Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Maybe the folks at 3 Spoons Yogurt know something we don’t — that winter is never really going to end.
Whatever the case, the frozen yogurt business at 732 Massachusetts Street has closed its doors, and an employee there confirmed to me that the company has no plans to reopen elsewhere in Lawrence.
I didn’t get any official word on why the company decided to close. I suppose you could assume that it was just a decision based on the amount of sales the company was doing in Lawrence, although the store had nearly 3,000 likes on its Facebook page. (And that’s all you need to get rich in America anymore, isn’t it?) I will say that on my many patrols of downtown, it seemed to me the store had a good following, especially with the sorority crowd. (I’ll tell you what I tell my wife when she asks me why I know so much about where sorority members hang out: It is my job to be observant.)
3 Spoons, which has been in Lawrence for a little more than two years, is part of a franchise that was started in College Station, Texas in 2009, according to the company's Web site. In case you are curious, the nearest store to Lawrence now appears to be Waco, Texas. (It might melt before you get back.)
What isn’t the case, it appears, is that some other business came and took the space away from Three Spoons. Bob Sarna — an executive with First Management, the company that serves as the landlord for the downtown building — confirmed to me he doesn’t yet have another business lined up for the space.
The frozen yogurt business downtown certainly got more competitive in recent months with the opening of TCBY at Ninth and Massachusetts in the former Penny Annies location. Both operated with the same philosophy of serve yourself and then take your yogurt up to be weighed. (Dangerous business trying to gauge the weight of food. Lawrence Memorial Hospital once had a spaghetti bar that operated like that. One of the more important lessons I’ve learned in life: Spaghetti is heavy, although it was the best $22 hospital lunch I’ve ever had.)
TCBY, though, also has the added advantage of being a Mrs. Fields Cookie retailer as well. (Because of the observant nature of my job, I have observed they do give free samples of that product.)
I’ll keep an ear out for word of what may be heading into the 3 Spoons location. As for people who have a gift certificate to the 3 Spoons location in Lawrence, the company is asking you to e-mail email@example.com find out the details for a refund.
Sometimes the job was about building a single sidewalk in front of someone’s home. Sometimes it was about building an entire neighborhood.
Margene Swarts has been the official city guru when it comes to all things related to the city’s participation in the federal Community Development Block Grant and HOME funding programs.
Soon, the city will have to hang out a “guru wanted” sign. Swarts is retiring after working at City Hall for the last 33 years. Her last day on the job is Friday.
The CDBG and HOME programs primarily are focused on helping lower income homeowners or neighborhoods make improvements with federal dollars. Recently, the lighted pedestrian path that runs through Oread neighborhood and down to South Park, was constructed in large part with CDBG funds. To see an even bigger project, the federal funding was critical to the HAND Addition, a neighborhood of 30 below-market-rate homes built near 24th and Haskell more than a decade ago.
Between the CDBG and HOME programs, the city receives about $1.15 million a year in federal funding to address neighborhood and affordable housing issues. And some of those issues can be pretty localized. Neighborhood associations frequently apply for the money to fund everything from clean-up days to the salaries for neighborhood association coordinators.
Swarts said the job has involved becoming familiar with a litany of federal regulations, but she’s enjoyed it. “I feel like it has been a wonderful opportunity to work in the community,” Swarts said. “It definitely has been a way to meet a lot of great people.”
Swarts — who started as a building and code inspector with the city — held the title of assistant director of development services, which is the department that oversees everything from building permits to trash in yard complaints.
Scott McCullough, director of development and planning services, said the city is still working out a transition plan for how it will fill that position.
“We’re committed to keeping the service running smoothly,” McCullough said. “But Margene has been our local expert for a long time. There is just a tremendous amount of experience there.” Swarts said she and her husband plan to remain in the area during retirement.
It is spring, which of course means that my crop of crabgrass soon will take off. (That sound you heard was my neighbor who reads this throwing her computer across the kitchen.)
But maybe a different type of crop comes to mind for you with the changing of the season. Fresh produce, it appears, is on the minds of more people than ever these days.
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for yet another farmers’ market.
The folks at Clinton Parkway Nursery — right at the corner of Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive — have filed plans for a farmers’ market every Wednesday evening from May through August.
If you are keeping track at home, there will be farmers’ markets on Tuesday (Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market), Wednesday (Clinton Parkway Nursery, assuming it is approved), Thursday (Cottin’s Hardware near 19th and Massachusetts), and Saturday (Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market.)
Ann Peuser, an owner of Clinton Parkway Nursery, said people are creating a strong demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables. And she said indications are that West Lawrence residents want a market that allows them to buy a little closer to their neighborhoods.
The Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market has had a West Lawrence market in the past. Within the last two years it had a market in the parking lot of the shopping center on the southwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. But as that shopping center started to fill up with new tenants, the market lost its lease. I think the idea of a westside market, though, was starting to gain some momentum.
We’ll find out soon enough how much of an appetite the community has for farmers’ markets. If approved, the Clinton Parkway market will open May 15. Peuser said plans call for the market to be open from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.
She said she expects to have about a dozen vendors — they’ll focus on actual produce, not crafts and such — and she already has “quite a list” of producers who are interested in the market. The market will be in a portion of the nursery’s parking lot.
While the Clinton Parkway market won’t get going until mid-May, the Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market in the 800 block of New Hampshire has set its opening day as Saturday, April 13. I don’t yet see an opening date listed for the Cottin’s Hardware market on its Web site, but it indicates its outdoor market (it has a small indoor market currently) will open in May.
Although I considered it, I won’t have a booth at any of them. But if you need some starter shoots of crabgrass, just get in touch with me and we can dicker. If you buy in bulk, I bet my neighbor will even finance the deal.
There is a checkout of note at the Lawrence Public Library.
Susan Brown, the marketing director of the Lawrence Public Library, soon will be leaving to become the library director for the city of Chapel Hill, N.C.
According to the Web site of the city of Chapel Hill (which, by the way, promotes itself as “the southern part of heaven”), Brown will start her new job on May 20.
It will be a bit of a homecoming for Brown, who received her master’s degree in library science from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and previously was a reference librarian in Raleigh, N.C. No word yet on whether she has to buy a harp to move to Chapel Hill or not. (Or since it is southern, perhaps a fiddle will do.)
Also no word yet on what the Lawrence Public Library’s plans are for filling the library’s marketing position.
More LJWorld City News Coverage
I am so glad I didn’t follow through on my original plans for lunch yesterday: A bourbon, a bag of Doritos and a gallon of ice cream.
Forget about ruining my health. I could have ruined Douglas County’s reputation.
A new study out today shows Douglas County is indeed one of the healthiest places in Kansas. The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps study, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ranks Douglas County the ninth healthiest county by one measure and the seventh healthiest by another.
Douglas County ranks ninth in the category of health outcomes, which basically measures mortality rates — how long we live — and morbidity — which measures how healthy we feel while we’re alive.
But let’s face it, part of how long we live and how healthy we feel is just dumb luck. So the report puts together a separate ranking that measures several types of behaviors or conditions that theoretically should impact our health. I’m talking about things like alcohol and tobacco use, violent crime rates, obesity rates, air-quality measurements and a host of other factors.
In that ranking, we do even better. The county checks in at No. 7 in the state. (There are many things they measure, but I didn’t see one measuring lunches of alcohol, sweets and snack foods, so I may have been OK.) How do we stack up in some of the categories? Here’s a look at our rankings. (The study ranked 102 of the state’s 105 counties, and the lower the number the better the ranking.)
• Tobacco use: 35th
• Diet and exercise: Third
• Alcohol use (measured by the rate of “excessive drinking” as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and motor vehicle crash death rates): 52nd
• Sexual activity (measured by teen birth rates and chlamydia incidence rates): 54th
• Access to health care: 30th
• Quality of health care: Fifth
• Education: Third
• Employment rates: 65th
• Income (as measured by the percentage of children living in poverty): 11th
• Family and social support (measured, in part, by the percent of children living in single-parent households): 50th
• Community safety (measured by violent crime rates): 89th
• Environmental quality (measured by air and water quality standards): Sixth
• Built environment (measured, in part, by the amount of fast-food restaurants, the public’s access to recreation facilities): 46th
As for who the heck is healthier than Douglas County, the answer is a mix of counties. The top five counties in terms of health outcomes (mortality and morbidity) are:
• First: Johnson County (home to, well, I’ll let you fill in the blank).
• Second: Riley County (home to Manhattan and Kansas State University).
• Three: Stevens County (home to Hugoton and views of the edge of the world).
• Fourth: Pottawatomie County (a neighboring county to Riley).
• Fifth: Ellis County (Home to Fort Hays State University).
There’s a ton of other data on a special Web site the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created for this study. You can find everything from the number of Douglas County motor vehicle deaths (61) to the local number of chlamydia cases (426).
But I’ll leave you with just one more ranking. The report has a ranking of “health behaviors.” It is a ranking that looks at several of the sub-categories such as alcohol use, sexual activity, diet and exercise and tobacco use. Douglas County ranks eighth. But what caught my eye was my home county of Osage County, which borders Douglas County to the southwest. It ranked 101st, or second to last in the state. The only place that ranked worse was Wyandotte County, which almost borders Douglas County to the east.
So, in essence, we’re like part of this sandwich. Based on our two neighbors, it is like a triple Whopper with extra cheese and bacon. And then along comes Douglas County who puts a helping of alfalfa sprouts on it. No wonder so many people don’t like us.
Oh well, fellow Douglas Country residents, enjoy your health ranking — while you can.
I’m starting to plan lunch. And I feel my Osage County roots coming out today.
More LJWorld City News Coverage
Business-oriented political action committee gets big donations, endorses Chestnut, Farmer, Riordan in City Commission race
The finish line is in sight, and it seems as if the race for the Lawrence City Commission is about to kick into another gear.
Last weekend, Lawrence residents saw a pretty clear sign that the competition is about to heat up: Campaign spending by a new pro-business political action committee.
A new PAC, called Lawrence United, sent out a postcard mailing to residents during the weekend endorsing three of the six candidates for Lawrence City Commission — Rob Chestnut, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan.
The one campaign finance report the group has filed so far shows the PAC has some fundraising chops, thanks in large part to a sizable donation from one of the city’s larger construction companies.
Penny’s Concrete — the firm owned by longtime Lawrence businessman Bill Penny — gave $5,000 to the PAC during the Jan. 1 through Feb. 14 reporting period.
The Lawrence firm of Paul Werner Architects also gave $1,000 to the organization. Werner has been in the news recently as the lead architect for the Rock Chalk Park sports village proposed for northwest Lawrence. Werner has served as the architect for many of the projects proposed and built by Thomas Fritzel, who has been the driving force behind the public-private partnership to build the Rock Chalk Park and city-owned recreation center.
The postcard mailer sent out this weekend didn’t go into any specifics on any issue, including the recreation center. Its main message was it supports “candidates who support creating a sustainable, vibrant and growing economy.”
Penny’s Concrete is the type of business that benefits from a variety of development — everything from new streets to new building construction. For whatever it is worth, and as we previously have reported, Penny has been a business partner with Fritzel on past deals, including a struggling housing development in Junction City that created some headlines recently.
In total, the PAC raised $7,700 in the reporting period. It received donations from five others: $500 from Lawrence-based O’Malley Beverage; $500 from OSS Solutions Inc., a Lawrence-based wireless consulting company; $150 from Doug Gaumer, president of the Lawrence operations of Intrust Bank and also the current chair of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce; $150 from Kathy Gaumer, a Lawrence physician and wife of Doug; $200 from HKG Consulting, a medical consulting business that, based on the address of the business, appears to be run by the Gaumers.
According to paperwork at the Kansas Secretary of State’s office, United Lawrence set up a limited liability company to run the new organization. Casey Meek, a Lawrence attorney, is listed as resident agent of the company and also is listed as treasurer of the political action committee. The company’s articles of incorporation indicated the organization has a board of directors, but a document isn’t yet on file with the secretary of state’s office listing those directors. But I’ll give Meek a call today to see if he can disclose those members.
Political action committees aren’t unheard of in Lawrence City Commission politics. In the 1990s, a group called Progressive Lawrence actively campaigned for candidates that it thought would give neighborhoods more of a voice in the City Hall process. And candidates frequently receive donations from political organizations related to various building trades unions, police and firefighter organizations and other such groups.
Nonetheless, the mailing had candidates in the race talking. Political observers are now waiting to see if Chestnut, Farmer and Riordan start running more coordinated campaigns.
I’m not sure they will. The trio produces some interesting political mathematics to contemplate. Farmer finished second in the primary, Riordan finished third and Chestnut finished fourth. In this election, only the top three win a seat. So for all three of the Lawrence United candidates to win election, they’ll have to unseat the primary's top finisher, multi-term incumbent Mike Amyx.
History shows that knocking the winner of the primary out of the top three spots in the general election is difficult to do. In the approximately 20 years I’ve covered City Commission elections, I remember it happening only once. If that trend holds true, the fight for the final spot may very well come down to a battle between two of the Lawrence United candidate, in which case coordinated campaigning doesn’t work too well.
And I suspect the three candidates who were not endorsed by the Lawrence United group — Amyx, Scott Criqui and Leslie Soden — will attempt to turn that into a political positive as well. Endorsements by business-oriented groups don’t always play well in some Lawrence voting circles.
But as they say on Wall Street, past results don’t guarantee future returns. And with such a light turnout for this year’s primary election, who know what may happen in the April 2 general election.
But it looks like it will be a spirited contest to the end. Officials at the Douglas County Clerk’s office told me Lawrence United is the only political action committee that has filed paperwork with the office, but such groups can form at any time.
The $7,700 raised by Lawrence United was just from the period during the primary election. Campaign finance reports for the period leading up to the April 2 general election aren’t due until next week. It will be interesting to see how active the group has been since then, and how much more campaigning Lawrence United will do in the closing days of the race.
I wonder what type of music they play in Mexican musical chairs. Whatever it is, keep an ear out for it on Massachusetts Street.
I’ve gotten confirmation that the popular Mexican/Latin American eatery La Parrilla will be moving into the space that recently was vacated by Tapas at 724 Massachusetts Street.
Allison Vance Moore, of the Lawrence office of Colliers International, confirmed to me that she has brokered a deal for the owners of La Parrilla to buy the large downtown building that previously housed several other restaurants, including Joe Shmo’s, and way back when, Prairie Fire.
The purchase was finalized on Friday, and Moore said La Parrilla has tentatively set a late spring timeline to open in the new location, a block from its current spot at 814 Massachusetts.
La Parrilla has been open in downtown since 1999, when Subarna Bhattachan and Alejandro Lule teamed up to open the restaurant that focuses on dishes from Mexico, Central America and South America. The duo has become one of the more successful restaurant teams in downtown over the last decade. The pair also is part of the ownership group that owns Zen Zero and Genovese restaurants. Last spring, the pair began a Kansas City area expansion, opening a La Parrilla at 119th and Strang Line Road in Olathe.
I haven’t yet gotten in touch with Bhattachan or Lule to find out their plans for the new space, which is significantly larger than what they have currently.
But Moore told me there has been some talk of using the upstairs space at the new location for private parties or to host special events, similar to the wine and food tastings that Genovese frequently hosts.
If I get in touch with either of the two chefs today, I’ll let you know of anything else interesting.
As for Tapas, we reported last week that it plans to re-open but hasn’t yet announced a new location or timeline. I still haven’t confirmed either, but sources tell me that Tapas indeed is serious about re-opening. I’m told a location on Massachusetts Street is most likely.
Then there is La Parrilla’s soon-to-be-former spot at 814 Massachusetts Street. That building is owned by a company led by longtime Lawrence landlords George and Judy Paley. I also don’t have anything confirmed about its future, but sources tell me a tenant already is in the works, most likely a restaurant of some sort. So, plenty more to write about in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, cue the music, and somebody start packing the chips and salsa.
Perhaps this is one more sign that a recovery in Lawrence’s housing market is starting to take hold.
Leaders with The University National Bank of Lawrence announced today that federal regulators recently have ended their special oversight of the bank, which was related to the bank’s struggles during the real estate downturn.
According to federal documents, the Comptroller of the Currency has ended a Formal Agreement that it had with The University National Bank dating back to 2009. The Formal Agreement had placed lending limitations on the bank and had required the bank to undertake a special strategic plan.
“We could not be more pleased with this news,” said Todd Sutherland, president and CEO of the bank. “This decision by our primary regulator validates our long-term strategic vision that UNB will continue to serve its customers, shareholders and staff in a safe and sound manner well into the future.”
Sutherland said the bank now is free to pursue the strategies it sees fit for the Lawrence market, both in residential and commercial lending.
Sutherland told me that he believe there is reason for some optimism on the residential real estate front. “We’re starting to see some positive signs,” Sutherland said. “I think housing is starting to recover, although slowly. But we’re seeing again that houses that are priced appropriately will sell. We’ve had a correction take place.”
Sutherland said he has a strong outlook for 2013.
“We’re very positive on it,” Sutherland said. “As long as interest rates stay low, and the Fed has made that commitment, it bodes well for housing.”
New downtown store opens with focus on selling locally produced goods; Warehouse Arts District hires promoter, moving ahead with second loft apartment project
Even if you are like me and know more about pizzas than Picassos and understand mimosas better than Monet, it is still hard to miss that there is a significant art trend underway in downtown Lawrence.
There’s the Warehouse Arts District that continues to form around the old Poehler grocery warehouse building in East Lawrence, the Final Fridays events seem to be growing larger downtown, the Lawrence Arts Center is in competition for some major grants, and the city recently formed a new “cultural district” to encompass downtown and the surrounding area in an effort to create a more comprehensive effort to showcase the arts. What folks may not be picking up on as much is that the private sector is getting in on the act, too. The latest example is Essential Goods, a new arts and crafts based stored at 15 E. Seventh St.
The store, which is in space above the Java Break, carries the work of local artists and craftsmen, said Molly Crook, an owner of the new shop. The work includes handmade sweaters, purses, local photography, a variety of jewelry, cards and prints, locally made candles and a line of natural body care products. About a third of the space is devoted to a studio that produces the body care products and candles.
The bulk of the store’s inventory, though, comes from other area artists — about 20 at this point — who sell their work on consignment. Crook said that is becoming a real trend in downtown, following on the success of the Massachusetts Street-based store Made, which also sells locally produced products.
“It has been neat,” Crook said. “Stores like Made have really opened up a portal. Before, everybody was just trying to do this online.”
Crook said it will be interesting to see how far the trend goes. Already she is noticing more traditional downtown retailers starting to carry locally produced goods as part of their inventories.
“I definitely think people are looking for more local and handmade works,” Crook said.
The new store currently is open Thursday through Saturday, but Crook said an expansion of hours is being considered.
As I mentioned above, the Warehouse Arts District near the area of Eighth and Pennsylvania streets is continuing to make noise. The latest is it has hired a new full-time employee to promote the district.
Patti McCormick, who worked for several years as the main promoter for the local group that owns The Oread and The Eldridge hotels, has been hired by developer Tony Krsnich to promote the district.
McCormick said she is entering the job with the idea that the district has a chance to become a “national creative arts destination.” There already are several artists who have their studios in what is called the SeedCo Building, an old warehouse a bit south of the Eighth and Pennsylvania intersection.
The district, though, will make its biggest splash in the coming weeks. McCormick said the Cider Gallery is scheduled to open by the end of the month in a building just west of the renovated Poehler Lofts building. The gallery, as we’ve previously reported, will be a sister gallery to the Kansas City-based Weinberger Fine Art Gallery. McCormick said the plan calls for the Lawrence gallery to feature “nationally recognized, emerging and museum quality artists.”
Also, as we’ve previously reported, Krsnich and his partners have a plan to build a new building to house apartment lofts on vacant ground just south of the Poehler building. The latest news on that project is that Krsnich has settled on a size and has submitted an application for low-income housing tax credits to the state. According to information provided to the city, Krsnich is planning on a 40-unit loft development, with 34 of the units being designated as low-income units that would have rent-controls placed upon them by the state.
City officials recently wrote a letter of support for the project to the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, which hands out the tax credits. It looks like the agency is expected to make a decision in May on what projects will be awarded credits.
Rebecca Buford, executive director of Lawrence's Tenants to Homeowners, also confirmed to me today that Tenants to Homeowners will be a partner in the project. The organization will be the nonprofit partner that will allow the project to apply for $400,000 in state HOME funds and $400,000 in funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank.
Tenants to Homeowners main mission is to help people buy affordable housing in the city, but Buford said her organization has seen a need to increase affordable rental units in the city.
"There are plenty of apartments in Lawrence," Buford said. "That's not the problem. There is just a gap in affordability."
Once the project is built, the development group — not Tenants to Homeowners — will serve as the manager of the project, but Tenants to Homeowners will have an oversight role.
One last art item to get out of the system. If you are an actual artist who has a Lawrence-based project on your mind, there’s a grant program out there wanting to hear from you. But the deadline is quickly approaching. The deadline for the city of Lawrence’s Community Arts Grant program is 5 p.m. on March 25. The program uses city funds to provide grants of $500 to $2,000 for projects that “promote awareness and appreciation of the arts in Lawrence and encourages arts collaborations within the community.” Click here for an application.
Census rejects city’s appeal of 2010 population totals; new Census numbers for Douglas County show growth slowed in 2012
I suppose all great disputes get to this point: the discussion of fecal matter.
That is what it has come to in the dispute between Lawrence City Hall and the U.S. Census Bureau.
The city and the Census Bureau still don’t agree on how many people live in Lawrence, and now it is official. The Census Bureau recently notified the city it has rejected the city’s appeal of the bureau’s 2010 Census findings for the city.
No matter, city officials are convinced their local data showing the city has a little more than 94,000 people is correct. And they have at least one unique piece of evidence to back it up: the weight of fecal matter.
City commissioners were told at their Tuesday meeting that the city has at least 30 years worth of data about how much “organic material” comes into the city’s sewer plant each year. (Yes, “organic material” is code for just what you are thinking.) Over the years, that number broken out on a per capita basis has remained pretty steady. Officials with the city’s utilities department told commissioners that the numbers they’re seeing tend to support the city’s population estimate more so than the Census Bureau’s count.
And that sounded good to city commissioners. (Well, maybe that’s not the best way to say that.) Regardless, the new direction for the city is to use the locally produced population estimates rather than relying on data from the Census that local officials now question.
The difference is significant. In 2010, the Census found the city had 87,643 people. The city believed it had about 90,000 people. The city’s Planning Department now estimates the city’s 2013 population to be 94,586 people. The Census hasn’t produced a 2013 population estimate yet, but the city expects it to be around 90,000 people. That’s a difference of about 5 percent.
And the difference likely will get bigger as more years pass because all the estimates use the 2010 total as a baseline. By 2020, who knows how much the Census Bureau and the city will disagree on the city’s population. The numbers have an impact on federal grants and that sort of thing, but the city also needs a good population number to do good planning. Like for a $64 million sewage treatment plant that the city gave preliminary approval to on Tuesday. (That’s why fecal matter data was so readily available, in case you are wondering.)
Population growth is one factor — although not the only one — in the city’s decision to move forward on the large project. The city is betting on a new era of growth. There’s a case to be made for that, but the city can’t point to Census data as a reason for their optimism.
With this appeal now in the books, the decade of the 2000s is now officially the slowest growth period for Lawrence since the Great Depression. The city grew at a rate of 0.9 percent a year for the decade of the 2000s, well below the more than 2 percent annual growth rates the city experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.
As for who is right and who is wrong in this dispute, I don’t know. The fecal data is interesting (never know what phrases you are going to write in this job), but it may not be the best indicator. As utility officials admit, not all of that material is human waste and not all of it comes from households. For example, when Hallmark starts producing more cards and envelopes as part of its Lawrence expansion, that project is expected to produce waste that is the equivalent of about 500 additional people. So, you can see how the numbers may be tough to interpret.
The Census Bureau, though, hasn’t done much to increase its credibility either. In notifying the city it was rejecting its appeal, the bureau did admit that it had messed up the count in some areas of town. But the Census is contending that it got the total count for the city right, but it didn’t allocate that population to some of the neighborhoods correctly. City officials have raised their eyebrows at that.
Tuesday’s meeting and its fecal content did produce a few good jokes from commissioners — mainly about how the city may want to offer its “weighing pooh” method to the Census Bureau.
What won’t be funny is if the city plans for and budgets for a lot of growth, and then it doesn’t happen. We’ll see who gets the last laugh — in about a decade or so.
These numbers are just in this morning, so I thought I would add them on here. The Census Bureau has released it 2012 population estimates for Douglas County.
The new numbers won’t do anything to settle the dispute. If anything, they just add to it.
The Census Bureau found that from July 1, 2011, to July 1, 2012, Douglas County grew at a rate even slower than the rate the 2010 Census found.
The 2012 Douglas County population estimate checks in at 112,864 people, an increase of just 620 people for the year. That’s a growth rate of 0.5 percent. The 2010 Census found Douglas County during the decade of the 2000s grew at an average annual rate of about 1 percent. So now the Census Bureau is estimating we’re growing at about half that rate.
Oh, fecal matter.
Perhaps, the problem is we just don’t have enough purple. The new numbers show population growth around Kansas State University continues to boom. Manhattan’s metro area had a 2.8 percent population increase for the year, the 10th fastest for any metro area in the country.
Geary County, home to Junction City, had an increase of 7.4 percent for the year, the third fastest growth rate of any county in the country.
Douglas County did better than several other places, though. Several counties around us declined for the year. Here’s a look at the numbers for some other area counties:
— Johnson County 559,913 people (1.2 percent growth) — Leavenworth: 77,739 (0.7 percent increase) — Wyandotte: 159,129 ( 0.7 percent increase) — Sedgwick: 503,899 (0.5 percent increase) — Shawnee 178,991 (less than 0.1 percent increase) — Franklin County 25,906 (less than 0.1 percent decline) — Jefferson County 18,945 (0.2 percent decline) — Osage County: 16,142 (1.1 percent decline)
Perhaps you have heard about it, and now you’ll get to see it too: The proposed $25 million city-owned recreation center in Rock Chalk Park.
The city will host an open house from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on March 26 at City Hall for folks to view plans and renderings for the proposed 181,000-square-foot, eight-gym recreation center.
City officials are getting the open house in right under the wire. About 30 minutes after the open house concludes, commissioners are scheduled give the OK for the city to seek bids on the project.
In other words, if you want to provide any feedback to commissioners that they’ll have time to consider, you may want to take a look at the plans and renderings now. Click here to see what the city has available.
The basic components of the center really hasn’t changed from what has been proposed for many months. Among the major features:
• Eight full-court gyms that also can be used as 16 cross-court gyms or 16 volleyball courts.
• An indoor turf area that will be striped to accommodate one full length soccer field or three cross court fields.
• A gymnastics area.
• A four-lane, indoor walking/running track.
• A dance studio.
• A cardio and weight room area.
• Two party rooms that can be rented for birthday parties and other such events.
But what we haven’t seen much of — especially since the project moved from the west side of Sixth Street and the SLT interchange to the east side of the road — are renderings of the exterior. The city now has a couple of those that they are sharing.
The March 26 open house will be a come-and-go type of event rather than a forum during which the city takes comment about the project. But I’m sure there will be city officials on hand who will be able to answer questions.
In terms of questions, I still get a few from readers about the project. Let me see if I can answer a couple of them here.
• Have all the key votes on the project already taken place? No. On March 5, the City Commission on a 4-1 vote approved a development agreement for the project. That certainly was the most significant vote the commission has taken on the recreation center project yet. It sent the clear message that the city plans to build the recreation center, and the agreement seems to commit the city to pay at least $2 million worth of costs, if for some reason it decides not to build the center.
• What other votes are left to be taken? Well, the city will have to vote to put the project out to bid at the March 26 meeting. That shouldn’t be much of a deal. But there are two more votes that will be a little more interesting because they both will come after a new City Commission is seated on April 9. One vote will be to accept construction bids for the project, and the other will be to issue bonds that will pay for the project. Those votes are where the rubber meets the road.
• Does the current crop of City Commission candidates have any interest in revisiting the issue? Might they choose not to accept the construction bids? Well, legally, the new City Commission could choose to reject the bids or decline to issue debt for the project. There’s nothing in the approved development agreement that forces the next City Commission to do the project.
But whether there are any candidates who have a strong inclination to reverse the decision of a previous City Commission is a bit hard to ascertain. What is clear: Two candidates — Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan — have been pretty supportive of the recreation center project throughout their campaign.
Mike Amyx — the lone incumbent in the field — voted against the project. Rob Chestnut, as a member of the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee, voted against recommending the package of economic development incentives for the KU-oriented projects in the adjacent Rock Chalk Park project. But that’s different from saying he doesn’t support the recreation center project and, indeed, he has said he likes the concept, although he has some concerns about the financial arrangements. At a March 6 Voter Education Coalition forum, he made statements indicating he wouldn’t be game for reversing the past commission’s decisions on the project.
The two remaining candidates — Scott Criqui and Leslie Soden — have expressed multiple concerns about the project, but when asked about the project at the March 6 forum, neither said anything about overturning the City Commission’s decision on the issue. But that also wasn’t exactly the question they were asked by the moderator.
At Monday’s North Lawrence candidate forum, Soden, Criqui and Amyx all brought up the recreation issue unsolicited. Soden said she was interested in reducing the size of the building by half, and Amyx made an interesting statement.
“The next City Commission will do more on this project than the current commission,” Amyx told the crowd. “We’re going to be dealing with the financing of it. Three members of this panel right here will become a majority of the next commission. That’s a reason to get out and vote.”
So, tough to ascertain what type of issue the recreation center will be on the campaign trail. But as part of our campaign coverage, we will attempt to get the candidates to more directly answer the question of whether they would consider overturning the city commission’s previous decision on the issue.
But here’s something to remember: Math makes it unlikely that such an overturn will happen. Two existing commissioners will remain on the commission: Bob Schumm and Mike Dever. They are the two strongest supporters of the recreation center project on the commission. That means three candidates who disfavor the current project would have to win in the City Commission election.
After the primary, Amyx, Farmer and Riordan held the top three spots. As we’ve noted, two of those three have expressed consistent support for the proposed project.
With weather like this, it soon will be time to hit the golf course. (For my golfing buddy, that also means it will be time to hit course-side houses, vehicles passing by the course, and innocent bystanders in the next fairway over.)
Now, you have a new option to do all of that — sort of. The Orchards Golf Course — in between Kasold and Iowa on Bob Billings Parkway — has been sold and changed its name. It is now operating as CobbleStone Golf Course. (That sounds appropriate for my buddy. He is constantly trying to cobble together a swing, and the people who have the misfortune of playing behind us often want to stone him.)
Richard McGhee, a Topeka resident and retired executive from Blue Cross Blue Shield, finalized his purchase of the course from longtime owner Ed White last week.
McGhee — who owns the course with his wife, Chris — said his plans simply are to keep the course in as nice a shape as possible and market the facility to people who are looking for a quicker round of golf.
The course is a short, nine-hole facility that was built to serve as an “executive golf course.” Depending on your skill, the course is designed to be played in less than two hours.
“We are interested in catering to people who like a shorter course,” McGhee said. “That might be youth or high school players or senior citizens or anybody in the middle. I’ve had some people tell me they go in a half-hour early to work, stay a half-hour late, take an extra 45 minutes for lunch and they can justify playing a round of golf out here over their lunch break.” (My buddy tried combining eating and golfing once. A golf ball ended up in a living room, and, well, I won’t even tell you where the hot dog ended up.)
Rates at the new course are $16 for weekend play, walking. On weekdays, the rate drops to $11, and McGhee is offering a $10 weekday rate for high school students and seniors.
Terms of the Orchards sale weren't disclosed, but the property previously had an asking price of $385,000.
McGhee, who is new to the business of owning a golf course, said he bought the property to operate as a golf course. That’s a good thing because there is a covenant on the course’s property that calls for it to forever be a golf course or else become open space.
Neighbors around the course several years ago banded together to pay former owner White development rights for the course. At the time, White had put the property on the market and was considering offers from developers who wanted to convert the course into a residential development.
The golf business may get interesting in Lawrence again. Business has picked up at the city’s Eagle Bend Golf Course. The course below the Clinton Lake Dam turned an operating profit in 2012 of $27,000 — which means its revenue was that much above its expenses, not including its debt payment.
But I think everybody in the local golf industry will be watching with interest what happens in northwest Lawrence. As we previously have reported, the Arkansas-based company that has proposed The Links project seems serious about actually building it this year. The property would be just east of the proposed Rock Chalk Park sports village at Sixth and the SLT. The project would include a nine-hole golf course surrounded by 630 apartments.
Tenants of the apartment will have green fees included in their rent. What will be interesting to see is if The Links also allows public play on the course. The company has allowed that at some of their other properties around the country. Either way, it seems like the new course will take some rounds away from some area courses.
The project has its necessary zoning and major development approvals, so if the company is serious, I would think work would begin in the near future.
Hallmark now believes about 200 jobs will be added to Lawrence plant when work moves from shuttered Topeka facility
Officials with Hallmark have revealed more details about their ongoing efforts to close their Topeka plant and transfer the work to the company’s Lawrence facility.
And it is more good news for Lawrence.
The greeting card company is now estimating there will be about 700 jobs at the Lawrence production center, 101 McDonald Drive, when the transition is complete at the end of the year.
That’s up from the about 500 employees the Lawrence plant has had over the past several years, and it also is more than what Hallmark officials indicated when they made the consolidation announcement in October. Back then, Hallmark officials estimated it would have about 1,000 employees in northeast Kansas and that they would be about evenly split between the company’s Lawrence and Leavenworth plants.
Hallmark officials now are estimating the Leavenworth plant will have about 300 employees.
“I would caution everyone that there is still a big ‘about’ in front of all those statements, but those are the numbers we’re planning on right now,” Linda Odell, a Hallmark spokeswoman, said.
Hallmark officials said they now expect the Topeka plant, which has been open since 1966, to close by the end of the year. Work to ready the Lawrence plant for the new employees already is under way.
As we previously reported, city officials in January issued a $600,000 building permit for interior modifications at the Hallmark plant. In February, city officials issued permits for another $556,500, bringing total construction work at the site to $1.15 million.
Odell said the company is not planning a physical expansion of the building, but rather is making modifications to the interior to accommodate additional equipment.
When the transition is complete, the Lawrence production center will produce all domestic Hallmark greeting cards and envelopes. Previously, the Topeka plant was responsible for all domestic production of envelopes, and Lawrence and Topeka shared in the greeting card production.
Lawrence’s ribbon and sticker production lines are being moved to the company’s Leavenworth plant. Odell said she didn’t yet have an estimate of how many of the new Lawrence jobs will be transfers from Topeka versus new hires to the company.
She said over the last several months Hallmark has been offering voluntary buyouts to employees who have shown an interest in leaving the company. Odell said nearly 300 employees have taken advantage of the program. Hallmark is reducing its workforce in northeast Kansas from about 1,300 to 1,000 people in an effort to improve the company’s cost structure.
Odell also didn’t have an estimate on the wages for the new positions, but she said the new Lawrence jobs would be very similar to the production positions that already exist at the plant.
Also on Tuesday, the company made two management announcements for the Lawrence plant. Lawrence resident David Millen has been appointed to oversee domestic greeting card production for Hallmark.
Millen previously had been the general manager for Hallmark’s Topeka plant. He now will oversee operations in Lawrence as part of his new job.
Keith Kennedy, who has been the general manager of the Lawrence plant since 2010, is now overseeing the consolidation efforts for Hallmark in northeast Kansas.
Dandelions are the sure sign of spring in some communities. In Lawrence, it is street parties. During the last several years, closing a city street to host an event has grown in popularity. This year will be no exception. City officials are processing a bunch of requests for upcoming events. Here’s a look:
• For the third straight year, the Kansas Relays plans to use downtown Lawrence as a venue for two of its top events. From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17 the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire streets will become the site of the Relays top-flight shot put competition. About 10 world class shot putters are expected to compete. The intersection and the 100 block of East Eighth Street will be closed from 6 a.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday while city crews build and then dismantle the shot put venue. As in past years, the 100 block of East Eighth Street also will be an entertainment zone, which will have a special permit from City Hall to allow outdoor beer sales. The shot put event gets rave reviews and draws large crowds. But when you write it down, it does sound a bit odd: The combination of shot putters, a city street and a party. Sounds to me like we have the plot for a hit cable television reality show.
• The following day — from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 18 — the relays will be in another part of downtown for its annual top-tier women’s long jump competition. That competition, in the 100 block of West Eighth Street, will close that block from 11 a.m. to midnight. Like the shot put event, there will be an entertainment zone surrounding the competition, including outdoor alcohol sales. Eight to 10 athletes are expected to compete. I haven’t heard yet who that group will include, but it could be particularly exciting. As of last week, KU has the NCAA Indoor National Champion long jumper in Andrea Geubelle.
• Watching an athlete run and jump more than 20 feet in the air seems like an artistic event to me — especially if I can do it while having an adult beverage — but if you are looking for a more traditional art event, one is on the way. The Lawrence Art Guild will host its annual Art in the Park art fair in South Park on May 5. The Sunday event will close Massachusetts Street from North Park Street to South Park Street from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on May 5.
• This one isn’t in a city street, but it is a rite of spring for those of us who have grease under our fingernails from time to time. The local chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America on May 3-5 will host its annual swap meet at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. This event is your chance to walk through rows and rows of auto parts and amaze your friends by pointing at items and saying things such as: “Timing belt for a ’49 Ford.” What? You can do that, right? (I certainly can, as long as no one with me knows what a timing belt off a ’49 Ford looks like.)
In case you are keeping track at home, the city is involved with this event just a bit because it is allowing a portion of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant to be used as parking for the event. Some readers in the past have asked whether a portion of the Farmland property will be used to permanently expand the adjacent Douglas County Fairgrounds. That was a plan at one point in time. There are maps at City Hall that show a portion of the Farmland property being used for the fairgrounds. But it appears as the project has evolved, that idea has fallen by the wayside. The more recent plans for the property show the spot once set aside for the fairgrounds being used for industrial lots, which is how the bulk of the 400-plus acre property will be used.
This year’s event will be the 50th anniversary for the swap meet.
• If fixed up cars, rather than ones in parts and pieces are more your style, there’s an event for you. On Saturday, Sept. 28, downtown will host the Rev it Up Hot Rod Hullabaloo car show. The Saturday event will close Massachusetts Street from 11th to 13th streets from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
If none of those events is quite your style, don’t worry. There will be plenty more. Lawrence provides almost everyone an opportunity to stand in the middle of a street and partake in something.
Mexican restaurant Tapas closes as it loses lease on downtown building; Mexquisito expands into Eudora
The Trail of Margaritas — you may know it is as Massachusetts Street — now has one less waypoint.
Tapas, 724 Massachusetts St., has closed. Its last day in business was Saturday, general manager Dorothy Hopkins told me.
But fret not, all you folks who are worried about becoming dehydrated as you trek through downtown. Hopkins told me the restaurant is working hard to reopen in another location.
Hopkins said business was good at the restaurant, which had been open a little more than a year. But she said its building recently sold. Actually, I think it is under contract to be sold. Regardless, the new owners have other plans, and Tapas lost its lease.
Hopkins said the restaurant is in early discussions for another spot on Massachusetts Street, but it also is considering the Wakarusa Street corridor.
“I know some other restaurants are struggling in downtown, but our business has been excellent,” Hopkins said. “That is what is really sad about having to close.”
The potential move — which Hopkins said will take at least a month — has left the restaurant’s 26 employees in limbo.
As for what may be on tap for Tapas’ old building, I’ve heard another restaurant is the leading contender. I have a call into a person who I believe will be part of the new ownership group. If I hear back, I’ll let you know.
Perhaps there is a rule or something that when one Mexican restaurant goes out of business, another must open.
The folks who have Mexquisito, 712 Massachusetts St., have expanded into Eudora. The new restaurant opened on Friday, occupying a spot near 10th and Locust streets — kind of catty-corner from the Casey’s — in a spot formerly occupied by . . . a Mexican restaurant.
I had occasion to check it out this weekend, and it brings some of the same — what I would call, slightly upscale — Mexican dishes that it serves at Mexquisito in downtown. You’ll have to decide whether my description is accurate. All I know is that when you order salsa, you get both the red and the green type, which provides the answer to a riddle: What do you get when you combine red and green? Another margarita.
Maybe my blood is running blue these days, but I have more country club news. Last week, we reported on news of management changes at Alvamar Country Club. Today, we have news about what a former local country club executive is up to.
Brent Boyle, who at various times over the last decade has worked as food and beverage director at Lawrence Country Club and also was club manager at Alvamar Country Club, has opened an Italian restaurant in Baldwin City.
Antonucci’s is at 519 Ames Street, which is across the street from the Kwik Shop. (All directions in Baldwin City originate from the Kwik Shop.)
Boyle said the restaurant focuses on classic Italian dishes. The restaurant has a culinary school-trained chef — Tad Ingles — who has prepared a menu that focuses on dishes made from scratch. That includes, homemade meatballs, a peppers and sausage dish that incoporates restaurant-made sausage, and made-from-scratch pizzas.
Boyle, who also owns the Baldwin Diner, said he was looking to create a bit more of a destination style restaurant in Baldwin City.
“I got to looking around and realized there really wasn’t a restaurant to take a date in Baldwin City,” Boyle said. The restaurant held its grand opening in late January, and Boyle said the restaurant is starting to attract Lawrence and Ottawa customers who want to take a bit of an evening drive.
“The new Highway 59 at 70 miles an hour really makes it pretty easy for people to get down here to Baldwin,” Boyle said.
There have been some changes at Alvamar Country Club that executives with the business say are designed to solidify its future as a locally owned golf and country club.
On March 1, the club ended its relationship with Billy Casper Golf, a management company that widely was viewed as preparing Alvamar for a sale.
At the beginning of the month, Alvamar brought in a new management team, led by former Alvamar executive Bryan Minnis, and signed an agreement with Leawood-based Orion Management Solutions to help with operations of the 36-hole golf and country club in west Lawrence.
Minnis said that with the change Alvamar no longer is listing the courses and club for sale with brokers and is no longer actively marketing the property.
“We’re going to operate it in a way that we may very well own it for the next 25 years,” Minnis said.
The club is owned by Alvamar Inc., the company founded by the late powerhouse Lawrence developer Bob Billings. The company has about 100 shareholders, including Minnis, who has served on Alvamar’s board. Minnis said that as those shareholders die and leave their shares to heirs, that is not the ideal ownership situation for the club. He said ultimately the ownership situation of the club likely will change, but the new philosophy is to let that process evolve more naturally.
“Alvamar is not for sale, but it could be bought,” Minnis said. “If the right buyer came along, we would have those discussions.”
But Minnis said he hopes the new direction of the club proves that the business isn’t in a holding pattern. Renovations are under way on the Alvamar clubhouse, including a complete remodel of the bar, and a new Bob Billings Banquet Room and a new “fireside lounge” honoring Charlie Oldfather, another of the club’s founders. The club also is examining the feasibility of an expansion that would add a new pool and fitness area.
On the golf course, new white silica sand is being added to the sand traps. (Alvamar has sand traps? I’ve never gotten out of the trees and the ponds.)
Minnis, who once served as Alvamar’s director of golf and sales/marketing before Billy Casper took over about two years ago, said there are no current plans to convert the 18-hole public course over to a fully private facility.
Alvamar has one private course and one public course, and there had been discussion under Billy Casper’s management to convert the public course to a members-only facility. But Minnis said he doesn’t believe that will be necessary until the club reaches about 800 golfing members. Currently, it has about 500 golfing members.
Minnis also confirmed that the company has been approached by developers interested in developing some types of retirement communities near the course. Minnis said Alvamar hasn’t ruled out the idea but isn’t actively pursuing it at the moment.
“The question really is whether it is possible.” Minnis said. “Do we have enough developable land internally, could it be approved, what would the impact be on Alvamar and the surrounding neighborhood? We don’t have plans of initiating anything ourselves, but we know their is interest from some developers in the community.”
In addition to Minnis, the new management team includes several other people who have worked in the area golf industry. They include:
• Eric Magnuson, director of golf, who previously was worked at Moila Shrine Country Club in St. Joseph, Mo., and was an assistant professional at Lawrence Country Club.
• Paul Hooser, director of instruction, who came from Overland Park’s city-owned golf courses.
• Jen Nuessen, dining and event services director, who previously has been with Adams Pointe Golf Club in Blue Springs, Mo., and the Shawnee Country Club in Topeka.
You’ve probably noticed a couple of SUV police vehicles on the streets.
Well, you will see more of them in the coming months. (Or perhaps you are a terrible driver and don’t notice police vehicles, in which case I predict higher numbers for the city’s ticket totals in 2013.)
City commissioners at their Tuesday meeting are set to set to approve a bid for eight more of the Ford Police Utility Interceptors. Commissioners are set to approve a bid from Shawnee Mission Ford of $25,700 each for the vehicles.
As we reported last month, police officials said the utility vehicles performed very well in the snow storms, and the purchase price of the SUVs is about the same as the more traditional models.
I’m not sure how the SUVs — they are actually fairly small for a utility vehicle — do on fuel mileage compared to the standard police car, but some reviews I’ve read indicate that SUV police vehicles are about 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the old Crown Victoria Police Interceptor vehicles that are still a part of many fleets.
No word yet on what percentage of Lawrence police fleet is expected to be comprised of the SUVs in the future.
You all must have been a bunch of angels in 2012.
There’s a new report out at City Hall, and it shows city police officers in 2012 issued the fewest number of citations — everything from speeding to noise violations — in at least five years
The Municipal Court’s annual report total citation activity checked in at 28,707 citations, down 7.6 percent from the approximately 31,000 tickets issued in 2011. The new totals mark the first time in at least five years that ticket volume has fallen below the 30,000-ticket level. The city’s recent high was 2010, when 39,699 tickets were issued.
One area where you perhaps weren’t so good is feeding that parking meter downtown. The city issued 94,064 parking meter tickets, an increase of about 5 percent from a year ago.
Here are some other facts figures from the recent report:
• Speeding tickets checked in at 2,268, up slightly from the 2,221 issued in 2011. But the city is issuing far fewer speeding tickets than it used to. In 2008, for example, the city issued more than 6,000 speeding tickets. It issued more than 5,000 tickets in 2009 and 2010, and then the totals plummeted.
In past years, city officials have said the decline has been caused in part because there have been several vacant positions in the city’s Police Department, although the past couple of city budgets have included funding to hire additional police officers. Still, Police Chief Tarik Khatib has told city commissioners on multiple occasions that the department still has serious staffing needs, and he says the department is having to shuffle its priorities in order to respond to the number of emergency calls coming into the city’s dispatch center.
I haven’t had a chance to talk to city officials yet about the report, but perhaps that is what is going on here. Or, maybe, everybody is just being so safe and courteous out on the roadways these days.
• Tickets for operating under the influence of alcohol hit a five-year low at 394. That’s down from the recent high of 798 in 2010. Minor-in-possession tickets also declined to 341, which is below the five-year average of about 375 tickets.
• Noise violations hit a new low at 176 tickets, down from the five-year high of 286 in 2008. I went a bit further back on this one to see how it compared to the days when the issue of party houses was a major topic of discussion at City Hall. The numbers are way off from that time. In 2006, for example, the city issued 449 noise violations.
• Apparently, even the animals are being better behaved. Cases for animals at-large (insert your own college student joke here) fell to a new five-year low at 303. That’s down from a five-year high of 513 in 2010.
• I don’t have past years to compare this with, but I found it interesting nonetheless: The number of downtown parkers who received a special habitual violator ticket — in other words, they had five or more parking meter violations within a 30-day period — was 1,502.
• The top traffic-related offenses in 2012 were: — Speeding: 2,268 — Seat belt violation: 1,684 — No proof of insurance: 1,617 — Stop sign violation: 754 — Driving while suspended: 701
• The top public-offense-related violations in 2012 were: — Theft: 394 — Minor in possession: 341 — Animal at large: 260 — Disorderly conduct: 212 — Battery: 208 — Criminal trespass: 208
I know some of the numbers above don’t match the ticket numbers reported earlier in the article. I believe the difference is that these are offense numbers and the others are ticket numbers. In other words, I think these numbers only reflect those cases that have been closed.
• The last statistic from the report is the one the budget-makers care about. Declining ticket volume did produce a decline in city revenue. Total revenue collected by the court was down 7 percent from a year ago, to $3.58 million.
Home sales up in January; new numbers on county’s property tax base; median home values fall sharply in Baldwin, Eudora, rural areas; weekly land transfers
The signs of spring are starting to show up: morning sunlight and chirping birds, an article in the newspaper about crabgrass prevention, and me looking for my hidey-hole when my wife starts talking about the spring cleaning of the garage.
Of course, one other sign of spring soon will be the banners, balloons, pyrotechnic displays and whatever else real estate agents are using these days to attract attention to the large number of spring open houses. So, with that, how about some real estate news today? There are a few new reports of interest out.
• Lawrence home sales in January continued to show signs of improvement. A new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors found home sales in January were up 44 percent compared to January 2012, rising to 36 from 25. It continues a multimonth streak of sales increases on a year-over-year basis, which has given real estate professionals cautious optimism that a recovery is starting to take hold in Lawrence.
One of the more interesting numbers in the report is that there has been a significant decline in the number of homes on the market, which real estate agents say is a sign the market is starting to get more balanced between buyers and sellers. In January, there were 380 homes on the market, down from 460 during the same period a year ago.
The number of days a home is sitting on the market, though, hasn’t yet started to show that trend. The median days on market: 81, up from 72 a year ago.
• The Douglas County Appraiser’s office has new information out about the county’s real estate tax base. It appears Douglas County and the city of Lawrence once will again will avoid a major hit to their property tax bases.
The numbers aren’t final yet because property owners can still file appeals related to their properties’ assessed values, but the appraiser’s office shows a decline of 0.29 percent for 2013. The total assessed valuation — remember, assessed value is the taxable value, not the market value — checks in at $1.024 billion in 2013, down from $1.027 billion in 2012.
The county is not used to declines but it has avoided the 5 percent or more declines in values that many other markets across the country have experienced.
Just for some historical perspective, I looked up some past numbers. Since 2008, the county’s tax base has grown just 1.3 percent during the tough economic times. Since 2003, the county’s tax base has grown 36.7 percent. To put an even finer point on how the last decade has been a tale of two halves, the numbers show that in the last half of the decade, the county’s tax base has grown by less than 2 percent total. For the first half of the decade, the numbers show that from 2003 to 2008, the tax base grew by 35.8 percent. In case you are wondering, the rate of inflation for that time period was about 17 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index.
The housing bubble was fun for governments who rely on property tax dollars. Now, the question they’re all still trying to figure out: What is the new normal?
• The appraiser’s office hasn’t provided a report that shows the assessed valuation by community yet, but normally Lawrence tracks closely with the overall county total — since Lawrence has most of the county’s tax base within its boundaries.
But there may be real questions about what happens to the tax base in some of the smaller communities and townships in Douglas County.
The appraiser’s office has put together a report estimating the median market values for residential property in each city in the county. The report shows significant drops everywhere but Lawrence. The median value in Lawrence in 2013 is $159,625, down 0.6 percent from the median of 2012.
That’s nothing compared with what the report shows for the other areas of Douglas County. Here’s a look:
• Eudora: the median market value has dropped 10.2 percent to $125,600, down from $140,000. • Baldwin City: Down 7.4 percent to $132,700 from $143,400. • Lecompton: Down 16.6 percent to $83,950 from $100,670 • Rural Douglas County: Down 22.8 percent to $153,400 from $198,805.
I haven’t had a chance to talk to the appraiser yet about these numbers, but it seems to indicate the real estate market outside of Lawrence hasn’t held up as well as the market inside of Lawrence.
• Finally, I have fallen behind on our weekly updates of land transfers and property sales as recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds. Click here to see listings for the last couple of weeks.