Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Improvements planned for North Lawrence grain elevator, but towers aren’t coming down; new schedule for city compost and woodchip sales
North Lawrence's skyscrapers aren't going anywhere. In case you aren't familiar with North Lawrence's chic skyscraper district, it also is known as the Ottawa Co-op grain elevators at North Third and Locust streets. And some of you have been worried that their time may be limited because demolition crews have arrived on the site.
But there is no need to worry, Adrian Derousseau, general manager of the Ottawa Co-op, told me this morning. The massive grain silos that tower over North Lawrence absolutely aren't going to be torn down.
"They're actually in good shape," Derousseau said.
But the scale house and old milling plant that are on the west end of the towers are in the process of being demolished. Derousseau said the milling plant hadn't been used for at least 25 years, and it made navigation of the elevator site more difficult than it needed to be.
"It is just a mess, and we can't keep it clean the way we want to," Derousseau said.
Derousseau said the plan is to tear down both the scale house and milling plant, and then build a more efficient scale house prior to this year's fall harvest. When that is complete, Derousseau said the elevator may become a busier place. Recently, the co-op has only used the North Lawrence elevator as a transfer station, meaning that farmers haven't been directly delivering their crops to the facility. Instead, all crops are delivered to the Midland Junction elevator north of North Lawrence.
Once the scale house has been built, Derousseau said the co-op will consider opening up the North Lawrence elevator full-time during the harvest season. That may take some pressure off the Midland facility and allow farmers to get back into the fields quicker.
Even if you aren't a farmer, you may benefit some from the project. Derousseau said removing the scale house and milling operation will greatly improve the visibility for motorists at the corner of North Third and Locust.
Derousseau said the North Lawrence grain towers, which store about 840,000 bushels of grain, are an important part of the co-op's storage system. Derousseau said if anything, more grain storage in the Lawrence area is needed. He said the company would like to add more towers at the Midland Junction site, but the soil type near the Midland site is creating engineering difficulties.
The North Lawrence towers have become a Lawrence landmark. They can be seen from quite a distance, and they're one of the things that reminds us that we're still in Kansas. Just how long they have been in place was a little tough to determine this morning. Derousseau said he's been in the grain elevator business in this area for 37 years, and he noted the North Lawrence towers certainly weren't new when he first saw them.
They are old enough that people have become attached to them, I guess. When the demolition trucks started to show up, I got several inquires from people worried about what was going on.
"We have thought about painting a big Powercat on them," Derousseau said jokingly of the K-State mascot. "They may feel different about them after that."
I don't expect to see that anytime soon, but construction work on the new scale house is expected to begin by early summer.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I know of some gardeners who build something similar to an 840,000 bushel elevator in their backyards to store the compost that the city sells twice a year. Compost is black gold to some gardeners, and now the city is announcing changes to how it will run both its compost and mulch sales.
For years, the city has held two sales per year for woodchips and compost that are produced from yard trimmings and tree limbs picked up through the city's curbside yard waste program. Now, the city plans to cut back to one major sale per year but offer the material for sale every Saturday for those people who want to bring their own shovel and load it themselves. At the one big sale per year, the city will still provide a big scoop loader that will allow people to buy the material by the pickup truck load.
The Saturday self-load sales will begin in March — this Saturday — and run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The site will be open each Saturday through mid-December. Plans are to charge $10 per pickup load. I'm not sure whether the city will offer a discounted rate for people who buy significantly less than a pickup load. I'm also not sure how long it takes to get a full pickup load of mulch or compost loaded by hand. If it becomes a common practice, though, I already can envision mean gangs of gardeners roaming the city with bulging biceps from all the heavy loading they do. (Good gardener gang name: The Germinators.)
The big compost and woodchip sale where the city will do the loading for you is set for 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 27-29. The city will charge $10 for a big two cubic yard bucket scoop load. The sale and Saturday events will take place at the woodchip and compost facility, which is just east of the 11th and Haskell intersection.
The city also has changes planned for when residents can drop off woody debris, lawn clippings and garden waste at the facility. The woodchip and compost area will open a month earlier than normal and will have expanded hours. The area will be open to residents beginning on March 1 and will have hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost for residents to drop off debris will be $5 per pickup truck load.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Preservation Alliance seeking owner for city’s oldest community building; city to award funds from Varsity House dispute tonight
Maybe the idea of a social club built around gymnastics and beer will make a comeback. (Fortunately, I've already got a pommel horse with a cup holder.) Or maybe it will be something else, but the search is now officially on to find a user for East Lawrence's old Turnhalle building.
The Turnhalle building at 900 Rhode Island St. is thought to be the oldest standing community building in the city, built in 1869. For decades it housed the German social club called Turnverein, which had a fantastic beer garden but also had the rather odd requirement that all male members between 18 and 30 participate in gymnastics.
The Lawrence Preservation Alliance purchased the old stone building in late 2012 in an effort to stabilize what had become a deteriorating structure. Now, LPA president Dennis Brown tells me stabilization of the building is expected to be completed by May, and the LPA has officially put the building on the market.
The historic preservation organization is asking interested buyers to submit proposals detailing how the building will be used. The eventual buyer also will have to abide by a preservation easement that prohibits certain defining characteristics of the building from being changed.
But just what type of user can be found for a building whose main floor includes a stage, a balcony and an old wood floor that used to house gymnastics equipment?
Brown said that is what the group hopes to find out through the RFP process, which will start evaluating proposals on March 10 but will run until a buyer is found.
Certainly, though, preservationists have some dreams for the building. A German deli in the basement and an event space and gallery that highlights some of Lawrence's significant German history would be ideal, Brown said. The RFP does state that extra consideration will be given to proposals that keep the building open to the public in some way.
"We're thinking event space, gallery space, meeting space, maybe even a business incubator," Brown said.
The RFP process also makes it clear that the group won't make the sale price of the building the most important consideration in selecting a buyer. The LPA has an approximately $86,000 mortgage on the building, Brown said. LPA has spent about $300,000 on the project thus far, including the mortgage and a $125,000 cultural heritage grant received from the Douglas County Commission.
Brown said LPA hopes to be made whole on the project, but recognizes that may not be likely given that any future buyer will face significant costs to make the building viable.
LPA's work on the building, which will reach its peak this spring, mainly has been to stop water infiltration into the structure. That will include major work to the roof and around the building's foundation.
It will be interesting to watch what type of proposals the LPA receives. The purchase of the Turnhalle building has been the largest project undertaken by the LPA in recent years. Brown noted that the plan always was for LPA to stabilize the building and then find a new "preservation-minded owner."
"We're talking to a handful of people right now," Brown said of possible buyers. "They're all local, but the word is being spread into Kansas City and also to groups across the country that are connected to other Turnvereins. If at the end of the process, we had five serious proposals to consider, we would be pleased.
"It is a big project, and I think it will take a big plan."
People interested in submitting a proposal or learning more can go to the organization's website at lawrencepreservation.org.
In the meantime, I've got my own research to do. What goes better with the high bar: a pale ale or a dark stout? And how the heck do you hang on with just one free hand? And spills? So much to learn.
UPDATE: This talk of the Turnhalle building has renewed some questions about the future Lawrence's Free State Glass. For years, Free State Glass had its studio in the basement of the building. But that changed in Septembers when Free State was forced to move from the building because of a mold problem that had developed in the basement.
I talked Tuesday with Dick Rector, a co-owner of Free State. He said the future of the business that has gained national attention for everything from glass paperweights to chandeliers is still uncertain. He said the business has been able to move all of its equipment to a new location, but he said that location is just being used storage of the equipment. Rector said he didn't have a timeline for when the business may set up a new studio space to start blowing glass again.
"We have relocated all our stuff and have had some people want to buy the business, but I don't really know what will happen yet," Rector said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting tonight will hand out some historic preservation money.
If you remember, Lawrence builder Thomas Fritzel's handling of the old Varsity House in the Oread neighborhood created quite a stir in the historic preservation community when he dismantled the house as part of the process of moving it a few feet to accommodate his apartment project. That uproar resulted in Fritzel — at the city's insistence — making a $50,000 donation to the Douglas County Community Foundation for historic preservation efforts.
Part of that agreement was that the City Commission would have a say in how those funds would be spent. At tonight's meeting commissioners are set to approve a recommendation that distributes the $50,000 to three community projects:
— $16,000 to the city of Lawrence to help restore the Breezedale neighborhoods monument sign near 23rd and Massachusetts streets.
— $2,970 to the Castle Tea Room, 1307 Massachusetts St., to repair windows and a porch on the historic building.
— $31,030 to the Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St., to repair windows on the building.
Click here to see a full list of the 10 projects that were considered for the money. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Large apartment building near KU’s Memorial Stadium, family fun center in West Lawrence face key votes tonight
From a big apartment building to miniature golf, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is set to provide recommendations tonight on several million dollars worth of proposed development.
Here's a look:
• As we reported in December, plans have been filed for a five-story apartment building and retail development at 1101 Indiana St., which is basically across the street from KU's Memorial Stadium.
Well, the project is facing its first key review tonight, and thus far the early indications are that there is smooth sailing ahead for the project, which is being proposed by a Chicago-based student housing developer.
The city's planning staff is recommending approval of the project. If it comes to be, KU football fans will notice a major new addition to the stadium area by 2016. The project will include space for at least one, but possibly more restaurants or retail shops on the ground floor of the building. The plans call for about 11,000 square feet of retail or restaurant uses.
But the bulk of the project is driven by apartments — a lot of apartments in a relatively small space. The development is proposing 171 to 176 apartment units, depending on the mix of two-bedroom or four-bedroom units. Either way, the development would have 592 bedrooms. The entire project is proposed to sit on just 2.39 acres. That's about 74 dwelling units per acre, which is a lot more than the 24 to 32 units per acre seen in many traditional apartment developments in Lawrence. But unlike most other apartment buildings in Lawrence, this one will be about 80 feet tall, which allows you to create more density per acre. For years, city officials have said more density is needed in projects in order to cut down on the amount of urban sprawl in the community.
This project will test that notion. The development group, Chicago-based HERE, LLC, is asking for a bonus density that city commissioners have the discretion to grant as part of the relatively new mixed-use zoning district. Commissioners can allow a 25 percent increase in density over and above the normal maximum, if commissioners determine "such an increase is warranted to support the public benefit likely to result from the proposed development."
City commissioners will have to decide what that nebulous phrase means, but the project definitely will have a unique element to it that could end up being a benefit for the cramped Oread neighborhood. It will be the first development in the city to use an "automated, robotic parking garage system." The 592-space parking garage would be on three levels and partially underground.
The system involves the motorist pulling into a large elevator-like box and exiting the vehicle. The garage then uses an elevator system to place the vehicle on the appropriate floor, and a lift-and-track system that moves the vehicle to the right space.
A representative with the development group told me in December that the garage will use about 40 percent less space than a traditional parking garage because it doesn't have to use entrance and exit ramps.
It will be interesting to see how the project is received by the commission tonight. Thus far, I haven't heard of any real opposition to the large development from the Oread neighborhood. That, of course, can change, but it probably is worth noting the development would be replacing a fairly old apartment complex, Berkeley Flats, that is in need of some attention.
If this project happens, it could be a real game-changer for Mississippi Street, and the northern gateway into the university. Look at the map below to see exactly where this project would be. Then look at some of the properties on either side of it. A lot of them are starting to show some age. If this project happens, how much redevelopment pressure will it create on the entire area?
Maybe that will be the big question over the next few years: What is going to improve first: the KU football team or the area next to its stadium?
• As we reported in December, plans for a family fun center — think minigolf, batting cages and possibly go-karts — have been filed for vacant ground near the corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive. Well, that project also faces its first key vote tonight. We'll see how that goes, but sometimes at Lawrence City Hall, our idea of fun is to fight over how vacant ground that is next to a neighborhood should be developed. There are some indications that is the type of situation that is brewing. All this may still get worked out, but the Wimbledon Terrace Townhomes Association, which is across Clinton Parkway from the project, has sent a letter to city officials to "strongly object" to the proposed fun center.
Among the reasons cited in the letter are bright lights, increased traffic and the fact that the project — which, I remind you, proposes go-karts, batting cages, minigolf, an arcade and other such games — is located just a few blocks from four schools in the area. (Bishop Seabury, Raintree Montessori, Sunflower elementary and Southwest Middle School, if you are scoring along at home.)
The letter notes there may be "hundreds of little children who might be intimidated by the large numbers of teenagers and young adults who would frequent the project." The letters suggests it would be more appropriate for the center to be built in a more commercial area or on the edge of the city, "such as was done for the youth soccer complex south of town and the new recreation center to the west."
The project, however, has received a recommendation for approval from the city's planning staff. One of the reasons cited is because it would create an amenity that residents of the neighborhood could walk to. It is isn't clear how neighbors on the south side of Clinton Parkway feel about the project though. They have long fought to stop the vacant ground from housing more apartments. This project would accomplish that.
Regardless, a few more details are available about the project than when first reported in December. They include:
— The southeast corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness is planned to become the site of a dining establishment with a drive-thru lane. The zoning that is being asked for would allow for a fast-food restaurant, but planners don't think a high-volume fast-food restaurant would fit in well with the adjacent neighborhoods. The architect for the project, Lawrence-based Paul Werner architects, also has said the site isn't the type to attract interest from a fast-food restaurant anyway. Instead, the development group is more interested in a coffee shop with a drive-thru or some other similar use. A tenant, however, hasn't been found. It will be interesting to see if planning commissioners come up with some way to zone the property so that a coffee shop could be allowed, for instance, but a fast-food restaurant could not.
— The first phase of the family fun center development would include a two-story club house that would have private party rooms, arcade and snack area on the ground floor. The second floor would include a bar that serves 3.2 beer and has a NASCAR driving experience arcade and miniature bowling.
— Also in the first phase is an 18-hole, outdoor miniature golf course, six batting cages, a patio area and a children's "tot lot" play area.
— A second phase of the development is proposed to have a 33,000 square-foot, outdoor go-kart track. The carts are proposed to be electric, which the manufacturer says produces about as much noise as an automobile traveling 20 to 30 miles per hour down a street. No information has been provided on when the second phase of the development may be built.
— Hours of operation are proposed for 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to midnight on Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. City planners are recommending that outdoor lighting be shut off by 10:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and by 11:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Planning commissioners meet at 6:30 tonight at City Hall.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Deal struck to bring new grocer to Sixth and Wakarusa; Google’s latest announcement and its impacts on Lawrence
A deal has been struck to bring a new grocer to Lawrence. And it is not coming to downtown. Not North Lawrence, either. Instead, it's slated for what has become the city's new grocery magnet — Sixth and Wakarusa.
Plans have been filed at City Hall for a 27,000-square-foot building that would house a specialty or "farmers market-style" grocer in the Bauer Farm development at the northeast corner of the intersection.
Bill Fleming, a Lawrence attorney and member of the development group, tells me they have a tenant lined up for the building, but can't yet release its name. With the general description that has been released, I know some of you are speculating that a Trader Joe's is coming to West Lawrence. I'm almost certain, however, that's not the tenant. I think it's one less familiar to this part of the country, but I'll refrain from speculating further. Of course, I'll keep hounding those involved for an official announcement.
Whatever grocery chain emerges at the intersection, it will be the third grocer for Sixth and Wakarusa. Dillons has a store on the southeast corner of the intersection, and the Wal-Mart on the northwest corner has a full-line grocery department. (It is interesting to note that several people who opposed the construction of the Wal-Mart said it would run the Dillons out of business. Since that time, Dillons has expanded at the corner and now a third grocer wants to join the mix.)
But before any new grocer comes to the corner, the project does have to win some significant approvals from City Hall. The biggest is that the City Commission will need to increase a retail-zoning cap that has been placed on the corner. Currently, the northeast corner is limited to 72,000-square-feet of retail development. The development group has filed a request to raise that cap to 112,000 square feet.
Fleming, though, notes the development group is not seeking removal of a condition that prohibits big box stores at the corner. The zoning of the property prohibits a single retail building of 50,000 square feet or larger. Fleming said the group doesn't have any plans to bring a traditional big box store to the corner. But he said changing the zoning to allow for the grocer is critical.
"We have always said the intersection needs a little more retail to make it successful for the long term," Fleming said. "We still need an anchor tenant, and this will give us the anchor we need."
In addition to the 27,000 square feet for the grocer, the plans also call for an 11,000-square-foot, in-line retail building that could house a host of smaller shops. Both the grocery building and the in-line retail building would be just north and east of the Hurricane Alley Car Wash, near the southeast corner of Wakarusa and Overland Drive. But not right on the corner. Plans still call for a 108-room hotel to be built at the corner. Fleming, though, said a tenant hasn't been found for the hotel, and those plans are subject to change.
"We're hopeful though that with Rock Chalk Park down the road that there will be a need for some hotel space," Fleming said.
The new zoning for the property will reduce the number of residential living units in the Bauer Farm development by about 70. But Fleming said the development still will have a significant amount of housing. The area between the Theatre Lawrence building and the Meadowlark retirement community is slated to be a mix of apartments and townhouses.
It will be interesting to watch the reaction to the latest development proposal. Development at the intersection has sparked many a battle. It is one of the larger intersections in the community, but there has been concern by some neighbors that too much retail will create a traffic mess. If you a remember, a plan for a Lowe's home improvement center in the Bauer Farm development was rejected after neighbors and others objected. Fleming, though, said this is a much more modest proposal.
"Honestly, we would love to build more office out there," Fleming said. "But there is just not much demand for that. We're trying to build what the market is looking for right now."
In other news and notes from around town:
• Supporters of a downtown grocery store may be left scratching their heads over this latest development. If you remember, there has been a group circulating a petition about how downtown Lawrence needs a grocery store. At the same time, apparently there has been a grocery store company already scouring Lawrence for sites. It needs about a 25,000-square-foot building, which happens to be about the size of the former Borders building in downtown. That building, which is the temporary home to the library, is scheduled to become vacant again in the summer.
It would seem to be a safe bet that the grocery company could have acquired the Borders building for less than it can build new in West Lawrence. Yet, it did not do so. I have heard from good sources that the out-of-town brokerage firm that is marketing the Borders building has shopped the heck out of it to grocery store companies. None of this is to say the petition drive isn't worthwhile, but it may be worth noting that the market perhaps has already spoken on the subject.
On the other hand, downtown grocery supporters may want to keep an eye on what is happening in downtown Salina. A commercial real estate agent there called me recently to get some information about downtown Lawrence's hunt for a grocery store. Apparently, that community is close to announcing a new tenant for a former Dillons store downtown. It sounds like it may be much more of a discount grocery chain that may like the downtown and East Lawrence market. I'll let you know if I hear more.
• Yesterday, Google Fiber announced it has plans to perhaps expand its super-fast Internet service into 34 communities across the country. If you remember, Kansas City won a fierce competition to be the first city for the Google Fiber project.
At that time, many people thought the Google Fiber project was just an experiment. Now, as USA Today notes, this most recent announcement by Google seems to indicate that the company is looking to build a new, profitable, stand-alone business that reaches many parts of the country.
For people who like fast Internet, that is good. For people who were hoping that Kansas City would have a unique piece of infrastructure that would attract companies from far and wide, perhaps not so good.
Among the new cities are: Phoenix; Atlanta; Palo Alto, Calif.; Nashville; Charlotte; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Portland, Ore.; San Antonio; Salt Lake City; and a host of other smaller communities around those metro areas.
It will be interesting to see if Google's most recent announcement has any bearing on the city's thinking regarding spending city tax dollars to try to attract 1-gigabit Internet service to Lawrence. I suppose there are several ways to look at Google's most recent announcement. They include:
— Google has no interest in Lawrence. If they did, they would have included the city in this most recent list of cities up for expansion.
— Google is just getting started with its announcements. Many more are on the way.
— Perhaps Google already considers Lawrence part of the Kansas City market. That may mean Lawrence already is under consideration as part of the Kansas City project, or could be, if the city approaches Google. I recently confirmed with City Manager David Corliss that the city hasn't done formal outreach to Google, such as sending a letter asking the company to consider Lawrence for its service. But the city, as we recently reported, has issued a request for information from companies interested in providing enhanced broadband service in Lawrence. City officials have said they'll make sure that request gets in the hands of Google officials.
The bigger question now may be how ubiquitous is 1-gigabit Internet service going to become? If Google gets serious about creating a new business model for 1 gigabit service, how will other private Internet service providers react? Certainly, they are going to work to protect their market shares. What role will taxpayer-supported subsidies play in this battle among huge private sector companies?
As you've probably guessed by the fact that I'm still writing this column instead of making billions of dollars, I don't know the answer to any of those questions. But it looks like Lawrence leaders are going to get a chance to answer them.
More LJWorld City Coverage
My bladder already is doing cartwheels. A new business is coming to downtown Lawrence, and it will bring with it 1,100 varieties of soda to Massachusetts Street.
Mass Street Soda plans to open by St. Patrick's Day at 1103 Massachusetts St., the vacant storefront just south of Englewood Florist. Self-described "soda dorks" Matt Baysinger and Luke Thompson will open the business, and Baysinger told me the store really will stock about 1,100 varieties of soda.
Yes, I know what you are thinking. The store had better have a really big bathroom. Oh, you were thinking that you couldn't believe there are actually 1,100 varieties of soda in the world. (If you have ever stood behind my kids at a self-service soda fountain, you would think there are 1,100 varieties to choose from at McDonalds.)
Baysinger said the specialty soda business really has taken off as the craft brewing industry has exploded. He estimated that about 50 percent of the brands that the shop will carry are produced by companies that also brew beer. He said small breweries have taken to brewing root beer so they have a product to offer children or others who don't partake in alcohol. But he said there's also a surprising number of small soda companies that still exist from the 1800s, back in the day when all soda brands were local or regional in nature.
"We'll have every variety of orange soda, orange cream soda, watermelon soda, grape soda," Baysinger said. "We'll even have a beef jerky soda. I think it is gross, but surely some people will like it."
The store is even trying to work out a contract to get the Butterscotch Beer soda that was made popular in the Harry Potter movies.
But expect a heavy dose of root beers and cream sodas. In fact, it was cream soda that partly got Baysinger involved in this venture. Baysinger said he has never consumed alcohol, but has attended many parties where his friends would be drinking fancy craft beers. So, he decided he would start bringing craft versions of cream soda. About four years ago, his love of cream soda led him to start his own website: [drinkcreamsoda.com]. The site would post reviews of various cream soda brands.
"I got a lot of cream soda out of it, so that was pretty cool," said Baysinger.
Baysinger said there are a few other specialty soda shops in adjacent states, and he thinks the concept will benefit from the same ideas that have fueled the "foodie" movement.
"People really are going back to the idea of wanting quality stuff," said Baysinger, who has been in Lawrence since 2004 when he came to KU to run track. "We want to be part of that as well."
In the beginning, the store won't have a food menu, but Baysinger said it may expand into food, and also may stock a variety of hard candy and candy that is hard to find. The shop will have ice cream to serve root beer and soda floats.
Baysinger said the store also will have a traditional soda bar, although all the soda will be served in bottles. He said the shop will have a definite feel of a 1930s or 1940s soda shop, although with WiFi.
It also will have somewhat of a sports feel at times. During the NCAA tournament, the shop plans to host what it calls "Parched Madness," an event where sodas will square off in a 16-soda tournament. Patrons will be able to sample one-ounce versions of soda and then vote on which brands should advance in the tournament.
The store also will have one other twist. During the evening hours, the shop will convert over to an art-party business. Baysinger's wife is an art instructor, and has been hosting art parties at their home for years. That seems to be a bit of an emerging trend as well. If you remember, we reported on a West Lawrence company, Painted Kanvas, that plans to get into that business. The idea is a group of friends gather to learn how to create a piece of artwork. Baysinger said in their shop, the art won't just focus on painting, but also will include other crafts such as leatherworking or Pinterest parties or other such stuff.
Who knows, maybe it will even include creative readings. I could read a piece that I believe was inspired by drinking 1,100, one-ounce samples of soda: Dash to the Restroom. By Willie Makeit and Betty Don't.
More LJWorld City Coverage
: http://HARD 50 LAW TOPEKA, Kan. — A proposal to make a minimum of 50 years in prison the presumed sentence in Kansas for first-degree murder rather than an option for juries to consider is up for debate in the state Senate. UPCOMING: 300 words.
Ike and Hoover may end up having a say in whether the city of Lawrence and Kansas University move ahead with a new convention center.
No, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Herbert Hoover aren't cryogenically frozen in the basement of Lawrence City Hall. (I'm 80 percent certain of that.) At Lawrence City Hall, Ike and Hoover are the nicknames for two very old and important water tanks that serve the central part of Lawrence. You've probably seen them. They are just north of Kansas University's Adams Alumni Center.
The two tanks were constructed in the Hoover and Eisenhower administrations, which means they are due for either major repairs or replacement. As we've previously reported, KU officials have inquired as to whether the tanks could be moved to another site, and city officials are open to exploring the idea.
Well, at Tuesday night's meeting, there were indications that one of the possible KU uses for the property may be a new convention or conference center. (You'll have to decide what you want to call this potential new facility, but I note that for decades we have had the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, not the Lawrence Conference and Visitors Bureau.)
No plans for a convention center at that site have been formally proposed, but City Manager David Corliss made a point to mention the water tank property as he was briefing commissioners on locations a consultant may be asked to study.
It makes sense with what I've been hearing in certain circles as well. For a few weeks, there's been talk that KU leaders and members of the Fritzel family have been in discussions about a convention center partnership. In fact, some folks close to those discussions had said a deal was near. I asked Tim Caboni, vice chancellor of public affairs for KU, whether there was any truth to that assertion, and he said that wasn't accurate. He said KU was still in the stage of determining the feasibility of a convention/conference center in Lawrence, and wanted to explore possible sites in conjunction with the city.
But Caboni also didn't deny that some university leaders had been in discussions with members of the Fritzel family. Caboni said he had "heard of the same conversations" I had, but he said he hadn't been a party to any of them. But he said it is clear there are individuals who have some pretty specific sites in mind for a convention/conference center.
"But we're not going to focus in on one site," Caboni said. "We're going to keep our options open."
It would make sense that the Fritzels may have an interest in having a convention center at that site. Brothers Thomas and Tim Fritzel are major owners of The Oread hotel, which is almost caddy-corner from the water tank site. I say almost because the Ecumenical Campus Ministries building is right at the corner of 12th Street and Oread Avenue, just north of the water tank site. There certainly was talk in real estate circles a couple of years ago that a Fritzel-led group inquired about purchasing the longtime ECM site, but a deal obviously never materialized.
If the water tank site and the ECM site were combined, that would create the space for a substantial project., But even without the ECM site, there still would be significant space for development, especially given the city's recent trend of approving tall buildings with underground parking garages.
Of course, the first step is for the city to determine that it is feasible to move the water tanks to a new location. Corliss said that option is being studied by an engineering firm, but a conclusion hasn't yet been made. The most likely location is to move the tanks across the street, just north of the Kansas Union parking garage.
It will be interesting to watch. If this idea of a convention center continues to move forward, the issue of where it should be located could become thorny. City Commissioner Terry Riordan noted at Tuesday's meeting that his biggest concern is the location issue. He suggested that KU and the city may have different criteria on what makes for a good location.
Generally, it appears there is going to be a debate about whether this project should be downtown-centric or campus-centric. On one hand, campus-centric puts it close to a host of ancillary meeting space — such as the Kansas Union — and it also would make it convenient for the academic community who may be a major generator of conference business. On the other hand, downtown is clearly the entertainment center of Lawrence, and half the fun of a convention is skipping out on the meetings to experience a little bit of entertainment. (For the record, I would never do that.)
I certainly don't want to gloss over the fact that one of the downtown sites that have been mentioned is property owned by The World Company, which owns the Journal-World and LJWorld.com. No formal plans have been proposed, but the company's property that stretches between Sixth and New Hampshire and Sixth and Massachusetts streets became a candidate for redevelopment after the newspaper moved its printing operations from the site earlier this year.
I do know that company leaders have had conversations with City Hall leaders about that site. What may come forward in the future, I don't know. City commissioners are expected to bring up the issue again in late March when they will consider hiring a consulting firm to study the feasibility of a convention center. (On Tuesday, they just agreed to send out the request for proposals.)
Corliss, though, said he thinks this is an issue that will occupy some attention at City Hall in the coming months, and likely will take quite a bit of study. He noted that Manhattan already has built a conference center, Topeka has convention space near the ExpoCenter, and Olathe is getting ready to proceed with some conference space. Plus, there is speculation that a conference/convention space may be in the works for the The Legends development in Western Wyandotte County. Add those competitive factors onto the fact that the city is still interested in pursuing a multimillion dollar project to build a police headquarters building, and it makes for interesting times at City Hall.
"I think it is likely that we're going to get proposals from the development community," Corliss said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• For those of you in economic development circles, it also may be worth keeping an eye on Springfield, Mo. Longtime Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce President Jim Anderson announced yesterday that he is retiring from the position.
That's significant up here because Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Williams served as Anderson's right-hand man for economic development for many years in Springfield. Williams still has deep ties to the Springfield region.
I got in touch with Williams yesterday evening and he told me he was "not planning to seek the job" in Springfield. But Williams — who served for 15 years as the senior vice president of economic development in Springfield — said the job is a very attractive one. He called Anderson the "very best chamber executive in America," and noted that the Springfield Chamber was honored as the best Chamber of Commerce in the country in 2012.
"In my opinion, it is a top five job in America," Williams said. "And they'll recruit a fantastic new leader."
Williams said he is happy in Lawrence.
"Those 15 years (in Springfield) prepared me to go my own direction and try my best to implement what I learned under the best leader I've ever known, in our chamber here," Williams said.
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Eudora resident featured as a ‘Hero Among Us’ in People magazine; Lawrence hopes to undertake solar project
If I ever make it into People magazine, I figure it will be about my keen sense of fashion. (Or perhaps for that unfortunate time I confused Princess Kate and Katy Perry.)
Regardless, I'm still waiting, but 87-year old Eudora resident Eugene "Westie" Westerhouse is not. Last year, the Journal-World featured Westerhouse and his efforts over the last 35 years to build wheelchair ramps for folks in need. Well, now he's getting national recognition for those efforts. People magazine chose him as one of its "Heroes Among Us."
The article also features Lawrence residents Deb and Gary Jennings, who recently received a wheel chair ramp from Westerhouse and the Kingdom Builders group that he belongs to as part of the Eudora United Methodist Church. The Jennings unexpectedly needed a ramp after Gary suffered a stroke, People reports.
"We call our ramp 'The Freedom Ramp,'" Deb said in the People article. "And I can't say enough good about Westie. He started the ball rolling on how we were going to enter into this new world."
Since building his first ramp in 1978, Westie has built more than 300 of them. Often a ramp would cost upwards of $3,000 if a contractor were hired to build it. Westie and the church group donate their labor, and often they raise donations for the $700 or so in materials needed to build a ramp.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The City of Lawrence has a project it hopes to build too: Solar panels at the Prairie Park Nature Center. At their meeting this evening, commissioners will formally apply for a grant from Westar Energy to install a host of solar panels at the nature center, 2730 Harper Road.
As we previously reported, Westar plans to provide grant funding for 10 to 15 solar projects at schools, government buildings and nonprofit facilities across the state. Lawrence officials think the Prairie Park Nature Center is a prime candidate for a solar project because the facility already attracts people wanting to learn about nature. The city said solar energy could be incorporated into the programs they already teach at the center. About 45,000 people a year visit the center in southeast Lawrence.
The city also sees the project as a way to save a bit on utility costs. The city is proposing to install solar panels that would produce about 30 kW of electricity at their peak. That is expected to be enough to meet about half of the building's annual electricity needs. The city estimates the panels would reduce the electric bill at the center by about $4,300 per year.
It is an interesting time for solar power and Topeka-based Westar Energy. The company is undertaking demonstration projects on solar, but right now I think solar advocates have concerns about Westar's attitude toward solar energy. Westar is among the companies sponsoring a bill in the Kansas legislature that would negatively impact the economics of solar panel installations.
Currently, the state has a net metering law that requires utility companies to pay the owners of solar panels for any electricity over and above what they use at their residence. A pair of bills introduced in the legislature would reduce the amount that utility companies must pay for that excess electricity, according to a report in the Topeka Capital-Journal.
The proposals have drawn opposition from solar advocates, but Westar has said the current law essentially is requiring utility companies to buy the power at retail prices instead of wholesale prices, which it says isn't fair to the rest of the utility's ratepayers.
You'll have to sort out all the arguments on this one. I've got my own solar project to undertake: Laying in the sun, and maybe even reading about Princess Katy.
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Lawrence’s Free State Brewing Co. to celebrate 25 years; how that boat in your driveway may become a problem
Do you remember where you were 25 years ago this month? I've already got my shoes off, so I'll do the math for you. That was February of 1989, so perhaps you were still recovering from the party following Kansas University's 1988 National Championship.
Or maybe you had already shifted gears, and were talking like KU's new coach, Roy Williams, by saying things like Doggonne it, we got to play defense like a tick grabs on to a hound's ear."
Or maybe some of you were spending time at Lawrence's newest establishment, which at times has served me a beverage that has helped me talk like Roy Williams, like a pirate, like a parrot, and like a pirate's parrot coaching basketball like Roy Williams.
Yes, Free State Brewery is 25 years old this month, and it plans to celebrate this week. I'm still working to get all the details, but Free State founder Chuck Magerl tells me that Sunday, Feb. 23, will be the big celebration. Look for concerts, birthday discounts, prizes, free cake and 25 different Free State brews. UPDATE: I talked with Chuck, and he gave me a few more details. Look for some special brews to begin showing up on the menu on Thursday. From Thursday through Sunday, Free State will offer 25 different brews, although not all at the same time. In other words, they'll roll out different brews on different days, and when they are gone, they are gone. Sunday will be the big day for the celebration. At 5:25 p.m. on Sunday, Magerl plans on giving everyone in the restaurant a free piece of birthday cake. As for the concert that was alluded to, Magerl said Free State is the major sponsor of Saturday evening's concert at The Bottleneck that will feature former Lawrence resident and BR549 founder Chuck Mead.)
Any business that survives 25 years is worth celebrating, but the story behind the beginnings of the Free State Brewing Co. is more unique than most. Magerl had to lobby Kansas legislators to get a Prohibition-era state law changed to allow brewing to even return to Kansas. Then he had to convince investors to put their money into something called a microbrewery, which in 1989 probably sounded like a made-up word. After all, local investors perhaps had never seen one. Magerl notes that Kansas "was a hinterland" as far as breweries go.
"There was one in Chicago and one in Denver," Magerl said of craft breweries in 1989. "Nothing in the nearly 1 million square miles of U.S. in between."
Today, I think I can say without much argument that Free State Brewery, 636 Massachusetts St., is one of the more popular restaurants in Lawrence and the state. (It was named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.)
But in recent years, it has become a much larger brewery. The company has a production facility in East Lawrence where it bottles its beer, and it now is sold in every Kansas county that has a liquor store and in some adjacent states as well.
Free State Brewing Co. truly has a national reputation in brewing circles. (A tour guide at the Coors plant in Golden, Colo., saw me wearing a KU hat during a tour of the plant, and explained to the group the greatness of Free State beer.) Magerl is one of the driving forces behind the Lawrence-based Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition, which will attract several hundred people to downtown Lawrence on March 8. The craft brewing business is booming, and it will be interesting to watch how it booms locally.
"Consumers are making the leap from craft to local craft," Magerl said. "Beer drinkers have been gravitating to local brands. We feel like 25 years is a good start, but just a start."
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps there have been times where a little too much of the beverage that made Free State famous has caused you to be temporarily banished to a tent trailer in your driveway.
Well, city officials now are beginning to wonder whether you should be able to park that tent trailer or boat or RV in your driveway for long periods of time. The city's planning department currently is hosting an online survey seeking opinions about the appropriateness of recreational vehicles being stored in residential neighborhoods.
As the city's code is currently written, there basically are no standards for where you are allowed to park a recreational vehicle, such as a fifth-wheel camping trailer, boat, tent trailer or such vehicles. (There are regulations about how long you can park them on a street, but not on your property.) The city previously did have a regulation, which put some prohibitions on parking them on nonpaved surfaces and prohibited them from being within four feet of your house or within 10 feet of your neighbor's house, among other restrictions.
But when the city's development code got rewritten in 2006, that language wasn't included in the new code. Planning staff doesn't recall any intentional decision to leave out those regulations but rather think it may have been an unintentional omission.
Sheila Stogsdill, an administrator in the planning department, said the office has been receiving complaints about how some recreational vehicles are stored in some neighborhoods. She said sometimes the complaints focus on the condition of the recreational vehicles, and how having them parked in the front driveway may be lowering property values in the area. Other complaints have focused on the size of some of the vehicles and how having them parked in a driveway can create sight-distance problems for motorists.
You can express your opinion about the issue by taking the online survey here. The deadline to respond to the survey is Feb. 28. Planners will use the survey results as they craft proposed regulations. Any new regulations will have to be approved both by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, and also by the City Commission.
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The number of the day is $125 million. No, it only seems like the price of a dozen roses for those of us just now remembering that today is Valentine's Day.
Instead, a new state report indicates $125 million is the amount of taxable sales that occurred in Lawrence during the heart of the Christmas shopping season. That means Lawrence retailers had a pretty fair Christmas season
The latest sales tax report measures sales for the period of mid-November to mid-December. The $125 million in sales is up about 5 percent from the same period a year ago.
The $125 million does capture some spending that is not what you would call traditional holiday retail spending. For instance it includes the sales tax you pay on your utility bills. (Although, that's kind of holiday related. Christmas is the one day of the year my wife lets the kids and me turn the thermostat up to 65 degrees.) But the majority of the $125 million are retail sales — everything from purchases at the grocery store to the jewelry store.
While a 5 percent increase for the season is solid, it is not spectacular. Over the previous three holiday seasons, the average increase has been 6.4 percent. If retailers feel like this year didn't quite have the same zing as past seasons, that may be what they're feeling. In fact, over the last six seasons, sales during the holiday period have grown by more than 6 percent every year but one. That one year, however, was a doozy. At the end of 2009, holiday shoppers clamped onto their wallets like my kids clamp onto their Valentine's Day candy stashes. Taxable sales for the season fell 13.2 percent. So, that makes 5 percent look a little better.
Here's a look at how Lawrence's totals stacked up with some other large retail markets across the state:
• Dodge City: down 8.5 percent
• Emporia: up 4.8 percent
• Garden City: down 5.5 percent
• Hays: down 27.7 percent
• Hutchinson: down 4.6 percent
• Junction City: down 0.4 percent
• Kansas City: up 2 percent
• Leawood: up 5.2 percent
• Lenexa: up 4.4 percent
• Manhattan: up 0.9 percent
• Olathe: up 0.1 percent
• Ottawa: up 1.3 percent
• Overland Park: up 1.3 percent
• City of Shawnee: up 4 percent
• Topeka: down 0.6 percent
• Sedgwick County: up 1.5 percent
These numbers are just for a one-month period, so you should use caution in interpreting them. But it appears shoppers in many locations slowed down this holiday season. Lawrence retailers may have reason to feel lucky as 2014 gets underway.
Which is more than I can say about myself, if my banker doesn't lend me money for some roses by the end of the day.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Look for March to be a key month to determine the fate of the city's proposed rental licensing and inspection program. The program, which would expand the city's limited inspection program to all rental units in the city, has been on hold since Commissioner Jeremy Farmer in late January said he wasn't ready to vote on the program.
Farmer said he wanted more data about how the city's current rental inspection program, which covers only rental units in single-family neighborhoods, has performed. The data from the city should be available soon, and Farmer said he then anticipates hosting a public forum to discuss the program in early March.
At that forum, Farmer hopes to have a compromise plan to talk about. He confirmed this week that he's been talking with both supporters and opponents of a rental licensing and inspection program. Details of a possible compromise are a bit sparse at the moment, but Farmer previously has said he had some interest in removing some violations that aren't related to life and safety from the inspection list. For example, rotting siding or an overgrown yard may not produce a violation that would prohibit a landlord from getting a rental license for a property. But inspectors would still note those violations of the city's code and could take appropriate enforcement action. The main difference is that the city couldn't deny a landlord a license over such violations. That's important because in the future landlords will have to have a license for every unit they intend to rent.
Again, Farmer hasn't released the details of the compromise yet, so we'll see if that is the path it is still on. Farmer, though, did make it clear that he is intent on passing a licensing and inspection program.
"This public meeting that we'll have will not be to talk about whether rental registration is a good idea or not," Farmer said. "We're way past that point."
"I don't think we are too far away from a really, really good compromise, though," Farmer said.
Farmer said he hopes to be ready to vote on the issue "in the next month."
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Maybe by the next Winter Olympics I won't have to convert my kitchen floor into an ice rink to participate in the beautiful sport of figure skating.
As we reported in December, leaders with Lawrence Parks and Recreation had some interest in a downtown, outdoor ice skating rink. Well, the idea has gained momentum.
The department is spending about $1,200 to have the architects of the Lawrence Public Library expansion determine how the plaza area between the library and the new parking garage could be modified to accommodate a rink.
Jimmy Gibbs, one of the department's division managers, said it appears the plaza could accommodate a 60-by-80-foot rink if one of the three planned terraces is removed.
The rink, which could hold about 125 skaters at a time, would be designed to be disassembled when not in use so the plaza could be used for summer concerts and other such events.
But parks and recreation leaders also are considering artificial ice. The parks and recreation department in Grandview, Mo., operates a rink with artificial ice and the reviews apparently have been good. The product is a slick, smooth plastic like material that allows skaters to use regular ice skates.
"We could have a Christmas in July event in downtown if we wanted to," Gibbs said.
Bringing more people to downtown Lawrence, especially during the winter, is a big reason behind the ice rink idea, which has received preliminary support from City Manager David Corliss.
The idea of artificial ice may make the project more financially feasible. It is estimated that electricity for a real ice rink could cost about $5,000 a week, especially during a mild winter when temperatures are frequently above freezing.
City officials are researching the cost of an artificial rink, but they think there would be around $100,000 in upfront costs. The city would try to recoup those costs through skate rentals and by finding an area company to sponsor the rink, Gibbs said.
Parks and recreation leaders should know more in the next few weeks about the feasibility of the plan. Ultimately, city commissioners will be asked to weigh in.
In the meantime, I'm going to keep practicing. The Olympics have so inspired me, I think I'll try one of these triple sow-cow jumps I've been hearing about. What's that? It's spelled Salchow. Oh.
Boys, load those pigs back up.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Let's stay in the world of recreation and provide an update on the 181,000-square-foot recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. City officials are trying to figure out what to name that center, and it appears they are at least open to the idea of allowing a corporate sponsorship type of name for the facility.
Ernie Shaw, leader of the parks and recreation department, told me that a consulting firm has told the city that it may be able to garner $75,000 to $125,000 a year for the naming rights at the center. City commissioners haven't made a decision that they want to go in that direction — in fact, the commission hasn't publicly discussed it — but I'm told that city officials at least want to explore the idea.
Shaw said his department will recommend that the center have a sort of secondary name as well, so that if a sponsor drops out in future years that the city doesn't have to start over from a marketing and branding standpoint.
The consulting firm estimates that the city could generate another $75,000 to $125,000 a year in naming rights for certain indoor areas of the center, such as the gymnastics area, indoor track and other such areas.
It will be interesting to see if the Lawrence has the corporate base to support such sponsorships, and even more interesting to see which corporations or other organizations may want to have their name on the facility.
• Gov. Sam Brownback should expect to hear from the Lawrence City Commission soon. At the suggestion of City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, the commission will send a letter to Brownback urging him to expand the state's Medicaid program under the provisions of Obamacare.
Farmer, who works with a host of low-income families as the director of Just Food, said he's frustrated the state isn't accepting the federal government's offer to pay for the vast majority of an expansion of the state's Medicaid program. Farmer said he's generally not supportive of the City Commission telling the state how to spend its money — the city does not like it when the state does that to them — but Farmer said this is different because the state is rejecting federal funding for the program.
Some state officials have expressed concern that the federal funding for the program may not always be in place, which then would leave the state with a difficult funding decision to make.
Commissioner Terry Riordan, a Lawrence physician, strongly supported Farmer's suggestion for a letter. Other commissioners also said they were fine with it. None of the commissioners, however, were real optimistic that a letter from the city of Lawrence was going to do much to change the governor's thinking.
Farmer said he thought the city should be on record as supportive of the idea nonetheless. The idea of writing a letter to the state wasn't part of last Tuesday's city commission agenda, but Farmer suggested the idea near the end of the meeting. I'll let you know if I see a copy of the letter.
Fitness center near Ninth and Iowa undertaking major expansion; group working to create a local currency
I've been trying to tell you this: I'm a trendsetter. I'm ahead of the times. For decades, I've been spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. Now, it is the hot new thing in the world of exercise.
If you don't believe me, check out the work that is underway at Lawrence's Body Boutique. The women-only gym near Ninth and Iowa streets is undergoing a $700,000 renovation, and a big part of it is to add a new indoor cycling studio.
Lorinda Hartzler, the gym's owner, told me Body Boutique is expanding into 8,000 square feet of vacant space in the Hillcrest Shopping Center that is between the gym's existing location and Crimson & Brews, a local tavern where I have perhaps spun my wheels once or twice.
The expansion will have several elements, but a big part of it will be a new 30-station indoor cycling studio that will feature the brand-name Spinner bikes. The studio also will feature a large video screen that will give riders the sense they are traveling through scenic areas, such as a trail up Mount Everest or along the path of the Iditarod dog sled race. (A word of caution on that one: I've found that my polar bear-lined biking shorts often cause chafing.)
The expansion project also will include:
— A tripling of the gym's weight room and fitness floor space;
— An expanded child care area;
— Additional room for barre training. (It is different than the type of bar training at Crimson & Brews.)
— Space for a nutrition club called Total Body Nutrition;
— An area for a new youth fitness program that will provide training for both girls and boys ranging from toddlers to teenagers.
"We have a program now that is more of an active play program, but we really want to have a program for children who feel like they are not athletic," said Hartlzer, who has owned the gym for the last 20 years. "They may never be on a soccer team or a swim team or a wrestling league, but we want them to understand they can still be healthy and fit and strong, even if they don't feel athletic."
Work has just started on the expansion project, and Hartzler hopes the new space will be ready to open in June. Hartzler said without the expansion the club was going to have to start capping its membership. She said the fitness movement in Lawrence remains strong, and said it has grown to be about more than just a physical workout.
"When I built this existing space 10 years ago, people just wanted to get in and get out," Hartzler said. "But our members are becoming more social than they've ever been. We're designing a lot of space just for people to socialize."
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps I've been a trendsetter in another way too: I've long tried to pay for things with something other than dollars. My success rate has been a bit limited, but perhaps I just haven't figured out the right system. There is a group of Lawrence residents who are trying to figure out how to create a Lawrence currency.
The Lawrence Community Currency Initiative is meeting at 6:30 p.m. today at the Delaware Street Commons common house, 816 E. 13th St. The meeting will feature a presentation by Ali Rosenblatt, who has helped launch a local currency program in Los Angeles.
The idea behind local currencies is that businesses and individuals agree to accept something other than U.S. dollars for goods and services and wages and such. There are communities that have them, and, of course, bitcoin is an example of alternative currency that has been getting a lot of media attention.
If you have been in Lawrence long enough, you may remember that Lawrence had a local currency for a time in the 1990s. It was called Lawrence's REAL Dollar. There were some businesses that accepted it, but it eventually faded away as the places where you could spend the REAL dollar were a bit limited.
Lawrence resident Michael Almon was around for the REAL dollar effort, and he is part of the current initiative. Almon said the options for creating a local currency are far greater today than they were in the 1990s. The idea of having an electronic-based currency, for example, is much more feasible.
Who knows whether this idea will get off the ground in Lawrence, but if it is going to get off the ground anywhere in Kansas, we're probably the place. Almon said about 10 to 20 people have been attending meetings of the group.
"The idea isn't to replace the dollar," Almon said. "It would be complementary. We think it would tend to support more local businesses and might help businesses who are dealing with local suppliers."
• Speaking of trends, perhaps one trend will be upscale pizza in downtown Lawrence. We reported recently on plans for a local group to open Limestone Pizza Kitchen & Bar. Well, now I'm hearing in certain downtown circles that another pizza and wine bar restaurant is seriously considering downtown Lawrence. This is still unconfirmed, so take this for whatever you think it is worth, but I hear that Coal Vines, a pizza and wine bar that has a location on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo., among other locations, is strongly considering opening a spot in downtown Lawrence. In fact, I hear they've settled on a location, but I want to get more on that before I pass it along. I'll let you know when I hear more.
Duplex and apartment development moving forward at the Kasold Curve; speculation about Google and Lawrence
For years, the Kasold Curve — that area where 31st Street turns into Kasold Drive — has just been an area where I close my eyes and hang on extra tight when I'm a passenger in my wife's car. Now, it may be an area that's showing Lawrence's renewed appetite for residential construction.
It looks like a deal has actually materialized to develop about 19 acres of the vacant ground at the curve into a mix of apartments and duplexes. All the way back in 2009 we reported that the Lawrence Wesleyan Church purchased 33 acres of property along the southeast edge of the curve. Plans called for the church to use part of the property to build a new church building and to sell the rest of the property to a private development group.
But, if you recall, the residential real estate market in 2009 was a bit like a K-State Wildcat at a Final Four party: lost and depressed. (Hey, it is gameday, after all.)
Church officials, however, now have told city leaders that they have a deal with a group of Lawrence investors — including real executives John McGrew and Mike McGrew — to purchase about 19 acres to develop about 55 duplexes (or about 110 living units,) plus a small apartment complex. The church will keep about 14 acres to use as part of its development of a new church building to replace its current building at 3705 Clinton Parkway.
The project is looking for a little bit of help from the city. Developers on Tuesday will ask the City Commission to approve a benefit district to finance about $690,000 worth of public streets and water mains for the project. Benefit district financing is common. The city provides financing for public infrastructure, such as a streets and utilities, and the property owners pay the city back through special assessments on their property tax bills. But the city's policy caps the amount to be financed at 75 percent of the expected infrastructure total. In other words, the developers are supposed to pay for 25 percent upfront.
But church officials are asking commissioners to wave that 25 percent down payment in this case. The developers aren't asking the city to pay for any of the infrastructure, but rather just want the city to finance about 90 percent of the costs instead of the normal 75 percent. Developers have said the extra up-front costs make the project infeasible. Commissioners will consider the request at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday.
As for the development itself, look for it to change the traffic flow at the curve a bit. The plans approved by the city call for a new 50-foot long left-turn lane to be installed at the curve. The lane will accommodate traffic looking to turn into the new development. I haven't yet seen details on the apartment portion of the project. But it doesn't appear to be a large new apartment complex of several hundred units. The amount of ground set aside for apartment development is less than 2 acres. The bulk of the property is set aside for duplex development.
In other news and notes around town:
• As we have reported, the City Commission on Tuesday also will consider issuing a request for proposals from companies that are interested in improving the community's broadband service. This comes at the same time the city is trying to figure out whether to give a $500,000 grant and other incentives to Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband to do a pilot project to bring super-fast Internet service to downtown and East Lawrence. The super-fast speed would be the same 1 gigabit service that Google Fiber is providing in the Kansas City metro area.
During this whole discussion, I've certainly heard several people say they just wish the city would make more of an effort to convince Google Fiber to add Lawrence to its Kansas City project. And come to think of it, there probably is a legitimate question out there: Has the city of Lawrence ever formally sent a letter to Google Fiber asking them to consider Lawrence as part of the project? I know there was talk of it, but I don't remember if a formal request ever came about. I'll check on it and provide an update.
But Joshua Montgomery, one of the owners and operators of Wicked Broadband, is now touting that his company's pilot project may be the community's best chance to get Google Fiber to come to Lawrence. You can read his whole thinking here, in an op-ed that ran on the technology website arsTechnica. But in short, he's touting that the pilot project he hopes to build will feature what is called a common carriage network. What that means in this case is that the fiber optic cables in the ground would be large enough to allow up to four Internet service providers to operate on the network. The way it would work is that Wicked would occupy one of the four spaces, but if any other company wanted to use the network, it could lease space on the network to do so. That includes Google. That's not how Google is operating in Kansas City. It is building its own network there, but Montgomery is opining that Google's strategy may be flawed because it will take Google far too long to build networks in as many places as it would like to serve. He thinks Google may be open to another approach.
"Google needs to franchise its technology and marketing to municipalities," Montgomery wrote. "By franchising its operation to municipalities, Google can use its three most important assets to grow its network: branding, engineering and marketing. Municipalities can use their strongest abilities — managing infrastructure construction and providing long-term finance — to make the projects successful."
It is a new wrinkle in this discussion, so I wanted to pass it along. Whether Google has any interest in providing high-speed service in Lawrence is a bit of an unknown currently. Google has signed deals as far west as Olathe, but its plans in Kansas City have been a bit spotty, as this article notes.
But this whole broadband subject has been an interesting subject to watch. There are people who say that having high-speed broadband service in a community will be as important as it was to have a railroad or an interstate come through your town decades ago. But, of course, we're talking about the future, so it is difficult to prove or disprove that assertion here in the present. I have no answers, but I'm betting that it will continue to be interesting to watch.
I have my best Nostradamus outfit on, and I declare that this will be the Decade of East Lawrence. No, my powers to divine the future haven't suddenly improved. I just know that there is a new coffee shop opening in East Lawrence, and its name will be Decade. (As for the Nostradamus outfit, it is the only thing that wasn't in the laundry.)
As we've been reporting for months, the folks at the Lawrence construction firm Struct/Restruct want to convert their shop space at 920 Delaware St. into a coffee shop. Well, now they have found the tenant to do that. Louis Wigen-Toccalino has signed a lease to convert the approximately 900-square-foot industrial building into a coffee shop.
I'm not sure which decade it will most resemble, but Wigen-Toccalino does want to promote one element that was more common in years past: Face-to-face conversation.
"We are going to do things a little differently," said Wigen-Toccalino. "We're not going to offer WiFi, for example. I want it to be a social space where people can come and hang out in groups instead of it being like a study hall environment."
Of course, he also wants it to be about good coffee. Wigen-Toccalino will bring in artisan coffee beans from Fourbarrell, a speciality coffee roaster in San Francisco. The company touts itself as using an old German coffee roaster that shuns modern roasting technology for a more craftsman approach. The company also has a big social justice movement where it deals directly with coffee growers in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Columbia, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Wigen-Toccalino said the shop will feature a variety of espresso, French press, and pour-over brews on its menu. He's also finalizing an agreement with a local bakery that will provide a variety of daily pastries and breads. Eventually, he hopes to add soups, salads and sandwiches to the menu as well. The shop, which will include a large outdoor deck, is expected to open this spring, perhaps as early as March.
Wigen-Toccalino has a long history in the food business, and some of you local coffee fans may recognize his face. About 10 years ago, he served as a barista at Henry's, the downtown Lawrence coffee shop. Since then, he's spent time in San Francisco and Salt Lake City, working as a cook and a server, with the idea of saving enough money to come back to Lawrence to open his own establishment.
Setting up shop in East Lawrence, he said, seems like a good move. For those of you trying to picture the location, the building is just north of Hobbs Park on Delaware Street, and near the edge of the headquarters for Allen Press. Importantly, it is just a block away from the Poehler Lofts building and the Warehouse Arts District that has grown up around that multistory, historic apartment building.
"I'm really excited about what they are doing with the warehouse arts district," Wigen-Toccalino said. "I think it is an up and coming neighborhood with a lot of potential in the near term. I'm really excited to be a part of that."
Plus, Wigen-Toccalino is keeping an eye on City Hall plans to build a new hike-and-bike trail through the area. As we've previously reported, commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday evening will apply for a state grant that would build a new trail from Hobbs Park, through East Lawrence, into downtown and ending near the Kansas River. That trail would go right by the new coffee shop.
And while I don't have anything confirmed yet, I've been told that the guys at Struct/Restruct are working on bringing a bicycle shop into the neighborhood, in the building directly south of the 920 Delaware building.
But that's not all that is going on in the neighborhood. If you remember, the group that developed the Poehler building also has plans to build another approximately 40-unit, loft-style apartment building near the site of the Poehler building. The development group also announced plans to try to bring a bistro and drinking establishment into a small building next to the Poehler Lofts. I haven't heard an update on that in awhile, but I'll check in and report back to you.
So, who knows, maybe this will be the Decade of East Lawrence.
What I do know is why Nostradamus made so many brash predictions: This outfit is itchy in all the wrong places.
In other news and notes from around town:
• At least, I hope it is the outfit causing this itching, and not bedbugs. If you recall, city commissioners last year had a discussion about the increasing problem of bed bugs in the city. Back in June, commissioners directed staff to create a new policy on how landlords and hotel/motel operators must deal with bedbug infestations. Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider approving the policy. Here's a look at some of the key provisions.
— Hotel and motels operators who receive a bedbug complaint must respond to the complaint immediately by relocating the guests. Landlords have 48 hours to respond to a complaint from a tenant.
— Both landlords and hotel/motel operators must have a licensed exterminator on the property within 72 hours of receiving a bedbug complaint.
— In addition to the living unit where the bedbug complaint occurred, any unit that shares a wall with that living unit must also be inspected for bedbugs. In other words, if one apartment is found to have bedbugs, the next-door apartments also must be inspected for bedbugs.
— Generally, tenants and property managers won't be allowed to remove items from a room suspected of having bedbugs until after the room has been treated. Clothes removed from the unit will be required to be immediately washed and dried with high heat.
— Property owners or property managers will be required to keep a written record of all bedbug complaints, and documentation of treatments from licensed exterminators. Under the proposed policy, property owners will have to turn those records over to the city when requested to do so.
— Property owners and managers will be encouraged to develop a training program for their employees on how to spot signs of bedbugs and how to prevent infestations.
The bedbug policy will be part of the city's property maintenance code, which means if landlords and hotel/motel operators don't follow through on the treatments and other requirements, they can be fined for violating the city's code. Fines for violating the property maintenance code are rare, but they can be as high as $500 per day.
• Also on the City Commission's agenda is approval of a site plan for a new workshop for Struct/Restruct. As we mentioned above, the company's workshop on Delaware street is being converted into a coffee shop. As previously reported, Struct/Restruct is planning to convert the building that formerly housed the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center into a workshop. (The recycling center moved to a spot near 11th and Haskell.) Struct/Restruct also has plans to redevelop the eastern part of that former salvage yard site into a unique single-family housing development. But Tuesday's action by city commissioners deals only with the workshop portion of the project. City staff members are recommending approval of the workshop site plan.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Downtown Lawrence really is an eclectic place. There are a whole bunch of us that go downtown to tie one on. But there's also a lot of people who go downtown to sew one on. And that second group, it appears, is poised to grow.
Work is underway at Sarah's Fabrics, 925 Massachusetts St., to convert the second story of the old building into a sewing center and meeting space.
"This has been a decades old thing that I've wanted to do, and I'm finally going to finish it," Sarah Fayman, the owner of the business and the building, told me recently.
Fayman said the second-story space will have room for about 30 people sewing. Sarah's Fabrics regularly will host a variety of classes in the space. Plus, Fayman said she plans to rent the space to businesses or people looking for a quality location for meetings or gatherings.
"It is a beautiful building," Fayman said. "We're going to highlight the clerestory windows that are original to the building. There will be a lot of wonderful natural light, and a huge hallway that will be great for gallery space."
Sarah's Fabrics, as those of you who go downtown to sew one on already know, is a downtown institution. It's celebrating its 40th year, Fayman told me. During that time, Fayman has done her share of building renovation. It has been a little more than 10 years since Fayman completely remodeled the ground floor, including returning the facade of the building to a more historically accurate look.
This remodeling project is one of the larger ones underway downtown. The city has issued a permit for $512,000 worth of construction at the site. One reason for the cost is that Fayman is installing an elevator.
"It wasn't going to be very convenient for seamstresses to carry boxes and boxes of fabric up the stairs," Fayman said.
The classroom space won't take up the entire second floor of the building. Fayman said a little less than half the space will serve as the new offices for the Clark/Huesemann architecture firm. If you are not familiar with that company, it is led by Lawrence architects Steve Clark and Jane Huesemann. They previously were longtime architects with Lawrence-based Gould Evans, and they are perhaps best known for a lot of the design work they did with Gould Evans on the Lawrence Public Library expansion before leaving to start their own firm.
Fayman hopes to have the second-floor renovation completed by early spring. Stay tuned for more information about specific classes the store will be offering.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we're on the subject of renovations, the empty space next to Starbucks on West Sixth Street now has a tenant. The national barbershop chain Sport Clips has pulled a building permit to do about $70,000 worth of work at 4701 Bauer Farm Drive. Lawrence has a Sport Clips at 3140 Iowa St., next to Jason's Deli.
As schools, businesses and governments announce all types of changes to their hours as a result of this snowstorm, I'm voting for this idea: Let's all sit around and eat salsa and go back to work once the snow has melted.
I believe I know one new Lawrence company that would be on board with it. Lawrence is now home to a new salsa company. Dave & Dexter's Salsa began selling its salsa varieties at The Merc this fall and recently has expanded its reach into the two Hy-Vee stores in the city. Plus, the company has pending deals to start showing up on the shelves of major grocery chains in the Kansas City metro area.
Lawrence physician David Lawhorn — who is married to noted cardiologist Dr. Stephanie Lawhorn — is the brains behind the new company. When he was looking for his next career move in the medical industry, his wife instead encouraged him to think about doing what he had been talking about for years: marketing the homemade salsa that he had been giving away to friends and family for decades.
"I wasn't sure because there are so many out there," Lawhorn said. "But this one does taste different. It tastes fresh right out of the jar, and we really do use fresh ingredients."
I suppose at this point we should address the elephant in the room here. You may have noticed that Lawhorn and I have the same last name, and you may be wondering if we're related. Well, if you ever meet a Lawhorn and ask him if he's related to yours truly, the most likely answer you'll get is "It depends." But David Lawhorn is one of the few who can honestly say he's not related to me. (I have, though, received phone calls for his cardiologist wife. One was an elderly woman who wanted to talk to Dr. Lawhorn because her husband was having chest pains. Fortunately, I had just read a book on how the heart works, so I was able to talk her through it. No, I told her to call 911. Or 411. I don't remember.)
Lawhorn said sales of the salsa — which is produced by a commercial kitchen in Kansas City — have gone well. Lawhorn said he even recently was approached by a representative from Whole Foods about stocking the salsa, which is preservative free, in some of its stores. The company produces four varieties of salsa, each with different degrees of heat, although all also have a hint of sweetness to them.
"True Mexican salsa shouldn't tinge your mouth or lips," Lawhorn said. "You should taste a little bit of heat at the beginning and then it should build at the end."
Conversations with Dean & DeLuca also have begun, Lawhorn said. So, it will be interesting to watch how far this local company expands.
In case you are wondering, the Dexter in the equation of Dave & Dexter's is Lawhorn's beloved golden retriever. As far as I know, Dexter isn't related to me either. He probably wouldn't admit to it anyway.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Motorists should expect traffic flow to start changing at the Sixth Street and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange in northwest Lawrence. Plans originally called for new traffic signals to be hung and activated at the intersection on Thursday. I wouldn't be surprised if weather issues delay that project, but city engineers tell me it won't be long before the signals are working.
The project actually is being done by the state as part of an effort to reduce the long line of cars that stack up on the entrance and exit ramps to the trafficway. But as you'll likely notice, the traffic signals will look kind of temporary in nature. There is a reason for that. Chuck Soules, the city's director of public works, has told me that the state would like to build a new "diverging diamond interchange" at the intersection in coming years.
I know. The phrase "diverging diamond interchange" creates questions. My wife's question: When am I going to buy her one?I told her I think we're talking about a different type of diamond. But I'm not sure. I checked out this website devoted to diverging diamond intersections, and I'm still not sure how they work. But the key concept seems to be that the two lanes of traffic cross each other, eliminating the need for left turns.
If you have been through the new interchange at I-35 and Homestead Lane near the Burlington Northern Santa Fe intermodal facility in Edgerton, you've been through a diverging diamond interchange. There also are several in Springfield, Mo., and in the Branson, Mo., area. Here's a video of one in Springfield.
When Lawrence may get its first diverging diamond interchange is a bit uncertain. City engineers have told me the state hasn't yet identified a funding source for the project. But my understanding is that the interchange is being designed, which is a sign that the state is strongly interested in the project. Part of the project also will be dependent on traffic flows. Traffic numbers are expected to increase once the nearby Rock Chalk Park sports complex is fully opened.
I'll let you know if I hear more. In the meantime, I think my wife is driving me to the jewelry store.
Buffalo Wild Wings files plans for new restaurant on South Iowa Street; update on city broadband plans
A nice, spicy chicken wing does sound good today. Heck, on this cold and snowy day, wing sauce in my boots sounds good too. I can't confirm that Buffalo Wild Wings will do that for you, but I can confirm that the restaurant chain has filed plans to build a new restaurant on south Iowa Street.
The restaurant is the lead tenant for a new retail development slated for the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets. That's the location of a Chinese restaurant building that has been vacant since 2008, and an empty lot that years ago housed Mazzio's pizza. (Warm breadsticks from Mazzio's — which, at times, mysteriously looked like hot dog buns with melted cheese — sound good too today.)
The plans filed at City Hall show that Buffalo Wild Wings will take about 6,000 square feet in the new building, and that the growing tanning salon chain of Sun Tan City will occupy about 1,900 square feet. The plans also call for a 5,000 square-foot retail space that doesn't yet have a retail tenant identified. But I bet you it will get one. If you have forgotten, the site is caddy-corner from one of the more active retail corners in the city right now — the old Sears building that will house Dick's Sporting Goods and at least two other major tenants.
There hasn't been any definitive word on what this means for the Buffalo Wild Wings location in downtown Lawrence, but there is speculation that the downtown location will close and be replaced by this one. I've reached out to officials with Buffalo Wild Wings for several weeks now, including yesterday, and haven't been able to get any response.
But if you remember, we reported on speculation all the way back in July that Buffalo Wild Wings would be moving from downtown to this very spot at 27th and Iowa streets. Adding to the speculation that the restaurant will move out of downtown is that its current building at 1012 Massachusetts St. has been on the market. Buffalo Wild Wings is just a renter at the building, but potential buyers of the building have told me that the building doesn't come with a long-term lease for Buffalo Wild Wings. But, until we hear official word from the restaurant chain, it is too early to know for sure what the future holds for the downtown spot.
It is worth noting, though, that the Buffalo Wild Wings building has changed ownership in recent weeks. It is now owned by Christie Brothers LLC, which appears to be led by Michael Christie, who was also part of the previous ownership group of the building, Jayhawk Equities. So, it will be interesting to watch what happens at that location because it is a fairly large downtown space. I'll try to reach out to the new owners and report back.
It also will be interesting to watch for more changes along South Iowa Street as Dick's Sporting Goods gets closer to opening this summer. We've previously reported that two shopping centers near the area have changed hands: the Holiday Plaza Shopping Center at 25th and Iowa and the Tower Plaza Shopping Center at 2540 Iowa St. Well, there is one other smaller sale in the area to note. The property at 2500 Iowa St. also has sold in recent weeks. Longtime insurance agent Gary Petersen sold the building to Iowa 2500 LLC, which includes executives with the commercial real estate firm R.H. Johnson Co. Those are the same executives that also are part of the new ownership group of the Tower Plaza Shopping Center, which is adjacent to 2500 Iowa. In other words, leaders with R.H. Johnson Co. — which have attracted a lot of national retailers to Lawrence — now own pretty much the whole block.
Petersen, though, said there aren't any plans for his Shelter Insurance agency to move from the building. The building also houses a ProCuts hair salon.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps City Hall officials have discovered what I'm quickly discovering: A snow day isn't as much fun as it used to be. My fifth-grade son was up at 6 a.m. to begin practicing for an extravaganza of Olympic events he plans to host today, and, alarmingly, my second-grade daughter somehow has got her hands on a lit Olympic torch.
Anyway, all this is to say that as of about 9:30 this morning, city officials haven't yet canceled tonight's City Commission meeting. Stay tuned, though; that may change. Regardless, I'll give you an update on one item that may or may not get heard tonight.
City commissioners will consider officially issuing a "request for information" from companies interested in partnering with the city on improving broadband service in the community. The RFI comes as city officials are processing a request from Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband that asks the city for a $500,000 grant and several other incentives to conduct a pilot project that would bring super-fast Internet service to downtown and East Lawrence.
Wicked's proposal is to bring the same level of broadband speed to Lawrence as Google Fiber is installing in the Kansas City metro area. City officials, though, aren't necessarily asking for companies to come up with a plan to replicate the Google Fiber project. Instead, the RFI asks companies to "enhance the availability of high speed internet services for residents and businesses and to increase the competition amongst providers for these services in Lawrence."
The city is encouraging anyone and everyone who has some expertise in the area to respond to the RFI. That means both WOW and AT&T are being asked to provide a plan on how they can boost service in the community.
The RFI doesn't mention any financial incentives the city may be willing to offer. In other words, it doesn't say the city has $500,000 it is ready provide as grant money. But it does ask companies to describe what financial incentives it would seek from the city.
The bigger carrot the city is dangling is access to a significant amount of fiber optic cables the city owns throughout the community. Plus, the city controls all the rights-of-ways, traffic signals and several other facilities that broadband equipment could be mounted to.
Firms have an entire month to come up with their proposals. The deadline for responses, as it is currently proposed, is March 5. No word on how long it may take the city to evaluate the responses. Wicked's request for incentives is scheduled to go before the city's Public Incentive Review Committee on March 4. We'll see if that date changes.
There's a $200,000 project underway to install solar panels in Lawrence, and you might be surprised who is behind it — the operator of the large coal-fired power plant just outside of town.
Topeka-based Westar Energy is installing 160 solar panels on its maintenance facility and service center at 746 E. 27th St. in southeast Lawrence.
"We hope to learn a little bit more about solar," said Don Ford, director of renewable business solutions for Westar. "Some of the information that is out there is from other locations, and we think it would be good for our customers to see what they will get in Kansas."
Westar, the state's largest electric utility, is installing the solar panels in a variety of locations and at a variety of angles to test their efficiency. The entire project will be hooked up to a website that will allow the public to log in and see how the solar panels are performing at any given time. Ford said that will provide valuable data on how solar panels perform on cloudy days and other such issues.
At their peak capacity, the solar panels Westar is installing would produce enough electricity to power about two homes. But, of course, solar panels don't always produce at their peak capacity, such as at night and during times when the sun is behind the clouds. How much electricity the panels will produce on a consistent basis is among the information Westar hopes to gather.
"We have customers who are starting to install solar panels, and we are getting more questions about solar panels," said Gina Penzig, a Westar spokeswoman. "We thought it was time for us to get some firsthand experience with solar panels."
Ford said he doesn't yet think the economics of solar panels make it likely that a lot of them will be installed in the state in the near term. But he said that make change.
"But if you would have asked me several years ago, I would have told you that we would have a lot less wind generation than we do now," Ford said. "The economics have changed a lot with wind, and it probably will with solar as well."
Westar now has five wind-generating plants to go along with its eight natural gas-fed power plants and its four coal-fired power plants, which includes the Lawrence Energy Center northwest of the city.
Lawrence is one of three cities Westar is using to test solar power. The utility also is installing panels on buildings they own in Manhattan and Shawnee, Ford said.
The company announced earlier this month that it would help fund the purchase and installation of solar panels at schools, nonprofit agencies and government buildings. Westar said it plans to provide funding for about 15 to 20 installations. The projects will be selected based, in part, on their ability to educate the public about solar energy.
The deadline for organizations or governments to apply is March 1. Westar is partnering with the EPA and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Application information can be found here.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don't know if they actually broke into the Rock Chalk chant, but a pair of Lawrence city commissioners recently won a statewide award for their support of the city's new recreation center at the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. Mayor Mike Dever and City Commissioner Bob Schumm were awarded the Distinguished Elected Official Award from the Kansas Recreation and Park Association. They served as the lead commissioners on the project, which will involve the city spending $22.5 million to build a 181,000-square-foot recreation center and related infrastructure for the adjacent privately owned sports park that will be leased to Kansas University.
• If you haven't driven by the construction site of the Lawrence Public Library expansion at Seventh and Vermont streets, you ought to. It is becoming easier to see what the new exterior will look like. The project is scheduled to be completed this summer, and that means it is time to start picking out the furnishings. City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will approve the first of several furniture contracts. In case you are wondering, it looks like it will cost about $570,000 for furniture. The amount was included as part of the library's $18 million budget.
The only question now is whether I become the next Picasso or the next Van Gogh. (My wife says I already remind her of Van Gogh. I only hear about half of what she says.) But surely my art skills are destined to soar because Lawrence soon will have a new business that combines making art and drinking liquor.
Painted Kanvas, a new paint party studio and bar, is set to open this spring in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. But perhaps you are like me and think that when you combine paint and liquor, it usually either leads to a free mug shot courtesy of Douglas County or an awkward conversation about how a self-portrait of your derriere ended up on the living room wall.
But Painted Kanvas co-owner Chelsea Rose told me this concept is different. Area artists will lead patrons of the establishment in creating a painting over the course of about two to three hours. Patrons will be able to purchase fine Kansas wines and beers and other beverages while they create their own personal masterpiece.
"They don't have to have ever picked up a paint brush or a drawing pencil," said Rose, who co-owns the business with Dan Rose. "The artist will go stroke by stroke, and there will be plenty of time for the artist to assist people individually."
Plans call for all the artists to be local, and Rose already has begun to select some of the artwork that will be created. The business has a website where its patrons can see what painting is scheduled to be taught on any particular night.
Rose said current plans call for patrons to pay a $35 to $40 instruction fee, depending on the painting, plus whatever drinks people choose to purchase. Patrons get to keep the artwork they create.
The concept of guided art parties has begun to take off in many cities, including Kansas City and even Topeka. But Rose said Painted Kanvas — the 'K' is to emphasize the Kansas theme of the business — will be unique because it has a liquor license. Many other art party establishments don't serve liquor but instead allow you to bring your own bottle of wine, for instance.
"I went to one of the places in Kansas City, and I just thought Lawrence would eat this up," Rose said.
The business plans to be open Tuesday through Saturday for events open to the public, but Rose said she also wants to host a variety of themed events and private parties. She said she will work to attract corporate outings, and also can arrange for a kid-friendly painting for a birthday party, for example. Catering services also can be arranged, she said.
An opening date hasn't been set, but construction is underway. Rose said she hopes to have the business open sometime in March.
That's fine. That will give me time to practice — and also to scrub on this living room wall.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Even when there is not painting involved, Lawrence loves a good gathering built around beer. As I reported earlier this week, tickets for the third annual Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition in downtown Lawrence went on sale Wednesday evening. Last year, tickets for the event sold out in about 45 minutes. But organizers made some changes to the event for this year, including adding a second session, which essentially doubled the number of tickets available. Event organizers recently provided me an update on ticket sales: This year they sold out in 40 minutes. (To clarify, that's how long it took to sell out online, where the majority of the tickets were available. There may be a ticket or two left at one of the several breweries in the area selling tickets. No guarantees on that, but the worst that happens is you end up at a brewery.)
There are worse problems to have than your event selling out within a matter of minutes, but expo organizer Chuck Magerl of Free State Brewery said organizers are looking for ways to make it easier to buy tickets in the future.
• UPDATE: Make what you will of this, but a WOW spokeswoman got back in touch with me this afternoon and said the paid legal notice that ran in yesterday's paper was premature on WOW's part. "WOW is negotiating retransmission renewal with KSNT's owner," spokeswoman Erica Stull told me in an e-mail. Negotiations are ongoing." So, it sounds like an issue to keep an eye on, but not one that has been settled.
It looks like Lawrence residents soon will have one less opportunity to keep up on our friends in Topeka. A small notice appeared in the classified section of the Journal-World yesterday announcing that in March WOW will stop carrying the Topeka NBC affiliate KSNT on the cable system. (To be clear, the notice doesn't say who is announcing this — WOW, KSNT or some other party — but I'm reaching out to the officials at WOW.) KSNT is channel 8 and channel 208 on the cable dial. That will leave Kansas City's KSHB — channel 14 and 214 on the cable dial — as the only NBC affiliate on WOW's system. It also means that of the three big network affiliates in Topeka, only the CBS affiliate of WIBW remains on the Lawrence cable system.(Topeka's PBS station is also on the system.) I haven't yet received word from WOW on the reasons behind the pending change, but nationally cable operators and local television stations have sparred frequently over the fees cable operators pay the stations for the right to carry the stations on their systems. According to the notice, March 4 is set to be the last day for KSNT on the WOW system. It is worth noting, though, that it has been announced before that KSNT was going to be dropped from the system, and then negotiations led to it staying on the system. So, we'll see what happens. I'll let you know when I hear more.
More LJWorld City Coverage
I have just come to expect that it will happen on every home improvement project: last-minute changes dictated by a higher power. You know, a potpourri station here, a chocolate fountain there, a 30-by-40 walk-in shoe vault around the corner. Those sorts of things. But I didn't know that the people who build home improvement stores have to deal with such last-minute tweaks as well.
But that's what is going on currently with plans for a Menards home improvement store near 31st and Iowa streets. (Put your marshmallows away. I didn't mean Menards is adding a chocolate fountain.) But designers are still making some changes to the project, which is one of the reasons construction hasn't yet started on the site that is just east of Home Depot.
Bottomline: There's still not a firm date for when the project will start construction.
At the moment, it appears most of the major changes are coming from Menards officials, not from city planners who are reviewing the site plan for the store. The biggest change is the store's outdoor storage yard is being reduced by more than half. That seems significant because, unlike Home Depot, Menards uses a covered, outdoor storage area to house most of its lumber and other building materials. Menards is proposing to reduce the size of the storage yard to 40,000 square feet, down from the original plan of 90,000 square feet.
I know that is going to create worry among some that Lawrence is going to get a smaller-than-average Menards store. There are people who feel like the Home Depot store is undersized compared with what's available in Topeka and Kansas City, and they don't want that to happen with Menards. It is worth noting that the size of the actual building hasn't changed, only the size of the storage yard.
I'm hoping to get someone from Menards to talk to me about what the change in size means for the store's future offerings. It is possible, though, that it may not be that big of a deal. Menards is moving its outdoor storage yard from the east side of its building to the west side of the building. That changes the traffic flow significantly and the amount of pavement needed to accommodate the traffic. People who have looked at the plans more closely than I have said it appears that the actual amount of area to store goods is about the same as originally proposed, but the amount of pavement to accommodate vehicles has shrunk considerably.
What's more interesting is what Menards is proposing to do with that saved space. As we hinted in November, Menards is trying to increase the size of one of its six outlying retail lots that will surround the home improvement center. The latest plans call for the retail lot immediately east of the Menards store to grow to 5 acres, up from about 1 acre. Obviously, that would allow for a significantly larger retailer to locate on the site.
What would be interesting to know is if Menards has somebody on the hook for the site, or if it is just speculating that this will make it more attractive to users in the future. Under the new configuration, two of the six proposed lots are pretty decent size. In addition to the one just east of the Menards store, there is an 8-acre lot right along 31st Street. It is commonly known as the Snodgrass tract, which was the single-family home that was just east of the Gaslight Mobile Home Village. It appears it can accommodate a decent size store. It has been a little tough to determine how big of a retailer could locate on either lot because there are some floodplain areas that make portions of the property tough to build on. But I've had some people in the business tell me that a 20,000 to 30,000 square-foot building may be possible on the site.
There are a host of major national retailers that occupy 20,000 to 30,000 square-foot buildings. But I haven't heard much talk of who may be interested in locating at the Menards project. As far as major retail speculation goes, the most recent retail rumbling I've heard is that PetSmart may have an interest in a Lawrence location. I certainly don't have anything confirmed on that, but it is worth noting that PetSmart and Dick's Sporting Goods have located next to each other in quite a few developments around the country. Dick's, of course, is under construction in the former Sears building at 27th and Iowa. The building has space for two more retail tenants, plus an outlying restaurant lot. As we reported in December, Chick-fil-A has made some inquiries about that site, but no deal has been struck yet.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you have taken on the awesome task of keeping up with the city's Mexican food restaurant scene, get out your scorecards. There are changes on two fronts. The El Mezcal at 804 Iowa St. is gone, and a Mexican restaurant called Pueblo has replaced it. Pueblo is owned by a longtime employee of El Mezcal, which has operated Mexican restaurants throughout the area. Felipe Avila had worked in various jobs for El Mezcal for about 15 years, and jumped at the chance to buy the 804 location when El Mezcal decided to sell recently. The menu at the location is very similar to what El Mezcal offered, but Avila said he plans to put his own touches on the business as well.
"Lawrence does love Mexican food," Avila told me. "There are probably too many places in town, but I really like this location, and we will offer good food and good service."
West Lawrence also is getting in on the act of new Mexican restaurants. A sign is up for El Sol in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. If you remember, an El Mezcal used to operate in that shopping center, but it closed several months ago. I've reached out to the folks at El Sol and will report back when I hear more. There is an El Sol Mexican restaurant in Ottawa, although I'm not certain the two are connected.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Tickets for popular downtown Lawrence beer expo to go on sale today; city to delay vote on rental licensing program
Topeka may be the capital of the state, but it is becoming clearer each year that Lawrence is the Kansas capital of beer.
Sorry Topeka. We're not trading.
If you don't believe me, just watch what happens in the next few hours. Today is the day that craft beer lovers from around the region have circled, and it is not just because it is Kansas Day. No, today — at 6 p.m. — is when tickets go on sale for the third annual Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition. (But happy Kansas Day, by the way.)
The expo is set for March 8 at Abe & Jake's Landing at Sixth and New Hampshire streets. Last year it was estimated that tickets for the event sold out in about 45 minutes. But organizers have made a change this year that they hope will make it easier for more people to attend. The expo will hold two sessions on Saturday. Session No. 1 will last from noon to 3 p.m. Session No. 2 will last from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
But you probably still shouldn't dally in getting your tickets, which are $30 per person. They will be available online at ksbrewfest.com or at a few locations. In Lawrence, the only locations are at Free State Brewery and at 23rd Street Brewery. If you are in Topeka, they are available at the Blind Tiger Brewery. If you are in the Kansas City area, they are available at 75th Street Brewery and Bacchus & Barleycorn. If you are in Manhattan, well, you probably will need a lot more beer than we can legally offer you to make that experience bearable. (Tickets are available at the Little Apple Brewery, however.)
A portion of ticket sales again will be donated to the nonprofit Downtown Lawrence Inc.
As for the beer, Abe & Jake's again will be packed with brewers. The current list of brewers attending stands at 35. It, of course, includes Free State and 23rd Street here in Lawrence. It also includes heavyweights such as Boulevard, Odell, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada. And it includes a whole bunch of ones that just sound like fun: Left Hand Brewing, Crazy Eye Brewing, Peace Tree Brewing and Cinder Block Brewery. See the full list here.
If you are not familiar with how the expo works, your ticket gets you access to sample brews from all the different vendors, and it also is your chance to talk with the brewers about their craft.
Craft beer expos have become a big deal in the world of event-based tourism, and it will be interesting to watch how this one grows. Lawrence is well-positioned, it seems, to have one of the more successful beer expos in the country. Free State Brewery founder Chuck Magerl is extremely well-respected nationwide in the craft beer industry and has developed a ton of contacts in that world. Magerl is one of the organizers of the expo and has thrown his full support behind it. Lawrence-based Grandstand Sportswear and Glassware is the major supplier of glass growlers for the craft brewing industry worldwide. And in Kansas City, Boulevard Brewery is certainly now well-funded after it was purchased by Belgian brewer Duvel Moortgat. It is well-known the Belgians have beer money coming out of their lederhosen. (I know lederhosen is German, but when you have as much money as the Belgians, you can afford to buy imported breeches.)
Lawrence's downtown and the unique venue of Abe & Jake's along the Kansas River also could help set the expo apart from others in the region. The fact that the event has expanded to two sessions this year is significant. It will be fun to watch what expansions may take place in the future.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe we should make some type of artwork to express our love of beer in Lawrence. I know what we could use for material: beer bottles. A new report from City Hall indicates we have plenty of them. For 2013, area residents recycled 1,197 tons of glass through the Ripple Glass recycling bins that are located across the city. That, according to city calculations, is the equivalent of 4.7 million bottles. Now, I'm not saying all of them are beer bottles, but if you have ever stuck your head in one of those recycling bins (don't leave it in there very long, by the way), you'll have to admit a lot of them are beer bottles.
So, as I tell my accountant this time of year, let's have some fun with math. The latest Census estimate has Lawrence's population at 89,512, and, yes, that includes students. So 4.7 million bottles would equal 52.5 bottles per year for every man, woman and child in the city. The Census estimates that the population above 18 years old in Lawrence is 73,847. (I know the drinking age is still 21, but somehow I think we'll still be scientifically valid by using over 18 years of age.) That equates to 63 bottles of beer per year for every person over 18 years old. In other words, about one and a quarter beers per week.
That sounds about right — if I am an extremely naive parent who wants to believe their university students spend about 98 percent of all their time at the library.
No, what this little math exercise has proved to me is that there is still a lot of beer bottles that get thrown in the trash. As a reminder, the city's curbside recycling program — which will begin in October — will accept glass. It will be interesting to see what those numbers are, because as I think I have mentioned, Lawrence really likes beer.
• It is less clear whether Lawrence likes the idea of a new rental licensing and inspection program. As we have been reporting for months, the city is seriously considering an inspection program that would cover the entire city, instead of just the single family rental units that get periodic inspections.
Well, there is news on that front. A key vote on the program was scheduled for next week's City Commission meeting, but that has now been postponed. City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer says he wants more data about the city's current rental inspection program before he's ready to cast a vote. A new date for the vote hasn't yet been set, but I know some commissioners will push for it to be within a month.
Farmer has said people shouldn't take his request for a delay as a sign that he is withdrawing his support for the program. But it is worth noting that the program doesn't appear to have an abundance of votes on the City Commission. Mayor Mike Dever and Commissioner Mike Amyx both have expressed various concerns over how the program would be structured. I hope to bring you more on this new development later today.