Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”

Former city commissioner seeking large tax rebate for proposed downtown project

A familiar face at Lawrence City Hall may end up being the test case for new thinking about tax breaks for downtown residential projects. Former City Commissioner Bob Schumm has confirmed to me that he’s filed a request for tax breaks for a multi-story office/condo project he hopes to build on Vermont Street.

We’ve reported multiple times that Schumm has filed plans to build a five-story building on a pair of vacant lots in the 800 block of Vermont Street, just south of the old Headmasters salon building. Plans call for a ground floor of office space, and Schumm says he has a tentative deal for a bank to be the anchor tenant of that space. The second floor would house about 30 small, high-tech office spaces. The remaining floors would consist of 11 condos that Schumm would sell, and one top floor living space he plans to keep for himself.

Plans also call for 22 underground parking spaces. Schumm has said the underground parking garage likely would require him to seek some financial incentives from City Hall. Well, that incentive request has now been filed.

Courtesy: Hernly Associates

Courtesy: Hernly Associates by Chad Lawhorn

Schumm is seeking 10 years' worth of tax rebates under the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. The first five years would include an 85 percent tax rebate on the new tax value added to the property as a result of the project. In the final five years, the tax rebate would shrink to 50 percent. Schumm also is requesting industrial revenue bonds, which would allow him to receive an exemption from paying sales tax on about $2.8 million worth of construction materials for the project.

The request comes at an interesting time. City commissioners are considering a host of changes to the policies that govern financial incentives, especially those offered to residential projects. The city is seeking to draw a brighter line that it won’t offer tax breaks greater than 50 percent for residential projects. The commission is also considering a provision that would require such projects to have at least 10 percent of its units be rent-controlled to serve as affordable housing units.

That new policy isn’t in place currently, so technically Schumm’s project doesn’t have to meet the provisions. But that’s really just a technicality. Approving or rejecting a tax incentive is entirely discretionary on the part of the commission. Commissioners can set the amount of the tax incentive and the terms however a majority of them choose.

So, it will be interesting to see what type of incentive package this commission thinks a major downtown development should receive. Most of the other downtown development projects that have received incentives were approved by the previous city commission.

Schumm says his project has a strong argument for public incentives. It can be summed up in one word: Parking. Schumm says he has received bids for the underground parking garage. They have come in at about $1.1 million for the 22 spaces of parking. Schumm says it is clear to him that he can’t pass along the cost of the parking spaces — about $52,000 a stall — to the owners of the condos. In the Lawrence real estate market, people simply don’t pay that much for parking, he said.

“The thing is, nobody wants to pay for parking,” Schumm said. “And in downtown, there is no requirement to provide parking, but the city wants you to provide parking.”

That is where things get really interesting. Schumm is correct that downtown zoning does not require projects to provide any off-street parking. The city decades ago — like many cities — decided public parking spaces would serve downtown.

But downtown has changed over the years, and the city is urging more residential projects in downtown. As more people live in downtown, more of a strain gets put on the public parking supply. Developers have said they they’re willing to put in in their own private, below-ground parking garages to accommodate some of the new parking demand they are creating. But they often say they can’t put in the parking and still have a financially-viable project without some assistance from the city.

That’s where this project stands. Schumm knows the drill well. He’s been a downtown businessman since the 1970s, and until he lost his re-election bid last year, he was one of the longer serving city commissioners in the community.

Bob Schumm

Bob Schumm by Richard Gwin

Schumm says he thinks he has a strong case to get the incentives, but if he doesn’t, the project could still proceed under a different path. He could change the development from one that has condos to one that has apartments. By doing that, he thinks he could eliminate the below-ground parking garage. In other words, he’s confident that renters will be willing to hunt and peck for a parking spot in nearby public parking lots, but condo owners likely will expect a dedicated spot. Lawrence developer Doug Compton is already making that bet. He’s adding apartment units to the former Pachamamas building at Eighth and New Hampshire, and he’s not adding any private parking spaces.

“I’m confident he’s not going to have a problem renting those units,” Schumm said.

Schumm said he’s confident he could rent apartment units too. His proposed project is right across the street from a large, public parking lot, and it is only a short block away from the new public parking garage at the library. Schumm notes that as a downtown property owner, he’s already paying a special assessment on his property tax bill to pay for a portion of that new parking garage.

“I wouldn’t feel bad about using the garage,” Schumm said.

And perhaps he shouldn’t feel bad about it. Did commissioners build the garage only for certain types of parkers to use, such as library patrons or people using the nearby municipal swimming pool? I’m not sure that they did. But parking is in high demand at times in downtown. If residents of downtown are taking larger amounts of public parking, that will make it more difficult for visitors to find parking, and that could have ramifications.

That’s the type of tradeoff that commissioners have to weigh.

As for the affordable housing component, Schumm said his project doesn’t have any plans to set aside units for affordable housing stock. He noted most of the City Hall talk with affordable housing has been focused on rental units, and his project doesn’t call for any rentals. He said if such a requirement is put on his project, he’ll try to meet it. But he said it probably would require a greater incentive in order for the project to pencil out. As it is currently planned, Schumm said the condo units are projected to be marketed at $275 per square foot, or about $275,000 for a 1,000 square foot condo.

Schumm has been following this closely. He has even went up to Iowa City, where new City Manager Tom Markus came from. He’s talked to developers up there, and quickly learned that developers in Iowa City had figured out how to make a similar affordable housing requirement work because they received large incentive packages, often times significantly larger than what has been offered in Lawrence.

I think that is a point that hasn’t quite got full discussion yet in Lawrence: If Lawrence wants to require affordable housing in projects, does it need to increase the amount of incentives it has historically offered?

For those of you who have been following along with City Hall reporter Nikki Wentling’s series on affordable housing, there have been signs that Markus thinks that discussion needs to be had too.

“Our incentives packages tend to be pretty conservative [in Lawrence],” Markus said in an article earlier this month. So, that too will be interesting to watch.

Schumm said he is hoping that through all of this, city commissioners remember the importance of having people living in downtown. Schumm said he’s become convinced new living units in downtown are the primary factor that will protect downtown from increased competition of new development on the edge of the city.

“The pressure from development on the periphery will never end,” Schumm said. “The way to take care of downtown for the longterm is to ensure people are living here. Then you have people here 24 hours a day, and that will bring in the different mix of retailers to downtown.”

We’ll keep you updated on Schumm’s incentive request. City commissioners will receive it soon, but won’t act on it right away. It will go to city staff and also to the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee for a recommendation before it is voted on by city commissioners.

Reply 38 comments from Allan Dalton Richard Heckler Steven Gaudreau Carol Bowen Patricia Davis Kevin Kelly Armen Kurdian Janis Pool Bob Forer Cindy Wallace and 11 others

Cupcake and ice cream chain to open in west Lawrence; local economic development leader resigns

I’ve been wondering what that odd feeling is every time I drive by the small retail center near the northeast corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. Now, I know. It is my cholesterol count preparing for what’s to come. How’s this for a line up: Burgers and barbecue at Biggs, then next door frozen yogurt at Orange Leaf, and now I have word that next door to that will be cupcakes and ice cream, if you choose.

A sign has gone up announcing that Smallcakes Cupcakery and Creamery plans to open a shop in the Bauer Farm development near Sixth and Wakarusa.

Smallcakes is a national franchise, but it is based out of Kansas City. Its founder, Jeff Martin, found fame by appearing on the popular television show "Cupcake Wars." According to various web reports, he gained particular notoriety on one episode by forgetting to add the pumpkin to a pumpkin cupcake. (Don’t feel bad: I think without fail I have forgotten to add the broccoli to broccoli and cheese.)

He’s recovered from that mistake, though, and the chain has more than 100 locations across the U.S. and a few international ones too. The chain touts 18 different flavors of cupcakes baked fresh each day. The company more recently has gotten into the ice cream business. Its website says it has 15 different flavors of small-batch ice cream made on site. The ice cream largely takes cupcake recipes and turns them into ice cream. That means flavors such as red velvet, lemon drop, cookies and cream, salted caramel crunch, peanut butter cup and traditional flavors such as chocolate and strawberry.

No word yet on who the franchise owner will be, or when the shop plans to open. But renovation work is underway in the small space. In case you are trying to picture the location for the new store, it is in the spot previously occupied by Alterations by Sarah. No word on what has happened to that business, but perhaps it was just slightly ahead of its time. Soon, though, it may work. Burgers, frozen yogurt, cupcakes. It sure seems like the fourth door ought to be a place to have your clothes altered.

In other news and notes from around town:

There’s news of some changes at the Lawrence chamber of commerce. Larry McElwain, president and CEO of The Chamber, has sent out an email to some leaders of the chamber notifying them that Brady Pollington, the leader of The Chamber’s economic development efforts, has resigned, and is no longer on the staff. The note wished Pollington well on his future endeavors, but provided no other details. I put a call into Pollington this morning, but haven’t heard back from him.

Pollington served as the key staff member for both The Chamber and the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence and Douglas County. He was responsible for day-to-day operations of the economic development program, which is the primary point of contact for large businesses seeking to relocate or expand in the community. For instance, he was leading the efforts to find possible tenants for Lawrence VenturePark, the new business park on the eastern edge of the city. No word yet on a timeline for replacing Pollington.

Also, McElwain confirmed what we previously had reported was a strong likelihood: The chamber is moving its offices to a new downtown location. The chamber is finalizing a lease to move into the Hobbs Taylor Lofts building near Eighth and New Hampshire streets. My understanding is the organization will occupy ground-floor space in that multistory building. The chamber is currently located in second-floor space at Seventh and Vermont streets.

I’ve got a call into McElwain. I’ll let you know if I hear of more details.

Reply 1 comment from David Holroyd

One 23rd Street restaurant closes, another opens, with elaborate dishes including something called an Avocado Bomb

I’m no expert, but I do know that balance is important in the cultures of the Far East. That is why if I have a pound of rice on the right side of my plate, I always strive to have a pound of noodles on the left side. I don’t know if the same principle applies here, but I do have news of one longtime Lawrence Japanese restaurant closing, but a new one opening up right across the street.

First, the closing. DonDon, the Japanese rice and noodle bowl restaurant in the Louisiana Purchase Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana, is set to close at any time now. Ikuko Fox, the owner of the establishment, told me she is negotiating a closing a date with the landlord currently. She said the restaurant may stay open until the end of July to satisfy some lease requirements, but will close sooner, if possible.

The restaurant — which features Donburi (rice bowls) and Udon (noodle bowls) — has been in business for seven years. Fox said she’s closing the business simply because she is ready to retire.

No word yet on what may take its place in the strip center, which is between Mr. Goodcents and Panera.

Noodle and rice lovers, though, shouldn’t fret much. A new Japanese restaurant has opened across the street in The Malls Shopping Center.

New York sushi chef Vincent Yu has moved to Lawrence and opened Nagoya Japanese Cuisine at 711 W. 23rd St. But if you think Japanese food has to be served in a bowl, think again. The restaurant is looking to make a name for itself with some visually stunning dishes. Take a look at some of these photos that the restaurant provided me during a brief visit recently.

That’s something called an Avocado Bomb, which I once tried to use as an excuse for why guacamole ended up on the kitchen ceiling. This is a different dish though. It features spicy crabmeat, mango, cucumber and other ingredients wrapped in thin avocado with hot sauce.

If you are truly international, like I am, you sometimes mix your Japanese with your French, as in filet mignon. Here’s a teriyaki version that is on the menu.

Also, if you are like me and look wonderful in a ship captain’s hat and can effortlessly work the word “dinghy” into any conversation, check this dish out. It is called the Love Boat, and features eight pieces of sushi, nine pieces of sashimi — thinly sliced raw fish — and a couple of Japanese rolls.

And finally here is a look at a variety of sushi rolls. The restaurant has more than 40 different rolls, and I apologize for not having the names of all these. (I got distracted and was trying to hire a crew for my Love Boat.)

In addition to the sushi and sashimi, the restaurant also offers multiple dishes for those who aren’t into that style of food. Those include multiple teriyaki and hibachi versions of chicken, steak, shrimp and salmon. Also on the menu are a variety of soups, noodle and fried rice dishes.

Yu said he previously worked at several sushi and Japanese restaurants in New York City, but this is his first venture at owning his own restaurant. He is running the restaurant with his family, who on the day that I was there also served as his translator.

“I came to this town and I just really liked Lawrence,” Yu said of his decision to open the restaurant.

For those of you trying to picture where the restaurant is located, it is next to the Westlake Ace Hardware store in the spot that for many years housed the Royal Peking Chinese restaurant.

Reply 9 comments from Megan Tugman Tim Quest Bill McGovern Cindy Wallace Chase Blackwood Russell Fryberger Kevin Kelly

New Italian/Mexican restaurant coming to Lawrence; opening date set for Popeyes fried chicken

Think of the possibilities: tacos with breadsticks and marinara; chicken parmesan with chips and salsa. I know it sounds like an impossible dream, a world where you can have your cake and eat it too (maybe with queso dip,) but I assure you it is not. Instead, it is Lawrence's newest restaurant concept.

The word is out that the old El Mezcal restaurant near 23rd and Iowa streets soon will be Vecinos Italian & Mexican Cuisine.

“You can get lasagna with a side of beans and rice, if you want,” said Kevin Jones, the chef and one of the owners of the new venture.

I had not thought of that one, and now I won’t be able to sleep. Understand, though, you don’t have to mix and match your Italian and Mexican cuisines. It is an option, but perhaps a more likely scenario is you want Mexican food, while someone else at your table wants Italian. Jones said the concept has been well-received with the people he’s shared it with.

“A lot of people tell me that those are their absolutely two favorite types of food,” Jones said. (They are certainly two of my top four. Free and plentiful also make the list.)

The concept isn’t unprecedented. Downtown Eudora long has been home to a unique Chinese/Mexican restaurant. And, of course, I can’t ever forget Furr's Cafeteria, where you could spend hours at an all-you-can-eat buffet loading your plates full of spaghetti and mashed potatoes, fried chicken and enchiladas and other such combinations. You know, the El Mezcal site is just one lot east of where Furr’s used to stand. My heart gets a funny tingle every time I think about Furr's. (My doctor’s given me pills for it.)

Remodeling work is well underway on the old El Mezcal location. Jones said he hopes to have the restaurant open sometime in June.

Jones’ two partners in the restaurant are members of the family of that operated some of the El Mezcal restaurants. (There were lots of El Mezcals, operated by many different people.) But Jones said the Mexican food won’t be a copy of the El Mezcal dishes, although the salsa and queso dip may be similar recipes. The other dishes, though, will have more of an authentic Mexican flavor, Jones said.

What does that mean? Well, the food may be a bit spicier than you find at other Americanized Mexican restaurants, Jones said.

“Flavor-wise, it is bolder, I think,” said Jones, who has been working in the restaurant industry for more than 30 years. “In America, they tone the dishes down a bit. It won’t be so spicy that you can’t eat it, but we are going to use more spices.”

As for the Italian side of the menu, Jones said he grew up in New Jersey where there was seemingly an Italian restaurant on every corner. He said he has been surprised at how few Italian restaurants there are in Lawrence. He said the Italian menu will include traditional favorites, such as homemade meatballs, spaghetti, lasagna, chicken parmesan, multiple fettuccine dishes, an antipasto plate and tiramisu. (Tacos and tiramisu? You ought to try it for the alliteration alone.)

In other news and notes from around town:

• Call it a fried chicken false alarm. Perhaps you were like me and noticed a lot of activity at the new Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen fried chicken restaurant near 26th and Iowa streets in recent days. Perhaps you bought a new pair of stretchy pants, and broke out your best Cajun accent for the occasion. If so, you were just a tad early. The restaurant was undergoing training, but wasn’t open to the public, an employee there told me. But an employee at the restaurant told me the restaurant does have an opening date: May 23, which is also known as a week from today. Whether that is an opening date for the entire public or a special sneak peek party, I'm not sure. But either way, an opening is imminent.

So, put the stretchy pants away for just a few days, although I think it is safe to keep the Cajun accent.

Reply 6 comments from Richard Andrade Bob Forer Tom Thomson Drew Jarrett Bill McGovern

Topeka-based bank opening branch in downtown Lawrence; city’s rental inspection program operating at a deficit, but finding lots of violations

I know I’ve tagged along on a few downtown shopping trips where it would be useful to have a bank on every block. Well, we’re getting a bit closer to that in downtown Lawrence. A Topeka-based bank is opening its first Lawrence branch, and it has chosen a Massachusetts Street storefront to house the facility.

Silver Lake Bank has signed a deal to locate at 643 Massachusetts Street, which previously housed a branch of Meritrust Credit Union. Minor renovation work is already underway, and a bank official told me the branch is scheduled to be open this summer.

Silver Lake Bank has had a presence in Lawrence for the last few years, but hasn’t actually had an office or branch here.

“I’ve been working out of my car and going to the customer,” said Michelle Fales, vice president and business development officer for Silver Lake Bank. “It has gotten to the point where we need an office. They may want to do a loan with us, but they don’t want to bring a deposit to us if we don’t have a location in Lawrence.”

The downtown branch will be a full-service branch, meaning it will make loans, take deposits and offer a range of other banking services. Fales said plans call for seven employees to work at the branch.

Silver Lake Bank is a family-owned bank, rather than part of a large bank holding company. The bank has its roots in Silver Lake, a small community north of Topeka. The bank still has its Silver Lake branch, but is now based in Topeka and has three branches there. The bank is led by Patrick Gideon, who is president and CEO and is part of the family ownership group. Gideon has been with the bank since 1981 after graduating from Kansas University.

Fales said Gideon’s ties to Lawrence have made him familiar with the Lawrence banking market.

“The Lawrence market is one he has ventured into a little bit already,” Fales said. “He saw the potential for additional growth, and believed we could fill a niche.”

Fales said residential lending is a big part of the bank’s strategy. She said she has done quite a bit of lending for homebuilders that build homes on speculation. She also said the bank is trying to fill a niche of making loans for east side home renovation projects.

“Where I’m really keeping busy is in East Lawrence with people who are buying older homes on the east side and rehabbing them for their personal residences,” Fales said. “I have a lot going on over there and really love those type of projects.”

It is interesting to see another bank coming to Lawrence. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was difficult to keep up with all the banks that were establishing locations in Lawrence. That trend slowed significantly as the housing market also slowed. Not that this deal is the start of a new trend necessarily, but the housing market will be interesting to watch.

Making loans for spec houses means that Fales watches the market fairly closely. She said there certainly are signs that builders may need to increase their pace of construction. She noted that the reports she sees shows that the inventory of homes in the $175,000 to $200,000 price point now stands at just 1.3 months worth of supply. At less than $150,000, it is less than a month’s worth supply.

“We feel real good at this point about the Lawrence market,” Fales said. “We do watch the market studies, and we’re constantly asking ourselves whether there is another bubble coming. But right now, we haven’t seen that. In certain price points, the inventory is very slim right now.”

In other news and notes from around town:

• Let’s shift gears and talk rentals, for a moment. An interesting report has just been released from City Hall about the city’s rental registration program. The city wrapped up its first full calendar year of the program at the end of 2015. That means the city has had a chance to look at a full year’s worth of revenue and expenses for the program, which is designed to register every rental in the community and inspect a sampling of rental units to ensure they are meeting life and safety codes.

The new report praises the improvements in living conditions that the inspections are creating, but the program did not cover its costs in 2015. The report notes that the program operated at about a $127,000 deficit in 2015. The program received about $326,000 in licensing and inspection fees, but had expenses of about $453,000.

The deficit isn’t necessarily surprising. There are many city services that don’t pay for themselves on a cash basis, but are deemed to be valuable because of the service they provide. But this is a program to keep an eye on. The rental registration and inspection program was approved by a split vote of the last City Commission. During the last City Commission elections, Commissioners Stuart Boley and Matthew Herbert both made comments that made you think they were a bit lukewarm about the idea. Certainly, some landlords also were unenthused about the program. I have not, however, heard as much concern from the landlord community as I had expected. Perhaps that concern is still there, but is not being expressed publicly. Regardless, I suspect the program’s deficit will get at least some talk during the upcoming budget session.

The report notes that revenues for the program are expected to increase in 2016 because about 700 new apartments are expected to come on line this year. That may increase some costs, but remember that the city only inspects a sampling of apartment projects but all apartments are required to pay the registration fee. So, as more apartments come on line, there is not a dollar-for-dollar increase in the costs needed to inspect those apartments.

The other factor to keep in mind is that the report did find that the inspection program is finding and correcting a lot of violations related to basic health and safety issues in rentals. Most of them are pretty easily fixed, but create a danger if left unfixed. Topping that list is smoke alarms that don’t work. The city conducted inspections of 975 rental units in 2015. The inspections found 655 smoke alarms that weren’t working properly. (Remember, most rental units have multiple smoke alarms.) Looking more broadly, about 60 percent of all units inspected had some type of problem found.

Here’s a look at the top violations found during the year:

— Smoke alarms: 655

— Electrical outlet problems with GFCI receptacles: 363

— Problems with electrical outlet covers: 133

— Window locks: 90

— Mechanical appliances: 84

— Combustion air problems: 62

— Handrails and guardrails: 54

— Plumbing fixtures: 52

— Egress windows: 48

— Electrical system hazards: 41

“Staff believes the program has yielded measurable, quantifiable statistical data that clearly demonstrates the program is achieving valuable results in the community,” the report states.

You can read the full report here. We’ll have more on the program in coming days. City Hall Reporter Nikki Wentling already has been checking in on the program, and will provide a more detailed report about what City Hall leaders have to say.

Reply 3 comments from Chad Lawhorn Ira Rott Julie Jacob

Lawrence industrial plant files plans for expansion; Lawrence No. 2 in the country for new college graduates, despite economy questions

There is a theory that cardboard boxes are a bellwether of the economy. Indeed, there was that time we had lots of boxes on Christmas morning, and then I briefly ended up living in a box after the credit card statement arrived. But today I have news of a more straightforward bellwether: A Lawrence manufacturer of cardboard boxes is expanding, which may be a positive economic sign on multiple fronts.

Lawrence is a big cardboard box town because of the Lawrence Paper Company. The manufacturing plant just north of the Kansas Turnpike is one of the pioneers in the cardboard box business. Now company officials have filed plans at City Hall to build an approximately $3 million expansion onto their cardboard box plant at 2801 Lakeview Road.

Justin Hill Jr., president of the Lawrence Paper Company, told me the approximately 40,000-square-foot expansion is designed to give the plant more capacity to store rolls of paper. Hill said there aren’t any current plans to add jobs at the plant, which employs about 200 people. But Hill said that could change in the future.

“We have had some inquiries from customers that would require us to add more space,” Hill said. “There is nothing definitive on that front, but it takes time to build the space. If we have the space, we may find a customer that will help us fill it. It is an investment in the future.”

That’s exactly the type of talk that local economic development leaders love to here. At 200 jobs, the company is a major employer, but more so than that, it is a company that has its headquarters and leadership based in Lawrence. The company sells a lot of cardboard boxes that leave the city limits, which means the money that pays for those boxes comes from somewhere else and gets deposited in Lawrence’s economy.

Hill is part of one of Lawrence’s more important industrial families. Justin Hill — along with his brother Stephen — is a great-grandson of J.D. Bowersock, who built an industrial empire along the Kansas River in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of the industrial complex is where Lawrence City Hall and the former Riverfront Mall is today, and was powered by the hydroelectric dam that still carries the Bowersock name.

The Lawrence Paper company was among those Bowersock businesses, and it went on to — at least in one way — change the look of American business forever. The Lawrence Paper Company is the firm that convinced the influential Ball Brothers — makers of the Mason jars — to use cardboard boxes instead of wooden crates to ship their fragile wares. If cardboard boxes were good enough for glass jars, surely they were good enough for almost anything else. And indeed, cardboard box use took off. Basketball and boxes — just two of Lawrence’s gifts to America.

In terms of today’s economy, Hill is in a bellwether business because companies usually start ordering more boxes when they see signs the economy is about to boom. Hill said he can’t report that a big boost in the economy is imminent.

“Business has been a little flat,” he said. “Nothing spectacular.”

As for the expansion project, the warehouse is proposed for an area that already has an existing concrete pad. The property also already has the proper zoning, so the project just needs some technical approvals from City Hall. Hill said he hopes the project will be completed by the end of the year. Once the project is completed, The Lawrence Paper Company will have a little more than 400,000 square feet of production and warehouse space under roof at its Lawrence facility.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Maybe those KU students who will graduate this weekend won’t need a cardboard box to pack up all their belongings. A new study ranks Lawrence as the second best small metro for job-seeking college graduates.

The American Institute for Economic Research ranks Lawrence as the No. 2 spot among all metro areas that have fewer than 250,000 people. This study appears to be a little bit different than some other studies that primarily focus on financial data — wages and such — to rank a community. The group said its rankings are based on “migration patterns and city characteristics from 2005 to 2014.” In other words, it looks at where well-educated, young professionals are moving, and apparently Lawrence is doing well in that category.

The study touts Lawrence’s “progressive politics” and its “indie music clubs,” and also says Lawrence has “maintained a free-thinking spirit.” But even though Lawrence ranked No. 2 on the list, there are some concerning words in the report. “Although over half of Lawrence’s population is highly educated, and its quality of life ranks high, the city does not have the most favorable economic conditions,” the study reports. “Rents are high for a small city, and average earnings are the second lowest on our list.”

In other words, I think it says Lawrence really excels in quality of life, but has not yet fully turned those quality of life advantages into economic advantages. That is not a new theme in Lawrence, but it is one that I expect will get significant discussion by community leaders.

One of Lawrence’s newer community leaders has particular reason to be proud of this latest list. Tom Markus, Lawrence’s new city manager, previously held that job in Iowa City. The institute ranked Iowa City as the No. 1 small metro for job-seeking college graduates. The study says Iowa City scores high on both quality-of-life and economic conditions.

“Among the smallest metros, Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, won with a growing technology corridor, and abundance of bike paths and city accessibility due to transit, low rents, lots of restaurants and bars, and a diverse population,” the study reports.

In general, the study said it found three large drivers that influence where young college graduates decide to land: 1. A strong economy is a lure; 2. Millennials want work-life balance and value things such as low commute times and green lifestyles; 3. Neighborhood diversity is important, including racial and ethnic diversity and communities that have a reputation for tolerance.

Here’s a look at how other regional communities ranked. The study broke communities into major metro areas of more than 2.5 million residents, midsize metros of 1 million to 2.5 million, small metros of 250,000 to 1 million, and smallest metros of less than 250,000.

— Denver: No. 4 on Major Metro list

— Austin, Texas: No. 2 on Midsize Metro list

— Kansas City: No. 8 on Midsize Metro list

— Oklahoma City: No. 19 on Midsize Metro list

— Lincoln, Neb.: No. 3 on Small Metro list

— Fort Collins, Colo.: No. 4 on Small Metro list

— Omaha, Neb.: No. 9 on Small Metro list

— Des Moines, Iowa: No. 11 on Small Metro list

— Colorado Springs: No 15 on Small Metro list

— Columbia, Mo.: No. 6 on Small Metro list

You can see the full study here.


Another Lawrence hotel undergoes major renovation; technical training center completes expansion

It is a big weekend for Lawrence hotels, and it sure looks like it is going to be a big year of change for the hotel industry. Yet another Lawrence hotel is undergoing a complete facelift and renovation.

The big weekend, of course, is KU’s graduation ceremony on Sunday. My kids already know I’m kicking them out of their rooms, so I can rent the space to giddy KU parents who may be having trouble finding a hotel room. (Don’t worry, there is a 1960s pup tent in the yard for the kids, and if it keeps raining, I’ll give them snorkels.)

One Lawrence hotel that doesn’t have as many rooms to offer is the Hampton Inn near Sixth and Rockledge. You have perhaps noticed some construction work at the site. The hotel is undergoing a complete renovation, and currently about half of the hotel’s 89 rooms are out of commission.

Derek Felch, general manager of the Hampton Inn, said the 20-year old hotel is getting a new facade, and every room will be getting new carpet, new furniture, more outlets and several other additions.

“The outside will have a totally different appearance, and basically everything in the rooms will too,” Felch said.

The renovation is part of a process the hotel is going through to be re-licensed as a Hampton Inn. The Hampton chain has a new initiative called “Forever Young” that requires Hampton hotels to revamp their look to include more modern furniture, more storage spaces for guests, an exterior that uses more LED lighting and other modern accents.

Renderings for the Lawrence project aren’t yet available, but here’s a look at some general renderings of the new style that Hampton is promoting. (Renderings courtesy of Hampton's website.)

I particularly like the one that highlights the saying “It’s a good day for a good day.” I try to promote that type of positivity early in the mornings at my house, and then I often find myself picking muffin out of my nose.

As for a timeline for the Hampton project, Felch said he expects work to last until late fall.

The Hampton project is just the latest Lawrence hotel project. Work is underway to convert the former Lawrence Holidome into a Doubletree by Hilton. That large hotel also is operating at less than full capacity this weekend due to the renovations. We’ve also reported that plans are in the works for a new hotel — perhaps a Fairfield Inn — near Sixth and Iowa streets, where the Ramada Inn used to be. Those projects are in addition to the new Marriott that has opened in the last year in downtown Lawrence. I also understand the SpringHill Suites by Marriott along the Kansas River in downtown has completed some renovations. I also hear at least one other hotel renovation may take place along south Iowa Street. I’ll let you know if that turns into reality.

Felch said the hotel business in Lawrence certainly is becoming more competitive.

“I think people see the rates on the weekends and see the demand for rooms on the weekends, and they think there is more room for other hotels in Lawrence,” Felch said. “I’m not sure I agree with that, but that is what is happening.”

Felch said weekend business has been good in Lawrence, but he said the market still struggles with filling rooms Sunday through Thursday night.

In other news and notes from around town:

• KU isn’t the only place where learning is happening in the community. The new vocational education center Peaslee Tech is continuing to expand. The vo-tech near 31st and Haskell is adding a new laboratory for a heating and cooling technician degree.

Peaslee Tech — which is a joint venture between area development groups, the city, the county and the chamber of commerce — is holding a ribbon cutting 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the school site at 2920 Haskell Ave. to unveil the new laboratory.

The new laboratory was primarily funded through a donation from the Smitty Belcher family. Belcher is the CEO of P1 Group Inc., a large mechanical, electrical and construction services firm that has a large office in Lawrence.

The size of the donation wasn’t disclosed.

Peaslee Tech officially opened its doors last fall, with about 150 students enrolling in technical training classes. The facility has had lab space for construction and manufacturing degrees, but lacked lab space for HVAC degrees.

The HVAC program is taught through a partnership with Neosho County Community College.

Reply 1 comment from Steven Gaudreau Richard Heckler

Downtown restaurant owners to open bistro in East Lawrence; city named one of best small college towns in America

Even though plans for my Magnum P.I. mustache got vetoed, I’m still working to solve the mystery of a new bistro that is now under construction in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District. Here are two new clues: The project involves a 33-foot long food truck and the owners of downtown Lawrence’s The Burger Stand restaurant.

Simon and Codi Bates, the owners of The Burger Stand at 803 Massachusetts St., told me they indeed have signed a lease to operate a new bistro in the small building that is just west of the Poehler Lofts building at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets.

We’ve reported multiple times that Tony Krsnich, who leads the group that has developed the Warehouse Arts District, wants to have a bistro in the small, historic stone building. But until now, we haven’t known who would operate the business.

804 and 806 Pennsylvania St. are shown in this photo from June 2014.

804 and 806 Pennsylvania St. are shown in this photo from June 2014. by Nick Krug

We still don’t know exactly what the new restaurant will include. Codi and Simon said they weren’t ready yet to announce a name for the project or to provide many details about the proposed menu. But one thing is clear: The bistro won’t be The Burger Stand East.

“We love burgers, but we also love other things too,” Codi said.

“We may put one burger on the menu, but no more than that,” Simon said. “We are friends with so many restaurant owners in downtown, and we don’t want to step on what other people are doing. It is going to be something that is different than what is offered currently.”

Codi said the menu will focus on “what we like to make for ourselves when we are home.” (I tried to get a loan for just such a concept once, but the banker said he didn’t think a restaurant that served sticks of butter dipped in sugar would pencil out.)

Simon said he’s reluctant to discuss details of the menu, in part, because he still has to figure out what can be made in a food truck. The stone building for the bistro is so small that it can’t accommodate a kitchen, so all food will be made from a food truck that is parked outside the bistro. Simon said a North Lawrence company currently is converting a 33-foot long U-Haul truck — the largest they could find — into a food truck. Simon, who is a classically trained chef who has worked in New York and Chicago, has never operated in a food truck before.

“We’re still a week away from getting the truck,” Simon said. “I really want to get in there and see what we can do with it.”

In addition to the food truck, the bistro also will have a coffee bar and pastries, Codi said. The plan is for the restaurant to offer a lot of grab-and-go options, especially for breakfast and lunch to serve the growing office crowd in the Warehouse Arts District.

The restaurant also will serve liquor, but both Simon and Codi said they are not looking to create a bar atmosphere for the business.

“First and foremost everyone is invited,” Simon said. “It will be a family-friendly place. We’re not looking at being a loud bar scene at all.”

Codi noted that she and Simon live in the neighborhood near the bistro. That is how they became interested in the project. She said they had watched as neighbors expressed concern that the bistro would become more of a bar than a restaurant. Codi said she and Simon started wondering what the project would look like if they became involved.

“We didn’t really need another project,” Codi said, “but we have 55 people on staff (at The Burger Stand) who are really talented. We feel like we can create another opportunity for some of our staff members.”

“We wanted something fun,” Simon said. “We love burgers and we really have become tied to that, but we also love to do different things. This is a passion project for us. We want to have fun with it, and we want it to be good for the neighborhood.”

The project does have to meet a city requirement that it make 55 percent or more of its sales from food rather than from alcohol sales. Codi said that wasn’t going to be a problem for the business.

As far as a timeline, interior demolition work on the building began this week. Codi and Simon are hoping for a late summer opening. I’ll let you know when I hear more details about the name and menu plans for the restaurant.

In other news and notes from around town:

• If you have felt a special aura around town the last few weeks, it probably is because Lawrence has received another high ranking as a great place. This one slipped up on me, but Lawrence has been voted the fifth best small college town in America by readers of USA Today.

The contest looked a communities of fewer than 100,000 people that also are home to a university or college. The article, which ran on USA Today’s 10 Best website, called Lawrence “an eclectic mix of residents — students, musicians and retirees.” It also said Lawrence was home to one of the top music scenes in the Midwest and touted the Free State Festival and the BuskerFest.

Lawrence finished just above Iowa City, Iowa — which is where new City Manager Tom Markus came from — and just behind Flagstaff, Ariz. Athens, Ohio — home to the University of Ohio — was top on the list. The list ended up having some towns that you don’t necessarily think of as college towns. Santa Fe, N.M., was on the list at No. 8, and Williamsburg, Va., was No. 3.

Williamsburg — which is home to the College of William & Mary — is best known as a tourist town with lots of Revolutionary War-era re-enactors in Colonial Williamsburg. I guess that makes sense. Nothing says you have a town full of smart people like funny hats and wool britches in July.

You can see the full list here.

Reply 7 comments from David Holroyd Steven Gaudreau Dave Greenbaum Richard Heckler Clara Westphal Jerome Bradley

Lawrence sales tax collections post big gains; numbers suggest new Menards may be adding big totals to city; fast food chain reopens on 23rd

There are new sales tax figures out that will make you wonder whether my wife finally gave me the PIN code for the ATM at the bank. Yes, for the second month in a row, retail sales totals in Lawrence have grown dramatically.

Lawrence sales tax collections grew by 8.4 percent during the most recent monthly reporting period. Most of those sales took place in February or early March. (It is a big-ticket time period: Boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolates, March Madness big-screen TVs, cranes to move both.)

Whatever the case, the 8.4 percent growth in sales tax collections was one of the larger growth rates in the state. This is the second month in a row that’s been the case for Lawrence. Last month’s sales tax report showed growth of 7.4 percent.

As a result, Lawrence’s sales tax growth is outpacing all of the other large retail communities in the state thus far in 2016. Here’s a look at year-to-date growth percentages for some of the state’s larger retail centers:

— Lawrence: up 4.2 percent

— Kansas City: down 0.1 percent

— Sedgwick County: up 1.5 percent

— Johnson County: up 0.6 percent

— Salina: down 3.8 percent

— Manhattan: down 0.7 percent

— Lenexa: down 11.8 percent

— Topeka: up 1.9 percent

— Overland Park: down 0.1 percent

— Olathe: up 3.2 percent

The numbers are good news for Lawrence’s budget. City Hall is projecting sales tax growth of 3.7 percent for the year. So, at 4.2 percent, sales tax collections are on pace to come in above projections. If Lawrence continues to have a couple more months where growth is above the 7 percent mark, sales taxes could come in well above projections.

That would be helpful, because as we have reported, the city’s 2016 budget is facing challenges in other areas. The city’s general fund — the fund that pays for many of the city’s largest services — is projected to spend about $990,000 more than it receives in revenue in 2016. City officials aren’t likely to let that happen, which would mean city departments would need to make some midyear spending cuts to get spending in line with revenues.

As for what is driving the increased amount of sales tax collections in Lawrence, city officials are still studying that. One factor appears to be greater sales of construction materials. Sales tax collections from sales of construction materials are up 26 percent compared with the same period a year ago, according to preliminary numbers from the city. (Those numbers are from last month’s report. The detailed figures for this month’s report haven’t yet been released.) The big change that has happened in the past 12 months has been the opening of Menards on 31st Street. Is Menards bringing in that much more in retail sales? Is the presence of the retailer cutting down on the number of shoppers that previously were traveling outside of Lawrence for some of their home improvement needs? Or, is there another explanation for the large increase?

I’m not sure, but it would be interesting to get a more definitive answer. It could be instructive as the city weighs other retail proposals that may come to town. There has been a lot of debate about whether a store like Menards actually brings new dollars to town or simply takes dollars from existing retailers. Perhaps sales tax figures could help shine some light on that important debate.

In other news and notes from around town:

• If you like square hamburgers, then perhaps you like misshapen American flags as well. Yes, I am pretty sure the Constitution says something about hamburgers should be round, but since I can’t quite find that reference, I will share news about Wendy’s, the largest purveyor of square hamburgers.

There had been concern in the comrade community that the Wendy’s on 23rd Street was going out of business, as it had been closed for several days. Well, no need to worry. The business reopened on Friday. An employee there told me the restaurant had to close for some emergency maintenance repairs. It looked like a new sewer or water line had to be installed at the property.

Reply 5 comments from Curtis Lange Zoe Flowers Steve Jacob Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Jake Davis

Plans filed for major mental health facility in eastern Lawrence; businesses fill new Warehouse Arts District building; work begins on new bistro

While government officials continue to work on plans for a multimillion dollar mental health crisis intervention center, a private company has filed plans for a major new mental health center that will be based in eastern Lawrence.

A private company that operates an inpatient mental health hospital in Olathe has filed plans at City Hall to open an outpatient mental health clinic at 1900 Delaware St. Cottonwood Springs Behavioral Health Hospital has been open since September, and the company said it has not taken it long to realize it needs to have an outpatient presence in Lawrence.

“We saw a huge need to have an outpatient clinic in Lawrence,” said Mark Russell, director of business development for Cottonwood Springs. “We saw a lot of people from Lawrence and Topeka using our services in Olathe.”

The company is a full-service mental health care provider, including drug and alcohol addictions, depression, personality disorders and other disorders. The Olathe facility has 48 of its planned 72 inpatient beds open, Russell said. He said the Lawrence facility will be a location where community members can drop in and receive free mental health assessments. If inpatient care is needed, Lawrence patients can be admitted to the Olathe facility.

The Lawrence facility, though, is expected to play a major role in outpatient treatment. Russell said Cottonwood Springs operates intensive outpatient programs that require some patients to come to the facility five days per week, often for multiple hours of the day.

“A lot of patients from Lawrence or Topeka don’t want to drive here (Olathe) every day,” he said.

Russell said the Lawrence facility will be staffed by a psychiatrist, who will serve as the facility’s medical director. The facility also will be staffed by a licensed master level therapist and four to five other employees. The Olathe hospital has a staff of about 80, he said.

He said Cottownood Springs, which is owned by Louisville-based Springstone, plans to make major investments in the Kansas City area. Russell said the company has seen the public sector struggle to meet mental health care needs.

“That is one of the main reasons we came into the Johnson County area,” Russell said. “The surveys we saw showed this area was in the top 25 in the country in terms of underutilized mental health services and beds.”

Plans call for about $45,000 worth of new construction at the building, which previously housed some of the state’s SRS services before that agency consolidated space in Lawrence. Russell said he hopes the facility can be operational in September.

It will be interesting to watch how this facility plays into the idea of a crisis intervention center that county officials currently are planning. As we have reported, Douglas County has hired a firm to begin planning and design work for a crisis intervention center that would provide some inpatient beds for community members that are in a mental health crisis. The crisis center is part of a larger county effort to expand the existing Douglas County Jail and also address concerns that people with mental health conditions not be unduly housed at the jail.

I didn’t get into any discussions with Russell about what, if any, role his company might be able to play in addressing some of those needs. But it seems likely that the county will face challenges in securing all the funding needed to expand the jail and build a crisis intervention center. Whether a partnership with a private provider can play a role will be an issue to perhaps watch.

In other news and notes from around town:

• I’ve talked a lot about new chicken places coming to town in the past several months. Well, add one more, but this one is different. It is not a restaurant but an office building.

As we reported in January, the developers of East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District filed plans for 10,000 square feet of offices at 832 Pennsylvania St. Well, that project is now completed and has a new name: The Orpington.

In case you aren’t up on your poultry breeds, developer Tony Krsnich explains that the Orpington is a beautiful breed of chicken. But why name a building after a chicken? History. The building at 832 Pennsylvania used to be a building that processed poultry long ago. For years it has informally been called The Poultry Building, and it also has been vacant for a good long time.

So, two things have now changed. The building has a new name, and it is no longer vacant. Krsnich said 15 of the 16 office spaces already have been leased. Companies including a salon, attorneys, engineers and tech companies have leased space in the building.

Krsnich said the project has come together very quickly and is further evidence that there is strong demand for office space that can accommodate businesses that are either small or in their startup stages. (Each office is about 200 square feet.) He said some of the tenants of the new building have moved from the Cider Gallery office incubator space that his company also owns and operates.

“This is exactly what we hoped to achieve when we did the Cider Gallery three years ago,” he said. “We are really trying to embrace entrepreneurship, and we think that is making a difference.”

The public can take a look at the completely renovated office building at a 4 p.m. open house on Friday.

• The Orpington project went quickly, but one that has not gone nearly as fast is a plan to add a bistro to the Warehouse Arts District. Krsnich has been working on that project for about three years, but he told me today he now has pulled a building permit for the project.

As we’ve previously reported, the business will be at 804 Pennsylvania St., adjacent to the multistory Poehler Lofts building. The bistro will be a bit unique in that it won’t have a kitchen. Instead, its food needs will be served by a food truck or a number of them. The bistro will have a bar too.

This former industrial duplex at 804 Pennsylvania St. in the Warehouse Arts District may soon become a bistro. But Lawrence city officials want significant restrictions on its operation.

This former industrial duplex at 804 Pennsylvania St. in the Warehouse Arts District may soon become a bistro. But Lawrence city officials want significant restrictions on its operation. by Peter Hancock

Krsnich said he couldn’t yet release all the details about who will be providing food service for the business. I’ll do some checking around on that, but previously several food trucks had publicly said they wanted to locate at the facility. Those have included Drasko’s Food Truck & Catering, KanBucha, Optimal Living, Torched Goodness, and Wilma’s Real Good Food. I’m not sure if they are all still in the project, but I’ll provide an update when I have one. (UPDATE: Add the folks who own The Burger Stand in downtown as foodies to keep an eye on with this project.)

Krsnich said he hopes to begin renovation work next week and would like to have the building open by late summer.

• A quick housekeeping note: Town Talk will be off Friday. If you have a tip for me, feel free to come out to the Douglas County Fairgrounds, where I will be parking cars for the antique auto swap meet that begins Friday and lasts through the weekend. I'll be the guy in the cowboy hat riding the hood of a car. At least that's what I fear.

Click here to see recent Town Talk columns

Reply 6 comments from William Perkins Michael Kort Clara Westphal Chad Lawhorn Richard Heckler Bill McGovern

More details on Briggs Auto expansion on south Iowa; nonprofits, eco devo groups facing new funding rules from City Hall

I’m not exactly sure what a “reconditioning facility” is, other than my wife says she’ll pay for me to go to one to see about my unibrow. Regardless, Briggs Automotive has filed plans to build a new reconditioning facility along south Iowa Street, and it may end up being the first sign of a more significant expansion for the Lawrence auto dealer.

I started telling you several months ago to keep an eye on a possible expansion of Briggs. The Manhattan-based car dealer bought the buildings at 2851 Iowa St. — which houses Breathe Oxygen & Medical Supply — and 2101 W. 28th Terrace, which used to house Jane Bateman Interiors until it moved to 27th and Iowa. When we reported the purchase in January, there was no word on what Briggs planned to do with the highly visible properties.

Well, the company has now filed plans for a reconditioning facility to locate in the 28th Terrace building. An engineer working on the project tells me a reconditioning facility is basically a big shop area where cars are cleaned and improved before they are sold.

Briggs is planning to make about $300,000 of improvements to the building, according to a site plan application filed with City Hall. Plans call for the former interior design store to be remodeled to accommodate seven automotive service bays, office space and a photo studio, presumably to photograph cars that are for sale. (Unless it is for the before and after on the unibrow.)

David Hamby, an engineer with Lawrence’s BG Consultants, said work is scheduled to begin as soon as city officials give the administrative approvals for the project, which could be any day.

The site will be worth keeping an eye on. This building is the smaller and less visible of the two that Briggs bought. Hamby confirmed that his company also is working on plans for the larger building that has frontage along Iowa Street, but he said he couldn’t yet provide details about that project.

The site is in between two existing car dealers: Laird Noller Hyundai and Jack Ellena Honda. The site seems a little small to house an entirely new dealership, so it makes a fellow wonder what Briggs has in mind.

At the moment, Breathe Oxygen Supply — which formerly was Advanced Homecare — is still located in the building. As we have reported, Breathe has signed a deal to relocate to 650 Congressional Drive in west Lawrence, in the building that is across the street from Wal-Mart. Plans call for the move to take place in late May or early June, so we might see more from Briggs then.

In other news and notes from around town:

• I mentioned earlier this week that I thought the City Hall budget process would be more interesting than normal to watch. Tuesday’s budget study session seemed to back that up. City Hall reporter Nikki Wentling has a good article about how budget makers already are starting to wave some red flags.

One group that may want to pay particular attention to the budget process this year is nonprofits. Late last month, City Hall officials began notifying nonprofits that there is going to be a revised process for many nonprofits to follow, if they want City Hall funding. And trust me, many nonprofits in Lawrence want City Hall funding.

Based on my reading, it looks like the city is going to look more broadly at the type of nonprofits that should receive funding, rather than focus on nonprofits that have a heavy emphasis on physical and mental health.

Specifically what the city has done is it has changed its application for social service agencies seeking general fund dollars. In the past, a city advisory board basically has made its recommendations about which agencies should receive funding based on five goals that are part of the Community Health Plan. Those goals are access to healthy foods, access to health services, mental health, physical activity, and poverty and jobs.

Now, the city is saying it wants the city’s Social Services Advisory Board to use the city’s overall community goals to determine funding recommendations. What are those community goals, you ask? Well, it's shocking that you don’t know them. I thought we all recited them when we went to bed at night: Win an NCAA basketball championship and win a football game. Wait, I’m told those are not the official goals. Honestly, the official goals are a little hard to find. There’s some specific wording that goes with the goals, but I’m not finding the spot online where they are listed. In general, the goals are to make improvements in the following areas: affordable housing; economic development; infrastructure; transit and nonmotorized transportation; public safety; and mental health.

As you can see, the community health goals and the communitywide goals align in some areas but not in others. I’m not sure where access to healthy foods, for example, fits into the communitywide goals. Actually, you could argue that access to health services — except mental health — doesn’t really fit into the communitywide goals. It makes you wonder if the city really has the communitywide goals it wants.

I find all this mildly interesting because it may be a sign that the new city manager intends to get the City Commission — and perhaps the community as a whole — more goal-oriented.

One other change worth noting: It appears city commissioners are going to have to make specific votes on how they want to fund specific nonprofits. That’s a little different from how it has worked in the past. Previously, the recommendations of the advisory board and city staff showed up in the city’s recommended budget. All commissioners had to do to approve those recommended funding levels was approve the city’s overall budget. Consequently, sometimes the funding for nonprofits got talked about by city commissioners, and other times not so much.

Now, city staff members are recommending that before the budget is ever crafted, city commissioners take a formal vote on how much money they want to provide nonprofits. This process will be used not only for the social service agencies — think Health Care Access, Ballard Center, Van Go Mobile Arts and many others — but also will be used for funding requests for economic development agencies. That means the Lawrence chamber of commerce, Downtown Lawrence Inc., the Bioscience and Technology Business Center and others.

Commissioners will be asked to vote yea or nay on whether they agree with the funding levels for those groups. That could be interesting to watch.

Any group seeking to get money from the city for 2017 can learn more about the process on Thursday, when the city will host an information meeting called City Budget 101 at 11 a.m. at City Hall.

Reply 2 comments from Larry Sturm Richard Heckler

Update on Texas Roadhouse, Planet Fitness and other south Iowa Street projects

Perhaps you are like me and the last few summers of roadwork have conditioned you to travel south Iowa Street only by drone. Well, if you haven’t been on the busy street for awhile, there are lots of changes happening along the roadway. We’ve reported on the projects in the past, but here’s an update on several:

— Yet another reason to get the spurs out of the closet: Construction has started on a new Texas Roadhouse restaurant. We reported in September that Texas Roadhouse had filed plans to build a new restaurant on the former site of Saints Pub + Patio near 23rd and Iowa street. Then the project became a bit like a Texas Longhorn football season: Much anticipation without much sign of progress. (Yes, it does take a certain amount of fortitude as a Jayhawk to make jokes about other football teams.) But construction work is now well underway. Here’s a look at the construction scene and also a rendering of what the finished product will be, according to plans filed with the city.

Courtesy: City of Lawrence

Courtesy: City of Lawrence by Chad Lawhorn

— Of course those are fried chicken crumbs in my whiskers. But now there’s a different brand of crumbs in there. Yes, Raising Cane’s has opened its restaurant at 2435 Iowa St. In case you have forgotten, the restaurant specializes in chicken fingers, french fries and some type of special dipping sauce. The restaurant had a crowd of folks waiting outside this morning as part of some promotion where a limited number of people get free chicken for a year, or something like that.

— We are equal opportunity here when it comes to fried chicken, so I am now obligated to provide you an update on Popeyes, which is building its first Lawrence location at 26th and Iowa streets. The exterior of the store looks pretty much complete, but I would say an opening is more than a few days away. It appears concrete for the parking lot hasn’t been poured yet.

— Let’s not forget about pizza. It's such an under appreciated food source in this university community. Well, a new pizza place has opened on south Iowa. As we reported in January, the pizza chain Pie Five planned to locate at 2500 Iowa St., which is the office building just north of the Applebee’s. Well, that renovation is complete, and the pizza shop opened on Friday. The restaurant’s calling card is that it will make a handmade pizza in five minutes.

— In between Popeyes and Pie Five is the Tower Plaza shopping center that houses First Watch and several other businesses. As we have reported, it was scheduled to receive a facelift. That facelift now is largely complete. The center does have a cleaner look to it these days. Look for one new restaurant to open in that center soon. The sandwich chain Which Wich has a sign in its window saying it is now hiring. A look in the window indicated most of the work on that new restaurant is largely complete.

— With all these new restaurants, I don’t know when we would ever find the time to go the gym, but work is progressing on the Planet Fitness facility that is going into the old Discovery Furniture building at 25th and Iowa streets.

Greg Henson, the managing partner for the gym, said the project is on track to open in mid-June. Henson said 40-flat screen TVs just arrived for the gym, and ultimately the 22,000 square-foot facility will have about 50 treadmills, 25 elliptical machines, 10 bikes, and other pieces of cardio and weight equipment. You perhaps have seen activity at the site that leads you to believe the facility open. It is not, although it has an office that is open for membership sales.

As for the forecast for summer roadwork on Iowa Street, we did have an update on that too. Construction work is underway near 27th and Iowa streets to replace a waterline. That work, which has one northbound lane closed near the intersection, is scheduled to last until June 12. The street then will fully reopen for a bit until a repaving project from 24th to 29th streets gets underway in July.

I hope the drone can carry the extra chicken weight.

Reply 5 comments from Jay RC Chris Jeter Charles L Bloss Jr Jake Davis Clara Westphal

Spending outpaces revenues for key City Hall fund in 2015, and is projected to do so in 2016; city’s hotel tax sees big growth

Unlike in Topeka, there have not been late-night meetings, tossing the legislative couch cushions for loose change, manipulation of voodoo dolls or other such generally accepted state governmental accounting practices going on at Lawrence City Hall. Nonetheless, there is some interesting City Hall budget news to report: There was some deficit spending that occurred at City Hall in 2015.

According to preliminary numbers, Lawrence spent nearly $220,000 more than it received in revenue for its general fund in 2015. The general fund is the main account the city uses to fund a majority of public services — everything from police and fire service to administrative services. What’s more significant is that the city is projected to spend about $890,000 more than it receives in revenue in 2016, according to the latest report.

So, what does that mean? How does the city spend more money than it receives? Easy. You and I keep cash in our freezers to use in emergencies and for unexpectedly good deals on leftover Easter candy. Well, the city has a really big freezer. It has something called a “fund balance,” which is basically just an accumulation of unspent money from prior years. (Evidently, the city doesn’t donate plasma to build its fund. Daddy gets mighty woozy during candy clearance season.)

The city’s fund balance account for its general fund was $12.9 million at the beginning of 2015. By dipping into it a bit, the amount fell to $12.7 million at the end of the year.

But as I previously mentioned, more interesting are the current projections for 2016. The city’s finance department is projecting the city will partake in deficit spending to the tune of $891,000 in 2016. That will cause the general fund balance to drop to $11.8 million. That is a significant drop because the city’s general fund balance would then amount to 14.8 percent of the city’s annual general fund expenditures. The city has a budget policy that says the fund balance shouldn’t fall below the 15 percent level. The policy notes that the city relies heavily on sales tax revenue, which can be volatile, so the policy aims to ensure the city has an adequate hedge against a downturn at all times.

It will be interesting to see how city commissioners craft their 2017 budget, and whether they make any midyear adjustments in 2016. The budget process for 2017 officially begins Tuesday with a City Hall study session on the budget. The city will pass a 2017 budget by August. This should be one of the more interesting budget sessions in quite some time at City Hall. (That’s kind of like saying prepare to watch a really good game of Monopoly, but still . . . ) This will be the first year in the 20 some years I’ve covered City Hall that we might see a major change in budgeting philosophy. New City Manager Tom Markus may have different ideas about how to craft budgets, different ideas on appropriate fund balances and different ideas on spending decisions. Of course, ultimately it will be city commissioners who make the final decisions, but they pay a city manager to give them guidance on such important matters.

The issue of how much Lawrence ought to keep in reserve may be one to keep a particular eye on. There certainly have been arguments on both sides of that issue. Some have said Lawrence has kept too much in reserve, while others have argued those reserve amounts have helped the city keep an excellent credit rating.

Spending more than it receives in a year isn't unheard of by the city, but it doesn't happen frequently. I believe the last time the situation existed in the city's general fund was 2011, and I don't think at any point in the last decade has the city done two years in a row of deficit spending.

City Hall reporter Nikki Wentling will be covering the budget process extensively this summer, and I’ll be chiming in periodically, in between plasma runs. In the meantime, here’s a look at some budget numbers from the city’s most recent report.

Note: All numbers for 2015 are preliminary, which means they haven’t been audited yet and may be subject to slight changes. (That’s what “preliminary” means at City Hall. I just wanted to clarify because it seems to mean something different at the Statehouse.)

— In 2015, the city received $76.1 million in general fund revenue, up $2.5 million or a 3.3 percent increase Expenses, though, increased by $3 million, or an increase of 4 percent. In case you are wondering, inflation — as measured by the Consumer Price Index — was less than 1 percent in 2015, but City Hall leaders would point out that the type of expenses government has and a consumer has are different. In other words, governmental inflation is probably something different from consumer inflation.

— Sales tax collections in the city increased by $1.3 million or 3.7 percent in 2015. Sales tax collections made up 47 percent of the city’s total general fund budget in 2015.

— Property tax collections in the city increased by $1.3 million or 8.3 percent in 2015. Property tax collections made up 22 percent of the city’s general fund budget.

— Franchise fees, which are a special tax that utilities pay for the use of city right-of-ways and such, dropped significantly in 2015. Total franchise fee revenue dropped $500,000 or 6.5 percent. Franchise fees made up about 9 percent of the city’s general fund budget. A mild winter caused franchise fees for natural gas to drop by about $200,000, as less gas sold means fewer franchise fees for the city. The amount of franchise fees the city collected from land-line telephones also plummeted by about $200,000.

— The idea of attracting more people to Lawrence hotels through Rock Chalk Park, new hotel construction, and other ventures does appear to be paying off. The city’s guest tax fund collected $1.6 million in 2015, which was an increase of 45 percent compared with 2014 totals. The guest tax fund now has a $1 million fund balance. It will be interesting to see how the city treats that new money. Will it continue to invest guest tax dollars only into tourism-related activities, or will it try to use that newfound money as a way to offset some weakness in the general fund?

— One other fund that is showing some weakness is the city’s recreation fund, which runs the recreation centers, classes and other types of activities. The fund had a great year in collecting fees from users — fee revenue grew by 17 percent. But expenses also grew. The fund spent about $110,000 more than it received in revenues in 2015. That marked at least the second year in a row that fund has had deficit spending. The fund, however, still has about $900,000 in reserve.

— The city’s water and wastewater fund — the department that runs the city water and sewer service — had a good year. Revenues for that fund, which has benefited from higher water and sewer rates, were up 5.5 percent. The fund received about $1.5 million more in revenue than it had in expenses in 2015. The fund has a very large fund balance of $22.3 million, in part because the water and sewer system is preparing for some major expenditures. Remember that a new sewage treatment plant is being built south of the Wakarusa River, and the city believes it has significant work to do to upgrade other water and sewer infrastructure.

— The city’s trash service also had a good year. Revenues grew by 3.4 percent, and the division had revenues that exceeded expenses by about $385,000.

— The city’s golf course did not have such a good year. Revenue at the city-owned Eagle Bend Golf Course fell by about 5.5 percent in 2015. The golf course also cut expenditures to try to match revenues, but ended up having expenses exceed revenues by about $32,000. The golf fund, though, still has about $200,000 in reserve.

Commissioners will begin discussing all things budget-related at a study session at 3 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

Reply 1 comment from Michael Kort

Plans filed for new microbrewery, food truck venture in Lawrence

Craft brewing operations have been known to take over a garage. (No, the scientists in the funny suits still haven’t determined why the paint is peeling off my F-150.) But now there are plans for a craft brewing operation to take over an entire lumberyard. Plans have been filed for a new microbrewery to locate in the former home of Lawrence Lumber on East 23rd Street.

An outfit called Lockwood Craft Brewing hopes to take over the approximately 5,000-square-foot building and the significant amount of outdoor space at 706 E. 23rd St. For those of you who don’t remember where the old Lawrence Lumber location is, you are either too new to town or have fallen off the ladder one too many times. The site is just west of 23rd and Haskell, just a couple of doors down from Lawrence Pawn and Jewelry.

Olathe resident Cory Johnston, who has a degree in milling and grain sciences but got into banking and real estate instead, has signed a deal to purchase the approximately 1.5 acre site along East 23rd Street. But first Johnston needs to win some city approvals, including rezoning the property from its current industrial category to a commercial retail category. That rezoning request has now been filed, and he’ll also have to file for a special use permit in the future.

If all goes according to plan, Johnston hopes to have the microbrewery opened sometime in late 2017. Johnston said there is significant work to do to install a 15-barrel brewing system that he plans to use for not only producing beer on site, but also producing beer to be sold in a few retail outlets in the Kansas City area.

In addition to housing he brewing equipment, the Lawrence site will have a taproom that will have four to five beers on tap at any given time. Johnston, who is in the process of hiring a master brewer, said he envisions both West Coast and East Coast IPAs, a traditional American pilsner, an American wheat beer with “some honey and botanicals,” and several speciality beers, including some that are called “sour beers.”

“I would say I’m somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to my beer, but everything I do I want it to be done to a high quality,” Johnston said.

The Lawrence site is large enough to allow for a couple of unique elements as well. Instead of having a kitchen inside the taproom, plans call for two pad sites that will house food trucks. Johnston envisions having several food truck operators that will serve at the establishment at various times.

Johnston said he’s also fascinated by the old three-sided storage areas that the lumberyard used to keep lumber out of the weather. He said he’s looking for a way to keep those units in place, and convert them into covered outdoor patio space.

“We could have a lot of really nice outdoor space,” Johnston said.

Johnston said he chose Lawrence for his first foray into the commercial brewing business — he’s been a home brewer for about a decade — because it is obvious that Lawrence appreciates the craft brewing industry. Plus he said the building is the right mix between industrial and commercial space on a high-traffic roadway.

The project still has several more approvals it needs before it can move forward — it will need both state and federal permits — but I’ll keep you updated as it moves along.

• I suspect this project may cause you to remember hearing something about a microbrewery in East Lawrence. Indeed, we reported in December that plans had been filed for a new brewery, restaurant and apartment building in the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence.

That venture is slated to be called the Lawrence Beer Company. I don’t have a full update for you on that project, but I did talk briefly with a partner in the development, and was told the venture still is moving forward. So, I’ll work to get you more information about that as well.

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School district seeks to buy large property along 23rd Street; parade of trash trucks through East Lawrence may end

Perhaps you have noticed the Journal-World recently reported the Lawrence school district is on the cusp of buying some property. As is often the case with governments, they are tight-lipped about property acquisition until such deals are ready to be finalized. But fear not, I rescued my Magnum P.I. shirt from the burn pile and did a little investigating. It sure appears the school district is set to buy a nearly 8-acre piece of property along 23rd Street near Haskell Indian Nations University.

A request was recently filed at Lawrence City Hall seeking to rezone the property at 711 E. 23rd St. that is currently owned by Douglas County. It is the site the county previously used to house its snowplows and other public works equipment. It is just east of Haskell Indian Nations University. The rezoning request stated the Lawrence school district “is in the process of purchasing” the property from the county.

No, don’t expect Lawrence’s next new school to be built along 23rd Street. Instead, the school district is seeking to have the property rezoned from a general governmental use to industrial zoning. No, the school district does not have a plan to start making industrial-sized widgets, although let’s keep that idea in reserve pending further changes to the school finance formula. Rather, the rezoning request states the district may want to store “fleet vehicles” on the site, which would require the change in zoning.

Rochelle Valverde, the J-W reporter who covers the school district, tells me district officials have been considering options for running the district’s school bus service, which currently is run by a contractor. Even if the district doesn’t want to fully run the bus service — which district officials seemed to caution against — the 23rd Street site would provide enough room to store school buses. Having the buses stored on school district property rather than on a site owned by a third party, perhaps could save the district some money.

In case you have forgotten, the county no longer needs the property because it built a multimillion dollar public works facility near the Douglas County Jail. What will be interesting to figure out is how Douglas County goes about selling this property. I talked with Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug, and he confirmed the county and school district have reached a “verbal agreement that still needs to be publicly vetted.”

One part of the vetting process, he said, is an examination of state statutes that dictate how public governments can sell property. He said it is still being determined whether the county will have to put the property up for sale and sell it to the highest bidder. UPDATE: Weinaug told me this afternoon that the two parties do know that they don't have to put the properties up for bid to other buyers. But there are other details about the proposed agreement that are still being researched.

Weinaug said the current plan is for the school district to take over the county site and for the county to take over the school district’s current facilities and operations center, which is at the northeast corner of Second and Maine streets, caddy-corner from Lawrence Memorial Hospital. As we have reported, the county is interested in that site because it is near where the county hopes to build a Crisis Intervention Center to serve those with mental health needs.

Weinaug said as part of the deal, there would be some money changing hands between the two government entities. He didn’t provide any of those financial details, but they would become public before the two entities finalized any deal.

Whether the 23rd Street property has any value to other buyers is unknown. It is a large site along a heavily traveled thoroughfare. It is tough to know whether there would be any retail, apartment or other developers that would pay top dollar for the property. Weinaug said one thing pointing in favor of the school district being the best user for the site is that the district will be able to use many of the existing buildings on the property, which wouldn’t be the case with other types of development on the site.

I suppose it is worth asking whether there may be other parties interested in the school district property at Second and Maine, too. With it being so close to the hospital, there may be medical users interested in the site.

The county property on 23rd Street has an appraised value of $1.16 million, according to county records. The school district property at Second and Maine has an appraised value of $369,000, according to county records.

In other news and notes from around town:

• There is another piece of government property that you should look for changes on in the future. The large piece of city-owned land at 11th Street and Haskell Avenue will be losing its main user. The property currently houses all the city’s trash trucks.

But as we have reported, the city has plans for a new trash truck facility — in city parlance it is solid waste, not trash, although I’m not sure who is checking to determine how solid my trash is. The new facility is slated for about 10 acres of property near the Kmart distribution center in northern Lawrence.

Plans for that project are entering a new stage. In late 2015, the city completed renovations at the site — 2201 Kresge Road — to house the Household Hazardous Waste Drop-off program. That’s the program where you can drop off paint, batteries and other such things that shouldn’t go in the trash. My understanding is the program now is operating at the Kresge site. We’ll send a reporter and photographer out there at some point to give you a tour of the new facility. The program previously operated at the county public work site on 23rd Street.

Now, city officials want to start work on phase II of the project. That involves new office space, shop space and other things needed to move the approximately 70 trash trucks from the 11th and Haskell site.

The city currently is accepting proposals from design firms to oversee the project, which includes renovating an existing 6,500 square-foot maintenance shop, and adding a 9,000 square-foot building to house office, locker rooms and a conference space for the solid waste division.

But don’t look for the trash truck to move right away. The city is contemplating a 2017 construction of the facility. But at some point, the daily parade of trash trucks through East Lawrence will come to an end. As far as what the city proposes to do with the 11th and Haskell site once the trash trucks are gone, there has been talk about the city’s street maintenance division taking over the space, but no word yet on whether that is the official plan.

Reply 5 comments from David Holroyd Carol Bowen Bhall87 Floyd Craig

City commissioners withhold information about process for selecting new mayor; more info on pending movie theater upgrades

Call it a mayoral mystery, I guess. City commissioners are still trying to figure out who the next mayor of Lawrence should be and when that person should take over. A change in state law has made the normally simple matter more complicated, but now a pair of city commissioners are making it downright odd by withholding information.

As we reported Monday, commissioners this evening are scheduled to receive a recommendation on changing the process for how Lawrence chooses its mayor. What has become odd is that the two commissioners who have crafted that recommendation — Matthew Herbert and Lisa Larsen — are refusing to disclose to the public or fellow city commissioners what that recommendation is prior to tonight’s meeting.

Herbert said they’ll “announce” their recommendation near the end of tonight’s meeting. No word on whether there will be a drum roll.

Perhaps a quick bit of background is in order. Each April, the five city commissioners choose one of themselves to serve a one-year term as mayor. April was always the time to do so because April was when voters went to the polls to choose City Commissioners. The first meeting after those elections, the new commission would choose a mayor. Well, state lawmakers decided that system wasn’t working, and they have now said city elections will occur in November. The seating of the new commission also is being pushed back to January. So, electing a mayor in April doesn’t necessary make a lot of sense anymore. Current Mayor Mike Amyx appointed Herbert and Larsen to make a recommendation on when elections ought to be held.

Lawrence City Commissioners Lisa Larsen, left, and Matthew Herbert.

Lawrence City Commissioners Lisa Larsen, left, and Matthew Herbert.

Now that recommendation has become the sort of thing you put in a locked briefcase and hire Price Waterhouse Cooper to watch over. As you can probably sense, I find that odd.

City commissioners are being asked to change a city policy. How Lawrence chooses its top elected official will be changed for years to come. That is the sort of thing that the public has the right to provide comment on. Indeed, the public will be allowed to provide comment on the recommendation at tonight’s meeting. But certainly the public could make better informed comments if it actually knew what the recommendation was prior to tonight’s meeting. For that matter, city commissioners could have a better conversation among themselves, if all of them knew what the recommendation was. Some people like to think about a topic for more than a few minutes before they actually speak about it. I know some of the stupidest things I’ve ever said — a really long list — have come as I’ve tried to make an argument on the fly. I end up looking like an ignoramus. Whereas when I have a little time to prepare, I simply end up looking like a buffoon, which I’m told is much better.

I asked Herbert why the recommendation couldn’t be made public before the meeting. He said he didn’t want commissioners first reading about it in the newspaper. OK, that’s fine, but not particularly relevant. Herbert and Larsen came up with the recommendation on Wednesday, Herbert told me. The City Commission’s agenda is published on Thursday afternoon. All Herbert and Larsen had to do was write a one paragraph memo stating their recommendation, send it to the city manager’s office, and the memo would have been placed as a supporting document on the City Commission’s agenda when it was released on Thursday. Every City Commission agenda has dozens of those sorts of memos, normally from staff members or advisory boards. Their purpose is to provide the commission and the public information ahead of a meeting so that there can be more informed debate and discussion.

When I asked Herbert why the information couldn’t have been released in that manner, he said: “I don’t have a good answer on that.”

That’s fine. Such things happen from time to time. What’s important, though, is a recognition that when government has information it can share with the public it should do so. Why wait? It is Good Government 101 to seek public participation in public policy decisions. Providing timely information is part of that public participation process. As I freely tell anyone, the city of Lawrence — particularly as it relates to the City Commission — does a good job on that front. But in this instance, it has fallen short of the mark.

The good news, however, is that this is easy enough to correct. City commissioners at their meeting tonight should hear the recommendation, and then table the matter for a week. That will allow the public time to develop its thoughts and comments. Commissioners too. Maybe some members of the public next week will show up to discuss the topic of how we select our mayor, or perhaps none will. Either way, it is the right thing for good government to do.

In other news and notes from around town:

Speaking of mysteries, the next one in Lawrence likely will involve trying to figure out where that snoring is coming from inside the Southwind movie theater on south Iowa Street.

As we reported Monday, the Southwind is set to undergo a $1.5 million renovation that includes new recliner seating for all 12 of its theaters. Well, yesterday afternoon I found out a bit more information. Take a look below at the chairs that are slated to be installed in the theaters.

New reclining chairs are slated to be installed in Lawrence's Regal Cinema Southwind theater as part of planned renovations.

New reclining chairs are slated to be installed in Lawrence's Regal Cinema Southwind theater as part of planned renovations. by Chad Lawhorn

I, of course, tested the chairs out. They have a high-quality BarcaLounger feel. What is particularly cool is they have a button that controls a motor that reclines and lowers the chair. Watch out at the next "Star Wars" movies. I’ll bring my Han Solo jacket, my 13-year old son can be Chewbacca, and I’ll repeatedly push the button while whispering “engage the thrusters.”

As for other details of the project, I’m still working on those. I was instructed to call a corporate media line out of state, so I’ll work to do that. What I hear, though, is that construction hasn’t yet started. Portions of the theater will remain open during the construction period.

I think one of the larger questions is whether seating capacity in the theaters will be reduced to accommodate the new chairs. The chairs recline back very far, which leads me to believe there will need to be some reduction in capacity.

Reply 13 comments from Judith Galas Richard Heckler Tom Thomson Chad Lawhorn Paul Beyer brian woods Steve Jacob Brett Hansen Matthew Herbert Brandon Devlin and 3 others

Lawrence movie theater to undergo million dollar-plus renovation; update on plans for large music venue in North Lawrence

Everybody has their wish list for improvements that could be made to Lawrence’s Southwind movie theater on south Iowa Street. Yes, wider concourses to accommodate the forklift to haul back the popcorn and soda would be nice. An on-site loan office to finance the purchase of said popcorn and soda would be useful, too. Well, I don’t know that either of those improvements are coming, but a million dollar-plus renovation is in store for the city’s largest movie theater.

The city has issued a building permit for $1.5 million worth of interior renovation work at the Regal Cinema Southwind Stadium theater at 3433 Iowa St. It sounds like a conversion to reclining seats in all 12 theaters is a big part of the work, according to the details filed on the building permit report.

I haven’t had a chance to to talk with Regal officials yet, but I’ll try to do so later today. My understanding is there are some signs of the work underway, so I’ll pop in once the theater opens this afternoon.

In terms of other details that were listed on the building permit application, it talks about installing new finishes in all the auditoriums, as well in other parts of the building. At the moment, none of the plans call for major changes to the exterior of the building.

The project does answer one question that had been floating around in certain circles: Was the theater committed to remaining in that location? As the South Lawrence Trafficway gets completed later this year, the theater site becomes an even more prime location. The theater, it sure appears, has been losing business to newer, more modern theaters in Johnson County and at The Legends development in western Wyandotte County.

Regal bought the Southwind chain in 2013, which caused folks to think that a renovation of the theater would soon be on the way. But then it didn’t come. In the meantime, talk about other locations for a theater in Lawrence got kicked around. I know at one point the folks who want to redevelop the area near the Kansas River levee near Johnny’s Tavern had said they thought a movie theater would fit in very well with that development. I know I had started to wonder whether the Southwind site — perhaps combined with the mobile home park next door to it — might get redeveloped into a major retail area with lots of visibility from the SLT.

But now, it looks like the theater is here to stay — and with reclining seats, I may stay there a long time, too. (After 12-pounds of popcorn and a two-hour chick-flick, it is going to be hard to wake me up.)

I’ll let you known when I hear more details.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Speaking of updates, I have a brief one on the North Lawrence events center that I reported on last week.

As you may remember, I reported that plans have been filed for a new events center to locate in the industrial buildings at the northwest corner of the Kansas Turnpike and North Third Street intersection.

I was short on details of what type of events the center hopes to host, but now I’ve heard back from the proposed operator of the facility. Music events will be the center’s bread and butter, said Michael Westheffer.

Westheffer said the facility — which needs to still win zoning approval from the city — will be called Northern Sands Venue. He said he hopes the venue can grow into something similar to Knuckleheads, an an events venue that is located in an industrial district near the Missouri River in Kansas City, Mo.

“We want to create a place that is not just your everyday place,” said Westheffer, who is part of the family that owns the property that formerly housed a surplus store. “We want a place where you can come eat some food, have a good time. We want to create a next-level environment.”

Step No. 1 is getting the necessary commercial zoning for the property, which currently is zoned industrial. But Westheffer said future steps will include getting a liquor license for the property.

Westheffer said plans definitely call for both indoor and outdoor shows at the site. Westheffer said the center — which will be called Northern Sands Venue — doesn’t plan to limit itself on the type of music acts it brings in. Westheffer, who has about three years in the music production business, said rock, country, bluegrass and other genres are likely. He said the venue also will be open to hosting wedding receptions and other types of private events.

Westheffer said the fire department hasn’t yet set occupancy limits for the venture, but he hopes to have some outdoor shows that could accommodate 1,000, and some indoor shows of about 300. I’ll let you know how the project progresses through the city approval process.

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Reply 7 comments from Darin Wade Sara Houk Randy Laggart Steve Jacob Gregdivilbiss Alex Keiffer Bailey Perkins

Happy Earth Day, although rankings show it could be happier in Kansas; parent company of major Lawrence employer announces cutbacks

Party like it is Earth Day because indeed it is. (I’m celebrating gravity by refusing to jump all day.) Here in Kansas, we certainly can celebrate Earth Day, but a new study found that we perhaps don’t have as much to cheer about as some other states.

The financial website WalletHub has released its list of the 2016 Greenest States. Kansas is found to be the 39th greenest state. I’m pretty sure “greenest” is a term to measure how environmentally friendly we are, not the color of our gills as we continue to watch Kansas revenue estimates come into the Statehouse.

As always, take these ranking for whatever you think they are worth. Being rankings and all, they are subjective. But these rankings do use reputable data sources, such as the U.S. Census, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Green Building Council and several others to measure categories such as air quality, soil quality, water quality, energy consumption, and other such measures.

Here’s a look at how Kansas and some other states in our region ranked overall:

— No. 23: Colorado

— No. 30: Missouri

— No. 39: Kansas

— No. 40: Iowa

— No. 45: Oklahoma

— No. 46: Nebraska

Top-ranked state: Vermont

Bottom-ranked state: Wyoming

The study ranked the states in three broad categories. The first is “environmental quality.” That measures items such as municipal solid waste per capita, air quality, water quality, soil quality, and energy efficiency. Here’s a look at how we did:

— No. 12: Missouri

— No. 14: Iowa

— No. 17: Kansas

— No. 28: Colorado

— No. 32: Nebraska

— No. 48: Oklahoma

So, if things like good soil, good air, and good water are the types of things you think of when you think of being Earth-friendly, Kansas actually is above average in those categories.

The second category is “eco-friendly behaviors,” and that includes items such as the number of LEED-certified buildings per capita, amount of renewable energy used, gasoline consumption per capita, water consumption per capita, and alternative fuel vehicles per capita. Here’s a look at how we did:

— No. 15: Colorado

— No. 30: Iowa

— No. 33: Kansas

— No. 37: Missouri

— No. 43: Nebraska

— No. 47: Oklahoma

The third category is “climate-change contributions,” and that includes items such as carbon dioxide emissions per capita, methane emissions per capita, nitrous oxide emissions per capita, and fluorinated greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Here’s how we did:

— No. 31: Colorado

— No. 33: Missouri

— No. 38: Oklahoma

— No. 43: Kansas

— No. 44: Iowa

— No. 47: Nebraska

As you can see, farm states didn’t fare particularly well in that category. Many of the things measured have a lot to do with crop and livestock production. If ever there is a ranking on feeding the world, however, we will do much better.

The report did provide several other individual rankings. Kansas showed up on one. We were No. 47 in the amount of LEED-certified buildings per capita. Only West Virginia, Nebraska and Iowa had fewer. I also noticed Missouri showed up on one. It has the least amount of municipal solid waste — trash in layman’s terms — per capita of any state in the country. For anybody who has ever been to an Ozark gift shop, this shouldn’t be a surprise. They throw nothing away, but rather just stamp “Welcome to the Ozarks” on it. Don’t get me wrong. I love my collection of such items.

Anyway, Happy Earth Day. Lawrence will celebrate formally tomorrow. Check out our Out & About column for details on the parade and party in the park.

In other news and notes from around town:

• We probably don’t spend enough time in Lawrence thinking about Kmart. Lawrence’s Kmart store closed in 2003, but the company is still a major part of our economy. Kmart operates a large distribution center along the Kansas Turnpike in northern Lawrence.

So, news on Thursday that Kmart is closing 68 more stores is not good news for Lawrence. I have no idea how, or if, the store closures will impact workforce levels at the Kmart distribution center in Lawrence. But I would think economic development leaders should be rooting for a Kmart turnaround pretty hard these days. Numbers from the Economic Development Council of Lawrence and Douglas County list the distribution center as having 320 employees, making it one of the 12 largest employers in the community. Perhaps even more significantly, the distribution center pays taxes on about 1.05 million square feet of industrial space along the turnpike. I think it is the largest building in Douglas County, but I’ve misplaced my tape measure, so I can’t say for sure.

Some of the news coverage yesterday about the Kmart closings — only one in Kansas, Hutchinson — was eye opening. Here’s some information as reported by Fortune:

— Kmart store totals will drop to just less than 900, down from about 1,400 in 2008.

— Kmart’s parent company, which includes Sears, has logged a total of $8 billion in net losses since 2010.

— 25 years ago, Kmart was larger than Wal-Mart.

— Sales during the key holiday quarter of 2015 were down 7.2 percent at Kmart.

Importantly, though, the company is projecting a return to profitability this year, according to the Fortune article. That certainly would be a good sign. The article also talked about how the company plans to transform itself into a “membership-based retailer that will be less reliant on physical stores.”

So, lots to keep an eye on. But this thought also struck me. I’m pretty certain I haven’t been in a Kmart since the one in Lawrence closed. That’s 13 years ago. More importantly, I don’t think my wife has been in one since then either. More than a decade that my wife hasn’t been to a Kmart: Trust me, that is not a metric any retailer wants to have.

Reply 3 comments from Curtis Lange Steve Jacob Chris  Ogle

Plans filed for events center along the Kansas Turnpike; get ready for pole vaulters in parking lots and shot putters in the streets

You bring up the idea of an event and North Lawrence, and you could be talking about a whole lot of different things. It might be a night on the town at Johnny’s, a fraternity party in a barn, or a Kaw River fishing trip that involves sand in places it shouldn’t be, a “misplaced” boat, and sworn statements to discuss this no further. Soon, the events may get a bit more formal. Plans have been filed for a new events center at North Lawrence’s largest intersection.

If plans are approved, a small indoor-outdoor events center will be allowed to develop right at the intersection of the Kansas Turnpike and North Third Street. Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners at their meeting on Monday will consider approving a rezoning request at 1235 North Third Street that would allow for the event center.

If that location isn’t ringing a bell, it is at the northwest corner of the turnpike and North Third intersection. The building on the property used to house a surplus store that sold tools and a variety of supplies. It also has housed operations for the Westheffer company that sells a variety of chemical spraying equipment.

The Westheffer folks own the property and are behind the idea of developing a new events center. I’ve put a call into them, but haven’t had any luck in reaching them. So, details on what type of events the center will host are a bit sketchy. But I know that the city has allowed the location to host some events on a temporary basis, including music concerts. A group called Attic Traffic Productions hosted a large event with about a dozen bands at the location last year at this time. The group even had come up with a name for the events venue: Northern Sands Warehouse.

So, perhaps we’ll see more concerts at the site. The location makes some sense for events that can draw a regional crowd, given that folks from Topeka or Kansas City could easily access the site via the turnpike. Perhaps wedding receptions and other such events could be on tap too.

The property’s owners currently are just trying to get the proper zoning for the site so the project can move forward. The approximately 4-acre site currently has industrial zoning. It is seeking commercial strip zoning, which allows for event centers.

Preliminary plans filed with the city indicated the project will use an existing 6,600-square-foot building to house the indoor portion of the event business. Plans also call for a 1,200-square-foot covered outdoor patio, plus significant open space that probably could accommodate events too. The site also includes 7,000 square feet of warehouse space that is connected to the 6,600 square feet of event venue space. Combine it all, and you could host some fair-sized events.

If the project moves forward, more detailed plans about parking and how the property will be used will be required. But I talked briefly with Lawrence-based architect Allen Belot, who is working on the project, and he indicated there likely would be some improvements made to the site, which would improve the appearance of that intersection.

The Planning Commission will consider the rezoning request at its 6:30 p.m. meeting on Monday at City Hall. City commissioners ultimately will have to decide whether to approve the rezoning. The city’s planning staff is recommending approval of the rezoning, noting that commercial zoning fits in with long-range plans that have already been approved for that intersection.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Speaking of events, don’t forget that there is a unique one on tap tonight, weather permitting. As part of the KU Relays, a unique pole vaulting competition will be held in the parking lot of the Salty Iguana at Sixth and Wakarusa. The event is set to be begin at 5:30 p.m.. Several national champion pole vaulters will be competing at the event, and heights of 18 feet or so are expected to be cleared. Keep an eye on the weather, though. Rain and pole vaulting do not mix.

None by Jordan Scott

The idea of unique track and field events then will shift to downtown. The annual downtown shot put competition is set for 6 p.m. Friday at Eighth and New Hampshire streets. As has been the case since its inception, that event attracts world class shot put competitors. If you have never gone before it is a sight to see. It is one of the few nights out of the year where you can see people throwing a shot put in the middle of an intersection in downtown Lawrence.

Competitor Christian Cantwell throws up his arms as he watches his final throw of the night along with hundreds of spectators during the Downtown Olympic Shot Put event on Friday, April 17, 2015 at the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire streets. Cantwell's won the competition with a throw of 70 feet six and a half inches.

Competitor Christian Cantwell throws up his arms as he watches his final throw of the night along with hundreds of spectators during the Downtown Olympic Shot Put event on Friday, April 17, 2015 at the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire streets. Cantwell's won the competition with a throw of 70 feet six and a half inches. by Nick Krug


40-year-old business on 23rd Street changes hands, focus; Lawrence jobs up slightly in March, thanks mainly to the government

The main thing I know about vacuum cleaners is they make a lot of noise when I’m trying to watch a ballgame on TV (and that they sometimes get thrown at me when I make comments like that.) So, I may not be the best person to pass along vacuum cleaner news, but I have some nonetheless.

Steve Pinegar of Lawrence Vacuum and Sewing Center has sold the business after 40 years in Lawrence. The business has changed names but is still in its same location at 1449 W. 23rd Street. The company is now called Midwest Vacuums, and is part of a small chain based in Kansas City.

“Steve has done such a wonderful job with this business,” said Sarah Degondea, owner of Midwest Vacuums. “We were looking to open a store in Overland Park. The day we were ready to sign the lease, Steve called us and said he wanted to retire, and he didn’t want to sell the store to anybody but us.”

This is the third store for Midwest Vacuums, with the others in the Waldo district of Kansas City and in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. The store sells all types of vacuums, including uprights, canisters, central vacuums, and something called backpack vacuums. (That’s odd. My son’s backpack looks like it has a science project growing in it, but we just use a regular vacuum on it.) The store also sells steam mops, air purifiers, and a host of cleaning and vacuuming accessories.

A big part of the store’s business is vacuum cleaner repair. Degondea said the business repairs all brands of vacuum cleaners. She said often times customers who bring in vacuums for repairs eventually become the customers who buy new vacuums from her store. She said that’s how small vacuum shops have been able to stay in business despite big box retailers getting into the vacuum selling game.

“Our main customer is typically the customer who is tired of buying cheap vacuums and having them repaired,” Degondea said. “They sit down and do a little research and find out there are other options out there.”

The Lawrence store also continues to sell some sewing machines, but Degondea said she hasn’t made a decision about whether that will be a long-term part of the business. Her Kansas City stores do not sell sewing machines. She said Pinegar is working with the store part time to handle the sewing machine part of the business.

In other news and notes from around town:

• March brought some new jobs both for Kansas and Lawrence, although the new numbers show most of Lawrence’s job growth continues to come from government job growth rather than private sector gains.

Here’s a look at some job numbers as recently reported by the Kansas Department of Labor.

Unemployment rates

— Kansas: 4.0 percent in March, down from 4.5 percent in March 2015

— Lawrence: 3.4 percent in March, down from 3.9 percent in March 2015

— Topeka: 4.1 percent in March, down from 4.8 percent in March 2015

— Wichita: 4.5 percent in March, down from 5.0 percent in March 2015

— Kansas City: 3.8 percent in March, down from 4.3 percent in March 2015

— Manhattan: 3 percent in March, down from 3.6 percent in March 2015

Job totals (not seasonally adjusted)

— Kansas: 1.391 million, down 0.1 percent from March 2015

— Lawrence: 53,600, up 0.2 percent from March 2015

— Manhattan: 46,900, up 5.4 percent from March 2015

— Topeka: 109,700, down 0.2 percent from March 2015

— Wichita: 296,400, up 0.7 percent from March 2015

— Kansas City: 457,900, up 0.4 percent from March 2015

As you can see, Manhattan — Lawrence’s sister community in many ways — was the job engine for the state in March. Not only did it have the highest percentage growth by a lot, it added 2,400 jobs over the course of the year, which was more than any other metro area in the state. Lawrence added 100 jobs during that time period.

Goods producing jobs

Here’s a look at jobs that encompasses manufacturing and other industrial jobs that produce items.

— Kansas: 222,100, down 3.1 percent from March 2015

— Lawrence: 5,200, down 3.7 percent from March 2015

— Manhattan: 5,400, up 1.9 percent from March 2015

— Topeka: 12,700, down 0.8 percent from March 2015

— Wichita: 67,300, down 1.3 percent from March 2015

— Kansas City: 49,200, down 1 percent from March 2015

Service producing jobs

These are jobs in areas such as finance, leisure and hospitality, business services, trade and technical jobs, and other jobs that primarily provide a service rather than produce a good. These numbers also include government jobs, and I’ll provide more details on those in a moment.

— Kansas: 1.169 million, up 0.5 percent from March 2015

— Lawrence: 48,400, up 0.6 percent from March 2015

— Manhattan: 41,500, up 5.9 percent from March 2015

— Topeka: 97,000, down 0.1 percent from March 2015

— Wichita: 229,100, up 1.4 percent from March 2015

— Kansas City: 408,700, up 0.5 percent from March 2015

Government jobs

Remember that government jobs do include university jobs, so it is no surprise to see Lawrence and Manhattan have lots of them. But it is not clear what has caused the relatively large increase in the government jobs total over the last year.

— Kansas: 263,900, unchanged from March 2015

— Lawrence: 18,000, up 4.7 percent over March 2015

— Manhattan: 17,300, up 10.9 percent over March 2015

— Topeka: 27,200, unchanged from March 2015

— Wichita: 41,600, down 1 percent from March 2015

— Kansas City: 57,300, down 0.3 percent from March 2015

The state’s two largest university communities were the only metro areas to see government job growth in the last 12 months. Lawrence is glad for it too. Only two major categories in Lawrence showed job growth over the last 12 months: Government, and leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurant, hotel, bar employees and other such jobs. The leisure category grew by 100 jobs or 1.5 percent. All other categories saw job losses for the month. The largest was the professional and business services category, which includes a host of managerial and administrative jobs in the private sector. That category lost 400 jobs or 7.3 percent for the 12-month period. That was the largest percentage loss in that category for any metro area in the state.

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