Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
North Lawrence has been known to have loud trains, cool motorcycles, and even the occasional misguided boat. (We only were stranded on the sandbar for a week.) Soon, the neighborhood also may have a hip truck — or more accurately, a hip food truck.
Zach Thompson, the former executive chef at downtown’s popular 715 restaurant, has filed plans with City Hall to open Dottie’s Food Truck just off of North Lawrence’s main drag. Thompson is seeking approval to permanently place a food truck in the parking lot at 912 N. Third St.
As for what Dottie’s — named after the nickname of his grandmother — will serve, Thompson isn't saying much. He said the main theme is that it will be local, it will be organic, and it will be food that people can easily eat on the go.
“It will be really well-crafted, seasonal organic food,” Thompson said. “Whatever that ends up being is what it will be. We’re going to play around with the market a little bit.”
Thompson, who was the executive chef at 715 for a little more than two years until leaving at the end 2016, said he’ll be buying Kansas beef, Kansas pork and locally grown produce. Thompson didn’t provide many specifics about the menu, but said there certainly will be sandwiches.
“I want to do a riff on a smoked beef something,” Thompson said. “It may not be barbecue, but it will be my tip of the hat to the barbecue scene of the midwest.”
If you are having a hard time picturing where the food truck will be located, it will be in the parking lot of Lawrence Vintage Cycle, the cool place that sells old Harleys and restores them. If you still don’t know where that is at, you need to find an excuse to wear leather chaps more often. Perhaps you know where the O’Reilly Auto Parts store is located. It just a bit north and east of that building, about a block off the main drag of North Second Street.
Thompson said the owner of the property is a partner in the food truck, and that was a key consideration in the location. Thompson noted Lawrence’s strict regulations regarding food trucks. Unlike in other communities, it is difficult for a food truck operator to set up business in a public parking space or other high-traffic location in town.
But Thompson said he’s also intrigued by the North Lawrence food scene. For years there has been Johnny’s Tavern, and more recently the Levee Cafe opened. But many of the other offerings in North Lawrence are just a handful of fast food chains.
“It is almost like the Wild West out here for food, because there are not a lot of people over here doing anything,” Thompson said. (The Wild West comment confused me. Can I wear my hat and chaps now? I was led to believe that was never again a possibility.)
Thompson also is excited about perhaps being able to do some things out of a food truck that are difficult to do in a restaurant. While at 715 he took pride in producing not just good food but stylized food. But the equation isn’t exactly a cheap one in downtown Lawrence. He said he chose the food truck route because he doesn’t want to have to contend with the ever increasing rents that restaurant locations command in Lawrence.
“We are about eating better,” Thompson said. “The whole thing about doing this food truck is hopefully I can offer these better products at a better price. Downtown you see a lot of high price points. I don’t think it has to be that way, if you can get yourself in the right environment.”
As for a timeline, Thompson hopes the food truck will be open in April. In addition to the food truck, the site will be modified a bit to provide a small outdoor seating area. But the major part of the project is building the food truck, which technically won’t be a truck. Thompson said he already has acquired a 1946 Spartan trailer that is being renovated to house the food operations.
In other news and notes:
• Perhaps this has caused you to wonder whether the Kansas Food Truck Festival once again will be held in the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence. It sure appears so. The event has filed for a permit to host the event on May 6 at the Warehouse Arts District near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets. The event’s website also confirms that date. Details on what food trucks are participating in this year’s event weren’t available on the website yet.
• While we are on the subject of events, it looks like a unique one that got started last year will be back for a second time around. A permit has been filed at City Hall to allow the Kansas Relays Pole Vault Competition to be held in the parking lot of the Salty Iguana restaurant on April 20. The Salty Iguana, of course, is at Sixth and Wakarusa in west Lawrence. Organizers converted a portion of the parking lot into a pole vault pit to host world class vaulters last year.
Look for more details about the event as the date gets closer. The pole vault event is kind of a spin off from the popular Downtown Lawrence shot put competition that also is held around Kansas Relays time. That has grown into a Lawrence tradition, and I’m sure will be back too on a separate day.
Whitewater group explains how $70 million Clinton Lake project would be funded; it involves help from the public and a new shopping center
During this Valentine’s Day season everything is expected to be sugarcoated — the food, the sentiments and the “explanation” about how the flat screen TV got broken during last night’s wild KU game. (I think it was Cupid’s arrow.) One guy who is not engaging in the sugarcoating ritual, though, is the leader of a group who wants to build a whitewater rafting facility at Clinton Lake State Park.
Yesterday I provided you an update on the project, and some takeaways from a conversation I had with the leader of the North Carolina-based U.S. National Whitewater Center. Yesterday’s conversation was about the environment. Today’s is about money. When it comes to that subject, the group is not sugarcoating the key point: The facility — which would have whitewater courses, zip lines, an amphitheater, restaurant, beer garden and other amenities — is expected to cost at least $70 million to build, and the U.S. National Whitewater Center doesn’t plan to pay much, if any, of that cost.
“We don’t want to pretend the project can do something it can’t do,” said Jeff Wise, CEO of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, which operates in Charlotte a manmade whitewater rafting course and adventure park that is similar to what is proposed for Clinton Lake. “We’re being honest that the project can only support so much capital expense.”
If this project is to get done, state and local officials are going to have to figure out how to finance its construction.
That sure sounds like it could be a deal-killer to a significant segment of the Lawrence population that is tired of giving incentives to private development companies. Wise seems to have two counterpoints to that argument. The first one is that the U.S. Whitewater Center really isn’t a development company. Technically, it is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. There are no shareholders, and people like Wise get paid a salary for their work but don’t own any part of the development.
The second point Wise makes is that the whitewater center doesn’t plan to ask the city, the county or the state for any guaranteed money. Based on the results in Charlotte, Wise is confident the facility will make more than enough to cover its operating expenses. Instead, the project envisions using STAR bonds to finance the construction.
Here is a simplified version of how STAR bonds work. A local government issues STAR bonds to pay for an economic development project. Bond buyers — think banks, investment funds, institutional investors — buy the bonds. The proceeds from the bond sale fund the construction of the center.
The whitewater center begins selling tickets, concessions, food and other items. It charges a sales tax. Instead of the state, city and county getting those sales tax dollars for their budgets, the sales tax proceeds instead are used to pay back the bond buyers.
Here is where this project has a twist. Wise concedes that the whitewater center won’t generate enough sales tax revenues to pay back the bond buyers. Instead, a second project is going to be needed to help generate enough sales tax revenue. The project will need the sales tax revenue from another shopping district to make the numbers work. Where would that shopping district be? Those details aren’t clear, or at least, haven’t been publicly announced.
But we can guess. The first guess is it likely won’t be at Clinton Lake State Park. I think it would be unlikely that you would find anybody willing to build a shopping center at the park.
Other locations in Lawrence are more likely. The Mercato development near Rock Chalk Park is zoned and ready for retail development. It, however, has set vacant for several years, as retailers have chosen to expand on south Iowa Street instead. But because of its zoning and shovel-ready nature, the Mercato development is one possible place to house the STAR bond district.
The other area that has been proposed for a shopping district is the property south of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange. City officials have rejected a rezoning request for that property, and the Charlotte-based development group that proposed it is now suing the city. Supposedly, though, there has been a significant number of big-box retailers interested in locating at that site. If approved, it could perhaps generate enough sales tax dollars to pay off the STAR bonds. But it is anybody’s guess whether city commissioners have any interest in reconsidering their previous denial of the shopping center.
Of course, a third possibility is there is another site out there to house a shopping center, and it hasn’t been publicly disclosed yet.
The last thing to figure out about STAR bonds is what happens if the project doesn’t work? Who pays off the bonds then? As the STAR bond law is currently written, governments are not required to provide a financial guarantee on the bond. If the project does not generate enough sales taxes to pay off the bonds, the people who bought the bonds are left holding the bag.
So, the city, county or state wouldn’t ever be liable for paying off the STAR bonds if the project failed. But that doesn’t mean there is no risk to government. The biggest risk is the loss of future of revenue. Lawrence likely needs its sales tax revenues to grow over the next couple of decades to adequately fund city government. One way it will grow is through new retail development. But if Lawrence’s largest new retail center is dedicated to paying for the whitewater project, it won’t be adding to the city’s coffers.
The counter argument, though, is the center and its estimated 700,000 visitors will pump money into other parts of the Lawrence economy, which we will all benefit from. The even larger argument is that the whitewater center will do something to transform Lawrence’s image. To hear Wise and state officials — who have been the catalyst for this project — the facility will help Lawrence gain a national reputation as a vibrant, outdoor-loving community. Would this facility help Lawrence become the Outdoor Capital of the Great Plains? Is that a brand that would create prosperity for the city?
The future of this project probably hinges on whether Lawrence leaders think such statements are sugarcoating or the real deal.
Plans for whitewater rafting facility at Clinton State Park still alive; developer talks about environmental issues of project
The great whitewater rafting debates I’ve been involved with generally center on which guy is responsible for carrying the cooler down the bank and to the canoe. (Inevitably, it also involves a debate about who is then responsible for jumping into the river to save the cooler — and possibly the guy.) But Lawrence may be gearing up for a different type of whitewater rafting debate.
If you remember, city and county officials in December were briefed on an ambitious proposal to build a man-made whitewater rafting course in a portion of Clinton Lake State Park. Leaders of the North Carolina-based U.S. National Whitewater Center made the proposal for the approximately $70 million project, but it was unclear how the project would get paid for. The North Carolina group, which operates a similar facility in Charlotte, has been upfront that it would need significant taxpayer help to make the project work.
Since December, there hasn’t been much news about the idea. But that doesn’t mean that leaders have given up on it. Instead, the group is entering a new phase. Now that the idea is public, the development group is seeking to build support with the public because it acknowledges that the idea hasn’t exactly taken off with Lawrence residents.
Jeff Wise, CEO of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, is spending about one week a month in Lawrence talking to community members and getting a better lay of the land. I chatted with him last week. Wise told me he has been a long-time whitewater rafting enthusiast. He previously was an attorney, but decided to focus his efforts on the whitewater cause after he realized being a litigator wasn’t as much fun as it looked on TV. We chatted about several issues, but the issue of how the development fit in environmentally was a big one.
Wise knows that his group still has some work to do to convince area residents that the project won’t sully the largely natural areas of Clinton Lake State Park. As a reminder, the project envisions the man-made whitewater course, zip lines, outdoor amphitheater, restaurant, beer garden and a conference center.
Wise anticipates that type of development will require a footprint of 30 to 40 acres. If you read some of the literature produced by the group, it comes off sounding like the project is closer to 1,500 acres. That is basically the entire size of Clinton Lake State Park. But Wise assured me the group is not thinking about 1,500 acres of development.
“Thirty to 40 acres is the footprint for development,” Wise said. “We don’t believe the rest of it should be developed. We think it should be open for people to get out and play. We want trails on it, and that is it.”
Water issues also have been raised. Wise told me that none of the water from Clinton Lake will be used to feed the whitewater course. He said a mix of municipal or rural water district water and well water is envisioned to keep the course fed. He also said none of the water from the course will drain back into the lake either. The main water issues, he said, will be traditional stormwater management issues, such as ensuring that runoff from parking lots and such are captured by stormwater detention areas instead of flowing into the lake.
Wise said the best proof of that is the whitewater center in Charlotte. It has about 80 acres of development, i.e. buildings, parking lots and other such items. But surrounding that development is open land. Not only is it open now, but Wise said the whitewater center has put “several hundred acres” of the surrounding property into conservation easements that ensure it will not be developed.
The one thing that is allowed to be developed is trails. He said the number of trails has grown from 9 miles to 35 miles, and the plan is to get to 50 miles of trails on the property in the near future. The trails are free for the public to use, although people who want to park nearby have to pay the $5 parking fee or buy a $40 annual parking pass.
If the project is built and meets Wise’s projections, it would bring about 700,000 people a year to the state park area. That alone makes some environmentalists nervous. But not Wise.
“By bringing more people out to the property, we’re creating the odds that more people will fall in love with the property,” Wise said. “Long term, that will be a good thing for the property.”
He also clearly thinks the project will be a good thing for the community as a whole. I think state officials believe so too. It became clear to me while talking to Wise that state officials with the Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism approached Wise about doing this project, rather than the other way around. Both Wise, and I believe, state officials think the whitewater project could be part of larger strategy to begin changing the image of Kansas.
Outdoor living and recreation is becoming a more prominent way to attract population. Kansas doesn’t have mountains or an ocean, so it may need to get more creative in how it keeps up with that trend.
“I’m blown away by what Lawrence is already doing,” Wise said. “Lawrence is in a great position to achieve a larger status in Kansas and the U.S. as a compelling place to be.”
Is whitewater rafting the vehicle to get us there?
The answer may lie in the money part of this equation. Wise and I talked about that too. More on that in tomorrow’s Town Talk.
Lawrence and Douglas County are the capital of higher education in Kansas, as evidenced by the presence of three universities, a campanile and several houses that make the bell tower sound like a quiet library. There is news, though, that Lawrence is losing one provider of higher education.
Pinnacle Career Institute has announced that it will close its Lawrence facility in July. Pinnacle is located in the Southern Hills Shopping Center at 23rd and Ousdahl. I reported yesterday how the owners of the center have filed plans to convert some of its space into a storage facility. Well, much of that space is where Pinnacle is currently located.
Rebecca Clothier, executive director of the Lawrence branch of Pinnacle, said the ownership of the educational company decided that it no longer made sense to locate two campuses in the Kansas City area and one in Lawrence. The Lawrence facility will close in July after current students finish their classwork.
“It is sad for us,” Clothier said. “I have been at this campus for quite awhile. Times are changing though with online education and flex education.”
Clothier said the Lawrence campus has about 100 students at any given time. According to its website, Pinnacle offers a variety of programs in medical, health and fitness, alternative energy and construction trades.
The pending closure will end a long history the company has had in Lawrence. The company has operated under the Pinnacle name since 2001, Clothier said. But previously the company operated in Lawrence as CTBI, which I think had been in operation in Lawrence since the 1980s.
23rd Street shopping center to downsize retail space; new report ranks Lawrence as one of the best cities for singles
I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation: You’re halfway through your weekly shopping trip and realize you should have rented the full-size semitrailer instead of the large U-Haul. Well, maybe one Lawrence shopping center is trying to address that common problem. It has filed plans to convert part of its retail space into storage units and to add several more in a portion of its parking lot.
Perhaps that is not the exact situation the Southern Hills Shopping Center is trying to address, but the shopping center at the corner of 23rd and Ousdahl indeed has filed plans to convert a significant portion of its space into self-storage units.
If you are having a hard time picturing it, the center is the one that houses King Buffet, Pizza Shuttle, The Salvation Army Store, Aaron’s and several other smaller businesses. But the shopping center also has some vacant space, and the Prairie Village-based group that owns the center plans to convert some of the vacant space in the eastern end of the center into climate-controlled storage space. About 30,000 square feet of space will be converted indoor, climate controlled storage space. A good portion of that space is where Pinnacle Career Institute is located currently. I did get confirmation that Pinnacle is leaving that space in July. I hope to have more to report on that soon.
The more noticeable change, though, is what would happen in the parking lot on the south side of the building, the side facing 24th Street. Plans call for much of the parking lot to be occupied by five new self-storage buildings totaling about 22,000 square feet. Technically, the plan calls the buildings “mini warehouses.” (I once labeled my garage a miniwarehouse as part of a plan to convince my wife to let me buy a forklift. It would have worked too, if the neighbors hadn’t filed that restraining order.)
The plans call for about 280 rental spaces in the miniwarehouses. No word yet on a timeline for the project. It must still win site plan approval from Lawrence City Hall. Lawrence’s BG Consultants has filed the plans. A representative with that company said a firm timeline for the project to begin had not been determined.
The property is owned by a group led by longtime Kansas City area developer Mark Ledom. No word yet on why the group is proposing the change to the center. The center, though, is near a high density neighborhood to the south that may have some self-storage needs. Plus, self storage seems to be a niche that is gaining some momentum. Plans also have been filed recently to expand the self-storage business that is near 31st and Ousdahl.
In other news and notes from around town:
• In a married household like mine, the pending arrival of Valentine’s Day means you’d better be planning something extra special. I know I’ve already got my reservation made at Netflix, and rumor has it that there may be nacho-flavored popcorn on this night of nights. If you are single, though, you may not give a flip about the day. You are free to get powdered artificial cheese on your couch any night of the week.
A new ranking suggests Lawrence may have a lot of folks who don’t give a flip. The financial website SmartAsset ranks Lawrence as the fifth best city in America to be single. The ranking measured factors such as marriage rates, median rents, bars per 100,000 people, entertainment establishments — think theaters, concert venues, bowling alleys, arcades, etc. — and the unemployment rate.
Lawrence ranked fairly high in all those categories but particularly high in the number of single people in the community. As a college community, Lawrence always has had a lower marriage rate than other communities, but it is even fairly low by university town standards. SmartAsset’s list of the Top 25 cities is crowded with college communities, but Lawrence still had a marriage rate well below the average.
Only 35 percent of the Lawrence population is married, according to the report, which used data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Of the 25 cities ranked, only five had lower marriage rates than Lawrence: Albany, N.Y., at 26 percent marriage rate; Buffalo, N.Y., 31 percent; Ames Iowa, 31 percent; Pittsburgh, 33 percent; and New Orleans, 33 percent.
Lawrence was fairly middle-of-the-pack in the other categories. One that was interesting, however, was bars per 100,000 residents. Lawrence has 32.8 bars per 100,000 people, according to Census figures. There were several communities with more than 50 per 100,000, but I was surprised that several major college communities on the list were significantly lower than Lawrence. Ames, home to Iowa State, had 25.5 per 100,000. Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas, had 17.3 per 100,000. And Columbia, Mo., home to the University of Missouri, had 17.1. (No word on whether their moonshine stills are counted in that figure.)
Make of that what you will. In the meantime, here’s a look at the top 10 best cities for singles:
Eau Claire, Wis.: Marriage rate 39 percent
Duluth, Minn.: Marriage rate 40 percent
Fargo, N.D.: Marriage rate 40 percent
Missoula, Mont.: Marriage rate 41 percent
(tie) Lawrence: Marriage rate 35 percent
(tie) Green Bay, Wis.: Marriage rate 44 percent
Madison, Wis. Marriage rate 37 percent
Oshkosh, Wis.: Marriage rate 36 percent
Portland, Maine: Marriage rate 40 percent
Asheville, N.C.: Marriage rate 42 percent
Perhaps the thing that jumped out at me also stands out to you: Wisconsin communities make up nearly half of the top 10. This, of course, makes sense. Wisconsin doesn't believe in powdered cheese, and in a married household, there is never a night where cheese sauce is allowed on the couch.
More details on gun range planned near Douglas County Jail; Lawrence to get national press as retirement destination
Maybe a gun range is a bit like a barber shop: Every city of a certain size will have at least one. Lawrence businessman Steve Robson has that philosophy anyway, and he says he has just the site for Lawrence’s indoor shooting facility.
Robson — who owns Ace Self Storage and Ace Bail Bonds — has filed plans to build a 12,000 square-foot indoor gun range and gun shop on property he owns near the Douglas County Jail.
“I think the city understands something like this is coming,” Robson said. “There is going to be a gun range in Lawrence, and what better place to have one than in a location where there aren’t really any houses or any schools?”
If some of this sounds familiar, it may be because I wrote about Robson floating the idea of a gun range in December. But at that time, he hadn’t taken any of the steps needed to actually start the project. Now he has.
Robson and Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects have filed a preliminary development plan to allow the facility to be built at 2350 Franklin Road. That is a vacant piece of ground just north of the Ace Bail Bonds office. The property is roughly a block away from the Douglas County Jail.
The other new piece of information since December is that it appears the city has limited options for denying the project, if it so chooses. I did get confirmation from a city official that Robson’s property has the correct zoning for a gun range. Now, the project must meet the various technical requirements related to site layout, parking, landscaping and other such details. But usually the best way to stop a project from being built is to argue that a piece of property isn’t properly zoned for such a use. Indoor gun ranges, though, are allowed in certain types of industrial zoning districts, and Robson’s property already has such a zoning designation.
But obviously the idea has the potential to get political. There is a large debate underway about whether concealed carry should be allowed on the KU campus, in government buildings and elsewhere. Robson hopes politics stays out of his project, but he said he thinks a gun range could appeal even to people who don’t support the concealed carry movement.
“I just think a gun range will make people safer,” Robson said. “I don’t think you ever are going to get guns away from people. Your next best bet is to make people safer with guns.”
Robson said he knows many people who own a gun but don’t have any place to ever shoot it. He said that is not a good situation.
“You need to have a place to get comfortable with a gun,” Robson said.
Robson also had a few more details about what the facility plans to offer. When I chatted with him in December he said the gun range would have 10 shooting lanes. Now, the plan calls for a dozen 25-yard shooting lanes. Plus, the range will be built to accommodate tactical shooting. That means a person would be able to walk up the range and shoot from side to side rather than simply standing at a bench and shooting straight down the range.
Robson also is planning to buy a $60,000 simulator. That is a device that includes a large video screen that will show various scenarios, such as someone robbing a home, and gives users a chance to test their skills in that situation. The user is equipped with a 9MM handgun that fires a laser rather than bullets.
In addition to the shooting lanes and simulator, the facility will offer a variety of classes, Robson said. Plus, about half the facility will be devoted to retail space, including the sale and rental of handguns, assault rifles, ammunition and accessories such as gun safes, scopes, holsters and other types of items
Planning commissioners are scheduled to hear the preliminary development plan in March. If approved, the plan then would go to the City Commission for approval. Robson hopes to be in a position to start construction on the facility in June.
Some of you may be remembering that there was a proposal for another indoor gun range. Lawrence businessman Rick Sells had confirmed plans for an indoor gun range in space at 23rd and Harper, in the building that used to house Bargain Depot. When I last chatted with Sells in December, he was still working to raise funds to get the venture started. I’ll let you know if I hear any more on that.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence is set to get some national press of a good kind. The city is featured as a “top retirement destination” in the upcoming issue of Where to Retire magazine. The March/April issue lists Lawrence among other destinations.
According to a press release from the magazine, the article touts KU’s basketball history, “pleasant downtown strolls,” an award-winning public library and “cultural bonanzas” such as Pulitzer-Prize winning speakers, NPR show tapings and musical concerts.
The magazine hits the newsstands on Feb. 14.
Plans moving ahead for North Lawrence concert, event venue; business owner opens spot for small businesses to meet for free
Maybe you are still recovering from your Super Bowl party. I know my arteries still burn from the wing sauce, my dog still regrets eating the leftover bacon cheese dip, and the Australian prime minister is still exasperated that whatever caused Lady Gaga to disappear can’t be used to end awkward phone calls. On the heels of all that, I have news that a new party spot is working to open in North Lawrence.
Back in April I reported that some preliminary plans had been filed for a new concert and event venue in North Lawrence called Northern Sands Venue. Local entrepreneur Michael Westheffer had plans to build the facility at the northwest corner of the Kansas Turnpike and North Third Street intersection.
Then, for several months, there wasn’t much news to report about the project. Well, it looks like it is moving forward again. A site plan has been filed at City Hall that would allow the project to begin construction.
The project proposes to do about $135,000 worth of renovations to the site, which previously housed warehouses and a surplus store that sold tools and other similar items. Plans call for new restrooms, new landscaping, a covered patio, parking improvements and interior renovations.
Don’t expect the center to host huge events, though. The plans filed by Lawrence-based Allen Belot Architects indicated that the indoor space will be about 5,000 square feet, and capacity for indoor events would be about 300 people. The property, though, is being arranged to host outdoor events too. But those also look like they won’t be Woodstock type of affairs. The facility is proposing to have only about 115 parking spaces.
I’ve got a message out to Westheffer to get an update on the project, such as a timeline for opening. When I chatted with Westheffer in April he told me music concerts would be the bread-and-butter of the facility. He’s had a few years of experience in the music production business, and he said the facility would seek to attract a variety of acts, including rock, country, bluegrass and other genres.
Back in April Westheffer said he hoped Northern Sands Venue would ultimately become something similar to Knuckleheads, which is an event venue in an industrial district near the Missouri River in Kansas City, Mo.
“We want to create a place that is not just your everyday place,” Westheffer said at the time. “We want a place where you can come eat some food, have a good time. We want to create a next-level environment.”
The facility will have a chance to draw some regional crowds. It will be just a couple hundred feet away from the turnpike exit in North Lawrence.
Westheffer said the facility would seek a liquor license.
I’ll let you know if I hear more from Westheffer about the project.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Office meetings aren’t quite as loud and as exciting as a music concert — except for that unfortunate time I downloaded the wrong PowerPoint presentation. But an eastern Lawrence business wants to do its part to make sure small businesses have a place to meet.
Dee Bisel, the longtime owner of Lawrence-based Minuteman Press, has opened a new meeting center called The Garage. The facility is next door to the Minuteman Press print shop at 1404 E. 24th St. Bisel is making the space available to small businesses free of charge to use for events such as training sessions, board meetings, referral groups and other such functions. She’s also open to hosting some nonprofit and charity groups, although she said business-to-business functions are primarily what she had in mind when she recently opened the space.
Bisel decided to offer the service after the space next door to her print shop became available for lease. She didn’t have a particular need for the space currently, but she thought she should secure it now for possible expansion in the future. In the meantime, she set it up with six moveable tables and 24 chairs.
“I admire how businesses like Sandbar, Crown Automotive and several banks have provided meeting rooms to the community,” Bisel said. “I just think that is a really nice service to offer, and we were in a position to do it, and I think there is a need for it on the east side of town.”
The meeting room is available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Interested businesses can call Bisel at Minuteman at 842-2656.
Maybe it was shoppers buying an extra large Thanksgiving turkey. Maybe it was voters buying post-election migraine medicine, or maybe it was prescient Atlanta Falcons fans buying choke collars. Whatever the case, Lawrence shoppers appeared to be big spenders during the early holiday shopping season, a new report from the state shows.
The city received its first sales tax check of 2017 from the Kansas Department of Revenue. Although the check is the city’s January distribution it actually measures sales that took place in November.
The report shows Lawrence sales tax collections were up 6.7 percent in November from the same period a year earlier. That was the best growth rate of any large retail community in the state.
The latest report continues a trend. Throughout 2016, Lawrence had the largest sales tax growth rate of any of the large retail communities in Kansas. Lawrence saw sales tax collections grow by about 5.5 percent in 2016.
This latest report only shows one month worth of activity, but it was an important month for retailers. The report captures sales made on the Black Friday shopping spree after Thanksgiving. Next month’s report will provide an indication of how sales went after Black Friday. Here’s a look at how Lawrence stacks up against other large retail communities:
— Lawrence: up 6.7 percent
— Topeka: up 4.7 percent
— Lenexa: up 3.5 percent
— Olathe: up 2.4 percent
— Manhattan: up 1 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 0.9 percent
— Johnson County: down 0.6 percent
— Overland Park: down 2.4 percent
— Kansas City: down 23.2 percent
No word on what is going on with Kansas City, Kan. Because it is just one month’s worth of data, I wouldn’t read too much into it. It could just be a reporting anomaly.
Lawrence’s numbers will be worth watching in 2017. Sales taxes are more important than ever for City Hall finances. Both the city and county are now operating under the state’s property tax lid, which means it is more difficult for those governments to raise property tax rates without holding an election. Any growth in sales tax revenues would help them avoid contemplating that type of property tax increase.
I promise, at some point I’ll quit writing about fried chicken restaurants. (The grease on my fingers will make it too difficult to type.) But more fried chicken restaurants keep opening in town, and the subject continues to be one I get asked about a lot. So, I have news on the opening date for Lawrence’s latest fried chicken restaurant, Zaxby’s.
Zaxby’s has announced that its grand opening will be Feb. 18. Although I left my Sherlock Holmes hat at home, a little bit of detective work indicates you can get some of Zaxby’s chicken well before that. When I was taking a photo of the new building, there was a sign taped to the drive-thru message board that said the store was opening at 10 a.m. Monday. My guess is the grand opening is Feb. 18, but the restaurant will have a soft opening on Monday.
If you have forgotten, Zaxby’s is located in the Bauer Farm development near Sixth and Wakarusa. Chicken fingers, chicken wings, chicken sandwiches, and an indiscriminate use of the letter ‘z’ are hallmarks of Zaxby’s menu. Chicken fingers are “fingerz,” salads are “zalads” and appetizers are “zappetizers.” The menu also includes about five dipping sauces ranging from marinara to its signature zak sauce. Also available are about 10 wing sauces ranging from mild to “insanely” hot.
• If you are keeping track at home, the Zaxby’s opening may be the end of the chicken rush for awhile. All the other chain restaurants that have announced plans for Lawrence already have opened. Those include: Chick-fil-A, Wing Stop, Popeyes, Raising Cane’s, and Slim Chickens, although Slim Chickens has filed plans for a second Lawrence location. As we have reported, that location would be along south Iowa Street where Barb Wire Steakhouse previously was located.
There is probably at least one more chicken restaurant development to keep an eye on. We reported in early January about plans for Wake the Dead: Chicken Whiskey, Donuts to open at 918 Massachusetts St. in the former location of Burger Fi.
Not long ago, though, the business’ Facebook page announced the location was changing to the spot above the tavern John Brown Underground on East Seventh Street. (Yes, across the street from my office.) Then, more recently, the business posted on Facebook again that it was back at 918 Massachusetts, but its name was changing to Harold's.
You may remember that Harold's was a small fried chicken restaurant in the gas station building near Sixth and Kasold in west Lawrence. As we’ve reported, Nick Wysong of Lawrence’s Ingredient restaurant, is one of the leaders of the group opening Wake the Dead. He also was the guy who opened Harold's. I haven’t talked with Wysong since the name change, but something caused him to drop the Wake the Dead theme.
What hasn’t changed, though, is the restaurant still will serve fried chicken, doughnuts and whiskey. The restaurant’s website has a menu now. It lists about 20 doughnut flavors, including some traditional maple-glazed ones, but also more unusual ones such as an Arnold Palmer, and Oreo explosion, pink champagne pistachio, and something called The Elvis.
Beyond doughnuts, the restaurant lists a handful of fried chicken dinners, chicken wings, a Louisiana catfish plate and about a half dozen dipping sauces, including country gravy. Sides seem to be fairly traditional with potatoes and gravy, mac-n-cheese, coleslaw, a few salad options, french fries and even chicken noodle soup among the options.
Yes, some of you who ate at the old Harold’s may remember the Grilled Glazer sandwich, which was a toasted maple glazed doughnut topped with fried chicken, cheese and a secret sauce. That too is on the menu, and so is hamburger version of that concoction.
Look for the restaurant to open soon, according to the latest info on the company’s Facebook page.
UPDATE: I talked to Wysong Friday afternoon, and he said he plans to begin frying chicken and doughnuts next week. He may even set aside a day to give free doughnuts away late in the week, he said. As for the name change, he said after the Journal-World ran the original article about Wake the Dead, he heard from a lot of people who said they really loved Harolds Fried Chicken. That feedback caused him to reconsider changing the name. It also sounds like the ownership group that had come together to create the Wake the Dead concept is no longer fully intact.
Final numbers in for city’s record-setting apartment building boom; a look at the $1 million-plus projects in Lawrence
We already have reported it has been a record-setting year for apartment construction. By the end of September Lawrence builders already had constructed more apartments than in any year in the city’s history. But perhaps you are asking: What ended up being the grand total of apartments built in Lawrence in 2016?
What? You hadn’t asked that question? Maybe this why I don’t get invited to dinner parties anymore. Regardless, the answer is 1,205 apartment units were built in the city last year. (And, for what it is worth, inauguration crowd estimators believe the number could be closer to 1 billion.) Lawrence didn’t just set a new record for apartment construction; it obliterated the old record. The previous high-water mark was 972 apartment units built in 1996.
Whether you think Lawrence needed that many new apartments, one thing not in dispute is apartment construction added a lot of dollars to the local economy in 2016. The highest dollar value project in the city last year was an a apartment complex — $26.4 million for The Links at Lawrence project just east of Rock Chalk Park. In case you have forgotten, that is the complex that will have apartment buildings built around a nine-hole private golf course.
In fact, the five largest construction projects in the city were all apartments — either the traditional kind or those focused on retirement living. This number also is interesting: $80.7 million. I looked at the 25 largest construction projects in the city in 2016, and added up the value of all the apartment projects on that list; $80.7 million is what I came up with. Another interesting number that comes from that: $1.2 million. Let’s assume $80.7 million is the fair market value of all the new apartments built in the city. Property in the Lawrence city limits pays property taxes at a rate of about 130 mills. That would mean local governments are collecting about $1.2 million in new taxes from the new apartment complexes.
But, hey, if you want big numbers, I’ve got lots of them to share. I’ve been touring Lawrence’s other building boom — fried chicken restaurants — and I just had a cholesterol test. Actually, I won’t share those numbers. Instead, here are some facts and figures from the 2016 year-end building permit report produced by Lawrence City Hall:
• The city issued permits for $220.8 million worth of building projects in 2016. That was nearly a record. It fell just short of the $227.8 million record that was set in 2015. There has never been a two-year period in Lawrence where there has been so much construction. And remember, none of these numbers includes huge amounts of construction underway on the KU campus. That construction is inspected by state officials, and thus does not show up in the city of Lawrence’s building permit totals.
Here’s a look at how 2016 stacked up to past years:
— 2016: $220.8 million
— 2015: $227.8 million
— 2014: $99.7 million
— 2013: $171.9 million
— 2012: $100.6 million
— 2011: $115.7 million
— 2010: $101.8 million
— 2009: $75.3 million
• There were a lot of building projects constructed on the public’s dime in 2016, but not quite as many as in 2015. The city issued permits for $25.6 million worth of publicly financed construction projects, ranging from city, county, school and Lawrence Memorial Hospital projects. That was down a bit from the $35.4 million total in 2015.
• Single-family and duplex construction had a better-than-average year but declined a bit from 2015 totals. The city issued permits for 171 single-family homes or duplexes. That was down from 239. The average since 2010, though, has been about 150 permits per year.
• The city’s building inspections department is setting records for the number of fees it is collecting. The city department collected $1.3 million in building permit inspection fees in 2016, up about $300,000 from the 2015 totals. Compared with 2009, when the community was still feeling the impacts of the recession, fee revenues are up about $735,000. In addition, builders will be paying higher fees in some cases in 2017. The city increased some of its fees on Jan. 1, primarily for multifamily and commercial construction projects.
• There were 26 construction projects valued at $1 million or more in Lawrence in 2016. I think we have written about all of them at one point or another. Here’s a look:
The Links at Lawrence apartments, 5400 Rock Chalk Drive: $26.4 million
Alvamar Apartments, 1575 Birdie Way: $14.4 million
West End Apartments, 5400 Overland Drive: $14.2 million
Village Cooperative, 5325 W. Sixth St.: $8.3 million
Bauer Farms apartments, 4541 Bauer Farms Drive: $6 million
Maple Street Pump Station, 547 Maple St.: $5.9 million
Pinckney Elementary School addition and renovations: $5.7 million
Bethel Estates of Lawrence, 2140 E. 25th Terrace: $5.5 million
800 New Hampshire apartment addition: $4 million
KU Tennis Facility, 6100 Rock Chalk Drive: $3.9 million
Clinton Water Treatment Plant improvements: $3.8 million
Sunflower Elementary School renovations: $3.3 million
Growing Smiles Dental office, 4320 W. Sixth Street: $2.8 million
Douglas County Fairgrounds Pavilion: $2.7 million
PetSmart, 4820 Bauer Farm Drive, $2.3 million
Retail center at 525 Wakarusa Drive (Spin pizza et. al): $2 million
Lawrence Paper Company addition, 2801 Lakeview Road: $1.8 million
Lawrence Beer Company brewery and apartments, 826 Pennsylvania St.: $1.7 million
Regal Cinema renovations, 3433 Iowa St.: $1.5 million
Clinton raw water pump station improvements, 1316 E. 902 Road: $1.5 million
M&M Office Supply building renovation, 623 Massachusetts: $1.4 million
Popeye’s Restaurant, 2540 Iowa: $1.3 million
Wakarusa Township Fire Station No. 1, 300 W. 31st St.: $1.1 million
Broken Arrow Elementary School renovations: $1 million
KU Golf Practice Facility at Alvamar, 1610 Birdie Way: $1 million
Mid America Credit Union, 550 Wakarusa Drive: $1 million.
Effects of KU’s construction boom soon may become a little more evident on downtown’s Massachusetts Street. No, construction crews still seem disinclined to let me take a bulldozer for a spin, but you should look for a new high-profile office of an engineering firm that is expanding, in part, because of all the work going on at KU.
Perhaps you have noticed construction work is underway on the old M&M Office Supply building at 623 Massachusetts. Well, part of that work is to accommodate a new office for Professional Engineering Consultants.
For a number of years, the company — which primarily goes by PEC — has had a Lawrence office at Sixth and Vermont streets in the building that houses the local accounting firm The McFadden Group. Jarrod Mann, principal and Lawrence office lead for PEC, told me the engineering firm was quickly outgrowing that space.
That led the company to sign a deal to lease the entire second floor of the old M&M Office Supply building.
“We’ve been having a lot of growth in our staff,” Mann said. “This will let us almost double the amount of square footage that we have available.”
PEC’s Lawrence office has grown from just a handful of employees since it entered the Lawrence market in 1999 to 18 employees currently. The new space easily will allow the firm to grow to 30 employees. Mann offered no timetable on when the company may see that type of growth, but he said business has been good.
The historic amount of construction underway at the University of Kansas campus has certainly played a role in the company’s growth. PEC is working on parts of the Central District construction projects, and the company has an on-call contract to do work for the university. Mann also cited several projects by hospitals in the region that have aided the company’s growth, and the Kansas Department of Transportation continues to be a good customer, despite the strained finances of the state.
The Lawrence office serves the greater northeast Kansas area, Mann said. The company is based in Wichita, but also has offices in Topeka, Pittsburg, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Fort Collins.
The company is an example of the type of firm that economic development leaders would be wise to keep an eye on. When I talk about Lawrence striving to be the “Creative Capital of the Great Plains,” this is an example of a company I’m talking about. Engineers, architects, software designers, marketing firms and other such businesses that rely on a large number of creative minds are attractive types of jobs. And Lawrence may be an attractive type of community for those types of workers, who often place a high value on quality-of-life factors.
The engineering industry also is a good example of where Lawrence may have something that Kansas City can’t offer. The Kansas City metro does not have an engineering school that can compete with KU’s. If you are an engineering firm that wants to be close to a pipeline of new talent, Lawrence may have some advantages over KC.
In talking with Mann, the other thing I noted is that companies are starting to notice a synergy in downtown Lawrence. Mann told me that when PEC started looking for new office space, it definitely wanted to stay in downtown Lawrence. The reason: Many of an engineering firm’s largest clients are architects, and downtown Lawrence has a lot of architects. Treanor, Gould Evans, Sabatini, and Paul Werner are all fairly large firms that are based in the downtown area.
Communities with successful economies usually find a synergy they can exploit to their advantage. Who knows, maybe this is one for Lawrence.
As for the PEC project, look for the company to move into its new offices sometime in May.
• PEC remodeling work is not the only thing going on with the M&M building. As we have reported, the facade of the building is getting a whole new look. The stucco, 1970s style largely will be gone, and more bricks and windows will take its place.
The big unanswered question, though, is what else may go into the building. PEC is taking the entire second floor, but the ground floor may be primed to bring in new retailers. In case you have forgotten, the building is unique in downtown because the building — which used to be a car dealership years ago — is set off of Massachusetts Street a few feet. That allows for private parking stalls at the front door of the building, rather than the metered parking spaces that dominate the rest of Massachusetts Street.
Allison Vance Moore with the Lawrence office of Colliers International is marketing the ground-floor space to retailers. She said the space could accommodate one larger retailer or two smaller ones, but she said she didn’t have any updates on potential tenants yet.
The confusing speed limit situation on the eastern edge of Lawrence, and whether it is set to change
Perhaps you are thinking the city of Lawrence has a secret plan to deal with the feared fiscal problems that await once a new property tax lid and other state budget woes filter down to City Hall. The plan: a speed trap on the section of 23rd Street just east of O’Connell Road.
If you have driven that stretch of 23rd Street, which turns into Kansas Highway 10 just east of town, you perhaps have noticed that it has a 45 mph speed limit, despite the road being designed much like a four-lane highway. You also may have noticed that if you actually drive 45 mph on that stretch of road, you will have an SUV in your backseat.
The stretch of street kind of has the feel of a potential speed trap, in part, because prior to the area becoming a construction zone for the South Lawrence Trafficway, the road had a speed limit of 55. It was assumed that once the construction work ended, which was late last year, the speed limit would be restored to 55. That didn’t happen, though. To make the situation odder, the westbound portion of the road — the section from the SLT to O’Connell Road — is 55 mph. So, if you are heading east out of town, the speed limit is 45. If you are heading west into town, it is 55.
To the city’s credit, though, police officers have not been running a speed trap along the stretch of street. Despite the fact it is very hard to find a vehicle that actually travels less than 45 mph on the street, I haven’t seen or heard of any signs of a large number of tickets being written in the area.
I have heard from several readers, though, questioning why the speed limit is so low.
Also to the city’s credit, I’ve been told it is working with the Kansas Department of Transportation to get the speed limit raised to 55. City Engineer David Cronin told me this morning that he made the request to KDOT a few weeks ago. He said KDOT officials told him they intend to change the speed limit, but he wasn’t given a timeline. It sounds like signs have to be ordered, and a time has to be scheduled for them to be installed. (It could be awhile. KDOT officials are very busy hiding their couches from the governor, who keeps going through the cushions looking for loose change.)
It is not clear why KDOT put the 45 mph signs up to begin with. Cronin said it wasn’t simply a mistake of construction crews forgetting to take down the construction speed limit signs. Cronin said the design plans for the road show that stretch being 45 mph. But Cronin said there aren’t any traffic standards or particular road conditions that would make a 55 mph speed limit unsafe.
“We feel like the signs need to be consistent with what people feel is the comfortable speed for that street,” Cronin said.
A long-held theory in traffic engineering is that speed limits should roughly be equal to the 85th percentile of vehicle speeds on the street. (That is why mathematicians and other people who understand percentiles always drive 120 mph.) The 85th percentile on that stretch of road definitely isn’t 45 mph.
At some point the stretch of street will be a full-fledged city street, and there won’t be a need to get KDOT’s permission to change the speed limits. The state is the controlling party on the road currently because it used to be Kansas Highway 10. The South Lawrence Traffiway is now Kansas Highway 10. At some point the state will transfer the old K-10 — basically all of 23rd Street — back to the city. But as we have reported, the city is currently negotiating with the state on maintenance work the state should conduct on the street before it is turned back over to the city. Cronin said those negotiations are still underway.
Shop that sells quick, healthy food coming to west Lawrence; update on Blue Moose Bar & Grill; Lawrence to be on Fox Business Network tonight
There is a new menu item coming to Lawrence called “Look Good Naked Smart Chicken.” No, the battle between the plethora of Lawrence fried chicken restaurants hasn’t devolved into a clothing-optional battle (never a good idea around a fryer). Instead, there is a new business coming to west Lawrence that says it makes ready-to-eat meals so healthy that you will like how you look in the mirror, even sans clothes.
The growing Omaha-based franchise Eat Fit Go has signed a deal to locate near Sixth and Wakarusa in the retail building that houses Spin Pizza, just east of Wal-Mart. Eat Fit Go isn’t really a restaurant, though. Instead, it is a shop where you can buy ready-to-eat meals that just need warmed up.
The business will have coolers full of ready-to-eat meals. You can buy one at a time or sign up for the store’s weekly meal plans where you can get several days' worth of food. Each meal has nutritional information on it, and instructions for reheating. If you are hungry at that moment, though, the store will have a few tables and a microwave.
David Baumann — who is opening the Lawrence location along with business partners Joel Jacobs and Jeff White — said that on any given day there will be about 40 different meals or food items to choose from. The menu currently has breakfast items like a southwest scramble, a steak and eggs dish and breakfast burritos. The lunch and dinner menu includes items like a chicken pesto pasta, chicken fried rice, enchiladas, jambalaya, beef tenderloin and potatoes, and several salads. Then there is the “naked” portion of the menu. The store sells a popular dish called Look Good Naked Smart Chicken and also a Look Good Naked Salmon dish, both of which feature something called roasted vegetables and a low number of calories.
Folks who are looking to eat healthy are obviously a big part of the business’ target market. The meals even have a barcode that can be scanned into the Weight Watchers app and other fitness programs. But Baumann thinks the market will be bigger than just healthy eaters.
“Our target market is pretty broad,” Baumann said. “Initially it is just busy people on the go. That can be the busy millennial or it can be the sports mom. We find there are a lot of young professionals who don’t really engage in cooking full meals very much. But we also find that the 50 and older crowd don’t cook as much either and don’t want to eat out every night. This is a healthy way and a portion-controlled way to eat.”
Baumann estimated most meals will cost between $6.75 to $9, depending on whether you get the small or large version. The menu includes some staples that are available week after week, but new items are rotated in about every quarter. All the meals are made off-site at a commercial kitchen supervised by a chef.
Baumann is part of the group that owns the franchise for Lawrence, Manhattan and Wichita. Allison Vance Moore, a broker with the Lawrence office of Colliers International, negotiated the deal to bring the company to the west Lawrence site. Baumann said Lawrence is his group’s focus currently, but plans to add locations in Manhattan and Wichita.
“We felt Lawrence was a great market,” Baumann said. “It is a progressive town. The university helps with that, and there is good growth with the number of young professionals living there.”
Baumann said he hopes to have the shop — which will employ about 20 people and is hiring now — open by the end of March.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Since we are in the neighborhood, I thought I would give you an update about plans for a Blue Moose Bar & Grill in west Lawrence. As we have reported, the Kansas City-based restaurant is slated to go in the same building as Eat Fit Go and Spin Pizza.
Several of you, however, have called worried that the restaurant had decided not to come to Lawrence after all. We reported that it was slated to open in October or November, and it clearly did not.
Well, be patient. It takes a long time to cook a moose (the antlers make the oven door hard to close). Actually, I always get confused: the moose isn’t on the menu but rather is the mascot. Regardless, it takes a fair amount of time to build a new Blue Moose Bar & Grill from scratch.
But Ed Nelson, who is the president of the Kansas City restaurant company KC Hopps, which is the parent company of Blue Moose, told me work is still underway and going well.
“It is going to be amazing,” Nelson said. “It is a real treat to have a brand new space to work with.”
The new construction, though, is just taking longer than expected. Nelson said he now expects the restaurant to open in late April or early May.
In case you have forgotten about the Blue Moose or have never been to one of its locations in Kansas City or Topeka, I described it last year as being “fancy but not full-on-fancy.” Yes, the restaurant does serve items such as chicken wings, hamburgers, pizza — the flatbread variety — and even fried pickles. But you’ll also find more upscale items such as a baked brie appetizer, several salmon and fish dishes, a couple of pasta offerings and a dish called lemon chicken saltimbocca.
• Look for Lawrence, and one of its newest attractions, to get some national television time tonight. The cable channel Fox Business Network will feature Lawrence as part of its program called Strange Inheritance.
A network spokeswoman alerted me that tonight’s episode will feature the story of Naismith’s original rules of basketball. The episode — called the “Basketball Magna Carta” — was partially shot in Lawrence and includes interviews with members of the James Naismith family. Of course, it also tells the tale of how KU alumnus David Booth ended up purchasing the rules and allowing them to be housed in a new building connected to Allen Fieldhouse.
The episode airs at 8 tonight, and of course, will be shown in reruns too. Fox Business is on channel 139 on the local cable system.
If you have done contortionist acts with a coat hanger in one hand and a radio dial in the other, you may be an AM radio listener. (If you're not, I'm really curious what you are doing.) Well, there’s news on that front. One of Lawrence’s AM stations is expanding over to the FM dial.
The parent company that owns Lawrence’s KLWN 1320 has confirmed that it is launching a new FM station that will simulcast all KLWN programming, including Jayhawk athletics and the Kansas City Royals.
Tim Robisch, general manager for Great Plains Media, said the new radio station will broadcast at 101.7 on the radio dial. The station actually is already on the air some, but its signal may be intermittent while technicians are tweaking signal strength and doing various other tests required by the FCC.
Beginning Tuesday morning, the station is expected to be fully operational. Robisch said the new station is big news for Great Plains, which in addition to KLWN 1320 also operates pop music station 105.9 KISS FM, and country music station 92.9 The Bull. KLWN is a news and sports talk radio station, with much of its morning and afternoon programing consisting of locally produced shows. Robisch said that will continue to be the case. The difference will be that people can now listen to it on an FM frequency, which is expected to producer greater audience both geographically and demographically.
“We know because of the technology that our signal now will get into Johnson County and Topeka, but we’re not going to change our focus on Douglas County,” Robisch said, although he thinks the change will be attractive to Lawrence commuters who work in Topeka or Kansas City. The station’s transmitter is attached to the KANU public radio tower on west campus.
Robisch is hoping the FM frequency will attract some listeners who are otherwise hard to reach on the AM dial.
“There are a lot of people under the age of 40 that may never tune into AM radio,” Robisch said. “This will give us a chance to reach them.”
In addition, AM radio continues to face signal challenges as tall buildings, Bluetooth connections and other issues can cause interruptions in the AM signal. KLWN took advantage of the federal AM Revitalization Act, which allows certain AM stations to purchase the frequency of an FM station to use as a simulcast channel for AM programming.
People who still like the AM experience, though, won’t have to change. KLWN programming will continue to be broadcast on the 1320 frequency. That means there now will be three Lawrence-based radio stations broadcasting KU sports — 1320, 105.9 and soon 101.7. Robisch said the Kansas City Royals also will be broadcast on the 101.7 frequency.
“But it also will include the high school football and basketball games that we do,” Robisch said. “I think people will really be excited about that.”
A talk with the newest Douglas County commissioner about the timing of jail expansion election, and how voters may be inundated with ballot questions in 2017
Surely you all have started to have election withdrawal by now. The symptoms include a smile on your face and giddiness. Well, fear not, 2017 is going to have plenty of local elections. In fact, in some ways, it may have too many.
As part of my series of conversations with local leaders, I met recently with new Douglas County Commissioner Michelle Derusseau. The big takeaway from our chat is that Derusseau is not yet convinced it is a good idea to have an election in 2017 to seek taxpayer approval for a jail expansion and mental health crisis center.
“I don’t know yet,” Derusseau said when asked whether 2017 was the year the approximately $40 million jail and crisis center project should be put to voters. “It is going to be a tough year to do it. I can say that.”
There are at least two factors that may make 2017 particularly challenging for the jail issue. The first is that there are already visible signs of opposition to expanding the jail. There are two groups actively working to convince leaders that a jail expansion shouldn’t be undertaken now, but rather alternative efforts to incarceration need to be further explored. If you are keeping track at home, they are the faith-based group Justice Matters and a separate group that is affiliated with the nonprofit Kansas Appleseed Project. Organized opposition before an election date has even been set is always a red flag, but certainly not insurmountable.
Issue No. 2, though, is that by the time Douglas County commissioners conceivably could be prepared to put this on the ballot, Douglas County voters may already be tired of supporting tax increases for projects. That’s because the Lawrence school district is positioned to beat everybody to the punch in asking for a tax increase. As we have reported, the Lawrence school board has authorized a May 2 election for an $87 million school bond issue that likely would increase property taxes by about 2.4 mills.
If the county decides to ask voters to support a tax increase for the jail project, it won’t happen before that May 2 school election. So, the county would be at least second in line, and that usually is not the best political position to be in. If voters approve $87 million in school funding, are they going to be eager to approve another tax increase in such short order?
A wild card in all of this is that it is possible there might be yet another tax issue for voters to decide. The city has three sales taxes that will automatically expire unless voters in a citywide election agree to extend them. There is one sales tax that helps fund the city’s road and infrastructure repair program, and two taxes that provide the bulk of the funding for the city’s public transit system.
The taxes are not set to expire until early 2019, but conventional thinking is that city officials will want to know well in advance of that date whether they can count on the sales tax funding for the future. City officials will start putting together the 2019 budget in about May 2018. That has caused some people to wonder whether the city would ask voters in late 2017 to extend the sales taxes, giving the city more time to plan in case voters reject the sales taxes.
I haven’t heard anything definitively from the city on what its plans are for a sales tax election, but we’ll start asking more questions about that soon. Regardless, whether it is this year or early next year, it seems likely Lawrence voters will be participating in a sales tax election. To summarize, that would be three big taxing decisions for voters to make in a short time period: $87 million in school bonds, $30 million to $40 million for jail and mental health improvements; and a decision on whether to renew sales taxes that total 0.55 percent.
Derusseau, who took office in early January, said she’s not sure how voters would react to so many taxing issues in such a short time. Instead, most of her comments were focused on how she thinks many members of the public still need more convincing on the jail expansion.
“I know we are going to need the time to make sure we educate voters on the need,” Derusseau said.
Derusseau said there are unanswered questions about both the jail expansion and the construction of a mental health crisis intervention center. How that mental health facility would be staffed and how it would operate are key questions. Some of the answers are still fluid. Case in point, if Lawrence Memorial Hospital decides to become more involved in mental health care, that could cause the crisis intervention center to look different. Derusseau said county officials are having discussions with LMH.
“How the hospital could be involved could change everything,” Derusseau said. “We really need to look at everything. I think there is a lot of work to do to make sure the right message is out there.”
Other takeaways from my conversation with Derusseau included:
• The city has been going through a strategic planning and visioning process, so I thought it would be interesting to get Derusseau’s take on what Douglas County’s vision ought to be. Derusseau mentioned several things, but came back to the idea of using the county’s diversity to its advantage.
“There ought to be a way for us to market that we are a community for everybody,” Derusseau said.
She noted that the county has a variety of city types, ranging from the almost 100,000 population of Lawrence to the approximately 600 people in Lecompton. She also noted that Douglas County still has a much different feel than many places in the Kansas City metro.
“There are a lot of places in Johnson County where it is a 20- or 30-minute drive to get out into the country,” she said. “It is not that way here.”
• On economic development, Derusseau said she does have concerns about local governments adopting a bunch of new policies that may cause potential companies to scratch Douglas County off their search list early in the process.
“Getting businesses to come to your community is not like it was in the old days,” Derusseau said. “They start with such a large number of communities now. You have to get the site selectors here to visit. You don’t want to do something to get yourself eliminated early on. We have to figure out a way to get people here to see our communities. We have nice communities. We have safe communities.”
Derusseau said she thinks there is a lot of good growth going on in the community, and she said it is important to keep that growth continuing. Growing the county’s tax base will become more critical as state resources continue to become less certain.
“The more business-friendly we can be, the better,” she said.
• Derusseau said the county will soon have to figure out how to deal with the state’s new concealed carry law, which will allow people to carry concealed firearms into many public places beginning July 1. Governments can prohibit concealed carry, if they take adequate security measures, such as metal detectors at the entrances to public buildings. Derusseau said figuring out how to secure the Bert Nash Mental Health Center and other agencies that are in the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department building is one of her priorities.
When I was in college, pizza, beer and abacus stores were the most likely type of businesses to locate next to the KU campus. In a sign of changing times, I’ve gotten word that the first two tenants in a new retail development next to KU will be an international coffee house and a unique shop that sells fancy fruit.
Two deals have been signed for retail space inside the massive HERE apartment complex at 11th and Indiana streets, Allison Vance Moore, a broker with the Lawrence office of Colliers International, told me. Topeka-based PT’s Coffee Roasting and Edible Arrangements have signed leases to locate in the building’s commercial space that fronts Indiana Street, according to Moore, who brokered the deals.
Look for more commercial businesses to come. The building — which has apartment space totaling more than 600 bedrooms — has about 5,000 square feet of commercial space along Mississippi Street, and Moore said she’s already got about half of that space leased. No word on what tenant will go into the location, but the Mississippi Street space — which is right across the street from Memorial Stadium — has been marketed to restaurants.
As for the two confirmed tenants, let’s start with the fruit. Edible Arrangements is a shop that sells “bouquets” of fruit. Francis Katzer owns the Topeka franchise, and will be opening the Lawrence store, hopefully by March 1, she said.
Katzer challenged me to think of all the times I’ve needed to buy flowers. OK ... birthdays, apologies for forgotten birthdays, anniversaries, apologies for forgotten anniversaries and several other things that I’m sure I will remember once my key no longer opens the front door. Well, for all those things, I could have bought a bouquet of fresh fruit instead of flowers. Katzer has a simple argument of why that’s a good idea.
“Flowers are pretty, but you don’t eat them,” she said.
She promises that the fruit bouquets will be pretty too. Pineapples are made to look like daisies. Strawberries, melons, grapes and other fruits are manipulated to look like plants and flower arrangements too. Plus, the store stocks gourmet chocolate that is used to dip strawberries, apples, bananas and other fruit.
Katzer has had the Topeka store for about four years, and she said it received a lot of orders from Lawrence, so much so that the store started delivering to Lawrence once a week. When the spot near the KU campus became available, she decided to expand into the city. In addition to the fruit bouquets, the store will sell fresh fruit smoothies and frozen yogurt.
Next, the coffee house. PT’s Coffee Roasting is Topeka based, and, yes, I did call it an international coffee house. Sometimes the proposals coming out of the Statehouse in Topeka sound like they’ve come from Make Believe Land, but that is not the international aspect I was referring to. Instead, I’m talking about how the company gets coffee beans from around the world, roasts them, then gains international recognition for its work. The company has been named roaster of the year by Roast Magazine, and it sells its coffee beans in shops, restaurants and select grocery stores nationwide.
PT’s, however, only operates two coffee shops of its own — one near the Washburn campus in Topeka, and one in the Crossroad District of Kansas City. I’ve got a call into the folks at PT’s, but haven’t yet heard back from them. So, I don’t know an opening date or details about what the shop plans to offer. Both the Topeka and Kansas City locations have breakfast and lunch menus with lots of grab-and-go items like sandwiches, pastries, breakfast burritos and other such items. The Topeka location also has a bar that serves microbrewery beer, wine and specialty cocktails. No word yet on whether the Lawrence location will have a bar.
UPDATE: I heard back this afternoon from Jeff Taylor, president of PT’s. He said renovation work on the space is expected to start soon, and he hopes the shop opens in March or April. Taylor said PT’s recently decided it wants to have more retail locations, but Taylor said the company made a decision to stay off of Lawrence’s Massachusetts Street.
PT’s provides coffee to shops in 32 states, and some of those shops are in Downtown Lawrence. He said he didn’t want to open a shop in Downtown Lawrence for that reason. But when the space became available in the HERE building, he thought that would be a way to enter the Lawrence market without competing against his wholesale coffee buyers in Lawrence.
In addition to coffee, the Lawrence location will carry several grab-and-go items for breakfast and lunch. It also will have a small selection of beers on tap, but Taylor said the location doesn’t have any interest in becoming a bar. He said the establishment likely will close at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on most nights.
PT’s will be at the space right at the corner of 11th and Indiana. Edible Arrangements will be in space farther along Indiana Street.
As I hear more about the other businesses going into the building, I’ll let you know.
Lawrence housing market posts increase for 2016, home prices rise; question about whether homeowners will see higher property tax values
The final numbers for 2016 are in, and real estate agents sold 1,210 Lawrence homes. From the podium, though, it looked like at least a million to a million and a half. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Either way, it was enough for Lawrence to post its fourth consecutive year of growth in home sales.
The new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors shows home sale totals grew by 2.2 percent compared with 2015 marks. That’s not a record-setter by any means, but there were times in 2016 that it was questionable whether the market was going to grow at all. So, real estate agents are likely happy with the end result.
Here’s a look at how this year’s home sale totals compare with previous years:
— 2016: 1,210, up 2.2 percent
— 2015: 1,184, up 11.4 percent
— 2014: 1,063, up 0.2 percent
— 2013: 1,061, up 17.2 percent
Some of the more interesting numbers in this report are on the pricing front. The end-of-year numbers show the median selling price of a home in Lawrence was $178,000. That was an increase of 5.3 percent from the 2015 median of $169,000. Here’s a look at some recent history on median selling prices in Lawrence.
— 2016: $178,000, up 5.3 percent
— 2015: $169,000, up 1.2 percent
— 2014: $167,000, down 1.8 percent
— 2013: $170,000, up 6.6 percent.
A couple of things you may notice about those numbers are that the housing market did seem to break through a bit of a ceiling in 2016. The market hit a recent high in 2013 with a median selling price of $170,000. Then it dropped in 2014, and home prices weren’t able to increase enough in 2015 to get the median equal to or above the old high. The market gained back all of its losses plus some in 2016. The other notable trend is that Lawrence now has had two consecutive years of increases in selling prices. It will be interesting to watch whether that trend starts showing up in the tax values that the county appraiser assigns to each home. Those tax values are supposed to be based on the fair market value of homes, and while homeowners may not want to see their tax values increase, local governments are likely eager to get the additional tax revenues that higher values would produce
The rising price of housing, though, was most evident in the new construction market. The median selling price of a newly constructed home rose to $324,900 in 2016, an increase of 6 percent from 2015 values. Since 2013, the median price of a newly constructed home has risen by 8 percent, while the median price of existing housing stock has grown by 4.7 percent. The figures illustrate some of the difficulties the city may face if it has an affordable housing strategy that is heavily reliant on new construction. The numbers also show the new construction market struggles to build smaller, more entry-level homes. The difference in price between an average existing home and the average newly constructed home is nearly $150,000. Obviously, the new stuff that is getting built is a lot bigger, and perhaps fancier, than the older housing stock.
But despite the rising prices, sales of newly constructed homes posted their best totals in a long time. Real estate agents sold 99 new homes in 2016, a 22 percent increase from 2015.
Here is a look at a few other statistics from the end-of-year report:
— The median number of days an existing house sat on the market before it sold was 16. That’s the shortest time period in recent memory. In 2013, existing homes were on the market for 40 days on average. The number has been falling ever since. The statistic shows the market becoming more and more of a sellers market.
— There are mixed signals on the new construction front. While more newly constructed homes sold in Lawrence than in past years, they took longer to sell. The median number of days a newly constructed home sat on the market before selling was 94. That’s up significantly from the 76 days in 2015. As local homebuilders decide how many houses to build in 2017, they may be trying to figure out what statistic to put their faith in: an increasing number of sales or a slowdown in how long it is taking to sell a home.
— The year ended with 180 homes actively on the market. That too is a recent low. At the end of 2015 there were 240 homes on the market. At the end of 2013 there were 303. The shrinking number of homes on the market is a main factor driving up prices in the market, local real estate agents tell me. Unless something changes in the market — and who knows, facts and “alternative facts” could produce a shift — the low inventory of homes for sale makes it likely that Lawrence may see a third year of price increases in the real estate market.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you are wondering whether the Douglas County Appraiser is going to attach a higher tax value to your home, you’ll have to keep wondering a bit longer. The county will send out its change of value notices on March 1. But the appraiser’s staff currently is going through the process of assigning a tax value to the approximately 40,000 real estate parcels that exist in the county.
County Appraiser Steve Miles put out a report recently updating the process, but he didn’t provide any firm guidance on what homeowners should expect. But it sure sounds like some sort of increase in tax values is in play.
“When the entire year is analyzed, there has been upward movement in the overall market value of existing real property over that period,” Miles wrote in the report. “As staff proceeds with the process of establishing the valuations for Douglas County properties, we are seeing an upward trend in total valuations on average.”
But Miles did not offer guidance on how large of an increase in values his staff is seeing. In a separate part of the report, Miles notes that through November, the average sale price for residential property throughout Douglas County was $214,895, which was up about 1 percent from the 2015 average. These numbers look different from the ones above for a couple of reasons: 1. They are for the entire county. 2.The appraiser uses a mean average instead of a median average. (No, I’m not going to explain the difference. You should have paid attention in math class.)
The appraiser’s office is scheduled to wrap up its annual review of values in the next couple of weeks. We’’ll check in with the appraiser after that to see if we can get a better idea of what homeowners should expect.
East Hills Business Park manufacturer files plans to expand; an update on enrollment growth, possible new programs at city’s vo-tech school
In my house, when you want to add some bling to a package, equip my wife with a Be Dazzler and take to the root cellar to avoid the rhinestone explosion that is to come. In the world of industrial packaging, though, you are more likely to turn to Lawrence-based API America, and I’ve gotten word API is expanding its local bling-producing operations.
API officials have filed plans with City Hall to build an approximately 11,000 square-foot, $750,000 expansion onto its manufacturing facility at East Hills Business Park. Jaime Bryant, vice president of operations for API, confirmed to me that the expansion likely would result in three to five new jobs at the plant, which is located at 3841 Greenway Circle. The company currently has about 100 employees at its Lawrence location.
If you are still confused about what API actually makes, think of some of the shiny products that are used on packages these days. The company’s website says the firm specializes in making foils, films, laminates and holographic finishes that are used on labels, cartons, containers and other such packages. Among its clients are some of the big names in the liquor, candy, tobacco, perfume and cosmetics industries. I don’t know what the case is today, but previously I was under the impression that a good amount of product also got shipped across town to the Lawrence Hallmark plant that is the primary producer of greeting cards in North America. The company serves a variety of industries, Bryant said.
“Just about anything that you want to add a little bling to your packaging, that is what we make out here,” Bryant said.
The new space will be devoted to additional production, Bryant said. The company has long had operations in New Jersey, but the company for several years has been considering consolidating more of its work at the Lawrence plant.
As part of the project, the company also will be moving some of its distribution and warehouse space out of the East Hills Business Park and into vacant space at the Peaslee Tech building near 31st and Haskell. Peaslee Tech — the vo-tech center operated by local economic development entities — is located in the former Honeywell Avionics manufacturing facility. Peaslee Tech occupies only a portion of that building. A key part of Peaslee Tech’s funding strategy is to lease the vacant space to private companies.
Marvin Hunt, executive director at Peaslee Tech, said API has signed a lease for nearly 23,000 square feet of space. API will occupy about all the vacant space in the facility, except for about 15,000 square feet that Peaslee Tech is reserving for future expansion of the vo-tech center.
“Having API as a tenant will help stabilize our finances for the next several years,” Hunt said. “We can really count on them as a good partner for a lot of years.”
Bryant said API hopes to have the expansion project completed in about 18 months. The property already is properly zoned to accommodate the industrial project. The development just needs some technical site plan approvals from the city’s planning and development services department.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Since I’ve mentioned Peaslee Tech, now seems like a good time for an update on the vo-tech center. Hunt tells me that the center has a little more than 300 students — both the high school and adult variety — enrolled for its vocational programs this spring. That number is steady from the fall semester, but is up from about 150 students at this time last year.
Hunt is projecting that next fall’s enrollment will be between 350 to 400 students. He said the center likely will have two new programs to offer students: an automotive repair major and a program to train people wanting to work in power plants, green energy or other utility fields.
We’ve reported on the automotive initiative previously. A group of local auto dealers has committed funding to the project, and Hunt is now seeking to secure some additional support from auto parts stores, automotive repair shops and other similar types of businesses. The center hasn’t yet begun construction of the new laboratory space that will be needed for the automotive program, but Hunt said a request for proposals will be issued in the next couple of weeks.
On the power plant program, Hunt said Peaslee Tech is in serious discussions with Emporia-based Flint Hills Technical College to bring its power plant technology program to Lawrence.
“That program helps people gain careers in areas like gas, hydroelectric, solar and nuclear power plants,” Hunt said. “We’re really looking at all the companies associated with utilities and the potential that exists there.”
The center currently is undergoing several construction projects. Work is concluding on the remodeling of nine offices and a conference room to house the operations of Douglas County senior services while its longtime home next to the Lawrence Public Library prepares for renovations. The center also will be installing fire sprinklers in the warehouse area that API is leasing, Hunt said.
Update on the future of East Lawrence’s debated Quonset hut; longtime Lawrence chef joins local brewery project; more plans for affordable housing
Yesterday I told you about plans for a pair of new, architecturally interesting apartment buildings that developers hope to construct in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District. Today, I have news in the same neighborhood about another piece of interesting architecture: the old Quonset hut-like building at the former Black Hills Energy site.
You perhaps remember it. The old metal building is across the street from the Poehler Lofts building near Eight and Delaware streets. Black Hills Energy once tried to tear the building down, but some neighbors and historic preservationists objected. Some people think a Quonset hut is a good example of period architecture. Other people think Jabba the Hutt is more appealing. (To not offend either Quonset or Jabba the Hutt, it probably is best to call this building Quonset hut-like. It is not a Quonset brand, but looks similar.)
Regardless, the property has a new owner. A group led by Lawrence businessman Adam Williams has purchased the old Black Hills Energy maintenance yard near Eighth and Delaware streets.
Williams told me he doesn’t have any plans to tear down the building. He said, at the moment, he doesn’t have any real long term plans for the property. He said he thought it would be a good investment given the momentum of the Warehouse Arts District. Plus, the site can come in handy for one of Williams’ current projects.
Williams is part of a group that is renovating the old SeedCo building at 826 Pennsylvania St. into a brewery, restaurant and apartments. Construction work — which involves adding two stories to the building — is underway, and Williams is using the old Black Hills Energy site to store construction material.
Down the road, the site could be used to bottle and can beer made at the brewery, which will be dubbed the Lawrence Beer Company. Williams said there could be a number of other uses for the property too. A residential use may not be in the equation, as the property in the late 1800s had a facility that burned a lot of coal to produce gas. In the late 1990s, remediation work was done on the site, and state environmental officials have said the property poses no significant risk to the public. But the state did require deed restrictions that prohibit residential construction on the site.
The property is about two acres, and the building is about 7,000 square feet, Williams said. Williams said he was well aware of the Quonset hut debate when his group bought the property.
“We do like the building,” Williams said. “It an interesting building that is in decent shape. We think it has multiple uses. We’re just not sure which ones we want to pursue yet.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• I have additional news about the Lawrence Beer Company project. Ken Baker, the longtime Lawrence chef who previously owned Pachamamas restaurant, has signed on to be a partner and lead the food operations of the Lawrence Beer Company.
For 15 years, Baker owned Pachamamas, which gained a reputation as one of the leaders in fine dining in Lawrence and the region. Pachamamas closed in 2015, and Baker said he had been enjoying his “semi-retirement” from the food business.
“I had a lot of offers to do other projects, but nothing really excited me,” Baker said. “When I met these guys, it sounded like something I could really throw my back into.”
Pachamamas was known for having fancy food, or, perhaps more accurately, new world cuisine. (To this day, when I want to look international I wear a tie with stains on it from a Pachamamas meal.) But don’t expect the same type of menu at the Lawrence Beer Company.
Baker didn’t give me a full rundown of the menu, but he gave me some hints. He said a rotisserie is being installed, and there would be “a lot of open fire cooking” and a wood-fired oven, all situated where patrons can easily watch the cooking process.
Baker said the menu will feature some entrees but will have a heavy focus on small plates and shared plates. As for the type of food, I didn’t get a lot of hints there, although Baker said some of the dishes would take advantage of the spent grains used in the brewing process.
“It is going to be a little bit different than standard brew pub fare,” Baker said. “But it should all be familiar too. We definitely want it geared to eat with beer.”
Baker joins the brewery group that includes Adam Williams, a local real estate developer, Matt Williams, a local liquor executive, and Brendon Allen, who among other things will bring some local history to the project as the grandson of Phog Allen. Adam Williams said all the partners were excited to get Baker on board.
“Everybody knows Ken Baker and Pachamamas and the quality and service he created there,” Adam Williams said. “He just brings instant street cred to the venture.”
As I was writing this, I also got a bit more information from Matt Williams, who will serve as president of the brewery, about the beer offerings. Williams said the beer production will be overseen by a a brewer who learned his craft at Half Acre Beer Company in Chicago and at Boulevard in Kansas City. The lineup is expected to focus on a few core styles with a lot of rotating varieties, and a mix of “classic styles tweaked with different hop and malt varieties.”
Construction work on the site is well underway. Matt Williams said to look for a midsummer opening. When completed, the old building, he said, will feature large windows and garage doors that open onto a large wraparound deck. The deck will lead to a beer garden that will include Adirondack chairs, picnic tables, trees, casual sitting areas and yard games.
• Yesterday’s news was about how the developers of the Warehouse Arts District hope to again use state income tax credits to partially finance their affordable housing apartment projects. Well, there is at least one other local affordable housing project that also is seeking income tax credits from the state of Kansas. The Wheatland Investment Group out of Gardner is seeking tax credits for a project it hopes to build on the east side of O’Connell Road.
The project, dubbed the Estates of Lawrence, would have 38 apartment units. About 32 of them would be enrolled in the state’s rent-controlled program that requires they be offered at below-market rates to people who have incomes between 50 percent and 60 percent of the average median income in the county.
This project, though, wouldn’t involved traditional apartment buildings. Instead, it envisions more townhouse -like units. Plans call for a mix of two- and three-bedroom, two-story town homes with a garage. The town homes would be built in a four-plex style.
The project would be built on property just north and east of East 27th Terrace and O’Connell Road.
If this project sounds familiar, it may be because we reported on it around this time last year. Wheatland last year applied for the income tax credits but didn’t receive them. The process is a pretty competitive one, so it is not unusual that a project has to apply multiple times before it is successful.
Wheatland also is the group that is building the townhome-like units on the west side of O’Connell Drive, just a bit south of 23rd Street. That project is called Bethel Estates of Lawrence. It will feature one and two-bedroom units for qualifying seniors 55 and older. Construction work is well underway on that project. I’ve put a call into Wheatland officials for an update, but I would think some of those units will be ready for occupancy this spring.
Pair of multimillion dollar affordable housing projects proposed for Warehouse Arts District; see architectural renderings for area
I always thought living in a warehouse district was cool, although that time my crate and I woke up in Cleveland wasn’t that great. Something tells me the living arrangements in East Lawrence’s popular Warehouse Arts District are quite a bit different. Regardless, there’s a new plan for many more apartments in Lawrence’s hip warehouse district.
A group led by Warehouse Arts District developer Tony Krsnich is in the early stages of securing financing for two new multistory apartment buildings that also would include commercial space for the area near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight will be asked to get the process going. Krsnich is seeking a resolution of support from the commission that he can use as part of an application for affordable housing income tax credits from the state of Kansas. Krsnich — as he he did with the Poehler Lofts project and others — hopes to use to the tax credits to help finance the construction of two new apartment/retail buildings. Here’s a look at the two buildings he has on the drawing board:
— Penn Lofts would be located on a vacant lot at the southwest corner of Eighth and Pennsylvania streets. It would be a three-story building with about 70 apartments, with a mix of studio, one-bedroom, and some two- and three-bedroom units. About three-quarters of the apartments would be enrolled in the state’s rent control program, which would require that they be offered at below-market rates to people who are at or below 60 percent of the average median income in the county. The ground floor could include as much 12,000 square feet of commercial space, and Krsnich said plans currently call for seven work-live units to be located on the ground floor, meaning there could be space for someone to own a shop and live in the building too.
— Delaware Coop would be located on a vacant lot at the northwest corner of Ninth and Delaware streets. It would have 15 apartments, and 13 of them would be enrolled in the state’s rent control program. The two and a half story building would include a mix of two- and three-bedroom units, and also could include some work-live units. The ground floor is expected to have about 2,300 square feet of commercial space.
Krsnich has long said he doesn’t like the idea of building new buildings that look old, so look for these two structures to have distinctive architecture.
“They will be period appropriate,” Krsnich said. “People 100 years from now will look back and say that is really interesting architecture and engineering.”
Krsnich said the buildings will make extensive use of solar panels and they will be incorporated into the aesthetic of the building. Here’s a look at a few concept plans that have been designed by el dorado inc., the Kansas City architecture firm that Krsnich has used on other projects.
“We probably have 250 people on a waiting list trying to get a rental in the Warehouse Arts District,” Krsnich said. “People want to live and work in the area ... there are lots of small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to be part of the greater downtown area.”
The tax credits, however, will be a critical part of the project. Krsnich said he’ll hear from the Kansas Housing Resource Corp. in May whether the projects have been awarded the tax credits. If awarded, construction would begin by the end of 2017, and the projects could be open in the fall of 2018.
Krsnich said he will seek some city incentives too. The main incentive would be a request for a 95 percent, 15-year property tax rebate through the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program. Krsnich has received similar incentives for his other projects in the Warehouse Arts District.
Krsnich has envisioned asking for a larger incentive package that would have allowed him to build underground parking for the new projects. But he said his read of City Hall is that such a request would not be met favorably. Instead, he’s building some surface parking into the projects, and he plans to convert a gravel parking lot just east of the Poehler Lofts building into a paved parking lot that can serve as overflow parking for the new apartments and for other uses in the district.
These two projects may help the district grow its number of uses. The two apartments will be a bit different from Krsnich’s other projects because they will include commercial space on the ground floor. Krsnich said he didn’t know yet what to expect on that front. He said some of the space could be retail, but he also noted that demand for office space in the district is high. The district houses architects, engineers, attorneys and other professionals in some of the smaller warehouse space along Pennsylvania Street. Of course, the district also has a strong art gallery presence, and that could grow too.
“I’ll leave those details up to the market,” Krsnich said. “I want to build the space and begin conversations with people about it.”
Krsnich said the market has thus far produced some great results for the district. Krsnich first became involved in the area about five years ago when he decided to renovate the then-dilapidated Poehler Grocery Warehouse building into loft-style apartments through the state’s affordable housing program.
As that project became successful, Krsnich’s company began acquiring other old warehouse buildings along Pennsylvania Street and converted those into various uses, including office space, the Cider Gallery and the recently opened Bon Bon bistro.
“I think this district is a lot about the cool factor and the potential of Lawrence,” Krsnich said. “It is important to understand the idea of smart growth and talent-driven growth. That’s what is happening here. I have just tried to get out of the way of it. It has taken on a life of its own, and it has exceeded any of my expectations.”
Update: Commissioners approved the resolution of support at their meeting Tuesday. The resolution was removed from the commission’s consent agenda, and passed on a 4-1 vote. Mayor Leslie Soden voted against the resolution, but only on procedural grounds. She said she thought the process should be examined to determine whether the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board should first review such requests.
The resolution of support does not give the projects all the approvals they would need from City Hall. The projects would require proper land use approvals, and the City Commission would have to approve any tax rebates or other incentive requests.
— City Hall reporter Rochelle Valverde contributed to this report.