Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Alvamar reaches deal to sell course and club to group led by Rock Chalk Park developers; city to add larger snow plows for winter
Changes appear to be on the way for Alvamar golf and country club. As we previously reported, the board has been considering selling the course, and now we have confirmation that a deal has been struck to sell the business to the same group that has partnered with the city and KU to build the Rock Chalk Park sports complex.
Bob Johnson, chair of the Alvamar board told me a deal has been struck with Bliss Sports, the group led by longtime Lawrence builder Thomas Fritzel. Johnson said both sides are conducting their due diligence, and he expects the deal to be finalized in March or April. (Due diligence on a golf course can take time. Mine usually involves whether I can safely hit back onto the fairway from this lush stand of Berber carpet, or whether I’m going to have to break another window to do so. These guys may be talking about a more financial-oriented due diligence, although I can tell you windows aren’t cheap.)
This deal shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to folks who have been following the situation. We reported in September that there was a lot of speculation that a group led by Fritzel was seeking to buy the West Lawrence course. What most people watching the situation want to know is whether Fritzel has plans to keep all 36 holes of golf that currently exist at Alvamar, or whether one of the courses may be redeveloped into housing or other uses.
I’ve reached out to Fritzel, but have had no luck in talking with him. Johnson, though, said the board is operating under the assumption that all 36 holes of golf will remain.
“Obviously, it is the buyer’s decision,” Johnson said. “But we have heard nothing to believe that the golf course will be anything other than what it is now. If I were to predict, I would say the chances are overwhelming that it will be a 36-hole facility.”
But Johnson said he is aware that there is significant speculation that one of the courses will be removed to make way for more housing or other development.
“It makes a really good rumor,” Johnson said. “I know it would upset people. That is probably why it is such a good rumor.”
What does seem to be a likelihood is that Kansas University’s golf program will continue to have a home at the golf course. If I were a betting man (and I would be, if windows didn’t cost so much) I would bet that KU’s presence at Alvamar grows. Fritzel formed Bliss Sports, in part, to create new facilities for KU at Rock Chalk Park. Bliss owns the facilities but KU rents them. Plans certainly have been in the works to expand KU’s indoor practice facility at Alvamar. KU’s website list plans to make the facility nearly five times larger by adding team lounges, locker rooms, offices, training rooms and an indoor chipping and putting area.
Johnson said he’s excited about the future of Alvamar. He said the shareholders of Alvamar have had discussions in the past about selling to out-of-town golf course companies.
“For the community of Lawrence and the golfing community, it probably is the best thing that could happen,” Johnson said. “These buyers are people who have been in this community their whole lives and their futures are in this community.”
The deal includes about 300 acres that comprise the golf course and country club grounds, Johnson said. He said there likely are pockets within that 300 acres that are suitable for infill development. But he said the deal does not include any of the large amounts of raw, develop-able West Lawrence ground that is owned by Alvamar Inc.
It will be interesting to watch how Alvamar does change in the future. The courses and country club are a West Lawrence institution. Famed Lawrence businessman Bob Billings founded the course with business partner Mel Anderson in 1968. A second course was added in 1970. Today, Alvamar is one of only two 36-hole golf facilities in the state, according to Alvamar’s website. The courses also are a bit historic in the world of golf. The 1968 course, according to Alvamar’s website, was the first golf course in the world constructed with zoysia grass fairways. As for the country club, the members' clubhouse was built in 1984 by local builder Gene Fritzel, who is Thomas’ father.
As I have said many times on the golf course, things have a way of coming full circle (although usually I’m just talking about my nasty hook.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• When the snow starts falling, the Batmobile will not be plowing the streets of Lawrence, but do expect to see some winged vehicles tackling the job.
For the first time, the city’s Public Works Department will equip four of the department’s snow-plowing trucks with a device called a “wing plow.” The plow is mounted on the side of the truck and extends about eight feet. City officials are optimistic that the new piece of equipment will allow major roads like Iowa, Sixth and 23rd streets to be plowed more quickly.
“We think it will speed up the process by about a third,” said Mike Perkins, the street division supervisor for the city.
Larger cities have been using the wing plows for awhile, said Mark Thiel, the city’s assistant director of public works.
“We’re probably one of the smaller cities that are using them,” Thiel said. “We’re just trying to stay ahead of the game. It is another tool for us.”
Perkins said the new wing plows will make it more important than ever for the city to follow the advice of not passing a snow plow. The trucks will be equipped with special lights to draw attention to the fact that a blade is hanging off the side of the truck, but motorists will need to use care.
“It is a clear, clean path right behind the truck,” Perkins said. “That is the best place to drive.”
Crews earlier this month did mock snow-plow runs throughout the city to prepare for the upcoming snow season. Thiel said in addition to the wing plows, the city has made changes to increase the amount of salt the city can store. The city now has the capability to store about 10,000 tons of salt, which is about twice the amount the city would expect to use during a season. The extra capacity could become crucial in the future, Thiel said.
“That is a huge benefit to us because we don’t have to worry about re-ordering in midseason,” Thiel said. “Sometimes there can be a four to six week lead time for salt orders.”
Thiel also recently provided city commissioners with his best estimate on what type of winter we’ll have this year. He said the city looks at forecasts from the National Weather Service, the Farmers Almanac and a private subscription weather service. The forecasts are mixed this year, with the National Weather Service predicting a largely normal winter, while the subscription service is predicting below-average temperatures but about average snowfall totals. The Farmers Almanac is calling for “bitter and snowy” conditions in Kansas.
“I think we’re pretty much going to have a repeat of what we had last year,” Thiel said. “I think we’re going to have a lot of cold weather early and a lot of small events early.”
Thiel said he thinks the chances of major snow — six inches or more — will increase significantly in January and February.
That won’t be good news for the city budget. The last snow season was a fairly expensive one for the city. Thiel said the city spent about $1 million clearing snow in the 2013/2014 season. That was about twice the amount spent in 2012/2013, even though snow totals for the two seasons checked in at about 30 inches. The big difference is that in 2013/2014 there were 13 snow or ice events the city had to work, compared with just eight in 2012/2013. In addition, one of the events last season was a 14-inch snow in early February that required extra resources.
In case you have forgotten last winter, Thiel has gathered several numbers to help remind us. Here’s a look:
— The city had 30.2 inches of snow in 2013-2014, as measured in downtown. That was the second highest total of the last 10 years, trailing only the 36.4 inches in 2009/2010. The 10-year average is 17.4 inches. The smallest snowfall total of the last decade was 1.4 inches in 2006/2007.
— The city had 12 days in 2013/2014 with measurable snowfall. The average since 1981 is 13 days.
— February was the big month last year, with 16.2 inches of snow. That ranked the month as the fifth snowiest February on record in Lawrence. December had 5.3 inches, January 5.4 inches and March 3.3 inches.
Sometimes my job of covering Lawrence City Hall involves me reading the tea leaves. Sometimes it involves me turning to a beverage a bit stronger than tea. Sometimes it involves me dressing like the Great Carnac and holding city agendas, planning documents and other scrap paper to my head. (Sometimes the glass of the other beverage is a bit too big.) I’ll let you decide the best way to decipher this one, but there certainly is a City Hall question these days: Is a proposed $75 million apartment project actually going to be built near KU?
The project we’re talking about is the proposed multi-story building at 1101 and 1115 Indiana St., across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium. The last we heard about the project was on Oct. 21, when city commissioners declined to grant a parking exemption for the 237-unit apartment complex. The Chicago-based development group, HERE, LLC, said the parking reduction was critical to the future of the project. After the meeting, a representative of the company declined to comment on whether the project would move forward.
In the days since, I haven’t had any luck in getting an update from the development company. But there have been a couple of recent signs that suggest the project is not yet dead. This is where your tea leaf skills may come in handy, but city commissioners at their meeting tonight are being asked to approve an ordinance authorizing the issuance of industrial revenue bonds for the project. The ordinance is mainly a technicality. The project is seeking the industrial revenue bonds not for financing purposes but to get a sales tax exemption on construction materials they purchase for the project. The key point in all of this is that company officials recently asked the city to process this piece of paperwork. The fact the company made the request after the Oct. 21 meeting seems to indicate the project is not yet dead.
Perhaps an even larger sign is that on Nov. 5 the development company filed for a demolition permit for the old house that sits on a portion of the property. That would seem to be another sign that the project isn’t yet dead.
Prior to the Oct. 21 meeting, the development group also had filed for building permits for the project. City officials tell me they are still doing the work to process those building permits. They said no one from HERE has asked the city to stop the processing work on the building permits.
I think it is probably is too early to say that the company has definitely decided to move ahead with the project. Neither one of these recent actions — the IRB ordinance and the demo permit — are particularly expensive for the company to undertake, so they could still nix the project. But it does appear that the company hasn’t nixed the project at this point. The city’s denial of the company’s incentive request hasn’t been fatal thus far.
I talked briefly with Georgia Bell, the 91-year old woman who lives in the home that is slated for demolition. The development company has reached a preliminary agreement to buy the property, but Bell said the deal hasn’t been completed yet. In other words, she hasn’t been paid the full purchase price for the property. She said she hasn’t heard anything definitive from the development group about when it may purchase the property.
“I’m sitting on pins and needles,” said Bell, who said she hasn’t yet found a new home to purchase.
It is an issue to watch. If I can get this darn Carnac hat to cooperate, I’ll keep my eyes on it.
Out in rural Kansas, where I am from, there have been some historic moments in Quonset huts that dot the farm landscape. Some of them perhaps have involved a Saturday night, a red Solo cup, a tractor, and an unfortunate article in the weekly newspaper. Well, Quonset huts — those metal buildings with a semi-circle roof — have been a part of Lawrence’s history too, and now there is an effort afoot to save one in East Lawrence.
As we reported a few weeks ago, Black Hills Energy is preparing to sell the East Lawrence site that formerly housed its maintenance facility. As part of the sale, Black Hills is planning to tear down the old Quonset hut on the property. But a group of East Lawrence residents and an area businessman are hoping to stop the demolition.
Longtime East Lawrence resident K.T. Walsh is asking city officials to take a hard look at any demolition permit that seeks to tear down the hut. Walsh said Quonset huts are a rare form of architecture worth preserving. She said she’s actually part of a statewide group that is seeking to save the structures. The huts were inspired by a British design that aimed to quickly construct buildings during WW I. The huts were popular in WW II as well, and Walsh said the Black Hills Quonset hut near Eighth and Pennsylvania street is particularly appropriate for the area because it is a reminder of the area’s industrial history.
The hut is across the street from the popular Poehler Lofts apartment building, which is in a multistory, former grocery warehouse building. Tony Krsnich leads the group that developed that property. He’s glad the Black Hills property is set to be sold, but he wants the Quonset hut to remain.
“It would be an absolute shame if that building was lost,” Krsnich told me.
He said he thinks the building could be an interesting music venue, art gallery, restaurant or a host of other uses. He said its wide open design could allow the interior of the building to be renovated in a number of ways.
“There are people in other cities that are trying to build new Quonset huts and make them look old because they are cool,” Krsnich said.
One group who I have heard does not think Quonset huts are cool is firefighters. I’ve had the local fire chief previously tell me that the structures are a real concern when they do catch on fire. The roof design makes them particularly susceptible to a collapse during a fire.
Whether that would play into a decision to tear the building down, I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how much ability the city has to deny a demolition permit for this property. Walsh asked city commissioners about the issue last week, and they said they would look into it. We’ll see where the issue goes.
I’ve got a call into Black Hills Energy. A spokeswoman for the company said they were discussing several issues related to the site. If I receive an update from the company, I’ll pass it along.
UPDATE: I did hear back from Black Hills Energy. A spokeswoman with the company said via e-mail that Black Hills has been studying ways to properly sell the site for awhile. One of the issues is that the building sits on the foundation of a former manufactured gas plant that operated from 1869 to 1905. As we previously have reported, that gas plant left behind some environmental issues related to the site. The site has been brought into compliance with Kansas Department of Health and Environment standards, but Black Hills believes it is best to demolish the building so proper testing can be done beneath the building's foundation before the site is sold.
"We understand this property is located in the midst of a vibrant and growing part of Lawrence, and we believe it's important to keep it a safe and functional part of the community," Monique Pope, a spokeswoman for the company said via e-mail.
After that process is complete, Black Hills will evaluate the best uses for the site, Pope said.
Delaware tribal elections may change discussion on Lawrence property; city wins $15k school route grant; car dealers express concern over City Hall vehicle lease
Lawrence’s police headquarters plan isn’t the only project that has been complicated by recent election results. The Delaware Tribe of Indians held its elections last weekend, and now there is reason to question whether the tribe will be as aggressive in pursuing its plans to move to Lawrence.
So, what happened with the Delaware elections? Well, the same thing I tirelessly do every Saturday at my house: A complete housecleaning. (For the record, my wife is insisting on a retraction of that last statement, and is threatening to do terrible things to me with a feather duster.) Regardless, a housecleaning is one way to describe the Delaware elections. Every tribal council incumbent on the ballot was defeated in the election.
Chief Paula Pechonick was defeated by the tribe’s assistant chief Chester “Chet” Brooks. Three of the other six members on the tribal council also lost their seats, and since Brooks was a member of the council whose term hadn’t yet expired, the new majority on the council will get to appoint a member to his seat.
I obviously don’t closely follow Delaware Tribal politics, but I did talk with tribal council member Nate Young, who was one of the members not up for re-election this time. He left me with the impression that the new majority on the council may have different views about the future of the approximately 90 acres that the tribe purchased near the North Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. I was left with the impression that they may be inclined to do less with the property, not more.
There has been all sort of discussion and speculation about what the tribe wants to do on the site. Originally there was concern among some residents that the tribe wanted to build a casino on the site. That talk has died down considerably. Instead, city, county and tribal officials have been meeting behind closed doors to talk about ideas for the property, which is the former Pine family sod farm. The latest idea to emerge is that the tribe would use about 30 acres for a tribal complex that would include offices for the tribal headquarters, classroom spaces, an area for a profit-generating “public interface,” and a kitchen to feed elderly tribal members. The other 60 acres would be devoted to agricultural uses that could include demonstration gardens, food hub distribution, a farm-to-plate restaurant and other such uses.
City, county and tribal officials had agreed to move into a new stage of discussions and host a design charrette to further refine the idea. Whether that happens now seems to be a bit of a question. Young didn’t get into details, but he said after speaking with the incoming chief, he was confident in saying that the new tribal council will consider different directions.
“I believe we may revisit some of the policies adopted by the previous council,” Young said.
What exactly that means, I don’t know. But in reading through some campaign literature from Delaware tribal candidates, I get the impression the purchase of the Lawrence property was an issue of contention in the election. Incoming Chief Brooks in a campaign advertisement expressed concern about spending $1.24 million to buy the Lawrence property. He said in the advertisement that it was done “without an appraisal and a proper resolution of the tribal council, only to learn later that 60 plus acres is in a floodplain and the rest has drainage problems which may prohibit its intended use.”
Bottomline: It looks like this is an issue worth watching because it appears the group dynamics are changing.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The city has received a $15,000 grant to study ways to make walking to school safer and more appealing.
The Kansas Department of Transportation has awarded the grant to the city through its Safe Routes to Schools program. The grant is considered a Phase I grant that will allow the city and various stakeholders to develop a safe route plan for each school in the community.
If the plan includes infrastructure improvements, such as new sidewalks, signals or other enhancements, the city would have to seek another grant or find other ways to pay for the improvements.
In a news release the city said the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, USD 497, the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, LiveWell Lawrence and the Lawrence Schools Foundation each have agreed to contribute funding, in-kind donations or staff time to develop the plan.
• We earlier reported on a plan for the city’s fire and medical department to lease seven Ford Explorers from Shawnee Mission Ford. Commissioners approved that lease agreement on Oct. 28, but now commissioners are being asked to rescind their approval. Staff members said they have since heard from some local auto dealers who said they were not aware the city was seeking bids for sport utility vehicles.
It appears what happened is that the city was using a previously bid procurement contract through the Kansas Department of Transportation to lease the vehicles. In other words, KDOT has a set price it can lease vehicles at, and KDOT allows other governments to use that contract. Upon further review, city staff members now are recommending that a more traditional bid process be used that opens the bidding up to any dealer who is interested. Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are expected to rescind their previous vote.
Downtown Lawrence retailer of 67 years to close its doors; city makes recommendation on team of artists and engineers to design Ninth Street project
It has been well established that there is no crying in baseball. But there may be a few moist eyes in coming weeks inside a Lawrence institution that has sold many a bat, glove, ball and other athletic items to area residents. Francis Sporting Goods is closing its downtown store after 67 years in business.
The company is not going entirely out of business. Owner Jon Francis told me the company now will solely focus on its team business, which sells uniforms and equipment to everybody from youth baseball teams to college football programs.
“The retail store has been a big part of our lives, but for us to succeed, we have to choose a business that is best for us,” said Francis, who followed his father and grandfather into the business. “That is our team business. That is where we make our money.”
Francis said plans call for the store at 731 Massachusetts St. to close by the end of the year. The historic building that houses the store will continue to be owned by the Francis family, but Francis said the store will move out of the space and a new tenant will be sought. Francis said he is close to signing a deal on an undisclosed location that will provide showroom and warehouse space for the team business.
The move comes just a few months after Dick's Sporting Goods opened its large store on south Iowa Street. Francis said the new competition did “solidify” the decision to close the store.
“It is sad,” Francis said. “Obviously there will be people upset, and I’m upset. But the town is growing and they elected to allow, or I guess they felt like they needed, a big-box option. That didn’t help us any. We have a loyal following, but we don’t have the size and selection.”
The business, which started out in 1947 selling boat motors and fishing tackle before expanding into other lines of sporting goods, plans to have a liquidation sale between now and the end of the year.
Francis said he’s sure he’ll see a lot of familiar faces come through the doors for the final sale.
“You get to know a lot of people,” Francis said. “I’ve watched a lot of kids grow up. You read about them in the paper with what they have done in this game or that game, and you know they have been in your store. That will be the tough thing to watch.”
The closure creates a bit of a hole in the middle of the 700 block of Massachusetts Street. As we previously reported, Lids, the store that specialized in team hats and other such merchandise, has closed. It was next door to Francis Sporting Goods in space that also is owned by the Francis family. Francis said a tenant has been found for that space. I hope to bring you details on that shortly.
The sporting goods market in Lawrence is changing. The sportswear retailer GameDay Super Store at 1008 W. 23rd St. also has announced it is closing its store. I’ve got a call into officials there to get more information about that decision.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The project to remake the portion of Ninth Street that runs through East Lawrence into a unique arts corridor is moving ahead. As an article I wrote Wednesday details, some residents are concerned about the process, but city officials are hopeful once a consultant is hired to start planning the project, concerned neighbors will be more at ease. Well, the city is getting closer to hiring a consultant, or actually a team of experts, to work on the project.
The city is hosting a meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 13 to allow the public to meet the city’s recommended design team. A city-appointed committee is recommending a team led by el dorado inc., a sizable design firm out of Kansas City. The architecture firm is notable in Lawrence because it is the designer of a new multistory apartment building under construction near Ninth and Delaware streets in East Lawrence. The project is the latest development by Tony Krsnich and his group, which have developed the Warehouse Arts District on the eastern end of this proposed Ninth Street corridor.
The company is bringing on several consultants to help with the project. They include lead artists Charles Blanc and Tristan Surtees of the Calgary, Canada-based art studio Sans Facon. The duo has been working on a major public art project in Calgary called Watershed+, that adds public art to some infrastructure projects in the city. You can see more here, but it looks like the duo takes a pretty broad view of art. One project was to turn several fire hydrants along a city street into water drinking fountains. Another project talked about on the website was the creation of a life-sized water truck carved in ice. It would be colored with environmentally friendly dyes, then placed in a neighborhood. Through the winter the ice sculpture would melt and refreeze and the the dyes would flow into the city’s storm water system and through a prominent creek in the area. No word yet on what the duo has in mind for Lawrence, but at first glance, it looks like they believe in more than just traditional sculptures and other works you may associate with public art.
The proposed project team also includes Luke Dubois, who is a well-regarded digital musician and artist who teaches at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. Some of you may know Dubois from his stay as an artist in residence at the Lawrence Arts Center.
Other members of the proposed design team include Lawrence-based Bartlett & West engineers; Dennis Domer, a local architecture historian; landscape architects Coen + Partners from Minneapolis, and indigenous plant specialist Kelly Kindscher, of Lawrence.
The other two firms interviewed by the city for the design project were teams led by DRAW Architecture and Confluence.
Lawrence city commissioners are expected to make a decision on hiring a design team for the project later this month.
Emprise Bank to sell its south Iowa branch, talk of larger redevelopment ensues; Schumm floats idea of $250K challenge grant to bring super-fast Internet to Lawrence
A movement is afoot along south Iowa Street, and it involves more than the normal logistics of semi-trailers to accommodate my wife’s post-Halloween shopping. Instead, a development group has reached a deal to purchase another key south Iowa Street property, seemingly with redevelopment on its mind.
Officials with Emprise Bank confirmed they have agreed to sell their bank branch at 2435 Iowa St. to a development group. The bank will cease operations at the Iowa Street branch, likely in February. The Wichita-based bank will continue to operate its main Lawrence branch along Wakarusa Drive.
“We were not planning to close that bank,” Cindy Yulich, Lawrence president for Emprise, told me. “We were approached by a developer, and a contract was signed. We are committed to serving Lawrence and committed to being here. We’re thrilled with how our business is going statewide, and particularly with how it is going in Lawrence.”
(UPDATE: I got a little more specific information from Emprise this morning. The bank plans to remain open on south Iowa Street until Feb. 27, and it expects employees at the south Iowa branch to be reassigned to the bank's branch at 1121 Wakarusa Drive.)
Banks have shown a willingness lately to make do with fewer branches as online and mobile banking have become bigger parts of their business. Intrust Bank earlier this year agreed to sell its branch on Wakarusa Drive to a credit union. Emprise has operated that south Iowa location since 1991, Yulich said.
Yulich said she’s confident Emprise will be able to serve its customer base from its one location on Wakarusa. She said the bank may look for a second location in Lawrence, but she said no decision had been made on that.
As for the development group that is purchasing the property, Yulich declined to name it, but I’ve confirmed that it involves a group that includes Lawrence businessman Jeff Hatfield. That makes sense because Hatfield is involved in the group that owns the adjacent Holiday Plaza shopping center.
“It just makes sense,” Hatfield said of the purchase. “You hate to have a mouthful of teeth with one tooth missing.”
He confirmed that Emprise wasn’t looking to sell the location, but rather was approached by his group. He said his group doesn’t have any immediate plans to redevelop the property, but wants to keep its options open for the future.
“The piece is poised to change its complexion at some point,” Hatfield said. “Whether it is a retrofit or a complete change, I’m not really at liberty to say. We have had people approach us. It is a location where a lot of retailers and boxes would like to be.”
The development group includes Christian Ablah, a noted Wichita commercial real estate broker who has been involved in bringing Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy and Home Depot to Lawrence. Ablah also is part of a group that involves Lawrence businesswoman Susan Hatfield that recently purchased the shopping center that includes Office Depot and the soon-to-close Discovery Furniture on south Iowa Street.
That’s a site that certainly seems poised for redevelopment and could attract a lot of interest from larger, national retailers. Jeff Hatfield, who is a longtime real estate appraiser in Lawrence, said momentum just seems to be building for south Iowa Street. He said he expects the momentum to build now that Menards has actually started construction on its store near 31st and Iowa streets.
“Ten years ago, I never would have thought we would be seeing this,” Hatfield said. “But it is interesting how timing works. It is interesting to see how retailers really want to build off the synergy of other retailers.”
We’ll see how far the south Iowa Street momentum theme gets at Lawrence City Hall. I’m still hearing that the group proposing to develop property south of the Iowa Street and SLT interchange wants a hearing with city commissioners this month. As I reported a few weeks ago, there is a lot of speculation that they’re going to present new information to City Hall that Sam’s Club wants to locate in their proposed development. Previously, the development group has said Old Navy, Academy sports, Ulta Beauty, and Designer Shoe Warehouse all are interested in the site.
The project, though, has failed to win a positive recommendation from the city’s planning commission. But that was back in July when the planning commission heard the issue, and because of some logistical problems only six of the 10 planning commissioners heard the issue. City commissioners haven't yet had a hearing on the proposal.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners next week are expected to have a hearing on whether to provide Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband a $300,000 loan guarantee as part of a pilot project to bring super-fast, gigabit Internet service to 300 homes and businesses in the downtown area.
Well, City Commissioner Bob Schumm is adding a twist to that debate. He’s said that he plans to float the idea of providing a $250,000 grant to any company who successfully delivers gigabit service to 500 Lawrence addresses by the end of 2015. In case your dial-up modem is acting up, gigabit service is the same super-fast Internet that Google Fiber is installing in Kansas City.
Schumm’s idea is kind of like a challenge grant. You only get the money if you successfully deliver the product in a timely manner. It will be interesting to see what type of traction the idea gets. Thus far, two companies have been vying to bring gigabit service to Lawrence: Wicked Broadband and Baldwin City-based RG Fiber. Wicked officials have said they need the loan guarantee to secure the private financing to start its pilot project. RG Fiber has not asked for a loan guarantee from the city.
Schumm said he likes the challenge grant idea better than a loan guarantee. He said he doesn’t like being in the position of picking a winner or a loser between two companies interested in the community. Nothing technically would stop both companies from pursuing their projects, but conventional thinking is that only one gigabit service is going to be feasible in Lawrence. RG Fiber officials have said they won’t offer the service in Lawrence if the city provides a loan guarantee to one of its competitors.
Schumm said he also likes the idea of the city not paying until a company delivers results. He said if a company can bring the service to 500 addresses by the end of 2015, he is confident the company can successfully expand the service to large areas of the city.
It will be interesting to see what traction Schumm’s idea gets at City Hall. Commissioners have really been struggling with how to land on the issue of a loan guarantee to Wicked.
Closing of longtime downtown office supply store may spark changes in 600 block of Mass.; update on construction at Peterson and Monterey
This may be the biggest news in the Lawrence office supply world since my unfortunate incident involving a “chain” of paper clips, our office mezzanine, and multiple additions to our employee handbook involving the words “prohibited” and “Tarzan.” Lawrence-based M&M Office Supply has closed its doors and transferred its customer list to a Wichita-based company after decades in business.
The closure of a longtime business — I’ve been told the business dates back to 1956, but haven’t yet confirmed that — is big enough news in itself, but this one has an added twist because it likely will create some interesting development scenarios in downtown Lawrence. M&M Office Supply owns a unique piece of property in downtown Lawrence. Its building at 623 Massachusetts St. has its own, private parking directly off Massachusetts Street. The building is one of the few that is set back off of Mass. Street, which allows for private parking right in front of the building’s main entrance.
Wichita-based Midwest Single Source has struck a deal to take over the customer list of M&M Office Supply, but the deal does not involve the real estate at 623 Massachusetts St. The property is owned by members of the Marsh family, owners of M&M. I’ve got a call into Craig Marsh, an owner of the business. My understanding is the Marsh family is exploring options for the future of the property. (Speculation that I’m going to purchase the building because it would be cheaper than continuing to pay the parking tickets of a certain someone in my house is not entirely accurate. I would prefer to lease.)
As for Midwest Single Source, it has taken over the phone number of M&M and has begun calling on the company’s customer list. The company is now looking for a new location to establish a retail presence in Lawrence. The 38-year old company is headquartered in Wichita and has had an office in Topeka for more than 20 years. Lawrence resident Sarah Strydom will serve as the branch manager for Midwest Single Source’s Lawrence operations. She said the company will establish itself as a local firm that serves as an alternative to the large national office supply chains.
“I think Lawrence is a developing community and is receptive to doing business locally,” Strydom said. “I think we can capitalize on that.”
Strydom said Midwest Single Source is significantly larger than M&M Office Supply and believes it will be able to be more competitive on price and selection. Strydom said the company expects to have a Lawrence storefront open by early 2015.
In other news and notes around town:
• I’ve had some readers submitting questions about the large amount of construction work that is underway at the southwest corner of Peterson Road and Monterey Way. As we reported about a year ago, a Missouri-based company is building a senior housing project on the corner. Officials with Americare have filed plans for a 46-unit complex that would would include 30 units of general assisted living, plus 16 units that specialize in assisted living for people who need memory care services. Plans also show a potential Phase II that includes another 16 units for memory care services and 22 units of “independent living cottage development.” I’m operating under the assumption that what is under construction currently is just Phase I. No word yet on when the project will be open for business.
Two retail projects drive construction totals to new high in 2014; another good report on Lawrence job numbers
A little more than $9 million is being added to the Lawrence economy as we speak, and that is not even counting the spending my wife is doing on the post-Halloween candy that is on sale. Instead, I’m talking about two new retail construction projects underway in the city.
Construction work is underway on a Menards home improvement center near 31st and Iowa and on a Sprouts grocery store near Sixth and Wakarusa. The latest building permit reports from City Hall show the Menards project has a construction value of $5.5 million, while the Sprouts project checks in at $3.75 million.
Those two projects led the way in September, and the month ended up being the busiest one yet in 2014 for the local construction industry. The city issued permits for $17.1 million worth of construction work in September. That topped the $14.8 million worth of permits the city issued in June.
For the year, the city has issued building permits for $78.56 million worth of construction projects. That’s well below the $152.9 million worth of projects that were started through the end of September 2013. But last year was one of the larger construction years on record for the city, which included tens of millions of dollars for work at the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. In 2012, the city had issued permits for $75.4 million worth of construction, so 2014 is shaping up to be on par with an average building year in Lawrence.
One area of the Lawrence construction industry that has been below average is single-family home construction. City officials have issued permits for 65 single-family homes thus far in 2014. During the same period a year ago, the city had issued 121 single-family permits. At this point, that number should be of some concern. At 65 permits, single-family home construction is below the pace in 2011, when the city hit a new low for single-family permits issued. In fact, this year’s construction is significantly below that pace. Through September of 2011, the city had issued 76 single-family permits, or about 17 percent more than this year’s total. We’ll see what the final three reports of the year bring, but builders will need to start 30 new homes before the end of the year to avoid setting a new low.
As for when Menards and Sprouts may open, Menards officials previously have said they expect construction to take about 10 months. I suspect that will be pretty dependent upon the weather cooperating this season. Sprouts officials have not said when they expect to open, but it is a significantly smaller project than the Menards store, so I think it might be the first to open.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we are talking about construction projects near Sixth and Wakarusa, I know some of you have been wondering what the construction is on a pad site just east of the Walmart store. As we previously have reported, plans filed with the city say it is a medical office building. But I haven’t yet had any luck confirming what type of medical professional plans to locate there.
• While we are on the subject of specialty grocery stores, I will tell you I’m hearing the same things about Trader Joe’s that some of you are: Some employees of the Leawood store have been telling Lawrence customers that Trader Joe’s may soon come to Lawrence. I called over to Trader Joe’s and tried to get an official there to tell me the same thing, but she stopped short of that. She said there’s been talk around the store of such a project, but no announcements or anything that indicates that the idea is more than just talk, at the moment.
But it is worth keeping an eye on. As we have previously reported, the large retail project proposed for the area south of the Iowa Street and SLT interchange has drawn strong interest from a specialty grocer, the development group for the proposed project has said. I don’t have any insight into whether the grocer is Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or some other player.
• And while we’re talking about numbers, here’s one last set of them: monthly job totals for the Lawrence metro area. Putting stock in one month’s worth of numbers is never too wise (as a set of lottery numbers from my fortune teller proved), but recently we reported that Lawrence in August had the highest job growth of any metro area in the country.
So, I wanted to see how September’s numbers came in for Lawrence. The latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the numbers aren’t the best in the country, but they aren’t too bad. The report found the number of jobs in Lawrence and Douglas County grew by 1.5 percent — or 800 jobs — in September, compared with September 2013. That was better than the 0.7 percent average for Kansas as a whole. Lawrence ended up having the second highest job growth rate of any metro area in the state, although it is worth noting that the numbers are still preliminary.
— Manhattan: 2.1 percent
— Lawrence: 1.5 percent
—Topeka: 1.2 percent
— Kansas City, Kan./Mo: 0.5 percent
— Wichita: 0.3 percent
Lawrence also is outperforming the state when it comes to its unemployment rate. Lawrence’s unemployment rate in September was 4 percent, which is down from 4.7 percent in September 2013. That’s a significant drop. Lawrence’s unemployment rate in September was better than the statewide average of 4.4 percent, and tied Manhattan for the lowest unemployment rate of any metro area in the state.
As for Lawrence having the fastest job growth rate of any metro area in the country in August, hopefully you can get a refund on the 15-foot plaque you had ordered for the occasion. As we reported last month, the August numbers were preliminary. The August numbers have now been finalized, and Lawrence’s job growth total were adjusted downward a bit. The new figures show Lawrence jobs grew by 4.6 percent instead of the 5.9 percent originally thought.
That adjustment was enough to drop Lawrence from the No. 1 spot. Midland, Texas, topped us, and a few other cities may have as well. But the 4.6 percent figure was still a very strong showing for the local economy.
News on Buffalo Wild Wings opening date on south Iowa, closing date in downtown; Lawrence gets a peek at how other cities maintain sidewalks
Last night at a Lied Center Halloween costume contest, one of the winners was dressed like a piece of sushi. That costume would be safe at my doorstep, unless I was in the mood to fish. But as a court file somewhere can attest, a chicken wing ringing my doorbell is a different matter. (Who would have thought glazing someone with 55 gallons of wing sauce would cause “emotional scars?”) All this is to say that I have some news about Buffalo Wild Wings and its plans to leave downtown and open on south Iowa Street.
The regional manager for the company now tells me that Buffalo Wild Wings will open at its new location at 27th and Iowa on Dec. 8. It plans to close its downtown location on Massachusetts Street on Nov. 18.
“We’re thrilled about the move,” said Torey Wallace, regional manager for the chain. “It is something we have been trying to accomplish for four or five years.”
Wallace said downtown parking issues were part of the reason the company decided to move. The restaurant promotes itself as a great place to watch a game, and it became difficult for some customers to show up a little before game time and find an easy place to park, Wallace said. Plus, the company was interested in having a newer building with more space. Wallace said more outdoor space was particularly important. The new location will have a covered, heated patio that can seat 50. That’s a big upgrade from the approximately four outdoor tables that Wild Wings has at its downtown location.
Wallace said the higher ceilings with the new building also will allow for Wild Wings to create its more traditional arrangement of television sets. The downtown location has a lot of TVs, but some of them are a little small, Wallace said. The smallest in the new location will be 55 inches, and most will be a lot bigger than that. (I don’t even know why they make TVs smaller than 55 inches. Every room can accommodate a television at least that big. Even my bathroom fits a 60 inch TV, once I removed the vanity and the shower.)
In case you are confused about where Wild Wings is locating, it will be in the new building under construction at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets. It basically will be caddy-corner from the new Dick’s Sporting Goods location.
The downtown location has been a popular location for college kids who want to catch a game on TV. Wallace said the new location may lose some walk-in business from people who make their way from the football stadium to downtown, but he said he’s confident the new location will continue to be convenient for students, noting the large number of apartment complexes in south Lawrence and the dorms that are just up the street from the new location. But Wallace said he’s particularly excited that the new location will offer easier access to a broader section of the community.
Wallace said all the existing staff members at the downtown location have been offered jobs at the new location.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There will be lots of folks using the sidewalks tonight for Halloween, and they may find some of those sidewalks in scary condition. Sidewalks are a topic of conversation these days with city commissioners.
The city auditor recently completed a sidewalk audit, but it didn’t get into a lot of detail about how bad the sidewalks are in certain areas of town or anything like that. Rather, it largely focused on whether the public works department was doing a good job of tracking the condition of sidewalks in the community. The audit largely found the department was doing a good job.
Tracking the condition of the sidewalks is good, but as several folks have noted, the city doesn’t have much of a plan for repairing sidewalks. The city builds a few sidewalks each year to fill in gaps, but it hasn’t done a lot in terms of repairing sidewalks. That’s because state law says sidewalk maintenance is the responsibility of property owners who have sidewalks that run through their properties. The law gives the city the ability to force owners to fix sidewalks, or else the city can fix them and place a special property tax assessment on their properties. But that is a time-consuming process and doesn’t win politicians a lot of fans among property owners. Plus, some of the worst sidewalks are in lower income neighborhoods, where a special assessment could create some financial hardships.
But the audit pointed out there are some communities that have figured out ways to create a maintenance program for their sidewalks. The audit found there is no standard formula for how cities deal with sidewalk issues, but the report highlighted three approaches.
— Iowa City uses a program that divides the city into 10 areas. The city inspects one area each year. Inspectors physically mark each section of sidewalk that needs repair. Property owners receive a written summary of the repairs that are needed. Property owners can choose to make those repairs on their own, or they can let the city make the repairs. The city seeks bids for all the repairs required in a district. The repairs are then made, and each property owner is billed for the cost of the repair, plus a $25 administrative fee. If property owners don’t pay, the amount is placed on their property tax bill as a special assessment. The city has had the system in place for about 20 years.
— Ann Arbor, Mich., received approval from voters to create an 1/8th of a mill property tax for five years to fund sidewalk maintenance work. Over the five-year period, repairs will be made across the city. It should be noted, though, that there is a twist here. Ann Arbor’s sidewalks had fallen into such disrepair that it is under a consent decree ordering it to bring its facilities into compliance with current ADA standards by 2018. Prior to this new program, it looks like Ann Arbor used a system similar to Lawrence’s, where it tried unsuccessfully to get property owners to make some repairs.
— Corvallis, Ore., does systematic inspections to identify sidewalks that need repair. The public as a whole pays for the repairs via a monthly fee that is added onto utility accounts. Currently, the fee is 80 cents per month. The fee system has been in place since 2011. City Manager David Corliss several years ago proposed something similar to this, but the idea never gained any political traction at City Hall.
But this commission operates with a different set of tires than past commissions, so we’ll see if the idea goes anywhere in the future. Commissioners haven’t yet said what plans they have for sidewalks, but I’m sure they’ll be asked about it during next year’s City Commission elections. It is a big issue with some neighborhood groups.
Group studying multimillion-dollar Lawrence retirement cooperative; large East Lawrence site to hit development market; 14 million Douglas County trees
There’s a new group in Lawrence promoting the benefits of retiring at a co-op. It took me a moment to wrap my head around the idea. Why would I want to retire at a grain elevator? Those, after all, are some of the larger examples of cooperatives in the area. Then I remembered that The Merc is also a co-op. Retiring next to its pastry case does sound appealing, although they are going to have to become a lot more tolerant of my bathrobe than they have been in the past. I’m not sure that’s what the organizers of a new cooperative in Lawrence have in mind, but they do think it is going to shake up the local retiree housing market.
Perhaps you have seen advertisements for Vintage Cooperatives and a new retiree housing project it has planned for Lawrence. I hadn’t seen any plans filed for such a project at City Hall, so I checked in with officials at Vintage. Indeed, the company hasn’t filed any plans yet because it is still testing the waters in Lawrence. But a company official told me he is optimistic Lawrence will become the site of a multimillion-dollar senior housing project by the Iowa-based company.
First, though, Vintage is taking some time to explain the idea of living in a cooperative. Curtis Jones, director of marketing for Ewing Development, said his company tries to build projects for seniors who want some of the benefits of home ownership but don’t want all the hassles of homeownership. The way the idea works is that Ewing Development constructs a large building usually housing 48 to 60 living units. Unlike a traditional condo development, however, residents won’t buy a specific unit. Instead, they’ll buy shares in the ownership of the overall building. At the end of the day, the building is owned by the people living in it, making it a cooperative. The residents of the building form their own governance group to manage the property, although Ewing provides professional help on the day-to-day management.
Part of the idea behind the concept is seniors don’t have to take out a mortgage to buy a unit. Jones estimated most units range in prices from about $150,000 to $300,000. Residents make an upfront payment of 40 percent to 50 percent of the unit’s value. They then make a monthly payment to the cooperative, which is used to help pay down the mortgage that the cooperative holds, and also to cover operating expenses of the cooperative. That includes maintenance fees and other amenities.
Jones said one of the advantages of the concept is when it is time for a resident to move out or sell their unit. Since you don’t own the actual unit, you aren’t technically conducting a real estate transaction. You’re instead just selling your shares in the building. Jones claims that will be easier than a real estate deal. A big part of the system seem to be that Ewing is confident that it can continually market the facility well enough that there will always be a waiting list for people wanting a unit. When it is time for a resident to leave, they simply sell their shares to someone on the waiting list. They sell the shares at a set price that is based on an annual 2 percent appreciation in share prices.
It sounds like there also may be some tax advantages with the system, but as my accountant, Vinny, tells me, I shouldn’t worry about all those details. (Do worry, however, if a car with government plates is in your driveway, he says.) I don’t understand all the details of this system, or whom it may work for or whom it may not.
My point in mentioning the project is to alert you to keep an eye out for another potential retirement development. The company is hosting its second meeting with potential co-op members today, and Jones said he expects a decision on whether to move forward will happen quickly.
He said the company has been looking at West Lawrence locations to build the project, but hasn’t yet secured any land. He said the company typically likes to have about seven to 10 acres because it ultimately wants to build a campus environment that would include a nursing home or other skilled-care units.
It looks like the company is aggressively pursuing similar projects in several other communities. It has had meetings in Liberty, Mo. and Independence Mo. It recently opened a cooperative living project in Ankeny, Iowa, and it looks like it has several other projects in various stages of development near Des Moines.
“We really like Lawrence because we like college towns,” Jones said. “People in college towns are often very committed to the community. They want to live in the community for a long time, and we really don’t see anybody offering something quite like what we have planned.”
I’ll keep an eye on whether the project moves forward, and report back.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep an eye out for some changes near one of Lawrence’s more popular loft-style apartment buildings. Officials at Black Hills Energy have confirmed they plan to demolish their old maintenance shop near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets and put the property on the market. The site is across the street from the popular Poehler Lofts building and the Warehouse Arts District.
Chuck Hoag, a Lawrence manager with the natural gas company, said he expected the site’s most likely use would be as a parking lot to serve the growing Warehouse Arts District. I could see that, but the site is several acres, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a developer tried to do something a little more ambitious as well.
One issue with the site is that there likely will be some environmental restrictions on the property. Based on past articles we have done, the site has issues related to coal tar. From the mid-1800s to early 1900s, the site burned a lot of coal to produce gas. In the late 1990s, remediation work was done on the site, and state environmental officials have said the property poses no significant risk to the public. But the state did require deed restrictions that prohibit residential construction or any other activity that would “necessitate frequent contact with the soil.”
So, we’ll see who is interested in that property and what plans may be in store for the area. Black Hills no longer needs the site because it has a new maintenance facility in northern Lawrence.
• It may be a busy couple of nights for trees. A few may house some toilet paper on Friday night, which is Halloween, lest you think my neighborhood just does odd things with toilet paper. But tonight, if a certain baseball team wins a certain game, you may find fans of this team hanging from the tree tops. (What? I’m admittedly bad at celebrating baseball victories.)
Well, a new study has pointed out that we sure do have a lot of trees to choose from. The Kansas Forestry Service recently conducted a study of Douglas County’s rural and urban forests. That means it looked at a lot of trees in Lawrence and other parts of the county.
How many trees? Well, the study estimates Douglas County has about 14 million trees. It also estimates that about 25 percent of the county has trees that are dense enough to create what is called a tree canopy. As for the types of trees, the most common are American Elm, Northern Hackberry, Eastern Red Cedar, Osage-Orange and Honey Locust.
The trees, of course, provide shade, protection from the wind and other such things that can help reduce the energy bills of homeowners. The report estimated that Douglas County trees reduce annual residential energy costs by $2.9 million a year.
The report also says Douglas County trees store 1.7 million tons of carbon, which has a value of $124 million. I don’t quite understand that, but I’m guessing maybe some of you scientific types do. Meanwhile, I am searching for loose carbon in my couch cushions.
You can read the entire report, here.
• Town Talk will be off tomorrow. I may or may not still be in a tree.
Downtown shop of 30 years changes name, look; campaign contributors to police vote likely won’t be known before election
There are still Lawrence residents who remember when the downtown shop Britches was the place to go to get a fancy pair of $300 jeans. (I remember. That might have been when I started using a morphine drip to help open the credit card statements.) But those types of prices long have been gone at Britches, and to drive home the point, the store’s ownership has closed the store and reopened under a new brand name.
Flirt Boutique opened about 10 days ago in the space that formerly housed Britches, 843 Massachusetts St. The closing of Britches ended a brand name that had lasted for more than 30 years in downtown Lawrence. Jeremy Furse has owned the Britches store for 30 years, and he said it operated under the name Britches Corner for eight to 10 years prior to his purchase of the business.
“We just thought after 30 years, it was time to do something different,” said Furse, who is the owner of the new Flirt Boutique.
The name change also involved a significant remodeling of the store. Furse said everything was done with the goal of reinforcing the idea that the store is a fun and casual boutique rather than a pricier, upscale retailer.
“Even though our prices have been pretty low for quite awhile, I think because of the look of the store, people would walk by and say that place is so expensive,” Furse said. “Our pricing structure now is about 25 percent below what we had at Britches.”
Furse said many of the styles and brands the store carries have remained the same, but he said the store is adding some new selections to try to appeal to a broader age group. He said the store now is trying to reach 18- to 40-year-olds, where before Britches was more focused on the 18 to 24 age range.
Furse previously operated a Flirt Boutique in Leawood. He recently closed that store to focus on the new Lawrence operations. As for the Britches name, it continues to live on elsewhere. Furse said he continues to operate a Britches in Columbia, Mo. Furse said he thinks the Flirt brand has good potential.
“If the first 10 days are any indications, it is looking very good,” Furse said. “People have been real receptive, and we’ve been able to keep a lot of our customers from the Leawood store.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you are the type who likes to follow the money when it comes to political campaigns, good luck in doing so with the campaigning that is going on for a new police headquarters.
As you probably know, there are two political action committees that have formed around the police sales tax issue: one for it and one against it. People have been asking me how much those two groups have been spending and, more importantly, who is providing the funding for the spending.
The answer: We’ll have to wait quite awhile to find out. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew told me the local PACs fall under a vague state law that says they do not have to file their campaign contribution and expense reports until Dec. 31. That, of course, is nearly two months after the Nov. 4 election.
“If transparency is the idea behind this law, it doesn’t provide much transparency with this election,” Shew said. “By the time they are required to file, we will have counted the votes and everybody will have moved on.”
Shew said if the political action committee were running advertisements that specifically advocated for or against a candidate, they would have to file reports prior to the election, just like the candidates are required to do. But since the PACs are advocating and opposing an issue — not a candidate — the law doesn’t require them to file prior to the election.
I suppose the PACs could choose to file reports prior to the Nov. 4 election on their own volition, but they aren’t required to do so. I haven’t asked either group whether it plans to do so.
Following the money matters to some voters and likely doesn’t to others. The biggest question I’ve heard surrounding the money issue is whether the vote yes group is being supported by individuals who stand to personally benefit from the project, such as architects, consultants and building contractors. Not that there is anything wrong with that. They have as much right to support an issue as anyone else, but it is information some voters want to have. Seeing who is opposing the issue also could be enlightening.
As for the law behind all of this, Shew said it is not new. He said the problems of the law have been pointed out before but it would require an action of the state Legislature to change the current requirements.
• To lease or buy? I know that is always the question at our home, especially when it comes to the chocolate fountain. (We lease because with any piece of equipment that is running 22 hours a day, you have to guard against maintenance costs.) City Hall officials have that same question too, and at tonight’s meeting they’re going to give leasing a try when it comes to a key part of the city’s vehicle fleet.
City commissioners are set to approve a three-year lease agreement with Shawnee Mission Ford to lease seven new Ford Explorers for the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical department. The city will spend about $71,500 a year for the vehicle leases. Over the course of the three-year period, the city will spend about $215,000 for the vehicles, which is about $10,500 more than the city would have spent if it bought the vehicles at their $29,075 purchase price.
At the end of the lease period, the city can buy the vehicles for $1 each. City officials said the lease doesn’t include any mileage penalties or other such penalties. Staff members are recommending approval of the lease agreement as part of the city’s efforts to study whether leasing versus buying makes more sense for the city’s vehicle fleet.
As for the vehicles, they are replacing a mix of SUVs and sedans that range in age from 1999 to 2006 and have between 52,000 and 111,000 miles.
Sponsor found for downtown Christmas parade; city plans for Winter Wonder Weekend; downtown shops to again hand out Halloween candy; construction set for industrial park
I don’t know about you, but my idea of a Winter Wonder Weekend in Lawrence would be Bill Self making me a steaming hot batch of biscuits and gravy, Big Jay and Little Jay shoveling my driveway and a new 12-volt battery for my heated long johns. I’m not sure that’s what organizers have in mind, but Lawrence residents should get ready for a Winter Wonder Weekend this holiday season.
The organizers of the Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade are providing some details about how the parade will be part of a larger effort to attract more visitors to downtown Lawrence. The parade will serve as the kickoff event for the Lawrence Winter Wonder Weekend. I’m still gathering some details, but according to Elaine VanDeventer, one of the organizers of the parade, the Lawrence Public Library, the Lawrence Arts Center and the Watkins Community Museum of History all will be hosting special events during the weekend. How special are they? Well, they’ll be designed so you can drop your kids off, and go have fun in downtown Lawrence without your son or daughter slipping something in your hot chocolate that causes you to pass out with an open wallet in the downtown toy shop. That is special indeed.
VanDeventer said Downtown Lawrence Inc. is spearheading the event and is working to organize all sorts of extra activities to keep people in downtown longer. Preliminarily, those plans include plenty of opportunities for visitors to see Santa Claus, hear holiday carolers and take a whirl on the city’s new outdoor ice skating rink next to the Lawrence Public Library. VanDeventer said plans also call for old-fashioned horse-drawn wagon rides in South Park from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. following the parade.
But the fun gets started at 11 a.m. on Dec. 6. That’s when the Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade will begin its march down Massachusetts Street. I’ve heard some of you were concerned that the popular parade wasn’t going to be around this year, but that was never the case. As we reported in July, the parade was looking for a new major sponsor, but the lack of a sponsor never threatened this year’s parade. It was creating worry for future years, however.
Well, since that time, an anonymous donor has stepped forward to provide a significant gift to the parade, which traditionally has about 70 teams of horses and carriages, and attracts several thousand visitors to downtown. The donor has made the gift through the Lawrence Arts Center, so look for this year’s parade to also help spread the word about the many programs and activities that are underway at the downtown arts center.
VanDeventer said the donor has made a three-year commitment to the parade, which she said will really allow organizers to focus on hosting a great parade rather than trying to raise funds to simply cover costs.
“We’re tickled to death with how everything has come together,” VanDeventer said.
So, go ahead and mark your calendars for Dec. 6, and plan to stay a little longer than normal. And plan to give me a helping hand if you see me moving a little slow. Twelve-volt batteries are heavy.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we are mentioning downtown items, here is a quick one: Downtown Lawrence Inc. has announced that the tradition of downtown businesses handing out candy for Halloween will continue. Most businesses will begin handing out candy at 5 p.m. on Halloween, which of course is on Friday. The event lasts as long as the candy lasts, which can go pretty quickly because usually several hundred kids come to downtown for trick-or-treat.
• Look for some construction to begin in one of Lawrence’s industrial parks. Plans have been filed for about $500,000 worth of work to begin at the southeast corner of North Iowa Street and Packer Court. In case you can’t quite picture that location, it is basically across the street from O’Malley Beverage, the area Budweiser distributor.
Those of you who have used the vacant lot to hide and hope for product to fall off the Budweiser trucks will have to find a new location. The approximately 3-acre lot will house a maintenance shop for a growing property maintenance company, and also will include 40 self-storage units that will be open to the public.
E-State Management, which owns Northwinds, Crosswinds and Windgate apartments in Lawrence, is building a new maintenance shop for its operations. The new facility will allow the company to also expand its services, said Clay Kucza, a manager with E-State. He said the company plans to start offering maintenance services to other apartments and businesses in the area. The new facility, he said, should allow the company to add several maintenance employees in the future. Look for construction work to begin this fall.
National chain Pinot’s Palette signs deal for west Lawrence space; a new resolution related to police HQ; examining the city’s math on proposed sales tax
Despite that unfortunate incident with a step ladder, a half gallon of fandango pink and the kitchen ceiling, I still believe that a bottle of wine improves most painting jobs. A new business slated for Lawrence agrees.
The national franchise Pinot’s Palette has signed a deal to open a Lawrence location in a shopping center at Sixth and Wakarusa. The business is part of a relatively new breed of entertainment establishments: the paint and drink venue. An evening at Pinot’s Palette involves participating in an instructor-led class on how to create a painting on canvas. During the class, you are allowed to drink some wine and socialize with friends. (Parts of that sound like my experience at an art history class at a university that I’m legally not allowed to mention the name of anymore.) At the end of the experience, you’ll have a work of art you can take home to hang in the living room, or perhaps in the hallway closet, depending on how much wine you’ve had.
The business will be next door to Johnny’s West in the shopping center on the southwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. It will go into a space formerly occupied by a dental office, and will be next to the new Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which is currently renovating vacant space in the center.
Olathe resident Victoria White and her husband, Waylon, are opening up the Pinot’s Palette in Lawrence. White said she went to a Pinot’s Palette in Leawood and fell in love with the concept.
“I’m not an artist, but I already have 15 paintings I’ve done,” she said.
The Lawrence location will be a franchise of the national Pinot’s Palette chain. The company got started in Houston in 2009 and has now spread to locations in more than 30 states. According to its website, the company has or is opening Kansas locations in Leawood, Prairie Village and Wichita.
White said she hopes to have the business open by January.
Each painting session at Pinot’s Palette lasts two to three hours and is expected to cost $35 to $45, White said. In addition to catering to a night out with friends, the establishment will offer private parties, corporate outings and classes geared toward kids.
White said she believes the concept will go over well in Lawrence because of the city’s love of art and creativity. Love of wine also won’t hurt. The business will allow patrons to bring their own bottles of wine and also will sell wine by the glass and nonalcoholic beverages on site, in case you have forgotten to bring your own, White said.
Indeed, the concept has some legs in Lawrence. A similar establishment called Painted Kanvas operates just up the street in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. I wrote about that business back in January. We’ll see how the two compete. (Perhaps this is how Van Gogh really lost his ear: Dueling paint bars.) Regardless, West Lawrence residents should have plenty of opportunities to hang custom art above the mantel.
In other news and notes from around town:
• At their meeting on Tuesday city commissioners will have an odd resolution up for approval related to the proposed police headquarters project. The resolution has an interesting back-story that involves a city commissioner uttering the word “asinine.”
First, the resolution: It basically states that the City Commission “intends, at its discretion” to sell some excess property that the city owns in order to offset “some or all” of the $2.25 million the city will spend to buy the 47-acre Hallmark Cards site to house the proposed headquarters facility. If you remember, the city only needs about 15 acres for the police headquarters. But the city is buying the entire 47-acre site because it believes it is the best available location for the facility, and Hallmark won’t agree to sell the city a smaller amount of acreage. That has caused some voters to cry foul.
Tuesday’s resolution is kind of odd because it doesn’t commit the City Commission to do anything. It doesn’t commit a future City Commission to sell any property because the City Commission can’t compel a future City Commission to sell property. And indeed, it likely will be a future City Commission that makes most of the decisions on whether to sell city property. There is a City Commission election in April where three of the five seats on the commission will be up for election (the seats held by Dever, Riordan and Schumm.) Certainly, they all may get re-elected, but that is far from certain since it isn’t even known whether all three will seek re-election. A big selling decision will be whether to sell the police department’s existing Investigations and Training Center once a new headquarters building is completed. Any action to sell the building likely won’t happen until 18 to 24 months from now, when construction is completed on the headquarters.
Basically, this resolution just is a written document expressing what city commissioners already have said: They think the city should sell some property to offset the $2.25 million purchase price of the Hallmark site. The resolution mentions the Investigations and Training Center and surplus property at the Hallmark site specifically. It also mentions that other city property could be sold. I’ve been told property the city owns near the intersection of Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive also likely will be put on the market by the city.
The resolution highlights that there are no guarantees the city will sell the property, but it seems reasonable that it will, especially when it comes to the ITC building. If the city builds a new police headquarters building, it doesn’t have a police need for the ITC building any longer. I suppose the city could use the building for its long-talked-about “one-stop shop” for the planning department and the building permit division, which currently are in separate buildings. But I’ve heard no real talk of that location serving that need. I suppose the city could use the building to house its Municipal Court operations, which are currently in leased space. But I’ve also heard no real talk of that possibility.
So, why did the idea of this resolution come up? It dates back to last week’s City Commission meeting. At that meeting, Greg Robinson, a Lawrence attorney who has been one of the more vocal opponents of the proposed police sales tax proposal, spoke during the public comment section. He raised several concerns about the police headquarters plan, including that the city hadn’t made its case that the project was really about improving public safety, that the city wasn’t fully considering KU students to be residents of the city, and that nowhere does the ballot issue commit the city to sell any land or use the proceeds of any land sales to reduce the cost of the police headquarters project.
Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said he wanted to respond to some of Robinson’s comments, and then proceeded to say “Mr. Robinson continues to make asinine comments.” That sparked a complaint from Robinson that Farmer was out of line, and Mayor Mike Amyx reminded Farmer to address the comments in a way that was respectful of the individual. Farmer addressed several of Robinson’s comments, but the issue of whether the city could somehow give voters more assurances that it plans to sell city property to help offset the costs of the project received more discussion.
City Commissioner Mike Dever said he would be supportive of putting that intention in the form of a resolution so that future commissions would understand the thinking of the current commission.
So, hopefully that helps you understand why this resolution has ended up on the City Commission’s agenda.
• While we’re on the police headquarters topic, I’ve been getting questions from people wanting an explanation on how the city has determined that about 30 percent of sales tax revenues from this proposed tax would come from people who live outside the city limits.
The city has done some mathematical computations to come up with that number. I’ll do my best to explain them: The city looks at state figures that show the per capita sales tax collections for the state as a whole during the course of a year. That was $859 in 2013. It then compares Lawrence’s average per capita income with the state’s average per capita income. Lawrence’s per capita income is about 7 percent less than the statewide average. So, city officials make an assumption that Lawrence’s per capita sales tax collections should be about 7 percent less than the statewide average. That creates a per capita number of $801. The city calls that number Lawrence’s expected per capita sales tax. The city then looks at the actual amount of sales taxes collected per capita. That number was $913. The difference between the two is assumed to represent sales taxes that are collected from people who live outside of Lawrence. Out-of-town shoppers, in other words. If you do the math, however, that is about 14 percent, not the 30 percent the city has touted.
But the city makes one other key adjustment. It says that the city’s expected sales tax collections need to be adjusted downward to account for the amount of spending Lawrence residents do outside of Lawrence. You can’t assume Lawrence residents spend all their money in town. But how do you figure out how much they spend outside of town? The city is estimating 21.8 percent of all their purchases occur outside the city limits. The city gets that number from a KU survey of Lawrence consumers, but it is important to note that those survey results are from 1999. They’re now 15 years old, and it is tough to say whether they are still accurate. I do believe it is the most recent survey that tries to get at that number. Anyway, when you make that adjustment, the math does show that 31 percent of sales tax dollars come from people outside the city limits.
If you have read this explanation to the end, you deserve some type of ribbon. It is complicated stuff. I don’t have any problems with the city’s math. There probably are questions about the assumptions the city has made. For example, is it reasonable to believe that just because Lawrence’s average income is 7 percent less than the statewide average that Lawrence residents are going to spend 7 percent less on taxable items? Considering that food is a large part of what people pay sales taxes on, that may not be a reasonable assumption. But I don’t know. Is 21.8 percent the right number for out-of-town spending? I don’t know.
I think this is a good-faith effort on the city’s part to come up with a number, but it is a tough number to produce with any certainty. It is one of several issues that voters will have to figure out.
Green energy company to locate headquarters on 23rd Street; a Mangino yard sign; possible changes to how city deals with downtown races
Expect one stretch of 23rd Street to become a little greener. Don’t worry, Lawrence construction crews aren’t changing from orange cones to green ones. Instead, a growing green energy company is setting up its headquarters in a 23rd Street building and plans to use the prominent site to show off its solar and wind technology.
Lawrence-based Good Energy Solutions has signed a deal to locate in the former Diamond Cabinetry building at 641 E. 22nd St. Even though the business has a 22nd Street address, it basically has 23rd Street frontage. It is the building just east of the 23rd Street bridge that was recently rebuilt.
The company plans to put solar panels and solar canopies on the building, have a prominently displayed, solar-powered electric car charging station, and a residential scale wind turbine on the site, company officials told me.
But the big reason for the move was that the company was running out of space in its current location in the 2100 block of Carolina Street. In the last year, the company has grown to 12 full-time employees, up from four a year ago. The company’s revenues have quadrupled in the last year, said David Thiel, the company’s office manager.
Thiel said the price of solar panels have dropped significantly, which combined with some tax credits has made solar energy a feasible option for many residences. He said about 60 percent of the company’s sales now are on the residential side of the equation. He said some of the company’s customers are people who have had their eye on the solar movement for decades.
“It seems like people of a certain age finally have the money to purchase solar, and they are doing it now,” Thiel said.
The company also does wind energy projects and recently has expanded into the LED lighting business.
The company plans to move into its new offices in the coming days, and look for some of the improvements on the site in the coming weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is campaign season, and yard signs are thicker than the glazed icing on my breakfast this morning. It is easy to become confused with all of them, which is why I almost threw my support for governor to former KU football coach Mark Mangino. You can’t blame me. He does have a yard sign. I was driving on 19th Street the other day and saw a Mangino yard sign, and made a point to go back and take another look at it. You can see it below, but it basically is lobbying for Mangino to be re-installed as the head coach at KU, now that the position is open again.
I have no insight or particular opinion about that. I’ll leave that to the sports guys. But the sign idea, I thought was interesting. The city has sign codes, but the country also has a First Amendment that lets you express your opinion in a variety of ways. Maybe the sign idea will catch on with other important issues as well. World peace, social justice, the creation of an all-you-can-eat country buffet in Lawrence.
As for the Mangino sign, I don’t know if it is an actual movement. I’ve only seen the one sign. But maybe there are more I just haven’t seen them. (I think I could probably get several hundred signs up for the all-you-can eat country buffet, by the way, and probably even sponsorship from a cholesterol drug firm.) Where was this sign, you ask? Well, I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t in Lew Perkins’ yard. Instead it was in front of Silverback, a Lawrence business that organizes runs and other events across the country. It sets up a lot of the Color Runs around the country.
• Silverback and companies like it may have other issues than the KU football coaching search to keep an eye on. Lawrence city commissioners may have a debate about how they regulate the multitude of 5K races and such that occur in downtown Lawrence and across the city.
Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday approved a route and necessary permits for the upcoming Kansas Half Marathon, which will benefit Lawrence-based Health Care Access. Commissioners also agreed to donate the services of the Lawrence police and fire departments to help staff the event. That is expected to come at a cost of about $8,200.
It is fairly common for the city to donate those services if the event is a fundraiser for a charity. But City Commissioner Bob Schumm said he wants to have a broader discussion about that policy. He said he’s heard from several residents who have concerns that some of the races that are promoted as nonprofit events have a large profit component.
Health Care Access officials said that is not the case with their event. The race is expected to raise more than $35,000 in funding for the organization that provides health care to uninsured or under-insured. That’s more than half the expected $60,000 in entry fees the event is expected to generate. The difference between the $60,000 and the $35,000 is the expenses needed to put on the event, which is expected to draw up to 1,300 runners. Part of those expenses is paying the for-profit company Silverback to manage the course. That includes providing people to help control traffic along the course, mark the course, and do the other things required to have a safe event.
Health Care Access officials told city commissioners that it wouldn’t be possible for their small staff to put on the race without the help of a for-profit company like Silverback. City commissioners said they understand the need for professional assistance, but Schumm said he wants to ensure that races that are promoted as non-profit fundraisers really do return a substantial portion of all revenues to the nonprofit agency. He said that appears to be the case with Health Care Access’ event, and he voted in favor of the necessary permits for the event.
But he said he also wants commissioners to consider policy that would require any race seeking the city’s donation of services to provide an income statement to the city showing the total amount of revenue raised by the event, and the total amount of money the charity will received. Commissioners took no action on that request, but agreed to look at the issue near the end of the year when the city compiles a report on how much it has donated to these various races.
I’ll also be interested to see if that discussion sparks another discussion on whether the city will try to steer future events out of downtown and onto the extensive trail system that exists at Rock Chalk Park. The trail system would not require city police officers and others to provide traffic control. But I know many race organizers like having the events in downtown Lawrence because of the atmosphere it provides. Some businesses like it too, but there are several businesses who express concern that the street closures that come with the races hurt their normal weekend business.
City collects 50 tons of recycling on first day of new program; update on Sixth and Iowa; Lawrence’s impressive job numbers
Lawrence’s new curbside recycling program is off and running, and city officials are pleased with the first day’s haul. City crews collected 50 tons of material to be recycled on Tuesday, which was the first day of operations. (Yes, upon hearing that number I was nervous that my wife had somehow recycled my collection of beer cans and pizza boxes from KU’s magical championship run in 2008. But fear not, it is still there, and I’ve now put a wheel lock on the semi trailer in the back yard.)
Lawrence Public Works Director Chuck Soules said the Day 1 operations went well.
“The crews did a great job,” Soules said. “And that is 50 tons of trash that will not be going to the landfill.”
Soules said crews are asking residents for a bit of help, however, when it comes to setting out their blue recycling carts. The city is asking residents to place their recycling cart at least two feet away from their green trash carts. In many neighborhoods, the city uses automated trucks that use a robotic arm to pick up the containers. If the containers are too close together, the arm cannot grasp the container.
The city hasn’t touted a lot of numbers about how much material they expect to collect as part of the program. But when the city was designing the program last year, it used a working number of 5,000 tons per year, according to some old memos I dug up. (I keep the memos in a separate semi-trailer.) If the 50 tons per day rate continues — that’s a big if because we’ve only seen one day’s worth of data — the city would more than double that 5,000 ton projection.
It is possible that Lawrence residents may end up recycling more than 50 tons per day. After all, the city takes about 60,000 tons of trash to the landfill in a year. In fact, if the city wants to meet one of its goals, it may need to recycle more than 50 tons a day. City commissioners have adopted a goal of having a 50 percent recycling rate by the year 2020.
Figuring out how much we need to recycle at the curb to reach that total can be tricky because we’re not just talking about trash when we are talking about recycling. The tons and tons of material the city collects through its yard waste program also are counted toward the city’s recycling rate.
Bottomline, I’ve taken my shoes off and I still can’t do the math on how much we need to recycle to meet that 50 percent recycling goal. But what little bit of arithmetic I did do on the subject indicates such a a rate is in the realm of possibility. The city in 2010 estimated it had a recycling rate of 38 percent, which was above the national average of about 34 percent. That was without a citywide, curbside recycling program. A lot of the recycling was the yard waste, and to be fair, there were some questions of whether the city’s method for estimating yard waste collections inflated the totals.
Regardless, it will be interesting to watch the numbers in the months that follow. We should have a good idea of just how much the city is recycling, and whether we can meet our goal of becoming one of the more recycling-friendly communities in the country.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The end is in sight for the road construction project at Sixth and Iowa streets. But motorists may want to avoid the intersection this weekend while crews do some paving work at the site.
On Friday evening, crews will begin milling the intersection, and that is going to create a major traffic issue. Crews will have to close Iowa Street where it connects to Sixth Street. Traffic will continue to be allowed on Sixth Street, but motorists won’t be able to turn onto Iowa Street. Motorists on Iowa Street won’t be allowed to turn onto Sixth Street. The work is expected to begin around 7 p.m. and be done by 10 p.m., Soules said.
On Saturday morning, paving work will begin. During paving, Iowa Street access will be closed just like it was for the milling work. That work is expected to take place throughout the day on Saturday. Some work will continue on Monday, but the Iowa/Sixth Street connection should be restored by then.
In case you have forgotten, the main purpose of the project was to add a left-turn lane on Sixth Street for westbound motorists wanting to turn onto Iowa Street. Longtime motorists understand why this lane will be useful. You are driving on Sixth Street, minding your own business, day dreaming about KU basketball ball, Free State beer and ways to combine the two perhaps using a large screen TV and a sanitized Jacuzzi. Then, bam, you open your eyes and realize you are in the left lane of Sixth Street even though you want to continue to go straight through the intersection. You stop and spend approximately 23 minutes waiting behind the yahoo in the F150 pickup truck with a U-Haul trailer waiting to turn onto Iowa Street so he can pick up his daily supply of doughnuts from the fine purveyors at Ninth and Iowa Streets. We’ve all been there, right?
Well, by early next week, a left-turn lane should be in place and operational, city officials tell me. The intersection also will have some new right-turn lanes, new striping and other things you’ll want to pay attention to. So, at least for the next few days, keep your eyes open.
• As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday (@clawhorn_ljw) Lawrence in August 2014 had the highest job growth rate of any metro area in the U.S. The numbers come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a group by the name of Talent Tribune took the time to rank the top 10 metro areas for the month.
Lawrence finished first with a 5.9 percent increase in jobs compared to August 2013. During the one-year period, the numbers show the Lawrence metro area (which is Douglas County) added 2,800 jobs. Lawrence was slightly better than Midland, Texas, which grew by 5.6 percent.
The numbers from the BLS are preliminary, so they may get revised at a later date. But as I reported earlier this month, an economist at Wichita State also had pointed out that Lawrence’s job numbers seemed to be on a rebound. So, it is definitely something to watch for.
I chatted with chamber president and CEO Larry McElwain about the numbers, and to his credit, he wasn’t unfurling the Mission Accomplished banner just yet. It is just one month of numbers, after all.
“I still have caution on those numbers,” McElwain said. “I want to make sure they are good jobs and not just temporary jobs. I want to make sure they are jobs that meet the needs of our residents, and not just minimum wage or slightly above.”
It is tough to point to what may have led to an increase of 2,800 jobs in the last year. But it is likely a couple of major employers have added to the totals. If you remember, Hallmark cards did some major reorganizing of its production plants in the region. Lawrence’s production plant ended up being a winner in that process. We reported in March 2013 that Hallmark expected to add about 200 jobs to its Lawrence plant during the course of 2013. That number may have grown some even, I’m told.
General Dynamics, which operates the former NCS/Pearson call center in East Hills also has been adding jobs. In September, we reported that General Dynamics may be adding about 400 jobs for a customer service contract related to the Affordable Care Act. Whether some new General Dynamics jobs started showing up in August, I don’t know.
Part of it just may be pent-up demand by hundreds of small businesses in the area. Lawrence has not grown jobs at the same type of pace several other communities have over the last few years. Lawrence companies may finally just be feeling that they are on a firmer footing and are now expanding. It will be interesting to watch the numbers that come out in the next few months. But for the time being, we can tout that our job growth rate is better than everybody else’s, if even just for a month. Here’s a look at how other area communities fared during August 2014.
— Manhattan: 2.8 percent
— Topeka: 1.7 percent
— Wichita: 1.2 percent
— Kansas City: 0.5 percent.
— Kansas as a whole: 1.1 percent
Reduced parking plan for apartments may have uphill battle; nearly 80 percent of rental inspections finding violations; a powerful video about a Lawrence fire
Just a note to whoever is making the decision about who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Kauffman Stadium tonight: I’m warmed up and have pin-point control. It is not even 10 a.m. yet, and I’ve already hit my Royal blue shirt with nacho cheese sauce, my Royal blue tie with mustard, and my Royal blue foam finger with relish. Absent that last-minute call from the K, however, I’ll be at the Lawrence City Commission meeting, where commissioners may end up involved in a big game as well.
The future of a proposed $75 million apartment/retail building across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium may hinge on whether commissioners grant the Chicago-based development group an exception from the city’s parking regulations. The group wants to reduce the amount of parking for the 237-unit apartment complex by 100 spaces. New information suggests the group may have an uphill battle to win approval.
City Commissioner Terry Riordan told me Monday afternoon that he has some concerns about granting the parking exception. It is difficult to see how the project can win approval without Riordan’s support. Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Bob Schumm have been pretty firm in their opposition to the parking request.
“I’m very sensitive to parking,” said Riordan, who lives in the Oread neighborhood. “I wanted to hear something that said our present regulations are too restrictive. I haven’t heard that yet. If we make a mistake and allow too little parking, that will be forever.”
We’ve been over all this before. Several neighbors are opposed to the request, citing concerns the reduced parking will push more vehicles into the already crowded Oread neighborhood. The development group, HERE LLC, has cited statistics from KU that show only about 60 to 70 percent of students who live on campus bring a vehicle to school with them. Developers say they are expecting that statistic to hold true in their development. Others aren’t so sure that residents of the luxury-style apartments will come to Lawrence without a car.
Riordan lives next door to an apartment complex in Oread. It is within walking distance to the university, and he hasn’t seen evidence that 30 percent of those residents don’t have vehicles.
“Next door to me they have three or four spots open at the most, and most of the time it is full,” Riordan said of the parking lot. “And I’ve never seen a kid take public transportation from there.”
The development group has said the reduced parking standards are “vital” to the future of the project. At last report, the development hadn’t secured financing, despite the city agreeing to give the apartment project — which also includes about 13,000 square feet of retail — an 85 percent, 10-year property tax rebate.
That may be the game city commissioners find themselves playing: Will this project get built if commissioners deny the parking request? How much will the city lose if it doesn’t get built? What will be the consequences of reducing the city’s parking standards?
“I think I would rather err on the side of building too much parking and hope they still build the project anyway. I do think it could be a great project.”
There is one large caveat to all of this: Riordan could still change his mind. He said he’ll be on the lookout for information that could sway his opinion Tuesday night.
So, as they say in the baseball business, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings. (A note to Kauffman Stadium officials in charge of finding the fat lady for tonight’s game: I think I could pull that off too.)
As a reminder, tonight’s meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. instead of its normal 6:35 p.m. start time.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City politics recently have been so dominated by the plan for a new police headquarters building that it has been easy to forget that commissioners passed a politically divisive piece of legislation just months ago: rental licensing.
The rental licensing program is up and running, and we’re starting to get some of our first numbers back from City Hall. The program began conducting inspections and issuing licenses in August. Inspectors have been finding violations.
Through September, the city has conducted 43 initial inspections of apartments, and 34 of them have found violations. In other words, nearly 80 percent of all the apartments the city has inspected thus far have had violations that must be fixed before the apartment can receive a city license. In total, the city found 133 violations in those 43 apartments.
Thus far, the top violations are faulty smoke alarms (50); faulty GFCI receptacles (27); faulty outlet covers (18); faulty windows (13); and faulty plumbing fixtures (9).
The report indicates that landlords have done a good job in fixing the problems. Through September, 24 of the 26 units had fixed all their violations.
I plan to check in with landlords in the coming days to find out their thoughts on how the program is working and provide you a more detailed report. If you are one of the landlords who have been through the inspection process, feel free to reach out to me.
• I don’t spend a lot of time watching videos online. I only recently figured out how to really work my VCR, so I’ve been catching up on a lot of "Cosby Show" episodes I have taped. But there is one online video I watched recently, and it was produced by the city of Lawrence. It tells the story of Brianne Goldston, who survived a brutal house fire that occurred last June in the Oread neighborhood. If you get time, you should watch it because her story is a powerful one.
At one point she tells how she was lying in the hallway of her multistory home thinking how crazy it was that she was going to die in this fire. She talks about how the scenes you see on TV of people running through a fire or even through a large plume of smoke are such Hollywood fiction. She describes how the smoke feels just like the fire. It is super hot and will burn your lungs, and suck the life right out of you. She talks about how the smoke alarms in this house didn’t work they way they were supposed to. And she urged everyone to plan ahead. Take a moment before a fire starts to figure out how you would get out of your home.
The video is on the city’s Web site, and I plan to show it to my kids and wife, and then take a simple five minutes to go over how to open windows or access other escape routes in my house.
If I could just get my hair to grow like famed boxing promoter Don King, I think I could put together a heck of a rumble here in Lawrence. Picture this: Ronald McDonald, the Taco Bell Chihuahua, and his majesty the Burger King squaring off in the middle of 23rd and Iowa streets. It would be a fast-food rumble in a slow-lane intersection. I’m not sure such an event is going to happen, but there are signs that the battle for the local fast-food dollar is heating up.
Last week we told you about plans for the McDonald’s on south Iowa Street to temporarily close while it adds a double drive-thru lane and gets an interior remodel. And we’ve been talking for months about the complete makeover of the Burger King near Sixth and Maine streets. Now, we have information about a major remodel for one of Taco Bell’s locations in Lawrence.
Everything but the drive-thru is currently closed at the Taco Bell at 1408 W. 23rd St. Crews are undertaking a complete remodeling of the lobby and the exterior of the building. For the time being, drive-thru service is still available, but a manager at the restaurant said the drive-thru also will be shut down in a few weeks in order to complete the rest of the remodel.
Work began last week, and crews are expected to take another six to seven weeks to complete the lobby renovations, said Linda Smith, a manager at the restaurant. She said work then will move to renovating the kitchen, which likely will take another six weeks or so. During that time, the restaurant will be closed.
“It is going to look fantastic when it is done,” Smith said. “It will be really flashy. A lot of neon.”
The major remodel comes just a couple of months after Chipotle opened a new restaurant that is basically next door to the Taco Bell. Can you say Burrito Brouhaha? (Don’t feel bad. It took me weeks before I mastered the Spanish language.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• I actually have been tangentially involved in herding buffalo before, and I can say that process is similar to trying to find out when the new Buffalo Wild Wings on south Iowa Street is going to open. As we have reported several times, the new building being constructed at the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets will house a Buffalo Wild Wings. Before you get out your mega-size wet wipes, though, it is important to note the entire building won’t be occupied by Buffalo Wild Wings. There will be space for two other businesses. We’ve reported a tanning salon is taking one of the spaces, and the other space is still searching for a tenant.
A sign has emerged on the site saying Buffalo Wild Wings is “opening soon” at the south Iowa Street location. I have been calling a Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson for a few weeks, but I haven’t had any luck in getting a more specific timeline. An employee at the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings, however, did confirm that the downtown location will close. I think we all expected that, but the company had been pretty mum on that part of the project as well. That will leave a large space in downtown in search of a tenant. I’ll keep my ears open on that one.
If you remember long ago, I reported that there may be another wing player entering the Lawrence market, and it would have a connection to a famous wing on a past KU basketball team. About this time last year, we reported that Keith Langford’s family was posting messages on Facebook that it had been approved by the national franchise Wing Stop to open a restaurant here. I haven’t had much luck in contacting the Langfords about that possibility, but in the past few months, I have heard from others that the idea still has some legs to it.
• Thus far we have mentioned Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King and chicken wings. In my relentless effort to promote a healthy lifestyle, I’ll now talk about a half-marathon. City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider granting the necessary permits for Lawrence-based Silverback Enterprises and Health Care Access to host the 2014 Kansas Half Marathon and 5K run on Nov. 2.
The marathon route would begin at Watson Park in downtown and would travel along Massachusetts Street from about Seventh Street to 15th Street. It will travel along 11th Street to get back to downtown and will use one lane of Sixth Street near City Hall to get to the Kansas River bridges. The route then will continue into North Lawrence, using a combination of residential streets and the Kansas River levee. The route will end at Watson Park.
The 5K route will use Seventh Street to get into East Lawrence and will use portions of Eighth, Delaware and 11th streets before returning to Watson Park.
The event will create some lane closures and traffic delays while runners are on the course. The event is expected to run from about 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Last year, the event sparked some concern from downtown churches that had some problems with Sunday morning parking. According to a letter from Health Care Access, the group is working to better notify churches of possible impacts this year.
We’ll see if commissioners have any concerns about the race. One issue they will have to decide is whether to donate some city services for the event. The race will need assistance from the fire and police departments. The city has billed some events for the time spent by police and fire at these races, but this event is a major fundraiser for Health Care Access. The city has donated the time of the police and fire departments for some events that have been nonprofit fundraisers. The fire department is estimating it will spend about $2,200 staffing the event. The police department estimates it will spend about $6,000 staffing the event.
Commissioners meet at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
Proposed buyer of Turnhalle building still looking for a tenant; McDonald’s on South Iowa to close for remodel; World Series produces change-up at City Hall
I’ve had a few plans based on beer, bowling and gymnastics (I still contend the tumble I took in the ninth frame was gymnastics.) But I’ve never had a business plan based on the trio. Apparently others haven’t either, and that’s bad news for fans of the Turnhalle building, the 1869 building at Ninth and Rhode Island streets.
If you remember, the Turnhalle building has one of the more unique histories in Lawrence. It is believed to be the oldest community building in Lawrence, and it was built by a German-American social organization called the Turnverein. The club used the basement of the building for a beer garden and a bowling alley, while the main floor frequently was used for gymnastics. The club’s members were required to do a certain amount of gymnastics.
In July, Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich reached a tentative deal to purchase the Turnhalle building from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, which previously had bought the building because it was badly deteriorating. But the deal was contingent on Krsnich finding a use for the building. Thus far, Krsnich’s search hasn’t been successful, and the time period for Krsnich to find a use for the building has expired. But Krsnich said he and the LPA have extended the contract to give more time for potential users to emerge. He expects to keep looking until mid-November.
“If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down in flames because the building deserves to be saved,” Krsnich said.
Krsnich said he’s heard a lot of ideas for the building. The idea of a beer garden and an old-time bowling alley in the basement is an intriguing one, he said. The idea of a restaurant is a good one. Event or theater space also could be successful. Simply using the space for a professional office could be workable as well, he said. But Krsnich said thus far the ideas mainly have come from people who have good ideas for what the building could become, but no real desire to open a business in the space.
He said he’s now extending his search to include Kansas City companies, and he’s also willing to transfer his contract to purchase the property over to any local nonprofit agency who may be looking for space.
“If there is a nonprofit who wants to own it, I would assign the contract to them and teach them everything I know about tax credits and work with them as a consultant,” Krsnich said.
Krsnich is estimating that the building needs about $1 million worth of repairs and renovation to make the building viable as commercial space.
Krsnich, who is the developer behind the popular Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, said he’s still holding out hope that an entrepreneur with a viable plan will emerge. He notes that the Ninth Street corridor that Turnhalle is located on will undergo a major revitalization. The street was selected for a national ArtPlace grant to transform the street into a platform for public art and a variety of visual and performance arts.
“That project is going to turn Ninth Street into the most interesting street in Lawrence, and really well beyond,” Krsnich said. “Somebody is going to wish someday that they did something with the Turnhalle building. Now is the time.”
Krsnich said he’s working to develop another public forum to solicit more ideas for the building. He said that event likely will be in the next couple of weeks.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Keep your eyes open for more development in Krsnich’s Warehouse Arts District. He told me he is close to signing a deal for an operator to open a bistro in the small building that is just west of the popular Poehler Lofts building. The bistro concept has been in the works for several months, but Krsnich said he believes a deal is near. Krsnich said he also has plans to open another art gallery in one of the old buildings along Pennsylvania Street. I’ll bring you more details on those projects as they become available.
• Do not panic. I repeat, do not panic. The McDonald's on South Iowa Street is not going out of business. But it will be closing for a few weeks, while it undergoes a significant renovation. The Dobski family, the Lawrence-based owners of the area’s McDonald’s franchise, have filed plans to build a side-by-side double drive-thru lane at the location, 3241 Iowa St. Plans also call for new seating and decor, and an extended front counter.
The restaurant will close on Monday and is expected to be closed for at least two weeks. The restaurant, which opened in December 2000, is expected to have grand reopening festivities near Thanksgiving.
• Do not panic, do not panic, take two. I know you all have been torn about whether you will go to Tuesday night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting or watch Game 1 of the World Series, featuring the Kansas City Royals. Well, city commissioners are trying to allow you to have your cake and eat it too. They have moved the start time of the World Series game. No, no. They didn’t do that. But they have moved the start time for the City Commission meeting to 5:30 p.m., instead of the normal 6:35 p.m. The World Series is scheduled to begin at 7:07 p.m. There are a couple of items on this week’s agenda that are expected to produce public comment. They include the temporary closure of a portion of the 800 block of New Hampshire Street and a request for reduced parking standards for the proposed HERE apartment complex near Memorial Stadium.
The earlier start date certainly is a welcome development for us Royals fans. I, of course, will be at the City Commission meeting. But to be safe, I likely will bring my roller grill full of bratwursts and my 55-gallon drum of nacho cheese sauce. And my giant foam finger, which come to think of it, would probably come in handy at most City Commission meetings.
City solidifies plans for downtown ice rink; Kansas ranks well in student debt measure; and a Royal day
I may or may not have said when the Royals reach the World Series I’ll do a figure skating routine in a blue, sequin-studded leotard. My son is checking the tape for that and other statements. (I was not aware he had wiretapped the house, but now it makes a lot more sense why he read all those Nixon memoirs as a toddler.) Regardless, I do have news about the city’s plans for an ice skating rink in downtown.
Leaders with the city’s parks and recreation department recently said they are confident the ice rink will be open for business by Nov. 28, which is the Friday after Thanksgiving. If you remember, the ice rink will be a temporary attraction that will be built in the plaza area between the library and the city’s parking garage.
Crews will begin building a temporary plywood platform for the artificial ice to rest upon. The designated area will be the top tier of the library plaza, which is the tier closest to Vermont Street. The city plans to rent skates for $3 per pair. The city plans to require people to rent skates from the city rather than bring their own skates. Jimmy Gibbs, the parks and recreation manager overseeing the project, said that’s because skates need to be very sharp to operate properly on the artificial ice surface. The city is concerned skaters would bring dull skates to the rink, and would be disassitified with the experience. There is an advantage to using the city’s skates. They’ll be the ski boot type that have latches that allow users to easily put the skates on and take them off.
“There won’t be the 15 feet of shoe-laces you have to mess with,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the $3 rental fee will allow users to skate as long as they would like. The city will have skates for all ages, he said.
I’m still checking on the hours that the rink will be open, but look for the ice rink to be a part of the downtown lighting ceremony that takes place on Nov. 28. Parks and recreation officials said they have ordered extra lights to decorate the the plaza area of the library, including a couple of large snowflakes and a string of lights that will hang above the rink. (There you go. It probably will be impossible for me to do my figure skating routine. I don’t want to get tangled up in the beautiful lights when I do my jumps.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• As my family busily compiles the list of everything I said I would do if the Royals make the World Series, I’m beginning to worry about how to finance all of this. (However, I’m almost certain I didn’t say I would add a wing to the house for shoes, purses and bulk chocolate, although that would save us on storage unit rental fees.) Regardless, maybe I should try to figure out how I could use a student loan to do all this. A new study says Kansas is one of the better states in the country to have a student loan.
The financial Web site WalletHub has conducted a study that finds Kansas is the 7th best state in the country to have student debt. What it means by “best” are states where students feel less pain from their student debts.
The study looked at several factors, including amount of debt per student, number of loans past due, the unemployment rate for young people, and how student debt averages compared to average incomes in the state. Kansas didn’t top any of those categories, but it was better than average in almost all of them.
The average amount of student debt in Kansas ranked as the 17th lowest in the country. The state’s unemployment rate for people ages 25 to 34 was the 13th lowest in the country. The amount of student debt as a percentage of average incomes in the state was the 10th lowest in the country. Those are all pretty positive numbers for the state, and more particularly positive for Lawrence, where education is our largest industry. No one likes how much debt students are having to take on these days, but it should be an advantage for KU if it can point to numbers that show students have less debt here, and that the state provides a good environment to comfortably pay it off.
In case you are curious, Utah was the best-ranked state,and Nebraska was the lone Plains state to finish higher than Kansas. It finished 5th. Rhode Island ranked last in the survey.
• A quick reminder that the city is hosting a forum tonight (Thursday) to discuss issues surrounding the 0.2 percent sales tax proposal to pay for a police headquarters. The forum, which will feature the police chief, is set from 7 to 8 p.m. at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Massachusetts St. The chief will make a presentation and answer questions.
• In case you hadn’t heard, the Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series. This column is called Town Talk, and that is what the town is talking about today, but I don’t normally write about sports. I hope you’ll pardon the detour.
It would be easy to say I’ve been a Royals fan my entire life, but it probably would be more accurate to say I’ve been one since 1980. I remember George Brett standing with his arms raised at second base when he topped the .400 mark. I remember his blast into the upper deck in Yankee Stadium. For some reason, I vividly remember standing outside our barn with my father after the Royals clinched the A.L. pennant in 1980, and I just kept telling him I couldn’t believe we were finally going to the World Series. I remember a lot more conversations with my grandmother, who was the real baseball fan in the family. Still is. She’ll soon turn 95, and she has put in some late nights during these playoffs.
Of course, I remember 1985 well. I was in junior high. My son today is in junior high. That’s the thought I had Wednesday as I literally jumped up and down in my driveway after hearing Denny make the final call. Someone shot off fireworks within 30 seconds of the final out. (Yes, my neighborhood has a ready supply of fireworks at all times.) My son ran out of the basement TV room about the time the echo of the firecrackers had subsided. He’ll remember this day.
Despite 29 years of evidence to the contrary, the circle really does remain unbroken.
I know we’re all busy wearing 1985 sports memorabilia, urging our mullets to return, and watching baseball on a 25-inch Zenith TV to recreate the environment of the last time the Kansas City Royals went to that big event that rhymes with Hurled Theories. (No true Royals fan should yet utter its real name for fear of a jinx.) But perhaps we all can take a brief break for a juicy piece of speculation: Sam’s Club is interested in building a store in Lawrence.
Talk of Sam’s Club — the wholesale shopping club run by Wal-Mart — certainly has been the quiet talk in certain real estate circles around town. I’ve been told that the development group that is proposing a major new retail area southeast of the Iowa Street and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange has told city officials that Sam’s Club has expressed a very serious interest in locating at the proposed shopping center.
Now, take that for whatever you think it is worth. The point man for the North Carolina-based development group hasn’t yet talked to me about Sam’s Club. But I’m confident information about Sam’s Club’s interest has been relayed to city officials. So, what’s next? I’m not sure, but there are several questions that arise:
— Would a Sam’s Club ease some City Hall opposition to the proposed retail area south of the trafficway? If you remember, the planning commission narrowly recommended denial of the proposed retail project, and city commissioners have not yet formally acted on the planning commission’s recommendation. That appears to be because there have not been three votes on the City Commission to approve the development. I’m not sure whether a Sam’s Club would change their thinking. Sam’s Club certainly would be a new retailer to Lawrence, and a new category of retailer as well. The city doesn’t have a wholesale club, and there are Lawrence residents who leave town to go shop at wholesale clubs. It also seems to be the type of retailer that would attract out-of town shoppers. No, folks from Topeka or Kansas City aren’t going to come to Lawrence to shop at Sam’s. But it seems to me that has never been the goal of this proposed shopping center. When it talks about drawing out-of-town shoppers, I think it means shoppers from smaller, secondary markets, not Topeka and Kansas City. If this development causes people in Ottawa to shop in Lawrence instead of Overland Park, then that’s a win for Lawrence.
— Can the development group deliver on bringing a Sam’s Club to the site? Sam’s Club obviously hasn’t signed any lease to come to the shopping center. The shopping center doesn’t exist, so neither do leases for it. But retailers have been known to put in writing their intentions to come to a site. I don’t know if Sam’s has done that yet. Have other retailers? Previously, the development group publicly announced that Academy Sports, Ulta Beauty, Old Navy, Designer Shoe Warehouse and Marshalls/Home Goods all had said they want to come to the shopping center. But I think city officials were leery of whether all those deals really would come to fruition. We’ll see if the development group has come up with a way to convince city officials that the interest is real.
— What about northwest Lawrence? If you remember, a good portion of the opposition from City Hall on this project has been based on concerns that this southern shopping center would make it difficult for an already-approved shopping district near Rock Chalk Park to develop. The area around Rock Chalk Park has been approved for several years, but hasn’t yet attracted retailers. City commissioners have indicated they wanted to give that project more time. Is Sam’s Club also interested in northwest Lawrence? The people I’ve talked to said they haven’t heard that Sam’s Club is interested in northwest Lawrence. Maybe Sam’s is interested, and that word just hasn’t begun to spread yet. I don’t know. What is clear is that several retailers have chosen South Iowa Street over the northwest area. Think Menards, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Petsmart, to name three. Thus far, retailers really have wanted to be close to the other retailers on South Iowa Street rather than doing the hard work to be a pioneer in a new northwest Lawrence shopping district. If Sam’s Club comes out and says it only is interested in the South Lawrence site, will that change the city’s thinking on waiting for the northwest to develop?
— What about politics? This south-of-the-trafficway development is heating up just weeks before the Nov. 4 sales tax election for the police headquarters issue. Those two issues certainly can be linked, if politicos want to link them. The city is betting heavily on increased sales tax revenues to pay for a future police headquarters facility. To fund the headquarters under the city’s current plan, it needs voters to not only approve the new 0.2 percent sales tax, but it also needs retail sales in the city to grow by about 2 percent a year for about the next decade. If the sales tax gets approved and the retail sales don’t grow by that amount, the most likely outcome is that commissioners will either have to cut the city’s budget elsewhere or increase property taxes to make up the difference. A 2 percent growth rate isn’t unreasonable, with or without the south-of-the-trafficway development. But the development group previously has produced estimates that show the development could provide a nice boost to to the city’s sales tax collections. These numbers come from the developer and need further vetting, but the group is estimating a $1.1 million increase in city sales tax collections in 2016-2017 and $2.1 million a year by 2020. Again, the numbers need more vetting, but if true, that development alone would pay for more than half of the police headquarters project. It will be interesting to see whether developers try to get a hearing on this project with the City Commission prior to the Nov. 4 elections. It will be interesting to see if the City Commission will allow it to be scheduled before the election.
There are more questions than answers right now, but the project basically has been in limbo since July. Based on the e-mails and questions I’m getting, the public is ready for some answers.