Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Dale Willey Automotive strikes deal to expand on south Iowa Street; the case of the missing recycling carts; Sprouts update; new nonprofit launches seafood fundraiser
On a day so cold that my wife actually has consented to turn the thermostat up to 59 degrees and will allow me to shear an extra sheep for the kids, I do know of one place that is hot. South Iowa Street continues to be the hot spot for big commercial real estate deals. The latest is a deal by Dale Willey Automotive to accommodate a significant expansion of the Chevrolet/GMC dealership.
The dealership has completed a deal to purchase the Pay-Less furniture and mattress store at 2800 Iowa St., which is just up the street from the dealership’s current location at 2840 Iowa St. The dealership for several years has owned the large car wash that is between the furniture store and the dealership. Jeff Hornbeck, general manager of the dealership, told me the purchase will allow an expansion of the dealership. Those plans are still in development, but Hornbeck said the furniture store location likely will become the headquarters for a larger used car division of the dealership.
“It really will just give us more lot space for everything,” Hornbeck said.
That’s right. Now that you have finished chipping through the ice in your cereal bowl, you have started to comprehend what this article really means. No more buying a bargain mattress from the most brightly painted store on South Iowa Street. No more back-up plan of becoming a ninja-like, sign-spinning marketer of incredibly low-priced mattresses, sofas, love seats and other such furniture pieces that have frequently been advertised at many a street corner by Pay-Less sign holders over the years.
Hornbeck said current plans call for the furniture store to remain in business at the location for the next several months. Technically, our plans to become sign spinners may still be alive. I haven’t yet gotten in touch with the owner of the Pay-Less business to determine whether he plans to reopen elsewhere in Lawrence or if this marks the end for the company. I’ll let you know when I get an update on that.
As for the dealership, this latest deal continues a trend of strong growth for Dale Willey. The company became the Chevrolet dealer in town in 2010 and undertook a major renovation of its property. Hornbeck said the Chevrolet deal definitely has increased business, and he said car dealers now are benefiting from significant pent-up demand in the marketplace.
“People need cars for the first time in 10 years or so,” Hornbeck said. “In the early 2000s, people were trading cars because they wanted something different. Now there are a lot of people who really need a new car because of the age of the vehicle. The average age of a vehicle on the road is the oldest it has been in a long time.”
The deal also continues a trend of big real estate transactions happening on south Iowa Street. They include: the Menards store just east of 31st and Iowa streets is under construction; the former Sears site at 27th and Iowa has been redeveloped into a Dick’s Sporting Goods and future home of PetSmart and Chick-fil-A; the shopping center that houses Discovery Furniture and Office Depot has been purchased by a local development group and I believe new retailers are looking at the spot that will be vacated by Discovery Furniture when it moves to the Kansas City area; and several other commercial pieces of property along south Iowa have changed hands. The biggest deal still may be yet to come. It has been moving slowly, but the idea of a major retail development near the southeast corner of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange is still alive. As we’ve previously reported, developers on that deal are working to bring forward a plan that would include Sam’s Club as an anchor tenant for the site.
Hornbeck said all the activity has left the dealership feeling very positive about the future of south Iowa Street.
“Five or six years ago it looked like south Iowa Street was dying a little bit,” Hornbeck said. “But it is sure not now. It is the place to be, we think.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps some of you have a plan for staying warm that involves the use of a recycling cart. Or perhaps there has just been an administrative mix-up. Whatever the case, some Lawrence residents have been getting invoices from Kansas City-based Deffenbaugh Industries for carts they used to have when Deffenbaugh operated a curbside recycling service in Lawrence.
Deffenbaugh ended service late last year when the city began offering its own curbside recycling program. As part of the wind-down of the business, Deffenbaugh instructed customers to leave their company-owned carts on the curb for pick-up. Tom Coffman, a vice president for the company, said the process went pretty well, but about 300 of the approximately 4,400 carts were not accounted for through the pick-up process. In those cases, customers were sent an invoice for $75 to replace the missing cart.
Coffman said most of those cases have been resolved, as customers have called in and the company has matched up containers with the right addresses. But he said about 165 carts are still unaccounted for. I’ve had several people call me asking about the situation and how to get it resolved. Coffman said people who are still receiving an invoice from Deffenbaugh should call the number on the invoice — even if you are confident Deffenbaugh picked up your cart — to clear up the issue.
Coffman said they have found several people who still have a cart.
“But it is not a big crime wave up there in Lawrence,” Coffman said with a laugh. “We understand how it happens. You meant to set it out or you weren’t around when we were doing the pick-ups. We just want to get it resolved.”
• As we have reported several times, Sprouts is the new grocery store that will open near Wakarusa and Overland drives in northwest Lawrence. But the farmers' market-style grocery chain that does a lot of fresh produce and organic products hasn’t yet announced an opening date for its store. But we do have a little bit of new information to pass along. The company sent out a press release saying the Lawrence store will open in the second quarter of 2015. The release said the store is expected to employ about 100 people. The release also gave a little bit more information about what the store will include. It says it will offer fresh baked goods, an “eclectic” selection of beers, thousands of natural, organic and gluten-free groceries, a fully staffed butcher case that will offer a variety of meats, seafoods and sausages and a large vitamin department, among other things. The Lawrence store is one of 10 nationwide that the company plans to open in the second quarter. I’ll keep an ear out for a more specific opening date.
• Speaking of seafood, I’ve gotten word about a new nonprofit organization that has a new fundraiser, and seafood is at the heart of the idea. The new organization is Community Village Lawrence, and its mission involves helping people age in their homes, rather than having to leave to go to an assisted living type of arrangement.
“A lot of times, assisted living can cost $3,000 to $6,000 a month, and many people just can’t afford that,” said Judy Bellome, who is a former leader of Lawrence’s Visiting Nurses Assocaition and an organizer of this new group.
Bellome told me that the concept, which is being used in several communities across the country, is that people needing assistance become a member of the community village and then have access to several service providers for either free or reduced rates.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Bellome said. “We’ll use existing organizations like Douglas County Senior Services or Independence Inc. to provide services, or it could be something like volunteers coming to a home to take the person out grocery shopping.”
The group’s advisory council had its first meeting in October and is going through the grant-writing and fundraising stage of its startup. It will have its first big fundraiser on Jan. 15. The group will host a Taste of San Francisco event from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Jan. 15 at the Arterra Event Gallery at 2161 Quail Creek Drive.
The event will feature seafood flown in from A. LaRocca Seafood, one of San Francisco’s premier boutique seafood providers. The event also will feature guest speaker Sheahon Zenger, the athletic director at Kansas University, and a silent auction that will include memorabilia, and a specially created piece of art from American artist John Bukaty.
Tickets are $150 apiece, and that includes the seafood dinner, specialty wines, drinks and entertainment. They can be purchased at communityvillagelawrence.org or by calling 785-505-0187.
Downtown hotel project to open within a matter of days; expect construction work to begin soon on major apartment complex; more City Commission candidate news
You won’t have to wait much longer to check out Lawrence’s newest hotel and major downtown development. The owner of the new Marriott TownPlace Suites at Ninth and New Hampshire streets has told me that the hotel will open sometime between Jan. 14 and Jan. 21.
“We’re very excited,” said Chuck Mackey of Capital Management Inc. “We have built eight hotels and we have never had one go so well.”
The project got out of the gates slowly as neighbors, city commissioners and developers debated about how tall the building should be, but once that issue was resolved, the project has had a pretty smooth ride. (Smooth ride, except for the construction cone that is still wrapped around my axle from when the road in front of the project was one-way for many months. But as we reported last month, New Hampshire Street is now fully open, and I’ve grown to find the “thunka, thunka, thunka” noise kind of soothing.)
The project had its last minor debate at City Hall on Tuesday, when the developers appealed a decision by the city’s Historic Resources Commission that the proposed sign for the hotel was too large and wasn’t pedestrian-oriented enough to meet the downtown design guidelines. City commissioners ultimately found that the sign did meet the design guidelines and noted that most folks arrive at their hotel via car, not on foot.
Mackey said the hotel already has hired 35 employees and likely will add another three to five employees in the coming days. He said he thinks the hotel will fill a growing niche in the Lawrence market: visitors who need to stay for more than a night or two.
“It is designed for staying a week or longer, but we recognize in an event-driven town like Lawrence, it also will accommodate people who have a shorter stay,” Mackey said.
The hotel will be unusual in Lawrence in that all 91 of its units will be suites, which in this case means that all of the units are equipped with a full kitchen.
I also expect the hotel building to have a restaurant. As we previously have reported, there is a lot of speculation that the hip Kansas City Mexican restaurant Port Fonda is interested in the ground-floor space in the hotel building. I wasn’t able to get any confirmation of that from Mackey, but everything else I’m hearing indicates that the restaurant is still very interested in the space.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As one large project wraps up, another one is set to begin. As we’ve previously reported, the Chicago-based development group HERE, LLC has decided to move forward with its plans for a 624-bedroom apartment building at 11th and Indiana streets, which is right across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium.
I had a chance to talk with the leader of the project at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, where commissioners approved some technical details related to the demolition and construction plans for the project.
Jim Heffernan, a principal with the development group, said he expects to have the apartment building open by July 2016. Heffernan said people will start noticing demolition of buildings at the old Berkeley Flats apartment complex in the next several days.
During the construction project, about 18 parking spaces along the west side of Indiana Street will be lost to accommodate the establishment of a construction zone. When the project is completed, angled parking stalls will be added along the perimeter of the building. They’ll be public parking spaces, but current plans call for them to be metered. In addition to the apartment units, the building also will house about 15,000 square feet of retail/commercial space on the ground floor. The metered parking is expected to serve a lot of the demand for those retail spots, while a high-tech, automated parking garage is designed to serve the apartment uses.
No word yet on what the retail projects may be but certainly a restaurant or two is a possibility and maybe some other type of retails businesses that would cater to students. (You know, like stores that sell study aids, slide rules, postcards for writing home, and that sort of normal student stuff.) In all seriousness, some of you may be wondering about whether a straight bar use would be part of the mix. That type of use would require a whole other round of approvals from the City Commission, and I haven’t seen any signs that the development is headed in that direction.
The project has created a lot of debate with incentives package — an 85 percent tax rebate — and some of its requests for reduced parking, which ultimately were denied by the commission. But that is all behind the project. Now, it could be exciting to watch this building come out of the ground. The project has been estimated at $70 million to $75 million, which would make it one of the more expensive building projects in recent memory. It plans to offer what Heffernan has called “class A” student housing that comes with a lot of amenities from pools to rooftop gardens and other such items.
The project also could be groundbreaking in the sense that it is developing a lot of units on a relatively small site. City planners for a long time have been talking about building projects more densely in order to cut down on urban sprawl. The automated parking garage that the project is using is a big part of how the project is able to build a lot of units on a relatively small site. We’ll see if this project becomes a model for others to build more urban-style development in the Oread neighborhood and other areas of the community.
But mainly, it really will change the look of the area near campus. This article back in March showed some renderings for the project. The renderings have changed, and I’ll work to get some new ones, but these older ones still give a sense of how large the project is going to be, and how different the area will look to the thousands of football fans who come to the area each year.
“This has been a new experience for everyone,” Heffernan told me. “No one has ever built a project in Lawrence using this mixed use zoning category. We’re happy to be the first. We think it will distinguish itself. We think it is going to be a very good gateway to the university.”
• Finally, a bit of City Commission candidate news. Get ready for more candidates to enter the race. David Crawford, one of the neighborhood leaders who has been working to bring a grocery store to downtown Lawrence, will file today for a seat on the commission. I’ll have more on his campaign later today. I think current school board member Kris Adair also is close to making a decision on whether to run for a spot on the City Commission. There is a lot of speculation that she indeed will seek a seat. Yesterday’s filings of Mike Anderson and Bob Schumm brought us to seven candidates and assured us of having a March primary. Now, the question seems to be whether we’ll top the 10-candidate mark. At this point, I would bet yes.
Largest drinking establishment in the city goes up for sale; City Commission plans listening sessions about police headquarters
Here’s a little bit of Lawrence bar trivia you can use to perhaps win a few bucks while sitting on a bar stool: What is the largest drinking establishment in Lawrence? The Cave? Nope. Abe & Jake’s? Nope. It’s not the Granada, the Hawk or the Bottleneck either. The answer is the old Eagles Lodge on Sixth Street, with an occupancy of just more than 1,100 people. If you win enough bucks with that piece of trivia, perhaps you can buy the building because it is indeed for sale.
Leaders with the Eagles have placed their 21,000 square-foot building at 1803 W. Sixth St. on the market, but that’s not a sign that the longtime organization is disbanding. Caleb Regan, president of the local order of the Eagles, said the organization wants to move to a smaller location. Regan said maintenance and utility bills on the building, which is spread out over two levels, has become burdensome.
“It is just a huge footprint for the size of organization we are anymore,” said Regan, who said the local chapter has about 400 members currently.
He said the organization previously was able to make use of the building — which has two kitchens and four lounges/banquet rooms — by frequently renting it out for wedding receptions and other such events. But the event business in Lawrence has become more competitive in recent years, and that business has declined.
Perhaps the Eagles Lodge is best known to the public for its regular Friday night bingo games. Regan said the club hasn’t yet found a new location, but he said it will be large enough to accommodate bingo and other such functions. He said the organization may look for a building of about 10,000 square feet. The organization, in addition to serving as a social club for its members, also hosts a variety of charity events and other fundraisers to help out local causes. Regan said the group wants a building that will allow that type of work to continue.
“This is definitely not an effort to shut down or anything like that,” Regan said. “We’ll continue to strive to do good in the community.”
In terms of who may buy the existing site, it will be interesting to watch. In addition to the building, the site includes 3.4 acres along Sixth Street, although its visibility is a bit limited. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is behind the Dollar General Store. The site is adjacent to a large apartment complex, so I suppose that is always a possibility, or perhaps a new operator would want to use the existing building for a different type of club use.
As I mentioned, it can hold a lot of people. The numbers I got from the fire department last year for a different article, listed the capacity at 1,107 people. That’s quite a bit bigger than several of the larger bars in town, according to the numbers I got from the fire department. For example: The Granada, 900; Abe & Jake’s, 720; The Hawk, 498; and The Cave, 356.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re on Sixth Street, I should mention that a ‘for sale’ sign has shown up in front of the longtime home of Anderson Rentals at 1312 W. Sixth St. I put a call into the business, which rents everything from portable toilets to tents to construction equipment, to see what the future plans are for the business, but the owner I needed to talk to wasn’t available. But I expect to hear back from him, and I’ll let you know what I hear.
• Get out your pencil — not your pen yet — and mark a couple of dates on your calendar to talk about the future of a new police headquarters facility in Lawrence. As we previously reported, the City Commission wants to hear from members of the public about why the sales tax election in November was defeated. Well, commissioners have two dates in mind that they plan on hosting listening sessions on the topic: Jan. 14 and Jan. 29. The first session would be 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. The session on Jan. 29 would be 6:30 p.m. in the theater of the Lawrence Arts Center. Both dates, at the moment, are still tentative, but commissioners are scheduled to finalize those dates at their City Commission meeting this evening.
Plans for artisan East Lawrence bakery moving ahead; city to take positions on Obamacare, gay marriage in legislative priorities statement
I suspect that as this new year begins, many of us are on a bread-and-water diet. Perhaps it is part of a New Year’s resolution, or maybe it is just more a necessity after realizing that — despite it being 98 percent off — buying $15,000 of "Frozen"-themed wrapping paper the day after Christmas wasn’t such a great investment after all. Regardless, hang in there. A new artisan bakery is coming to Lawrence.
We reported back in May that plans were in the works for a new bakery at the former laundromat at 19th and Barker in East Lawrence. Lawrence resident Taylor Petrehn, who is opening the establishment with his brother Reagan, said back then that he hoped the bakery would be open by the end of 2014. I can attest that it did not because I’m still cleaning up from an unfortunate incident where I tried to make my own sourdough at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
But I also can report that Petrehn said the bakery project is still very much alive. Construction work has now begun at the site, and Petrehn said he hopes to be open in the next “few months.”
“It is exciting,” he said of the construction progress. “It is probably the first time that building has had a level floor.”
Plans still call for the new store to be called the 1900 Barker Bakery and Cafe. Petrehn, who has worked as a pastry chef in Kansas City, said plans also still call for the bakery to be very much focused on breads, although it will offer a few pastries.
Petrehn said he plans to bake a variety of breads daily, but he expects them to have some common characteristics: a sourdough-method of leavening, lots of whole grains and "substantial" crusts that are perhaps a bit darker and more caramelized that many traditional breads.
He also plans one other curve ball for the bread industry. Instead of focusing his baking on the early-morning hours, he plans to do his baking during the day, so the loaves are fresh out of the oven in the afternoon when people are arriving home from work.
Thus far, Petrehn said interest in the project has been strong from neighbors.
“We have had a lot of different neighbors pop in and say ‘hi,’” Petrehn said. “I’ve been blown away by the support we’ve gotten from people. It has been a great assurance that we’re headed in the right direction.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• In conservative Kansas, a Legislative Priorities Statement produced by the City Commission in liberal-leaning Lawrence probably gets read by state lawmakers as much as "War and Peace" on a honeymoon. But city commissioners are set to create their annual wish list of what they would like state lawmakers to do and not do during this upcoming session.
Most of what the city asks for is the same year after year: Don’t give unfunded mandates to local governments; continue to fund transportation projects; don’t limit the power of cities to annex property; and other such matters.
But the city may dive into a couple of broader issues with this year’s statement: Obamacare and gay marriage.
As currently proposed, the city’s Legislative Priorities Statement asks lawmakers to “reconsider Kansas’ participation in the expanded (Medicaid) program.” It goes on to say that “our failure to participate is significantly reducing medical care access for Kansans and negatively impacting the ability of Kansas health care providers, including hospital, to provide care to Kansans.”
On the gay marriage issue, the proposed language is to the point: “The city of Lawrence opposes any efforts by the state legislature to pass legislation which would allow businesses to refuse service based on a customer’s gender, martial status or sexual orientation.”
Among other items on the proposed statement:
— The city supports a state policy that would require regulated utilities to have 20 percent of their energy portfolios in renewable energy by 2020.
— The city calls on the Legislature to provide “robust funding” for education from K-12 to higher education.
— The city “strongly supports” congressional action to collect mandatory sales taxes on goods purchased through the Internet.
— The city asks the Legislature to “resist any expansion of exemptions from taxation,” and notes that the “existing property tax base should be protected.”
You probably shouldn’t read that last statement to mean that the city opposes all property tax exemptions, though. I take it to mean it just doesn't want new categories of tax exemptions offered because the commission over the past year has liked several types of existing tax exemptions pretty well. I plan to do a future article that tallies up the amount of property tax rebates the City Commission has approved recently, but the two largest have been a 100 percent abatement on about $40 million worth of tax base at Rock Chalk Park and an 85 percent rebate on about $75 million worth of construction at the HERE apartment project near KU’s Memorial Stadium.
Commissioners will consider approving the Legislative Priorities Statement at their Tuesday meeting, which begins at the new time of 5:45 p.m.
RadioShack closes South Iowa Street store; pro-police HQ group spends about $24K in losing effort, opposition group about $500
There still may be a shack in my future. After all, these are the days when the mailman has to use a pack mule just to get the credit card statements to my front door. But one shack that is not in any of our futures is the RadioShack store on South Iowa Street. It has closed, as the longtime retailer tries to stave off national extinction.
I’m not sure when the store at 3221 Iowa Street actually closed, but I just noticed the removal of its large sign recently. Regardless, a posting on the door says the store is closed but directs customers to visit one of the two other RadioShack stores in Lawrence. Those are at The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana and at the Westridge Shopping Center at Sixth and Kasold. That’s right, Lawrence had three RadioShack stores. The company nationwide has almost 4,300 stores, which might be part of why the retailer is struggling so mightily. (That, and perhaps a misunderstanding of the sexiness of radio in today’s technology world, though they have done very well at beating back the competitive threat of Telegraph Hut.)
The Lawrence closing wasn’t unexpected. If you read the financial news (I mean other than the reams and reams of MasterCard statements), you already know that RadioShack executives carry moving boxes with them rather than briefcases. The company in March announced it wanted to close 1,100 stores, but that plan stalled as the company’s lender raised objections. In the meantime, RadioShack continued to lose about $30 million a month, according to an article in the Dallas Morning News.
That article reports January will be a key month for the chain's future. The article reports the company is required to have at least $100 million in cash or borrowing capacity by Jan. 15 to stay in good standing with its lender. And when you have more than $840 million in debt, as RadioShack does, you want to stay in good standing with your lender.
So, if you are a fan of the other two RadioShack stores in town, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the company’s finances. I’ll try to keep an eye out for any news of a new retailer for the South Iowa Street location, which is right in front of the SuperTarget store.
In other news and notes from around town:
• In Lawrence political circles, there is a general saying that if you follow the money, you’ll usually find the victor. Usually, is the key word, though. Campaign finance reports recently have been filed for the two groups that campaigned for and against the proposed sales tax for a new police headquarters, which voters rejected in November.
As expected, the group campaigning to pass the sales tax spent a lot more in a losing cause. And I mean a lot. The reports show the Friends of Lawrence Police Inc. raised $23,950 compared to just $575 for the Lawrencians Against the New Police Headquarters.
The report shows that the pro-headquarters group received its nearly $24,000 in funding from about 50 contributors, although about $600 in funds came from an unspecified amount of contributors who gave small cash donations. Tom and Marilyn Dobski, who are owners of the area McDonald’s franchise, were the largest contributors. They gave $6,000 during a three-month period. Other large donors included: Cindy and Harry Herrington, an area CEO, $5,000; Colleen and Kevin O’Malley, an executive with Lawrence-based O’Malley Beverage, $1,000; Shannon Abrahamson, CPA, $1,000; the Lawrence Police Officers Association PAC, $1,000; and Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib and Kerri Khatib, $500.
On the other side of the coin, Lawrencians Against the New Police Headquarters had a smaller fundraising effort. Lawrence-based Wyatt Heating & Air Conditioning contributed $575 for the organization to purchase 100 yard signs. The organization then reimbursed Wyatt $344 after the organization collected about 25 miscellaneous cash donations. The report shows the largest single donation was $50 from a G. Robinson, presumably Greg Robinson, a Lawrence attorney who was an organizer of the group.
Lawrence-based Henry T’s to open brewery; downtown craft beer retailer expands; New Hampshire Street fully open
We’re not yet Milwaukee — and why would we ever want to be St. Louis with that baseball team that didn’t even make the World Series this year? — but Lawrence is becoming quite a brewery town. The Lawrence-based restaurant Henry T’s has confirmed it has bought an eastern Lawrence building and plans to have a brewery operating by this spring.
Sean Gerrity, a co-owner of the restaurant, said there’s a simple reason why the company is getting into the brewery business. (If you happen to have a 42-piece orchestra, now would be the time to direct it to play a dramatic version of "God Bless America.")
“It is a return to a core American value that beer should taste good and be cheap,” Gerrity said.
Uncle Sam, make room at the Patriots Table for Henry T.
Gerrity said the new brewery will supply the Henry T’s restaurant at 3520 W. Sixth St. and also the company’s Henry T’s in Topeka. He said a large reason for the brewery venture is related to the price that major brewers are now charging for their products.
“The price of beer has gotten expensive, and some people think it is ridiculous,” Gerrity said. “Beer is part of our culture, and certain types of beer should be cheap. The big brewers are removing that idea from the culture. Part of our angle is to brew something, if not identical, better, and then charge less for it.”
As for the beers, Gerrity said plans call for a traditional pilsner, which will be similar to the Bud Lights, Coors and other beers that dominate the mainstream market. The brewery also plans to produce a brown ale and a pale ale in the beginning, and then expand to eight or nine beers as it gets its operations refined.
Gerrity admits that he doesn’t have a brewing background, so the company has signed a deal with Lincoln, Neb.-based Blue Blood Brewing Co. to serve as consultants on the new venture. Gerrity and his business partner, Dave Heinz, have bought a warehouse at 807 E. 23rd St. that will serve as the brewery operations. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is in the industrial area just west of 23rd and Haskell and behind the new location for Luminous Neon.
The company already purchased brewhouse equipment and has it on site. The company expects construction to take about two months, and developing the beer — which will include significant sampling and tasting demos for Henry T’s customers — will take a few more weeks after that.
“We hope to tap our first keg for sale sometime in the spring,” Gerrity said.
Gerrity said plans eventually call for the brewery to offer its beer to other restaurants and bars in the region. The new brewery will have about 6,000 square feet of production space.
The Henry T’s brewery will be at least the third significant brewery in Lawrence. The Free State Brewing Co. was a pioneer in the craft beer industry and now has its own bottling plant that has allowed the brand to expand its reach to liquor stores throughout the central Plains. The 23rd Street Brewery also is a significant brewer in the area. And while not a brewer, Lawrence-based Grandstand Glasswear & Apparel is a major player in the craft brew industry as the largest producer of amber glass growlers —the large jug-like bottles used by the brewing industry.
So, while we may not be Milwaukee, and while we certainly don’t screw up pizza or pennant runs like St. Louis does, Lawrence does have a chance to become a significant beer town.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re on the beer front, I might as well pass along information about the expansion of a unique beer retailer in downtown. Back in July my colleague Nadia Imafidon told you about Ted’s Taphouse, a new craft beer retailer at 1004 Massachusetts St. But as the article noted, the business occupied only the back half of that building, and was a bit difficult to find. Well, the business now has expanded.
The Vietnamese restaurant Wild Pho has closed, and Ted’s Taphouse has expanded into the Massachusetts Street frontage that it previously occupied. The expansion will allow for more seating and also will allow for a more traditional dining area to accommodate families and others who don’t want to sit in the bar area, said owner Ted Nguyen.
But the basic concept of Ted’s Taphouse will remain the same.
“We’re a true tap house,” Nguyen said. “We don’t do any bottled beer here.”
The bar has 18 beers on tap at all times, and about seven to nine of the beers change weekly.
Food is also part of the equation at the Taphouse. The Nguyen family previously operated a business called Oh Boy! Chicken at the site, and it has kept the gluten-free chicken as a mainstay of the menu at the Taphouse. The menu also includes burgers, a Philly cheesesteak, some vegetarian options and other bar food.
But Nguyen said plans call for the business to do quite a few beer and food pairings at special events. The first one is on New Year’s Eve, where the business will feature beers from the Green Flash brewery and pair them with items such as house-made pub chips, pepper crusted beef tenderloin, applewood smoked salmon, and chili honey-glazed shrimp with house-made kim chi.
Nguyen has a background in upscale dining as the former owner of Angler’s Seafood House, which previously operated in the spot at 10th and Massachusetts.
The expansion of Ted’s Taphouse was made possible because one of downtown Lawrence’s longer-serving restaurateurs recently retired. Nguyen’s mother, Nancy Nguyen, retired in the past month. She had been continuously operating one restaurant or another in downtown since 1981. Many of you may remember her from her days of operating Drakes, which was a classic diner-style joint in its early days. Ted began his cooking career there more than 20 years ago.
“We used to open at 6 a.m., and we made our living off of city workers who were just ending their shifts, and who wanted to get their breakfast or dinner,” Ted recalled.
The space also housed The Orient restaurant, and more recently, Pho. Ted said talking his mother into retirement was no easy task, but he said she plans to do some cooking at the Taphouse and offer some special dishes from the menus of The Orient and others.
• An odd thing happened yesterday when I was driving on New Hampshire Street: I didn’t hit a barricade. Both lanes of traffic are now open in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street. The street previously had been restricted to one-way traffic as part of the construction zone for the new Marriott hotel at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire.
If you haven’t driven by lately, the construction work of the new hotel appears largely complete. I’ve been told it takes a couple of months to move in all the furnishings for a hotel. I haven’t received any information on an opening date yet, but if that math is correct, it could be late February or early March. Or in other words, just in time for basketball fans to rent a room for KU’s Final Four celebration downtown. Remember, this is the season for optimism.
• Well, that is a wrap for Town Talk this year. I’ll be on vacation for the next several days and will pick back up with news, notes and inane comments in the New Year. I hope each of you has a safe and happy holiday season.
The shopping season got started early for some. The latest retail report shows that from mid-September to mid-October Lawrence consumers increased their spending nearly 13 percent from the same time period a year ago.
At least that is one explanation for the large increase, although it doesn’t explain why approximately 98 percent of the entire male population of Lawrence was wandering through department stores hopelessly confused about female gifts. (“I think she’ll like a muumuu. Don’t you think she’ll like a muumuu?” we said to each other while quivering next to a clearance rack.)
Whatever the reason, spending was up, and it puts Lawrence retailers in a good position to have a strong 2014. Lawrence now has received 11 of its 12 monthly sales tax distributions from the state, and thus far, they show that retail spending is up 4.6 percent for the year.
We’ll get the final report for 2014 in the next few weeks, and if that 4.6 percent growth rate holds up, it will mark the third time in the last four years that sales tax collections in Lawrence have grown by more than 4.5 percent. They did so also in 2011 and 2012, but slowed to a 2.1 percent growth rate last year. Although it hasn’t always seemed like it, we’re in one of the stronger periods for sales tax growth in the city. You have to go all the way back to the late 1990s to find a time period when retail sales have grown by more than 4.5 percent in three out of four years.
It has been a good year for other communities as well, but Lawrence’s sales tax growth is still in the upper half of the large retail markets in the state. Here’s a look:
— Dodge City: down 0.3 percent
— Emporia: up 6 percent
— Garden City: up 5.1 percent
— Great Bend: up 6.7 percent
— Hutchinson: up 1.5 percent
— Kansas City: up 4.1 percent
— Leawood: up 0.8 percent
— Manhattan: up 2.9 percent
— Overland Park: up 4.3 percent
— Salina: up 3.8 percent
— Shawnee: up 6.6 percent
— Topeka: up 2.7 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 3.7 percent
Downtown retailer of 33 years to close shop; Chamber stoking speculation that major job announcement coming; update on large apartment project
With this being Lawrence, we obviously all have special wings of our homes to house our collections of Jayhawk apparel, but soon we’ll no longer have one longtime Jayhawk retailer to help us fill those aircraft hangar-like rooms. The owners of Jayhawk Spirit, 935 Massachusetts St., have announced they have put the business up for sale and likely will close the shop in early 2015 if a buyer isn’t found.
“We have the store up for sale, but if we don’t find a buyer, we’re not going to let that stop us from retiring,” said Tom Wilkerson, who has co-owned the store with his wife, Rosann, since 1981.
Wilkerson said a closing date of the store is dependent on how quickly inventory is depleted, but he said it could come sometime in January or February.
The closing will continue a bit of a trend. As we previously reported, the GameDay Superstore that was operated by GTM Sportswear on 23rd Street closed in the last few weeks, and Wilkerson said he thinks there are probably fewer KU apparel shops in downtown Lawrence than there have been in quite some time. LIDS, Campus Cloth and SportsDome all have closed their downtown operations in the not-too-distant past. Longtime retailer Francis Sporting Goods, which is more sporting goods than KU apparel, also is closing its retail operations and focusing more on its wholesale business to teams.
In the case of Francis’, the owner there said the opening of the new Dick’s Sporting Goods store on south Iowa Street certainly was a factor in his decision. Wilkerson, 68, didn’t indicate that was much of a factor. Instead, it was just time to retire, though he said the small apparel shops have suffered if they haven’t diversified.
“If there was a downfall for us, it is just that we didn’t evolve with the Chiefs and the Royals and the KC Sporting merchandise,” Wilkerson said. “Over the last 10 years, there has been quite an influx of KU merchandise on the market. But if a customer can go somewhere else and get KU items and also some Royals and Chiefs gear at the same time, we’re probably going to lose that customer.”
Wilkerson owns the building at 935 Massachusetts St., and he said he’s not going to sell it. He said if a buyer doesn’t emerge for the business, he said he won’t have difficulty finding a tenant for the space.
“I’ve had a lot of people interested in the space,” he said.
Wilkerson said he’ll end up missing his loyal customers and will miss the happy environment around the store.
“But you just have to decide whether you want to die here punching numbers into the cash register, or whether you want to go and do some other things,” he said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Local economic development leaders aren’t doing anything to lower expectations that a major employer will soon locate at VenturePark, the new business park the city has developed on the former Farmland Industries fertilizer site in eastern Lawrence. In fact, they seem to be ramping up the expectations.
“We have had a significant amount of interest in VenturePark. I’ll put it that way,” Brady Pollington, the economic development project manager for The Chamber, said this morning at a meeting of the community’s Joint Economic Development Council. “We’re not ready to make an announcement yet, but we’re getting close.”
Later in the meeting, Pollington clarified that VenturePark definitely was on the “short list” for a significant project.
“I’m very encouraged, very encouraged,” he said.
In October, we reported that Chamber CEO Larry McElwain said that VenturePark was in the running to land a large manufacturer that would employ an estimated 125 people over the next five years. The business likely would occupy about 120 acres of property at the business park, which would be more than a quarter of all the available property at the new park. McElwain said the company also is projecting that it would make about $20 million in capital investments at the site over a five-year period.
That seems to be the company that we’re still talking about. A deal isn’t a deal until it is done, but it is a good sign that Chamber officials are sending out increasingly positive signals.
• This morning’s meeting also highlighted that there is some behind-the-scenes activity going on at the future site for the Peaslee Center, the technical education center that is expected to open in August. As we reported Thursday, the center received a $20,000 donation to help establish a program that trains people who want to enter the construction industry.
But McElwain said a deal is also in the works to land a major tenant to take space in the center, which is the former Honeywell Aviation building just north and east of 31st and Haskell. McElwain said The Chamber has responded to a request for proposals from a training-oriented firm that would make sense being located next to a technical education center. If the deal is completed, the business could provide upwards of $100,000 a year in rental revenue to help with the operations of the Peaslee Center.
“It would create a campus feel out there,” McElwain said of the training firm, which would be in addition to the Peaslee Center and also the Lawrence school district’s College & Career Center that is being constructed next to the Peaslee Center.
• While we’re reading signs today, there is one more about a big project in Lawrence. We’ve all been wondering whether the Chicago-based development firm that is proposing a $75 million apartment project across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium is really going to begin work on the project.
Well, there is a new sign that suggests it will. The company has completed its purchase of the property at 1115 Indiana St., which is one of the two properties that would house the multistory apartment building. If you remember, the property at 1115 Indiana is a home owned by Georgia Bell, a 91-year old woman who has lived next to the Berkeley Flats apartment complex, which would be torn down to make way for this new development. For a time, the Chicago development firm planned to build the new apartment complex along three sides of her property because it could not reach a deal to buy the modest home. But a deal was struck, and the latest land transfer listings from the county show the property is now owned by the development firm HERE Lawrence Property, LLC.
That would seem to be a good sign that the company is going to move forward with the project, but perhaps not a sure-fire sign. Even if the project doesn’t move forward, it still is a good piece of real estate to own because it obviously is ripe for redevelopment. The apartment project has the necessary approval from City Hall, but there has been questions about whether it will move forward. The project has received an 85 percent property tax rebate from City Hall, but it sought a 95 percent rebate. It also unsuccessfully sought approval for a reduction in the number of parking spaces it would be required to provide on the property. The developers have said finding financing for the project has been difficult with the city’s current parking standards.
So, we’ll now keep our eyes open for further signs of development at the site, such as a building permit. If the project does move forward, it will be interesting to watch. Developers have consistently called the project a $75 million venture. That’s huge. To put it in perspective, the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park is $10.5 million, the infrastructure is about $12 million and the track, soccer and other facilities being leased by KU have been estimated to be about $40 million. That totals to a little more than $62 million. This one 624-bedroom apartment complex with an automated parking garage will be more than $10 million larger than the entire Rock Chalk Park sports complex. Developers have said the project, which includes about 13,000 square feet of commercial space, will be unlike anything else in the Lawrence market.
Lawrence found to lag behind Manhattan in college community ranking; City Hall and the land of meetings; butcher shop expanding
It almost should go without saying that Lawrence is the top college community in the region. Just walk through the Oread neighborhood on any Friday and Saturday night and partake in the abundant school spirit. Lawrence is at least the top college town in Kansas. Well, a new ranking says otherwise.
A new study by the financial website WalletHub ranks Lawrence the second best college community in the state. Manhattan is ranked as the top university town in Kansas, and by quite a wide margin. Lawrence was ranked the No. 44 college town in America, out of 280 communities that were ranked. Manhattan was ranked No. 12.
Now, no one likes finishing behind K-State, I’m sure. But Lawrence is No. 44 out of 280, so that is still well within the top quintile of all college communities in the nation. (If we use words like ‘quintile’ a lot, I think we’ll move up in the rankings.) But there is a catch. This study looked at any city that had a college population of at least 10,000 students. That means most of the major metropolitan areas in the country were included. So, while I’m sure that Oakland is a fine place to have, say, an accounting convention or some other exciting event, it is not a college community, yet it is included in this ranking anyway.
The study, though, does break its rankings down by community size. Lawrence falls into the category of less than 100,000 people. If a town of less than 100,000 people has more than 10,000 students, then that is indeed a college community in terms of how we think of one. In that ranking, Lawrence ranks No. 40 out of 69 communities. Now would be a good time for us to use the word ‘quintile’ in multiple sentences because No. 40 out 69 isn’t that great. In that ranking of smaller communities, Manhattan was No. 10. A pair of Big 12 communities also made the top 10: Stillwater, Okla., at No. 8 and Ames, Iowa, at No. 5. Our good friends in Columbia, Mo., were a bit too large for the small city ranking, but they ranked No. 2 in the medium size city category. Boulder, Colo., was No. 1 in that ranking.
The study looked at a variety of factors to come up with the rankings. In general, though, they fall into three broad categories. Here’s a look:
— Wallet Wellness Rank: This looks at data for things such as housing costs, adjusted cost of living, tuition fees, and even smaller stuff like the average cost of pizza and hamburgers. Lawrence ranked No. 64 out of 280. Manhattan ranked No. 27. (I have a theory on this: KU students are woefully overpaying for red plastic cups. When I was in the Oread neighborhood, numerous college kids were trying to sell me a red plastic cup for $5. I’m almost certain you can buy them for much less than that at Family Dollar.)
— Youth-Oriented Environment: This looks at items like number of students per capita, percentage of single persons; number of nightlife options per capita, number of cafes per capita, and the city’s crime rate. Lawrence was No. 75. Manhattan was No. 40.
— Opportunities: This looks at earning potential for people with a bachelor’s degree; unemployment rate; business startup rate; job growth rate; and the universities’ rankings in publications such as U.S. News & World Report. Lawrence was No. 46. Manhattan was No. No. 62.
So, take all of this for whatever you think it is worth. I’m not sure whether being a top college community — as defined by these metrics, anyway — is Lawrence’s goal. But I did find it interesting that several communities we think of as peers ranked quite a bit differently than we did.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If these rankings really worry us, we could have a meeting about it. There’s a new report out that suggests Lawrence city government has more meetings than most large communities in Kansas.
As I mentioned last week, City Commissioner Terry Riordan is interested in creating an earlier start time for City Commission meetings so that deliberations aren’t routinely happening after 10 p.m., when minds have been known to turn to mush at City Hall.
He asked staff members to research what other communities do, and a report from City Hall shows that most communities start a bit later than Lawrence’s 6:35 p.m. meeting, but don’t meet as often.
Lawrence meets every Tuesday evening, except when a month has five Tuesdays. Meetings also are frequently canceled near holidays, such as this Tuesday’s meeting being canceled because of Christmas. But most months, we get together for Tuesday evening fun four times a month. There are some months city commissioners have study sessions in addition to the four regular meetings.
A City Hall report looked at five other cities — Lenexa, Manhattan, Olathe, Overland Park and Topeka — and found that none of them hold a regular business meeting each week. Lenexa and Manhattan come the closet. Lenexa has a business meeting — where votes are taken and ordinances are passed — every first and third Tuesday of the month. Then on the second and fourth Tuesdays, the commission meets in a study session format where they talk about issues but don’t take any formal action. Manhattan does the same thing, but also has a meeting every third Thursday with the county commission.
Olathe meets twice a month and holds study sessions when needed. That’s the same system used in Overland Park. Topeka meets three times per month. It would be interesting to know how those Johnson County communities, which are large and growing, make things work without meeting every week. Based on what comes before the commission in Lawrence, City Commission meetings would go to the wee hours of the morning, if all business had to be conducted in just two sessions. It has been said that Lawrence is a process-heavy community. I’ve spent pretty much my entire career in Lawrence, so it is hard for me to compare our process with others'. But it could be interesting to compare how some of these communities process city business with how Lawrence does it.
As for start times, Topeka starts at 6 p.m., but all the other communities start at either 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. Lawrence city commissioners tentatively have agreed to start their Jan. 6 meeting at 5:45 p.m. as a test case. We’ll see where it goes from there.
• Maybe more beer and pastrami would help us become a better college town. I’m not certain of that, but a local meat shop that makes pastrami, sausage and other such items is expanding to become more of a restaurant, complete with alcohol sales.
Hank Charcuterie, 19th and Massachusetts streets, has won city approval to start serving beer and wine at the establishment. The alcohol sales are a part of a strategy to expand the butcher shop into a restaurant as well, said Vaughn Good, chef and owner of Hank Charcuterie.
The restaurant part of the business is already underway. The business has a menu of sandwiches, soups, sausages and other such fare that changes daily. But Good said he determined that offering alcohol with meals would help the establishment, which has been open since July. It also will help the business begin offering more specialty dinners. Good said he envisions hosting dinners where local farmers and ranchers are on hand to discuss how they raise the produce and meat served at Hank’s.
“Our philosophy is really to let people understand their food,” Good said.
The restaurant offerings, though, aren’t a sign that the business is cutting back on its butcher shop activities. Good said he’s still working to help people understand that the store is a regular butcher shop, in addition to an establishment that produces charcuterie, which is a branch of cooking that focuses on the preparation of hams, bacon, sausages, pates and other meat products. Good does all that, but he said the business also offers a traditional butcher case where people can pick up a ribeye for the grill, some hamburger, pork chops or other meats that include lamb, goat, chicken and duck.
City commissioners did hear concerns from Lawrence's Victory Bible Church, which is within 400 feet of Hank Charcuterie. City codes prohibit drinking establishment licenses within 400 feet of a church or school, unless the city grants an exemption from the code. Such exemptions have become fairly routine, but leaders with Victory Bible Church asked that the city not grant the exemption. City commissioners, though, ultimately granted the exemption with the condition that the business make at least 55 percent of its revenues from the sale of food.
Pair of restaurants proposed for location near Sixth Street Wal-Mart; City Hall tensions rise over East Lawrence proposal
I often play a guessing game whenever I make the trip to Wal-Mart with my family. You know, like: I guess you need a new pair of shoes; I guess I can push back retirement an extra 10 years; I guess I could curl up in a ball and sob quietly beneath the rack of discounted sweat pants. But now we all have a new guessing game to play when it comes to the area near the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa. Plans have been filed for two new restaurants near the store, but we don’t yet have names for them.
Plans have been filed to build about a 12,000 square foot building that will house two “upscale casual sit down restaurants” and a boutique retail type of tenant. The building is planned for the southwest corner of Wakarusa and Overland Drive, which is the vacant lot basically directly east of the Wal-Mart store.
According to the plans, one restaurant will be about 5,000 square feet while the other one will be about 3,700 square feet. The plans indicate the development group — which isn’t listed but is being represented by a Topeka architecture firm — has tenants for both restaurant spaces and will be looking for a tenant for the approximately 3,600 square feet of boutique retail.
“Both restaurants will be managed by successful homegrown companies specializing in the management of multiple establishments in the greater midwest area,” the plan states.
Other things we know from the plan are that the restaurants are of the type that have alcohol sales, and neither of the restaurants currently have a presence in Lawrence. This is what we call, in the world of restaurant detectives, a clue. Rest assured that I am on the case, I have picked up the scent and I will not rest until I come up with an answer. (Or until I become distracted by fried cheese sticks, or really any type of appetizer, which is a serious occupational hazard of a restaurant detective.)
Based on the plans submitted, I can’t even say with certainty that we’re talking about a national chain. It may be more a regional chain. But I like mentioning national restaurant chains about as much as I like fried cheese, so I looked at a recent list of the top 100 restaurant chains in America and pulled out the casual dining establishments that aren’t already located in Lawrence. Here’s that list: Olive Garden; Red Lobster; Outback Steakhouse; T.G.I. Friday’s; The Cheesecake Factory; Ruby Tuesday; Texas Roadhouse; Red Robin; P.F. Chang’s China Bistro; Hooters; Carrabba’s Italian Grill; California Pizza Kitchen; Logan’s Roadhouse; Romano’s Macaroni Grill; BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery; O’Charley’s; Ruth’s Chris Steak House; Bonefish Grill; and Cheddar’s.
I’m not saying that any of those restaurants are the ones included in this project. Clearly, some of them don’t make sense for the site or don’t even have operations in this part of the country. But I do find it interesting to note what major restaurants we don’t have.
The deal, which was brokered by Lawrence commercial real estate broker Lance Johnson, will be an interesting one to watch. The site needs to win zoning approval from the City Commission before it can proceed. The current zoning calls for more office-related uses than restaurant. The new zoning also will technically put the corner above the retail square footage cap that planners have set for the corner. The corner has about 99,000 square feet of retail space already constructed. The development group is asking for the corner’s retail cap to be increased by about 6,200 square feet.
Look for the issue to come up on a City Commission agenda in the next couple of months. In the meantime, I’ll keep scouring for clues to the identify of these restaurants. Well, I'll get started on that right after I get this marinara dipping sauce off my tie.
In other news and notes from around town:
• As we’ve previously reported, a medical office building also is being built near the Sixth Street Wal-Mart. The large building is just north of the proposed restaurant site. We now have more information about that medical office building.
Lawrence physician Stephanie Suber is opening a new medical practice called Family Centered Medicine. The practice also will include two other certified physician assistants. A message on the business's answering machine indicates that the practice will open during the week of Jan. 5. I haven’t had any luck in making contact with Suber or a a representative of the business to get more details.
The site is one to watch though, because it is a large new building. People in the medical community tell me that part of the building is set aside for another user, perhaps another medical practice or some other health-related company. No word, though, on whether that user has been found yet.
• Well, this could get messier than a double order of cheese sticks with extra dipping sauce. City commissioners last night began to show their frustrations with the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association. The association has been expressing concern about the proposal to convert a portion of Ninth Street east of Massachusetts into a unique arts corridor. Specifically, East Lawrence leaders have felt like the Lawrence Arts Center and the city haven’t done enough to make the neighborhood a “full partner” in the early stages of the process. City officials and Arts Center leaders have countered that the design process hasn’t yet begun and that East Lawrence and other stakeholders will be a major part of the process.
The East Lawrence association at the City Commission meeting last night presented a letter to commissioners spelling out how it hopes to be involved in the project. If commissioners follow the association’s suggestion, it will mark a different way of working with neighborhoods on projects.
How different? Well, for starters, the city would pay two representatives of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association to be active participants in the process. There weren’t a ton of details about everything these paid positions would do, but certainly attending meetings and keeping the neighborhood informed about the project would be major roles.
The idea brought a mix of reactions from commissioners. Both Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said the idea of paying neighborhood people to be involved in a project sounded odd to them. But Commissioners Bob Schumm and Terry Riordan said they wanted more information, and noted how it is difficult in a working class neighborhood for people to take off work to attend meetings and such.
“It would need to be very well defined, though,” Riordan said. “We would have to be careful because we would be setting precedent.”
The proposal also would require the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association to approve any design plans for the Ninth Street project before those plans are presented to the Lawrence City Commission for final approval.
That point caused significant discomfort with commissioners.
“That is not a partnership but is basically creating an authoritarian government,” City Commissioner Mike Dever said of the proposal, which equated to a veto power for the neighborhood association. “I’m trying not to get angry about this.”
Farmer did not do much to contain his anger about the proposal. Farmer said he wasn’t ready to give the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association any more money or power in the process. He said he’s uncomfortable providing any increased funding to the organization, in part, because “it continues to oppose everything that comes before us.”
Farmer also brought up concerns that the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association is not very representative of the actual residents of East Lawrence. Commissioners have been getting some e-mails about that concern from residents, and Farmer said he picked up on the theme when he walked the neighborhood during last year’s debate about whether to allow a multistory hotel to be built at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, which drew opposition from the neighborhood association.
“We heard everybody in East Lawrence was against that project, and it turned out that it was about four people who were against it,” Farmer said.
I didn’t get a chance to have detailed discussions with East Lawrence leaders last night, but I’m confident they don’t agree with that assessment.
Regardless, it looks like the idea of an arts corridor on Ninth Street is going to remain bumpy for awhile. In fact, Amyx said the tension between the neighborhood, the Arts Center and others is causing him to rethink his support for the project.
“This is something that I thought would be so good for East Lawrence, but now I’m having a hard time staying in the game,” Amyx said.
Right now, commissioners are just trying to hire a design firm for the project. At some point — probably next summer — a future commission will have to decide whether to spend an estimated $3 million in city money on the project. It will be interesting to see if the project ends up on the chopping block as the city seeks for ways to help pay for a new police headquarters.
Bus driver, union leader files for seat on City Commission; Salvation Army kettle drive falling short of goal
If ever there was a City Commission candidate who could make the case for having an actual campaign bus, it would be this one. A Lawrence bus driver who also is the president of the local transit union has filed for one of three seats up for grabs on the Lawrence City Commission.
Justin Priest, 41, said he’s seeking to bring a louder voice to a group of Lawrence residents who he believes sometimes gets overlooked at City Hall.
“I’m mostly about the working man and the blue collar person,” Priest said. “Nearly everybody on the commission owns their own business or is in the white collar realm.”
Priest said he has experience representing the working class. He’s been president of the local chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union for about a year, and during that time membership in the union has grown to 83, up from about 30.
Priest said he anticipates running a campaign that focuses on how the community can get more jobs. He also said he anticipates the campaign to include many questions about some of the commission’s spending decisions. He said the decision by commissioners to spend nearly $25 million on the Rock Chalk Park sports complex before asking voters for a new sales tax to pay for a police headquarters has left him feeling “irritable.”
“I understand the police building needs to be renovated or we need to build a new one,” Priest said. “But the funding was there before, and then it kind of went away.”
Priest grew up in Lawrence during his junior high years, moved away and then moved back various times. He’s been a Lawrence resident most recently since 2002. He’s been a bus driver — he mainly drives Kansas University buses, but also occasionally drives city buses for the company that has the city contract — for the past eight years. He previously was a co-owner of a mortgage company, J&J Financial, which he dissolved after his business partner died.
Priest also continues to work as a tax preparer for Lawrence’s Hume Tax Service. That brings up an interesting situation because one of the other candidates in the City Commission race is a retired IRS agent. I have some concern that City Commission debates are going to devolve to issues such as allowable deductions, estimated tax payments, and the ability of writers to claim Doritos purchases as a professional development expense because of their obvious power as brain food. (My Leavenworth-based accountant assures me this is largely a settled issue, and for some reason also frequently reminds me that sending him a cake with a file in it also is perfectly legal.)
Priest is the fifth candidate to file for a seat on the commission. The others are: Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet sitting company; Stuart Boley, a retired IRS agent; Stan Rasmussen, an attorney for the U.S. Army; and Matthew Herbert, a Lawrence High government and civics teacher.
The seats currently held by Commissioners Mike Dever, Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm are set to expire. None of the commissioners have yet filed for re-election. Candidates have until noon Jan. 27 to file for one of the three at-large seats. If seven or more candidates file, there will be a primary election March 3 to narrow the field to six candidates. The general election will be April 7.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Contributions to charity clearly are tax deductible. But so far, donations to the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign are coming in short. Jim Evers, director of development for The Salvation Army of Douglas County, said donations stand at about $50,000, which is only half of the $100,000 goal the organization has set. The Salvation Army relies on holiday donations for about 30 percent of its annual budget.
Lt. Matt McCluer with The Salvation Army said the money raised through the kettles helps support programs such as the feeding program and rent and utility assistance programs that are operated year around. In addition, the organization also runs special programs such as a school supply distribution event that helped about 800 kids get ready for school this year, and a series of summer camps in sports, music and other activities.
McCluer said he is optimistic that giving to the kettles will increase.
“I think that is kind of the psychology of the kettles,” McCluer said. “People don’t always give until it gets closer to Christmas. They get more excited for the holiday and then they give more. People in Lawrence are generous, so I think we’ll get there. We just need to finish strong.”
Local tech company featured in The New York Times; chicken and doughnut restaurant opens in West Lawrence
A downtown Lawrence office landed in The New York Times this weekend, which has created new enthusiasm that Massachusetts Street may be home to a burgeoning tech company that aims to change the entire financial industry.
Back in September I wrote about a new financial services company called Yantra Services that had converted the former Antiques Bazaars II building at 840 Mass. into an office for computer scientists and programmers. I noted then that it looked like a business to keep an eye on, and others in the financial industry seem to agree.
The Times published an article in its DealBook section that explains how the company is looking to dramatically change everything from the debit card to multibillion-dollar transfers between banks. Specifically, the article details how the owners of Yantra have bought a bank in Weir, a small town in southeast Kansas. In addition to providing small-town banking services, the company is using the bank to test its new technology solutions for transferring money and making electronic payments.
In the banking world, the article says, it is widely acknowledged that it takes too long for financial service providers to process many payments. Banks, though, are loath to speed up the process because the quicker a bank processes payments, the less time it has to detect fraudulent transactions.
Yantra is developing a system that will allow for instant transfers from one account to another, utilizing the current technology system that powers the ATM network, according to the article. It includes a sophisticated computer program designed to quickly look at up to 40 factors to determine if a transaction is fraudulent. A few health insurance companies already are using Yantra’s system, through the bank in Weir. Companies pay a few dollars per transaction, and already the tiny bank is noticing a big difference in its bottom line.
The good news is that Lawrence is a part of this action. Yantra is based in Topeka, but as we reported in September, it wants to tap into the Lawrence market for computer scientists, programmers and other technical positions. The times article said about dozen computer engineers work for Yantra in its Topeka offices, but Yantra president and CEO Suresh Ramamurthi told me in September that he hoped to have that many or more in Lawrence at some point.
“Basically, we are looking to see if we can find the right talent in the Lawrence market,” Ramamurthi said in September. “If we can, we intend to fill the building up.”
It sure seems like Lawrence is a big part of the company’s plan. I noticed that although the company is based in Topeka, it was the company’s Lawrence office that was photographed for the article.
It will be an interesting company to watch. It appears to be the type of high-tech, high-wage company than every community is looking for these days. Ramamurthi had a successful career at Google, and his wife, Suchitra Padmanabhan, has been a bond and security analyst at Lehman Brothers and other large institutions. The couple has been in Topeka since 2002, when she took a job at the money management firm Security Benefit.
But there will be another interesting, more headline-grabbing aspect of the company to watch. The company hopes to make debit and credit cards much more technologically advanced. The Times’ article gives an example of how a parent could create a debit card for a child that could be used only during lunch hours and only in a ZIP code near the child’s school.
Oh, you can bet I’ll be keeping my ears open for news of that project for both professional and personal reasons. Think of the possibilities. My household’s balance sheet would change entirely if I could somehow restrict bulk chocolate purchases. No more large cash outlays to Hershey, no more semi-trucking fees, no more cold storage fees . . . .
Like I said, a company to keep an eye on.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Speaking of foods that have been known to bankrupt a fellow, there is a new restaurant in town specializing in fried chicken and doughnuts. I don’t have a lot of details yet, but I know news like this is a lot like a nitroglycerin tablet: There are consequences if you wait.
Harolds Fried Chicken & Donuts has opened in the Miller Mart gas station at 3300 W. Sixth St. The restaurant is closed on Mondays, so I was unable to try any chicken and donuts, but I did grab a menu. The restaurant isn’t a Dunkin’ Donuts type of place that happens to serve fried chicken. Instead, the menu touts something called “honest fried chicken,” which is served with a “warm maple glazed donut and your choice of dipping sauce.” Near as I can tell, the restaurant doesn't serve any other type of donuts.
The menu includes about a half dozen sauces, including country gravy, a Thai chili/garlic sauce, and buttermilk ranch. It also includes something called a “grilled glazer” that is a toasted maple glazed donut, topped with a fried chicken breast, cheddar cheese and a secret sauce. The restaurant also offers side dishes such as mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, cole slaw, and even “old-fashioned chicken noodle soup.”
As I said, I wasn’t able to talk to anyone at the restaurant because it was closed today, but I’ll keep an ear out for more details.
• If your Christmas tradition is to go eat some Chinese food — a la the famous scene from A Christmas Story — you have one less option in Lawrence. The Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet, 3140 Iowa St., has closed its doors. No word on what happened, but there is a hand-written sign taped to the door that reads: Out of Business.
There had been some talk on social media sites that the restaurant was closed as the result of health code violations. But I talked with a spokeswoman with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, which runs the state’s food safety program, and she said the department had taken no action against the establishment.
No word on whether another business is slated to take the restaurant’s spot, which is in the shopping center that includes Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and several other retailers.
Pachamamas restaurant up for sale, may close after Valentine’s Day; Rock Chalk gets set for big basketball tourney
News that the highly regarded downtown restaurant Pachamamas is about to close is a bit like cold pizza for breakfast: It isn’t quite right, but it is not quite wrong either. Ken Baker, owner and chef of Pachamamas, has confirmed to me that he has put the restaurant and downtown building up for sale, and the restaurant will close in the coming months if a buyer isn’t found.
Baker said the restaurant simply has struggled to recover from the 2008 recession, when patrons didn’t have as much money to spend on a nice meal.
“The last four years have just been hell trying to chase the dollar, and I’ve wrecked my body in the process,” Baker said.
Baker said he’s had two back surgeries recently, which have played a role in the decision to exit the business. He said he also “has a 6-year old boy who doesn’t see his dad very much.”
As for a possible closing date, Baker said he plans to run the business through Valentine’s Day, unless someone buys it before then. He recently listed the building, 800 New Hampshire St., with Lawrence’s Allison Vance Moore, a top commercial real estate agent with Colliers International. Baker said he is optimistic a buyer will be found, although he said it is hard to predict whether a buyer would want to buy both the building and the Pachamamas name and concept.
The building has a prime location along the active New Hampshire Street corridor. A new Marriott hotel is expected to open at the corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets in early 2015, and work on a second multistory apartment building at the intersection is expected to begin soon, as well.
“I wish I had the sea legs to wait it out because a lot is happening here,” Baker said.
Baker has been adjusting the business during the past year to try to improve its finances. The restaurant in April stopped serving lunch but added a new happy hour and lighter menu to its Star Bar operations.
Baker has owned the restaurant for 15 years, and moved it from its original location in west Lawrence to downtown in 2006. The restaurant touts its philosophy of using locally sourced produce and other items to create seasonal dishes that have an artisanal feel. Like today, the menu features items such as smoked duck breast, pork osso bucco, or a special dessert like honey bourbon butter cake. (See, that’s why I’m not a chef. I never thought to put them in a cake. I’ve just been consuming those three items separately all these years.)
Baker said he still very much enjoys the artistry of producing fine meals, and said the decision to exit the business has been a difficult one, in part because he also still enjoys working with his staff.
“Some of the most important people in my life have come through these doors and been on my staff,” Baker said.
I’ll work to keep you updated on any pending changes at the restaurant.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe a celebration dinner will be in order for some youth basketball team in Lawrence this weekend. There indeed will be a lot of youth basketball teams in the city beginning today and lasting through Sunday, as the recreation center at Rock Chalk Park hosts its largest tournament yet.
I haven’t been able to get the latest estimate from the city, but it looks like the tournament will bring 50 to 100 youth teams to the recreation center — Sports Pavilion Lawrence — for the event that begins Friday evening and lasts into Sunday. That means probably anywhere from 400 to 1,000 players, plus their parents and entourages. (UPDATE: A city representative tells me about 70 teams are expected. Figure 8 to 10 players per team, that's around 600 to 700 players that will be out at the facility at various times this weekend.)
The tournament is put on by Agape Hoops Productions out of Independence, Mo. The tournament — called the MO/KS Winter Challenge — will occupy all but one of the eight courts at the recreation center. According to the tournament’s website, it will be for both boys and girls in grades second through eighth.
It looks like the company also has another large tournament scheduled for the Sports Pavilion in March. One thing I happened to notice when I was looking at the company’s schedule is that while it has two tournaments scheduled for the Sports Pavilion between now and April, it has four tournaments scheduled for the Robinson Center at KU during the same period. It may be that the Sports Pavilion already was booked for those weekends, but it does bring up an interesting question of whether KU — who is a partner in the overall Rock Chalk Park sports complex — will be a competitor with the Sports Pavilion for youth tournaments, or whether that part of Robinson’s usage will be phased out? And certainly, I think city officials are hopeful of landing some tournaments that are so large that both facilities will need to be used.
I don’t have a solid update on how many tournaments have been booked at the Rock Chalk Park center thus far, but city officials said they’ve been very pleased with the response from tournament organizers in the early going.
City officials also have been thrilled with the number of Lawrence residents coming out to use the facilities. The city tallied 63,807 visitors to the recreation center in November, up from 53,100 in its opening month of October. Parks and recreation officials report the indoor walking track has been drawing large numbers of retirees to the center, and the new gymnastics area and indoor turf field both have been in high demand for free play. That’s in addition to the large number of volleyball and basketball leagues that have been having practices and games at the center.
Some of you have asked what the large crowds at the Rock Chalk Park center have done to attendance at the other recreation centers in town. Parks and recreation officials said attendance at those other centers, particularly Holcom and East Lawrence, have dropped by about 50 percent since the opening of Rock Chalk. Smaller usage numbers have made it easier for people to use the gyms at those facilities for “free play.” A lack of free-play time at the existing centers was one of the issues leaders hoped would be improved with the construction of the Sports Pavilion.
But parks and recreation officials also expect attendance to pick up at those other centers in the coming months. The department moved pretty much all of the basketball leagues to the Sports Pavilion as a way to introduce the facility to large numbers of people in the community. But the department plans to move some of those games back to the other centers around town as the season progresses.
We all have different types of training we have to do. For example, today I’m judging a holiday cookie contest and will partake in my company’s holiday meal, so I’m training by eating a piece of cake for breakfast. Some of you, however, may prefer lifting weights, tossing medicine balls and running sprints. If so, you now have a new place in town to do it all.
Jayhawker CrossFit has opened at 4931 W. Sixth St. (For those of you who are more cake-oriented, it is in the shopping center that includes Eileen’s Colossal Cookies and Six Mile Tavern, which I mention because I know you have to wash the cake down.) Lawrence native Andrew Armbrister is the owner of the new establishment, and he said he’s excited about helping people learn about the CrossFit style of training.
“Most of it is barbells and kettlebells, and all sorts of things to make your body the machine instead of you sitting on a machine and moving your body,” Armbrister said.
(I’m all in, by the way. Any workout program that involves kettle corn sounds good to me. I assume that is what kettlebells are.)
The gym puts an emphasis on doing group workouts. The business offers five classes per day, and the classes are structured so a person of any fitness level can participate in any of the classes. Armbrister said the classes allow beginners to see experts in action, and everybody kind of feeds off each other. (Again, the kettle corn, I’m assuming.)
The program involves a mix of traditional weight lifting, basic gymnastics and sprint training, Armbrister said. Gym fees range from about $15 for a daily drop-in rate to about $115 to $125 for various monthly plans.
Armbrister is back in Lawrence after having taught personal training concepts in Las Vegas. He said he worked for another CrossFit gym in the area, and knew that he wanted to open one of his own.
“I just really believe in the program because it is about functional fitness for everyday life,” Armbrister said. “We train in the gym to be more successful in everyday life.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• The Cave, the large nightclub at The Oread hotel near KU’s campus has been in the news again. It was just outside that nightclub where a large altercation that resulted in the arrest of a couple of KU athletes took place recently.
Coincidentally, The Cave this week also was set to be the subject of discussion by state alcohol regulators in Topeka. The establishment was to have a hearing today before an officer of the Alcoholic Beverage Control division regarding allegations that the establishment in March was illegally advertising free liquor. But a spokeswoman for the division has confirmed that hearing has been postponed because the state and officials with The Cave have reached a tentative settlement agreement.
But the spokeswoman said the details of that settlement aren’t yet available to be released because it is not yet final. The settlement is expected to be finalized in the next 30 days, at which time the details will be released, she said.
The Cave had been facing a $2,000 fine and a two-day suspension of its liquor license, if found in violation of the allegations regarding free liquor.
Mayor wants to restart discussion about police headquarters project; City Commission rejects cell tower plan
Get ready to start talking about a multimillion dollar police headquarters project again. Mayor Mike Amyx at last night’s meeting directed staff members to begin looking for dates in January and February to get input from the public on what they think the next steps should be in improving facilities for the police department.
This discussion, of course, comes on the heels of voters having rejected in November a proposed sales tax to pay for an approximately $30 million facility.
“I wanted to wait for awhile and let people calm down a bit and think about it some,” Amyx said. “But now I would like to start fresh with some ideas from the public.”
It sounds like the mayor wants to have a pretty open discussion that could involve: whether the facility upgrades are needed at all; where a new facility ought to be located; how it ought to be paid for; and I suspect whether a broader review of police department issues is warranted before the city proceeds with the facility issues.
The public comment process undoubtedly will be useful, but it is appearing more likely all the time that it will be the new commission that takes over in April that will play a much larger role in determining the outcome of this issue.
We will, of course, report on the times and dates of the public forums once they are set.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It was a busy night last night at City Hall, so I did not get a chance to report on the debate over a cellular phone tower in eastern Lawrence. Commissioners soundly rejected the plans for a 120-foot tower at 1725 Bullene Ave.
The tower would have been located on industrial property, but it is property that is very near to single-family homes. Commissioners said they were concerned the tower indeed would reduce property values in the area, and they weren’t convinced that officials for Verizon Wireless had done enough examination of other sites.
One site that commissioners suggested received a further look is a vacant piece of ground along Haskell Avenue that is owned by The Salvation Army. The site is only a few hundred feet away from the proposed site, but it does allow for quite a bit more separation from homes. Commissioners also said they wanted Verizon representatives to look closer at using the grain elevators just south of 19th and Haskell.
Let me just say the neighborhood is fired up about this issue. It had protest petitions and lots of people at Tuesday evening's meeting.
Commissioners rejected the plan on a 5-0 vote, and it now will be up to Verizon to file plans for a new site.
• A quick note on the restaurant front. I had told you earlier that I expected an opening date soon for Dickey’s Barbecue Pit at 721 Wakarusa Drive. Well, I’ve gotten word that the grand opening will be at 11 a.m. Thursday. The restaurant will give away gift cards and such, plus a chance to win free barbecue for a year.
Neighborhood group asking city to slow down on downtown grocery store project; update on city’s quest to get Google Fiber-like Internet service
Getting a grocery store in downtown Lawrence may be a bit like me walking down the candy aisle. No, it won’t require hooking a dozen shopping carts together, but I am predicting it is going to take awhile. I say that because the process has barely begun, and the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods is already asking City Hall to slow down.
If you remember, the owners of the Lawrence grocery store Checkers have an interest in building a downtown grocery store that would be part of a seven-story building at 11th and Massachusetts streets. But the Checkers group has asked city commissioners to consider a request that would allow the new grocery store to have exclusive use of 18 public parking spaces along Massachusetts Street, and 16 new spaces that would be along 11th Street. Commissioners are scheduled to hear that request at their meeting tonight and are expected to direct staff members to further study it.
But the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods is asking that the idea not even be studied yet. It calls the request “extremely premature.” The association notes that the idea of a seven-story building across the street from both the historic Douglas County Courthouse and Watkins Museum is going to create some concern. The letter seems to indicate the height issue ought to be addressed before city officials start looking at parking issues.
No doubt the height of the building is going to be a matter that creates debate. But it is worth noting that this request for parking is coming directly from the Checkers group. In talking with Checkers owner Jim Lewis, he indicated that parking was going to be a paramount issue for the grocery store project. Given that, it appears he wants a read on the city’s thinking early on. It may be that if the city is not willing to give a little on parking, Lewis may find the site infeasible, and would have to shift gears. It is hard to know whether that’s the case or not because the project will include other parking in a private garage proposed for the area just east of the alley between Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Certainly, the idea of devoting public parking spaces to a private business — and removing the parking meters — is a big issue. There would be many businesses that would like to have that arrangement. Commissioners will have to decide whether a grocery store — which commissioners hope will make downtown a more attractive place to live — is a unique enough project to take the unusual step of altering the downtown parking system. But do you answer that question in the early part of the process or the later part of the process? I guess that’s the debate we’ll have tonight.
One group I haven’t heard from yet is Downtown Lawrence Inc. I don’t know if that group has taken a position yet on the parking idea, but I have a call into its leader. (UPDATE: I talked with Sally Zogry, executive director of DLI, and she said the group's membership is excited about the prospects of a downtown grocery store. She said the group believes the city staff should study the parking proposal. But she said some members will have concerns about the Massachusetts Street parking proposal . But she said the membership wanted to hear information from city staff about how such a parking arrangement could be enforced and other such issues. She said DLI expects to provide significant input on the proposal as it gets closer to a decision.)
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is time to restart Lawrence’s never-ending Internet debate. City commissioners today will have their second study session in as many weeks on the idea of bringing high-speed broadband service to Lawrence. This week they are meeting with the leaders of Baldwin City-based RG Fiber to discuss its proposal to begin installing gigabit Internet service in parts of Lawrence.
Last week the company met with Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband to discuss its plan for gigabit service, which is the same type of service being offered by Google Fiber in Kansas City. Wicked’s proposal includes a request for a $300,000 loan guarantee from the city. Commissioners didn’t make any decisions on that issue, or really even tip their hand on that issue.
But last week’s study session did bring clarity to a couple of points. The first is that Wicked Broadband still is not interested in making its financial books public as part of the process for the city to determine whether to provide a $300,000 loan guarantee. As we previously reported, the city is being asked to make a decision on whether to provide the loan guarantee without knowing basic information such as the amount of debt Wicked currently carries, the company’s operating profit or loss, or other basic details about its balance sheet. But at last week’s meeting, Josh Montgomery, an owner of Wicked, said he would show his books to individual city commissioners who came by his office and asked to see them. But he said he would not submit the document to City Hall, which would make it a public document He said making his financial statements public would put his company at a competitive disadvantage. Of course, some of Wicked’s competitors are arguing they will be put at a competitive disadvantage if the city gives Wicked a $300,000 loan guarantee. So, I guess it is all just how you slice it.
The other point that was made clear last week involves the $300,000 pilot project that would provide service to parts of downtown and East Lawrence. The number that has most frequently been associated with the project is 300 addresses. That’s how many households or businesses that could be served by the project. But Montgomery made it clear that the 300 households is likely not the number that would actually end up with service at the end of the project. The project would run fiber cable in front of 300 addresses. Of that amount only a certain percentage would sign up for the service. It is tough to say with certainty how many addresses may sign up for the service, but Montgomery mentioned that 30 to 40 percent was a realistic target. All that makes sense, but we hadn’t quite explained it that way, and I’m not sure that commissioners realized that the pilot project may result in only about 100 locations having the high-speed service.
The issue that commissioners spent the most amount of time talking about is a technical one called common carriage. Wicked is proposing that any company that uses any part of the city-owned fiber optic network be required to commit to the idea of common carriage. Common carriage is the idea that more than one company can operate on the same set of fiber optic cables. The way it would work with this pilot project, for example, is that once Wicked installed the fiber system in downtown, other Internet service providers could lease space on Wicked’s cables. They would be charged a wholesale rate that would be consistent for any and all carriers. Wicked, as the owner of the system, would collect those wholesale fees. But Wicked also would be entitled to be a retailer of such services as well.
Montgomery is lobbying hard for the common carriage idea. He said it will spur competition, which will be good for the Internet consumer. City officials, though, are split on the idea. City staff members have raised concerns that other companies looking to make broadband investments may be turned of by the common carriage requirements. Some companies don’t like the idea of sharing their network, and some companies don’t like the idea of buying wholesale service from a company that also will be competing with them in the retail market.
Staff member also have said they are concerned the city will become a de facto regulator of the wholesale system, which they said could be time consuming and contentious. City commissioners seemed split on the idea too, so that will be one to watch.
As for RG Fiber, we’ll get an update on them today. But they have consistently asked city commissioners not to provide Wicked the loan guarantee because they view that as an unfair subsidy to a competitor.
The study session starts at 4 p.m. today at City Hall.
Details on proposed changes to west Lawrence’s Alvamar golf and country club; speculation about restaurant tenant for Marriott; Wheat State Pizza allowed to reopen after tax dispute
Here’s the surest sign that word of proposed changes to the Alvamar golf courses is starting to make its way around town: I caught my insurance agent trying to steal my golf clubs. Yes, a big part of the proposed revamping of Alvamar is to add more homes along the course, and with my hook, slice and my proclivity to confuse the golf cart’s accelerator and brake, that can ruin even the most financially sound of insurance companies.
If you remember, Bliss Sports — the Thomas Fritzel-led group that also was the key private partner at Rock Chalk Park — has tentatively agreed to purchase the Alvamar Golf & Country club in west Lawrence. I recently chatted with Lawrence architect Paul Werner, who is serving as the designer for Bliss. Werner has met with club members and residents who live near the course. He said he is assuring them of two things:
“There are 36 holes of golf today and there will be 36 holes of golf tomorrow,” Werner said. “And if you live on the golf course today, you will live on the golf course tomorrow.”
Werner said the development group hasn’t had any serious discussions about eliminating nine or 18 holes of golf at the complex. Instead, the group has focused on moving some fairways and even a few greens to create larger areas around the course to accommodate more residential development.
Werner said he cannot yet put a number on how many new living units would be created around the course, but he’s telling people to expect a variety of housing types. Those included traditional single-family homes, patio homes, condos, and probably some apartments, as well. One area of the course is designated to accommodate several cabins that could house larger groups of overnight visitors to the course. (Just for the record, it takes me a long time to play a round of golf, but it has been very rare that I’ve had to spend the night to finish a round.)
In terms of more details about the proposed changes, see the photo above of a possible site layout that was shared at the members meeting. Here’s some additional details:
— The greens for No. 9 and No. 18 on the public side of the course are scheduled to move, and the group is still studying the possibility of moving the green for No. 17.
— Plans call for the fairways on holes No. 10 on both the public and private side of the courses to move, and the fairway for No. 1 on the public side also likely would be re-arranged.
— New homes would be added between the fairways of No. 1 and No. 9 on the public course, meaning that No. 1 would have homes on both sides of the fairway. New residential units also are planned for both sides of the portion of Crossgate Drive that runs north of the clubhouse area of the complex. Plans call for the No. 10 fairways on both the public and private side to be moved and the driving range to be narrowed to accommodate the housing. Werner said the group also is considering developing a new housing area near where the 17th green of the public side is today. Those homes would be on the north side of Quail Creek Drive, but Werner said that portion of the plan is less definite than the other proposed residential areas.
— The plans show about a dozen cabins or more would be built near the No. 9 green on the public side of the course. Such cabins have become popular at some golf clubs across the country, with Werner pointing to the Flint Hills National Golf Club near Wichita as an example.
– The public side clubhouse — the smaller structure with a pro shop, snack bar and deck that overlooks the practice putting green — would be torn down fairly early in the process, Werner said. In that general area, the group would build a banquet hall and a large pond that would help serve some of the irrigation needs of the course. (The pond is one of several called for on the plans, but I’ll have to get more details about those later.) The banquet hall could seat up to 800 people. Certainly the facility would be able to accommodate large weddings and other such social events. Whether it would try to accommodate conferences and small scale conventions remains to be seen. The project currently does not have a hotel proposed for anywhere on the site, but Werner told me the group is open to looking at that possibility in the future.
– Drawings show a large indoor/outdoor tennis center just south of the parking lot for Alvamar. It would be on the west side of Crossgate and would take advantage of some of the re-arranging of the holes and fairways. As envisioned, the facility would be a joint complex that would be shared by members and the Kansas University tennis team, Werner said. But he said the tennis center idea is still in the early stages of discussions with KU officials. KU currently owns an indoor/outdoor tennis center at 5200 Clinton Parkway in west Lawrence.
– Plans call for a new swimming pool to be built near where the cart barn facility is located today.
– Discussions with KU are underway to expand KU’s existing practice facility at Alvamar, Werner said.
Werner said he didn’t have a definitive timeline for the project to proceed, but said he expected work to begin at some point in 2015. Alvamar officials previously have said they expect the sale of the club to Bliss Sports to be finalized by April. Currently, the company is going through a due diligence period, which includes winning approvals for the proposed changes to the course.
Werner said Bliss has not yet submitted any plans to City Hall for the necessary land use approvals. He said the development group, however, has started talking with city planners to get a better understanding of what approvals will be needed.
Werner said the development group is not anticipating asking for a large incentives package from the city to move the project forward. He said the group may seek an exemption on paying sales taxes for construction materials, which is an exemption the city has given other projects by issuing industrial revenue bonds. Werner said more significant incentives such as tax increment financing or a transportation development district aren’t being considered at this time.
Werner said this development clearly will be a much more private development than the public-private partnership that was used to develop Rock Chalk Park. He said the driving force behind this development is to create more residential living around the course, which in turn should create more members for the country club.
“More residents out there will make it healthier,” Werner said.
He said there also is the possibility that the country club could become more an attraction for out-of-town visitors. He said the development group is in early discussions about creating a Kansas golf hall of fame that would be located at the club.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that the courses can be a great destination,” Werner said. “Maybe you have a group come in for a KU game, and they stay in one of the cabins for a few days longer to play some golf.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Back in June we reported that the hip Kansas City-based Mexican restaurant Port Fonda was seriously looking for a location in Lawrence. Well, those rumors have heated up again, and now the word on the street is that it may well be the tenant that takes the restaurant space in the new Marriott hotel that will open at Ninth and New Hampshire streets in early 2015.
I checked in with Jamie Davila, a co-owner of Port Fonda, and he said he didn’t yet have any announcements to make, but said he thought one would be forthcoming soon.
“We’re still very interested in Lawrence,” he said.
So, take the Marriott rumor for whatever you think it is worth, but it looks like something to keep an eye on.
For those of you not familiar with Port Fonda, it has become a favorite for some of the Westport crowd. Patrick Ryan, the other co-owner of the business, started in a food truck in Kansas City and then transitioned to a full-scale restaurant about two years ago.
• We reported last week that agents with the Kansas Department of Revenue locked the doors of Wheat State Pizza near 23rd and Louisiana due to about $42,000 in unpaid taxes. Well, the restaurant is back open. A spokeswoman with the Department of Revenue confirmed that Wheat State Pizza had reached “an acceptable payment option with the state” that allowed the restaurant to reopen on Friday.
Update on construction at 31st and Kasold; Lawrence residential building numbers at historic lows; skate rink attracts more than 1,300
The few times I’ve managed to actually keep my eyes open as my wife drives us around the Kasold Curve, I’ve noticed construction work is moving right along on the beginning stages of Lawrence’s newest neighborhood.
The Kasold Curve, of course, is at 31st and Kasold, and we’ve previously reported that the site is going to be home to a new neighborhood of duplexes. But several of you apparently have forgotten that because questions abound about what’s going on at the curve. (Or maybe you’re just asking how my Ford Taurus can keep its wheels on going sideways — you really should ask the driver.)
Regardless, I’ve got an update on the development. Longtime Lawrence real estate executive Mike McGrew is a partner in the project, and he said he hopes to have 10 to 12 duplexes under construction at the site soon. The work you’ve seen at the site has been for the streets and other infrastructure.
Overall, McGrew said the development would have about 130 townhomes, which equates to about 65 structures with two living units apiece. McGrew said the development will include a mix of rental units and units for sale. He is partnering with Lawrence-based Grand Builders. McGrew anticipates it will take about three years to fully build out the development.
The project will include some changes to the Kasold Curve. The city is requiring a left-turn lane to make it easier for motorists to enter the development. In addition to the townhomes, the site includes a site for the Lawrence Wesleyan Church, which purchased 33 acres at the corner in 2009, and then sold about 19 acres to the McGrew development. The church will be built on property just west of the houses, but a timeline for that project is less certain.
The residential building market has been slow in Lawrence this year — more on that in a moment — but McGrew said he thinks the time is near for activity to start picking up again.
“I’ve been watching the national statistics, and they show that even at a million new units a year, we’re still undershooting the household formation rate by about 500,000,” McGrew said. “That is why there have been a lot of apartments. I think there are a lot of people in apartments who would rather be in houses.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Here’s something to keep an eye on this month: Unless something changes in December, this year is at risk of being the worst on record for single-family home construction in Lawrence.
City officials recently have released the latest building permit numbers, and they show that the city has issued only 87 permits for single-family home construction through November. For decades and decades it was a given that Lawrence would issue more than 100 permits a year for single-family homes. Then in the depth of the recession in 2011, the city failed to hit the 100 mark for the first time since at least 1956, which is how far back the city’s building permit records go.
Now, just three year later, the city is at risk of missing the mark again. It will be close, though. Housing starts have picked up a little momentum at the end of the year. The November report shows 13 permits were issued. That was the highest monthly total of the year. If builders take out 13 or more in December, the city will hit the 100 mark. Even if they just take out eight or more, they’ll avoid setting a new low. The city issued 95 permits in that rough year of 2011.
If you add in duplex units to the mix, the numbers look a little better, but not much. The city has issued permits for a total of 101 living units when count both single-family and duplex permits. That’s the second lowest total of the last five years, trailing only the 2011 year.
It also is interesting to note that apartment construction also has lagged in 2014. The city has issued permits for 83 apartment units. That’s the lowest total by a lot in recent years, with the next lowest being 172 in 2009. Add it all up and Lawrence is having its slowest residential construction year since . . . 1974. Through 11 months of 2014, the city has issued permits for 184 living units. Back in 1974, the city issued permits for 176 units of single family, duplex and apartments.
Of course, we still have one more month to go. And I wouldn’t worry too much about a lasting slowdown in apartment development. Apartment builders may just be catching their breath. Several projects are on the drawing board. Construction likely will being in early 2015 on the latest multi-story apartment building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. That project has received all its city approvals and is awaiting building permits. Plus, there is the news about a multi-story building at 11th and Massachusetts that would house a grocery store on the ground floor. The upper levels of that seven-story project would include apartments. And there is the proposed apartment project across the street from Memorial Stadium that has been approved but may or may not happen. Nonetheless, it's interesting to note it has been historically slow thus far on the residential front in Lawrence in 2014.
For all projects — residential, commercial and otherwise — the city has issued permits for $91 million worth of projects so far in 2014. That’s down from the $163 million issued through the same period a year ago, but 2013 was a banner year. The average since 2009 has been about $105 million worth of projects, so this year is off about 13 percent, which isn’t bad in the cyclical world of construction.
• Speaking of things that are falling, how about an update on ice skating. The city has the numbers back from the opening weekend of its new outdoor rink near the Lawrence Public Library. (Some have noted that I shouldn’t call it ice skating because it is an artificial surface rather than real ice. But I count it as ice skating because there seem to be very little difference in the doctor bills I rack up between the real and the fake stuff.) There were not reports of injuries on the opening weekend, but rather just lots of skaters. More than 400 skaters showed up for opening day, and for the three-day weekend a total of 1,324 skaters took to the ice-like surface. The city is expecting good crowds this weekend, which is the Winter Wonder Weekend that Downtown Lawrence Inc. and others are sponsoring to bring in more shoppers. A highlight of that is Saturday’s Old Fashioned Christmas Parade at 11 a.m.
Developer completes purchase of Turnhalle building; new funeral home eyes Lawrence; city ponders earlier start time for City Commission meetings
I’ve said it more times than my wife cares to remember: Mini-bowling and beer will solve a lot of problems. We may soon put the theory to the test at the old Turnhalle building in East Lawrence.
If you remember, East Lawrence developer Tony Krsnich signed a tentative deal in July to purchase from the Lawrence Preservation Alliance the 1869 Turnhalle building at Ninth and Rhode Island streets. Then he set out to find a tenant for the old building. But no one emerged as a tenant for a building that likely will need more than $1 million worth of renovation work.
Krsnich this week went ahead and completed the purchase anyway, and he tells me he’s looking at plans to use the ground of the building to house a beer garden and mini-bowling establishment. If that sounds a little random, you have forgotten your Turnhalle history. The building housed a social club for the German-American organization Turnverein. The main floor housed a performance area for plays, meetings and gymnastics, while the ground floor housed a beer garden and mini-bowling area.
Krsnich held several public meetings asking for suggestions on how the building should be used in the future, and many people kept coming back to the beer garden and mini-bowling idea. No one, however, stepped forward and submitted a business plan for the idea. That leaves Krsnich — the developer who is behind the popular Poehler Lofts building and the Warehouse Arts District — moving forward on his own.
“We’ll probably go through all the City Hall approvals and start swinging hammers whether we have an operator or not,” Krsnich said. “We think if you will build it they will come.” (That’s an excellent idea: Keep repeating that phrase, and Kevin Costner will come and run the mini-bowling alley.)
A use for the main floor of the building hasn’t been determined yet.
“I’ll continue talking with people in the community,” Krsnich said. “I think it ultimately will be a destination location for whatever its next purpose is.”
As for the beer and bowling, Krsnich wants to be clear that he’s not proposing to put a full-scale tavern or rowdy club in the East Lawrence neighborhood. He said he envisions serving some German food at the establishment and incorporating several other pieces of German culture into the business. And, let’s be honest, if someone else wants to lease the building for another business use, Krsnich is willing to move away from the beer garden and mini-bowling idea.
He has offered to turn the building over to a nonprofit agency for office space, if the agency could afford to do the renovation work. Several have looked, but thus far, none has had the resources to undertake the necessary renovations.
Terms of the purchase weren’t disclosed, but Krsnich said he’s invested more than $100,000 into the building already. He said more investment will soon come. He’s finalizing an agreement with Lawrence-based Hernly Associates to design renovation plans for the structure.
The sale of the building, which is one of the older structures in the community, is a major accomplishment for the Lawrence Preservation Alliance. When LPA purchased the structure in late-2012, it risked the financial future of the organization to do so. But the LPA successfully raised funds and grant money to stabilize the building, which was deteriorating rapidly because of water infiltration.
Dennis Brown, president of the LPA, said he’s proud of what the organization has accomplished and particularly grateful that Krsnich has stepped forward to take the building to its next phase. LPA, however, isn’t entirely out of the project yet. Brown said the organization is providing a $50,000, low-interest, second mortgage on the property to help with the financing during the time period that a tenant is being sought.
“Tony has taken a tremendous leap of faith,” Brown said. “We believe he is the right person for this job, but it is a huge job. We sincerely hope the entire city will get behind Tony and support saving the Turnhalle.”
The contract Krsnich had with LPA would have allowed him to back out of the purchase if he didn’t find a tenant, but Krsnich said he ultimately decided against because he thought the project was too important from a historical preservation standpoint.
“You can’t take the state and be recognized as a national historic development team,” Krsnich said referring to several of the awards his group has won for the Poehler Lofts building, “and then let one of the most historic buildings in town fall down a few blocks from your office.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence may be getting a new funeral home, and it may occupy a building along a busy stretch of East 23rd Street.
The Greatful Gathering Funerals and Cremation Centre is the business that hopes to buy the property adjacent to the city’s Lawrence Venture Park at 2004 E. 23rd St. If you remember, Mike Hultine, the current owner of the property, has approached the city about buying a half-acre portion of Lawrence Venture Park property to be used as a parking lot for the building. He told commissioners that he has a contract to sell the building, but the buyer needs the additional land to accommodate parking needs.
At the time we first reported on the project, we didn’t know the nature of the business. Now we know it is a funeral home. Lindsay Jones and Robert Davis, funeral professionals with ties to Kansas City and St. Louis will be the principals of the new business. But area residents Melanie Loyd and Rev. Arsenial Runion also will be part of the new venture, according to an email the group sent me.
The funeral home plans to embrace a funeral concept “where family and friends share in thankfulness for all they had while in relationship with their loved one,” the release says.
But first, the project must complete its land deal for the needed parking lot. City commissioners on Tuesday directed staff to further negotiate with Hultine on a selling price for the property. Hultine had offered $21,760 for the property, or about $1 per square foot. City staff members countered with a price of $30,028.
• Perhaps in the future I will be able to abandon my regular Tuesday evening meal of Mountain Dew and cocoa beans. I, nor you, may not have to stay up so late to watch Lawrence City Commission meetings. City Commissioner Terry Riordan says he wants to have a discussion about starting City Commission meetings earlier. Meetings currently start at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesdays, and it is not uncommon for them to last past 10 p.m.
Commissioners over the years have expressed concern that they make some some pretty important decisions late at night. I’ve witnessed bleary-eyed commissioners making multimillion dollar decisions near midnight. A few times such marathon meetings have taken place following a Tuesday afternoon study session, meaning commissioners and city staff have been at it for seven hours or more. (I have my meeting notes to prove it. Granted, they simply read “must get career counseling, must get career counseling . . . )
But commissioners have been reluctant to start meetings earlier because they are concerned members of the public may have a hard time getting off work to make it to a commission meeting. But Riordan has suggested an idea of starting the ceremonial portion of the City Commission meetings at 5:30 p.m. Before you get the wrong idea, we don’t walk around with scepters and gold leaf copies of the City Code, or anything like that. (Not on Tuesday nights, anyway.) But the meetings do routinely include proclamations and other such ceremonial recognitions.
Riordan’s idea is that those could take place at 5:30 p.m., since they don’t normally generate much public comment. The city wouldn’t start its regular business meeting prior to 6 p.m. Other commissioners said they were open to the idea, but want to hear more feedback from the public. I suspect the city will seek some public comment on the idea in the near future, then make a decision.
In case you are wondering why the city starts its meetings at 6:35 p.m., instead of, say ,6:30 p.m., the simple answer is: We have no idea anymore. It used to be because the local cable station, Channel 6, would broadcast the meetings following its 6 p.m. newscast. The newscast ended at 6:30 p.m. and the extra five minutes gave the production crew a chance to get in its proper places. But that hasn’t been the case for quite awhile. The city does its own television production of the meetings, meaning it can start them whenever it wishes.
Rock Chalk Park opponent files for City Commission seat; other campaign updates; pair of restaurants set to open next week
This is the way it goes in Lawrence these days. As soon as you get your turkey bib, your gravy fountain and your 42-inch pumpkin pie pan put away from Thanksgiving, we jump right into the next season. I, of course, am talking about Lawrence City Commission election season.
We’re in it, and we now have our second official candidate for the race. Lawrence resident Matthew Herbert has filed for one of the three seats that will be up for election on the five-member commission. Herbert is a Lawrence High civics and government teacher, and also operates a rental business, Renaissance Property Management.
Based on his website, he’s concerned with some of the past actions of the City Commission. He criticizes the increasing use of tax abatements and other financial incentives for private projects.
“As a Lawrence city commissioner I will promote economic development so long as it is done the right way,” Herbert says. “It would be my expectation that private industry finance private development with private dollars.”
Herbert also made it clear he was not a fan of the process used to move forward with the Rock Chalk Park project. He called the process, which involved nearly $12 million worth of infrastructure being built without a bid, a “fiasco.”
“The ‘no-bid’ contract that was handed out is inexcusable,” Herbert said. “As a city commissioner you are a steward of the public’s money. Mega-million dollar deals need to be both bid and bid with transparency. Whenever possible this type of expenditure must be put to a public vote.”
I’ve got a call out to Herbert and hope to bring you more information about him later today.
I’ve also been talking with some other potential candidates recently. Current City Commissioner Terry Riordan told me last night that he hopes to make a decision on whether to seek re-election in the next couple of weeks.
“I’m going out and talking to people I know, and seeing what they think,” Riordan said.
Riordan, who is a longtime physician in the community, acknowledged it has been kind of a controversial time period on the commission. He’s only in his second year on the commission, and thus got in on just the end of the Rock Chalk Park debate. But concerns about that project have lingered, and the City Commission took some criticism for the unsuccessful effort to pass a sales tax to support a new police headquarters facility. And don’t forget rental licensing. Those new regulations, which Riordan was a strong supporter of, made a lot of neighborhood residents happy, but left some landlords miffed. So, indeed, it has been an active two-year term for Riordan.
“I would like to be confident that I’m doing what the citizens want,” Riordan said of his current conversations.
For what it is worth, I think Riordan would like to run again.
“I’ve loved it,” he said of his time on the commission. “It is a tremendous opportunity to help the community.”
I’m less clear on the plans of current Lawrence school board member Kris Adair. I also chatted with her last night — we were all at a City Commission meeting — and she said she is still pondering a run for the City Commission. She said she doesn’t plan to make a decision until after Christmas.
Adair has a few things to think about. She has said she likely would resign her position on the Lawrence school board if she won a term on the City Commission. Adair also finds herself involved in an issue that is pending before the City Commission. She is a co-owner of Wicked Broadband, which is seeking a $300,000 loan guarantee from the city as part of a pilot project to bring Google Fiber-like high-speed Internet service to parts of downtown Lawrence.
Commissioners had a study session on that topic on Tuesday, but reached no decisions. But it looks like that issue will be decided one way or another before the April elections. Again, for what it is worth, Adair is starting to sound like a candidate. She’s taken a strong interest in economic development issues. As we have previously reported, she’s behind a project to start the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship in a commercial building near Ninth and Iowa streets.
She said the center is expected to be open by Feb. 1, and she plans to serve as its director. The facility will serve as a center to help Lawrence residents build new businesses. It will include co-working space for businesses, a data center, a lab that can be used for some prototype work, and will host several entrepreneurship-based classes.
If she runs, it sounds like a change in economic development policy will be a major part of her campaign. She delivered public comment at last night’s City Commission meeting highlighting the poor results of the community’s job creations efforts over the last 10 years.
I’m also expecting at least two other Lawrence residents to file for the commission relatively soon. Eric Sader, a Lawrence attorney who also has a background in the social services industry, has told me he expects to file for a seat in early December. Leslie Soden, a small-business owner who has been active in the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, continues to indicate she will run for a seat. She ran two years ago and narrowly missed winning a seat on the commission.
Current Commissioners Mike Dever and Bob Schumm both have terms that are expiring. Neither has made an official announcement, although Schumm has made comments indicating he is leaning toward running. Dever has said he likely won’t make a decision until January. If Dever runs again, he would be seeking his third consecutive term on the commission.
Certainly, Greg Robinson, a leader of the police sales tax opposition group, has been mentioned as a possible candidate, although I don’t have a clear sense on whether he will run. I’m hearing other names that are early in the process as well. All indications are there will be a large number of candidates in the race.
If seven or more candidates file for a seat on the commission, we’ll have a primary election to whittle the field to six on March 3. The general election will be April 7. The filing deadline for the race is noon on Jan. 27.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Prior to Herbert’s filing, Stan Rasmussen, a Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner and an attorney for the U.S. Army, was the lone candidate who had filed. I briefly reported on his filing last month, but he wasn’t immediately available for an interview because of some work responsibilities.
But we did get together for an interview recently, and he said he’ll spend a lot of time in the campaign talking about the need for good long-term planning.
“You don’t go buy yourself a fancy new car in the summer and then say in September that I forgot I had tuition coming due,” Rasmussen said. “I have heard the questions from people about how did we put some of these wants and nice things ahead of a police facility that seems more like a need. Whether that is accurate or not, that perception is out there.”
Rasmussen said he fully expects another proposal for a police facility to emerge.
“The process of building consensus in the community for where and what and how we’re going to pay for a new police station will be really important,” he said.
He also said that the City Commission needs to be mindful of making sure the entire community feels like it is benefiting from new projects.
“I really want to work towards shared prosperity,” Rasmussen said. “If I put myself in the shoes of someone who lives in Prairie Park, going to Rock Chalk Park is probably not where I’m going to go to work out. I think it is understandable that some people feel a little left behind.”
Rasmussen also told me that he is resigning his position on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission because he does not think it would be appropriate to run a campaign while serving on that board.
• You may want to drag out that Thanksgiving bib after all. Next week will be a big week for restaurants that have been known to make my tie look like a Picasso painting. Buffalo Wild Wings will open its new location at 27th and Iowa streets on Monday. It will be giving away free wings for a year to the first 100 people who are in line for the 10 a.m. opening of the restaurant.
As we previously reported, Buffalo Wild Wings has closed its downtown location to move to the new South Iowa spot, which is caddy-corner from Dick’s Sporting Goods.
I’m also being told that Dickey’s Barbecue Pit expects to be open by the end of next week, according to the landord of the space at Sixth and Wakarusa. As we previously have reported, that chain is taking the spot previously occupied by Johnny Brusco’s pizza.
One restaurant tid-bit that I’m getting some questions about but don’t yet have any answers on is Texas Roadhouse. Some of you have been to some area Texas Roadhouse locations and have been told by employees there that the steakhouse chain is coming to Lawrence, likely along South Iowa. I’m working to get some more information on that front, but at the moment have no confirmation on those rumors.