, or perhaps a new operator would want to use the existing building for a different type of club use.
As I mentioned, it can hold a lot of people. The numbers I got from the fire department last year for a different article, listed the capacity at 1,107 people. That’s quite a bit bigger than several of the larger bars in town, according to the numbers I got from the fire department. For example: The Granada, 900; Abe & Jake’s, 720; The Hawk, 498; and The Cave, 356.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re on Sixth Street, I should mention that a ‘for sale’ sign has shown up in front of the longtime home of Anderson Rentals at 1312 W. Sixth St. I put a call into the business, which rents everything from portable toilets to tents to construction equipment, to see what the future plans are for the business, but the owner I needed to talk to wasn’t available. But I expect to hear back from him, and I’ll let you know what I hear.
• Get out your pencil — not your pen yet — and mark a couple of dates on your calendar to talk about the future of a new police headquarters facility in Lawrence. As we previously reported, the City Commission wants to hear from members of the public about why the sales tax election in November was defeated. Well, commissioners have two dates in mind that they plan on hosting listening sessions on the topic: Jan. 14 and Jan. 29. The first session would be 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. The session on Jan. 29 would be 6:30 p.m. in the theater of the Lawrence Arts Center. Both dates, at the moment, are still tentative, but commissioners are scheduled to finalize those dates at their City Commission meeting this evening.
Plans for artisan East Lawrence bakery moving ahead; city to take positions on Obamacare, gay marriage in legislative priorities statement
I suspect that as this new year begins, many of us are on a bread-and-water diet. Perhaps it is part of a New Year’s resolution, or maybe it is just more a necessity after realizing that — despite it being 98 percent off — buying $15,000 of "Frozen"-themed wrapping paper the day after Christmas wasn’t such a great investment after all. Regardless, hang in there. A new artisan bakery is coming to Lawrence.
We reported back in May that plans were in the works for a new bakery at the former laundromat at 19th and Barker in East Lawrence. Lawrence resident Taylor Petrehn, who is opening the establishment with his brother Reagan, said back then that he hoped the bakery would be open by the end of 2014. I can attest that it did not because I’m still cleaning up from an unfortunate incident where I tried to make my own sourdough at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
But I also can report that Petrehn said the bakery project is still very much alive. Construction work has now begun at the site, and Petrehn said he hopes to be open in the next “few months.”
“It is exciting,” he said of the construction progress. “It is probably the first time that building has had a level floor.”
Plans still call for the new store to be called the 1900 Barker Bakery and Cafe. Petrehn, who has worked as a pastry chef in Kansas City, said plans also still call for the bakery to be very much focused on breads, although it will offer a few pastries.
Petrehn said he plans to bake a variety of breads daily, but he expects them to have some common characteristics: a sourdough-method of leavening, lots of whole grains and "substantial" crusts that are perhaps a bit darker and more caramelized that many traditional breads.
He also plans one other curve ball for the bread industry. Instead of focusing his baking on the early-morning hours, he plans to do his baking during the day, so the loaves are fresh out of the oven in the afternoon when people are arriving home from work.
Thus far, Petrehn said interest in the project has been strong from neighbors.
“We have had a lot of different neighbors pop in and say ‘hi,’” Petrehn said. “I’ve been blown away by the support we’ve gotten from people. It has been a great assurance that we’re headed in the right direction.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• In conservative Kansas, a Legislative Priorities Statement produced by the City Commission in liberal-leaning Lawrence probably gets read by state lawmakers as much as "War and Peace" on a honeymoon. But city commissioners are set to create their annual wish list of what they would like state lawmakers to do and not do during this upcoming session.
Most of what the city asks for is the same year after year: Don’t give unfunded mandates to local governments; continue to fund transportation projects; don’t limit the power of cities to annex property; and other such matters.
But the city may dive into a couple of broader issues with this year’s statement: Obamacare and gay marriage.
As currently proposed, the city’s Legislative Priorities Statement asks lawmakers to “reconsider Kansas’ participation in the expanded (Medicaid) program.” It goes on to say that “our failure to participate is significantly reducing medical care access for Kansans and negatively impacting the ability of Kansas health care providers, including hospital, to provide care to Kansans.”
On the gay marriage issue, the proposed language is to the point: “The city of Lawrence opposes any efforts by the state legislature to pass legislation which would allow businesses to refuse service based on a customer’s gender, martial status or sexual orientation.”
Among other items on the proposed statement:
— The city supports a state policy that would require regulated utilities to have 20 percent of their energy portfolios in renewable energy by 2020.
— The city calls on the Legislature to provide “robust funding” for education from K-12 to higher education.
— The city “strongly supports” congressional action to collect mandatory sales taxes on goods purchased through the Internet.
— The city asks the Legislature to “resist any expansion of exemptions from taxation,” and notes that the “existing property tax base should be protected.”
You probably shouldn’t read that last statement to mean that the city opposes all property tax exemptions, though. I take it to mean it just doesn't want new categories of tax exemptions offered because the commission over the past year has liked several types of existing tax exemptions pretty well. I plan to do a future article that tallies up the amount of property tax rebates the City Commission has approved recently, but the two largest have been a 100 percent abatement on about $40 million worth of tax base at Rock Chalk Park and an 85 percent rebate on about $75 million worth of construction at the HERE apartment project near KU’s Memorial Stadium.
Commissioners will consider approving the Legislative Priorities Statement at their Tuesday meeting, which begins at the new time of 5:45 p.m.
RadioShack closes South Iowa Street store; pro-police HQ group spends about $24K in losing effort, opposition group about $500
There still may be a shack in my future. After all, these are the days when the mailman has to use a pack mule just to get the credit card statements to my front door. But one shack that is not in any of our futures is the RadioShack store on South Iowa Street. It has closed, as the longtime retailer tries to stave off national extinction.
I’m not sure when the store at 3221 Iowa Street actually closed, but I just noticed the removal of its large sign recently. Regardless, a posting on the door says the store is closed but directs customers to visit one of the two other RadioShack stores in Lawrence. Those are at The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana and at the Westridge Shopping Center at Sixth and Kasold. That’s right, Lawrence had three RadioShack stores. The company nationwide has almost 4,300 stores, which might be part of why the retailer is struggling so mightily. (That, and perhaps a misunderstanding of the sexiness of radio in today’s technology world, though they have done very well at beating back the competitive threat of Telegraph Hut.)
The Lawrence closing wasn’t unexpected. If you read the financial news (I mean other than the reams and reams of MasterCard statements), you already know that RadioShack executives carry moving boxes with them rather than briefcases. The company in March announced it wanted to close 1,100 stores, but that plan stalled as the company’s lender raised objections. In the meantime, RadioShack continued to lose about $30 million a month, according to an article in the Dallas Morning News.
That article reports January will be a key month for the chain's future. The article reports the company is required to have at least $100 million in cash or borrowing capacity by Jan. 15 to stay in good standing with its lender. And when you have more than $840 million in debt, as RadioShack does, you want to stay in good standing with your lender.
So, if you are a fan of the other two RadioShack stores in town, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the company’s finances. I’ll try to keep an eye out for any news of a new retailer for the South Iowa Street location, which is right in front of the SuperTarget store.
In other news and notes from around town:
• In Lawrence political circles, there is a general saying that if you follow the money, you’ll usually find the victor. Usually, is the key word, though. Campaign finance reports recently have been filed for the two groups that campaigned for and against the proposed sales tax for a new police headquarters, which voters rejected in November.
As expected, the group campaigning to pass the sales tax spent a lot more in a losing cause. And I mean a lot. The reports show the Friends of Lawrence Police Inc. raised $23,950 compared to just $575 for the Lawrencians Against the New Police Headquarters.
The report shows that the pro-headquarters group received its nearly $24,000 in funding from about 50 contributors, although about $600 in funds came from an unspecified amount of contributors who gave small cash donations. Tom and Marilyn Dobski, who are owners of the area McDonald’s franchise, were the largest contributors. They gave $6,000 during a three-month period. Other large donors included: Cindy and Harry Herrington, an area CEO, $5,000; Colleen and Kevin O’Malley, an executive with Lawrence-based O’Malley Beverage, $1,000; Shannon Abrahamson, CPA, $1,000; the Lawrence Police Officers Association PAC, $1,000; and Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib and Kerri Khatib, $500.
On the other side of the coin, Lawrencians Against the New Police Headquarters had a smaller fundraising effort. Lawrence-based Wyatt Heating & Air Conditioning contributed $575 for the organization to purchase 100 yard signs. The organization then reimbursed Wyatt $344 after the organization collected about 25 miscellaneous cash donations. The report shows the largest single donation was $50 from a G. Robinson, presumably Greg Robinson, a Lawrence attorney who was an organizer of the group.
Lawrence-based Henry T’s to open brewery; downtown craft beer retailer expands; New Hampshire Street fully open
We’re not yet Milwaukee — and why would we ever want to be St. Louis with that baseball team that didn’t even make the World Series this year? — but Lawrence is becoming quite a brewery town. The Lawrence-based restaurant Henry T’s has confirmed it has bought an eastern Lawrence building and plans to have a brewery operating by this spring.
Sean Gerrity, a co-owner of the restaurant, said there’s a simple reason why the company is getting into the brewery business. (If you happen to have a 42-piece orchestra, now would be the time to direct it to play a dramatic version of "God Bless America.")
“It is a return to a core American value that beer should taste good and be cheap,” Gerrity said.
Uncle Sam, make room at the Patriots Table for Henry T.
Gerrity said the new brewery will supply the Henry T’s restaurant at 3520 W. Sixth St. and also the company’s Henry T’s in Topeka. He said a large reason for the brewery venture is related to the price that major brewers are now charging for their products.
“The price of beer has gotten expensive, and some people think it is ridiculous,” Gerrity said. “Beer is part of our culture, and certain types of beer should be cheap. The big brewers are removing that idea from the culture. Part of our angle is to brew something, if not identical, better, and then charge less for it.”
As for the beers, Gerrity said plans call for a traditional pilsner, which will be similar to the Bud Lights, Coors and other beers that dominate the mainstream market. The brewery also plans to produce a brown ale and a pale ale in the beginning, and then expand to eight or nine beers as it gets its operations refined.
Gerrity admits that he doesn’t have a brewing background, so the company has signed a deal with Lincoln, Neb.-based Blue Blood Brewing Co. to serve as consultants on the new venture. Gerrity and his business partner, Dave Heinz, have bought a warehouse at 807 E. 23rd St. that will serve as the brewery operations. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is in the industrial area just west of 23rd and Haskell and behind the new location for Luminous Neon.
The company already purchased brewhouse equipment and has it on site. The company expects construction to take about two months, and developing the beer — which will include significant sampling and tasting demos for Henry T’s customers — will take a few more weeks after that.
“We hope to tap our first keg for sale sometime in the spring,” Gerrity said.
Gerrity said plans eventually call for the brewery to offer its beer to other restaurants and bars in the region. The new brewery will have about 6,000 square feet of production space.
The Henry T’s brewery will be at least the third significant brewery in Lawrence. The Free State Brewing Co. was a pioneer in the craft beer industry and now has its own bottling plant that has allowed the brand to expand its reach to liquor stores throughout the central Plains. The 23rd Street Brewery also is a significant brewer in the area. And while not a brewer, Lawrence-based Grandstand Glasswear & Apparel is a major player in the craft brew industry as the largest producer of amber glass growlers —the large jug-like bottles used by the brewing industry.
So, while we may not be Milwaukee, and while we certainly don’t screw up pizza or pennant runs like St. Louis does, Lawrence does have a chance to become a significant beer town.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re on the beer front, I might as well pass along information about the expansion of a unique beer retailer in downtown. Back in July my colleague Nadia Imafidon told you about Ted’s Taphouse, a new craft beer retailer at 1004 Massachusetts St. But as the article noted, the business occupied only the back half of that building, and was a bit difficult to find. Well, the business now has expanded.
The Vietnamese restaurant Wild Pho has closed, and Ted’s Taphouse has expanded into the Massachusetts Street frontage that it previously occupied. The expansion will allow for more seating and also will allow for a more traditional dining area to accommodate families and others who don’t want to sit in the bar area, said owner Ted Nguyen.
But the basic concept of Ted’s Taphouse will remain the same.
“We’re a true tap house,” Nguyen said. “We don’t do any bottled beer here.”
The bar has 18 beers on tap at all times, and about seven to nine of the beers change weekly.
Food is also part of the equation at the Taphouse. The Nguyen family previously operated a business called Oh Boy! Chicken at the site, and it has kept the gluten-free chicken as a mainstay of the menu at the Taphouse. The menu also includes burgers, a Philly cheesesteak, some vegetarian options and other bar food.
But Nguyen said plans call for the business to do quite a few beer and food pairings at special events. The first one is on New Year’s Eve, where the business will feature beers from the Green Flash brewery and pair them with items such as house-made pub chips, pepper crusted beef tenderloin, applewood smoked salmon, and chili honey-glazed shrimp with house-made kim chi.
Nguyen has a background in upscale dining as the former owner of Angler’s Seafood House, which previously operated in the spot at 10th and Massachusetts.
The expansion of Ted’s Taphouse was made possible because one of downtown Lawrence’s longer-serving restaurateurs recently retired. Nguyen’s mother, Nancy Nguyen, retired in the past month. She had been continuously operating one restaurant or another in downtown since 1981. Many of you may remember her from her days of operating Drakes, which was a classic diner-style joint in its early days. Ted began his cooking career there more than 20 years ago.
“We used to open at 6 a.m., and we made our living off of city workers who were just ending their shifts, and who wanted to get their breakfast or dinner,” Ted recalled.
The space also housed The Orient restaurant, and more recently, Pho. Ted said talking his mother into retirement was no easy task, but he said she plans to do some cooking at the Taphouse and offer some special dishes from the menus of The Orient and others.
• An odd thing happened yesterday when I was driving on New Hampshire Street: I didn’t hit a barricade. Both lanes of traffic are now open in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street. The street previously had been restricted to one-way traffic as part of the construction zone for the new Marriott hotel at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire.
If you haven’t driven by lately, the construction work of the new hotel appears largely complete. I’ve been told it takes a couple of months to move in all the furnishings for a hotel. I haven’t received any information on an opening date yet, but if that math is correct, it could be late February or early March. Or in other words, just in time for basketball fans to rent a room for KU’s Final Four celebration downtown. Remember, this is the season for optimism.
• Well, that is a wrap for Town Talk this year. I’ll be on vacation for the next several days and will pick back up with news, notes and inane comments in the New Year. I hope each of you has a safe and happy holiday season.
The shopping season got started early for some. The latest retail report shows that from mid-September to mid-October Lawrence consumers increased their spending nearly 13 percent from the same time period a year ago.
At least that is one explanation for the large increase, although it doesn’t explain why approximately 98 percent of the entire male population of Lawrence was wandering through department stores hopelessly confused about female gifts. (“I think she’ll like a muumuu. Don’t you think she’ll like a muumuu?” we said to each other while quivering next to a clearance rack.)
Whatever the reason, spending was up, and it puts Lawrence retailers in a good position to have a strong 2014. Lawrence now has received 11 of its 12 monthly sales tax distributions from the state, and thus far, they show that retail spending is up 4.6 percent for the year.
We’ll get the final report for 2014 in the next few weeks, and if that 4.6 percent growth rate holds up, it will mark the third time in the last four years that sales tax collections in Lawrence have grown by more than 4.5 percent. They did so also in 2011 and 2012, but slowed to a 2.1 percent growth rate last year. Although it hasn’t always seemed like it, we’re in one of the stronger periods for sales tax growth in the city. You have to go all the way back to the late 1990s to find a time period when retail sales have grown by more than 4.5 percent in three out of four years.
It has been a good year for other communities as well, but Lawrence’s sales tax growth is still in the upper half of the large retail markets in the state. Here’s a look:
— Dodge City: down 0.3 percent
— Emporia: up 6 percent
— Garden City: up 5.1 percent
— Great Bend: up 6.7 percent
— Hutchinson: up 1.5 percent
— Kansas City: up 4.1 percent
— Leawood: up 0.8 percent
— Manhattan: up 2.9 percent
— Overland Park: up 4.3 percent
— Salina: up 3.8 percent
— Shawnee: up 6.6 percent
— Topeka: up 2.7 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 3.7 percent
Downtown retailer of 33 years to close shop; Chamber stoking speculation that major job announcement coming; update on large apartment project
With this being Lawrence, we obviously all have special wings of our homes to house our collections of Jayhawk apparel, but soon we’ll no longer have one longtime Jayhawk retailer to help us fill those aircraft hangar-like rooms. The owners of Jayhawk Spirit, 935 Massachusetts St., have announced they have put the business up for sale and likely will close the shop in early 2015 if a buyer isn’t found.
“We have the store up for sale, but if we don’t find a buyer, we’re not going to let that stop us from retiring,” said Tom Wilkerson, who has co-owned the store with his wife, Rosann, since 1981.
Wilkerson said a closing date of the store is dependent on how quickly inventory is depleted, but he said it could come sometime in January or February.
The closing will continue a bit of a trend. As we previously reported, the GameDay Superstore that was operated by GTM Sportswear on 23rd Street closed in the last few weeks, and Wilkerson said he thinks there are probably fewer KU apparel shops in downtown Lawrence than there have been in quite some time. LIDS, Campus Cloth and SportsDome all have closed their downtown operations in the not-too-distant past. Longtime retailer Francis Sporting Goods, which is more sporting goods than KU apparel, also is closing its retail operations and focusing more on its wholesale business to teams.
In the case of Francis’, the owner there said the opening of the new Dick’s Sporting Goods store on south Iowa Street certainly was a factor in his decision. Wilkerson, 68, didn’t indicate that was much of a factor. Instead, it was just time to retire, though he said the small apparel shops have suffered if they haven’t diversified.
“If there was a downfall for us, it is just that we didn’t evolve with the Chiefs and the Royals and the KC Sporting merchandise,” Wilkerson said. “Over the last 10 years, there has been quite an influx of KU merchandise on the market. But if a customer can go somewhere else and get KU items and also some Royals and Chiefs gear at the same time, we’re probably going to lose that customer.”
Wilkerson owns the building at 935 Massachusetts St., and he said he’s not going to sell it. He said if a buyer doesn’t emerge for the business, he said he won’t have difficulty finding a tenant for the space.
“I’ve had a lot of people interested in the space,” he said.
Wilkerson said he’ll end up missing his loyal customers and will miss the happy environment around the store.
“But you just have to decide whether you want to die here punching numbers into the cash register, or whether you want to go and do some other things,” he said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Local economic development leaders aren’t doing anything to lower expectations that a major employer will soon locate at VenturePark, the new business park the city has developed on the former Farmland Industries fertilizer site in eastern Lawrence. In fact, they seem to be ramping up the expectations.
“We have had a significant amount of interest in VenturePark. I’ll put it that way,” Brady Pollington, the economic development project manager for The Chamber, said this morning at a meeting of the community’s Joint Economic Development Council. “We’re not ready to make an announcement yet, but we’re getting close.”
Later in the meeting, Pollington clarified that VenturePark definitely was on the “short list” for a significant project.
“I’m very encouraged, very encouraged,” he said.
In October, we reported that Chamber CEO Larry McElwain said that VenturePark was in the running to land a large manufacturer that would employ an estimated 125 people over the next five years. The business likely would occupy about 120 acres of property at the business park, which would be more than a quarter of all the available property at the new park. McElwain said the company also is projecting that it would make about $20 million in capital investments at the site over a five-year period.
That seems to be the company that we’re still talking about. A deal isn’t a deal until it is done, but it is a good sign that Chamber officials are sending out increasingly positive signals.
• This morning’s meeting also highlighted that there is some behind-the-scenes activity going on at the future site for the Peaslee Center, the technical education center that is expected to open in August. As we reported Thursday, the center received a $20,000 donation to help establish a program that trains people who want to enter the construction industry.
But McElwain said a deal is also in the works to land a major tenant to take space in the center, which is the former Honeywell Aviation building just north and east of 31st and Haskell. McElwain said The Chamber has responded to a request for proposals from a training-oriented firm that would make sense being located next to a technical education center. If the deal is completed, the business could provide upwards of $100,000 a year in rental revenue to help with the operations of the Peaslee Center.
“It would create a campus feel out there,” McElwain said of the training firm, which would be in addition to the Peaslee Center and also the Lawrence school district’s College & Career Center that is being constructed next to the Peaslee Center.
• While we’re reading signs today, there is one more about a big project in Lawrence. We’ve all been wondering whether the Chicago-based development firm that is proposing a $75 million apartment project across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium is really going to begin work on the project.
Well, there is a new sign that suggests it will. The company has completed its purchase of the property at 1115 Indiana St., which is one of the two properties that would house the multistory apartment building. If you remember, the property at 1115 Indiana is a home owned by Georgia Bell, a 91-year old woman who has lived next to the Berkeley Flats apartment complex, which would be torn down to make way for this new development. For a time, the Chicago development firm planned to build the new apartment complex along three sides of her property because it could not reach a deal to buy the modest home. But a deal was struck, and the latest land transfer listings from the county show the property is now owned by the development firm HERE Lawrence Property, LLC.
That would seem to be a good sign that the company is going to move forward with the project, but perhaps not a sure-fire sign. Even if the project doesn’t move forward, it still is a good piece of real estate to own because it obviously is ripe for redevelopment. The apartment project has the necessary approval from City Hall, but there has been questions about whether it will move forward. The project has received an 85 percent property tax rebate from City Hall, but it sought a 95 percent rebate. It also unsuccessfully sought approval for a reduction in the number of parking spaces it would be required to provide on the property. The developers have said finding financing for the project has been difficult with the city’s current parking standards.
So, we’ll now keep our eyes open for further signs of development at the site, such as a building permit. If the project does move forward, it will be interesting to watch. Developers have consistently called the project a $75 million venture. That’s huge. To put it in perspective, the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park is $10.5 million, the infrastructure is about $12 million and the track, soccer and other facilities being leased by KU have been estimated to be about $40 million. That totals to a little more than $62 million. This one 624-bedroom apartment complex with an automated parking garage will be more than $10 million larger than the entire Rock Chalk Park sports complex. Developers have said the project, which includes about 13,000 square feet of commercial space, will be unlike anything else in the Lawrence market.
Lawrence found to lag behind Manhattan in college community ranking; City Hall and the land of meetings; butcher shop expanding
It almost should go without saying that Lawrence is the top college community in the region. Just walk through the Oread neighborhood on any Friday and Saturday night and partake in the abundant school spirit. Lawrence is at least the top college town in Kansas. Well, a new ranking says otherwise.
A new study by the financial website WalletHub ranks Lawrence the second best college community in the state. Manhattan is ranked as the top university town in Kansas, and by quite a wide margin. Lawrence was ranked the No. 44 college town in America, out of 280 communities that were ranked. Manhattan was ranked No. 12.
Now, no one likes finishing behind K-State, I’m sure. But Lawrence is No. 44 out of 280, so that is still well within the top quintile of all college communities in the nation. (If we use words like ‘quintile’ a lot, I think we’ll move up in the rankings.) But there is a catch. This study looked at any city that had a college population of at least 10,000 students. That means most of the major metropolitan areas in the country were included. So, while I’m sure that Oakland is a fine place to have, say, an accounting convention or some other exciting event, it is not a college community, yet it is included in this ranking anyway.
The study, though, does break its rankings down by community size. Lawrence falls into the category of less than 100,000 people. If a town of less than 100,000 people has more than 10,000 students, then that is indeed a college community in terms of how we think of one. In that ranking, Lawrence ranks No. 40 out of 69 communities. Now would be a good time for us to use the word ‘quintile’ in multiple sentences because No. 40 out 69 isn’t that great. In that ranking of smaller communities, Manhattan was No. 10. A pair of Big 12 communities also made the top 10: Stillwater, Okla., at No. 8 and Ames, Iowa, at No. 5. Our good friends in Columbia, Mo., were a bit too large for the small city ranking, but they ranked No. 2 in the medium size city category. Boulder, Colo., was No. 1 in that ranking.
The study looked at a variety of factors to come up with the rankings. In general, though, they fall into three broad categories. Here’s a look:
— Wallet Wellness Rank: This looks at data for things such as housing costs, adjusted cost of living, tuition fees, and even smaller stuff like the average cost of pizza and hamburgers. Lawrence ranked No. 64 out of 280. Manhattan ranked No. 27. (I have a theory on this: KU students are woefully overpaying for red plastic cups. When I was in the Oread neighborhood, numerous college kids were trying to sell me a red plastic cup for $5. I’m almost certain you can buy them for much less than that at Family Dollar.)
— Youth-Oriented Environment: This looks at items like number of students per capita, percentage of single persons; number of nightlife options per capita, number of cafes per capita, and the city’s crime rate. Lawrence was No. 75. Manhattan was No. 40.
— Opportunities: This looks at earning potential for people with a bachelor’s degree; unemployment rate; business startup rate; job growth rate; and the universities’ rankings in publications such as U.S. News & World Report. Lawrence was No. 46. Manhattan was No. No. 62.
So, take all of this for whatever you think it is worth. I’m not sure whether being a top college community — as defined by these metrics, anyway — is Lawrence’s goal. But I did find it interesting that several communities we think of as peers ranked quite a bit differently than we did.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If these rankings really worry us, we could have a meeting about it. There’s a new report out that suggests Lawrence city government has more meetings than most large communities in Kansas.
As I mentioned last week, City Commissioner Terry Riordan is interested in creating an earlier start time for City Commission meetings so that deliberations aren’t routinely happening after 10 p.m., when minds have been known to turn to mush at City Hall.
He asked staff members to research what other communities do, and a report from City Hall shows that most communities start a bit later than Lawrence’s 6:35 p.m. meeting, but don’t meet as often.
Lawrence meets every Tuesday evening, except when a month has five Tuesdays. Meetings also are frequently canceled near holidays, such as this Tuesday’s meeting being canceled because of Christmas. But most months, we get together for Tuesday evening fun four times a month. There are some months city commissioners have study sessions in addition to the four regular meetings.
A City Hall report looked at five other cities — Lenexa, Manhattan, Olathe, Overland Park and Topeka — and found that none of them hold a regular business meeting each week. Lenexa and Manhattan come the closet. Lenexa has a business meeting — where votes are taken and ordinances are passed — every first and third Tuesday of the month. Then on the second and fourth Tuesdays, the commission meets in a study session format where they talk about issues but don’t take any formal action. Manhattan does the same thing, but also has a meeting every third Thursday with the county commission.
Olathe meets twice a month and holds study sessions when needed. That’s the same system used in Overland Park. Topeka meets three times per month. It would be interesting to know how those Johnson County communities, which are large and growing, make things work without meeting every week. Based on what comes before the commission in Lawrence, City Commission meetings would go to the wee hours of the morning, if all business had to be conducted in just two sessions. It has been said that Lawrence is a process-heavy community. I’ve spent pretty much my entire career in Lawrence, so it is hard for me to compare our process with others'. But it could be interesting to compare how some of these communities process city business with how Lawrence does it.
As for start times, Topeka starts at 6 p.m., but all the other communities start at either 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. Lawrence city commissioners tentatively have agreed to start their Jan. 6 meeting at 5:45 p.m. as a test case. We’ll see where it goes from there.
• Maybe more beer and pastrami would help us become a better college town. I’m not certain of that, but a local meat shop that makes pastrami, sausage and other such items is expanding to become more of a restaurant, complete with alcohol sales.
Hank Charcuterie, 19th and Massachusetts streets, has won city approval to start serving beer and wine at the establishment. The alcohol sales are a part of a strategy to expand the butcher shop into a restaurant as well, said Vaughn Good, chef and owner of Hank Charcuterie.
The restaurant part of the business is already underway. The business has a menu of sandwiches, soups, sausages and other such fare that changes daily. But Good said he determined that offering alcohol with meals would help the establishment, which has been open since July. It also will help the business begin offering more specialty dinners. Good said he envisions hosting dinners where local farmers and ranchers are on hand to discuss how they raise the produce and meat served at Hank’s.
“Our philosophy is really to let people understand their food,” Good said.
The restaurant offerings, though, aren’t a sign that the business is cutting back on its butcher shop activities. Good said he’s still working to help people understand that the store is a regular butcher shop, in addition to an establishment that produces charcuterie, which is a branch of cooking that focuses on the preparation of hams, bacon, sausages, pates and other meat products. Good does all that, but he said the business also offers a traditional butcher case where people can pick up a ribeye for the grill, some hamburger, pork chops or other meats that include lamb, goat, chicken and duck.
City commissioners did hear concerns from Lawrence's Victory Bible Church, which is within 400 feet of Hank Charcuterie. City codes prohibit drinking establishment licenses within 400 feet of a church or school, unless the city grants an exemption from the code. Such exemptions have become fairly routine, but leaders with Victory Bible Church asked that the city not grant the exemption. City commissioners, though, ultimately granted the exemption with the condition that the business make at least 55 percent of its revenues from the sale of food.
Pair of restaurants proposed for location near Sixth Street Wal-Mart; City Hall tensions rise over East Lawrence proposal
I often play a guessing game whenever I make the trip to Wal-Mart with my family. You know, like: I guess you need a new pair of shoes; I guess I can push back retirement an extra 10 years; I guess I could curl up in a ball and sob quietly beneath the rack of discounted sweat pants. But now we all have a new guessing game to play when it comes to the area near the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa. Plans have been filed for two new restaurants near the store, but we don’t yet have names for them.
Plans have been filed to build about a 12,000 square foot building that will house two “upscale casual sit down restaurants” and a boutique retail type of tenant. The building is planned for the southwest corner of Wakarusa and Overland Drive, which is the vacant lot basically directly east of the Wal-Mart store.
According to the plans, one restaurant will be about 5,000 square feet while the other one will be about 3,700 square feet. The plans indicate the development group — which isn’t listed but is being represented by a Topeka architecture firm — has tenants for both restaurant spaces and will be looking for a tenant for the approximately 3,600 square feet of boutique retail.
“Both restaurants will be managed by successful homegrown companies specializing in the management of multiple establishments in the greater midwest area,” the plan states.
Other things we know from the plan are that the restaurants are of the type that have alcohol sales, and neither of the restaurants currently have a presence in Lawrence. This is what we call, in the world of restaurant detectives, a clue. Rest assured that I am on the case, I have picked up the scent and I will not rest until I come up with an answer. (Or until I become distracted by fried cheese sticks, or really any type of appetizer, which is a serious occupational hazard of a restaurant detective.)
Based on the plans submitted, I can’t even say with certainty that we’re talking about a national chain. It may be more a regional chain. But I like mentioning national restaurant chains about as much as I like fried cheese, so I looked at a recent list of the top 100 restaurant chains in America and pulled out the casual dining establishments that aren’t already located in Lawrence. Here’s that list: Olive Garden; Red Lobster; Outback Steakhouse; T.G.I. Friday’s; The Cheesecake Factory; Ruby Tuesday; Texas Roadhouse; Red Robin; P.F. Chang’s China Bistro; Hooters; Carrabba’s Italian Grill; California Pizza Kitchen; Logan’s Roadhouse; Romano’s Macaroni Grill; BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery; O’Charley’s; Ruth’s Chris Steak House; Bonefish Grill; and Cheddar’s.
I’m not saying that any of those restaurants are the ones included in this project. Clearly, some of them don’t make sense for the site or don’t even have operations in this part of the country. But I do find it interesting to note what major restaurants we don’t have.
The deal, which was brokered by Lawrence commercial real estate broker Lance Johnson, will be an interesting one to watch. The site needs to win zoning approval from the City Commission before it can proceed. The current zoning calls for more office-related uses than restaurant. The new zoning also will technically put the corner above the retail square footage cap that planners have set for the corner. The corner has about 99,000 square feet of retail space already constructed. The development group is asking for the corner’s retail cap to be increased by about 6,200 square feet.
Look for the issue to come up on a City Commission agenda in the next couple of months. In the meantime, I’ll keep scouring for clues to the identify of these restaurants. Well, I'll get started on that right after I get this marinara dipping sauce off my tie.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As we’ve previously reported, a medical office building also is being built near the Sixth Street Wal-Mart. The large building is just north of the proposed restaurant site. We now have more information about that medical office building.
Lawrence physician Stephanie Suber is opening a new medical practice called Family Centered Medicine. The practice also will include two other certified physician assistants. A message on the business's answering machine indicates that the practice will open during the week of Jan. 5. I haven’t had any luck in making contact with Suber or a a representative of the business to get more details.
The site is one to watch though, because it is a large new building. People in the medical community tell me that part of the building is set aside for another user, perhaps another medical practice or some other health-related company. No word, though, on whether that user has been found yet.
• Well, this could get messier than a double order of cheese sticks with extra dipping sauce. City commissioners last night began to show their frustrations with the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association. The association has been expressing concern about the proposal to convert a portion of Ninth Street east of Massachusetts into a unique arts corridor. Specifically, East Lawrence leaders have felt like the Lawrence Arts Center and the city haven’t done enough to make the neighborhood a “full partner” in the early stages of the process. City officials and Arts Center leaders have countered that the design process hasn’t yet begun and that East Lawrence and other stakeholders will be a major part of the process.
The East Lawrence association at the City Commission meeting last night presented a letter to commissioners spelling out how it hopes to be involved in the project. If commissioners follow the association’s suggestion, it will mark a different way of working with neighborhoods on projects.
How different? Well, for starters, the city would pay two representatives of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association to be active participants in the process. There weren’t a ton of details about everything these paid positions would do, but certainly attending meetings and keeping the neighborhood informed about the project would be major roles.
The idea brought a mix of reactions from commissioners. Both Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said the idea of paying neighborhood people to be involved in a project sounded odd to them. But Commissioners Bob Schumm and Terry Riordan said they wanted more information, and noted how it is difficult in a working class neighborhood for people to take off work to attend meetings and such.
“It would need to be very well defined, though,” Riordan said. “We would have to be careful because we would be setting precedent.”
The proposal also would require the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association to approve any design plans for the Ninth Street project before those plans are presented to the Lawrence City Commission for final approval.
That point caused significant discomfort with commissioners.
“That is not a partnership but is basically creating an authoritarian government,” City Commissioner Mike Dever said of the proposal, which equated to a veto power for the neighborhood association. “I’m trying not to get angry about this.”
Farmer did not do much to contain his anger about the proposal. Farmer said he wasn’t ready to give the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association any more money or power in the process. He said he’s uncomfortable providing any increased funding to the organization, in part, because “it continues to oppose everything that comes before us.”
Farmer also brought up concerns that the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association is not very representative of the actual residents of East Lawrence. Commissioners have been getting some e-mails about that concern from residents, and Farmer said he picked up on the theme when he walked the neighborhood during last year’s debate about whether to allow a multistory hotel to be built at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, which drew opposition from the neighborhood association.
“We heard everybody in East Lawrence was against that project, and it turned out that it was about four people who were against it,” Farmer said.
I didn’t get a chance to have detailed discussions with East Lawrence leaders last night, but I’m confident they don’t agree with that assessment.
Regardless, it looks like the idea of an arts corridor on Ninth Street is going to remain bumpy for awhile. In fact, Amyx said the tension between the neighborhood, the Arts Center and others is causing him to rethink his support for the project.
“This is something that I thought would be so good for East Lawrence, but now I’m having a hard time staying in the game,” Amyx said.
Right now, commissioners are just trying to hire a design firm for the project. At some point — probably next summer — a future commission will have to decide whether to spend an estimated $3 million in city money on the project. It will be interesting to see if the project ends up on the chopping block as the city seeks for ways to help pay for a new police headquarters.